Have you ever gone snowshoeing 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.
Choose Your Trail
Before setting out, pick a light to moderate trail for your earliest snowshoe ventures. Among a few beginner-friendly winter trails 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.
Rent or Buy Snowshoes
Rent or buy 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 REI 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.
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.
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.
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 becoming a party pooper for everyone else involved.
Sunglasses are your friends. No joke. Snow-covered landscapes are surprisingly bright even in relative shadow, and 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).
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, and seeing your chosen trail from an unusual, heightened perspective. Just be cautious, communicate with your snowshoeing group, and use those poles!