Our picks for Washington’s best spots for multisport adventures
written by John Nelson
Why settle for one winter activity when you can do several? For multisport savants, our state has you covered, from skiing to kayaking to surfing. Grab your gear and hit these five early-spring adventure locations.
Washington’s best spots for multisport adventures—Bellingham: Powder Shots to Paddling
North America’s snowiest mountains, epic single-track riding, picture-perfect kayaking waters—Bellingham has it all. “It’s kind of like a triple scoop of ice cream,” said Todd Elsworth, co-director of Recreation Northwest, an outdoors advocacy group in Whatcom County. “People here ski, bike and paddle all in the same day. We call that ‘the trifecta.’”
Your adventure tools: Skis, snowboard, snowshoes, hiking boots, kayak, mountain bike
Alpine skiing and snowboarding: Mt. Baker Ski Area is famous for its snowfall, receiving an average of nearly 55 feet annually. Snowboarders love the resort’s natural half-pipe, which is the site of the Legendary Banked Slalom race every February. Out of bounds, the terrain gets even wilder for skiers and boarders who drop off Shuksan Arm.
Backcountry and Nordic: The end of the Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) in Heather Meadows offers easy access to the striking Chain Lakes Basin for backcountry skiers and snowshoers. Nordic skiers also tour here and at Salmon Ridge Sno-Park.
Hiking: Bellingham’s temperate climate means you can hike year-round near sea level. In town, you’ll find 5.5 miles of trails at Whatcom Falls Park. For wilder adventures, go south to Larrabee State Park, where you can access the view-rich Chuckanut Mountains.
Mountain biking: Bellingham is “the No. 1 area in the state for mountain biking,” Elsworth said. Access 3,000 acres of world-class riding at Galbraith Mountain east of downtown.
Kayak: Explore more than 100 miles of shoreline in the Salish Sea from Birch Bay to Chuckanut Bay. Even more paddling can be found on three beautiful lowland lakes—Whatcom, Padden and Samish.
“It’s kind of like a triple scoop of ice cream. People here ski, bike and paddle all in the same day. We call that ‘the trifecta.’”
Washington’s best spots for multisport adventures—Yakima: Ski to Tee, Then Toast
As you drive in, the billboard on I-82 says you’re entering the “Palm Springs of Washington,” and sure enough, Yakima is Washington’s sunniest place. That makes it a good choice for cycling and golfing as winter’s chill fades. Nearby, the eastern slopes of the Cascades offer skiing fit for Olympians, and when it’s all over for the day, drink the fruit of the winery-rich valley.
Your adventure tools: Skis, snowboard, golf clubs, bicycles, wine glass
Alpine and Nordic skiing: White Pass Ski Area is an hour’s drive from Yakima along one of the state’s most scenic byways (US 12), offering often-sunny skiing. Ski legends Phil and Steve Mahre honed their Olympic medal-winning skills here. For steeps, hit the front side. For groomers, head to Paradise Basin, where you’ll also find White Pass’s best powder amid the open glades. Cross-country skiers can glide on 18 kilometers of groomed trails at White Pass Nordic Center.
Golf: Only in orchard-rich Yakima will you find an island hole shaped like an apple. That would be No. 17 at the Apple Tree Resort, a picturesque par-three surrounded by water. Tee it up and take aim at that big green apple. And don’t swing too hard, said Kameron Lamb of Apple Tree Resort. “People often focus too much on the water and hit it right in.” Temperatures rise steadily through February and March, making a day on one of the Yakima Valley’s ten courses all the more fruitful.
Cycling: Hit the mountain biking trails at Rocky Top, said Will Hollingberry of Single-Track Alliance of Yakima. “It’s by far the best system of trails in Yakima,” he said. Road riders should try out the 20-mile Yakima Valley Greenway from Naches to Union Gap or venture virtually anywhere on the vast array of farm roads that wind among fields, orchards and vineyards of the valley.
Washington’s best spots for multisport adventures—Olympic Peninsula: Riding the Storm
The rainforest is never wilder than in winter. Storm-whipped waves draw hardy surfers to the rugged coast, while hikers can explore and never see another soul. The rivers run with wild steelhead and all that moisture translates to many feet of snowfall for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing.
Your adventure tools: Hiking boots, rain gear, skis, snowshoes, fly rod, surfboard
Hiking: In summer, popular Olympic National Park can feel overrun, but in winter, it’s all yours. The classic 9-mile Ozette Triangle hike can be done as a day hike, putting you on one of the most remote coastlines on the Lower 48. Even better is the 8-mile round trip to Point of the Arches near Neah Bay.
Skiing and snowshoeing: Winter storms pound Hurricane Ridge at 5,242 feet in Olympic National Park, dumping 35 feet of snow annually. “It’s called Hurricane Ridge for a reason,” said Penny Wagner of Olympic National Park. “They get a lot of wind and snow.” Backcountry skiers and snowshoers launch from the park visitor center and a community-run ski area operates there on weekends.
Steelhead fishing: “There’s world-class fishing on the peninsula,” said Dave Steinbaugh of Waters West fly shop in Port Angeles. The west-side rivers—Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Hoh and Queets—support ample runs of the legendary and elusive game fish from November to April. “Some steelhead can be 30-plus pounds,” said Steinbaugh, who offers guiding services.
Surfing: For a hardy group of wetsuit-wearing wave-shredders, the Washington coast can get big during winter, said Frank Crippen, owner of NxNW Surf Co. in Port Angeles, a good place to stop for local information. Crippen can direct surfers to breaks all the way from La Push on the west coast to Crescent Beach along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Washington multisport gear
Switching between winter sports requires the right gear.
Here are a few favorites:
Maui Jim Peahi Polarized
[MSRP: $229.00] Superior clarity in high-glare conditions; the light, bendable frame is extremely durable and outdoorsy-fashionable.
Goal Zero Venture 70 Recharger
[MSRP: $149.95] Enough juice to power small devices in any weather condition; two USB ports to charge multiple units. Can be recharged with portable solar panels.
Outdoor Research VersaLiner Gloves
[MSRP: $55.00] This multisport glove can be worn on its own or as an insulating liner; zippered back-of-hand pockets double as storage for hand warmers.
MSR Lightning Explore Snowshoes
[MSRP: $279.95] Perfect for rolling, hilly terrain, these comfortable, lightweight snowshoes provide ample traction with edge-to-edge grip and pivot crampons.
North Face Thermoball Triclimate Jacket
[MSRP: $299.00] Switch from skiing to hiking easily with this versatile jacket; an ultralight stretch shell provides the waterproofing and a zip-in puffy liner keeps you warm.
Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles
[MSRP: $199.95] With the push of a button, assemble or break down these lightweight carbon poles to a diminutive 15.5 inches.
Asolo Drifter GV Hiking Boots
[MSRP: $260.00] These day-hikers are light and comfortable, but beefy enough for sometimes-muddy winter trails; waterproof with a moisture-wicking nylon lining.
Osprey Manta AG 36 Hydration Pack
[MSRP: $175.00] Lightweight frame, cushioned straps and hip belt help carry the load; comes with a 2.5 liter hydration reservoir.
Washington’s best spots for multisport adventures—Methow Valley: A Snowy, Icy Wonderland
You can spend days exploring all the trails in the nation’s largest Nordic network in this scenic valley on the east slope of the North Cascades. For backcountry skiers, the big mountains nearby can be accessed by helicopter for endless powder turns; cyclists can play in the snow on fat bikes. Ice-skating, anyone? You’ll find a fantastic, NHL-sized rink in Winthrop.
Your adventure tools: Nordic skis, backcountry skis or snowboard, fat bike, ice skates
Nordic skiing: You won’t find a better place for Nordic skiing in the Pacific Northwest. The valley has 120 miles of trails, from the flat and open skiing near Mazama to the rollicking Rendezvous Trails that reach an elevation of 4,000 feet and have an extensive overnight hut system. “You’re getting the very best of everything when you come here,” said Kristen Smith of Mazama Trails. “We have the best snow and the most varied terrain.”
Fat biking: It turns out all of those Nordic trails are great for cycling, too. The fast-growing sport of fat biking is right at home in Winthrop, and rentals are available at four locations in the valley. The sport has proven so popular that 35 miles of more aggressive riding have been added to Pearrygin Lake State Park, Smith said. Methow Cycle & Sport rents the bikes and accessories.
Backcountry skiing: If you’ve ever thought about flying to the top of a mountain, this might be place to do it. Guided adventures are offered by North Cascade Heli. The North Cascades Highway (SR 20) is closed during the winter just past Mazama, but intrepid skiers and snowshoers can also access the backcountry at the end of the road.
Ice skating: Hockey fans, hold onto your toques—Winthrop Rink is one of the best outdoor, NHL-sized facilities in the United States. The fully refrigerated rink has great ice quality even in warm temperatures. “It’s amazing to skate outdoors here with our beautiful views,” Smith said.
Washington’s best spots for multisport adventures—Leavenworth: Skiing, climbing mecca
The Bavarian-themed town on the east slope of the Cascades has made an impressive transformation from kitschy tourist town to outdoors mecca. Two ski areas are within a short drive, Nordic skiing and hiking are available right in town, as are some of the state’s best rock-climbing pitches. “A lot of people will ski in the morning and rock climb in the afternoon,” said John Race, owner of Northwest Mountain School.
Your adventure tools: Alpine and Nordic skis, hiking boots, climbing gear
Alpine skiing: You have two great day-tripping options nearby. Stevens Pass is just 45 minutes to the west, where Pacific storms deliver reliable dumps throughout winter and spring. Meanwhile, about an hour away near Wenatchee is the sunnier, drier skiing of Mission Ridge, with its striking basalt cliffs and views that seem to go on forever. Stevens has some double-diamond drops off its 7th Heaven chairlift at the top of 5,845-foot Cowboy Mountain to go along with ample intermediate terrain. Mission is a groomed-skiing paradise with glades and tree-skiing scattered amid the cliffy terrain.
Nordic skiing: The flat trails along the Icicle River are made for skate-skiing; more challenging options are available at Leavenworth Ski Hill. Nearby, find even more skiing at the Plain Valley Nordic Ski Trails and Stevens Pass Nordic Center.
Hiking: Leavenworth receives a fair amount of snow in winter, but hiking picks up early on some trails. The Blackbird Island hike is an easy late-winter leg-stretcher with great views along the Wenatchee River; for a vertical push, head for the 6-mile Icicle Ridge hike where the snow melts out early.
Rock climbing: Leavenworth is Washington’s climbing capital, with several pitches that open up as the weather warms in Tumwater Canyon and Icicle Gorge, Race said. “Climbing tends to start low. As spring progresses, you move up the (Icicle) Canyon.”
Washington’s best spots for multisport adventures—for the indoorsman
For some, winter is best experienced from a fireplace-warmed room with a view. These destination lodges fit the bill.
Washington Destination: Sleeping Lady
Gorgeous cabins set amid the scenic Icicle Valley near Leavenworth deliver comfort and elegance. The upscale Kingfisher Restaurant has a big wine list to go with organic meals; you’ll find casual bites at O’Grady’s and The Grotto. Don’t miss the luxe spa.
Washington Destination: Sun Mountain Lodge
The Methow Valley’s premier home base for Nordic skiers also is a fine place to hunker down. One of the best wine lists in the Pacific Northwest pairs with elegant offerings in the dining room; more casual fare is available at Wolf Creek Bar and Grill. Full onsite spa.
Washington Destination: Chrysalis Inn and Spa
Gaze out at Bellingham Bay at sunset from your cozy room and dine at smart-casual Keenan’s at the Pier. Full onsite spa.
Washington Destination: Kalaloch Lodge
Unplug (there’s no cell service, TV or internet) and gaze at the ocean from one of the most beautiful spots anywhere on the Washington Coast. Private cabins or lodge rooms are perched feet from the stormy seas.
Northwest Destination: Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Sandpoint, Idaho