Whether you’re cutting turns in untracked chutes deep in the backcountry or stepping light with snowshoes around a nearby lake, nothing says outdoor adventure quite like some great snow. Hearts lift, smiles arise, and snowpack stacks up for a long season of your favorite winter pursuit. When the west is blessed with a set of healthy winter storm cycles, it is tough to think of a better place to be. Whether it's the Cascade Peaks of Oregon and Washington, the magnificent Rocky Mountains in their various iterations, or the classic Sierra stashes, the American West is home to a truly astounding variety of winter terrain. And while it is vital to have a go-to spot for your local access, a well-developed bucket-list helps keep you looking ahead for those longer breaks and car trips. If you are in your element in magnificent winter scenes, here are a few from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, and California that really should be on your radar.
The Watchman: Crater Lake is beautiful any time of year, but the impact of the deep blue water when the rim is blanketed in white snowfall is remarkable. If you are exploring Oregon’s only national park in the winter, The Watchman makes an ideal snowshoe or cross-country ski tour with very impressive views of the park and surrounding peaks.
Williams Peak Hut: This place has it all. Ski quick turns right out the front door, skin up to Skiers Summit for a half-day tour, or move out to Thompson Peak or Williams Peak if the conditions are right. If you can grab a spot here (no easy feat!), you’ll remember it for a lifetime.
Lake Valhalla: This is quintessential North Cascades snowshoeing. You’ll net 3,200 feet of elevation gain on this 7.8-mile round-trip hike and return with a highlight reel of winter scenes. There is plenty of terrain to explore from the lake, so make it a full day if you can.
Wolverton to Pear Lake Ski Hut: This backcountry route in Sequoia National Park is a bit of a commitment, as in a 2,300 foot, 6-mile commitment. But once you reach the Pear Lake Hut you’ll be in one of the most pristine winter environments you can imagine. Check out Pear Lake, Emerald Lake, or Aster Lake, or head high and find your way to a steeper tour of this national park.
10th Mountain Division Ski Huts: A short ski or snowshoe in makes this a great overnight option for families looking to introduce the young ones to a lifelong passion. There are plenty of huts to choose from, and the Shrine Mountain Inn is an extremely convenient hub (a wood-fired sauna?!).
Edith Creek Basin: Head to Mount Rainier National Park for this tour near Panorama Point and Mazama Ridge. If you can muster the energy to make it to Camp Muir, you’ll have a 4,500-foot descent to enjoy on the way down! Low angle slope options are a perfect alternative when avalanche conditions are a concern.
Hidden Peak: Tahoe backcountry at its best. A little less frequented than Jake’s, Hidden Peak still has plenty of chances for face shots and open views. A bench segments the runs into upper and lower stretches; expert terrain is south of the summit, while the lower section offers plenty of good terrain in storm conditions.
Paulina Creek Falls + Loop Trail: Make this a day trip into one of Oregon’s most fascinating volcanic areas as you tour within a caldera. Alternately, spend the night at Paulina Lake Resort and take your time exploring the hot springs and falls.
Mount St. Helens Worm Flows: A Northwest classic, this is a 10-mile round-trip tour that gains 2,700 feet to put you right on the rim of the Mount St. Helens crater. Plenty of this terrain is above tree line, leaving routes relatively open over this varied terrain.
Martis Lookout + Martis Peak: Recently resurrected after years of neglect, the Martis Fire Lookout is a perfect destination for cross-country skiers and snowshoers looking to explore the Tahoe backcountry. There are plenty of routes in this area, so you can easily make this destination part of a larger loop.
Tom Dick + Harry Mountain: One of the best views of Mount Hood decked out in its winter attire can be enjoyed from neighboring Tom Dick + Harry Mountain. You’ll also have excellent views of Mirror Lake just below. This is a great spot for snowshoes, and if you opt for your touring gear, there are great turns to be had on the way down.
Hidden Lake Lookout: This first-come, first-served shelter is in the middle of superb skiing with plenty of terrain and aspect options for variable conditions. Take the approach seriously and understand the winter conditions before you embark, but if all the stars align for you, this gem is in a winter heaven.
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.