“This is the best trail! This is the best hike I’ve been on all year!” I kept exclaiming to my mom and brother yesterday. We were tromping through snow at Stevens Pass, about an hour and a half northeast of Seattle. Once we returned, peeled off wet clothes, and I started writing this post, I remembered my hike up the Wild Great Wall this past summer, aka my favorite hike of the year. So I guess the Stevens Pass hike was my second favorite of 2011.

For anyone looking to go snowshoeing or cross country skiing in Western Washington, Stevens Pass Nordic Center is the place to be. From Seattle, take I-5 north to Highway 2. Head east. Five miles past the downhill skiing area you will find Stevens Pass Nordic Center. It will be on your right. Check the snow level first by calling 206-634-1645. If you don’t have snowshoes you can rent them here. Restrooms and a small snack shop are also on site. This is also the place to pick up your pass, $12 for adults.

Before hitting the trails we loaded up our backpack with oranges, cookies, and a thermos of hot water. Due to our lack of hiking boots, my brother and I donned a nice layer of plastic bags between our socks and shoes. They worked perfectly. My shoes were soaked at the end of the hike, but my feet stayed warm and dry.

Upon recommendation of the guys at the Nordic Center, we took the easy two kilometer “Clickity Clack” trail up the mountain. Then we headed back down on the intermediate “Steppin’ Stoker” trail, for a total of four kilometers. The hikes were very well marked, which I always appreciate. The first half of the trail was fun, but things really got going after we crossed the main cross country sky trail and made the hairpin turn down to the creek. Make sure that you look down towards the creek to find the orange tape marking the “Steppin’ Stoker” trail. If you just follow the signs you’ll go back the boring way. Down by the creek there are snow covered logs to climb over and branches to duck underneath. We were the only ones on the trail that day, and the three inches of new snow was fun to crunch through. On a clear day, there are views of surrounding mountains and Mill Valley. However, this is Western Washington. Good luck chancing upon a clear day. Luckily, the trees, creek, and blanket of snow are gorgeous themselves. You can appreciate the beauty of this trail even if it’s cloudy and rainy. Just make sure that you have some waterproof sock-bags.

Some snowshoeing tips:

  • It’s not hard! If you can hike, you can snowshoe. No skiing experience is needed. My snowshoeing mates included my mom, who is sixty (or “fifty-something,” in her words). She’s pretty in-shape, and had no trouble with the hike. My brother was also with us. If things had been up to him, he would have chosen a more out-of-the-way trail (he doesn’t like groomed snow paths, or pre-designed hiking trails. Then again he also goes backpacking for days on end without a tent or food, so mom and I generally ignore his outdoor wishes), but he really enjoyed this hike as well.
  • When going uphill, make sure to get up on the balls of your feet and really plant your toe. This makes the hike easier and keeps you from sliding backwards.
  • Check the weight limit on your snowshoes. If you will be carrying a pack, be mindful of what your weight will be including that backpack. If you weight too much for the shoes you may be prone to punching through the snow.
  • Poles are unnecessary.
  • If you can swing it, head up to the mountains the day after a good snowfall. New snow is much more fun to walk through.