Winter bliss

  • By Sharon Wootton Special to The Herald
  • Friday, January 18, 2008 5:07pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Casting about for a long weekend outdoors getaway? This is the time of year to combine outdoors activities and indoor comfort.

Here are a few ideas for fun in the Mount Rainier area:

Walking in a winter wonderland

For the inexperienced but game, a Mount Rainier National Park ranger-naturalist offers two-hour guided snowshoe walks while talking about how plants and animals adapt to winter conditions.

Walks are offered weekends through early April on a first-come, first-serve basis. Bring your snowshoes or rent a pair for a small donation at the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise AA (360-569-2211, ext. 3314).

Crystal Mountain Ski Area has a 21/2-hour snowshoe tour starting with a chairlift ride and a tour to two lakes. They run every Friday and Saturday through March 29 (360-663-3040). A $30 ticket includes tour and dinner; a $50 ticket also includes snowshoe rental.

Experience elk

Up to 1,200 elk, including 90 antlered bulls, show up for a meal during winter feedings at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area (509-653-2390). It’s an up-close experience outside the interpretive center just west of Naches on the White Pass Scenic Byway.

Bighorn sheep are also fed daily at the nearby Cleman Mountain feeding site. January and February are the best months for viewing elk; popular truck tours are taken among the elk.

Skinny ski options

Head out with friends on cross-country skis (or snowshoes). Trips in the Paradise area include a tour along the Paradise Valley Road or Stevens Canyon Road to Reflection Lakes (both easy; the latter is 6.75 miles round-trip), or the Mazama Ridge or Edith Creek Basin (both intermediate).

One of the Northwest’s coolest Nordic trails is an 18-kilometer cross-country maze for snowshoeing and skinny skiing. Start at the yurt at the White Pass Nordic Center (509-672-3101) on Highway 12, opposite the downhill area.

Indulge yourself

Don’t let darkness send you back home. Play away the day and snuggle up in cozy comfort at lodging near or in Mount Rainier National Park.

Alexander’s Country Inn, one mile from the Nisqually entrance, is one of the state’s oldest inns (1912). The 12-room Victorian hotel offers 20 percent off daily room rates through May 1 (800-654-7615), making the inn a reasonable option.

Another option is the 25-room National Park Inn (built 1917, remodeled 1990) at Longmire, which has a full-service restaurant, winter lodging packages and a terrific view of Mount Rainier (360-569-2275).

Or consider a hot treat at Stormking Spa (no lodging) near Ashford. It’s in a historic home built by the pioneer Mesler family in the early 1990s (360-569-2964).

Crystal Culinary outing

At the high end of the Rainier Express chairlift sits the newly renovated Summit House with a new menu and terrific weather-willing views of six volcanic peaks.

Carnival time

The 22nd annual White Pass Winter Carnival is March 1-2, complete with huge snow castles, professional snow sculptors, live music, fireworks, parade, children’s carnival and snow-sports competition.

Ski the North Country

A new Doppelmayr chairlift (Northway) takes skiers on a 10-minute ride to Crystal Mountain’s new backcountry area, the 1,000-acre North Country. The double chairlift will, by design, limit the skier capacity in this new section of backcountry.

Travel writer Sharon Wootton is co-author of the Insiders Guide “You Know You’re in Washington When … 101 Quintessential Places, People, Events, Customs, Lingo, and Eats of the Evergreen State.”

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