The many snowshoe seasons of Washington


John, Family Ambassador

Washington is a special place. Not because it’s the home of Tubbs Snowshoes, Starbucks, Mount Rainier, and Sasquatch, but because of the weather. It’s the weather that makes us a little extra… special.

Take, for example, Summer. While the rest of the country starts warming in April and May we steadfastly refuse to acknowledge anything more than the longer days until July 5 when our Summer officially begins. Then we have three months of amazing weather before the rain returns. (The only time it rains during our Summer is when tourists come to visit.)

Spring and Fall are marked gray drizzle punctuated by ferocious rain and wind storms that flood the lowlands and keep the western half of the state a luxurious green even while the eastern half remains nearly desert.

And then there’s Winter. Winter is notoriously unpredictable. It rarely snows in the lowlands so when it does it’s a cause for both celebration and apocalypse. Schools and businesses close and drivers give up any pretense of competency and park their cars on the freeways and walk. The state’s two plows often take shelter in a garage rather than risk getting snowed on. It’s so rare that we have lowland snow that one jewelry store offers a refund on all engagement rings for the year if we have a white Christmas!

Snowshoe season starts as early as November at the major cross-state passes (Stevens, Snoqualmie, and White), which range from 3,000 to 4,000 feet in elevation. In a normal year they’ll have 10 feet of snow until April or May. Around that time those low-elevation trailheads start melting out and snowshoe season draws to a close.


Well, first snowshoe season ends. And when first snowshoe season ends that’s when second snowshoe season gets ready to start. Three lesser passes (Washington, Cayuse, and Chinook), all at about 5,000 feet, close in the Fall and don’t open until the avalanche danger subsides and the snow can be cleared in the Spring. When they do open the terrain has been untouched for months. Even better, these passes are in North Cascades and Mount Rainier National Parks so the views are spectacular. Second snowshoe season lasts about a month before even this high elevation snow begins to degrade.


And then, third snowshoe season! The last area to open is the road to the Sunrise Visitor Center in Mount Rainier National Park at 6,000 feet. This generally happens in late June or early July and provides the last easy access to consistent snow in the state. T-shirt snowshoeing with a 14,000 foot volcano front-and-center.


It’s true that the die-hard snowshoers can find snow all year round. Four of the five volcanos in the state hold glaciers and snowfields can be found tucked high on the shady north sides of hills late into the Summer. But this snow isn’t nearly as satisfying as the freshiez found only during Washington’s three snowshoe seasons.

We’d invite you to come visit and partake, but then it’d rain and nobody’d have any fun.