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Winter Recreation Info

A hub of winter recreation information for Washington state: where to go, navigating the Sno-Park system, and how to stay safe.

Snowshoe Destinations, Sno-Parks and Winter Safety

Snowshoe Mt. Rainier
Be prepared out there in the winter! Carry the Ten Essentials and winter survival gear in your backpack when snowshoeing and hiking. Photo by Mike Beeman.

Welcome to winter in Washington! If you're looking for places to snowshoe, information about Sno-Parks, or tips to safely enjoy your winter outings, then you've come to the right page.

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Where To Go

WTA Hiking Guide

Want to explore Washington's winter wonderland? WTA has put together a list of our ten favorite snowshoe routes, as well as three classics at Mount Rainier National Park. You can find many more using the Hiking Guide. Just type "snowshoe" into the Hike Name field to find entries from Snowshoe Routes Washington by Dan Nelson (Mountaineers Books). You can also find out which hikes become safe and fun snowshoe trails on WTA's Trip Reports.

Ranger Districts

Many Forest Service ranger districts list recommendations for winter hikes and snowshoes within the "Recreation" section on their website, or you can call for suggestions. Find your nearest ranger station information here.

Private Ski Areas

A number of ski areas offer trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers that are well-maintained and designed to avoid avalanche danger. Check with your nearest ski resort to find out their rules for snowshoe users.

Choose your destinations wisely

Don't assume an easy summer day hike will make a good snowshoe trip. Popular summer hiking trails such as Lake 22, McClellan Butte, Granite Mountain, the Ira Spring Trail or Snow Lake become deadly avalanche hotspots in winter and should never be considered as snowshoe destinations. Consult a guidebook to find the best low-risk snowshoe routes. And remember that there are other snow risks beside avalanches - getting stuck in a tree well (the hollow in snow at the base of a tree) and snow cornices can be very dangerous. Consider taking a winter skills course course to learn more about avalanche and snow safety.

Avalanche Risks - Check Conditions

Avalanches conditions should not be ignored. Avalanches can strike even the most prepared winter hiker. Before going out on a snowy trail, definitely check the Northwest Avalanche Center online to determine local mountain weather and avalanche conditions. If you encounter a steep slope, and are unsure about avalanche conditions or your own preparedness, turn back or find another route.

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Sno-Parks

snowshoeing near Teanaway Butte cascade dreams.jpg
Snowshoeing near Teanaway Butte. Photo by Cascade Dreams.
Washington's Sno-Park Permits allow you to park at plowed lots accessible to groomed and backcountry trails. Because they're parking permits, you only need one per vehicle.

Sno-Park Locations

Sno-Parks can be found statewide. While snowmobiles are allowed in most areas, some are designated for non-motorized users. You can find your nearest non-motorized Sno-Park here, or you can snowshoe or ski on the nearest motorized Sno-Park.



Buying a Permit

Day Permit:

$20/day. Day Permits are valid at any Sno-Park location, including Special Groomed Trail locations*, until midnight of the purchase date.

Seasonal Permit:

$40/season. Seasonal Permits are valid at all Sno-Park locations EXCEPT those designated as Special Groomed Trail locations*. If you know you'll be going out two or more times, buy the Seasonal Permit.

* Special Groomed Trails Permit:

$40/season add-on. This optional add-on to the Seasonal Permit allows you to park at Cabin Creek, Chiwawa, Crystal Springs, Hyak, Lake Easton, Lake Wenatchee, Mount Spokane and Nason Ridge where trails are groomed for cross-country skiers. If you won't be using those locations, though, it's best to skip it.

Discover Pass within Washington State Parks operated Sno-Parks

If you have a Sno-Park Seasonal Permit (the key word here is 'Seasonal') you do not need a Discover Pass to snowshoe within state parks. However, if you purchase a Sno-Park Day Permit you will also need either a Day Discover Pass or an Annual Discover Pass.

Purchase your permit online from November 1st- April 30th, or for an extra $2 at a number of locations statewide.

Snow Park Passes Graphic

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Safety and Smarts

Wenatchee Ridge Snowshoe by david hagen
Snowshoers take a break and enjoy the view along the Wenatchee Crest. Photo by David Hagen..
Snowshoeing presents dangers that far exceed those of hiking in the summertime. Heavy snowfall followed by slow warming and rain can progressively load and stress a multitude of buried weak layers, creating dangerous avalanche conditions that not even the most experienced backcountry hikers should attempt.

Hikers and snowshoers need to do plenty of advanced planning and take every precaution before hitting a trail in winter months. Here are some tips for safer backcountry exploration in winter, as well as a link for more:

Pack the Ten Essentials & a few extra winter ones on any hike

The Ten Essentials include a topographic map, compass, extra food, extra clothing, firestarter, matches, sun protection, a pocket knife, first-aid kit, and flashlight.

Some of these are extra important for winter hiking and snowshoeing:

  • Adequate extra clothing - plenty of layers made of materials such as wool or polypropylene that wick sweat and moisture away from your body.
  • Headlamp or flashlight (and extra batteries) are especially important in the winter, since days are short and night comes quickly.
  • Plenty of extra food - snowshoeing is strenuous exercise and you burn a lot of calories, so bring along plenty of extra food and keep your energy level high.

In addition, snowshoeing requires much more energy than hiking, so keep your mileage goals small, and turn around when conditions are beyond your skills or your energy level is low. A few extra items to put in the winter backpack include:

  • Plenty of water - keep hydrated by drinking often.
  • Emergency shelter and/or sleeping bag - seriously consider carrying these in case you have to spend a night out there.
  • Portable shovel - a critically important winter survival tool, which will assist you in digging snow caves in which you can survive a bitter, cold night.  And, it's nearly impossible to dig someone out of an avalanche without a shovel.
  • Avalanche beacon - in avalanche country, consider carrying an avalanche beacon. And know how to use it properly.

Use Common Sense

Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return--and call them when you do return! If your destination changes, follow up and let someone know.

Getting late in the afternoon? Is snow starting to fall in earnest? Is the trail hard to follow, or does it pass by a steep avalanche slope? As tempting as it may be to push on to your destination, know when to turn back. Attaining a summit or making it to a lake isn't worth risking a night out in the cold or getting lost in a white-out.

It's OK to turn back. You can always return another day.

Bring navigation skills

Remember that it's much easier to get yourself lost in winter - snow tends to make the landscape look uniform and obscure landmarks. It's not easy trying to find your way on an unfamiliar backcountry trail using only a topo map when the trail is covered under a thick blanket of snow, and clouds obscure the identifiable peaks around you. This makes map and compass skills essential for winter backcountry travel. Consider taking the Mountaineers Club's wilderness navigation course or another winter skills course.

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Your Knowledge

File a Trip Report

This is the time of year when Trip Reports are so important and helpful, both for your own planning and for other hikers. Please return after your hike and share your experiences and the conditions. Even a brief report about snow conditions can be of great assistance.

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