A Newbie’s Guide to Snowshoeing in Washington

Have you ever gone snowshoeing trails during the winter? Washington State is full of seasonal snowshoe trails, from the Cascade Mountains to Central and Eastern Washington. Get started this winter with our beginner’s guide to snowshoeing in Washington.

snowy trees at Gold Creek Washington

Choose Your Trail

Before setting out, pick a light to moderate trail for your earliest snowshoe ventures. Among a few beginner-friendly popular destinations for winter are Gold Creek Pond Trail in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Palouse to Cascades Trail (previously the Iron Horse/John Wayne Pioneer Trail) in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and the Wenatchee Crest Trail in the Wenatchee National Forest. You can also check out our story on Spending a Day in the Snow at Mount Baker for more snowshoeing suggestions.

Research your route before departing for current weather and avalanche conditions. See the Washington Trails Association’s Snowshoeing 101 for more information on choosing your trail safely in the winter months.

Rent or Buy Snowshoes

Buy or rent snowshoes somewhere that you can learn what kind to get and how to fasten them. Snowshoe fasteners are not the most intuitive of things, and if you’re not getting all the loops and hooks quite right, you’ll be in for a maddening hike full of stops and adjustments. I prefer to rent my snowshoe sets from Snowshoe Rentals in Seattle, although they are available from a number of places and price points depending on your location. A rental expert at a place with a range of options can also tell you whether an all-purpose snowshoe will be suitable for your targeted trail, or if you need a pair with a larger surface area.

If you have smaller feet, wear boots that are fairly tall at the bridge of your foot. I learned the hard way that one-size-fits-all, rental-friendly adult snowshoes don’t always fasten snugly over a narrow shoe with a low bridge, which is a recipe for strap slippage and your shoes trying to escape.

mountains

Maps and Navigation

Download offline maps of the area before you leave home. This goes for the span of your entire trip, including your driving route and your snowshoeing route. At altitude, it’s likely that your cell reception will kick out early. Better safe than sorry, especially when you’re hunting for a hard-to-find right turn, watching for the right highway exit, or finding your way back to the main path after going off-trail.

Snowshoeing in Washington State

Bring a Buddy

Don’t snowshoe alone! Bitter cold, strong glare, and icy conditions can complicate even the most basic of trails. Having at least one buddy along for the journey means you can keep an eye on each other and help each other out in a pinch — just in case someone gets hurt or stranded. Plus, it can’t hurt for one of you to hop out of the car in a packed Sno-Park to help the driver spot their parking job. Everything is tougher to do on a layer of snow and ice.

Nutrition

Eat something light but energy-dense before and during your trip, even if you’re accustomed to fasting before a hike, as I am. Snowshoeing takes a lot of extra energy compared to a normal hike — you’re essentially dragging a mini sled uphill with each step! Don’t do what I did on my second-ever snowshoeing adventure: skip breakfast, severely lose steam right at the halfway point, and become a party pooper for everyone else involved.

Snowshoeing Gear

Sunglasses are your friends. No joke. Snow-covered landscapes are surprisingly bright even in relative shadow. It’s a terrible thing to be squinting in pain when you should be having fun.

Waterproof yourself. Every item of outside-facing clothing you wear should be waterproof, and especially your boots and pants. The better waterproofed you are, the better protected against cold you will be, and the better your options and range of mobility if you ever decide to, say, slide down a snowy slope for the fun of it (speaking from experience).

hiking poles and snow

Trekking poles can guide your path. Yeah, they look a little nerdy, and some of my friends don’t like them for that reason…but when it comes to snowshoeing, a pair of trekking poles with snow baskets can keep you out of trouble. You can use them to test the stability and compactness of the snow where you’re planning to step — and thus protect yourself against sinking into or sliding off unstable areas with overly loose powder or below-surface air pockets.

Blaze Your Own Trail

Don’t be afraid to get off the trail — within reason. Is your snowshoe trail fairly heavily trafficked? Are you traveling with a group? Do you have good energy, know where the trail is, and have trekking poles in hand? If you’re able to tick off all these boxes, you may be equipped to venture (reasonably) off-trail onto a mound of fresh snow, laying down the area’s first snowshoe tracks. There’s something liberating and otherworldly about getting to do so. You’ll be feet above the actual ground, up-close-and-personal with trees. Seeing your chosen trail from an unusual, heightened perspective. Just be cautious, communicate with your snowshoeing group. And use those poles!

5 Popular Snowshoeing Washington Trails

Ready to go snowshoeing in Washington? Here are 5 of the most popular tourist destinations during the winter season.

1. Olympic National Park 

The Olympic National Park is located on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington State. It’s known for its beautiful, snowy landscapes, and lakes that are perfect for chilly winter hikes.

With more than 900 miles of trails, most of which are open year-round. Snowshoeing in Olympic National Park is a great way to experience the beauty of nature. You’ll find trails that lead through lush forests and cozy cabins, along Olympic mountain ridges, and even close to untouched lakes.

2. North Cascades National Park Complex 

There’s a good reason why North Cascades National Park Complex is one of the best snowshoeing trails in America. Because of the endless number of routes you can take, you can enjoy views that will leave you breathless and witness wildlife that populates the area.

3. Snoqualmie Pass Ski and Snowboard Area 

Snoqualmie Ski and Snowboard Area are some of the best snowshoeing trails in Washington State. They sit over 800 acres next to Interstate 90 and near the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. It has 20 runs, 18 skiable acres, 50 ski lifts, night skiing, and a 2,150 feet elevation gain. It also provides 11 miles of cross-country skiing trails and is home to the greatest amount of snowfall in the state.

4. Alpine Lakes Wilderness

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is home to some great snowshoeing trails with easy access. These trails wind through areas of solitude and quiet, sometimes passing by frozen lakes in the mountains for most of the year. 

One trail in the Alpine Lake Wilderness is the White River trail you can access from the Glacier Public Service Center. You’ll pass through meadows full of wildflowers as well as lakes, bogs, and stands of lodgepole pine as you travel up to the base of Dragontail Peak.

5. Frozen Lake

Located just outside of Morton, Frozen Lake offers some incredible views and is ideal for beginners looking to get into the sport of snowshoeing. It also makes for a nice family outing where you can take your time to enjoy nature while hiking around the frozen water.

What are your favorite snowshoe trails in the area? If you’ve never been snowshoeing before or want to find a new trail in Washington State, we hope this guide gave some great ideas. 

If you’re interested to know more about what Washington State can offer, check out our blog for more information and inspiration!

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Albertine Wang

Albertine Wang is a Seattle-based consultant, writer, editor, and photographer with a background in literary criticism. She is a sucker for clear lakes, dark skies and tartan shirts…as well as anything to do with the Olympic Peninsula. Instagram: @alb.ert.ine

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