Amazing things to do in picturesque Ashford in the winter

Amazing things to do in picturesque Ashford in the winter

The mountain community of Ashford, Washington, is tucked away in the wooded foothills of Mount Rainier. This charming little town has accommodations ranging from cozy cottages to friendly hotels, and there are a couple of lovely restaurants that stay open year-round.

Ashford is a whimsical but charming little town with an interesting mix of small local businesses. It is a perfect place to go on a winter weekend. You can relax in front of a roaring campfire or be more adventurous by exploring the many trails in Mount Rainier National Park. No matter what you choose, it’s definitely a perfect weekend.

Ashford is just six miles from the park’s Nisqually entrance, the only vehicle-accessible winter entrance to the park. Make this lovely town your basecamp for exploring Mt. Rainier.

Note: Travel Tacoma hosted me on a press trip to Ashford. This included lodging and meals. All opinions are my own.

View of Mount Rainier from Tanwax Country Chapel
Photo credit: Peggy Cleveland

Tanwax Country Chapel

On the way to Ashford, if you take the Mountain Highway E, you will pass the Tanwax Country Chapel, which has one of the most incredible unobstructed views of Mount Rainier in the area. If you are lucky and “the mountain is out”, this is the place to take a picture. The Tanwax Country Chapel community has been blessed with this beautiful scenic view of Mt. Rainier and they love to share it. Park in the parking lot and follow the gravel path to a bench where you can enjoy this vantage point.

Paradise Village Hotel and Restaurant
Photo credit: Peggy Cleveland

Paradise Village Hotel and Restaurant

Plan to stay at Paradise Village Hotel and Restaurant. It is more than just accommodation and is a destination in itself. Owner Anatoliy Zaika is a man with a dream. As an immigrant from Ukraine, he bought the property to establish a family business and bring some of his homeland to the United States.

This is one of the most unique places to stay in the area. The resort has been remodeled to look like a Ukrainian village. The rooms and cottages have a rustic feel but have comfortable beds and are spotless. The renovations retained the charm of this iconic property while adding modern conveniences.

Plan to eat at least one meal here. The food is incredible. The bakery offers coffee, breakfast and lunch. Try the freshly baked cakes or try one of the crepes. For dinner, the restaurant offers authentic Eastern European food. Be sure to try galushki, which are Ukrainian gnocchi. These tasty light pasta puffs are served in a sauce similar to Alfredo. Borsch is also very good and hearty on a cold day, especially when served with homemade bread.

Whittaker mountaineering

Stop by Whittaker Mountaineering in Ashford to rent all your necessities in cold weather. In addition to equipment such as snowshoes, sleds and pipes, you can rent winter clothes, gloves and boots. They also rent snow chains, which are a must have in your car when you visit Mt. Rainier National Park. Their Gear Cache sells gently used clothing and equipment. Plan to rent snowshoes here for your trip into the park.

Mount Rainier National Park gate
Photo credit: Peggy Cleveland

Mount Rainier National Park

Summer crowds are gone and the winter snow in Mount Rainier National Park creates a magical wonderland that is fun to explore in the winter. The Nisqually entrance has a rustic wooden archway that marks the entrance. It is a great photo opportunity on a quiet winter day and you would never be able to take it in the summer because of the traffic.

Driving through the park. keep your eyes open for the Twin Firs Loop Trailhead on the left. It’s about two miles before you reach Longmire. Most people miss this small part of old forest, which has amazing douglas firs, western hemlock and western red cedar trees towering over the forest floor. It’s only a 0.4 mile trail, and in the winter it’s covered in snow – you may need your snowshoes depending on how much. It’s a great hike and the trees are just lovely. If the snow is too heavy, you can still just take a short walk into the woods to see these giants.

National Park Inn in Longmire
Photo credit: Peggy Cleveland


The Longmire area is open year-round and has the only accommodation in the park during the winter, at the National Park Inn. The restaurant is open as well as the Longmire General Store. You can rent snowshoes here, but Whittaker Mountaineering has a better selection. Longmire is the gateway to a variety of trails.

The entire Longmire area is a national historic district. Take the Longmire Historic District Walking Tour, which is 1.25 miles and self-guided. Each point of interest has interpretive signs. The early history of the national park is very interesting.

Across the street is the Trail of the Shadows. This loop trail gathers the history of man and nature as you walk through a forest and meadows. Look for the copy of a settler’s farmhouse and the bubbling mineral springs. It is a perfect trail for snowshoeing and is not too strenuous.

Paradise area in Mount Rainier National Park
Sarah Bray /


Paradise is an iconic area to visit in Mount Rainier National Park. It offers hiking, camping, and when enough snow has fallen, there is a snow play area for sledding and playing in the snow. There is plenty of space to spread out or take a snowshoe hike.

Be sure to read the Winter Recreation bulletin for everything you need to know to visit this area safely in the winter. The park provides weather updates and road conditions on Twitter at MountRainierNPS and at the radio station 1610 AM in the park. There are many variables that determine whether the road should be opened. The average annual snowfall at Paradise is 639 inches (53.2 feet / 61.2 meters), and last year it received 672 inches.

Cannibal Hot Tub

After a day at the park, you can book a reservation at Paradise Village Hotel to try the infamous Cannibal Hot Tub. The rustic outdoor hot tub is basically a kettle sitting over a roaring wood stove.

“I saw the idea on YouTube and thought, ‘I can do that,'” Anatoliy Zaika explained, noting that these unique hot tubs are common in Ukraine. Zaika had a kettle shipped from home and built a rock pavilion to hold the kettle over an open fire. The kettle was so large that it had to be turned to the side to fit into the container.

Reservations are required for the Cannibal Hot Tub because it takes over an hour to warm up and then be drained, cleaned and refilled after each use. This is such a unique experience. You do not have to stay at the hotel to book the hot tub, and they also offer bathrobes for rent.

Out of nowhere sculpture park

Ex Nihilo Sculpture Park is very unique. Also known as Recycled spirits of iron, artist Dan Klennert’s vision will make you wonder what this place is? His medium is rusty metal, animal skulls, driftwood and things others would call junk. The park is flooded with sculptures of animals, motorcyclists, a giant seahorse, dinosaurs and even an adult-only section. He is very talented and you are sure to be impressed by the number of works on display. Klennert recently gave the baton to artist Jay Bechtold, who has produced several new works for the park.

It is open all year round. In winter, the gate is closed, but you can still go in to see the sculptures. Donations are appreciated and there is also a gift shop. It is located on State Road 706, just past the Elbe on the right hand side of the road.

Pro tips

When planning a visit to Mt. Rainier National Park in winter, note that the road from the Nisqually entrance to Longmire is open, but the road between Longmire and Paradise closes every night. If there is a danger of avalanches or extreme weather, it remains closed during the day. Day status is published on the park’s Twitter account. In the morning before your visit, check the opening hours and plan to arrive early to get in line.

All vehicles must carry tire chains when traveling in the park during the winter season, regardless of tire type or weather conditions. Make sure your gas tank is full, and bring extra food if you get stuck for the night. Make sure someone knows your travel plans and when you get home. See the weather – blizzards in Mt. Rainier can dump feet of snow.

In addition to one. full tank and extra food, we recommend storing these things in your car for safe winter travel.

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