Last updated: November 14, 2023
Snowshoeing is a refreshingly simple sport that lets you wander more easily through a snowy winter wonderland. It combines the joys of hiking with the challenges of navigating through deep snow. Here’s everything you need to know about beginner snowshoeing in Washington state.
I’ve lived here for several decades, but only recently started snowshoeing about five years ago. I don’t know why I waited so long, because it’s just as much fun and even more beautiful than hiking.
Beginner Snowshoeing in Washington
From what you need to bring, how to snowshoe and where to snowshoe in Washington state, here’s your beginner guide to getting started.
What is Snowshoeing?
Snowshoeing is fairly straightforward. It involves strapping specialized footwear, known as snowshoes, to your boots. These contraptions distribute your weight over a larger surface area, effectively preventing you from sinking deep into the snow.
As a result, you can walk on top of the snow with relative ease.
Snowshoes come in various sizes and designs, each catering to different terrain and snow conditions. Poles can provide stability and balance, especially on uneven surfaces. They’re a great idea for beginners especially.
Poles are only useful if they have snow baskets on them so that they don’t sink into the snow.
How Hard Is Snowshoeing?
While snowshoeing is generally suitable for most fitness levels, it does require some physical exertion. The intensity of the workout depends on the terrain, snow conditions, and your pace.
Walking in deep snow naturally engages more muscles than walking on hard ground, primarily the sides of the calves, quads, glutes, and core. It requires balance, and flexibility in getting upright again should your balance fall short.
As you advance, the uphill climbs and uneven terrain of more difficult trails will further challenge your cardiovascular system and strengthen your legs.
However, the beauty of snowshoeing lies in its adaptability to different fitness levels and preferences. Whether you seek a leisurely stroll or an intense workout, snowshoeing can accommodate your needs.
I’ve been snowshoeing for many years and have seen a variety of newbies along the way. Most people seem to pick it up fairly quickly. If you start out with the right basics and take it slow, it’s not a great deal different than walking or hiking. It’s one of the easier winter sports to learn.
Tips and Tricks for Beginning Snowshoeing
A beginner’s guide to snowshoeing, to make it as simple and easy as possible to learn the basics. Based on my experience snowshoeing and watching others learn for many years.
Choosing the Right Trail For Your Body
Snowshoeing trails vary in difficulty, letting you select the one that aligns with your abilities and goals. Beginner trails are usually relatively flat and easy to follow. Stick to these at first if at all possible.
Preparing for a Snowshoeing Adventure
Before heading out to snowshoe, a few essential preparations can enhance your experience.
Dress in layers
Firstly, dress in layers to stay warm and dry, as sweating excessively can lead to discomfort. The layers you wear for snowshoeing are not that different than those for hiking in the winter.
Wear moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and a waterproof outer shell. Don’t forget to wear appropriate footwear and thick socks to keep your feet warm and dry.
The kind of boot you choose depends on how much you would like to spend. I recommend using whatever comfortable waterproof boot you have, like hiking boots, if you’re just starting out. Wait to spend more once you see how you like it. Do not wear rainboots though.
Gaiters are helpful in keeping the snow out of your boots, whichever ones you choose.
Pack essentials for snowshoeing
Additionally, pack essential supplies such as water, snacks, a map or GPS device, a headlamp, and a small first aid kit. It’s also crucial to check the weather conditions and avalanche risks beforehand, as safety should always be a top priority.
Choose the Right Snowshoes
Select snowshoes that suit your weight and the terrain you’ll be exploring. Larger snowshoes provide more flotation in deep snow, while smaller ones offer better maneuverability on packed trails. You can rent snowshoes from REI or at Snoqualmie Pass to see how you like it before spending more.
Practice Balance and Posture
Snowshoeing requires a wider stance than regular walking. Keep your weight centered over the snowshoes for stability. Try to keep your knees loose, do not lock them straight.
Use Proper Technique
Lift your feet slightly higher than normal to avoid tripping over the snowshoes. Take shorter strides to prevent tripping as well and maintain a relaxed posture. Walk with a rolling heel-to-toe motion, using your entire foot to distribute weight evenly.
Practice Turns and Maneuvers
Learn how to make turns and navigate different types of terrain. As you gain confidence, practice sidestepping, traversing slopes, and making sharp turns to enhance your control and stability.
Take Lessons or Join a Group
Consider taking a snowshoeing lesson or joining a guided tour or group. Learning from experienced instructors or seasoned snowshoers can help you gain valuable insights, improve your technique, and discover new trails.
Enjoy the Experience
Snowshoeing is a fantastic way to enjoy winter landscapes and connect with nature. Take breaks to appreciate the scenery, listen to the sound of snow beneath your feet, and embrace the tranquility of the winter environment.
Bonus! Animal tracks are significantly easier to see and identify in the snow!
Remember to start slowly and progress at your own pace. With practice, you’ll develop confidence and become more comfortable with snowshoeing.
Where to Snowshoe in Washington
Washington State is a winter paradise, an ideal playground for snowshoers of every level! Here are some of the best beginner snowshoe trails in Washington, based on my own experience.
Mount Rainier National Park
Nestled in the heart of Washington, Mount Rainier National Park offers breathtaking snowshoeing opportunities for all skill levels, with stunning views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding valleys. It’s truly some of the best snowshoeing in Washington state.
For beginners, the Nisqually Vista Trail is an excellent option, offering a relatively flat and scenic snowshoeing experience. Other popular trails are Glacier Vista, Narada Falls, and a more challenging Mazama Ridge.
- Nisqually Vista Trail: 1.1 mile loop, 180 feet elevation gain
- Glacier Vista Trail: 2.7 miles, 912 feet elevation gain
- Narada Falls: 0.3 miles, 59 feet elevation gain
- Tipsoo Lake Loop: 0.7 miles, 19 feet elevation gain
- Mazama Ridge, via Skyline: 5.5 miles, 1328 feet elevation gain
Stevens Pass Ski Area and Nearby
For beginners, the Skyline Trail provides a gentle path through the stunning winter landscape. But first you have to hike up the steep maintenance hill to get there. Once there, you can expect enchanting views of the surrounding peaks as you meander through the snow-covered trails.
Barclay Lake, if open from it’s tragic fire season in 2022, is an easier and just as beautiful trail.
- Barclay Lake Trail: 4.3 miles, 387 feet elevation gain
- Wenatchee Crest Trail: 6.6 miles, 708 feet elevation gain
- Lake Wenatchee South Trail: 3.2 miles, 167 feet elevation gain
- Lake Wenatchee North Trail: 2.3 miles, 78 feet elevation gain
- Skyline Lake Trail: 2.5 miles, 1062 feet elevation gain
Easy Snowshoeing Near Snoqualmie Pass
Snoqualmie Pass, a popular winter recreation area, is another fantastic destination, especially if you want beginning snowshoeing near Seattle. In many cases, the winter routes are different than the summer hiking routes.
The Gold Creek Pond Snowshoe, or Winter, Trail is a favorite among newcomers, possibly the best of the easy snowshoeing trails near Seattle. It’s a good place to start out with its flat, well-marked path and scenic views of the frozen pond and surrounding mountains.
This family-friendly trail is perfect for those looking for a leisurely snowshoeing experience. Keep in mind however, that the road to the trailhead is closed during the winter, which adds several additional miles to the trek. A Sno-Pass is required to park during the winter.
Another option is the Franklin Falls Trail, which takes you through a winter wonderland to witness the mesmerizing frozen waterfall. This forest road is also closed in the winter, adding several additional miles to your adventure.
Other easy to moderate hikes include Kendall Peak Lakes, and Lake Easton.
- Gold Creek Pond Trail: 4.5 miles, 167 feet elevation gain
- Lake Easton Trail: 4.6 miles, 249 feet elevation gain
- Franklin Falls Trail: 6.9 miles, 816 feet elevation gain
- Kendall Peak Lakes Trail (moderate): 8.5 miles 2125 feet elevation gain
Olympic National Park
The Olympic Peninsula is a treasure trove of natural wonders, offering diverse snowshoeing experiences for beginners. Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park is a must-visit destination, providing stunning panoramic views of snow-capped peaks and the surrounding valleys.
The Hurricane Ridge Snowshoe Routes offer well-marked trails suitable for beginners, such as the Cirque Rim Trails and the Big Meadow Loop. These trails offer a mix of gentle slopes and breathtaking vistas, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Olympic Mountains.
Be sure to check with the park to see what’s open.
- Cirque Rim to Sunrise View Point Trail: 1.3 miles, 219 feet elevation gain, especially at sunrise!
- Cirque Rim Nature Trail: 0.8 miles, 49 feet elevation gain
- Big Meadow Loop: 0.4 miles, 19 feet elevation gain
Benefits of Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing offers several benefits, both physical and mental. It’s a full-body, low-impact workout that engages your major muscle groups and provides excellent cardiovascular exercise. It also helps improve your balance and can burn a ton of calories.
Snowshoeing provides an opportunity to breathe in fresh air, unwind from daily stresses, and experience the tranquility of snow-covered trails. And it offers an opportunity for shared experiences, conversation, and bonding while exploring the outdoors with friends.
All of this can lead can have a positive effect on your well-being.
Safety Considerations for Snowshoeing
As with any outdoor activity, safety should be a top priority when snowshoeing.
- Check weather and trail conditions before heading out.
- Inform someone about your plans and expected return time.
- Dress in warm, layered clothing and wear waterproof and insulated footwear.
- Carry essential safety equipment, such as a map, compass, headlamp, and first aid kit.
- Stay hydrated and pack high-energy snacks.
- Be mindful of avalanche risks and take appropriate precautions.
- Travel around lakes, not across them.
Snowshoe Avalanche Awareness
Avalanche awareness is crucial for anyone venturing into snow-covered mountainous areas, especially during winter sports activities like snowshoeing. They occur when a weak layer of snow collapses under the weight of new snow, releasing a large amount of snow down the slope.
Understanding avalanches, their triggers, and how to assess the risk can help save lives and prevent accidents.
Recognize avalanche terrain – Understand the characteristics of avalanche-prone terrain. Slopes between 30 to 45 degrees are the most prone to avalanches.
Pay attention to signs of recent avalanche activity, such as fresh debris or cracked snow surfaces, and be cautious around gullies, convex slopes, and areas below cornices.
Check the avalanche forecast
Before heading out, consult local avalanche forecasts provided by avalanche centers or relevant authorities. These forecasts offer valuable information about current snow conditions, avalanche danger levels, and specific areas to avoid.
Make a habit of checking these forecasts regularly.
Carry essential safety equipment
Always carry the necessary avalanche safety equipment, including an avalanche transceiver (beacon), shovel, and probe. These tools are crucial for locating and rescuing buried victims in case of an avalanche.
Additionally, consider carrying an avalanche airbag backpack for added protection.
Take an avalanche awareness course
Enroll in an avalanche awareness or introductory avalanche safety course through WTA, REI or a local hiking group. These courses teach you how to recognize potential avalanche hazards, read the snowpack, and make informed decisions about route selection and travel in avalanche terrain.
They also provide hands-on training in using avalanche safety equipment.
Travel with a group and communicate
It’s safer to travel in a group when in avalanche terrain. Communicate openly with your group members about the conditions, observations, and decisions made along the way. Establish a clear plan, including safe meeting points and communication methods.
Practice safe travel techniques
Use safe travel techniques to minimize the risk of triggering an avalanche. Travel one at a time on suspect slopes, keeping a safe distance between group members. Avoid traveling underneath slopes with other people above you, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Learn basic rescue techniques
Understand the basics of companion rescue. This includes using an avalanche transceiver to search for buried victims, efficiently digging them out with a shovel, and using a probe to pinpoint their exact location. Practice these skills regularly to maintain proficiency.
Respect the mountains and your limits
Recognize that the mountains are unpredictable and always carry inherent risks. Be willing to adjust your plans or turn back if the conditions become unfavorable or the avalanche danger is too high. Make conservative decisions and know your own limits.
Remember, avalanche awareness is a continuous learning process, and experience plays a crucial role in developing sound judgment. Always prioritize safety, stay informed, and seek guidance from experienced individuals or avalanche professionals when needed.
While there are several places to snowshoe without having to worry about avalanches, such as Gold Creek Pond or Lake Wenatchee, you really need to learn about them anyway. The sooner you learn, the safer you will be.
No, snowshoeing is relatively easy to learn. It requires adjusting to a wider stance and walking with a rolling motion, but with practice, you can quickly become comfortable. It’s a great winter activity for all fitness levels and ages, offering an enjoyable way to explore snowy landscapes.
No prior experience is necessary to snowshoe. It’s a beginner-friendly activity that requires only basic walking skills. With the right equipment and a few tips, anyone can enjoy snowshoeing and explore winter landscapes regardless of their fitness level or outdoor experience.
While lessons can be beneficial, they are not necessary for snowshoeing. It’s a straightforward activity that most people can learn on their own. However, if you want to improve your technique or explore more challenging terrain, taking lessons or joining a guided tour can be helpful.
To get in shape for snowshoeing, focus on cardiovascular fitness and leg strength. Engage in activities like hiking, walking, running, cycling, or using a stair climber. Incorporate leg exercises like lunges, squats, and step-ups. Building endurance and lower body strength will help you enjoy snowshoeing with ease.
Final Thoughts: Beginner Snowshoeing in Washington
Snowshoeing is a rewarding winter activity that offers numerous benefits. It allows you to explore winter landscapes, engage with nature, get some exercise and experience a sense of tranquility.
Washington has a lovely variety of beginner-friendly snowshoeing opportunities for you to explore the winter wonderland at your own pace. From Mount Rainier National Park to Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie Pass, the diverse trails and stunning scenery create an enchanting environment for novice snowshoers.
With the right equipment, preparation, and safety precautions, you can embark on a winter adventure that will leave you with lasting memories. So, grab your snowshoes, bundle up, and let the snowy landscapes captivate your senses. Happy snowshoeing!