Unlike last season, this winter in Washington is snowy – in the mountains, that is. There are plenty of places to play in the snow, be it on skis, snowshoes, or (warm) hiking boots.
The lowest impact – and lowest cost – option is hiking. Take it from this innkeeper, though, that current snow levels are best navigated with snowshoes or cross-country skis. If you’re traveling to Seattle by air or don’t have your own gear, fear not – there are a number of places to rent equipment. We recommend either REI or Second Ascent (the latter just down the hill from us in Ballard). You also can get Sno-Park passes there, which are required parking permits in Washington State parks. While the temptation to pull over on the side of the road may be high, we don’t recommend it. For one thing, plowed snow makes for no shoulder. For another, trekking through our mountains without trail maps or experience can be dangerous.
Despite the warning not to go rogue, you can remain independent by parking at any of the sno-parks, hooking up your snowshoes or equipment, and setting out. We recently spent a few leisurely hours on the Gold Creek trail, snowshoeing just over five miles with a picnic-lunch stop along the way. In rush-hour traffic out of Seattle it took a little over 1.5 hours to get there. A pub stop in North Bend on the way home fortified us for the commute back. Click on these links for more info about Washington Trails and the Sno-Parks.
Area alpine ski areas also have Nordic trails. Day passes to use these trails are cheaper than those for downhill activity. Closest is Snoqualmie Pass, and Stevens Pass also offers this option. Of course, if you prefer the rush of downhill skiing, go that route at these two places.
For a more curated experience, The U.S. Forest Service offers ranger-led walks on the weekends. Check out this site for specifics on Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass, and Mt. Baker.
There’s nothing like taking a walk or glide through the snow on a blue-sky Pacific Northwest winter day. If you happen to hit a misty, gray day, simply wear a brimmed hat, enjoy the less-crowded trails, then warm yourself by the fire back at 9 Cranes Inn.