After enjoying a beautiful sunny hike and exploring town day one in Winthrop, we planned for a longer hike (Pipestone Canyon) for day two. However, we awoke to the sound of driving rain on a metal roof and suddenly nine miles didn’t seem like a whole lot of fun.
We researched the boyfriendo’s notes and a guidebook on local hikes we had snagged from the main lodge where we were staying. I had been dying to do Heather-Maple Loop Pass or Yellow Aster Butte nearby(ish), but both appeared to already have snow. We don’t own any snow equipment, and while there were amazing outdoor gear stores in Winthrop, we decided to stick with a rainy shorter hike. We selected Cedar Creek Falls. Three-and-a-half miles felt really short, and nearly every review said it was best in spring, but seeing any waterfalls sounded nice, so we loaded up the car with warm layers for after the hike and towels and headed west out of Winthrop.
About three miles outside of Winthrop, we started seeing snowflakes. I love snow, but seeing it a mere 24 hours after it had been 60* and sunny out was a bit strange. As we kept going west and gaining altitude, the snow started sticking. Gulp. Like many lifelong Washingtonians, I am not the hugest fan of driving in snow, as that could mean ice. As we entered the foothills of the pass, I started getting really nervous. We made it to the trailhead lot, where there was already maybe an inch of snow. Two things were very apparent–we had minimal snow gear for hiking (I had a hat and two pairs of gloves, neither of us had traction for our feet), and I had not yet put my snowbrush/ice scraper into my car (whodathunk I’d need it in mid-October?!).
I ended up putting my flannel shirt I had been saving to have something dry to wear for our post-hike beer on between my long-sleeve wicking shirt and very light but very waterproof jacket. I also thanked my lucky stars for grabbing gloves and a hat. We made a plan to turn back if the snow got too difficult to hike in, and then we embarked. With these plans in place, I felt a lot better. I had been snowshoeing once this previous winter and loved it, so I was getting more excited about almost repeating the experience. The snow was gorgeous, and the boyfriendo could drive us back if the snow got really bad on the roads. So we hit the trail!
Similar to the previous day’s hike, there were stunning yellow aspens everywhere, as well as some still-green leafy trees, all made more stunning with a snowy white backdrop. There were also smatterings of pine and other trees, but all my eyes could do was zero in on that gorgeous yellow. I may have missed #LarchMadness (the affectionate term for leaf-peepers all about) this fall, but in this moment I wouldn’t have traded the foliage on this hike for the world! We saw a few other people coming back from the falls, all of whom said it was fine without microspikes or other traction equipment. About a mile up, we started to hear the faint roar of the falls. I was having too much fun marveling at my surroundings for it to at all feel like work, but I was still warm enough to ditch my hat into a pocket.
The remainder of the hike up went surprisingly quickly as my anticipation grew with the roar of the falls. With every outlook or view I gawked more and more. The roar of the falls got deafening right when the trail split into a Y–we followed the larger group of tracks left for the falls. Here the snow made it a little difficult to tell where to go to actually see the falls–there were little cat trails all about. To the left was a little peek-a-boo of the top of the ‘lower’ larger falls. I was not expecting to get so close to the falls, so it was a dramatic enough view, but with snow falling all around it became that much more stunning. Whoever said the falls were best in the spring had obviously never been here in winter!
Back to the clearing, we saw there were some trails going further up the falls. A bit of a scramble ensued, but here were the upper portion of the falls (right up to the very top of the lower falls!). We got a little envious of those in summer who could have waded through, but I am not exaggerating when I say the single brightest aspen of the whole hike was here, standing out like a gold tooth in a porcelain-white smile. Here was where we spent the majority of our time at the top, taking pictures and feeling the snow accumulate around us. The only thing missing was a thermos of spiked apple cider (and okay, maybe a slightly warmer jacket). We realized when at the top we both had raincovers we should have put on our packs at the beginning, which we did slightly belatedly.
We were having such a wonderful time we decided we didn’t want the hike to end just yet. We went back to the Y and after seeing human and dog tracks decided to explore a bit on the trail that went the other direction before heading back to the car. Now, this maybe wasn’t the smartest choice in hindsight. We decided to go for ten minutes and turn around. The trail climbed, making the snow thicker and more slippery. The trail also became a bit rockier, which did not inspire confidence in our steps.
It was so still and quiet, I realized A) I had definitely seen pictures of cougars chilling in snow like this and B) If a cougar attacked, no one would likely find us. Luckily, just then we ran into the person making the tracks we had seen, a trail runner and her dog. She said she too wasn’t sure the exact length of the trail but that the snow only got worse and there was nothing exciting to see. That sealed it for us, we turned around. We realized the snow on the trail we had taken up was a lot thicker, so we started moving briskly. The fact we had already selected the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for lunch also helped put a spring in our step. We got one last look at the extra-stunning aspen and falls and moved onward.
The hike back to the car felt far longer than the hike up, and we saw no more people on the trail. We made it through the whole hike without falling, which felt like a miracle by the end. While we both should have been more prepared for the conditions, we checked the weather before leaving for Winthrop and saw no snow forecasted–proof of how quickly conditions can change! The snow, for me at least, turned a relatively short hike into something very special–and also has me itching to do more snow hiking this winter! With the proper gear, of course.
Distance: 3.5 miles (in winter, might need to park much further from trailhead due to road closures)
Elevation: 500 feet (again, in winter this might increase if starting from farther away)
Parking: NW Forest Pass/America the Beautiful
Bathrooms: Appeared to be pit toilet at trailhead–unsure if open year-round though