Winter is Coming - Know Before You Go

The seasons have officially changed and winter has arrived in the mountains. Our local volcanoes have a fresh coating of snow and elevations over 5,000 ft are showing the signs of winter. It’s time.

Winter comes early to the higher elevations. It is a beautiful sight to see the leaves fall, vegetation covered in frost, and lakes starting to freeze. It also means colder temperatures, fewer hours of daylight, and the need for additional information to prepare for a safe and successful trip.

A small group of tents on snow. Snow covered mountains and trees in the background.

Our hiking adventures at Cascade Mountain Adventures continue with smart preparation for the changing conditions. Here are our top tips and resources to prepare yourself, predict conditions, and adjust your hiking plans for the changing season. We look forward to seeing you on the trail!

This post focuses on essential weather and planning resources for late fall into winter hiking. Need advice on gear too? Excellent! We’ve got that covered right over here.

Note: The information in this post if not intended as a replacement for hands on in-depth wilderness safety training. We highly recommend a Northwest Avalanche Center Awareness Session for all travelers in winter wilderness terrain. It could save your life.

A patchy snow covered trail surrounded by trees.

Weather & Conditions - Know Before You Go

A current and accurate knowledge of the expected weather conditions, sunrise and sunset times, and current snow conditions are vital to safe and comfortable winter conditions hiking. Some of our favorite information sources are linked below.

  1. Sunrise / Sunset Times: Remember to check your favorite weather forecast source for the sunrise and sunset times. It’s important to know when it is going to get dark and plan accordingly. We like the information in this site.

  2. Weather Forecasts: Need a weather forecast source? Our favorite is NOAA lat / long specific weather forecasts. An example location is here.

    Need the lat / long coordinates of your favorite trail? Our friends at Washington Trails Association post them with every trailhead hiking description. Look for the orange ‘Trailhead’ text coordinates below the map.

  3. Snow Conditions: Is there snow at the trailhead? On the trail? Snotel will know! Snotel is a series of real-time probe placed throughout the region to monitor current and historical snow depth information.

  4. Northwest Avalanche Center - Avalanche Risk: Is there going to be snow on the ground on or above your chosen trail? It’s important to check-in on current and forecasted avalanche conditions.

    The team at the Northwest Avalanche Center posts a daily forecast of avalanche conditions starting in ~early December. Locate the region in which your trail is located and review the current and expected avalanche terrain conditions.

    Don’t know what and where avalanche terrain is located? Want to know more about minimizing risk while traveling in potential avalanche terrain? The Northwest Avalanche center offers amazing free Avalanche Awareness Education sessions throughout the region. Go. It could save your life.

  5. Caltopo - Slope Angle: You’ve taken an Avalanche Awareness course and you know that avalanche terrain is located on or below slopes between 30 - 50 degree angles. Excellent! Now how do you know where those are located? Meet Caltopo.

    Caltopo is a free online mapping resource with local trails and easy to read color coding of avalanche terrain. The ‘Slope Angle’ overlay feature displays an orange to purple color code to alert you to the presence of avalanche prone slope angles. A great tutorial is located here.

Two hikers on a wilderness trail with patchy snow on the ground. A mountain lake and tree covered mountains in the distance.

As the Northwest Avalanche Center team says, the only successful trip is a round trip. Now is the time to make sure that you know how to make this a reality.

See you the trail! Have a safe, fun, and wonderful transition into the wilderness winter season.


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