Washington State Parks opened three temporary Sno-Parks along the Interstate 90 corridor this week to better accommodate a surge of visitors to the Cascades this winter as local residents seek outdoor recreation options during the colder months.
The three new, nonmotorized, ungroomed Sno-Parks will be set up for snow play activities like sledding and include access to new or existing trails for snowshoeing and Nordic ski touring.
“These are Plan B, overflow, temporary Sno-Parks due to the demand,” said Jason Goldstein, Washington State Parks winter operations manager. “If Snoqualmie and Stampede Pass are busy, drive an extra 10 to 30 minutes and these options are available to you.”
Easton Reload, 2 miles south of Lake Easton State Park, has 60 parking spaces off I-90 Exit 71. It is adjacent to the existing Easton Reload motorized Sno-Park, which is used by snowmobilers — visitors for snow play should not park in the lot for motorized users.
North of Cle Elum, 29 Pines has up to 30 parking spaces in the Teanaway Community Forest. There is a snow play area as well as a 1-mile snowshoe trail that connects to longer routes along Jungle Creek Road.
Cle Elum River Campground can accommodate 30 vehicles along a plowed road. This destination offers a short, blazed snowshoe trail along the river, and there are picnic tables by the river where visitors can have lunch. The nearest portable toilet is a half-mile away at French Cabin Sno-Park.
The move from Washington State Parks to set up additional winter recreation locations comes after Sno-Parks offering groomed trails and snow play areas, like Hyak, Gold Creek and Crystal Springs, reached what officials called a “critical mass” of visitation, leading to dangerous conditions.
“We’re seeing more parked vehicles and people walking along highway and ramp shoulders — which is a tragedy waiting to happen. These areas are not designed for parking or pedestrians,” said Washington State Department of Transportation deputy secretary Keith Metcalf in a January press release. “In addition, the illegally parked vehicles are also hindering our crews’ ability to clear and treat roads and force more road or pass closures, which affects everyone trying to use the roadways.”
Recreation advocacy groups praised the midwinter emergency action. “Easton Reload is an awesome place for snow play that won’t be as chaotic as Crystal Springs or Hyak,” said Karen Behm, coordinator for the Central Cascades Winter Recreation Council. “I give big kudos to the Sno-Park program for instigating. A lot of hard work went into getting that effort going so quickly.”
For those willing to travel further afield, Washington State Parks just added 2 miles of groomed trail from the Marble Mountain Sno-Park to Climbers Bivouac at Mount St. Helens.
Goldstein also encourages those looking to snowshoe or cross-country ski on groomed trails to consider trying motorized Sno-Parks as well. “Use the 3,000 miles of motorized multiuse trails that we have,” he said, explaining that snowmobilers ride upward of 30 miles away from trailhead, which means skiers and snowshoers are unlikely to encounter them during most of their outing. (Parking at these locations requires a motorized Sno-Park permit even if the visitor is using them for nonmotorized recreation.)
Sno-Parks are designated trailheads that are plowed and maintained in winter with amenities like portable bathrooms. A permit to park at a nonmotorized, ungroomed Sno-Park costs $20 per day or $40 per season and can be purchased online. Most Sno-Parks do not have on-site vendors for permits.
Between the different Sno-Park permits, Washington State Parks reports that it has sold three to five times more passes this season than in a typical winter.