So You Want to Snowshoe
You can snowshoe any time there's snow (duh), but there are plenty of reasons to seek out a guided stroll: avalanche danger, access to the best views, or tips on how to walk with serving platters strapped to your feet. Try one of the dozen best of Western Washington's guided snowshoe hikes.
Mount Rainier National Park
Park rangers lead snowshoe walks from the Paradise Visitor Center every weekend until the end of March. Snowshoeing newbies, this stroll is for you: two hours, 1.8 miles, and open to anyone over eight years old. The guided tour is free, with snowshoes provided, and the park rangers discuss Rainier’s flora and fauna as you go. Signups are first come, first served, with tours leaving at 11am and 1:30pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Olympic National Park
The panoramic Olympics views reach from mountain peaks to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. At Hurricane Ridge near Port Angeles, the national park hosts ranger-guided tours on weekends and holiday Mondays at 2pm. The route covers less than a mile, making it an appealing option for kids. The walks are held through late March and are $7 for adults and $3 for youth, with snowshoes included, and advance reservations are for large groups only.
If you're looking for an all-day experience, private outfitter Experience Olympic has a $300 guided trip for a group up to six; participants choose a moderate two-mile hike or a more intense five-mile circuit. Transportation from Port Angeles, plus snowshoes, poles, and extra clothing are included. Tour guide Carolyn Wilcox advises participants to make it a weekend by spending the night in Port Angeles.
Though Summit at Snoqualmie has skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, the Forest Service holds six different snowshoeing programs around Snoqualmie Pass that range from photography outings to avalanche awareness walks and expeditions for kids. Snowshoes are provided and the tours are free, although a $10-25 donation towards the ranger-led programs is encouraged. Reservations are required.
The Skykomish Ranger District leads trips on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, offering commentary on the wildlife of the region, at 1pm on weekend days through late March. An optional history presentation on the Stevens Pass area follows the 90-minute trip. Donations are recommended ($15 for adults, $10 for youth) and snowshoes are included. Reservations are recommended.
Fish love winter, too! (Actually, they probably don't.) The Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery holds free guided snowshoe hikes of the area on Fridays and Saturdays through the end of January, with reservations required by phone. Snowshoes are provided.
For a slightly fancier Leavenworth experience, Blue Sky Outfitters combines a snow stroll with wine tasting in a six-hour trip. Hot beverages and snacks are included, and the winery breaks make it a 21-and-over choice.
REI also holds a number of guided trips that start at Seattle-area stores and cover everything from transportation to gear. Some of the outings to Leavenworth-area Lanham Lake also add a stop at a brewery afterward (beers included!). Others take off in the afternoon for a moonlight saunter through the snow, and a Mount Rainier trip focuses on digital photography. Prices start at $99 and women's-only programs are also available.
Mountain Loop Highway
The Darrington Ranger District conducts just a few snowshoe treks every winter, leading a five-hour trip up the route of an old railway to the base of Big Four Mountain. Since the trail can be strenuous despite the low elevation, it's only for snow hounds over 16 years old. Spots go fast so reservations are required, and a $20 donation is suggested.
Mount St. Helens
Snowshoe tours put on by the Mount St. Helens Institute explore the special landscape of the state's most explosive volcano; routes include June Lake and Oldman Pass. The Saturday hikes ($55 each) require reservations and are longer treks—stretching up to seven miles—for more experienced snowshoers.
Learn about the state's northernmost volcano and the North Fork of the Nooksack River on a two- to three-hour ranger-led snowshoe hike near the town of Glacier. Held through the first week of March and on Sundays, some walks have an avalanche awareness focus, where leaders discuss how to read the temperamental slopes of the snow-covered Cascades. The walk is free but rangers encourage a donation of $15 for adults and $10 for youth 16 and under. Snowshoes and poles are provided for both, and you know the drill: Reservations highly recommended.
When it's time to snowshoe with perks, Crystal Mountain’s Saturday tours include a scenic chairlift ride and dinner at the mountain resort’s restaurants—a more deluxe experience than your regular ranger-led hike. The experience costs $65 and participants must reserve in advance online. Crystal Mountain also hosts new "Snowshoe and Sip" events featuring four different wineries.