While spring storms helped build the snowpack, the recent spate of warm days means there should be plenty of snow-free campsites, trails and roads for Memorial Day weekend.
Last year, in late June, there were still 158 inches of snow on the ground at Paradise, 263 percent of normal. On Tuesday, the total was 169 inches, 119 percent of normal.
That lingering snow meant delays in opening campgrounds and roads in national parks and national forests across the region. Cougar Rock Campground at Mount Rainier National Park was more than a week late opening.
This year, however, there will be plenty of snow-free campsites for whiling away the unofficial start of summer. Here is a look at what visitors can expect to find:
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
As the park sheds its deep mantle of snow, a number of facilities will be open in time for the holiday weekend.
For drivers, Stevens Canyon Road is scheduled to open at 8 a.m. Friday. State Route 410 over Chinook Pass and the White River Road to the campground also are expected to open Friday.
Also opening Friday are the Cougar Rock campground and picnic area, and the Ohanapecosh campground and visitor center. The center will be open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Monday and June 2-3 before opening daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. June 9-Sept. 2.
Paradise Inn will be the site for a program by the guest artist in the park, Donavon Preiser, on Saturday and May 27. The Washington native will display his photos and share his experiences and passion for photography. The young artist spends weekends during the winter at Mount Rainier snowshoeing and ice climbing and summers backpacking and hiking. Learn more at donavonpreiserphotography.com.
Park visitors should not expect to see a lot of new programs this summer season, cautioned spokesman Kevin Bacher. Two key programming positions are vacant as the park’s chief of interpretation and east district interpreter have left for new jobs within the National Park Service. The park also faces a possible budget cut.
“We’re looking at the possibility of significant budget cuts in the new budget year,” Bacher said. “We don’t want to start anything long-term not knowing how much money we’re going to have and how many people we’ll have on staff.”
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Ranger Greg Marsh recommends arriving early if you want to score a campsite at Olympic National Park on Memorial Day weekend.
“Ideally, you want to arrive on a weekday,” Marsh said. “But if you can’t get there early in the day, do not procrastinate.”
All campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis on Memorial Day weekend, Marsh said. This includes the popular Kalaloch campground which accepts reservations June 20-Sept. 3. Reservations can be made six months in advance making it already a tough place to sneak in a stay for this summer.
The Deer Park and Altair campgrounds are currently closed and might not open in time for Memorial Day weekend, Marsh said, but they typically open late because of snow.
Most roads are expected to be open by the holiday, Marsh said, with the exception of portions of high-elevation roads such as Hurricane Hill and Obstruction Point.
GIFFORD PINCHOT NATIONAL FOREST
Gifford Pinchot National Forest officials say most roads and campgrounds will open for the holiday weekend despite plenty of lingering snow.
One notable exception will be Forest Service Roads 25 and 99 south of Randle. Road 25, which is closed because of a damaged bridge, is expected to reopen July 4. Road 99, the access road to Mount St. Helen’s Windy Ridge, is still covered with snow and isn’t expected to open until the middle of July.
Ray Yurkewycz of the Mount St. Helen’s Institute says the road to Climber’s Bivouac on the south side of the mountain is not passable because of snow and isn’t expected to open until mid- to late June. Last year Climber’s bivouac, the most popular trailhead for climbing Mount St. Helen’s, didn’t open until July 17.
The most direct route to the summit until Climber’s Bivouac opens is the Marble Mountain Sno-Park. Climbing permits are required April-October.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL FOREST
Ranger Peggy Dressler says Olympic National Forest campgrounds are on pace to open for Memorial Day weekend. She also says snow isn’t expected to be an obstacle in terms of getting to popular trailheads like Mount Townsend and Marmot Pass.
Still, she says, expect to find plenty of snow on the trails above 4,400 feet. Be prepared with the appropriate gear and route-finding skills.
Dressler says lingering snow is heavier the farther south you travel in the forest. The snow is melting out faster than last year, she said, “but it’s still too early to say how long the snow will stay in the backcountry this year.”
The popular Duckabush Trail is closed because of damage sustained last fall during the Big Hump Fire. According to the forest website hazards “include falling trees and rocks and damaged tread.” Dressler said the trail will be closed throughout the summer.
As of May 10, the Olympic National Forest listed more than 75 alerts regarding road conditions. Be sure to check the forest’s website before your trip.
MOUNT BAKER SNOQUALMIE NATIONAL FOREST
District ranger Jim Franzel says all of the campgrounds along Interstate 90 and state Route 410 are expected to be open by Memorial Day weekend. But if you want to camp there, he suggests making a reservation via the website.
“Our campgrounds are always full on Memorial Day weekend,” Franzel said. “I don’t even have a recommendation (for finding a campsite without reservations.)”
Snow could still be a factor at some campsites, especially ones that are naturally shaded like Denny Creek off of Interstate 90.
“Last year (on Memorial Day weekend) people were camping on a foot of snow at Denny Creek,” Franzel said. As of last week there was still two feet of snow covering the campground.
Franzel said Forest Service Roads 70, 74 and 7174 are likely to still be at least partially blocked by snow during the holiday.
Franzel warns hikers and backcountry travelers to be prepared with appropriate gear and route finding skills when traveling over snow. He says hikers will likely encounter plenty of snow above 3,000 feet.
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