Best Beginner Cross Country Skiing near Seattle

Last Updated on March 1, 2024

A wonderful strategy for getting outside more in winter to is to learn a new winter sport. (Learn about getting started with snowshoeing here.) This article will talk about learning to cross country ski (also known as nordic skiing) and where to find cross country skiing near Seattle. I love cross country skiing, but it has been a hard won skill for me and I am still very much an intermediate skier, even after many years! It takes me a long time to learn a new physical skill or sport, and I am here to tell you that if I can learn to do this, you can too! I started to learn when I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, but after I moved back home (to Seattle) I pretty much had to start over since the snow is a lot wetter and icier here.

I started cross country skiing with hand me down skis and poles from a friend, and second hand boots. In this post I’ll talk about learning, gear, where to go, getting information about conditions and more. Cross country skiing is an awesome sport, you get terrific exercise outside in the winter, and it’s far less expensive than downhill skiing, plus no lines and much less (sometimes no) traffic. With that, let’s get started with beginner cross country skiing near Seattle!

Related: Best cross country skiing near Vancouver BC, Complete guide to winter in Manning Park, BC

Learning to Cross Country Ski

I’m sure there are people who can teach themselves to cross country ski, but I am not one of those people! My husband grew up cross country skiing and he taught me, which was awesome, but if you don’t have a skier in your family or among your friends, consider taking a lesson. Taking a lesson also provides easy access to rental gear. You can take a lesson at the Summit at Snoqualmie, Stevens Pass Nordic Center or Plain Valley Ski Trails. All of them also rent gear.

I highly recommend renting gear to determine if you like it before investing in it. If you come into some used gear to try out and just want to go on your own, you could check out this video or this one to get an idea of a few basics. If you want to go for the first time and you’re not doing a lesson, try out Cabin Creek Sno Park (the “road” trail is good for beginners, the other trails are significantly harder) or Hyak sno park as they you can get started on flat or nearly flat terrain. It’s so much easier to start and get the hang of it where it’s flat. The main thing I would say is that it takes a lot of practice so don’t get discouraged…you got this!

One thing you will learn is that there are places that are groomed for cross country skiing (all the places mentioned above). You can certainly ski where it is not groomed, but I highly recommend learning and getting comfortable on a groomed trail before setting off in ungroomed areas. It’s also helpful to have backcountry skis (which are wider and have at least some metal edges) if you’re going to be going in ungroomed areas.

A woman on cross country skis making an excited, goofy face at the camera. She is wearing a blue headband, a purple jacket and black leggings and boots. She has a fanny pack with a red jacket attached to it.

Transportation, parking and fees

Most of the places for beginner cross country skiing near Seattle are either at Snoqualmie Pass or Stevens Pass, or one of the Washington State Sno parks. Ski areas have free parking but you pay for a trail pass. Washington’s sno parks require a one day or a seasonal sno park pass. An important thing to note, if you go to the sno parks that are groomed (Hyak, Cabin Creek and Lake Easton are the closest groomed ones), you’ll need the special groomed trails permit, which costs an additional $70, for a total of $120 for a sno park pass for the season. It’s a sticker that goes in your car window. You can select these options when buying online.

If you’d like to get out and try cross country skiing but don’t have a car or don’t want to drive, your best bet is probably to take the shuttle to Stevens Pass ski area and then the shuttle to the Nordic Center, or to take the shuttle to Snoqualmie Pass and then the summit shuttle to Summit East (where the nordic center is).

Beginner Cross Country Skiing near Seattle

Now that you have all that information, it’s time to think about where to go for your cross country skiing adventure! Below are my favorite places for beginner cross country skiing near Seattle, a mix of ski areas with lessons and rentals as well as sno parks that are groomed and have easy trails to get started on. Before heading out, it’s important to check the Avalanche Forecast and take it seriously as well as monitor the weather and the road conditions on the passes. Another excellent source of information is the Central Cascades Winter Recreation Council.

Hyak Sno Park

Early season skiing at Hyak before the grooming!
  • Where it is: Hyak Sno Park is located on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass
  • Parking and Fees: Special Groomed Trail Sno Park Pass. There is a large parking lot with heated restrooms. The parking area is shared with the sledding hill and it can be very crowded and chaotic at the trailhead. There is a fee both at the parking entrance which sometimes has a line. Passholders are sometimes let through around the line, but not always.
  • What it’s best for: Hyak is the PERFECT place for beginners because it’s flat! The chaos around the parking lot sometimes deters people and the first half mile of trail can be a bit rough, but after that this is a beautiful and peaceful place to practice.
  • Length and Elevation Gain: This flat trail has a good turnaround point at 2 miles, for a 4 mile round trip from Hyak.
  • Current Conditions: There is a phone number with a recording that is sometimes updated (not daily) (509) 656-2230. The Cascade Winter Recreation Council is also a good source of updated info.

Cabin Creek Sno Park

beginner cross country skiing near seattle trail
A snowy rail on a snowy day on the Cabin Creek trails
  • Where it is: Cabin Creek is located 10 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass
  • Parking and Fees: Special Groomed Trail Sno Park Pass. There is a decent size parking lot with pit toilets. Parking is generally fills on weekends and especially on race days.
  • What it’s best for: Cabin Creek is a good place for a group of skiers with mixed skills to ski together. The Road is a 2 mile mostly flat (though not completely) route, and there are a couple of challenging loops when you’re ready to take on hills and curves. Expert skiers can head all the way up to Amabilis Mountain! The trails wind through a beautiful forest.
  • Length and Elevation Gain: The four mile “Road” out and back has a few minor slopes but is still relatively flat. Adding in loops and climbs you can go up to more than 20 miles with 2000 feet of elevation gain to the top of Amabilis mountain.
  • Current Conditions: The groomer updates the website nearly every day. This is the easiest place to get information about the current conditions before you go.

Lake Easton Sno Park

Big icicles hang from snowy rocks
Icicles and sunshine are frequent features at Lake Easton
  • Where it is: Lake Easton Sno Park is 15 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass
  • Parking and Fees: Special Groomed Trail Sno Park Pass. There is a parking lot with heated restrooms. There is less snow here than at Snoqualmie Pass so it’s good to determine if they have started grooming before heading out. It is often not ready for skiing before January.
  • What it’s best for: Lake Easton has a few hills (including right at the beginning) but overall is beginner terrain. It goes through the forest and at times along the Yakima River. If you’re experienced and adventurous, you can even go all the way to Crystal Springs from here on the Palouse to Cascades Trail.
  • Length and Elevation Gain: Up to 5 miles with minimal elevation gain.
  • Current Conditions: There is a phone number with a recording that is sometimes updated (not daily) (509) 656-2230. The Cascade Winter Recreation Council is also a good source of updated info.

Salmon La Sac Sno Park

Blue sky with distant low snowy mountains. In the foreground there are evergreen trees and snow around a fast moving river in the Salmon La Sac sno park near cle elum
  • Where it is: Salmon La Sac Sno Park is near Cle Elum and Roslyn at the head of Cle Elum Lake.
  • Parking and Fees: Washington State Sno Park Pass. Parking is shared with snowmobiles (but not the trails)
  • What it’s best for: This is a great place to escape crowds. The parking area gets a little crazy but out on the trails you’ll see far fewer people! The downside is that it isn’t always groomed and it can be icy.
  • Length and Elevation Gain: Just over 3 miles with minimal elevation gain.
  • Current Conditions: There’s not a reliable source of information on the trail conditions here, so I like to bring my snowshoes to use instead if it’s super icy.

Summit at Snoqualmie Nordic Center

Beginner cross country skiing near seattle
Me enjoying the trails at the Summit at Snoqualmie Nordic Center
  • Where it is: Summit East Ski Area
  • Parking and Fees: Parking is at the Summit East Ski area at Snoqualmie Pass. The cost is $30 for a day or $25 for afternoon only.
  • What it’s best for: This area is fun and beautiful and often has better conditions than lower down. The only thing that takes some getting used to is that you take a chairlift up to it. This has the big advantage of skiing about 500 feet higher than the parking lot (which can make for much better conditions), but skiing off the chairlift (as well as downloading, since you also ride down the chairlift) takes some getting used to! It is possible to access it without the chairlift, but it’s a very steep and challenging climb and a solidly terrifying downhill run (in the downhill ski area). I’ve done this and I have to say that I don’t recommend it and never plan on doing it again! Take the chairlift if you go here. It’s open 9-4 Friday-Sunday once the season opens
  • Length and Elevation Gain: Over 30 miles of groomed trails, elevation gain varies from hundreds of feet to mostly flat
  • Current Conditions: They usually update the website when they are operating the nordic center.

Stevens Pass Nordic Center

  • Where it is: 5 miles east of the Stevens Pass Ski Area
  • Parking and Fees: $24 for a day pass
  • What it’s best for: This is a great place for beginner cross country skiing near Seattle, especially for those who are in north Seattle or north of Seattle. They have a wide variety of terrain and challenge and offer lessons and rentals.
  • Length and Elevation Gain: They have about 6 miles of mellow, wide, gentle terrain taking you through beautiful forest. When you’re ready for more challenge, steeper and harder trails add another 13 miles of adventure.
  • Current Conditions: The website is updated with current conditions.

Lake Wenatchee Sno Park

The open forests of Lake Wenatchee
  • Where it is: Halfway between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth
  • Parking and Fees: Special Groomed Trail sno park pass. South Park has heated flushing restrooms. The other three have pit toilets.
  • What it’s best for: This is a fun and less crowded place for beginner cross country skiing near Seattle, even though it’s the farthest away on this list! Beautiful forest, sunnier skies and less crowds great you on the four sno parks in this area. Read all about your options for winter fun at Lake Wenatchee here.
  • Length and Elevation Gain: There are nearly 30 miles of groomed trails in this area. Many are flat or mostly flat, but Nason Ridge has a very challenging and steep backcountry trail too.
  • Current Conditions: This website is updated several times per week when grooming is in progress.

Cross Country Skiing near Seattle with Dogs

In general, dogs are not allowed on groomed cross country ski trails. There are two exceptions to this near Seattle.

  1. Crystal Springs Sno Park – just east of Snoqualmie Pass, much of this sno park is dedicated to snowmobiling, but there are dog friendly trails if you start at the far back of the parking area. There are several dedicated trails for cross country skiing with your dog! Make sure your dog is leashed and under control at all times.
  2. Chiwawa Sno Park – one of the four sno parks at Lake Wenatchee, Chiwawa is the ONLY one that allows dogs and ONLY after 10am. Again your dog must be leashed and under control.
A woman wearing sunglasses smiles on a cross country ski trail. There are snow covered evergreen trees all around her. Text reads: Beginner cross country skiing near Seattle
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!