By: Kat Cutright
Strap on your snowshoes and get outdoors! If you’re intimidated by skiing or looking for a low-cost, family-friendly alternative, snowshoeing is an accessible winter sport for all experience levels. In this guide, we’ll share some of our favorite snowshoe spots within two hours of Seattle (and a few farther afield) in order of proximity, and all the maps, guides, and gear you need to get there.
GEAR: Snowshoeing can be a leisurely stroll or a heart-pumping workout. As with any outdoor winter activity, we recommend making sure you wear sweat-wicking material and layer your gear so you can remove and add warmth as needed. One of the best things about snowshoeing is that you don’t need a ton of specialized gear! Take many of the same items you’d need to stay warm and dry on a winter hike. If you need to pick up new gear, our gear shop has you covered.
Most quality pairs of adult snowshoes are in the range of $140 to $250, while kids’ snowshoes start at about $70. A sturdy pair of poles is also a must to help with balance and stability. Make sure they have snow baskets attached! Not in the market to buy? No problem! Ascent Outdoors offers affordable snowshoe rentals in the heart of Ballard.
ACCESSIBILITY: You can walk right into the pristine winter wonderland of the Pacific Northwest backcountry from virtually anywhere in the mountains. Experience the deep hush of fresh powder and real moments of rare solitude. Or, bring your friends and share a hot chocolate perched on a mountain trail! If you’re not ready to venture out on your own, Miyar Adventures provides guided snowshoe day trips from Seattle to your choice of area destination with our guide’s expertise on gear selection, winter navigation, and basic technique for easy snow travel. Park rangers are another amazing resource for local advice on the day of your trip.
SAFETY: Even for a short day trip away from the city or suburbs, make sure you give thorough consideration to avalanche conditions by checking NWAC and to weather forecasts because winter conditions can change rapidly. A final note on safety: When venturing into the backcountry, always pack more than enough food, warm clothing, and water to see you through your trip and tell a friend or family member your plans.
GETTING THERE: As with many outdoor activities, popular trailheads and parking areas can be crowded. Plan to arrive early and check road conditions before you go. Park safely and don’t block emergency access or interchanges. Pay to park at one of Washington’s Sno Parks and make sure you have a Northwest Forest Pass at trailheads where required. State and National Parks will require a separate entrance fee.
LIGHT READING: Our favorite snowshoe guide for trip-planning, technique and education is Snowshoeing: From Novice to Master, Fifth Edition. For trail information and routes, we recommend Snowshoe Routes: Washington, Third Edition.
Now, on to the trips!
1) The Summit at Snoqualmie Nordic Center
If you’re spending the day snowshoeing while someone else is hitting the slopes, The Summit at Snoqualmie Nordic Center offers more than 50km of groomed trails for snowshoers and cross-country skiers with amenities like warming huts and restrooms, making it an excellent choice for beginners who don’t want to venture too far afield.
2) Gold Creek Pond & Basin
These are popular snowshoe routes for good reasons: The trails are only minutes from I-90 and they’re an instant gateway into a Cascadian Winter Wonderland. The incredibly picturesque trail snakes through forested valleys to alpine lakes and meadows surrounded by majestic peaks. You can’t go wrong exploring this location, but be aware that you’ll have company!
3) Commonwealth Basin/PCT
A lesser-traveled but equally beautiful option in the Snoqualmie Pass area is a personal favorite of mine, Commonwealth Basin, accessed by the Pacific Crest Trail. This route treks up and down hills and along ridges until it reaches Commonwealth Basin about 2 miles out, where snowshoers can continue along the PCT toward Kendall Peak or explore the Basin under Red Mountain.
4) Kendall Peak Lakes
Also accessible from the Gold Creek Basin trail, the Kendall Peak Lakes takes a moderately graded route along an old road through equally gorgeous scenery to end at the shore of three mountain lakes. It’s a longer trek — nine miles round trip out-and-back, so leave plenty of time to be back by dark!
5) Lake Easton
Lake Easton is just past Snoqualmie Pass and often less crowded with some excellent, easy, and accessible groomed terrain. Lake Easton may be best accessed later in the ski season due to being at a lower elevation than the passes.
6) Hex Mountain
Also east of the pass and north of Roslyn, you’ll find Hex Mountain, a popular snowshoe route for day-trippers. It’s a seven mile out-and-back with excellent panoramic views from the top on a clear day!
1) Stevens Pass Nordic Center
Located two hours northeast from downtown Seattle, and past the ski area at the summit of Stevens Pass, Stevens Pass Nordic Center offers a selection of groomed trails for beginning and intermediate snowshoers. Snowshoe trails vary in length and strenuousness, and four well-marked trails leave from near the ski area to wind along the base of Jim Hill Mountain and into Mill Valley. Climb up to Lanham Lake, or take a stroll along the Coal-Burner/Clickety-Clack trail for several flatter miles.
Stevens Pass Ski area has plenty of amenities for those who are interested in an apres-snowshoe meal or shopping, and offers snowshoers and skiers alike access to a scenic part of the cascades.
2) Skyline Lake
Skyline Lake is nestled in a scenic alpine bowl that makes it attractive to snowshoers, backcountry skiers, and avalanche-course students. It’s easily accessed from the north lot of the Stevens Pass ski area. Views from the lake are gorgeous, and snowshoers can continue to traverse another 200 feet up the northwest ridge to find a fantastic rock garden worth a visit.
1) Crystal Mountain Resort
Crystal mountain is a perfect destination for groups traveling with family or avid skiers, and lies to the south of Seattle near access to Mount Rainier (see below). This resort also features all the expected amenities (rentals, lessons, restaurants) as well as a popular gondola that ferries passengers up 2,500 to fantastic views of the skyline. The top of the gondola provides access to the Ridgetop trail and the chance to snowshoe (or ski) back down.
We won’t go into too much detail here, but there are also plenty of fantastic snowshoe destinations more than two hours from Seattle. These are a few of the most notable!
Just past Crystal Mountain to the south of Seattle, the Paradise area of Mount Rainier offers a variety of snowshoeing options, from ranger-guided tours (donation requested) to a range of beginning to challenging trails. Try the Paradise Valley Road trail for amazing views of the mountain with the end destination of Reflection Lakes. The six-mile Mazama Ridge trail that begins past the main visitor area is well-known for its stellar views of alpine meadows, the Tatoosh Range, and the mountain itself. For a memorable challenge, skilled snowshoers can hike to Camp Muir on the mountain’s south side, but this is a route that requires ample planning and knowledge.
Two hours to the northeast, Mt. Baker offers its own ski area with access to amenities. The snowshoe to Artist point is away from all the hubbub (and access may be affected by seasonal road closures, so keep an eye on conditions). It boasts arguably the best view in the state and plenty of snow for the entire winter season. This four-mile trail with 1,000 feet of elevation gain is considered moderate to difficult but is a bucket-list destination for many. Stay on snowshoe paths and be well-aware of avalanche danger on this route.
A bit farther afield, and about 3 hours to the West of Seattle, lies Olympic National Park. We’d be remiss not to mention Hurricane Ridge as a premiere destination for scenic snowshoeing. The Hurricane Ridge trail offers spectacular views from both beginner-accessible terrain and for more advanced treks up Hurricane Hill.
Don’t forget! Miyar Adventures offers guided snowshoe day trips from the Seattle area to destinations of your choice. Let’s get out there together!
Questions? Email us: [email protected]
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