December 17, 2016
By Kris Parfitt
Photo at right: Olympic National Park Ranger, Caroline Walls, teaches natural history to a group of snowshoers. Photo courtesy of Olympic National Park
Did you know that many of our region’s national forests offer ranger-led snowshoe tours?
These interpretive winter hikes are unique opportunities for people who are new to snowshoeing or for those interested in learning more about forest ecology, natural history and the plants and animals that inhabit the area.
No experience is necessary and the rangers provide snowshoes for those who don’t have their own gear. Group sizes range from 10 to 20 participants depending on the theme of the tour. Most tours begin in December and fill up quickly. Space is limited and reservations are required, so make sure to call early.
National Forest ranger-led snowshoe hikes are offered free to the public. However, to offset the cost of gear maintenance the Forest Service requests a donation from each participant, usually ranging from $10 to $20 for kids 10 –18 years of age, and $15 to $25 for adults. Requested donation amounts vary for each national forest so inquire when making your reservation.
Tours range from 90 minutes to six hours and may be as short as one mile or as long as six, depending on the hike. When making a reservation, make sure to check meeting time and location, and the length of time and distance of the snowshoe hike.
Remember to layer well with insulated clothing, a warm hat, gloves and sturdy, water-resistant footwear. Bring a lunch, snacks, water and a thermos of hot chocolate, cider or tea for a warm-up on a break.
Extreme weather may cancel snowshoe programs, so ask how the rangers will communicate a cancelation.
Some of the Washington National Forests have partnered with professional instructors from the Northwest Avalanche Center and offer snowshoe walks focused on avalanche awareness. Check to see if these walks are offered in the area you want to visit and call for dates and times. Reservations are also required for these specific classes.
National parks also offer ranger-led snowshoe tours, some for free, and some for a nominal fee to cover costs. Many visitor centers rent snowshoes and poles for an affordable hourly rate. Call the park in advance to inquire about tour reservations, costs and snowshoe rental availability.
Some private companies and resorts also offer guided snowshoe programs for a fee. Be sure to inquire ahead of time about whether Sno-Park permits are required to park at tour meeting locations.
Mount Baker Ranger District: (360) 599-9572
Mountain Loop Highway, Darrington Ranger District: (360) 436-1155
Mount Rainier National Park, Jackson Visitor Center, Paradise: (360) 569-2211
Mount St. Helens Institute: (360) 449-7883
Olympic National Park/Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center: (360) 565-3136
Snoqualmie Pass: (509) 852-1062
Stevens Pass, Skykomish Ranger District: (360) 677-2414
Crater Lake National Park Visitor Center: (541) 594-3100
Deschutes National Forest/Mount Bachelor: (541) 383-4055
Mount Hood, Zigzag Ranger District: (503) 622-3191
Glacier National Park, Apgar Visitor Center, West Glacier: (406) 888-7800
Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce: (406) 646-4403
How to Make Snowshoe Reservations with a Ranger
• Dates of tours
• Space availability
• Donation amounts or gear rental costs
• Minimum age for children
• Meeting time, location, length of time and distance of hike, cancelation communication in case of extreme weather, and whether a Sno-Park permit needed for parking.
• If you’re interested in an avalanche-awareness walk, ask if one is offered, and if so, whether any preparation is needed to attend.