Salmon La Sac is a gorgeous winter destination with miles of opportunities for snowshoeing and cross country skiing with a fraction of the crowds you’ll find at the Snoqualmie Pass sno parks. Salmon La Sac is on the sunnier side of the Cascade mountains so you might find the sun here when it’s cloudy and snowing or raining at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass! The parking area is shared with snowmobiles, but the trails for snowshoers and cross country skiers are separate and the snowmobiles have their own awesome places to explore.
Salmon La Sac is the homeland of the Yakama and Wenatchi people.
Parking Pass Needed: Washington State Sno Park Pass (you do NOT need the special groomed trails permit here even though the ski trails are sometimes groomed).
The elevation at the Salmon La Sac sno park is about 2300 feet, a bit lower than Snoqualmie Pass. Despite being a bit lower, it is on the colder eastern side of the Cascade mountains so it’s possible there could be snow falling here in winter even if there is rain in other areas. It is also drier than Snoqualmie Pass and the snow pack is not as deep and melts more quickly.
The grooming on the cross country ski trails begins when there’s enough snow for it. This can be anywhere from mid December to mid January. While the snow may last through March it might also be melting or have thin spots by then.
Salmon La Sac is ideal for January and February when the snow is likely to be best. Of course, each season and day to day throughout the season the conditions can change dramatically.
Although it is not part of the special groomed trails sno parks, which are groomed more frequently, there is usually grooming a couple of times a week in winter in January and February (sometimes in December and lasting into March if the snow pack holds).
If you’re snowshoeing you can navigate icier conditions or thin snow more easily. I like to be prepared for both skiing and snowshoeing at Salmon La Sac, since it can be hard to find information on the conditions before you go.
Directions, Road Conditions and Parking at Salmon La Sac
The Salmon La Sac Sno Park is located in the Cle Elum Ranger District of Okanagan – Wenatchee National Forest near the towns of Cle Elum and Roslyn. In good weather it’s about a two hour drive from either Seattle or Wenatchee and about an hour drive from Ellensburg.
From I-90 coming from Seattle, take Exit 80 (Bullfrog Road) signed for Roslyn and Suncadia to Highway 903 just outside the town of Roslyn. From Wenatchee, take Highway 97 over Blewett Pass and then Highway 970 and Highway 10 to Cle Elum. In Cle Elum, it becomes Highway 903, follow this towards Roslyn. From Ellensburg, take I-90 to Cle Elum and then Exit 84 to meet up with Highway 903.
Once on Highway 903, continue north through Roslyn and Ronald and along Cle Elum Lake. 15 miles from Roslyn, you’ll come to the end of the plowed road and the sno park.
There are two options here for parking. The first is where Google will take you if you enter “Salmon La Sac Sno Park” into Google Maps. This will take you to the right on Forest Service Road 4315 just before the end of the plowing on Salmon La Sac Road. Here you can park in the parking lot that will mostly have snowmobile trailers and usually a couple of Honey Buckets (there are no restrooms here). The other option is to continue straight and park along the road. Either way, pay attention to the signs which let you know where you can park if you’re parking along the road.
Salmon La Sac road is a two lane road with winter driving conditions. It is regularly plowed, but be aware of icy patches and compact snow and ice which may be present anytime during the winter.
Snowshoeing Salmon La Sac
There are lots of opportunities to explore this area. Make sure if you are snowshoeing to stay off the groomed cross country ski trail. This includes the tracks as well as the “corduroy”, the term for the groomed skate track that has a corduroy pattern. If you’re snowshoeing walk off the trail or along the very edge outside the tracks and corduroy. The best options for snowshoeing at Salmon La Sac are
Cooper River Snowshoe
Snowshoeing along the Cooper River is a beautiful and uncrowded experience. You’ll be going along through the forest and next to the river. Use extreme caution near the river and watch out for unstable snow at the edges. Stay well back from the edge!
This route can take you up to 4.5 miles (9 miles round trip) along the river to Cooper Lake. The trail rolls up and down, gaining around 500 feet of elevation total. 9 miles is a long way to snowshoe! Don’t worry, you can turn around at any point and get a similar experience of snowy forest and rushing river. This is a beautiful snowshoe trip even if you only go half a mile along the river and eat lunch.
This trail can be a bit difficult to follow in winter as it is not heavily traveled. Generally speaking, if you keep the river to your left on the way out you’ll stay on course. Just make sure not to get too far away from it. You can often follow the tracks of others who have gone before you.
To start this route, follow the road (shared with snowmobiles) from the end of plowing at Salmon La Sac Road. In a short distance, come to a bridge and cross it, leaving the snowmobile trail behind. You can also start from the parking area and follow the trail through the Cayuse Horse camp to the same spot at the bridge. This second option avoids snowmobile trails completely, although you will still share the parking lot and cross the snowmobile trail here.
Once across the bridge, keep right to follow the ski trail away from the campground towards the Salmon La Sac trailhead. Make sure to stay off the groomed trail if you’re snowshoeing.
At the summer trailhead, take the marked trail signed for Cooper River and Pollalie Ridge. Many snowshoe trails are also good for cross country skiing, but this particular one is not great on skis. There are lots of small dips up and down, and some hills/curves that are very close to a big drop off into the river!
Salmon La Sac Campground
If you are looking to explore around in the forest with complete freedom, set out in the large Salmon La Sac Campground. You can avoid the ski trails completely and just set out through the forest in the lovely campground area. On snowshoes you don’t need a trail! If you do follow the trail around the campground, make sure to stay off the groomed corduroy skate lane and the cross country ski tracks. You can snowshoe next to it or at the very edge. Exploring around the area of the trail is really fun and I highly recommend it. You can also combine this with the route along the Cooper River.
Cross Country Skiing at Salmon La Sac
There are lots of opportunities to ski up high on ungroomed routes (bring a map) in the voluntary non motorized area from the Salmon La Sac sno park. If you’re a beginner or want to stick with groomed trails, there are over three miles of groomed trails that are perfect for beginners. I have seen these trails groomed and groomed with a track for skiing but not always both. During times when it’s warm during the day, it can get quite icy, so watch out for that!
If you want to avoid snowmobiles altogether (except in the parking lot), park in the parking lot (the first option described above). As you turn into the parking area, you’ll see the ski trail just ahead of you. Follow this trail through the Cayuse Horse Camp area for just under a mile to the bridge at the junction with the closed Salmon La Sac Road and the snowmobile route. Cross the snowmobile route and the bridge and you’ll be in the groomed Salmon La Sac campground area. You can also get to this point if you park along the road and go a short distance on the shared use trail with snowmobiles to the same spot. The snowmobile trails go uphill to the right from this junction.
Once you cross the river, you’ll be in the groomed area where there is usually a skate lane and tracks set. These beginner loops through the forest and near the river are really fun and much less crowded than other areas (watch out for icy conditions).
I recommend doing the campground loops and then heading up to the Salmon La Sac trailhead, where there’s a small loop and then you head back the way you came to the campground. The campground itself has three loops. The groomed trails are a bit over three miles total, but you can do as many loops as you like, especially in the campground area.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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