Explore snow-whipped peaks from British Columbia to Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park
written by Lee Lewis Husk | featured photo by David Grimes
The Cascade Range, part of the Pacific Rim of Fire, becomes a frozen rim of fun in winter months. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and explore snow-whipped peaks from British Columbia to Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. It’s easy, inexpensive, enjoyable for all ages and gets people into nature without a fuss. We’ve parsed five top snowshoeing excursions, from easy trails at ski resorts to backcountry adventures that challenge the best. Always check weather, road and avalanche conditions before leaving home.
Mount Seymour Provincial Park in British Columbia
From sea level to snowy trailhead in 45 minutes from North Vancouver, snowshoers chasing killer views will get their fill at Mount Seymour, one of several peaks within the Mount Seymour Provincial Park mountain wilderness. Follow the hordes to Dog Mountain, a moderate out-and-back trek along an undulating ridgeline that features panoramic views (on clear days) of Burrard Inlet, Vancouver’s skyline and Vancouver Island. (Befitting its name, dogs on leashes are allowed on Dog Mountain.) Allow two hours for the 3-mile hike.
For fit snowshoers ready for more challenging slopes, try First Peak, a 5-mile roundtrip excursion ending with sweeping views of the North Shore Mountains, Mount Baker and all of Vancouver. Give yourself four hours and be vigilant about avalanche danger, cliffs and ice falls.
From North Vancouver, visitors can either drive or take mass transit and then a shuttle during ski season to the provincial park. Between October 1 and April 30, drivers must use winter tires or carry chains. Both hikes start from the Mount Seymour ski area, which has its own groomed trail system. (Note: backcountry snowshoers can rent equipment from the ski area. Anyone headed into the backcountry, though, must park in the designated backcountry parking lot.)
Mount Rainier National Park’s Panorama Point
Best for Adrenaline Junkies
Jump off a cliff or crack the ice on a frozen lake and adrenaline will flood your neurons. But a safer way to amp up on snowshoes is to sprint to Panorama Point on Mount Rainier’s south slope in the Paradise trail system. The payoff after the strenuous mile-and-a-half climb (1,400-foot gain) is the view of the Tatoosh Peaks on clear days. Allow three hours roundtrip from the Paradise parking lot, unless you shorten the descent by glissading.
Anna Roth with Washington Trails Association reminds winter hikers that trails are unmarked, so be prepared with your own navigation equipment, warm clothes and a good understanding of avalanche danger.
From Tacoma, take state Highway 7 to Elbe and then state Highway 706 to the Mount Rainier National Park entrance. The road to the Paradise parking is plowed in the winter so carry tire chains between November and April. There is a $15 entrance fee.
Stevens Pass Nordic Center
Best for Beginners
Try the Stevens Pass Nordic Center for an easy, amenity-blessed snow excursion just two hours east of Seattle. Tucked in the middle of the Cascades along U.S. Highway 2, this alpine playground has a local, intimate vibe. The nearby ski area has enough vertical for hardcore skiers and riders, and the Nordic Center boasts mellow trails for snowshoe newbies.
Drive or take the free shuttle from the ski area to the Nordic Center, 5 miles east of the alpine area. Buy a Nordic pass to access the trail system and hop on Steppin’ Stoker, Clickity Clack, Hobo Hop and Coal Burner—all dedicated snowshoe trails with distances ranging from a half mile to 3 miles, depending on the route.
More advanced showshoers can challenge themselves to follow Lanham Creek to Lanham Lake, a 1,143-foot elevation gain from the Nordic Center. Allow three to four hours roundtrip, and don’t try crossing the lake unless you want an adrenaline spike. Remember to stay on designated trails and avoid stepping on ski tracks.
Mount Bachelor/Three Sisters Wilderness
Best for Families
Bend in Central Oregon has a bull’s eye on it during the summer tourist season, swelling its 87,000 population by at least 20,000 visitors a day. Families that come for a winter vacation, however, will enjoy a slightly saner place. The Cascade Lakes Highway runs 22 miles from downtown Bend to Mt. Bachelor ski resort and connects people with five Sno-parks and the Nordic Center at Bachelor. Diehard skiers and riders can shred the runs on the mountain; those in search of tranquility can chase pine trees and mountain vistas while navigating the snowshoe trail system from Bachelor’s Nordic Center.
Another option is to pick the Virginia Meissner or Swampy Lakes sno-parks and follow one of several marked routes to the warming shelters. Shelters are for picnicking, sipping brandy, conversing with friends and drying out, but not for overnight camping. If the family includes a furry friend, snowshoe at Wanoga Snow Play Area near the sledding hill. Dogs are welcome here, but not on the north side of the Cascade Lakes Highway. For a memorable excursion, surprise the kids with a moonlit night hike—it’s magical. The only sound you’ll hear is the plop-plop of snow falling from tree branches.
Sno-park permits are $4 daily (go early —lots fill fast). At Mt. Bachelor, an adult Nordic pass is $19.
Crater Lake National Park
Best for Solitude
Shhhhhhh. It’s quiet here. When the wind blows, you can hear the ice crystals blowing across the top of the snow pack, according to Stephanie Duwe, a Crater Lake National Park ranger who leads winter snowshoeing tours. Winter reveals a new face, she said, adding that one of her favorite parts is “looking into the belly of a volcano.” Ranger-led snowshoe hikes start at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from late November through April, depending on snow pack. The tours last two hours and explore forests and meadows along the rim of the crater. Snowshoes are free and reservations advised.
For experienced backcountry showshoers, start at Rim Village and tromp your way to Discovery Point for views of the caldera and Wizard Island. If attempting the 33-mile circumnavigation, plan three to five days and be sure to get an overnight snow-camping permit at the visitor center.
The park’s west and south entrances are open year-round. The park’s café is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the visitor center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
From our partners at OnTrak Magazine.