We may be under the wintertime permacloud, but that’s no reason to put off planning your outdoor activities for 2020. From waived entrance fees to avalanche-preparedness workshops, here’s what’s on the outdoors docket for 2020 — starting with free parking at Washington state trailheads on New Year’s Day.
Free access days
Throughout the year, the National Parks Service waives entrance fees for visitors. In 2020, several fee-free days are scheduled at Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park, beginning with Saturday, April 18, in celebration of National Park Week and National Junior Ranger Day. Additional fee-free days are planned for August 25 (the National Park Service’s birthday), Sept. 26 and Nov. 11 (Veterans Day).
You can also celebrate the new year a little bit differently with Washington State Parks’ annual First Day Hikes program. On Jan. 1, state parks throughout Washington will offer free parking (Sno-Parks still require permits) and guided hikes. Narrow your search for hiking spots here.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site hosts lantern tours throughout the year, giving participants a nocturnal exploration of the restored Hudson’s Bay Company trading post by — you guessed it — lantern light. Adults who attend will be equipped with a (candle-operated) lantern, with interpretive context provided by park rangers and historical reenactors; it’s all capped off with hot cider. The tours begin at Fort Vancouver’s entrance gate (1001 E. Fifth St., Vancouver) at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $25 for adults and $10 for children age 15 and under. The first lantern tour of 2020 is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Skill-building, educational and community programming
Outdoor adventuring needn’t be a lonely pursuit, especially with a number of community events already planned for 2020. For all of your niche interests, the Washington Trails Association maintains a comprehensive calendar of their own and other organizations’ outdoor events.
Highlights for this year — so far — include group snowshoeing excursions in Leavenworth throughout January and February and a snowshoeing course for women (Jan. 2). Plus: free entry and skate rentals for a nonperishable food donation at Cle Elum’s outdoor Village Pavilion ice rink (Jan. 7, 14, 21 and 28), an Owl Prowl (exactly what it sounds like) through Seward Park (Jan. 17), a talk from Northwest trail guide and author Craig Romano (Feb. 5) and a class on best practices for winter hiking in the Northwest (Feb. 6). There’s even a wildlife-photography workshop coming to Mount Vernon on Feb. 29, and, at REI, a workshop on ski and snowboard waxing Jan. 2. (Note: This workshop is alpine-only, because waxing cross-country skis isn’t a skill, it’s an art.)
The Mountaineers in Seattle also has a full schedule for 2020, with open-climb nights on Fridays (check schedules; dates vary) January through March, and for the operations-interested, the WTA also hosts work parties throughout the year for trail maintenance and improvement projects. The full schedule for work parties is available here.
With ski areas open and snow dumping, it’s worth getting the basics on that unlikely — but potentially deadly — winter hazard. The Northwest Avalanche Center will host weekly trainings through spring of 2020 at a number of locations that’ll be familiar if you ski, from Ascent Outdoors to REI’s flagship location. Knowing how to survive an avalanche is a skill worth having — one you hopefully won’t ever need to use.