Killing Time Waiting for Snow

One of the most frustrating aspects of being an avid snowshoer is waiting for the season to begin. I’m not a patient guy to begin with and seeing other parts of the country (I’m looking at you, Colorado and Utah!) getting snow while the Pacific Northwest is just rain makes me want to sit in front of my happy-light for a few hours.

While the Internet spews pictures of blue skies and white snow that I can’t touch, it also makes researching this winter’s adventures much easier. In between ballet, ice skating, and tae kwon do there will be a few weekends when I can get the family into the mountains to enjoy nature. Here’s what I’m planning for this season.

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Hurricane Ridge is accessible year round, 17 miles from Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. My family rarely gets to explore the Olympic Mountains and the Park because it’s 120 miles and three hours away. However, this winter it’s on our list.

Starting at the lodge, it’s six miles and 800 feet of gain to the summit of Hurricane Hill. However, there are plenty of spots to stop and enjoy the amazing views south into the heart of the Park, including Mt. Olympus, and north to the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Canada beyond.

Reflection and Louise Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier dominates the skyline for much of Washington with good reason. It stands alone in the Cascades, towering above all the neighboring peaks. Much of the Park is closed in winter, but the Park Service does its best to keep Paradise open and accessible all year round. Most of our adventures in the Park have been on the north side at Sunrise, which is an hour closer than Paradise on the south side of the mountain. My kids haven’t been to Paradise, but that will change this season.

In addition to visiting the snow play area at Paradise, where the average annual snowfall is 53.6 feet (yes, FEET) and the lowest recorded snowfall was 26 feet, we’ll be snowshoeing to Reflection and Louise Lakes. Seven miles roundtrip with only 560 feet of elevation gain along the closed, snow-covered roads. Roads are perfect for hauling gear in a sled so I’ll be pulling mine, though everything will be in a backpack in case the sled turns out to be more of a hinderance.

The lakes provide iconic views of the mountain in both summer and winter. With the road closed, though, you won’t have the hum of traffic behind you as you look across the frozen lake to Washington’s highest mountain.

Grubstake and Northway Peak via the Crystal Mountain Gondola
Crystal Mountain is one of the premier ski resorts in Washington. They offer guided snowshoe walks, but they don’t get to the ridge that separates the ski area from amazing views of Mount Rainier. You could climb the 2,400 feet in a little more than a mile or you can ride the Crystal Mountain Gondola to the Summit House restaurant at 6,872 feet.

From the Summit House, we’ll head north along the ridge and the boundary with Mount Rainier National Park to Grubstake and Northway Peaks. It’s an easy snowshoe stroll along the ridge for only a couple of miles round trip with 500 feet of gain. The views can’t get much better so we’ll turn around when we’re satisfied or get hungry for lunch at Washington’s highest restaurant.

Artist Point, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Like Olympic National Park, Mt. Baker is a long drive for us at almost 160 miles. However, on the north side of the mountain is Artist Point. In 1999, a world record 1,140 inches (95 feet) of snow fell on Mt. Baker. Besides mountains of snow, Artist Point offers views of Mt. Baker (Washington’s third highest mountain) and Mt. Shuksan.

Unlike the other trips I’m hoping to take the family on, this is no walk in the park. Over a 5.5 mile round trip we’ll climb 1,200 feet. More importantly, there is avalanche danger so we’ll only get to try this hardest trip of the season if the conditions are safe and the weather’s good.

For all these trips, safety will be my top priority followed by fun and then the destination. Avalanche safety is a big issue with the wet snow in the Northwest, but there are usually enough safe times to get on the snow and alternative routes if it’s questionable.

Even if we don’t get to all of these amazing spots in Washington (or any of them), I’m sure we’ll have more than our fair share of time on the snow. Assuming it finally snows here. I’m dancing now.

John Soltys
Kids / Family Ambassador