Book Review – Snowshoe Routes: Northern California

The book “Snowshoe Routes: Northern California” by Marc Soares left me pondering one question: How did Soares ever unlace his boots long enough to write it?

The man is a snowshoeing fiend, and his passion for the sport manifests itself in the meticulous route descriptions he gives in his guide to snowshoeing in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. The book highlights 66 routes near Lake Tahoe, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mount Shasta, and northern, western and eastern Sierra Nevada.

With coltish enthusiasm but dressage-like precision, Soares gives detailed information about every aspect of the hikes, from the flora and fauna you may see to a tutorial on winter photography. Soares, a naturalist and outdoor photographer (among other professions), chose routes for his book he felt were “best seen snow covered.” They vary in difficulty from easy to strenuous, so there’s a hike to fit every “mood, energy level and time allotment.” Most of the routes are quickly reached from San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland and San Jose.

Per usual, each route description breaks down the total distance, estimated hiking time, difficulty level, elevation gain and high point for the hike. It also gives driving directions and trail descriptions. What sets Soares’s book apart, however, is the level of detail he provides. He tells you minute information such as which roads are plowed and which are paved; which trailheads have fines; how crowded or solitary each trail likely will be; particularly scenic rest spots; and the list goes on.

At the back of the book, a quick reference table even tells readers which routes have “water and ice features,” a “magical meadow,” “interesting rock formations,” “interesting tree specimens,” “awesome views,” a “cross-country ski option,” a potential for family outings, bird watching opportunities or a pay site.

Although the information is valuable (and certainly beats the vagueness of some guidebooks), I couldn’t help but wish Soares had left some of the “magical meadows” and “awesome views” un-tabularized – leaving them, instead, as hidden treasures to surprise the unsuspecting hiker.

Each route description also includes an easy-to-read map showing the snowshoeing trail, roads and major landmarks. The uncluttered nature of the maps make them clear and easily understood, but since they lack detailed information about the routes’ terrain, distances and elevations, most hikers will want a topographic map as well. Conveniently, Soares lists the name of the necessary contour map for each route and a Web site where readers can get it. The book’s 55 black-and-white photos give readers a foretaste of the views offered by each snowshoe as well.

Although the book describes several challenging routes for experienced snowshoers, its highly detailed structure and reassuring tone are geared toward beginners or intermediates, who still may be intimidated by the cold weather, exertion and possible perils of snowshoeing. For beginners, Soares also gives a brief tutorial on dressing for winter, packing the 10 essentials, assessing avalanche danger, choosing appropriate snowshoes, and following wilderness etiquette.

For the most part, the writing is clear and informative, although Soares has a penchant for flowery language, and I sometimes chuckled at such phrases as “slow dance rhythm over pure white heaven.” Nevertheless, his zest for snowshoeing is contagious and leaps across the pages to the reader. So intimately familiar is Soares with each route that it feels like he just returned from snowshoeing it and is sitting with you over coffee regaling you with his adventures.

You can purchase the book for $16.95 from the publisher, The Mountaineers Books, at, as well as at retail stores. Soares has written four other books, including “100 hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area,” “100 Classic Hikes in Northern California,” “75 Year-Round Hikes in Northern California: The Ultimate Guide for Fall, Winter, and Spring Hikes,” and “Best Coast Hikes of Northern California: A Guide to the Top Trails from Big Sur to the Oregon Border.”