Snowshoeing is cheaper and easier than almost any other winter sport — and it’s great exercise that the whole family can participate in together while experiencing the Pacific Northwest wilderness in a whole new way. (It might also be a way to talk to your teen!)
Safety first: Although it is free to drive out on a logging road and go snowshoeing, beginners are advised against doing so; like any wilderness activity, snowshoeing involves risks. It is much easier to get lost when the landscape is altered by snow, and avalanches are common in many areas.
Where to go
- A great, inexpensive way to try snowshoeing is to go on one of the ranger-led walks that are offered in many national forests. At Snoqualmie Pass, the 90-minute “Kids in the Snow” walk and other guided walks leave the visitor center on Saturdays, Jan. 4–March 29, 2020. Make reservations online: adults $15, youths 16 and younger $10.
- At Mount Rainier National Park, families with kids ages 8 and older can join 1.5-mile ranger-guided walks, which happen every Saturday, Sunday and on holidays, once the snow conditions are good enough. Walks begin at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Snowshoes are included for a recommended $5 donation. If you wish to rent snowshoes without going on the official walk, you can rent them at the Longmire General Store. Or you may use your own snowshoes. Sign up in person one hour in advance at the Jackson Visitor Center.
- Another option is to use the trails in the Nordic (cross-country) skiing areas of Snoqualmie or Stevens Pass; you do have to buy a day pass, at a reduced cost, for snowshoeing. Children younger than 6 snowshoe for free at both mountains. Snoqualmie has a warming yurt on its main beginner trail that makes for a good destination.
- Those who want a truly independent experience are advised to use one of the Sno-Parks, such as Hyak, Gold Creek or Cabin Creek, as a base. Sno-Parks are plowed parking lots, often adjacent to groomed cross-country skiing trails. Trail maps are provided with the required parking permit, which can be purchased online or from outdoor retailers.
- If you’re near Mount Baker, you can snowshoe at Artist Point. It’s accessible from the Heather Meadows parking lot at the ski area and offers sweeping views with open terrain. You’ll likely be able to follow people’s tracks, but be sure to stop in to ask about current safety conditions and recommendations at the Glacier Public Service Center. For an easy, lower-elevation trek around Mount Baker, try White Salmon Creek, an area accessible from Salmon Ridge Sno-Park.
For longer and more advanced trails, check out the great list of snowshoe hikes on the Washington Trails Association website.
Tips for getting started snowshoeing
Babies can be carried in backpacks, and children as small as 30 pounds can wear snowshoes as long as the hike is short and flat.
To keep kids happy, keep them warm. Adults will get warm from the exercise, but babies and children on sleds will need to wear extra layers; a thermos of hot cocoa is a very good idea. Kids may not be as entertained by the scenery as the grown-ups.
Help kids notice their environment. Spot birds, animal tracks and unique plants poking up through the snow, and talk about how animals adapt to the winter.
Play games! Challenge your kids to move across the snow like different kinds of animals, or pretend you are on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Three ways to save on snowshoeing as a family
Try to find secondhand gear. A good pair of new snowshoes will cost $100–$200. Snowshoes are sized by weight, so fit is not as critical as it would be for ice skates or ski boots. That makes secondhand snowshoes a great option. The Washington Trails Association maintains a fantastic guide to renting and borrowing outdoor gear, including snowshoes. U.S. Forest Service-guided hikes often include snowshoes in the basic cost (usually about $5–$10).
A season Sno-Park permit is $40, the same price as a pass to access groomed trails. For a family of four with school-age kids, the Sno-Park permit pays for itself the first time out compared to snowshoeing at the ski areas.
Don’t buy snowshoes for the littlest kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can walk in their parents’ tracks wearing regular snow boots, which are lighter, and ride in a sled or snow disk when they get tired.
Editor's note: This article was first published in 2017 and has been updated for 2020.