If you’re looking for an introduction to snowshoeing near Bellingham, head for the hills near Mount Baker via east Hwy SR542. At milepost 52, after the swooping curve in the road is the trailhead for White Salmon Road at 3,075′ elevation- just enough to get great snow. The undulating road winds through the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. At this trailhead you won’t need a parking permit, making it a popular destination.
(As instructed by the Mount Baker Ranger Office, located in Sedro Woolley, those who are interested in snowshoeing should first be aware of avalanche safety before going out. They also recommended that people should check conditions with the Northwest Avalanche Center before going out. REI also offers frequent, free courses at their Bellingham location about Snowshoeing Basics and Avalanche Awareness. Details about their courses are here.)
Once we got started, we were greeted by this classic Northwest family- the dad with a kid on his back and another one in his ski pulk and the mom with another in a baby carrier.
What’s a ski pulk? If you’d like more insight on ski travel with a sled, check out my earlier article: X-C Skiing from the Glacier Creek Sno-Park.
It’s also a good snowshoe hike if you want something at a lower elevation. Let’s get back on track…
Following the tracks that were broken earlier in the morning, we scooted along the bench on the side of the hill with occasional views off into the distance of Goat Mountain and Mount Sefrit. The clouds were rolling through and we caught glimpses of the distant peaks. The hike starts out flat and easy. White Salmon Road trail is a great introduction to snowshoeing.
There were a couple feet of fresh snow on the ground. Fortunately, we enjoyed our morning coffee in Bellingham before heading up to the mountains. When we arrived in the afternoon, the trail had already been broken for us, so all we had to do was follow the wide path through the forest. The fresh snow created a canvas for people to write their names and other warming messages: it’s all about the love.
The relatively flat trail heads straight into the wilderness. Bring your Green Trails map – Mount Shuksan – No. 14 to guide you along the grey line outlined on the topo. At about a mile in, you’ll come to a clearing, pictured below. We arrived here just in time to get a sliver of a view of the summit of Mount Shuksan, directly above the women walking into view. At this area, you can make a choice, continue on the path ahead or take a right and head uphill to the White Salmon Lodge at Mount Baker Ski Area for some lunch and refreshing beverages or hot chocolate, if you prefer.
Our destination was the end of the road, so we trudged on willingly. As you get deeper into the woods, the forest road starts to dip and climb across the hillside that is flanked on the sides by Razor Hone and White Salmon Creeks. As we started descending, we were greeted by a large group out enjoying themselves on an overcast, but beautiful afternoon. My thoughts when I see downhill on the way in is that we must be prepared for uphill on the way out.
The trail bottoms out and then the starts to head back uphill- as the song Spinning Wheel reminds us, “What goes up, must come down!” We were looking forward to the downhill on the way out. When you get to this point on the trail, DON’T GIVE UP! Yes, it gets a bit steep, but it’s worth the walk. Below, I am my usual silly self in a “real action” pose. Yes, that is the Bellingham Flag emblazoned on my chest.
Once you’ve made the climb to the end of the road, you come to a large opening that looks north off the side of the hill. We were there just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of the summit of Mount Sefrit with a hint of blue sky framing it in. In the valley below, the North Fork of the Nooksack has carved its path through the solid North Cascades. Last year, I went on an epic ski adventure, that also makes for some good snowshoeing: Seeking Cross-Country Ski Solitude in the Shadow of Mount Shuksan.
We enjoyed our lunch and watched the clouds roll up the valley, covering our dynamic views of the alpine landscapes. Back on the trail, we were fueled up and ready to make our way back- but in no hurry whatsoever. Snowshoeing is such a nice way to travel through the snow-covered landscape. It really doesn’t take much skill, especially on this wide path. If you are a beginner, stay on the path to avoid getting into potential avalanche terrain. It’s always good to check the slope conditions when you’re headed out into the alpine environment. Thankfully, Northwest Avalanche Center provides this information.
Snowshoes also allow you to veer off the trail and get close up views of the frozen world around. I just had to have a photo of the icicles hanging from the hillside on our way out.
On our way in, I noticed a trail heading up the hill and marked it to check out on the way back. We went up, and up and up and found that it intersects with the main route connecting White Salmon Road and Mt. Baker Ski Area. Duly noted for the future!!
Our total round trip took 3 hours. So, when we were getting back to the trailhead it was nearing 4 o’clock. Looking up the road, we could see the steady stream of cars heading home after a full day on playing at the ski area. Soon, we would join the snake and make our way home, back to Basecamp Bellingham.