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Before going out on any snowy trail, always check the Northwest Avalanche Center forecast to determine local mountain weather and avalanche conditions. If you encounter a steep slope and are unsure of current avalanche conditions or your own preparedness, turn back or find a different route.
Getting There: Hop on Interstate 90 east toward the Snoqualmie Pass ski area. Take exit 54 and turn north (left), cross under the highway, and after several hundred feet turn right on a narrow paved road, FR 4832. Drive east for one mile and park along the side of the road near the FR 142 intersection and sign for Gold Creek Pond (Sno Park permit required). FR 142 accesses the Gold Creek trailhead but is not plowed during the winter.
Gold Creek Pond Loop Route: Gold Creek Pond is an excellent destination for kids and beginning snowshoers. The hike provides beautiful views of the Central Cascades, with Kendall Peak lying to the north and Rampart Ridge towering along the east edge of the valley. In addition to the stunning views throughout much of the hike, the pond provides a lovely setting for this shorter, 2 hour loop hike. There is typically plenty of snow by mid-December.
Trek in from the road and turn left at the first road junction toward the Gold Creek Pond parking lot (not plowed during winter). The official Gold Creek Pond trailhead lies on the west side of the lot. Travel counterclockwise around the loop to ensure that the best views lie in front of you for the majority of the hike. Don't venture out on to the pond, the ice typically isn't thick enough to sustain a person's body weight!
Gold Creek Basin Route: For folks looking for a slightly longer, quieter, and more majestic hike, try the Gold Creek Basin route. Be aware of avalanche conditions on this hike, as the upper valley is prone to avalanches which can barrel down and engulf the valley floor.
Trek in along FR 142 from you parking spot, but instead of heading left at the junction for the Gold Creek Pond parking lot, continue due north. Views of Kendall Peak will get better and better as you hike in, while Rampart Ridge will continue to stretch along to the east. As you go, the valley will get progressively narrower and the views more dramatic. Stop at around the 2 or 2.5 mile mark and take in the sights before heading back. It is possible to continue deeper into the wilderness, but as the valley tightens the avalanche risk increases so be sure to assess and evaluate current avalanche dangers before heading too far back into the valley.
Getting There: Take Interstate 90 east toward Cle Elum to exit 85/Route 970. Hang a right at the T-intersection and follow 970 east for 12 miles to the Highway 97 junction. Continue north on 97 to Blewett Pass. Turn left into the North Blewett Pass Sno-Park or, if that lot is full, right into the main Blewett Pass Sno-Park. The trailhead is on the north side of Route 97.
Wenatchee Crest Snowshoe Route: This snowshoe trail of modest length and difficulty is perfect for beginners and intermediate snowshoers alike. The trail follows an old dirt road along the crest of the Wenatchee Mountains from Blewett Pass to a point directly above the Pipe Creek Sno-Park.
From the north end of the parking area, climb up through the forest to a junction that lies about a half-mile up. The left fork continues along the ridge while the right fork drops down into Scotty Creek, which is another place to explore. By following the ridge, you'll encounter several clearings with breathtaking views to the north and south. Tronsen Ridge stretches to the north while south Diamond Head and Table Mountain rise up above the pass. The lightly rolling terrain provides a perfect opportunity for newer snowshoers to practice their techniques - don't forget to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the open clearing at the end of the three mile road!
Getting There: Drive east from Granite Falls along the Mountain Loop Highway. Once you pass the town of Verlot and the Public Service Center there, it’s only about 12 miles to the intersection of Mountain Loop Highway and Deer Creek Road (Forest Road 4052), which is unplowed. Park in the cleared pullout area on the north side of the highway.
Lake Kelcema Snowshoe Route: The Lake Kelcema trail is a slightly more difficult hike owing to its longer distance and the steady climbing required. However, the climbing is at a gentle enough rate that snowshoers of all abilities and fitness levels will enjoy the outing as long as they are up for a longer day! The route winds through a beautiful old forest and offers views of craggy ridges, snowcapped peaks, and a beautifully quiet, frozen lake.
The majority of this hike follows Deer Creek Road (Forest Road 4052) as it parallels Deer Creek up the valley towards the lake. As you set off up the road from the eastern edge of the parking lot, watch out for the kids and their families who frequent this area to go sledding. Once you get past this lower section, the quiet of the forest will envelop you and you’ll be free to relax and enjoy the serenity of the snowy forest. After about a mile, the road will curve toward the west and small views of Bald Mountain will start to poke their way through the trees. As you head upstream, the views will slowly increase in number and quality.
After you reach the 2.5 mile mark, be sure to look behind you at the stunning views of the valley below and the numerous peaks in the distance. You’ll cross Deer Creek at 3.5 miles, and after some slightly steeper climbing you’ll re-cross the creek at 4.5 miles, whereupon you will discover the Kelcema Lake trailhead. There road continues from here for another .25 miles, but instead you’ll follow the narrower trail which gently climbs another .5 miles to Kelcema Lake. There are some nice campsites here as well as places to sit and enjoy lunch. Bald Mountain rears up over the lake to the south while Devils Peak sits to the east.
Getting There: Artist Point itself is located at the very end of Mount Baker Highway (Route 542), but during the winter the road is only plowed up to the Mt. Baker ski area at Heather Meadows. Take Route 542 east from Bellingham for about 55 miles and park in the Mount Baker Ski Area's upper parking lot. Posted signs will mention the Bagley Lakes trailhead.
Artist Point Snowshoe Route: Artist Point is a terrific winter day journey for the slightly more fit or advanced snowshoe hiker looking for a moderately challening route that provides one of the best viewpoints in the state. The point is a popular destination, so there is usually a clearly visible track to follow. However, on foggy or cloudy days the route finding skills are quite necessary. The trip is not without avalanche risk either, so be sure to carefully check over the NWAC avalanche forecast before attempting this hike.
From the upper (southern) parking lot, pick your way along the base of the downhill ski area along the access road that leads toward Austin Pass. Alternatively, you can take the steeper, straighter route that follows the Bagley Lakes summer hiking trail. 500 ft of climbing along either of these paths gets you to the Austin Pass area. From here the road heads back to the left in a long switchback, but you can continue heading southwest. There are many ways to get to Artist Point - the direct route that avoids losing elevation is a bit steep, but you can circumvent this path by skirting closer to the road. The final climb to the lower end of Kulshan Ridge and Artist Point itself is a little steeper but flattens into a slightly hilly area where the summer park lot resides (typically untraceable with average snow levels).
Mt. Baker now becomes visible to the west, with Mount Shuksan looming to the northeast. To extend your hike an extra 1.5 miles roundtrip, head east along the crest of Kulshan Ridge in the deep snow to Huntoon Point, a high knob that presents a spectacular lookout over the expanses of the Northern Cascades.