Washington State can easily lay claim to some of the best snowshoeing in the country: The mountain-scape scenery is breathtaking, and a typical winter season serves up some legitimately epic snow packs in the more maritime-influenced ranges, especially the Olympics and the Cascades. You’ll find no shortage of fantastic routes to give those Crescent Moon snowshoes a workout, from the Blue Mountains of the far southeast to the North Cascade foothills of the Methow Valley, but the following four destinations are all-out classics.
Hurricane Ridge (Olympic National Park)
Looming steep and high so close to the Pacific, the grand Olympic Mountains get clobbered by snow each winter. While that makes much of the subalpine and alpine country of Olympic National Park accessible only to experienced trekkers this time of year, Hurricane Ridge—a crowded summertime hub along the northern front of the Olympics—offers easier entry into the white heights and plentiful snowshoeing opportunities. In the winter, Hurricane Ridge Road is normally open during the day Friday through Sunday and on some holidays, as long as the weather allows. Trails around the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center are beginner-friendly—as are the ranger-guided snowshoe hikes offered from mid-December through late March—while the six-mile round-trip climb up to Hurricane Hill’s summit, which affords showstopper views on a clear winter’s day, is more suited to experienced snowshoe enthusiasts.
Mazama Ridge (Mount Rainier National Park)
The trek up to Mazama Ridge from the aptly named Paradise on the south shoulders of Mount Rainier serves as another absolutely classic national-park snowshoe in the Evergreen State. There are a few possibilities for getting up on that roughly 5,700-foot ridge crest, but given avalanche hazard the safest in wintertime, as the Washington Trails Association notes, is to ascend via the 4th Crossing from Paradise Valley Road. The weather is unpredictable and back-and-forth on Rainier, to say the least, but if skies are clear the sightlines from Mazama Ridge can be downright thrilling: stretching from the ice-coated bulk of Rainier directly north to the crags and knobs of the Tatoosh Range to the south and other Cascade stratovolcano giants—Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens, most notably—beyond.
You can make a long loop of Mazama Ridge, though many on snowshoes opt to simply turn around and retrace their steps; keep an eye on the time so you’re getting down before the road to Paradise closes. (You can also winter camp in the area, though.)
As on Hurricane Ridge, by the way, park rangers lead guided snowshoe outings from Paradise; they’re offered Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, and cover about 1.8 miles. Pack your foam snowshoes in your car and hit the road for a long weekend or an extended snowshoe vacation!
Skyline Lake (Stevens Pass/Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest)
It’s a roughly 1,000-foot climb from Stevens Pass north to Skyline Lake, but despite the hearty climb this is a beginner-friendly snowshoe on the whole. The route is typically easy to follow and doesn’t expose you to much avalanche danger, and the views are of the major-payoff variety. The lake lies nestled along Skyline Ridge, which delivers great prospects of the Stevens Pass watchman peaks of Cowboy and Big Chief mountains, plus the high country of the expansive Alpine Lakes Wilderness to the south. (Skyline Lake itself is a stone’s throw from the southeastern border of the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.)
Artist Point (Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest)
The 10,781-foot hulk of Mount Baker, king of the North Cascades, claims some of the highest recorded snowfalls in the world, so needless to say this corner of Washington is a pretty sure bet for the white stuff. Absolutely whopping views define the four-mile snowshoe up to Artist Point from the Heather Meadows parking area at the end of the plowed portion of the Mount Baker Highway (which leads cars to Artist Point in summer). While multiple trails can be followed along stretches of this outing, the route proceeds to Austin Pass and then southwestward to the vantage in question along Kulshan Ridge. Artist Point boasts a homerun panorama, with the toothy massif of 9,131-foot Mount Shuskan lording over the eastern skyline and Baker glowering to the south. Clear days serve up far-reaching views southward down the ultra-jagged, black-and-white crest of the Cascades.
This is probably best described as an intermediate-level snowshoe, given some steep sections and the avalanche risk. If you’re feeling up for it, add on a walkabout around Huntoon Point on the southeastern crest of Kulshan Ridge for more eye-popping scenery.
WA State Snowshoe Considerations
Given the epic snow country the above snowshoes take place in, it’s imperative to take precautions and practice common sense. Always check the weather forecast carefully and regularly so you can aim for calm (and, ideally, clear) weather, though expect whiteouts and snowstorms at any time. It’s also essential to check local avalanche forecasts (like those issued by the Northwest Avalanche Center, which covers the above areas); avoid snowshoeing when avalanche danger is high, and always carry an avalanche shovel, transceiver, and probe in your pack. Of course, you should also be bringing along other winter backcountry essentials such as extra food and warm layers, an emergency shelter, and fire-starting supplies.