Some families love the thrill of stepping into skis or snowboards and bombing down fresh powder together on a bluebird day. Others like to take things a little bit slower, pausing to inspect the tiny frozen details of a wintry landscape, or to fall backwards to create the perfect (or not-so-perfect) snow angel. Snowshoeing is a multi-sensory, meandering way to explore Portland’s neighboring Mt. Hood this winter! And all it takes to get started are snowshoes, warm clothes, and a sense of adventure!

photo: Will Graham flickr

Gear up!

Kids of all ages can appreciate the carefree pace of snowshoeing. Littles still too little to strap on their own snowshoes can ride in a backpack or baby carrier with an intrepid parent, but for those who are big enough for shoes of their own, there are several rental options in Portland, and most places are $10/kid or $15/adult for a 24 hour rental:

Next Adventure
Mon.-Fri. 10am – 7pm
Sat. 10am – 6pm
Sun. 11am – 5pm
426 SE Grand Ave.
503-233-0706
Online: nextadventure.net/rentals

Tip! Check out their basement for amazing deals on used gear and kids’ snow clothing!

Mountain Shop
Mon.- Fri. 10am – 7pm
Sat. 10am – 6pm
Sun. 11am – 5pm
1510 NE 37th Ave
503-288-6768
Online: mountainshop.net/rentals

REI
Mon.- Sat. 10am – 9pm
Sun. 10am – 7pm
1405 NW Johnson St.
503-221-1938
Online: rei.com/stores/portland

Mt. Hood Adventure
Mon.- Sun. 8am – 5pm
88661 Government Camp Loop Rd.
503-715-2175
Online: mthoodadventure.com/winter

Otto’s
Mon. – Tue. Closed
Wed. – Sun. 9am – 6pm
38716 Pioneer Blvd.
503-668-5947
Online: ottosskishop.com/rentals

Tip! Get your pre-snowshoe sugar rush on at Joe’s Donuts near Otto’s and Meadowlark in Sandy!

Meadowlark
Mon. – Sat. 10am – 6pm
(hours may adjust based on mountain conditions)
38858 Pioneer Blvd.
503-668-8173
Online: meadowlarkski.com/rentals

photo: sarowen via flickr

Getting Started

Once the snowshoes are bought, borrowed, or rented, make sure everyone is prepared for the elements with warm, waterproof boots, non-cotton water-resistant layers, and a good pair of gloves. Pick up a sno-park pass, pack some snacks and a thermos of hot cocoa, pick your destination, and head to Mt. Hood for a few hours of snowshoe family fun! Seasoned snowshoers will always be able to find new hills to tromp through, but snowshoeing is a workout and can take a little getting used to (you might feel like Bigfoot for awhile!) so for newbies, you might want to check out some of these family favorites in order to test out your “snow legs”:

Crosstown Ski + Snowshoe Trail
This trail is a close-in trek from one end of Government Camp to the other. The full loop is 4.1 miles, but the elevation gain is minimal, and Government Camp under snow is truly a winter wonderland! This trail can get crowded, so if you’d like a little more room for your feet to flop, plan your visit for mid-week, or get there early on weekend mornings to avoid the crowds.

You can also access the Enid Lake Loop from the Crosstown Trail, which is an easy 2 mile trek that’s perfect for little explorers! The Enid Lake Loop will take you and your adventurers through snowy groves of cedar, hemlock and fir trees.

Getting there from Portland: Take Highway 26 past Sandy for 27 miles. Turn left at the Glacier View Snowpark, across from the west entrance to Ski Bowl. The trailhead is on the east side of the parking lot towards Government Camp.

Online: fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood

Mirror Lake
This trail is popular, and with good reason! After just a couple of miles you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Mt. Hood from this classic glacial cirque! This is an out and back trail, so if you and your clan aren’t quite up for the full 4.8 miles, you’ll want to turn around before reaching the lake (or maybe bring a sled with you to tow tired trekkers on the way back …).

Getting there from Portland: Travel 27 miles east of Sandy on Highway 26. Turn right into the gravel parking area between mileposts 51 and 52.

Online: fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood

photo:USFWSmidwest via flickr

Trillium Lake
This may be the most celebrated—and visited—snowshoe routes near Mt. Hood. It’s a close hop from Portland, and a perfect playground for mittened fists to gather up snowballs! If crowds aren’t ideal for your first snowshoe experience, then plan on visiting during off-hours, like mid-week. The 3.6 mile loop is very kid and dog friendly (dogs must be kept on leash), and the views of Mt. Hood are iconic!

Getting there from Portland: Travel 31 miles east of Sandy on Highway 26. Turn right onto Trillium Lake Loop Road.

Online: fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood

Frog Lake
Spoiler Alert: There are no frogs at Frog Lake in winter. (Just laying the expectation for kiddos who may think otherwise. Ask me how I know …). This is a simple but rewarding snowshoe hike of only 2.3 miles, great for beginners and children. Wide, groomed trails are friendly for feet that are just getting accustomed to being strapped into snowshoes, but as with the other trails, be prepared to share the space with other snowshoers and skiers.

Getting there from Portland: Take Highway 26 east past the junction with Highway 35 to the Frog Lake Sno Park.

Online: fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood

Tamanawas Falls
Shhh … this one might be the very best for first-time snowshoers! This is on the east slope of Mt. Hood and is better later in the season when there is  more snow pack (it can get icy!). Congestion isn’t quite an issue as with some of the locations closer to Government Camp, but parking is limited, so get there early! You’ll be rewarded with fantastic winter falls! The trail is 3.8 miles through stunning old growth forest and the pay off at the falls is unmatched! NW Forest Pass is required.

Getting there from Hood River (recommended): Travel south on Highway 35 for 25 miles to the Pollallie Trailhead. Continue on Highway 35 for about 5 more miles until you get to the Tamanawas Falls Trailhead.

Online: fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood

Parents, be prepared for warming up chilly children! Bring along handwarmers to tuck inside gloves or jacket pockets, and carry a backpack with essentials like extra layers, snacks, and water. Snowshoeing will indeed get your heart rate up, and sometimes it seems like kids are impervious to the cold, but just a few errant drips of snow down the back of a neck and you’ll be happy to have warm-up options close at hand. Just in case.

Does your family have a favorite location for snow play? Share it with us in the comments below.

—Kelli Martinelli