MAKE THE MOST OF WINTER BY VISITING WASHINGTON SNO-PARKS
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are very accessible ways for you to get out of the city and enjoy the snow. If you don’t own snowshoes or skis, you can rent them from your local outdoor retailer and the prices are very reasonable. The Mountaineers Gear Library also has snowshoes and cross-country skis included in their inventory.
On a powdery day, snowshoes will help you glide on top of the snow without sinking down. My first time snowshoeing, I was shocked by how weightless I felt walking above the snow. Cross-country skiing is another great way to enjoy the groomed trails, and you can still enjoy the thrill of going downhill without paying the high prices for a downhill ski and snowboard pass.
It's important to note that snowshoers and hikers should remain on their designated trails and stay off groomed ski tracks. For more information on trail etiquette and right of way, visit Washington State Park's Sno-park trail etiquette webpage.
To visit Sno-parks, there are three different kinds of permits to choose from. A one-day permit allows you to visit any Sno-park, and is a great way to see if Sno-parks are for you! If you want to spend your entire winter exploring these parks, a seasonal permit gives you access to most Sno-parks. There are a few Sno-parks that require a special-groomed trail permit, so make sure to check what type of permit your location of interest requires. You can check out all of these permit options and where to find them on the Washington State Parks permit webpage.
MY FAVORITE SNO-PARKS
My two favorite sno-parks are Lake Wenatchee State Park and Salmon Le Sac. Both parks offer miles of groomed snowshoeing trails and cross-country skiing trails.
My first time visiting Lake Wenatchee in winter was such a gift. It was early in December, after one of the winter’s first snow falls. We had a blue-bird sky, snow-dusted trees, and light, fluffy snow. The blue sky perfectly reflected in the lake, creating a beautiful contrast between the snow and sky. We walked along three miles of trails that took us up through some of the forest surrounding the lake. The trail had a slight incline at points, elevating you so that you could look down at the lake. Once you descend out of the trees, the trail leads you around the lake. The temperatures are never low enough to freeze the lake, but you will be able to see the lake covered with snow around the edges.
Venturing into nature during winter can be challenging if you don’t know where to start. The cold and snow require more technical gear to keep you safe and warm in such low temperatures. But there are ways you can get outside, even if you are short on experience or gear. If you are curious about exploring Washington in winter but don’t know where you should go, check out one of Washington’s Sno-parks!
WHAT ARE SNO-PARKS?
Sno-parks are technically maintained parking lots that are nearby groomed trails and recreational areas, such as state campgrounds. Once the snow starts falling and summer camping ends, the state transforms these parks into beautifully groomed areas to enjoy during the winter. There are more than 120 Sno-parks across Washington, making it easy to find the nearest one to you.
Sno-parks attract many people for a wide variety of winter activities. They’re the perfect way to spend a day walking around in the snow. The best part about these parks is that many have groomed trails and crews that work to keep these parks maintained, making them a safe and easy way to enjoy snow in Washington. The state also regularly updates trail reports so that you can know exactly how the conditions will be the day you want to head out. You can find more information about Sno-parks and trail conditions on parks.wa.gov.
When the city is too dreary and resorts are too chaotic, Sno-parks offer a peaceful space to roam around the snow. After years of struggling through Washington winters, learning about Sno-parks helped me break up the dark, gray days by getting out of the city. I knew very little about snow sports, but these parks felt like a great way to get a taste of the outdoors when the winter weather was weighing on me. They were a stepping stone to making me feel more comfortable in the snow, and eventually helped me leap into downhill sports. I always seek out Sno-parks when I need a breath of fresh air and want a peaceful stroll through some snow-dusted trees.
HOW TO ENJOY SNO-PARKS
The other Sno-park that I recommend is Salmon La Sac. This Sno-park sits right next to the Cle Elum River, making it an easy drive from Seattle. Salmon La Sac is unique because you can walk along the river for miles and even cross over the river by a bridge. The running water of the river provides an idyllic background noise for hiking in the snow, and you can see it cut through the snow and weave through the trees.
Winters in Washington can be challenging, but they also hold a lot of beauty. During a time when mental health can be so heavily impacted by the short days and low light, finding ways to break into nature helps make strides towards a happier life. There is still plenty of time left this winter to explore these parks and maybe even try out a new activity like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. However you choose to explore, always consult weather resources like NWAC and local weather outlets to stay safe!
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