Winter offers an abundance of outdoor activities to try in the Pacific Northwest from cross country skiing to snowboarding. Our family loves hiking and so we thought snowshoeing would be a perfect match for winter fun. We optimistically purchased snowshoes, planned a few hikes, and hit the road.
Not what I expected
What I love about snowshoeing is the opportunity to get outdoors with my kids, explore new trails and make memories in the mountains together. If I’m being honest though, snowshoeing with toddlers did not pan out, quite as I expected. Our hikes were painstakingly slow, and unlike hiking in the summer, we haven’t found many snowshoe hikes with big, high elevation pay offs. We also need a lot more gear (to keep tiny hands and feet warm and dry) and have to plan much more to make sure we’re safe in changing weather conditions.
Do I recommend snowshoeing? Yes. Walking through beautiful, snow-covered forests is magical.
Would I rather be skiing? Yes.
Here are a few great tips to start your snowshoe adventures and a few beginner trails to help ignite your child’s wanderlust.
There are many places to purchase or rent snowshoes and it is important to get a good fit for yourself and your child. If shoes are too large it can be cumbersome to walk and if shoes are too tight, it makes for a miserable trek through the snow. Get fitted and just like we did with ski boots, before we went on our first snowshoe hike, I let my kiddos walk around the house in their snowshoes, to get a feel for the clunky footwear. They enjoyed waddling on the carpet and quickly got used to them. Once they mastered putting them on and taking them off, I felt confident about hitting some trails.
Choosing a hike
When picking a hike, be sure to always check road and weather conditions. Also read recent trip reports. Winter is a beautiful place in the Pacific Northwest, but there are very real dangers when you head into the mountains. Hikes that are great in summer may have significant avalanche activity in the winter, which you’ll want to steer clear of – popular Snow Lake is a great example of a trail I’d avoid. There are also hidden dangers like tree wells. Tree wells are spaces around a tree, under its branches, that don’t get the same amount of snow as the surrounding open space, creating a void. Be mindful of when choosing where you want to venture. I searched for groomed trails with ample parking.
Packing for your trip
When you’re packing for a trip, have the 10 essentials on your list. We also include lots of layers, yummy snacks, extra socks and a thermos with hot chocolate for when tantrums hit. I also looked for hikes that allow sleds because sometimes I felt like I was constantly walking, while dragging my children behind me in a sled, instead of snowshoeing. It’s a good distraction and prize at the end of a trek too, especially if the location you’re at has a sledding hill. You’re going to need it, especially if you have toddlers.
Also, let someone else know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. For safety’s sake, especially in the snow and with little ones, it’s a good idea.
Mapping it out
I take a screenshot on my phone of directions to the trail head and a map of the area before we go. That way, if we lose service along the way, we still know where we’re going and have a map of the terrain on hand. Trail heads usually have a map of the area posted, so you can also take a photo of the map when you arrive.
Where to go:
Snoqualmie has great snowshoe trails for beginners. When searching for hikes, I looked for low elevation, low mile trails for my tiny snowshoers. It’s always a bonus when there’s a payoff like a lake or river to enjoy. We always try to pack a picnic so we have something to look forward to while we’re on the trail (aside from the gorgeous scenery).
Gold Creek Pond
Gold Creek Pond is a perfect snowshoe hike for little adventurers. It’s short, flat and has pretty views. Located only a couple miles east of the ski area in Snoqualmie pass is the turn for this fun, but very popular hike. Be prepared for crowds.
Getting there: Take exit Exit 54 off of I-90. Turn left to go under the freeway, and you’ll find a parking area for Gold Creek Sno-Park. Follow Forest Road 4832, which runs parallel to the freeway. About a mile down the road, you’ll see the trail head. To start the hike, you’ll walk on what is a road in the summer until you get to Gold Creek Pond.
The trail: The road is pretty flat and leads to a looping trail. We took a short jaunt by the creek before coming to the big clearing. Don’t get deterred if little ones are already a bit tired by the time you make it to Gold Creek Pond. Keep on trekking for more views. Enjoy the serene, quiet forests, the babbling creek and the fresh mountain air.
Easton Reload Sno-Park
Snow parks are wonderful places to go for beginner snowshoers because they are maintained (essentially plowed parking lots) and perfect for snow play. You can easily find non-motorized sno-parks in the region. That means these areas are designated for activities like snowshoeing. Our family checked out Easton Reload Sno-Park. It’s just a bit further out than the popular Hyak Sno-Park (about 15 more minutes east).
Getting there: Take the I-90 Exit 71. At the stop sign in town, continue over railroad tracks and continue for 3-miles on the county road until the end of plowing. The Sno-Park is on your left. This Sno-Park has two portions, one for non-motorized and the other is for snowmobiles. This year there is a new snowshoe trail. Be sure to take the non-motorized route to begin.
Guided tours: Washington State Parks will be hosting guided snowshoe tours so you can attend and learn from an expert. For us, the sights are a bit underwhelming, but it is a great start for beginners who aren’t looking for an amazing visual payoff. Tours are open to all ages, meaning even tiny tots are welcome. You can register here for an upcoming spot.
Permits: Remember, Sno-Park permits are required so be sure to get one before you go – or buy a permit using the QR code posted at the trail.
Note: If you’re looking for a more scenic, but also probably more crowded, snowshoe hike, I recommend going to Hyak Sno-Park. There is a sledding hill there as well sure to delight little ones.
Kachess Lake is another beautiful beginner snowshoe hike that kids will enjoy. The short trail is groomed and boasts gorgeous lake views. You’ll venture through forests and along the shoreline of Kachess Lake.
Getting there: Take exit 62 off I-90 and follow Kachess Lake Road until you get to a dead end where cars will be lined on the left side of the road. From here, you can park and hit the trail.
Parking: Parking is available on the road
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass is required and can be purchased here.
Our family loves exploring Mount Rainier year-round. It’s a spectacular place with unparalleled views of high alpine terrain – waterfalls, snowfields, and glaciers. When I moved to Washington from Ohio, I couldn’t believe a place like Mount Rainier existed. I fell in love and knew I wanted my children to feel that same awe I felt when I first stepped on the mountain. Nearly 10 years later, I still get that feeling when I stare at the towering giant – and it’s so fun to see that light spark in my children’s eyes at the sights and sounds on Mount Rainier.
Getting there: Unfortunately, getting there is a bit more arduous this year because the mountain is less accessible, but it’s still a great place to get out and adventure. Due to staffing shortages, the road to Paradise is only open on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday. Also, all vehicles are required to carry tire chains when traveling in the park during the winter season.
Good to know: The sledding hill is not open at Paradise this year. Dogs are not allowed on trails. There are a variety of trails to explore from Paradise, but steer clear of Myrtle Falls in the winter, a popular summer hike. From Paradise, there are a few snowshoeing trails you can enjoy with kids like Skyline Trail, Panorama Point and one recommended by a Park Ranger, Nisqually Vista Trail. However, check with staff about conditions before making your trek. Steeper areas of the hike may be dangerous because of avalanches, tree wells, and other snow conditions.
Looking for a snowshoe adventure near Stevens Pass? Check out Stevens Pass Nordic Center. Located just 5-miles east of the popular ski area is the Nordic Center, where you can rent gear, take lessons, and grab a tasty snack.
Maintained, stomped snowshoe trails are ready for exploring, right out the Nordic Center doors. Be sure to stay off Nordic skiing trails, though. You’ll see signs posted so you know where to go. They also have maps when you check-in.
Pass: Day passes are $20 for all ages. Kids 6 and under are free.
Note: Sledding and tubing permitted on the sledding hill by the parking area.
Hours: Thursday-Sunday: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Head east of Stevens Pass and explore Lake Wenatchee State Park. It’s a gorgeous rest stop in any season. In the winter, enjoy flat, picturesque trails and trounce in the snow with the family. The location is great for kiddos – and it’s a wonderful place to pair with other popular locations if you want a weekend getaway to places like Leavenworth.
Getting there: Lake Wenatchee State Park is located 25-miles east of Stevens Pass.
Pass: Both North Park and South Park offer snowshoe trails. Bring a Sno-Park permit.
There are so many options out there for an easy snowshoe adventure. Pick your trail, strap on your shoes and enjoy the snow.