BY RICHARD PORTER FOR SEATTLE NORTHCOUNTRY
Winter in Seattle NorthCountry – particularly in its easternmost reaches – conjures up many images. Imagine snowy mountains, a hushed and crystalline world. The quiet is only punctuated by the crunch of your boots through snow or the swoosh of your skis over powder. At this elevation, you can feel the chill of the forest, and witness the alpenglow on the treeline as early winter sundown paints the peaks.
Photo credit: Seattle NorthCountry
Let’s go there. Consider this article your trusted guide to snowy winter recreation in the North Cascades and the surrounding areas of Seattle NorthCountry.
Stevens Pass is the destination, but getting there and back is half the fun.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Stevens Pass lies more or less in the middle of Washington State next to the storied Pacific Crest Trail. To the north of the pass stretches the Glacier Peak Wildernesses; to the south the Enchantments. To the west is the Wild Sky Wilderness, which is just as picturesque as it sounds.
Bring your down parka, several layers, and waterproof boots. Some of the best times to visit the Cascades are during the off-season when proper gear and a hearty disposition can get you into lesser-known parts of the great Pacific Northwest backcountry.
Fly into cozy Paine Field (PAE) to save yourself the grief of navigating a crazy-busy airport. Make your basecamp by the sea in the coastal community of Everett. From there the road will lead you through river valleys and up to the peaks to your snowy mountain top vista. It’s time. Grab your camera and strap your skis to the roof: adventure beckons.
BASECAMP BY THE SEA
Like most hidden gems, the small city of Everett is worth a close inspection. Located on a peninsula that juts into the Salish Sea, this vintage mill town is a walkable urban basecamp, a jumping-off point for your PNW adventures. Street art, murals, Funko, and great coffee are all within striking distance of your hotel.
The Delta Hotel stands at the intersections of Interstate 5 and Highway 2: two main roadways that bisect the state. This crossroads location, only ten minutes from Paine Field, is a comfortable, cozy place to start your wintertime adventures.
Bring your down parka, several layers, and waterproof boots. Some of the best times to visit the Cascades are during the off-season.
Hotel Indigo is on the Everett Waterfront, rising above the waters of Possession Sound. The gourmet food in the hotel’s Jetty Bar and Grille makes this hotel a great place to fuel up before a day on the slopes. The hot tub here will soothe sore muscles after a day on the slopes.
Other savory dining options in Everett include Capers + Olives (Italian-inspired from-scratch cuisine) and Bluewater Distilling on the waterfront.
VALLEY SIDE TRIPS
To get to the mountains, head east. Highway 2 parallels the Snohomish and Skykomish Rivers, and the route is lined with small towns worth a visit.
Snohomish is the Antique Capital of the Northwest. Come for the small town Americana (think hanging flower baskets, gazebos, and murals), and stay for gluten-free Grain Artisan Bakery and a craft cocktails at Skip Rock Distilling Co.
Next on the route is the city of Monroe. This is the last major stop on Highway 2 before Stevens Pass. Visit Milkwood on Main (a quirky art studio), and Pacific Mountain Sports. Pacific rents and sells skis, snowboards, and all manner of winter gear — essential to your trip to the upper elevations of the Cascades.
From Monroe, the Skykomish River Valley winds past the towns of Sultan, Gold Bar, and Startup. Stop by the friendly Sky Valley Visitor Center in Sultan if you have any questions, or if you simply have a knack for local history. The Visitor Center is a de facto museum that showcases logging, mining, and railroad artifacts from a bygone era.
AT PLAY IN THE MOUNTAINS
The peaks fill out the skyline. The road winds next to the South Fork of the Skykomish River, offering glimpses of glacial green waters and turbulent rapids.
Pull off the highway at Espresso Chalet for a dose of caffeine and a selfie with a ten-foot-tall wooden bigfoot statue. This is where the classic family film Harry and the Hendersons was filmed in the 1980s.
If you’re not averse to a winter trek (you packed Yaktrax and poles, right?), you’re in for some prime hiking opportunities. Heybrook Ridge is a 700-foot ascent to a fire lookout. The Bridal Veil Falls trail leads to Lake Serene. The Iron Goat Trail is an easy, mostly-level day hike that takes you into an abandoned railroad tunnel. Always check local trip reports (www.wta.org) before venturing onto the trails, especially in icy conditions.
If you’re a motorsports fan, book a jaunt with Chinook ATV. They operate guided tours year-round and will guide you safely through designated trails in the Reiter Foothills.
Finally: Stevens Pass. Enjoy exploring miles of Nordic skiing paths, as well as more than 1,100 skiable acres for all skill levels. Grab a frosty IPA at the end of the day at the Foggy Goggle.
That’s it! Now, tuckered out by wintry escapades, reverse your route. Return to the sea via Highway 2 to restore and reward yourself at your urban basecamp. You will be there in about 45 minutes, warming up in your hotel room or hot tub, and uploading photos from your day’s adventure to social media.
Try evening drinks and apps at Scuttlebutt Taproom, blocks from the Delta Hotel. The taproom often hosts the El Mariachi taco truck (try the soyrizo tacos!), and games of cornhole and foosball.
VISIT SEATTLE NORTHCOUNTRY
We have the North Cascades, the Salish Sea, and literally everything in between. Get here and enjoy it all! Please always remember to recreate responsibly and safely, come prepared for changing conditions regardless of the season, and to respect local rules and regulations.
Photos provided by Seattle NorthCountry.