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
- One 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. Check carefully to ensure these destinations are open for snowshoeing on the day you want to go.
- Those who want a truly independent experience can use one of Washington’s Sno-Parks, such as Hyak, Annette Lake, 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 you can buy online or from outdoor retailers. For daily open status of the Sno-Parks along I-90, call 509-656-2230 and listen to the recorded message.
- 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.
Guided snowshoe hikes
- Join a ranger for free snowshoe walks at Lake Wenatchee State Park Saturdays at 1 p.m. this winter. Walks take place beginning Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, and run every Saturday through Feb. 25. Walks last about 90 minutes and cover 1.3 miles with the option to continue after as desired. Walks are free and snowshoe rentals, also free, are available. Call ahead to 509-763-3101 to reserve both your spot in the walk and your snowshoes. You can also bring your own snowshoes. Don't forget your Sno-Park parking permit as well (you can buy one at the park if you don't have one).
- Day long family snowshoeing trips to Snoqualmie Pass leave from community centers in Tacoma one weekend of the month in January, February and March. Be sure to dress for cold weather, wear sturdy shoes and bring water and a sack lunch. Transportation to the snow and snowshoes are provided. Make reservations online for the weekend that works for you; the cost is $45 per person.
- Easton Reload Sno-Park, just east of Snoqualmie Pass, will host guided snowshoe adventures this winter. Tours are beginner level and open to all ages. You must supply your own snowshoes, poles and winter outerwear. The hike includes two creek-crossings so be sure to wear waterproof boots! Registration is required as there are limited spaces available, and you must create a reservation for each individual in your group. Note: A Sno-Park permit is required in order to participate.
Snowshoeing tips for families
- 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.
- There is no need for adults or children to take lessons to learn how to use snowshoes; it really is as simple as walking. However, The Mountaineers offers snowshoeing resources, including instruction (check out the 2022 options) and REI offer lessons and guided family trips that get families out in the snow with a guide, practicing and perfecting snowshoeing skills.
- A new forest service visitor center is now open at a renovated firehouse at Snoqualmie Pass (sharing the space with evo). The Snoqualmie Pass Snowshoe Program is schedule to resume in January 2023. Be sure to check the website for details and current information when it is available.
Three ways to save on snowshoeing as a family
- Search for secondhand gear. A good pair of new snowshoes will cost $150–$300. 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). Check the USDA Forest Service website for current information on guided snowshoe walks for Stevens and Snoqualmie passes; and the National Park Service website for winter walks at Mount Rainier.
- A seasonal Sno-Park permit is $50. The pass to access groomed trails is more expensive ($70). 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.
- Rent instead of buy. The shop evo recently completed renovations on an old firehouse up at Snoqualmie Pass and now offers a variety of winter sports equipment rentals, including snowshoes ($25 for adult snowshoes, $15 for kids). They recommend calling first for reservations and to confirm the gear you are hoping to rent is available.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2017 and has been updated for the 2022–2023 winter season.