Snowshoeing is cheaper and easier than almost any other winter sport and it’s good exercise that the whole family can do together, while experiencing the Pacific Northwest wilderness in a whole new way. (It might also be a way to talk to your teen!)
Just be safe: Although it is free to drive out on a logging road and go snowshoeing, beginners are advised against it; 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 snowshoeing as a family
- A great, and 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 leaves the Visitor Center every Saturday at 1 p.m. starting Jan. 20 through late March. Make reservations online soon (spaces are already filling). Adults $15, kids $10.
- At Mount Rainier, children must be 8 years old to join 1.5-mile ranger-guided walks, which happen every Saturday, Sunday and holidays once the snow conditions are good enough; walks begin at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Snowhoes are included for a $5 donation. If you wish to rent snowshoes without going on the official walk, you can rent 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. Note that all snowshoers in your party must be present at sign up.
- 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 under 6 snowshoe free at both mountains. Snoqualmie has a warming yurt on its main beginner trail that makes a good destination.
- Those who want a truly independent experience are advised to use the Sno-Parks as a base, such as Hyak, Gold Creek or Cabin Creek. Sno-Parks are plowed parking lots, often near groomed cross-country skiing trails. Trail maps are provided with the required parking pass, which can be purchased online or from outdoor retailers.
If you're near Mount Baker, you can snowshoe at Artist Point, accessible from the Heather Meadows parking lot at the ski area, which 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 a lower-elevation easy trek around Mount Baker, try White Salmon Creek, an area accessible from Salmon Ridge Sno-Park (see below).
For longer and more advanced trails, check out this great list of snowshoe hikes at Washington Trails Association.
Tips for getting started on snowhoeing as a family
1. 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.
2. 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 adults.
3. Help them notice things about their environment — spot birds, animal tracks, and unique plants growing through the snow — and talk about how animals adapt to the winter.
4. 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.
5. There is no need for adults or children to take lessons to learn how to walk in snowshoes; it really is as simple as walking. However, The Mountaineers and REI offer lessons that teach adult beginners about the equipment and selecting safe routes.
Three ways to save on snowshoeing as a family
1. Try to find second-hand gear. A good pair of new snowshoes will cost $150-$200. Snowshoes are sized by weight, so fit is not as critical as it would be for ice skates or ski boots. That makes second-hand a great option for snowshoes. Snowshoe rental is available at REI which includes 2 additional pick up and drop off days as well as other local retailers. Forest Service-guided hikes often include snowshoes in the basic cost (usually about $10).
2. A season Sno-Park Pass is about $40, the same price as a pass to access groomed trails. For a family of four with school-age kids, the Sno-Park Pass pays for itself the first time out compared to snowshoeing at the ski areas.
3. Don’t buy snowshoes for the littlest kids. REI employee Martin Jacobsen suggests toddlers and preschoolers walk in their parents’ tracks wearing regular snowboots, which are lighter, and ride in a sled or snow disk when they get tired.
Where to rent snowshoes
Most REI locations rent snowshoes; double-check for the location nearest you at rei.com.
The Summit at Snoqualmie Nordic Center — at Summit East — rents snowshoes.
Alpine Ascents rents snowshoes and trekking poles as well as snow safety equipment.
Feathered Friends rents snowshoes and you can even rent a warm down jacket in case you're not outfitted for the snow!
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated for 2017.