Joanna Markell, Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.
If the cold and gloom are getting to you, one of the best prescriptions to make it through winter in Central Washington is to experience it first-hand by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
These winter sports are a balm to the senses: There’s the smell of fresh pine, the sight of snow-covered trees and the quietude of a peaceful forest enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Snowshoeing doesn’t require much in the way of special skills — it’s simply walking with wider steps. It doesn’t involve the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing, but that can be a good thing.
I’ve been snowshoeing for years in Yakima and Kittitas counties, and have been out several times this winter. I’m not an expert by any means, but if I can make this happen, you can, too.
For more information, the Naches Ranger District has a list of places to go snowshoeing with directions, permit and parking information. If you’d rather go with a group, the Cascadians have regular outings.
I often check the latest trip reports on the Washington Trail Association and AllTrails websites before heading out. The Yakima Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing Council is another good resource, and it has a Facebook page to follow.
Here are a few of my favourite places for snowshoeing. All of these options are easily accessible and would be good for a family day outing. I didn’t include the Sno-Parks at Bumping Lake and North Fork Tieton here — they are adventures I hope to get to at some point soon.
White Pass: For snowshoe and cross-country ski newbies, the Nordic Center at the White Pass Ski Area on Highway 12 is the perfect place to start. The staff in the Nordic yurt will set you up with rental equipment and a day pass, then point you in the right direction. They also offer cross-country ski lessons, evening snowshoe hikes and snow bike rentals. The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays and reservations are not required.
I had an excellent time during an afternoon visit in late December, and the conditions were nearly pristine. We looped around Leech Lake, taking in the alpine views and snow-blanketed firs. We exchanged greetings with several other groups during our trip, but there were stretches where we had the trails to ourselves.
You won’t need a Sno-Park permit for the main parking lot here, but you will need a Nordic pass to use the White Pass trail system. They’ve added new cross-country ski trails this year that people were excited about during our visit.
Pleasant Valley: There are several options for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the Pleasant Valley area right off State Route 410. There are two small parking lots at the Hells Crossing campground Sno-Park, with trails on either side of the highway. You can also loop around the Hells Crossing campground here. Groomed trails are on the north side of the highway.
If you drive a little farther up on 410, the Pleasant Valley campground is another nice spot to visit. The trails offer beautiful views of the river, and the covered Civilian Conservation Corps picnic shelter in the campground is a good place for a hot chocolate break.
Salmon La Sac: The Salmon La Sac campground offers several peaceful, tree-lined loops for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. The Roslyn-Ronald corridor is a busy place for snowmobilers, so expect to see many of them. The campground is designated for non-motorized use only, and can be reached by driving north of Roslyn and Ronald on State Route 903 and Salmon La Sac Road.
During a visit in late December, we parked along the road, first checking with the sheriff’s deputy who was busy writing tickets for cars without Sno-Park permits. We then crossed the bridge over the Cle Elum River by ski to the campground. On that day, the cross-country ski trails were groomed, though conditions were icy and sticky because of rain. We saw several other families out and about on skis and snowshoes.
Swauk Forest Discovery Trail: This snowshoe trail is at the top of Blewett Pass on U.S. Highway 97, where there’s a Sno-Park parking area and a spot for sledding. This spot is a prime snowmobile area.
Winter trailhead access varies depending on how much snow there is, but ask around, and look for the blue diamonds on the trees, which will point the way to the hiking trail.
The trail traverses through forest and climbs to an outlook where you can see the Cascade Mountains, then loops around. It’s a relatively easy 3 miles, and is a nice, gentle outing.
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