Gain just a small bit of elevation above sea level and you'll brush shoulders with people that haven't seen the grass on their front lawns in months. Though many choose to catch up on reading and movie lists when the days get shorter and the temperature drops, that only leaves fewer crowds and more adventure for the intrepid souls that know there's hardly anything more beautiful than sherbet alpenglow kissing the freshly-dusted North Cascades…especially from a tent that's nestled into the snow.
Below, you'll find our favorites atop a long list of Washington's best and most underrated snowy destinations. Below that you'll find supplemental adventures for modifying a trip for hikers, tubers, cross-country skiers, or backcountry skiers. When you stray off the beaten path, always be sure you're accompanied by a savvy companion. This is especially important when a beacon comes into play. And whatever you do, don't forget to fill a thermos with hot, spiced apple cider before you hit the road.
Did you know that Mt. Baker is home to the world's greatest snowfall in one winter? In the 1998-1999 season, the mountain measured a staggering 1,140 inches of snow (that's 95 feet!). That year most certainly was no outlier—the area consistently receives massive snowfall and is privy to excellent terrain on which to enjoy it. Just a short 2.5 hours from Seattle, this is a great first stop on a winter road trip. Gems like Artist Point offer up fantastic views of the surrounding jagged, glaciated peaks, and Mount Baker itself is a skiier's paradise. It's one of the least crowded ski areas in the area (perhaps because it is a bit difficult to get to), but a lift ticket is relatively cheap and earns access to excellent and varied terrain serving all ability levels. Up for a real adventure? Bring your crampons, ice axe, and savvy friends and take on the summit of Mount Baker via Coleman Glacier.
One of the most underrated and tucked-away treasures within Washington's winter wonderland is the Methow Valley. Situated just on the eastern edge of the North Cascades, this cozy valley is incredibly beautiful year round, but it's hard to beat it in the winter time. Be sure to hit roadside beauties like Diablo Lake Overlook and Washington Pass Overlook on your way through the North Cascades Scenic Byway from Mount Baker, and revel in the coziness and hospitality of The Rolling Huts just as the jagged mountains fall away into your rearview mirror.
Miles and miles of pristine cross-country ski trails spangle the valley—most all of them are well manicured and offer incredible views. The valley's grooming and trail report is updated frequently. For those of the downhill persuasion, Loup Loup Ski Bowl is a hidden local gem and a must-not-miss simply for the friendliness and the off-the-beaten-path factor. Plus, the day passes are reasonably priced.
Though a trip up to Leavenworth will necessitate a bit of backtracking on your driving route, it's well worth the extra mileage to experience this incredible playground in winter. For those equipped with skis, skins, a beacon/shovel/probe setup, Table Mountain + Diamond Head is one of the best backcountry trips in the area (and arguably in all of Washington). The combination of low-angle terrain and the recent burn field make for an excellent place to teach as well. Plus, if you're feeling extra intrepid, the snow camping can be second-to-none.
For those looking for a more mellow experience, snow adventures right in town include Leavenworth Ski Hill Trails, offering snow tubing, snowshoeing, and a cozy lodge to enjoy, and the Leavenworth Golf Course Trails.
It's no secret that Seattle skiers have a winter-long love affair with Stevens Pass. 5 p.m. hits on a Friday and you're sure to witness a line of cars beelining straight east. There's more to the area than Stevens Pass Ski Resort, though. Bummed that lift-access tree lines get skiied out first thing after a fresh snow? Try Grace Lakes, Lake Susan Jane Bowl, and Yodelin for easy-access, fabulous touring peppered with incredible views and low angle terrain. Though you'll certainly not be the only one out there (and probably not the first), there's nothing quite as satisfying as earning your turns after a quintessentially Pacific Northwest monster dump.
For an adventure that doesn't necessitate hundreds of dollars worth of gear and a brain full of avalanche safety training, grab a pair of snowshoes and explore Skyline Lake. It boasts arguably the best view of the resort and originates at the north parking lot.
Meandering along Highway 12 toward Mount Rainier serves up fabulous views and an excellent sampling of cross-country skiing. Forego the beeline to the heart of the park in favor of catching an afternoon exploring the White Pass Ski Resort. Because it's situated on the far side of Mount Rainier National Park, it's relatively difficult to reach from all major cities and offers spectacular views that rival those of Crystal Mountain Ski Resort for a fraction of the price, while bumping into a fraction of the crowds.
Once you arrive at the foot of Mount Rainier, endless winter adventure awaits. Edith Creek Basin Snowshoe is an excellent beginner route with spectacular views. For those searching for a skin track, higher up in Edith Creek Basin is tops. That said, there's hardly any experience that rivals the hike up to historic Camp Muir. Consider hiring one of the excellent guide services in the area if you're unfamiliar with glacier travel. Book early, and catch a cozy night's sleep in the Longmire + National Park Inn before heading home.