(Note: This article was co-written by Katie Hearsum.)
There are several snowshoeing rules that most snowshoers have come to know as commonplace. And many are obvious: if you can walk, you can snowshoe… if it’s covered in snow, go for it… and don’t tromp on the cross-country ski tracks. Pretty simple.
What many snowshoers often wrestle with is where to snowshoe when it comes to a resort or Nordic Center. Some locations are friendly to snowshoers… and some aren’t. It’s all good… we snowshoers know when we’re not welcome. There was a time when snowboarders weren’t invited to the party either, but at last check… it’s the snowboarders who have the best parties nowadays.
Our picks for the top 10 snowshoe-friendly ski resorts in North America followed a somewhat flexible formula. We looked at access to trails, snowshoe equipment rental availability, activity selection, lodging options, location to a mountain village and resort amenities. But we also looked at access to a Nordic Center.
Some ski resorts have a neighboring Nordic Center, which is great for snowshoers (if they’re invited to the party, of course). However, our criteria left out the Nordic Centers in North America that aren’t anchored to a ski resort.
So what about those lone stars of the north?
Here’s what we looked for in narrowing-down our selection of the top 10 snowshoe-friendly Nordic Centers of North America.:
- NOT anchored to a large ski resort
- Dedicated snowshoe trails
- Snowshoe equipment rental/availability
- Selection of activities (guided tours, moonlight treks, etc.)
- Family atmosphere and accessibility (location, location, location)
We’re not about fancy polls or scientific studies. We focused purely on the basics and in some cases made judgements based on the advice of experts. In that light, we’d like to thank Roger Lohr of XCSkiResorts.com for his advice and expert opinions when fine-tuning this list of top snowshoe-friendly Nordic Centers in North America.
Break your own trail!
Lake areas are traditionally renowned for providing fantastic terrain for recreational activities, and Lakewoods Resort on Wisconsin’s Lake Namakagon—the tenth largest lake in the state—is no exception. The resort’s location deep in the heart of 850,000 acre Chequamegon National Forest offers access to a seemingly endless landscape of rolling hills, forests and wetlands, perfect for a variety of cold weather activities like snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice skating, cross-country skiing and ice fishing, to name a few. Now in its fifth generation of family-owned operations, Lakewoods has been celebrating cold-weather pastimes in Wisconsin’s snowy Northwoods for over a century.
As a full service, year-round resort that has been passed down from generation to generation in the Rasmussen family, its history, heritage and family values are what draw people back season after season. Families are their specialty, and the Rasmussen’s run their business with a mentality of “the more the merrier.” To accommodate all kinds of groups they provide a variety of lodging options from cozy lodge rooms for couples to spacious lakeside cabins that sleep up to 15 people. Family-focused meals in the lodge dining room such as the traditional Friday night fish fries, weenie roasting contests, wine dinners and Sunday buffets are a popular way for guests to come together and swap stories about their fun-filled days.
Situated on the Peninsula Recreation Area and offering sweeping views of Lake Dillon as well as back-country access to the White River National Forest, the Frisco Nordic Center is a wonderful winter amenity for Summit County residents and visitors. With 16 kilometers of un-groomed, snowshoe-specific trails, an average snowfall of 108 inches per year, and a former cross-country Olympian among its staff, the Frisco Nordic Center is a small nugget of gold in a major snow-loving locale.
Therese and Gene Dayton have owned and operated the center for 46 years along with their three grown children, one of whom was a Nordic Combined competitor at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. They also operate the Breckenridge Nordic Center down the road which offers more terrain and guided tour opportunities. The hope is that someday there will be enough trails throughout the county to provide a thoroughfare between the two centers, much like the traditional Nordic trail systems of Scandinavia, a project that Gene has had a hand in helping to develop with the city. In other words, this family knows snow.
Located within one of Canada’s 16 UNESCO biosphere reserves, just a two-hour drive from Toronto, the Scenic Caves Nature Adventure and Nordic Center is a self-described “winter playground” featuring 27 kilometers of trails, a 420-foot suspension bridge and stunning views of the Georgian Bay. Uniquely situated at the highest point of the Niagara Escarpment, a majestic plateau that runs through the Great Lakes region and includes the famous cliffs over which Niagara Falls cascades, Scenic Caves delivers an elevated Nordic center experience and fun for all ages.
Originally believed to be a gateway to the afterlife by native cultures due to its deep crevices and sky-high rock formations, the Scenic Caves began welcoming tourists to explore its awe-inspiring natural wonders such as cliffs, caves and waterfalls in the early 1930s. Later marketed as an eco-park open only during the warm summer months, Scenic Caves Nature Adventures opened a Nordic Center in 2002 with 27 kilometers of well-marked and maintained trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with 8 kilometers designated just for snowshoers. This season, the adventure park will clear an additional 2 kilometers of snowshoe trails to keep up with increasing demand from visitors.
Nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest overlooking the Chittenden Reservoir, the pastoral Mountain Top Inn, with its stately barn and rolling acreage, was originally the site of a thriving turnip farm. Later, it became a popular countryside retreat that once had the honor of welcoming President Eisenhower during a fishing expedition.
Today, it is one of the oldest and finest Nordic centers in New England where cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are celebrated winter pastimes. With 60 kilometers of Nordic trails, a variety of on-site lodging options, two restaurants and a wide variety of entertaining cold-weather activities including dog sledding, yoga, snowmobiling and sleigh rides, this historic resort provides a snowy retreat perfect for the whole family.
Located in the Wasatch Mountain State Park near Salt Lake City, Soldier Hollow Resort has a seriously impressive resume. Since its creation as the site for the biathlon and cross-county events for the 2002 winter Olympics, it hosted several major cross-country ski racing events, the Soldier Hollow Sheepdog Championships and the Intergalactic Snow Tubing Championships. It also provided the backdrop and film sites for several commercials as well as a popular Disney movie. Now, it keeps the Olympic spirit alive by providing a sensational recreation and competition facility for local residents, tourists and aspiring athletes from all over the world.
Not only does this world-class facility offer a 31 kilometer trail system for skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking and horseback riding, but also a state-of-the-art biathlon shooting range, an epic snow tubing hill with lights and music, an award-winning day lodge and a 36-hole championship golf course.
Situated at the top of Donner Summit near Lake Tahoe, Royal Gorge Resort flaunts 7,500 acres of stunning terrain, 200 kilometers of trails and more than 500 inches of annual snowfall. With spectacular scenery, ample amenities and a mountain of outdoor sports and activities—pun intended—this Nordic resort is a wonderful addition to the Sugar Bowl snow mecca.
Royal Gorge started in 1971 as a ski touring company leading multi-day trips over Donner Pass and charged 50 cents for use of its 4 kilometer trail system. Later, the owners developed a day lodge and lesson program and began offering snowshoe rentals in 1974. The operation continued adding more trails, terrain and services until it became California’s top cross-country skiing resort in the mid-1980s. A recent partnership with Sugar Bowl resort in 2012 came with a $500,000 facelift resulting in expanded terrain and enhanced amenities, such as renovated warming huts and lodge facilities. Today it is the largest cross-country ski resort in North America, boasting a 200+ kilometer trail system, the entirety of which is open to snowshoeing.
Since 1978 Ann Hirvonen and her Finnish husband, Olavi, have been providing an unparalleled snowshoe experience for grateful guests at their award-winning Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center. Named after the northern-most region of Finland, where reindeer roam free and Santa Claus is rumored to reside, Lapland Lake inspires its guests to rediscover old-fashioned fun from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to board games and campfire stories. Located on 200 acres in New York’s sprawling Adirondack Forest Preserve and showcasing 50 kilometers of meticulously marked and maintained trails, this lakeside resort is praised as a remote winter wonderland with Finnish flair.
As a former U.S. Olympic cross-country skier, Olavi’s dream was to create a Finnish-style ski destination where people could relax, connect with each other and with nature, and enjoy the great outdoors year round. He designed the trail system for the enjoyment of all ages and ability levels, with 12 kilometers designated just for snowshoeing. For three decades he has been personally attending to the almost daily grooming and maintenance of the unique, one-way trail routes, which ensure the most authentic backcountry experience. With a lower chance of passing other guests on the trails, there is a better chance of spotting signs of wildlife such as rabbit, deer, otter and possibly even bobcat tracks.
Ideally located in majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains, surrounded by pristine wilderness and spanning two river valleys, the Nipika Mountain Resort is both awe-inspiring and enchanting, to say the least. Outfitted as a fully self-sustained, off the grid operation—complete with comfortable bathrooms, 24-hour electricity and a steaming hot tub—this family owned and operated eco-resort aims to honor the natural resources and heritage of the area while providing a fantastic year-round vacation experience.
Lyle and Dianne Wilson purchased the property in 1979 with the vision of turning it into the perfect site to build the wilderness retreat of their dreams. Lyle, a former Olympic cross-country ski coach and a passionate naturalist, and Dianna, a former school teacher, hoped to create a resort that would offer superb recreational opportunities with as little negative impact on the landscape as possible. By staying true to their lofty commitment of preserving the delicate environment that they so cherish as the cornerstone of their outdoor lifestyle, Nipika Mountain Resort has become everything they hoped for, and more.
This community-owned day lodge in the Boulder Mountains outside of Ketchum, ID, serves as a cozy base camp from which to enjoy some of winter’s best offerings: snow sports, food, family and fun. In partnership with the Blaine County Recreation District, Galena Lodge offers more than 50 kilometers of trails in the Sawtooth National Forest back country for a variety of snow sports such as sledding, cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing. With at least half of these trails reserved solely for snowshoers, Galena Lodge is perfect for families, couples, locals and visitors seeking a remote snowshoeing retreat.
Proprietors Don and Erin Zell have been running the lodge for nine years along with their two “loaner” dogs, Sadie and Zeke, who can often be found accompanying guests on the trails. Erin describes their operation as a “restaurant with a ski problem.” Thanks to Don’s culinary background and lots of local support, this energetic husband-wife duo is proud to offer a variety of dining options from daytime snacks to keep you warm and energized on the trail to special community dinners, and even catering options for groups and overnight guests staying at one of the property’s rental yurts. A sample menu from one of their popular full moon dinners includes a mouth-watering selection of dishes made from local ingredients such as potato sage soup, grilled elk tri-tip and Idaho ruby trout. After dinner, you can join your meal mates for a moonlit hike on the easy Cowboy Cabin Trail which hugs the bank of the Big Wood River for a unique, moonlit snowshoeing experience.
Imagine floating through mounds of sugary snow, across frosty rivers, through mystical forests of pine and over covered bridges toward the twinkling porch lights of your cozy Victorian abode where a crackling fire awaits your presence on its stone hearth. If this sounds like the winter wonderland of your dreams, then the tiny town of Jackson, NH, is the place to make your visions a reality.
Centered around an idyllic New England “village” that is so charming it looks like it belongs inside of a snow globe, The Jackson Ski Touring Foundation is a community-based non-profit that seeks to “enrich lives and promote healthy lifestyles for all” by providing the “finest possible variety of cross-country ski and snowshoe experiences.” In collaboration with private land owners and the town of Jackson, the foundation maintains an impressive 150 kilometer trail system that meanders through 60 square miles of the White Mountain National Forest and across three river valleys. This expanse of varied and lovely terrain features breathtaking vistas of lakes, mountains, forests, meadows and even waterfalls.