While Mount Rainier and its neighboring craggy peaks offer excellent backcountry skiing and challenging winter hiking adventures—there are plenty of less-intimidating family-friendly spots within the frozen shadows of the mountain. Here are three of my favorite places to break tracks in the snow suitable for families with children and newbie snowshoers.
Trail of the Shadows
0.8 mile loop
When snow levels in the park are low, the easy Trail of the Shadows makes for a perfect destination if you’re brand new to snowshoeing. Starting right across the road from the lovely and historic Longmire Inn, this easy 0.8 mile nearly level loop circles around scenic Longmire Meadow. Traipse through towering old growth while you skirt the meadow. Catch glimpses of the Mountain and of Rampart Ridge forming an emerald northern flank. Pause to check-out the 1888-built homestead cabin, built by pioneer James Longmire and his sons. And pass by a pair of bubbling warm springs which gave rise to a hotel and spa (now gone) more than 125 years ago. Then return to the inn for a hot drink by the fireplace.
4.0 miles roundtrip
While Paradise is world renowned for its summer wildflowers, when shrouded deep in snow it is a breathtaking winter wonderland. From a lofty 5400-feet starting point, you can snowshoe the high country with minimal effort. The trek to the Reflection Lakes requires no dangerous avalanche chute crossings. And it requires no tricky navigation either as the park service marks the route with snow wands.
From Paradise, follow the Lakes Trail on a ridge above the Paradise Valley slowly descending. The way traverses deep old-growth forest reaching the Paradise River at 0.6 mile and after dropping 600 feet. Cross the river on a bridge and then begin climbing. Cross the closed-in-winter and buried-in-snow Paradise Road and continue climbing reaching a junction (elev. 5,150 feet) at 1.1 miles. The way left is a more challenging but incredible scenic route along the High Lakes Trail to Mazama Ridge.
You want to continue straight descending 300 feet and reaching the larger of the Reflection Lakes at 1.6 miles. The lakes which in summer beautifully reflect the Mountain will appear as a frozen meadow. Always a prudent move not to snowshoe across them—feel free to explore along their edges. It’s about .4 mile to the smaller lake. Be sure to admire the steep frozen spires of the Tatoosh Range from a safe distance—as there are several avalanche slopes on these peaks. Find a nice spot in a cluster of firs to have your lunch—and be prepared to guard your morsels from scavenging gray jays who flutter over these lakes year round.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest near Greenwater
4.0 miles roundtrip
This is a great easy snowshoeing route that is not only kid-friendly, but dog-friendly, too. The route begins from the Sun Top Sno Park (Sno Park pass required) and follows alongside Huckleberry Creek through thick old growth timber. A popular destination for beginner cross-country skiers too with its gentle incline, be sure not to snowshoe in any ski tracks. Also note that this route begins at an elevation of 2,300 feet which usually means no snow in mild winters and late in the season. But after a good snowfall, this route utilizing Forest Road 73 will provide plenty of fun for the whole family.
The way heads southwest through groves of ancient forest. After about a mile Huckleberry Creek comes into view. There are several spots along the way if you want to veer off of the route to a closer look at the cascading creek which originates high in a basin beneath the Sourdough Mountains in Mount Rainier National Park.
At about 2.0 miles the way bends south. If snow conditions are stable (there are a couple of potential avalanche spots beyond) and you are feeling like getting more exercise—continue. After another 1.5 miles you’ll reach a bridge over Huckleberry Creek. This is a good spot to turn around. Beyond this point the way is unmaintained and steadily climbs making it the domain for experienced backcountry travelers only.