By Eric Larsen
Some people look at winter and see bone-chilling cold, bad driving conditions and more, but if you’re anything like me you see winter as the great leveler—literally. Snow evens out the bumps, stumps, roots and rocks of any trail, and covers up undergrowth and shrubs, making the wintry landscape beautiful and perfect for snowshoeing. Still, some places are better than others and here are my top five picks for places to plan snowshoe adventures.
1.) Anywhere in northern Minnesota – You can take the kid out of Minnesota but you can’t take Minnesota out of the kid. Hey, what can I say? It’s a winter lover’s paradise. It may not snow a lot on any given day, but temperatures rarely warm above 20 degrees so over a few weeks, flurry after flurry accumulates into some substantial midwest POW. My first choice is always the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. At 1.1 million acres in size, it is the largest wilderness east of the Rockies and north of Florida’s Everglades. In summer it’s also one of the busiest. In winter, however? Mile after mile of trackless trails and lakes. Bonus: no permits are required in winter. Double bonus: bring a fishing pole.
2.) Indian Peaks Wilderness – A short 30 minute drive from my Boulder, CO, hacienda this is my ‘go to’ winter escape. Leaving from the Hessie trailhead, you can be at Lost Lake in a mile and a half. It’s a relatively straightforward nondescript hike until you turn the last corner when the trees open up and—BAM—you’re standing on the shore of Lost Lake—a completely different world than where you’ve just come from. There is enough wind whipping through the valley that the ice is often blown smooth. The views of the surrounding peaks are breathtaking.
3.) Arctic Ocean – Take away the stress of getting eaten by a polar bear, falling through thin ice, -60 degree Fahrenheit wind chills, blinding white outs, and the Arctic Ocean is actually one of my favorite places to snowshoe. Seriously. It’s one of the last great frozen wildernesses left on the planet and on a good day (when the sun is shining and the wind is down) the scenery is unlike any other place on the planet. Of course, you may say that snowshoeing and pulling a 325 pound sled is not your idea of a good time, but I challenge you to try it without snowshoes. Impossible.
4.) Cascades – The bottom line is… if you’re walking without snowshoes, you’re post holing. It took me well into my adult life to get out to the Cascades for climbing trips in Washington, Oregon and California and needless to say, I was completely in awe of the volume of snow on the ground. Because Rainier is such an iconic climb, I have to pick it as one of my all-time favorites. I particularly enjoyed the route up the Interglacier and then diagonal drop down from Camp Curtis to gain the edge of the Emmons Glacier. Be aware of a few large crevasses and before heading up the glacier to Camp Schurman.
5.) The UP – Porcupine Wilderness area, northern Michigan – Back when I was still in college, my buddy and I skipped out of family Easter egg hunts and drove six hours to Northern Michigan hoping for an early season backpacking trip. The ranger asked us when we were planning on hiking to which we replied, ‘as soon as this conversation is over.’
To which she replied, ‘do you have snowshoes.’
To which we replied, ‘no’.
It was my first and most basic snowshoe lesson I ever learned: bring ’em and use ’em. A philosophy that has stayed with me ever since!