Washington State offers a wonderland of Winter recreation and it doesn’t get much better than walking across virgin snow around a placid lake frosted over with a marshmallow layer of goodness. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and wander into the forest, bound by nothing but openness to nature and connection with a beautiful mountain day. White Pass Nordic Center provides 18 kilometers of groomed cross country skiing paths — but also abundant space to run free amongst the snow covered fir trees. This snowshoe adventure is sure to provide Winter fun, warm memories and maybe even a few snow angels.
This article provides the best tips to experience a snowshoe adventure at the White Pass Nordic Center nestled in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State
There is something so refreshing about Winter snow amongst the Cascade Mountains! Fir trees reach up to the heavens even as the fluffy powder hangs on every branch. Bunnies hop along the landscape leaving minor traces of tiny paws. Mountain creeks, almost frozen completely in place, push through at a trickle. The smell in the air is clean and dry, tasting like like the color of champagne.
I enjoy many different Winter sports, including both downhill and cross country skiing, and inner tubing is a frivolous way to spend an alpine afternoon. A few years ago I even hiked for miles in the fresh powder of the Swiss Alps, near Grindelwald. My favorite experience of them all is the freedom that comes with the diverse options of movement in the wild — a snowshoe adventure. White Pass Nordic Center makes it very easy to just strap any boot into the snowshoe and head directly to the powder — no fuss.
Snowshoe Table of Contents
- Snowshoe adventure video on YouTube
- Where is White Pass Nordic Center and ski resort?
- Is snowshoeing easy to learn?
- What clothing and gear are required to snowshoe at White Pass Nordic Center?
- White Pass Nordic Center information
- White Pass Nordic Center trail map
- Services at White Pass Ski Resort and places to stay
- Airbnb options near White Pass Ski Area
Snowshoe adventure video on YouTube
Check out the video below (and subscribe to my YouTube channel), Which is a 2+ minute recap of a wonderful afternoon spent playing in the snow around White Pass Nordic Center.
Where is White Pass Nordic Center and ski resort?
White Pass Ski Resort and Nordic Center is an area located just inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, along Highway 12 between Chehalis, Washington, which is about halfway between Portland and Seattle on Interstate 5, and Yakima, Washington. The highway winds through some of the most remote wilderness in Western Washington — snugly between Mt. Rainier (to the North) and both Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams (to the South). The drive from both Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington takes about three hours in normal road conditions. This is an arterial roadway, plowed regularly, so the trip is relatively straight forward in most vehicles — check road conditions before traveling just to be sure. The Google Map below shows the routes from Portland and Seattle as well as some lodging options for the area, listed in red. A few other noteworthy places are in blue.
Is snowshoeing easy to learn?
Yes! The thing I love about a snowshoe adventure is the relative ease to put on a pair, adjust to a new center of gravity (balance), and start walking. Deeper powder has nuances, but there is always the opportunity to make a snow angel after taking a spill. For starters, I recommend hiking along the groomed trails for a bit to get used to the feeling of “giant shoes.” Be sure to check out the signs posted that instruct snowshoes to be used on the outside of the cross country ski tracks, which are usually in the places tire treads would be on a road. Some nordic skiers like to skate, which is normally done in the middle of the roadway.
What clothing and gear are required to snowshoe at White Pass Nordic Center?
It definitely helps if you have your own pair of snowshoes, but the Yurt at the entrance to the Nordic Center rents snowshoes, cross country skies and has a bunch of other Winter gear available for rent or sale. I prefer to snowshoe without poles, but some people appreciate the stability they can provide — especially in uneven terrain.
The most important items are good, waterproof and warm boots. I love my Asolo hiking boots — they guided me to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro among other places. If this is a one-time experience, renting is possible at the yurt. Take two solid pairs of wool socks — one for the hike and another to change into for the ride home. Since the movement in a snowshoe is a bit more exaggerated than normal walking, it’s crucial toes have plenty of room inside the boots.
Clothing requirements depend on the weather and the degree of warm-blooded nature. Remember that snowshoeing is a workout that keeps the heart rate fairly consistent, so aside from stops to grab water or a snack, there isn’t as much down time as, say, riding a chairlift when skiing. The key is to bring layers. For our snowshoe hike it was about 40 degrees and the sun was out. I wore two pairs of long underwear (I always prefer silk) and a thin waterproof pant that provided maximum movement in my legs. My upper body kept very warm with a layer of long underwear followed by a button down shirt and wool sweater, capped off with a waterproof shell. Gloves that cover the wrist are helpful when traversing through deep powder.
Since there is always a chance of precipitation on the mountain, be sure everything on the outside is waterproof, including a good hat.
White Pass Nordic Center information
The Nordic Center is located in a yurt just under the rustic wood sign, which is on the opposite side of Highway 12 from the main ski resort. Turn into the parking lot just before the White Pass Village Inn and continue as far north as possible until the sign appears. Parking nearby is usually available in the mornings and gets busier on the weekends with overflow lots requiring a bit more walking. Even though this is a much quieter part of the resort area, remember not to leave valuables in any vehicle.
The Nordic Center is open 8:30AM to 4:00PM Thursday to Sunday (and holidays) with the convenient “Grab and Go” cafe available on weekends. At the time of this writing (Jan 2021), the pass and rental rates are as follows. More information can be found on the White Pass Nordic Center website.
|Trail Pass Rates||Full Day||Late Day (after 1:30pm)|
|Adult (ages 17-72)||$22||$16|
|Junior (ages 9-16)||$16||$10|
|Child (ages 8 and under)||FREE||FREE|
|Nordic Ski Package||$28||$23|
|Polk or ‘child sled’||$16||$16|
|Fat Tire Bikes||$55||$40|
White Pass Nordic Center trail map
Starting out, it might be easier to follow the green ski trails to get used to the feel of snowshoes and the terrain. Eventually though, you’ll want to venture off the groomed runs and onto the snowshoe trails that wrap closer around a frosted over Leech Lake. Wander through fallen trees and amongst giant western cedar trees heavy with new fallen snow. Cross gentle babbling brooks popping through melted ice. The scene is very peaceful with only the crunching sound of the metal cleats of the snowshoes clenching into the path. This will elevate the heart rate, which feels good but be sure to drink plenty of water and go at a pace appropriate to fitness level.
The area around Leech Lake is fairly flat, with a few gentle inclines through the woods. For a more challenging adventure, veer off the main loop on the East end of the lake, just after a bridge, toward the Falls shown on the map. This route is not frequented as often, so it’s possible the snow will not be packed down to show the obvious trail. Look for the snowshoe markings — either signs posted or orange ribbon tied to branches of fir trees along the route. The fresh powder and the feeling of blazing a new trail makes it fun to imagine pioneer life of bygone eras. Just for peace of mind, there are so many groomed trails in the area that it would be difficult to get lost. Snowshoes makes that easy anyway, as you can simply cut through the forest until locating a cross country trail.
It’s natural that the need for a few pics might creep into the day, and the best photo ops exist on the North side of the lake (near the green loop on the map below), as the view of the ski resort opens up nicely. For a great pan of Leech Lake, stop at the snowshoe path on the West side, snap the Instagram-worthy moment and then get a real workout “off roading” up the hill to the cross country trail (shown in blue). Your glutes and quads will thank you for the workout — or they’ll make you pay!
Services at White Pass Ski Resort and places to stay
White Pass Day Lodge (8:30AM – 4:00PM) harkens back to a simpler time and the resort area has really kept the 1950’s whimsey alive with a carved wood chalet look and cavernous A-frame construction. It’s hard to miss along Highway 12 and directly across the road from the Nordic Center yurt.
The giant building nestled amongst snow drifts contains the downhill rental area (skis, snowboards and pro shop), restrooms on the lower level and a large two-level dining area above. “The Grill” serves up pretty tasty comfort food and “Groomed Grounds” is welcoming with coffee, snacks and even some adult beverages. There are a variety of food and beverage choices, including two mid-mountain options, available throughout the resort that are only open during ski season. All the specific information can be found HERE.
Although I prefer the lodge mentioned above, Kracker Barrell Store and Service Station, on the same side of the highway near the Nordic Center, is also an option for rest stop style needs, including gas. Their hours (8AM – 6PM daily) make them a bit more accessible.
There are no sufficient lodging options immediately in the White Pass Ski Resort area, except for the Village Inn, which is a condo operation. We stayed in an a-frame (shown above) booked via Airbnb in Packwood, Washington, which is about 30 minutes away from White Pass. The GoogleMap above displays some other key hotel options and I’ve also outlined some of my favorite Airbnb offerings in the area (centered around Packwood, WA and shown below), which can be booked via the widget on this site. Yakima, Washington is about an hour away and provides many more hotel options with national chains and the gateway to wine tasting and some great Mexican cuisine.
Airbnb options near White Pass Ski Area
There are a number of Airbnb’s along the Cowlitz River between White Pass and Packwood, Washington. Packwood is a rustic town with a few solid restaurants, grocery store and service station and is a 30 minute drive from the White Pass Nordic Center. The following listings are my suggestions in the area based on search criteria that I outline in another article about Airbnb Superhost pro-tips. The list includes some options around Ashford, Washington, which is the Western gateway to Mt. Rainier National Park.
Leave no trace and take nothing but memories
Time outside, in the quiet snowy Winter wonderland of the Cascade Mountains cleanses the soul and encourages connection to nature. White Pass Nordic Center is an accessible way to enjoy a snowshoe adventure amongst the fir trees and glazed over lake. I hope this article inspires your own exploration in the Winter beauty of Washington State.