Winter walks

10 Best Snowshoe Hikes in Western Washington

Trails look a little different in winter, but with the right footwear there's no reason to stay inside.

By Allison Williams Published in the Winter 2020 issue of Seattle Met

A snowshoer descends near Cle Elum.

Image: Nate Brown

Lake Cle Elum

Hex Mountain

Thanks to low avalanche risk, this peak just north of the town of Roslyn is a popular all-day trip, rising 2,600 feet in about 3.5 miles. If clouds disperse the views from the bare summit are memorable, a panorama of the Teanaway region to the east and white-topped volcanoes in the distance. Still, the route is a pleasant, woody walk even when it’s socked in.

Sun Top Lookout.

Mount Rainier

Sun Top Lookout

What’s drivable in the summer—a 1933 fire lookout on the north side of Mount Rainier National Park—becomes an intense winter workout of five-plus miles along the closed road each way. Obviously a fire-spotting station is up high, so expect an uphill slog to over 5,000 feet, but the head-on views of the mountain are glorious payback. Don’t be swayed by the apparent safety of road travel; the very top can be dangerous when snow is unstable.

Mount Rainier

Mazama Ridge

While even a short snowshoe wander around the Paradise Inn is rewarding, the trail that begins just past the main visitor area has a rep for unforgettable views. Rainier itself towers on one side and the small (only relatively) Tatoosh Range emerges from the other. A six-mile round trip travels the ridgeline until it looks down on snow-covered Reflection and Louise lakes.

Mount Shuksan rises behind the road that runs from Mount Baker Ski Area to Artist Point.

Mount Baker

Artist Point

Though the route starts at the Mount Baker Ski Area, the uphill climb to a broad, snowy expanse soon offers views far beyond the chairlifts and bunny hills. The ragged summit of Mount Shuksan is closer than the actual Mount Baker. Stay on snowshoe paths for the four-mile loop, as the area is popular with backcountry skiers and includes steeps susceptible to avalanche.

No Flake

Winter travel requires more intense prep than a summer hike; snowfall may obscure trails and others' tracks. Find trip reports and descriptions at Washington Trails Association, consider GPS tools, and consult the classic list of hiking's 10 Essentials.

Olympic National Park

Hurricane Hill

After a scenic drive up the road to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the hike begins near the rope tows that turn this national park viewpoint into a mini ski area in winter. A modest climb along a ridgeline leads to a broad summit with a vantage of Mount Olympus and the Pacific Ocean. Across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Canada glistens just out of reach.

Gold Creek Pond.

Snoqualmie Pass

Gold Creek Pond

A Northwest classic for a reason: The flat, mile-long route circles a mountain lake just minutes off I-90, with the rocky Snoqualmie Pass peaks serving as picturesque backdrop. Expect crowds; one of the safest and easiest snowshoe routes in the region rarely sees a quiet day.

Snoqualmie Pass

Franklin Falls

At its worst, the waterfall located in a valley between the two fingers of I-90 is a fairy-ready idyll hugged by a rock wall dripping with icicles. On the coldest of days, the main torrent itself can freeze, though that’s rare. It’s a flat route through the forest to the waterfall, but snow closures (and seriously crowded parking) can make the walk up to eight miles round-trip.

Blewett Pass

Wenatchee Crest

Located on Highway 97 between Cle Elum and Leavenworth, the six-mile round-trip route is mostly flat but looks into river valleys and across the even bumps of the Central Washington peaks. Mount Stuart, the tenth-highest peak in the state (and one of the only big ones not built by a volcano), rises to the west.

Follow the Leader

Securing guided snowshoe outings in 2020 is about as simple as finding a lost contact lens in a snowstorm. Forest Service rangers usually lead them around Snoqualmie, Stevens, Mount Baker, and the Darrington Ranger District; National Park rangers head up trips at Mount Rainier. But group activities are yet another Covid casualty; REI, our sole local savior, will hold a handful of guided half-day trips this winter ($79, gear included).

Image: Courtesy REI

Stevens Pass

Skyline Lake

A forest road switchbacks up the mountains directly across from the hubbub of Stevens Pass Ski Area. It climbs more than a thousand feet in a mile and a half, near cabins and past a radio tower—a worthy bit of exercise that comes with a reward. In winter Skyline Lake is a beautiful snow-covered clearing, a popular spot to see clumps of students taking part in avalanche instruction.

Mount St. Helens

June Lake

Various trails around the Marble Mountain Sno-Park make for pleasant forest wandering, including this well-traveled route for climbers; follow it to where it breaks out of the trees for a view of the gentle flank of Mount St. Helens. Or wind around to June Lake—directions required, though trees are marked with flags—where the volcano rises above the tree line with its lopped-off top.

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