Updated Friday, December 21, 2012 at 01:01 PM
SINCE MOVING to Seattle from colder climates, I've never missed scraping my windshield, but I do miss snowy walks in cold, crisp air. On the days when I really yearn for some snow but don't want to load myself down with gear, I head out for a snowshoe.
Tromping through the woods on snowshoes, listening to the thump of snow falling from branches and squeak of snow under my feet is one of my favorite wintry meditations. In the Pacific Northwest we are lucky enough to have a huge variety of options for getting out in the snow and earning our hot chocolate and burger after. But snowshoeing is one of the simplest. While you can get fancy, the equipment can be straightforward and relatively inexpensive, and the skills are basic. If you are new to snowshoeing, here are a few beautiful, moderately easy routes to get you started, all recommended by the Washington Trails Association.
Gold Creek: This popular route off Interstate 90 takes you through a wide valley and offers dramatic views of Kendall Peak to the north and Rampart Ridge to the south. It's just 4 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 400 feet. Directions: I-90, exit 54, cross under the highway, turn right onto a narrow, paved road, drive 1 mile east. Park at the end of the plowed road. Sno-Park pass required.
Big Four Ice Caves: This trek off the Mountain Loop Highway is almost flat and a good place to get your snowshoe feet under you. Bring friends new to snowshoeing or take your family here to soak up views while tramping up to the base of Big Four Mountain. The trail winds among massive cedar and fir trees, and you'll cross Coal Creek. Don't go up to the caves, which are highly prone to avalanches. Directions: Take I-5, follow signs to Granite Falls. From there, go east on the Mountain Loop Highway about 12 miles past the Verlot Public Service Center to the end of the plowed road. Park in the pullout area on the north side of the highway. Northwest Forest Pass required.
Wenatchee Crest: With a round trip of 6 miles and an elevation gain of 400 feet on a rolling trail, this is a great place to hone some skills. The trail, which follows the crest of the Wenatchee Mountains, also offers beautiful views of Tronsen Ridge and Diamond Head. Directions: Take I-90 east to Cle Elum. Take the second exit, continue northeast for 12 miles on state Route 970, continue north on U.S. 97 (follow Wenatchee sign). At Blewett Pass, turn left into North Blewett Pass Sno-Park. Sno-Park Pass required.
Mazama Ridge, Mount Rainier: Slightly more challenging, this one features extraordinary views of Mount Rainier. Take the Paradise Valley Road to the 4th Crossing route up Mazama Ridge to avoid avalanche-prone areas. Once you are at the top, you can wander the ridge to meadows with stunning views of several peaks besides Rainier. Directions: I-5 South to Tacoma, take state Route 7, left on state Route 706 in Elbe. Enter the Nisqually entrance for Mount Rainier National Park, park in the Paradise Lodge lot.
Before you go
Sign up for one of the avalanche-safety classes listed at www.nwac.us, then check the site for the most current avalanche report.
See www.wta.org for trail reports and for more snowshoe ideas. Also check out The Seattle Times archive for other good beginner routes: http://seattletimes.com/html/outdoors/2013455739_nwwsnowshoeing18.html.
ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Beginner snowshoers try running in their new gear, just for fun, during a ranger-guided hike at Snoqualmie Pass.