Four Steps to Snowshoeing In The Mt. Baker area
“If you can walk, you can snowshoe.” - Accepted wisdom
Welcome to snowshoeing in the Mount Baker area, where hidden hikes come out when the world is white!
Step 1: Discover Snowshoeing
The Inuit, Caucasians, ancient Italians, and Nordic wayfarers journeyed hundreds of miles impassable by horse, car, or carriage, all on snowshoes; today, where vehicles cannot reach or aren’t wanted, no device opens the land so effectively and unobtrusively as the simple, lightweight snowshoe.
Usually overlooked for winter adventurers by more high-impact snow sports, snowshoeing offers a laid-back, elegant, richly immersive approach to the silent winter snowscapes. Unlike expensive snow sports, snowshoeing is comparatively low cost and an accessible winter recreation. Luckily, our alpine slopes are endlessly explorable from the year-round-access afforded by the Mount Baker Highway.
Without snowshoes, the Mt. Baker area snowfields could swallow a hiker wandering away from the groomed ski runs. With snowshoes strapped to their feet, the snow-land navigator explores stands of ancient firs, hidden viewpoints, and frozen streams that skiers may only see in streaks as they blow.
Snowshoeing is a comeback sport - after being used for centuries by indigenous hunters, Scandinavian merchants, and French trappers, recreationalists have discovered anew how snowshoeing is perfect for the Mt. Baker area. Why this region in particular? Because the modern snowshoe was invented in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, designed specifically for their high powderbanks, high-rise cliffs, and open glaciers.
Two Washington brothers, the Pratters, used the ancient wooden snowshoe until they realized they needed more than wood to climb the Cascade peaks. Fortunately, Gene Pratter worked for Boeing, and utilizing advanced aluminum and polycarbonate, he invented the modern snowshoe, complete with crampons, super lightweight construction, and PNW style. All modern snowshoes follow Gene Pratter’s design, relegating their wooden predecessors to ski lodge mantelpieces.
But the original inventor of the snowshoe was a rabbit. With their large padded feet, the snowshoe hare floats on delicate snowbanks to explore their white domain (and flee lynxes, another expert alpine voyager). If you opt for snowshoes over other snow sports, you just might be lucky enough to spot a hare.
Step 2: Pick Your Hike
There are several options for snowshoeing in the Mt. Baker area. Novices can explore the snowshoe trails beneath White Salmon Lodge near the ski area, or further down the mountain at the Salmon Ridge Sno-Park, with its plethora of trails.
There is also access near the Mt. Baker Ski Area's upper lodge - this area is usually busier and has to share some of the space with skiers and snowboarders, but has fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. White Salmon and Salmon Ridge are cross-country skiing and snowshoe-focused trail systems, more private, with more time in the woods and some pretty great views of its own.
Salmon Ridge Sno-Park
Salmon Ridge Sno-Park is 13 miles east of Glacier along the Mt. Baker Highway (Highway 542), and offers one main trail (Razerhone) as well as some side trails. The Razorhone area is a fun mixture of easier trails, more difficult trails, and one trail rated Most Difficult. The Razorhone trail follows the North Fork of the Nooksack River, so offers a lovely riverside exploration. The parking area at Salmon Ridge is a Washington Ski Sno-Park and a permit is required to park. See links below for more information.
White Salmon Lodge
Many trails wind through the silent woods and snow banks of White Salmon, mostly easy rambles. Along the White Salmon trail you’ll get great views of Mt. Shuksan, Mt. Sefrit and Goat Mountain. As you walk through the woods of the White Salmon area, enjoy glimpses of winter-warming, feather-puffing birds and tracks of snowshoe hare - even the winter woods are full of life. There are two places you can park, depending on if you want to end your hike with a slight downhill or slight uphill hike. See links below for more information.
There are a plethora of other snowshoe rambles, hikes and high adventure off the Mt. Baker Highway, many requiring avalanche awareness skills. Never enter the backcountry without wilderness and snow travel knowledge, and the proper tools and gear. John D'Onofrio, local photographer who created the stellar print of local peaks for sale in The Heliotrope's Hub, wrote a great article in AdventuresNW magazine highlighting snowshoe explorations in the area. See links below for more information, including directions.
Step 3: Stay Safe
Although low-impact, you should still remain sharp during a snowshoe adventure. Below are a few tips:
- Know about avalanche conditions before you go to any avalanche-prone area. Consult the Northwest Avalanche Center main page and follow their instructions to avoid avalanche-prone areas.
- Avalanche safety courses and backcountry snow travel tools (avalanche transceiver, beacon and shovel, etc...) are other must-haves for backcountry terrain navigation.
- Make sure you’ve got extra food and extra clothes packed. Don’t stray off the trails, which should always be well-traveled from snowshoe tracks and cross-country ski cuts of those who’ve recently trekked that way.
- Check weather reports and road conditions before you set out.
- Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to come back (and then let them know when you've returned).
Step 4: Be prepared and Enjoy yourself!
Food & Drink
On-the-way: Visit the Wake n’ Bakery in Glacier for coffee and treats before or after your snowshoeing. They are a unique little spot, offering locally produced and delicious pastries, entrees, soups, salads, and rolls.
While you're out there: Oops. Did you forget to pack a lunch? You're in luck. Grab some groceries at Graham's in Glacier (good selection + espresso), your last stop for civilization before the climb up Highway 542 to the ski area.
Or, for some of the best - and most exotic - groceries anywhere, detour to Everybody's Store, a few miles south off the Mt. Baker Highway on Highway 9. From their website: "Hailed by the Seattle P.I. and Pacific Northwest Magazine as a food mecca, the L.A. Times touts their 'encyclopedic array ... (Everybody's) will bag organically grown produce, medicinal herbs, home-baked goods, wines and smoked salmon, plus books, wool hats and socks.'" Grahams or Everybody's are perfect places to pick up your trail supplies. Why not complete your snowshoe adventure with some fine cheese, local bread, and landjaeger sausage?
Snowshoes: Finding snowshoes to rent is easy. Just go to one of these locations and pick out your pair: Backcountry Essentials or Yaeger's Sporting Goods (both just a couple miles from The Heliotrope) or the Glacier Ski Shop (last town stop on your way to Baker). It's a good idea to call first to make sure they stock your size. Poles are helpful (and can be rented from the same place you pick up your snowshoes) but any modern snowshoe will have crampons to prevent sliding.
Clothing: It’s very important to wear snow boots (snowshoes simply strap on), snow pants, thick (preferably wool) socks, wool or synthetic layers, and a waterproof outer layer. There’s nothing worse than getting your clothes wet by filling them with snow and then being cold on a hike, and nothing quite so comfortable as walking through a wintery world in total comfort because you came prepared.
Details and Directions
Check out the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club website, particularly the page on showshoeing in the Mt. Baker area, with appropriate cautions and suggestions of other areas to explore. The Nooksack Nordic site also has trail updates and snow reports as well as information about the White Salmon and Salmon Ridge areas, and is a great resource for cross country skiing as well.
- Written by Evan Frazier, Heliotrope Hotel staff and snowshoeing explorer