A family goes on a winter walk in WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County. (Justin Haug/WDFW)
A family goes on a walk in WDFW’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County. (Justin Haug/WDFW)

Late-season fun in the snow

Get outdoors with the whole family before time’s up

While spring is on everyone’s mind, there are still plenty of late-season opportunities for recreating in the snow before the white stuff melts with the turn of the season.

While the snow persists, there are recreational options for nearly everyone in the front and backcountry. From observing wildlife to the thrill of downhill skiing and snowboarding to covering ground on snowshoes and cross-country skis, and from touring on a snowmobile to simply playing in the snow and sledding, there is an activity for all ages and the whole family on public lands and some resorts. We’ll get into some of the choices below.

Snow adventures with kids

At-home ideas

Late winter and early spring are great times to get outdoors with the kids. Snow reveals animal tracks, hidey-holes, and other wildlife findings that might not be seen on bare ground. Additionally, seasonal changes in foliage can help kids hone observation skills. Observation and sensory activities help children make sense of how the world works and encourage critical thinking skills. For ideas, check out our Nature-based mindfulness activities as well as our Habitat at Home activities.

Before and after snow: If you currently have snow on the ground, take a picture of a familiar area your child sees every day. Take more pictures as the snow begins to melt and have your learner compare and contrast differences. Test their curiosity by asking questions like, “How do you think animals survive in winter? How do you think they find food and water? How do they stay warm?” This could lead into figuring out how animals make their homes in this snow house building activity.

Looking for something more active? Check out these ideas:

· Hiking is a great way to see different parts of the state and put your learner’s observations to the real test. Check out this Washington Trails Association blog post on the best winter hikes with kids throughout the state.

· Have a fifth-grader? Apply for the 5th Grade Passport and receive three free ski days at any of the five participating ski resorts.

· Cross-country skiing is a great way to burn off kiddo energy and explore the outdoors. There are cross-country skiing trails throughout the state. For more information, check out this article from Parent Map or ski trails for kids from Methow Trails.

Three cougars walk in the snow in Colville. (Walter Soroka)
Cougars, or Puma concolor, are shy and secretive, but you might be able to find tracks left in the snow by mountain lions like this trio in Colville. (Walter Soroka)

Finding animal tracks

Finally, one of our favorite snow activities with children is finding animal tracks. The texture of snow makes this much easier. You may not even have to look very far to find animal sign; animal tracks can be found on your balcony, in your backyard, or in a nearby park. If you are a library card holder, you can check out a Discover Pass from your local library and explore any WDFW wildlife area, Washington State Park, or Department of Natural Resource property.

But what animals left those tracks? To help you and your children in your investigation, you may want to print out or take a screen shot of some animal track guides. We like this mammal track guide from Wenatchee Naturalist and this list of resources from National Wildlife Federation. You may also find animal track guides at your local library.

Tips for investigating animal tracks:

· Be aware that wintering wildlife should not be disturbed so that they do not expend energy stores they need to survive the winter. The activities described here can be enjoyed without actively tracking nearby animals and forcing them to move.

· Keep your eyes on the ground. When you spot a track ask your child how many toes they count, do they see claw marks, what shape is the heel. Based on this information, ask them what animal they think they’ve found and why.

· If you’re having trouble finding animal tracks, look near water.

· Early morning is a good time to investigate what animals are nocturnal.

· Look for other signs such as scat, fur, feathers, claw marks on trees, etc. For more information, read this animal tracking guide.

· Measure the distance between tracks. Ask children if they think the animal was running or walking based on its tracks.

If you live in or are visiting Washington wolf country, you can also check out our family activity called Tracking Wolves.

Two sisters enjoy a snowy hike up Mount Si near North Bend. (Sarah Campbell)
Two sisters enjoy a snowy hike up Mount Si near North Bend. (Sarah Campbell)

Sno-Parks, federal lands

Every winter and stretching into April, Washington State Parks maintains over 120 Sno-Parks, or parking lots that have been cleared of snow, to provide access for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, general snow play like tubing, and even backcountry and frontcountry downhill skiing and snowboarding in some cases.

To use a Sno-Park, vehicles must have a one-day or seasonal permit. Plus, in some locations, special groomed trails permits are also required. These include Cabin Creek, Chiwawa, Crystal Springs, Hyak, Lake Easton, Lake Wenatchee, Mount Spokane, and Nason Ridge. Sales of permits pay for trail grooming and the equipment used for trail upkeep.

You can find out more about Sno-Park locations and required passes on the Washington State Parks website. The State Parks website also details which Sno-Parks have designated areas for snowmobiling, non-motorized use, and general snow play. Of the 120 Sno-Parks, 80 are primarily for snowmobiling access.

If you’re headed to federal lands to enjoy the snow, be sure to check the agency websites or social media feeds before you go for updated weather alerts and road closures. If you’re headed to Mount Rainier, you can view that national park’s seasonal closures here. The website also has some great information on winter safety in the outdoors. If Olympic National Park and its Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is your destination, the park’s website provides updated weather and road conditions.

A young girl looks into a snowy mountain bowl to plan her skiing route from the top of Alpental at Snoqualmie Pass. (Gavin Convey)
A young girl plans her route into a bowl from the top of Alpental at Snoqualmie Pass. (Gavin Convey)

From top to bottom

Among the most popular winter sports of course are downhill skiing and snowboarding, and Washingtonians have quite a few options on where to pursue these great pastimes between public lands and resorts.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are enjoyed by so many because they offer thrills and adventure, exercise, and are great ways to get outdoors to explore nature, especially if you’re taking hike-in runs in the backcountry.

Depending on late-season conditions, opportunities for backcountry skiing and riding await on some state Department of Natural Resources and State Parks lands, as well as National Forest Service and National Park Service properties.

For example, Olympic National Park boasts the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area, which also offers sledding and, in the surrounding area of the park, plenty of territory for snowshoeing.

For more information on recreation opportunities on state and federal public lands, visit our Life Outdoors webpage.

A snowboard and backpack are framed by expansive mountain views before a late-season backcountry run in June run near the end of Obstruction Point Road in Olympic National Park. (Michael J. Foster/WDFW)
If you’re willing to work for the reward, late-season backcountry skiing and snowboarding can yield amazing views and solitude impossible to find at a resort, as was the case with this June run near the end of Obstruction Point Road in Olympic National Park. (Michael J. Foster/WDFW)

If the frontcountry and a less labor intensive outing is what you’re after, Washington and neighboring states offer a wealth of downhill, sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing experiences at groomed ski resorts. Some also feature backcountry runs to add variety to the outing. Some ski areas continue operations well into April.

For those looking to learn to downhill ski or snowboard, equipment rental and lesson packages offer a good avenue to picking up what can become a lifelong passion.

If you’re looking for some comradery on the slopes, Washington is also home to many ski and snowboard clubs.

Regardless of whether you’re in the wilderness or a ski resort, it’s crucial to understand avalanche danger and emergency preparedness if venturing into the backcountry. The Northwest Avalanche Center’s website offers avalanche risk forecasts, information on avalanche safety classes, and additional resources.

If winter sports with less downhill action are more your speed, many of the same state and federal lands, and some of the same ski resorts, feature opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and snow play, and in some cases, snowmobiling.

As is the case with downhill skiing and snowboarding, our state is home to several snowshoeing/hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling clubs.

The Icicle River near Leavenworth is framed by a fresh coating of snow. (Joshua Gabrielson)
The Icicle River near Leavenworth framed by a fresh coating of snow. (Joshua Gabrielson)

Share your outdoor adventures for a chance to win outdoor gear!

Send us your best photos of how you spend time outdoors! Your photos may be featured on WDFW’s Facebook and Instagram to celebrate the variety of ways people enjoy outdoor lifestyles and to inspire others to spend time in nature.

Enter our monthly photo contest for a chance to win a Cabela’s gift card! Each month has a new theme and a new winner.

Participating is simple:

1. Visit WDFW’s Life Outdoors webpage to find out the outdoor recreation theme for the current month: https://wdfw.wa.gov/life-outdoors

2. Submit pictures of you, your friends, or family participating in the month’s featured outdoor recreation theme on WDFW’s website: https://wdfw.wa.gov/share

3. When submitting your photo, select #LifeOutdoorsWA in the category section. In the description area, tell us a little about your experience.

4. On the last Friday of the month, a winner will be selected and featured on WDFW’s Facebook and Instagram. Winners will also be contacted via email to receive their prize.

When sharing your photos on social media, be sure to use #LifeOutdoorsWA!

March’s photo theme:

Fauna and flora of spring

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