Stepping into a snow-covered forest, there is a hush, a moment of calm, a sense of peace. I can feel the woods inhale and exhale, and I exhale with it. To-do lists fade into the distance and for a few brief hours, I am completely in the moment. There are few days that I need this more than Christmas Eve.
I love the holiday season. My family enjoys Christmas so much that the normal number of holiday events are not enough so we manufacture extras (cookie day, cousin Christmas, formal Christmas, Christmas movie night–the list goes on). It is safe to say that December is a big month filled with Christmas joy and activities and happy feelings with busy weekends, weeknights, weekdays. And I love it all–the hustle and bustle, seeing my favorite people all of the time, stepping into warm festive areas when all of Seattle is cloaked in a depressed gray stupor.
However, I can be a bit of a perfectionist and each December I try to make it the BEST EVER. I try to find that perfect blend of thoughtful gifts, while not becoming consumed by consumerism and holding true to the ethics I subscribe to the rest of the year. Insomnia sets in as my brain puzzles over lists instead of sleeping and I struggle to silence the voice that whispers that I am not doing enough, not being enough, not giving enough in the right, perfect way. When I take that first step into the woods, all of the muddle and mess of the month sorts itself.
Before I began snowshoeing, I always kept Christmas Eve day sacred. Not in a religious way, rather, I made sure I had no activities planned and could sink into my solitude to reach that state of clarity. I would make a special playlist, gather some art supplies and be creative. I would do some reflection and write some hand-written letters to those I cared about. Getting out into the woods provides the same release as my solo-introspection time, but lasts much longer after I leave the snowy mountains.
It is not easy to make time to romp in the snow on Christmas Eve. Usually, in mid-December, Stevens Pass is the closest area with snow, which still includes a 4-hour drive. I need to be in Arlington by five for Christmas Eve family time, which means that the time we spent snowshoeing is less than the time we spend driving–never a fun ratio. In fact, despite trying for 3 years to snowshoe on Christmas Eve, we have only succeeded once, which maybe makes this less of a legitimate tradition. The goal remains, and even when we couldn’t go on Christmas Eve, we have always made it within a few days. I have shared below our previous Christmas Eve snowshoes, and a few contenders for this year.
Christmas Eve Snowshoes of the Past
In 2014, we started our Christmas Eve snowshoe tradition with a trip to Lanham Lake. The route is only 3.2 miles and 1140′ of elevation gain, making it perfect for when we have evening plans. Steven’s Pass usually has snow by December, allowing for an actual snowshoe, instead of a snowy hike (except for this year when there was tons of snow and we finished two snowshoes already!).
I was dog-sitting over Christmas this year, and it proved to be a nice trail for a pup. The first mile or so didn’t have snow coverage, but when we emerged under the powerlines, there was plenty of powder. We had to turn around about 1/2 mile from the lake, as I had miscalculated our time. Regardless, it was a still a lovely walk in the snow and we didn’t see anyone else outside of the parking lot, allowing for solitude among the trees.
In 2015, though we tried our best, snowshoeing on Christmas Eve was simply not in the cards. There was a winter storm warning, extreme avalanche conditions and concerns that the passes would be closed. As our safety was more important than the strict idea of tradition, we chose to move our “Christmas Eve Snowshoe” to the first day with good conditions. Since we weren’t trying to fit it in before a holiday party, we did Surprise Lake. Trains rushed by the trailhead as we departed, making for a unique hiking scene. The route wound through beautiful, old forests with snow-covered creeks babbling alongside.
Unfortunately, the snow was pretty heavy and after some significant trail breaking, we decided to turn around before the lake. Also, I was miserably cold and sobbing while trying to regain feeling in my hands, so it did not make for the most pleasant snowshoeing experience.
Once again we were thwarted by Christmas Eve plans and had to complete our snowshoe on another day. We headed to Longmire in the Mount Rainier National Park and completed the Rampart Ridge Loop. Once again, we didn’t have evening plans so we were able to choose a snowshoe with slightly longer mileage. The route was crowded in the beginning and the many switchbacks was a little tedious. But oh! When we arrived on the ridge, even without views of Mt. Rainier it was beautiful. We could see down to the Longmire Lodge where we left our car and wandered through large trees covered in lichen. Most of the crowds turned around after the viewpoint, while we continued on the loop. In the shaded trees, the forest was infinetely quiet and there were animal tracks everywhere we looked. It felt secret and special–perfect for a Christmas Eve snowshoe.
We are hoping to sneak in a quick snowshoe for Christmas Eve this year. Here are a few of the routes we are looking at–you may want to consider them for your own Christmas Eve snowshoe!
All routes are from the book Snowshoe Routes Washington (3rd edition), by Dan A. Nelson. Many more details about the route can be found in this book, and I have also linked to WTA and Outdoor Project where applicable. Some of the routes differ slightly on the WTA write-ups so the book is a really handy reference to have.
3.2 miles, 1100′ elevation gain, ~ 3 hours
The trail climbs along a lovely creek then reaches an alpine lake rimmed by evergreens. Often a fair bit of solitude, especially if you arrive early. The first section of trail usually not snow-covered, but last two miles have good snow in December.
3 miles, 1100′ elevation gain, ~2 hours
Short but steep climb to a high alpine lake. Venture beyond the lake for amazing views of the Cascade Range. Usually has snow by December
Gold Creek Pond
2 miles, 100′ elevation gain, ~2 hours
Circle Gold Creek pond for a quick Christmas Eve snowshoe. Completely flat and pretty easy, this is a great spot for novice snowshoers. It may not have enough snow in December to do a full snowshoe, but is an enjoyable loop nonetheless!
Big Four Ice Caves
Mountain Loop Highway
2.2 miles, 250′ elevation gain, ~1.5 hours
The gate to Mountain Loop isn’t usually closed in December, so you can likely park in the summer parking lot (if not, the route will be 7 miles). This route likely has too little snow to be a proper snowshoe, but as a snowy hike, it is perfect! Enjoy snow-capped peaks on Mountain Loop and marvel at the awesomeness that are the snow caves. Note: please do not enter the ice caves as they pose a significant danger from avalanches and falling ice.
Mount Rainier National Park
3 miles, 560′ elevation gain, ~3 hours,
Wander through a wintery forest then visit frozen alpine lakes. Enjoy splendid views of Mt. Rainier and even a side trip to an icy waterfall.
3 miles, 700′ elevation gain, 3 hours
Visit Paradise on Christmas Eve and bound through open snowy drifts under Mt. Rainier’s dome. Beautiful views of the Tatoosh range and Nisqually Glacier abound.
2 miles, 150 feet, 2 hours
Enjoy easy snowshoeing with incredible views of Mount Baker. Enjoy snowy meadows above the timberline and excellent snow in December.