- Alpine Skiing
There are a number of ski resorts within a few hours drive of Seattle. For web pages of the resorts and current conditions, go to http://www.skiwashington.com/conditions.php
The Summit at Snoqualmie About a one hour drive from Seattle on I-90, rather basic runs. Can be very crowded on weekends due to ski schools.
Alpental: Also about a one hour drive from Seattle on I-90, mostly intermediate and advanced runs.
Stevens Pass: A large resort with a variety of terrain, about 2.25 hours from Seattle on US 2, but serious traffic jams can occur on this highway. Best route: cross Lake Washington on 520 E, take 405N and then 522 to intersect US 2 in Monroe. 1000' higher than Snoqualmie. No local lodging, except for members of the Mountaineers Club.
Crystal Mountain: The largest and most varied resort nearby, with all levels of terrain, spectacular views of Rainier when clear. Local lodging exists. About 2.25 hours drive. Best route from the UW: 520 E, 405 S, 169 S to Enumclaw, 410 E to Crystal Mtn Rd.
Mt. Baker: The most reliable for having lots of snow with a variety of terrain. About a 3 hour drive, no local lodging exists except for members of the Mountaineers Club. Interesting terrain, great views of Mt. Baker. Take I-5 N past Bellingham (a delightful town), turn E on the Mt Baker highway.
Mission Ridge: A smaller but quite fun ski resort in Eastern Washington. Short lift lines, mostly intermediate and easy advanced runs. Can be very cold and windy. A 3 hour drive, best route is I-90E to 970/97 N to US2 E. Drive through Wenatchee (where one can lodge) and follow signs to Mission Ridge.
- Nordic Skiing
There are several cross country skiing centers with groomed tracks in the area. The closest is at The Summit Nordic Center which has a fun 14-mile loop (the Mount Catherine loop) which lends itself to excellent (and aerobic) skating.
Another area well-known for its cross country skiing is the Methow Valley, on the eastern side of the North Cascades.
Where one really starts having fun is with the back country skiing. There is a system of "Sno-Parks", where one can park the car in plowed areas throughout the mountains, provided you have a Sno-Park permit. A convenient place in Seattle to purchase them is REI. There exist a number of books describing back country ski tours in the area, such as:
- 100 Classic Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes in Washington
- Backcountry Ski Washington!: The Best Trails & Descents for Free-Heelers & Snowboarders
As always when going into the mountains in the Winter: Don't ski alone, know the weather report and avalanche conditions, bring maps, flashlight, extra clothing, shovel, avalanche beacon. Tell people where you are going and when you expect to return. For mountain weather and avalanche conditions, see: mountain weather forecast and Northwest Avalanche Center.
If you want a beautiful backcountry day trip on a clear day, drive to Paradise Lodge on the south side of Mount Rainier (bring chains!), ski the Stevens Canyon Road to the end of Mazama Ridge, and ski up the ridge.
- Gear Rental
You can rent alpine ski equipment at all of the major resorts. For longer term rentals, a good place is Seattle Ski & Snowboard. In or near Seattle, you can rent outdoor recreation gear at REI and ProSki Seattle.
- Hiking and Climbing
There are an enormous number of possibilities for hikes and climbs in the mountains within a few hours of Seattle. There are two major mountain ranges (the Cascades to the East, and the Olympics to the West) as well as four dormant, snow and ice covered volcanoes (Baker, Glacier, Rainier and Adams) and one active volcano that is not glaciated (Mt. St. Helens). The three National Parks and Monuments are:
- North Cascades National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument
Climbing the glaciated peaks is a technical and somewhat dangerous undertaking (for example, there is about one death on Mt. Rainier for every thousand people that reach the summit.) It is possible to take part on a guided climb, but is not recommended unless you are quite fit. Information on climbing Mt. Rainier can be found at the Mt. Rainier National Park web site, above. Find a climber's weather forecast here.
The snow-free hiking season in the mountains is usually May - November in the lower elevations. There are also great hikes that can be done year-round on the islands in Puget Sound, and along the wild coastline in the Olympic National Park. There is an extensive set of hiking guides for the area, and you can find some copies (possibly somewhat out of date) in the program coordinators' office. Feel free to peruse them, and to copy pages to take with you on your excursions. A great online guide to hiking to the area is found at The Washington Trails Association. To see what trails are being currently hiked, and what the conditions are, select Trip Reports. At the bottom of each report is a link to a description of how to get to that hike. There are many other useful features at that site. Also: ask local people for hike recommendations!
Mountain weather can be very changeable and you should be prepared for the unexpected; however, you can go here for mountain weather reports.
Equipment for purchase or rental, as well as clothing, maps, food, and other supplies can be found at REI, Outdoor Research, The North Face (nearby in U-Village), Wonderland Gear Exchange (high-quality used gear/clothing), and other locations.
Note that to park at most trailheads you need to purchase a Northwest Forest Pass which can be obtained at any ranger station, at REI, and at numerous retail locations along the roads (for example, the espresso stop just beyond Index on Highway 2).
Especially recommended hikes (first three require Forest Pass for parking)
- Mason lake: a moderate summer hike about one hour from Seattle on the way to Snoqualmie pass that takes one to great views of Rainier and an alpine lake that makes for good swimming on a hot day. The intrepid can go on to climb Mt. Defiance on a boot track for even better views.
- Melakwa Lake: another moderate summer hike from I-90 about an hour away to a beautiful alpine lake; after the first mild gentle mile you pass the Denny Creek Water Slide...a place where Denny Creek pours over smooth granite slabs, with pools and slides for kids to enjoy when the water level is sufficiently low.
- Granite Mountain: A strenuous summer hike from I-90 about an hour away from Seattle with spectacular views on a clear day, as well as flowers and blueberries along the way. Can be hot, bring lots of water. 3000'+ vertical gain to an old lookout tower.
- Spray Park: Famous for its flowers with Mt Rainier looming above, about a 3 mile moderate hike in the NW corner of Rainier National Park, about 1.5 hours from Seattle to the trail head at Mowich Lake. The Lake is also beautiful and makes for fine (but cold) swimming. One can hike beyond Spray park up the ridge to amazing views from observation rock (latter part on snow all year round).
- Burroughs Mountain: A tremendous summer hike for views of Rainier along the entire way; moderate/difficult if you go to the end with its glacier overlook. Entire hike can be hot and dry, bring lots of water, sunblock. The parking lot at Sunrise can fill up early (9AM?) on summer weekends, in which case they will not let you enter the park on the East side! About 2.25 hour drive from Seattle.
- Ebey's Landing, Whidbey Island: A delightful and easy 3-mile loop on Whidbey island that can be done at any time of the year. Walk along high bluff with views of Puget Sound, the Olympics and Mt Baker, return along the beach. Enjoy the ferry rides to and from the island, eat seafood in Coupeville or Pizza in Langley.
- Bicycles in Seattle
Despite sometimes uncooperative weather, cycling is very popular in Seattle for both commuting and recreation. Drivers are generally courteous, and many bike routes and trails exist. Cycling is a great way to get to and around campus. Note that King County and Seattle both require cyclists to wear helmets, and that unlocked bicycles often disappear.
Bicycle Maps: Bicycle maps are available online through Seattle and King County web sites. Note that the Burke Gilman Trail, one of the most popular separated cycling trails in the area, runs through campus.
King County: http://www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/kcdot/Roads/Bicycling.aspx
Cycling Clubs: Seattle's Cascade Cycling Club is thought to be the largest in the nation, with over 5000 members. Club web sites provide links to address almost any cycling need, and publicize guided group rides that visitors are welcome to join. See:
- Cascade Bicycle Club: Seattle's all-purpose club for cycling and cycling advocacy
- Redmond Cycling Club: A club for hard-core roadies liking long days in the saddle
- Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance: A source for mountain and trail cyclists
Bicycles on buses, ferries: Bicycles are encouraged on both. All Metro buses are equipped with bicycle racks. For information see the Metro Transit cycling page.
Bicycle rental: Many locations rent bikes, including university area shops such as Recycled Cycles. For a full list of Seattle-area bike rental options, see Cascade Bicycle Club's community page. For impromptu e-bike/e-scooter rentals, consider downloading the Lime app on your phone to gain access to thousands of e-bikes and e-scooters around Seattle.