PNW Snowshoeing for Beginners –Who, What, When, Where, and How 7

Please join me in  warmly welcoming Rachel Zupke to NW Healthy Mama! If you’ve ever wanted to know more about snowshoeing, this post is for you! Rachel is a PNW Mama of 2 little ones, a coach, a snowshoeing expert and an all around amazing gal. It is an absolute honor to have her joining us today. Enjoy!

PNW Snowshoeing for Beginners –Who, What, When, Where, and HowSome of my favorite winter memories are out on the trail with a pair of snowshoes strapped to my feet.  Different people are in each memory – or strapped to me when they’re too little to walk – but there’s something about the quiet, beauty, and crispness of the snow that makes me want to be out there as much as I can. Winter hiking with specialized footwear, snowshoeing is a fabulous follow-up to your glorious summer and fall outdoor adventures. Everybody can snowshoe with the right preparation and gear.

Who: You + a friend (or more!)

If you can go for a brisk walk, you can snowshoe. And while I’ve seen people out snowshoeing solo, it’s much more fun (and safer) in a group. Not sure how to go with? Start by asking family or friends you already do outdoorsy things with; if that doesn’t yield any adventurous souls, hop on Facebook and see if any of your friends want to join you. You might discover a new hiking or snowshoeing buddy! My first snowshoe outing was in college with a friend and her dad. I rented a pair of snowshoes from the Downtown Seattle REI and off we went.

Kiddos have a great time on the trail whether they’re being carried or just goofing around with you. I’ve taken both of my babies – as young as one month! – on snowshoeing outings with proper gear and prep. Stay tuned for a post all about snowshoeing with kids and babies! Furry friends love going snowshoeing as well. I’ve seen all kinds of dogs out on the trail and they even make snow booties if your pooch has sensitive pads. Our Siberian Husky loves being out on the trail with us and gets excited when she sees us packing our gear into the car. Be sure your dog is in good condition, hopefully from hiking with you through the summer and fall, and that they are okay with the cold.

What: Essential gear

Snowshoes, the right clothing and footwear, and food and water are a great place to start. REI has a snowshoe day hiking checklist with an extensive list of gear; they purposefully make this list exhaustive so don’t feel bad if you don’t bring everything on this list with you each time you head out. Snowshoes: if you aren’t ready to buy them, you can rent snowshoes from REI. If downtown Seattle is too far to go, you could check with friends to see if anyone near you has them before you take the plunge into purchasing a pair. We’ve owned Atlas and MSR snowshoes and have been happy with both. Tubbs is another good brand that’s more on the recreational end. Outdoor retailers often put their current year models on sale right now to make room for new ones so you might be able to get a deal. 

Appropriate clothing: this is especially important for us PNWers. While you could go for a snowshoe outing in the Rockies and not worry *as much* about the wetness of the outing, you should be mindful of the types of layers you’re wearing based on their ability to keep you warm if when they get wet. A wicking baselayer (top and bottom) plus waterproof pants and an insulating top layer with a waterproof yet breathable jacket are a great way to start. Synthetic or wool socks as well as gloves and a hat are important too. I also find that gaiters are something I miss if I forget them.

Poles: while not essential, these can be super helpful. If you already have trekking poles for hiking, you can purchase snow baskets to fit on the ends which allow you to use these creaky knee helpers all year.

Food and drink: you’re going to get hungry out there and while this isn’t much different than getting ready for a hike, you might want to consider packing a thermos with something hot to have at your turnaround point. On several outings, it’s been quite a treat to survey our lunch spot surroundings while sipping on a mug of hot chocolate.

Ice axe, snow shovel, etc: depending on where you’re going, you may not need these. If you’re just heading up Smithbrook, you definitely don’t need either of these but if you’re traversing a slope up by Mount Baker, you’re going to want to have them with you. You’ll want to double check this list before heading out to make sure you’re comfortable with your level of preparedness!

When and Where: December – March off the Mountain Loop, Stevens Pass, Mount Baker, and North Cascades Highways

Snowshoeing is a lot more fun when there’s powder and you gotta go up, up, up to find it early in the season here in the Great PNW. As Everett residents, our easy go-to spots are Smithbrook, Skyline Lake, or Grace Lakes (Stevens Pass) and Artist Point (Mount Baker). These are super accessible by any type of vehicle and don’t require a parking pass. You can also head to places that are groomed and designated like the Stevens Pass Nordic Center. Don’t, however, snowshoe on groomed trails…hike next to these trails and leave the smoothed surfaces for the cross country skiers.

For those of you near the I-90 corridor, be mindful of which places require a Sno-Park Pass (akin to the Discover Pass in terms of the specificity of where it’s needed). The Methow Valley and areas by Mission Ridge and Lake Wenatchee are also amazing if you have the time to head over the mountains. Spend some time on the Washington Trails Association site for great trip reports and trail guides for where to go when!

If you want to join a guided trek, check out the winter guide from Everett Parks and Rec (snowshoeing starts on page 16). Outdoor guide Alpine Andy leads everything from introductory trips to overnights and his trips are very popular.

How: barely more than a walk in the park

A little bulky and awkward at first, snowshoes are really not much harder to walk in than your boots. Take it slow until you get your rhythm. When going uphill, punch your toes into the slope for traction. Traverse sideways and switchback rather than heading straight up just like when you’re hiking (though we’ve all been on those trails where we’ve wondered, “What were they thinking when they built this?!?”). When going down, keep your body weight back and place the heel of your snowshoe down first. On steeper downhills with powder, just keep your feet moving; you’ll almost float down! Do be aware of avalanche situations, please! Regardless, start easy and you’ll be just fine.

Who will you go snowshoeing with this winter? Where do you want to explore? 

PNW Snowshoeing for Beginners –Who, What, When, Where, and How 1
Rachel Zupke
My name is Rachel and I’m a stay at home mom to an energetic preschooler and a crawling baby. My husband brings home the big bucks as a high school science teacher and I help out money-wise by coaching after school (cross country, basketball, and track). On my personal blog, I write about faith and family, real food and natural living, and my obsession with mason jars. I also write about sex and sexuality for Christian women over at Intimate Truths. You can find me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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About Angela Strand

Angela is a wife, mama to three little ones and a lifelong Washington State resident. Besides facilitating the NW Healthy Mama website, she loves being involved in her kids' school, hiking with her girlfriends, growing all the things, writing, reading and taking photos.

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