Explore Washington State’s Outdoor Treks

Explore These Backcountry Treks This Winter

By David Gladish January 6, 2023

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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Seattle magazine.

November in Seattle means you can count on a few things; Seahawks games, the start of holiday gatherings and rain. The long days of summer, with perfect weather that makes living in this region so worth it, are long behind us. Darkness has set in. Wetness has enveloped our city. It’s easy to get the winter blues during the rainy season and to feel weighed down by the perpetual dampness. 

Luckily, with rain in the lower elevations comes snow in the mountains. You don’t have to be an expert to go trekking in the snow this winter, or own any high-tech equipment, skis or even snowshoes. There are many wonderful reasons to get out hiking in the snow, no matter your experience level. 

It can be draining to be stuck inside during what feels like endless days of rain. The record for most consecutive days with measurable rain in Seattle was 33 days! Granted, that was 23 years ago, but you get the idea.

Wearing high quality rain gear and walking in city parks is a great way to go outside in the rainy season, but it can feel tiring being clad in Gore-Tex all the time. Walking or hiking in the snow is completely different and swapping rain for snow can feel invigorating. 

The way snowflakes glisten and sparkle, the beauty of trees blanketed in a fresh coat of snow and the tracks of tiny animals scattered about all provide glimpses of beauty unique to snowy environments. Getting out of the rain and into the snow gives me new life and a fresh perspective. 

One of the best parts about living in or near Seattle is the access to amazing outdoor diversity within a few hours of the city. You can experience marine environments, the desert, rain forest and mountains and still be home for dinner. It doesn’t take much to start trekking in the snow. Begin with proper clothing and footwear, found at outdoor retailers such as Ascent Outdoors, Feathered Friends and REI. 

Online resources such as Washington Trails Association, The Mountaineers and AllTrails will direct you. In certain cases, be prepared for difficult road conditions, either by having a car with all-wheel drive or carrying chains. With a little knowledge and proper attire, an entirely different environment is just a short trip away. 

The beauty of trekking in the snow is that it is something the whole family can do. You can find trails such as Gold Creek Pond at Snoqualmie Pass, Franklin Falls near North Bend and Nisqually Vista Loop in Mount Rainier National Park. All these treks are less than three miles round-trip so young kids, grandparents and adults can participate. There are plenty of trails nearby where you can pull your kids on a sled, tromp around and have snowball fights. 

On many popular winter trails, traffic and congestion can be an issue, so planning ahead, going midweek, or finding places off the beaten path will prevent precious family time from being wasted. 

You don’t need a lot of gear to snow trek but pursuing these activities can add an additional layer to the excitement of getting outside during the winter. Snowshoeing is the least expensive and requires minimal equipment, while cross-country skiing gives you the opportunity to hone your skills on groomed trails from Stevens Pass Nordic Center to Cabin Creek Sno-Park and beyond. 

Backcountry skiing is a highly technical activity, requiring special gear and lots of education about heading into the snow off trails and away from ski resorts.

 Picking up one of these fantastic snow hobbies can be extremely gratifying. From understanding how specialized equipment works, learning new movements or diving into map reading, weather forecasting and avalanche safety, playing in the snow might ignite a new passion. 

While many of us still work from home and remain isolated, getting outside may be more important than ever for mental health. There is something special about going for a hike in the snow — it’s a surefire way to increase happiness and boost your mood. I find this true especially on a sunny winter day. 

When I walk on snowy trails, the sun intensifies each ice crystal. Frozen lakes and streams gurgle underneath a sheet of ice, and Douglas firs emote something regal cloaked in a coat of powder. At home after a day of trekking in the snow, I feel a sense of peace, as though I had escaped to a secret kingdom. It lifts my spirits. The rainy days back in the city feel less heavy when I have played in the snowy mountains. 

Trekking in the snow can be an easy jaunt on a flat trail or a steep climb up a big mountain. It doesn’t have to be extreme. Some people visiting from other states or countries might find just getting out of the car and throwing a snowball for the first time stimulating enough. Others may find a thrill venturing deep into the backcountry away from the crowds. 

Keep in mind that many snowy trails have inherent avalanche danger — something not to be taken lightly — and proper avalanche education should be required. Others are perfectly safe no matter your level of experience.

Having the ability to trek in the snow each winter, and even in the fall and spring, is a special present that Washingtonians are given. Take advantage of this gift.

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