Having mountain passes around us means in Seattle it’s easy to play in the snow when wanted. But if you’re a beginner or novice, there’s a lot of equipment involved you might not want to initially purchase. Enter the Forest Service’s Winter Snowshoe program!
At either Stevens (Highway 2) or Snoqualmie (I-90) Pass, you can make reservations for a ranger-guided snowshoe trek that includes the equipment rental. They have numerous options for all ages and abilities. This donation-requested service is wonderful for those without their own equipment or unsure about their own abilities. I, along with Mama Boots, elected to do the 90-minute Beginner Snowshoe at Snoqualmie Pass. Parking turned out to be the single most difficult part of the trek. Because the Forest Service office is right in the ski lodge area, that meant *parking* in the ski area. I liked snowshoeing because I didn’t have to fight the hordes for parking! After circling for a while, we gave up and went to a $10 pay lot rather than exhaust ourselves walking a mile before we even started. We trudged through the thick slush to the ranger office. This was not the greatest of starts. However, that $10 pay lot is free if your car has three or more occupants though!
After we were handed our snowshoes and given a brief introduction by our guides, we set off, crossing under I-90 and heading towards the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot. This is actually where I had tried snowshoeing a year earlier (only with better parking), so it was somewhat nice to be in a familiar setting. We were given full instructions here on how to put on our snowshoes and we set off, heading upwards to where the horse trailer parking lot was to get a chance in an open area to test out our snowshoes and run around in them to get the feel for using them. As this was an easy beginner trek, there were no poles, so we both really liked the chance to adjust our balance and get used to the wider gait snowshoeing requires.
We then set off on our trail to do a loop. Our guide would stop frequently to point out things–not just tree wells and hazards but a giant red cedar, a tree with unique holes left by a special woodpecker (I want to say the pileated woodpecker?), snowshoe hare tracks, and a unique tree that had been split by lightning but was still alive and growing branches. This was by far the best part of the trip, as if alone I’d be so focused on keeping on the trail that I never would have taken notice of these things. I especially am not at all skilled in identifying animal tracks.
However, our quick loop and 90 minute trek came to an end all-too quickly. I think even with our limited skills we would have been okay on their longer 5 mile ‘Extended Hike,” but if you’re a total beginner feeling anxious about trying snowshoeing, this trek would be the perfect introduction for you–especially if you are able to avoid the mess in the parking lot!
The beginner guided snowshoe runs Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1:00 p.m through March 25 (conditions permitting). For more information, including on other guided snowshoe options, check out the Forest Service website here.