Hut-to-Hut Skiing in the Shadow of Mount Rainier
The mountain's so close you can almost pat it on the head. You've emerged from the evergreens, foggy breath suspended mid-air. Behind you lies a full day of cross-country skiing over groomed track, hillsides painted with graceful turns, and heaving inclines that brought sweat to your brow. You've been buried in the wilderness, occasionally passing another hardy soul. Now, for your effort, you're granted a personal audience with the Northwest's most prominent natural landmark, Mount Rainier.
Cross-country skiers know western Washington for its short, flat, crowded loops tacked randomly onto highway-side downhill resorts. But few snow buffs know about the area's best-kept secret: 75 miles of snow-covered logging roads deep in the hills outside the main entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. Beginner to expert kick-and-glide skiers and snowshoers can traverse one of North America's largest no-fee cross-country ski trail systems, located an easy two-hour drive from Seattle.
Free skiing and no crowds. Challenging terrain and easy access. Show-stopping views. Not enough? Ski huts scattered along the trails serve as a welcome warm-up for daytrippers or as an inexpensive overnighter for families and friends.
Mount Tahoma Trails Association, a volunteer organization based in Ashford, Wash., maintains the huts and trails. The sturdy huts come with furniture and propane stoves and lamps. Kitchens are stocked with tableware and utensils. Overhead, lofts are lined with thick sleeping pads. Guests need to bring sleeping bags, dry clothing, and enough food to whip up beef stroganoff for the whole gang.The best perk? Outhouses come with a view of Mount Rainier—from the throne.
How to get there: From Seattle or Tacoma, follow SR 7 south, then drive east on SR 706 through Elbe to Ashford, five miles short of the Mount Rainier National Park main gate.
Getting started: On weekends, MTTA staffs an office out of the Ashford fire station, where skiers can pick up maps and ask about the latest trail conditions.
The ski trails are divided into a North and South District. Skiers take gravel and paved roads to Snow Parks (plowed parking lots) at the trailheads. Chains or snow tires are recommended. Snow Park passes are required.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication