Embrace Winter in the Pacific Northwest: Top 10 Snowshoeing Trails for Outdoors Enthusiasts

by Chad Hultz

Winter in the Pacific Northwest is truly magical. The landscape transforms into a snowy wonderland, offering a myriad of OutdoorsNW activities to enjoy. Among these, snowshoeing has gained significant popularity due to its accessibility, affordability, and ability to bring people closer to nature. If you're an adventurer at heart or just looking to try something new, here are the top ten snowshoeing trails in the Pacific Northwest that promise an unforgettable experience.

1. The Majestic Hex Mountain

Hex Mountain, located just north of the charming town of Roslyn, provides a perfect all-day trip for snowshoe enthusiasts. Its relatively low avalanche risk and an ascent of 2,600 feet in about 3.5 miles make it an appealing choice. On a clear day, the views from the bare summit are spellbinding, offering a panoramic view of the Teanaway region to the east and distant snow-capped volcanoes. Even on cloudy days, the route is a delightful, wooded walk.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 7 miles

• Key Attraction: Panoramic views of the Teanaway region

• Distance from Seattle: 80 miles (approx. 1.5 hours)

• Trailhead: Hex Mountain trailhead, Salmon la Sac Road, Cle Elum

• Parking: No special permit required

2. Exploring the Sun Top Lookout

Sun Top Lookout, a 1933 fire lookout located on the north side of Mount Rainier National Park, is a challenging yet rewarding snowshoe trail. Although the route is along a closed road for about a 5-mile stretch each way, the uphill slog to over 5,000 feet is well worth it. The trail rewards you with breathtaking, head-on views of the mountain, making the effort worthwhile. However, snowshoers should be aware of the potential avalanche danger at the very top when the snow is unstable.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 10 miles

• Key Attraction: Head-on views of Mount Rainier

• Distance from Seattle: 80 miles (approx. 1.5 hours)

• Trailhead: Sun Top Sno-Park, Forest Service Rd 7315, Enumclaw

• Parking: Washington Sno-Park permit required

3. Unforgettable Views at Mazama Ridge

Located near the Paradise Inn in Mount Rainier National Park, the Mazama Ridge trail is a favorite among snowshoers. The six-mile round trip trail offers spectacular views of Mount Rainier on one side and the Tatoosh Range on the other. The trail begins just past the main visitor area and takes you to snow-covered Reflection and Louise lakes. The peace and tranquility here offer a stark contrast to the summer crowds.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 6 miles

• Key Attraction: Views of Mount Rainier and the Tatoosh Range

• Distance from Seattle: 110 miles (approx. 2 hours)

• Trailhead: Paradise Inn, Mount Rainier National Park, Ashford

• Parking: National Park entrance fee required

4. The Wonders of Artist Point

Starting at the Mount Baker Ski Area, the snowshoe route to Artist Point promises stunning views of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. The four-mile loop takes you through a broad, snowy expanse, with the ragged summit of Mount Shuksan closer than Mount Baker itself. Despite its popularity with backcountry skiers, the path offers ample space for snowshoers to enjoy the panoramic views.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 4 miles

• Key Attraction: Views of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker

• Distance from Seattle: 135 miles (approx. 3 hours)

• Trailhead: Heather Meadows Base Area, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

• Parking: Check Mount Baker Ski Area website for updated parking information

5. Olympic National Park's Hurricane Hill

The snowshoe trail to Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park provides an extraordinary experience. The trail begins near the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and takes you along a ridgeline to a broad summit. From there, you'll enjoy a 360-degree panorama of the Olympic Range, Puget Sound, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On a clear day, you can even see Canada glistening in the distance.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 6 miles

• Key Attraction: 360-degree panorama of the Olympic Range and beyond

• Distance from Seattle: 101 miles (approx. 3 hours)

• Trailhead: Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, Olympic National Park, Port Angeles

• Parking: National park entrance fee required

6. The Idyllic Gold Creek Pond

Just minutes off I-90, the trail circling Gold Creek Pond is one of the safest and easiest snowshoe routes in the region, making it a classic choice for winter activities. The flat, mile-long route offers picturesque views of the snow-capped peaks of Snoqualmie Pass, making it a favorite among beginners and families.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 1 mile

• Key Attraction: Views of Snoqualmie Pass peaks

• Distance from Seattle: 54 miles (approx. 1 hour)

• Trailhead: Gold Creek Sno-Park, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

• Parking: Washington Sno-Park permit required

7. The Frozen Beauty of Franklin Falls

The snowshoe trail to Franklin Falls, located in a valley between the two forks of I-90, is an enchanting winter experience. The trail's main attraction is the waterfall nestled in a rock wall covered in icicles. On the coldest of days, the main torrent of the waterfall can freeze, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. However, the trail can be crowded, and snow closures may extend the walk to up to eight miles round-trip.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 2-8 miles, depending on snow conditions

• Key Attraction: A frozen waterfall

• Distance from Seattle: 54 miles (approx. 1 hour)

• Trailhead: Franklin Falls trailhead, Denny Creek Rd, Snoqualmie Pass

• Parking: Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass required

8. The Tranquil Wenatchee Crest

Located on Highway 97 between Cle Elum and Leavenworth, the Wenatchee Crest trail is a serene snowshoeing experience. The six-mile round-trip route is mostly flat but offers views into river valleys and across the Central Washington peaks. The trail also offers an excellent view of Mount Stuart, the tenth-highest peak in the state.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 6 miles

• Key Attraction: Views of Mount Stuart and Central Washington peaks

• Distance from Seattle: 98 miles (approx. 2 hours)

• Trailhead: Salmon La Sac Sno-Park, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

• Parking: Washington Sno-Park permit required

9. The Scenic Skyline Lake

The Skyline Lake trail, located directly across from the bustling Stevens Pass Ski Area, is a rewarding snowshoeing experience. Following a switchbacking forest road, the trail climbs more than a thousand feet in a mile and a half, leading to a beautiful, snow-covered clearing known as Skyline Lake. The spot is popular for avalanche instruction and offers stunning views of surrounding peaks.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: 3 miles

• Key Attraction: Views of surrounding peaks and Skyline Lake

• Distance from Seattle: 83 miles (approx. 2 hours)

• Trailhead: Stevens Pass, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

• Parking: Check Stevens Pass ski resort website for updated parking information

10. The Peaceful June Lake

The June Lake trail, located around the Marble Mountain Sno-Park, is a pleasant forest walk offering views of Mount St. Helens. The trail winds around to June Lake, where the volcano rises above the tree line with its characteristic flat top. This trail offers a peaceful retreat from the bustle of the city and a chance to experience the tranquility of nature.

Trail Details:

• Round-trip Length: Variable, depending on the chosen route

• Key Attraction: Views of Mount St. Helens

• Distance from Seattle: 165 miles (approx. 3 hours)

• Trailhead: Marble Mountain Sno-Park, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

• Parking: Washington Sno-Park permit required

In summary, the Pacific Northwest offers a variety of snowshoeing trails perfect for all levels, from beginners to experienced adventurers. These landscapes, covered in a blanket of snow, provide a unique way to experience the beauty of the region during winter. So, grab your snowshoes, bundle up, and hit the trails for some unforgettable OutdoorsNW winter fun. Remember to always check weather and trail conditions before heading out and to follow all safety guidelines. Happy snowshoeing and don't forget to share with us your OutdoorsNW adventures on social media!

Photos from Unsplash