Our landscape here in the Pacific Northwest is fit for all kinds of outdoor adventure, from wildflower hikes in the spring, swimming in the summer, hunting for orange and red foliage in the fall, and skiing in the winter.
If you’ve exhausted all the ski slopes in the area, the adventure continues with a more laid-back but equally as scenic activity: snowshoeing. And in Southwest Washington, there is no shortage of snowshoeing trails, from short routes along icy lakes and rivers to more challenging climbs offering mountaintop views.
Today, we’re exploring some of the best snowshoeing destinations in Southwest Washington, including options near Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier.
NEAR MOUNT ST. HELENS
3.5 Miles | 764 Feet Net Elevation Gain
Snowshoers love the system of loops at Sasquatch Ski Trail, situated about 2 miles east of Marble Mountain Sno-Park. Here, you’ll find less crowds and stunning natural scenery. The middle loop is particularly enjoyable, as it meanders through meadows and forests of hemlocks and red alders. A bit more challenging than the lower loop but less dangerous than the upper loop, the 3.5-mile middle loop provides a moderate snowshoeing adventure with well-marked blue diamonds.
4.8 Miles | 600 Feet Net Elevation Gain
Considered one of the best snowshoeing adventures in the state, June Lake is an out-and-back trail near the base of Mount St. Helens in Marble Mountain Sno-Park. The well-groomed path follows a creek leading to the stunning lake, which offers views of the mountain on clear days, and depending on the time of year, a 40-foot waterfall on the opposite side of the lake. To reach the trailhead, you have the option to snowshoe along the groomed trail or the snow-covered road, which you will share with snowmobiles.
8 Miles | 500 Feet Net Elevation Gain
There’s nothing quite as magical as icy bodies of water surrounded by snow — and on Kalama River Trail, you get both a lake and a river! This 8-mile trail starts at the Kalama Horse Camp trailhead and travels upstream along the Kalama River, before switching back to the top of a ridge, where you’ll enjoy views of Mount St. Helens, Goat Mountain and Mount Adams, and sometimes even Mount Hood. You might even catch a glimpse of some Roosevelt elk and other forest wildlife!
10 Miles | 1,700 Feet Net Elevation Gain
Formed as a result of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, Coldwater Lake offers a stunning backdrop for your snowshoeing expedition. The lake is surrounded by a 10-mile loop, which offers sporadic views of the mountain, complemented by other stunning scenes and wildlife sightings. This longer trail with reasonable elevation gain might be a bit more challenging — but the views are certainly worth the trouble.
12 Miles | 5,000 Feet Net Elevation Gain
For more experienced snowshoers, consider the Worm Flows route, a 12-mile journey up Mount St. Helens with an astonishing 5,000-foot elevation gain. Because this is a more challenging and treacherous climb, there will typically be less climbers on the trail. Plus, between November 1 and March 31, climbing permits are free and unlimited in number. Follow the well-marked climbing route on the way up, and pay attention to the 90-degree turn crossing over Chocolate Falls. At the summit, you’ll reach 8,365 feet and take in views of Spirit Lake and Mount Rainier, plus a peek inside the crater. Don’t get too close to the crater rim, and stay clear of snow-loaded slopes and gully bottoms. An ice axe and crampons are recommended on this route!
NEAR MOUNT ADAMS
Ice Caves Loop at Atkisson Sno-Park
4.1 Miles | 4,500 Feet Net Elevation Gain
Situated near the Mt. Adams Wilderness, Atkisson Sno-Park offers a mature and varied forest setting complete with mountain meadows and remote lakes. The park has more than 10 miles of ski and snowshoe trails, including Ice Caves Loop, an easy 4.1-mile loop on relatively flat terrain. As the name implies, the loop passes by the Guler Ice Caves, stunning formations with ice columns shaped like stalagmites and stalactites near the cave’s entrance. The caves are only open between Memorial Day and mid-November during daylight hours, but they make for an excellent wintery destination nevertheless.
Lava Loop at SnowKing Sno-Park
4.7 Miles | 400 Feet Net Elevation Gain
SnowKing Sno-Park contains 20 miles of trails, many of which traverse through hilly terrain. The 4.7-mile Lava Loop is a popular option for intermediate snowshoers. The trail starts with a downhill slope and ends with some steady uphill terrain — offering scenic views all the while. For those who want a quick and easy option, the 1-mile Princess Loop is relatively flat with only 50 feet of elevation gain.
5 Miles | 200 Feet Net Elevation Gain
Not far from Trout Lake, Pineside Sno-Park contains 20 miles of groomed ski and snowshoe trails, including Big Tree Loop, a 4.6-mile loop trail good for snowshoers of all levels. The trail is primarily used for cross country skiing and snowshoeing, so it is most frequently used in January and February. The trail has two gradual downhill stretches and a short diversion to Big Tree, one of the largest Ponderosa pines in the world. The snow you’ll find here is softer than what you might find at Mount St. Helens, due to colder temperatures (and therefore less thawing and refreezing).
NEAR MOUNT RAINIER
1 Mile | 200 Feet Net Elevation Gain
For an easy yet rewarding snowshoeing experience, look no further than the Nisqually Vista Snowshoe Trail, a short 1-mile loop leading to Nisqually Glacier and a canyon viewpoint. Before the viewpoint, the trail winds through a forest of subalpine fir, mountain hemlock and Pacific silver fir trees. The viewpoint extends 800 feet above the frigid Nisqually River and offers one of the best vistas of Mount Rainier in the park!
1 Mile | 240 Feet Net Elevation Gain
The snowshoe climb up to Panorama Point is one of the most classic adventures at Paradise, an area perched at an elevation of 5,400 feet on the south slope of Mount Rainier. And one of the easiest ways to get up there is the Edith Creek Basin trail, an 8-foot-wide groomed trail extending just 1 mile long. It passes by the Paradise Snowplay Area and reaches the open bowl of Edith Basin. During the summer, Myrtle Falls is teeming with activity, but during the winter, the falls are buried under one of the deepest snowpacks in the world. That’s because Paradise receives an average of 680 inches of snow annually!
2.8 Miles | 550 Feet Net Elevation Gain
This easy 2.8-mile trail is one of the best opportunities in Paradise to take in views of Mount Rainier and its neighbor, the rugged Tatoosh Range. This broad trail winds around the valley’s bowl and drops to the Narada Falls junction before reaching a 176-foot cascade. When the temperatures drop low enough, this is a popular spot for ice climbing! If you’re looking for a challenge, there is a steep trail leading back to Paradise Inn from Narada Falls that passes through a forest filled with mountain hemlock, pacific silver fir and noble fir trees.
3.8 Miles | 1,200 Feet Net Elevation Gain
The Comet Falls Trail is packed during the summer and fall months, as visitors hit the trail to catch a glimpse of some of the tallest falls in the entire park, including Comet Falls, which has a total drop of 462 feet. Plus, you’ll get several views of Mount Rainier throughout your adventure. Winter is one of the best times to visit the trail, as it is only accessible via snowshoe, which typically draws less crowds. Along the way, enjoy views of Van Trump Creek and a number of cascades. Keep an eye out for Bloucher Falls at the confluence of the East Fork and Van Trump Creek!
7 Miles | 670 Feet Net Elevation Gain
For a longer snowshoeing adventure in Paradise, consider making the trek along the 3.5-mile one-way route to Reflection Lakes. The trail is well-marked leading to an orange sign, which indicates that there are two different routes you can take from there, both about a mile long and leading to the west end of Reflection Lakes. The frozen lakes provide a picturesque winter setting, complete with the Tatoosh Range on one side and Mount Rainier on the other. Once you take it all in, you can extend your trip with a 1.2-mile trail to Louise Lake!
What are your favorite snowshoe trails in the area? Let us know in the comments below!