by Sam Ortiz
The Washington landscape changes drastically with a coating of snow. Mountain ridges are softened in the skyline as snowbanks smooth their edges. Frost-encrusted branches make trees seem as if they’re dusted with magic. Even if you don’t ski or snowboard, enjoying Washington’s spectacular terrain in the colder months is possible by hitting the trails. Washington snowshoeing or winter hiking can take you to frozen waterfalls and alpine ridges, and is an incredible way to experience the state’s beauty in the colder colder months.
One of my favorite parts about living in Western Washington is the ability to drive to winter. In the lowlands, temperatures stay mild and snow rarely graces our lawns but winter can be found in full force with just an hours drive east into the mountains or a ferry ride to the Olympic Peninsula.
From the northern reaches of the Cascades, to Snoqualmie Pass, down to Mount Rainier National Park, and over into the Olympics, this list includes trail options for beginners and experienced adventurers alike!
There are a few things to keep in mind for safety and preparedness when planning to go snowshoeing or winter hiking in Washington. Weather and trail conditions can vary, avalanche danger exists in certain locations, and a few specific pieces of gear are really key to make sure you’ve got proper traction on ice or snow.
Check out this post on Winter Hiking Tips & Recommended Gear! It includes information about traction devices (microspikes, snowshoes, and crampons), layering, planning for the right turnaround time with waning daylight hours, and more.
Okay, on to the hikes.
This short trail packs beautiful views! When no snow is present, Gold Creek Pond is an accessible trail for those who use mobility devices. However, once the snow begins, it turns into an awesome beginner friendly snowshoe route. This short and flat loop is one of my first recommendations for anyone who is new to winter sports!
With a well-traveled, often packed down trail, adventurers can often choose whether to use microspikes or snowshoes to enjoy this loop hike. However, because this trail sits at a higher elevation, be prepared for deeper, unpacked snow if you visit after a storm system has moved through the area.
The winter version of this trail is slightly longer than the summer route. Be prepared to park on the road and walk in on the unplowed, forest service road.
Franklin Falls is a photographer favorite in every season, but especially in winter! As the falls freeze they create stunning icicle structures nearby. This makes visiting in winter worth the extra mileage from the seasonal road closure.
Expect this trail to have patches of snow and ice throughout. Microspikes are strongly recommended for the final portion of the trail, which leads steeply downward towards the water.
If you’re looking for snow-free options to enjoy this winter, the lowlands offer some great options! The trail to this stunning waterfall typically remains snow free year round. With increased precipitation over the winter months, look out for mud, instead!
Sitting across the highway from the Stevens Pass Ski Area, you can expect this trail to receive quite a bit of snow! The snow coated branches surrounding you will make this snowshoe option feel like a winter wonderland all winter long!
During your climb uphill, you will be greeted with beautiful views of the surrounding pass that you can admire while taking rest breaks.
This classic snowshoe begins next to the Mount Baker Ski Area where you’ll see wands indicating boundary zones. Be sure to stay outside of the ski boundary!
Even with a well-packed route, this area sees a lot of snowfall so snowshoes are a must for easier travel. A couple of steeper slopes are what push this route into the moderately difficult category, so be comfortable on snowshoes before attempting.
The work is certainly worth the reward. This trail offers stunning views of Mount Shuksan throughout and views of Mount Baker when cresting the final ridge.
Beginning from the Paradise parking lot at Mount Rainier National Park, this is a Washington classic! With views of Mount Rainier on one side and the Tatoosh Range on the other, Panorama Point truly lives up to its name. While the grade is gentle at first, be prepared for an increasingly steep ascent, with a final climb at the end that may intimidate some.
The winter route of this trail differs from the summer route to avoid slopes that are avalanche prone and bypass potentially dangerous creek crossings. For this reason, it’s very important to stay on the route designated by the local rangers.
This is a favorite trail of many mountaineers in the area! It’s a relatively short climb compared to many other technical scrambles in the area. The views behind you as you climb Mount Ellinor are an inspiration to reach the top, where you’ll be greeted with sweeping panoramas.
Winter scrambling and/or technical mountaineering expertise is highly recommended before attempting this trail when snow is present. The winter route travels up a steep avalanche chute, so beware of the avalanche and weather forecasts before attempting this climb.
While snowshoes are useful earlier on in the hike, crampons are recommended for the final steep stretches to the summit. A climbing helmet and ice axe for self arrest are recommended, as well.