“Deepest Snowbase in North America!”
It’s a headline often displayed proudly on the Mt. Baker Ski Area website during winter. These words inspire legions of skiers and snowboarders to drive the scenic Mount Baker Highway in search of Baker’s world-class powder. And it’s good news for the rest of us, too. If you prefer simply walking in the snow, snowshoeing may be the winter activity for you.
Since moving to Bellingham, I’ve spent years exploring the North Cascades and Mount Baker area — mostly along summer hiking trails. But winter brings its own beauty. For hikers like me, snowshoeing is a low-barrier way to get outside during the snowy months. Rentals are relatively inexpensive, and you can buy a pair of snowshoes for far less than you‘d spend on ski equipment. Once you’re out on the trail, there’s not much of a learning curve, either. Snowshoeing is simply walking through the snow in oversized shoes.
The Mount Baker Highway offers endless snowshoe routes for beginners and experienced snowshoers alike. Here are four recommended routes to get you started.
Best for Beginners
Break into snowshoeing with a guided snowshoe walk or an easygoing, low-elevation ramble.
Ranger Guided Snowshoe Walks
The easiest way to break into any sport? Go with a guide. At least that’s what we thought when my partner and I set out snowshoeing in blizzard conditions from Heather Meadows a few winters ago. We met up at the Glacier Public Service Center in the morning for a briefing before setting out. As beginners, we were unsure about the forecast so it was reassuring to join a group. Thankfully our guide had been leading snowshoe walks for years; she knew the best trail to take.
We set out from the upper parking lot at Heather Meadows. Because visibility was so poor, our group made an orderly line behind our leader — waddling along like puffy ducklings decked out in snow gear. Winds howled and snow swirled. A ski patroller whizzed over to let us know that winds had reached 75mph higher on the slopes. At this news, half of our group turned back for the parking lot. We pressed on with our guide and a few fellow diehards who wouldn’t be deterred so easily.
Though our walk was short, it felt triumphant to reach the stone shelter of Heather Meadows Visitor Center. We huddled beneath its eaves, sipping tea and enjoying a snack before returning to the ski lodge for a hard-earned beer. We vowed to return in better conditions next time!
If you’re interested in trying snowshoeing for the first time, a ranger-guided walk is the way to go. For a $20 donation, you can walk with an experienced guide while learning about the terrain, safety, and ecology. Snowshoes and poles are provided; reservations are required. Learn more: Winter Snowshoe Program at Glacier – Mt. Baker
Salmon Ridge SnoPark
- Elevation: 2,000 feet
- Parking: SnoPark permit required
For my first non-guided snowshoe near Mount Baker, I joined my family for a powdery romp at the nearest non-motorized SnoPark. We discovered ample amounts of snow in March. Thankful for the rented flotation devices on our feet (see rentals info below), we blazed our own trails through the fluffy stuff to the edge of the North Fork Nooksack River.
Salmon Ridge is a great option if you don’t want to drive all the way to the Mount Baker Ski Area to snowshoe. Located at mile 46 of the Mount Baker Highway, Salmon Ridge SnoPark is a groomed cross-country ski area maintained by Washington State Parks. Snowshoers can access several designated trails, or make their own.
Visit the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club website for maps and more information. Remember, no dogs or snowshoes are allowed on groomed ski tracks!
Hannegan Pass Road
- Elevation: 2,000 feet
- Parking: Northwest Forest Pass required
Personally, I haven’t snowshoed at Hannegan Pass Road yet. But several sources point to Hannegan for easy-to-access and family-friendly snowshoeing when the snow level is low enough.
According to an article in AdventuresNW Magazine, “The first mile is on an easy grade with some classic views of Mt. Shuksan and the usually free-flowing Nooksack River (scenic highlights of the trip), then the road steepens for the last two miles in the trees. Beyond this point, there is significant avalanche hazard and travel is not recommended.”
Parking is located just east of the DOT equipment sheds, by milepost 46 on the Mount Baker Highway. There is a sizeable parking area (Shuksan Picnic Area) where Hannegan Road meets the highway.
White Salmon Road
- Elevation: 3,400 feet
- Parking: No pass required
After years of hearing about the beginner-friendly snowshoeing along White Salmon Road, my partner and I finally made it there one February. We parked at the northwest corner of the White Salmon ski lodge parking lot and clambered over a steep pile of plowed snow to reach the “Ridge Road”.
From there it was a fun, mostly level and easy walk through the quiet forest with occasional Mount Shuksan views. After sloping downhill for a bit and climbing to “The Knob”, we enjoyed lunch overlooking the North Fork Nooksack River. Consult the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club map for reference.
There are two access points for this snowshoe. At the Ridge Road via White Salmon parking lot described above, you’ll find ample parking and have access to the lodge facilities. However, the trail can be tricky to find from here and you should be prepared for a steep descent in the beginning. Alternatively, you can park at a hairpin turn in Mount Baker Highway at White Salmon Road. See the Washington Trails Association page for driving directions.
Best for Experienced Snowshoers
Consider the snowshoe to Artist Point for a more significant challenge and reward.
Artist Point Snowshoe
- Elevation: 4,200 feet
- Parking: No pass required
Last year, I blogged about our Winter Snowshoe Trip from Heather Meadows to Artist Point. A large parking lot and hiking area during summer, Artist Point is completely covered in snow during the winter with unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains. If you feel comfortable on snowshoes and don’t mind a climb, the trek to Artist Point is your best bet for Mount Baker views on a clear day.
Consider snowshoeing to Artist Point and other areas above treeline during clear weather for safety (and the best views). It’s advisable to check avalanche conditions via the Northwest Avalanche Center before departing. REI also offers frequent, free courses at their Bellingham location about Snowshoeing Basics and Avalanche Awareness.
Forecast and Additional Info
Need to rent snowshoes? Check out our list of Outdoor Gear Rentals and Services in Whatcom County. Always pack the Ten Essentials when hiking or snowshoeing.