Driving 36 Miles Up Rainier and Back Down in a Tesla Model Y — And Using Only 5 Miles of Range

Parked at Paradise. There is just a bit of snow piled up next to the parking lot.

Last weekend I joined a car club rally and drove my Tesla Model Y Long Range on many scenic back roads to the Nisqually Entrance of Mt Rainier National Park. The goal of the drive was to reach the parking lot at Paradise at 5387 ft above sea level. The park entrance is at 2001 ft, and the early spring temperatures were above freezing, but they dropped into the ’30s as I made my way up the mountain. The round trip distance is 36 miles According to A Better Route Planner.

A Better Route Planner estimates that it will take a lot more battery to complete the round trip than I actually used. Maybe because it is quite a bit colder as I write this than it was on the day that I drove it? More experiments are needed.

I entered the park with 127 miles of range left in my Model Y. The road is steep, narrow, and normally has many sheer drops — but at this time of year, the sides of the road become walls of snow. The road clearing equipment has to carve out a path for the road and they uncover road signs because the snow is several feet higher than the signs. The ranger told me that there was a 19-foot snow depth at the official weather station at Paradise.

The roads were mostly clear, with just one section being icy, but the dual motor, Model Y Long Range does a great job on the 20-inch tires, all-season tires that it came with. As with most cars, driving carefully is most of the solution to successful winter driving.

On the left are the doors to the restroom building at Paradise. The rest of the building is under the snow pack.

After a brief stay at Paradise, I headed back down and checked the indicated range as I passed through the gate to exit the park: 122 miles. That means I drove 36 miles round trip and only used 5 miles of indicated range. How does that work? Because electric cars have regeneration, driving down the mountain charges the battery. Tesla’s regenerative braking works very well, and I was able to control the speed of the car with the accelerator, only. By not using the brakes, I also eliminate the possibility of locking up the wheels and ending up at the bottom of a ravine where someone might find me in the summer. Maybe. The steering works, the car goes where it is pointed, and the car is very controllable. Driving down a mountain becomes something fun to look forward to doing instead of a chore like it was in my pickup, or something downright scary like it used to be in old cars. I once drove a 1960’s Ford Galaxy through Hell’s Canyon in the Black Hills in a thunderstorm at night, and driving a Tesla down a mountain is probably just as far away from that Hell’s Canyon experience as it is possible to be.

So I entered the park with 127 miles of range and left with 122 miles of range. Where did the 5 miles go? If I spend energy driving up the mountain, and then get it back when I drive down, why didn’t I get it all back? Well, I was using the heater, seat heater, phone charger, and the entertainment system. Also, my speed may not have been the same. I think that I was probably faster on the way down because there was less traffic. I think the heater, possible speed differences, plus any other inefficiencies, could easily explain the 5-mile difference.

More experiments are needed, but it is fun to see the range coming back up as you drive down a mountain. With all-wheel drive, a low center of gravity, and excellent driving characteristics, the Tesla is, in my opinion, a lot of fun to drive in the mountains.

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I’m a Dad, a Project Manager, and a Seattle resident.

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Tod Bookless

Tod Bookless

I’m a Dad, a Project Manager, and a Seattle resident.

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