Abundant snowfall, pine-scented forests, majestic mountain views and an impressive trail system — the Methow Valley offers all of this and more to a growing population of snowshoe enthusiasts. Located in northern Washington, this winter sports mecca has long drawn an avid following of Nordic skiers. Recently it has also embraced the popularity of snowshoeing, enticing my husband and I to plan a week-long vacation there last January.
Ample services are available locally, both in the tiny community of Mazama, and more extensively in nearby Winthrop. Winthrop is picturesquely situated at the junction of the Methow and Chewuch Rivers. Originally an 1890’s mining settlement, Winthrop later emerged as a ranch town, until finally morphing once again in the early 1970’s into a community intent on offering its natural assets to tourists. The result is a good infrastructure of hotels, shops and restaurants. More interested in winter sports than shops or restaurants, we confine our explorations to regular stops at Winthrop Mountain Sports for trail passes, and the appropriately named Trail’s End Bookstore.
Eager to explore the trails after a four-hour drive from Seattle, we quickly don our snowshoes for an idyllic seven kilometer loop on the packed and well-marked Magpie, Rader Creek and Patterson Lake trails. The initial four kilometers are pleasant, flat and forested, serving as a good warm-up; however it is the latter part of the hike that establishes this loop as a favorite. The views are breathtaking as we traverse the shores of Patterson Lake, watching the late-day light play on a panorama of the North Cascade mountains. We gulp clean fresh air and savor the feel of the crisp snow under our feet as we make the final push up the last ridge to our trailhead. A worthy introduction to the Sun Mountain trail network.
That evening, we check into the self-catering cabin that we rent at the friendly Rivers Edge Resort in Winthrop. The cabin contains everything I need to be happy in life — perhaps the nicest feature being a gas fireplace fronted by a comfortable sofa, perfect for sampling a glass of Washington’s excellent wine after a day in the snow. The cabin soon becomes our own, as every evening it is littered with boots and clothing drying out in readiness for the next day on the trails.
Our biggest decision every day is whether to cross-country ski or snowshoe. Most often, we opt to do both. For snowshoers, the main areas of interest in the Valley are Sun Mountain and Mazama. In addition to the Patterson Lake trails, Sun Mountain offers the View Ridge trail where we enjoy even more superb views of the Cascades. The return loop is a challenging roller coaster ride over forested hillsides punctuated with abundant deer tracks.
Situated at a slightly higher elevation, Mazama provides many appealing shorter snowshoe loops. We travel through dense Douglas fir, skirting the banks of the fast-running Early Winters Creek. The rushing of the water and crunch of our snowshoes are the only sounds as we enjoy near-solitude. Unexpectedly, we discover some unofficial use trails that take us higher into the Cascades, clearly the work of a burgeoning and enthusiastic population of snowshoers in the Methow Valley.
We reluctantly end our week in the snow, feeling it essential that we make this destination an annual event. The Methow Valley Sports Trail Association’s website promises even more offerings in the upcoming season including additional trails, as well as collaborations with Atlas to bring more snowshoeing events to the Valley. It’s hard to imagine improving on what we experienced in the Methow Valley, but it seems that this excellent snowshoeing destination will soon become even better.
The Methow Valley Sports Trail Association expertly manages an extensive trail system. Their website, http://www.mvsta.com, provides maps, information on trail conditions and web cams. We recommend renting a cabin at the Rivers Edge Resort http://www.riversedgewinthrop.com. Or, for snowshoeing and skiing right outside your door, you might consider staying at the pricier Sun Mountain Lodge http://www.sunmountainlodge.com or Freestone Inn http://www.freestoneinn.com. Other area accommodation options are set out at http://www.methowreservations.com. Trail passes, equipment rentals and purchases can be arranged at Winthrop Mountain Sports http://www.winthropmountainsports.com.