With no long lines, parking hassles, or expensive lift tickets involved, it's no wonder snowshoeing has become the fastest-growing winter sport. This centuries-old mode of transport – according to some figures, the first snowshoes were used by migrating cultures around 3,000 or 4000 B.C. – has enjoyed an unprecedented surge as of late, with millions of enthusiasts strapping on their shoes every year.
Unlike its downhill cousins, snowshoeing is relatively cheap (you'll pay less for your own pair of shoes than two lift tickets) and accessible (anybody with an adventurous spirit can do it) – you simply strap on your shoes and go. Plus, you'll still get the exhilaration of communing with nature and amazing views, not to mention a killer workout.
Snowshoeing is an ideal option for anybody who's ready for a change from the slopes (or the sliding motion of cross-country skiing). In addition, because you only need about a foot of snow, you can do it just about anywhere there's white stuff (though make sure to follow trail etiquette). Here, a few ideal destinations where you can get trekking.
California: The long-beloved skier's paradise of Lake Tahoe is becoming equally enticing to snowshoeing enthusiasts, with abundant trails for every skill level as well as lots of lodging options. Generally, the northern lake area is slightly less crowded than the south end. For free guided treks, check out the Tahoe Rim Trail Associations (advance registration required; www.tahoerimtrail.org).
Another popular snowshoeing spot in Cali: Yosemite National Park, where winter is almost a religious experience compared to the crowds and chaos of summer tourists. An excellent route is from Badger Pass to Dewey Point, a 7-mile round trip that offers breathtaking views of El Capitan and Half Dome.
Washington: From the Cascade Mountains to the foothills of Rockies, snowshoe enthusiasts will delight in Washington State's offerings. Two solid choices: Olympic National Park, whose Hurricane Ridge offers breathtaking views, a cozy visitor center, and rentals and guided walks on ungroomed trails; and Mount Rainer, which offers free, ranger-guided tours on a 1.5-mile route (ideal for beginners; advance sign-up is necessary at the Jackson Visitor Center).
For more information on weather, resources and trail listings, check out the website of the Washington Trails Association (www.wta.org).
Wyoming: At Yellowstone National Park, you can learn about winter ecology with a guided ranger snowshoe tour (offered Tuesday-Saturday beginning December 27; bring your own snowshoes). Or take on this gem of park on your own: All unplowed roads are open for snowshoeing. Trails include service roads that go past Old Faithful and Lone Star geysers. For more information, visit www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/snowshoe.htm.
Any Forest Service ranger station: Rangers know local terrain better than anyone: which roads are plowed in the forest, which trails are better for beginners, and which will present a challenge for more experienced trekkers. They can also provide winter survival tips and trail etiquette.
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