Stampede Pass is a fairly modest little notch in the central Cascades, but it was once a critical link in Washington's delicate, spindly overland connection to the rest of the U.S. The Northern Pacific Railway, the first to tie Washington and Oregon into the rail networks of the Midwest, switchbacked dramatically up and over the saddle before Stampede Tunnel was bored underneath. (The name apparently refers to a group of trail cutters that revolted against a Northern Pacific foreman.) The tunnel isn't as critical today, but it is still used by Burlington Northern Santa Fe to connect Seattle and Spokane.
From a skier's perspective, Stampede Pass is a day trip with great views of Baker-Snoqualmie and Wenatchee National Forests and a built-in lakeside picnic spot. The extensive grooming in the area makes the traveling quick, particularly if you're pointed downhill, but the cost of convenience is snowmobile traffic. During high season, this may be a better weekday trip.
From the enormous Crystal Springs Sno-Park, find the trail heading southeast to Forest Road 54: if you are having trouble, make a left as soon as you enter the parking area. You'll see a number of trails to your left, all of which intersect with the track.
Once on NF-54, stay on the main snowmobile track (skiers get their own lane for the first mile), continuing straight where the trail indicates for skiers and mushers to head left on the sled dog trail. From here the road climbs steadily through great views of the Yakima River Valley that extend from Keechelus Ridge and Amabilis Mountain all the way out to Cle Elum Ridge and Snoqualmie Mountain. The road passes two notable intersections before reaching Stampede Pass: the backcountry turnoff to Meany Lodge, a private ski lodge with rope tows and beds, and the major snowmobile interchange with Forest Road 41.
Once at viewless Stampede Pass, continue a few hundred feet down the other side to find diminutive Lizard Lake. From there you have easy access to the area's inexhaustible groomers, or just a speedy descent back to the lot.
One-Day Sno Park Permits are required at a minimum, and note that Seasonal Sno-Park Permits must be accompanied by a Special Groomed Trails Permit. All are available here.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.