flaked out

Snow Blocks Many Trails as Summer Hiking Season Begins

Do you want to build a snowman...or take a hike?

By Allison Williams June 23, 2022

At left, the Tipsoo Lake hikers expect in mid-June; at right, the Tipsoo Lake they find.

Last weekend a stream of visitors to Mount Rainier National Park pulled over at the crest of Chinook Pass, east of the mountain, and asked around: "Where is the start of the Tipsoo Lake trail?" Skiers who'd just descended from jagged Naches Peak, carving snow all the way to their parked cars, gestured generally past the highway's shoulder-high snow berm to the all-white landscape beyond. "It's under there."

Summer may be here with a bang—hello, sunshine—but a high snow year means that many high elevation destinations are not yet ready for dry land hikers. The white stuff can mean anything from an annoyance to a grave risk.

"When folks encounter areas that are full of snow, they're not going to be able to see the trail. Getting lost is a definite possibility," says Terry Wildy, chief of interpretation, education, and volunteers at Mount Rainier National Park. Rangers call this season "melt-out," and as streams run under the last, old layer of snow, it can hollow out from below and create nature's trap door.

Wildy recommends trails that begin at a lower elevation—favorites include Trail of the Shadows at Longmire, Kautz Creek Trail near the park's main entrance, and Silver Falls Trail on the south end of the park. A visit to Paradise and a meal at the historic Paradise Inn isn't off the table; the road is clear for all cars, but as webcams show, its famed wildflower meadows are still in their Frozen stage. On June 17 the park reported that  Paradise snow depth was at nearly 120 inches, 154 percent of normal.

While MRNP updates trail conditions on its website, there are thousands more trails across the Northwest just waiting for summer hikers. Those venturing out can reference websites like Washington Trails Association for recent trip reports, which will describe conditions and may even include photos. In general, anything lower elevation will be clear of snow, but very full creeks and tree blowdowns may be a danger on less-used routes. Let the word "alpine" in a trail description be a sign that experience in snow travel is likely required.

Earlier in the month The Seattle Times reported that 40 percent of city residents have hiked in the past year, up from 25 percent in 2010. King County Metro started its summer Trailhead Direct service to provide public transportation to some North Bend favorites. The steady throng of hikers can mean crowded trails and permits required in some regions, but even when leftover snowdrifts block some routes, there are still hundreds of trails left to be explored.

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