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Dog-Friendly Winter Hikes Near Seattle

Dog-Friendly Winter Hikes Near Seattle

Whenever I tell people that I grew up in Seattle, the first question out of their mouth, without fail, is “oh, but doesn’t it rain there a lot??

Yes, it does. And the winters days are gray and short. But, the vistas are a verdant green you’ll never see elsewhere and that rare winter sunny day makes you forget about all those gray days that preceded it.

One reason I think that the long gray, rainy winters don’t get to me is because I continue to get outside. I often sign up for some kind of early spring race to force me outdoors.

Last year, when we were home, I made an effort to explore the place where I grew up as much as possible. That meant going out during the cold, wet months as well. But, the great thing about winter in Seattle? You can go find the snow when you want it and leave it behind when you don’t. I quickly looked forward to the cold, rainy days at sea level, because it meant snow in the mountains. I finally understood what it was like to be a skier. Kind of.

On top of the many dog friendly winter hikes near Seattle, there are also plenty of opportunities to snowshoe and cross country. See the list below for a few of our favorites spots.


With its close proximity to Seattle, swinging over Lake Washington to Snoqualmie Pass offers quality access to great winter hiking. The few listed below offer just a snapshot of the many winter hiking trails available in the region.

Looking to go on a great dog-friendly winter vacation? See  the fun we had at Suncadia Resort, just off I-90 near Cle Elum.

Cougar Mountain

Elevation gain: Varies

Trail distance: Varies

Difficulty: Varies

Pass required: None

I knew of Cougar Mountain’s existence since I started running cross country in high school. But it took me many, many years later to actually go and explore this little gem for myself. I fell instantly smitten with this wonderful place.

Every weekend we were home, we spent one of our free days in Cougar Mountain, running and running for hours. There are plenty of trails and circuits so we never became bored. The park has several entrances, so you can start with an easy forest road or go out all out and start at the Squak Mountain Connector trail and climb a punishing hill, gaining almost 1,000 feet in just 1.5 miles.

The 3,100-acre park features 36 miles of dog-friendly trails and is located just 15 miles from downtown Seattle. Coming from the Alderwood area took us about a half hour or so down 405, without traffic.

Cougar Mountain has a pretty interesting history. Originally, the area served as a place for hunting and gathering food by local Native American tribes. Once European settlers arrived, they turned the land into a mining area up until the 20th century when logging operations took over.

After that, the US military occupied the land for two active missile sites to protect the Puget Sound from a potential airstrike during the Cold War. Finally, King County took control and turned it into the park that exists today.

Training for a marathon, I ran practically every trail in the park and never became bored or tired of running the same trails. There are waterfalls, artifacts from the mining days on various trails, flat trails, rolling hills, logs to jump over. It’s a special place with very easy access from Seattle.

Franklin Falls

*Elevation gain: 400 feet

Trail distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Pass required: NW Forest Pass

*Ease, distance, and elevation gain may vary during winter months

I had brushed off Franklin Falls when I learned of its ease, easy access, short distance, and family friendliness. All that came to mind was a insanely crowded hike teeming with screaming children. No thank you. However, when I learned of how it transitions during the winter months, into a beautiful frozen ice sculpture, I had to go see it for myself.

Because of all the above mentioned reasons for not wanting to visit these falls, it can still be crowded in the winter. So, we chose to beat the crowds and instead tackle the Seattle traffic. On that particular morning, the roads were horrendous and we left one of our hiking companions waiting for us for nearly an hour. Try and find that happy place in between bumper to bumper traffic and toe to toe with other hikers.

We started the hike just across from the Sahalie Ski Club. You’ll have to walk along the road for a short period before entering the trail. Note that the route to the falls is different in the winter than in the summer. The best place to get updates is the Washington Hikers and Climbers Facebook Group. This is a huge group with lots of knowledgeable hikers who can help with trail conditions and tell you where to park.

As for the hike, snowshoes may or may not be required, depending on the snow level, but some sort of traction devices will be necessary for the path to the falls. It was practically a sheet of ice during our visit. There is a rope to help guide you down, but remember, you also have to help guide your dog down. Go slowly and do the butt scoot boogie if you have to.

Be aware of ice on the rocks when you’re down by the falls. It can be slippery. Also note that the water is still quite powerful and waterproof gear is nice to have, as well as something to wipe your camera lens (constantly) because it will get splashed and spotty even from a far distance.

The sight of such a powerful mostly frozen
waterfall is incredible. I had never seen anything like it before. It’s well worth the trip to do this easy hike.

Kachess Lake

Elevation gain: 50 feet

Trail distance: 1 mile

Difficulty: Easy

Pass required: NW Forest Pass

I have admittedly not made the journey to Kachess Lake, unfortunately. I missed out on a trip with friends last year because we were getting ready to move to Spain. However, I did hear all about it and more importantly saw the photos from the adventure.

Another short and easy hike, Kachess Lake is located right off I-90. It’s short and flat one-mile distance makes for a great beginner snowshoe hike. If you can, wake up early, and arrive in time to watch the sunrise over the mountains surrounding the lake.

Mountain Loop Highway/FS Road 20

During the winter months, look for the lower level hikes off the Mountain Loop Highway for some beginner winter hiking opportunities. Check conditions in advance to determine if the trail is better for spikes, snowshoes, or cross country skis.

Headed to high altitude? Your dog can feel the affects of elevation, too. See High Altitude: Will It Affect My Dog?

Heather Lake

Elevation gain: 1,034 feet

Trail distance: 4.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Pass required: NW Forest Pass

Due to its relative ease, Heather Lake is a fairly popular hike, though not so much during the winter months. The 4.6 mile round trip hike has a highest elevation of just 2,430 feet, so much of the hike may be snow free other than the last bit to the lake, depending on the snow level.

The first part of the hike meanders through old and new-growth forests along a single track trail. As you climb, you’ll reach a small waterfall and river crossing, so be sure you are wearing waterproof shoes. Shortly after crossing the stream, you’ll reach the boardwalk that leads the the lake. If icy or covered in snow, it can be very slippery. Be sure to bring along traction devices to avoid falling.

Once at the lake, you can choose to walk all the way around or find an open spot to drink some warm cocoa or tea and enjoy the beautiful view of the snow-covered trees and iced-over lake.

Photo courtesy of @laducb

Big Four Ice Caves

Elevation gain: 220 feet

Trail distance: 2.2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Pass required: NW Forest Pass

The Big Four Ice Caves are another destination I have yet to visit. I had very good intentions of going last year, however, an avalanche had closed them down and the opportunity didn’t present itself again before we left the country.

Formed by melting snow, waterfalls from the cliff above, and wind, these caves are formed beneath an avalanche chute. This is why, no matter the time of year, it is important to never enter or climb on top of the caves. People have died doing just this.

The 2.2-mile round trip hike is flat and easy as you follow a paved pathway leading to an intersection. To the right, a boardwalk crosses a marsh, leading to a picnic area and the site of an abandoned hotel. Continue straight to reach the ice caves, following the new trail created in part with the Washington Trail Alliance.

Enjoy the caves and Big Four mountain where the trail ends at circle of rocks. This is the optimal site to safely enjoy the caves.

Highway 2/Stevens Pass

My dad and Dave both acquired ski passes to Stevens Pass last year. Sora and I would tag along occasionally, not to ski, but to investigate the nearby snowshoe trails. Due to the location of the following two snowshoe hikes, avalanche safety is a concern, so be sure to check conditions at the NW Avalanche Center before heading to the trail head.

Skyline Lake

Elevation gain: 1100 feet

Trail distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: Difficult

Pass required: None

Located just across the highway from the main parking lot at Stevens, Skyline Lake is a great place to while the time while your companions are off shussing on the pistes. Because I have not taken any avalanche training courses, it’s also generally a safe place to snowshoe during the winter months, as avalanches are rare.

I’ll start out straight. This is a steep, calf burning effort with 1100 feet of elevation gain in the 3 mile roundtrip hike. The bonus is that because the steep part of the trail is a service road, the snow should be nicely packed for you.

I found locating the trailhead to be a little tricky and it helped me to use an offline mapping app like Maps.Me to help find the way. This is especially helpful if you are the first hiker through of the day and there is no trail to follow.

I happened to visit on a bluebird day and got to enjoy views of Stevens Pass, Cowboy Mountain, and Big Chief. I almost missed the lake at the top because of all the snow. There is a recommended option to continue on to what is known as the rock garden, but the snow was far too deep during my excursion. I found myself crawling up some steep snow banks and Sora was practically buried in some spots.

If you want to give winter camping a try, Skyline Lake is great for beginners and there was even a table and benches carved into the snow on my visit.

Grace Lakes

Elevation gain: 500 feet

Trail distance: 4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Pass required: None

Accessible from the lower parking lots at Stevens Pass, Grace Lakes is another great snowshoe option for those who don’t ski, but still like to enjoy the snow. The trail starts from Steven’s Pass Ski Area Lot 4. The groomed trail is shared with skiers for the first quarter mile or so, until just past the Mountaineer’s cabin.

Keep a keen ear out for quiet skiers rounding corners, especially if you are with your herding dog who likes to chase fast moving objects. Or, if you simply wish to avoid collisions.

After climbing the hill past the cabin, the trail splits. Follow the trail to the right and continue on what is hopefully a Sno-Cat track. 

The snow can be deep and the trail conditions tricky to navigate without an offline mapping app. Again, I’d recommend Maps.Me, which helped me find my way on this trek.

Even on gray days, this hike is beautiful. It’s four miles round trip with 500 feet of elevation gain. There is so much snow and if it’s snowing, it just feels magical. Due to its location from the parking lot and it’s relative ease, I saw quite a few parties out snowshoeing, including one larger group, but I never felt like it was crowded.

The hike seemingly ends abruptly, but it could be that the trail had been covered up by new snow or that it really did just stop all of a sudden. I didn’t find it worth it to go much beyond the lakes, but I never mind being outside longer. Unless my hands are frozen. Then it’s not so fun.

Fish Lake Snow Park

Elevation gain: Varies

Trail distance: Varies

Difficulty: Varies

Pass required: Snow Park Pass

One thing I discovered about enjoying winter activities with a dog, is that if you want to try cross country skiing, it’s a bit difficult. Since the trails are generally groomed to perfection, dogs are not often allowed on nordic trails.

So I had to search quite extensively to find some spots where we could take Sora. One such spot was the Fish Lake Snowmobile area, just a short drive from Lake Wenatchee. Dogs are allowed to travel along the snowmobile routes, which are plowed and generally easy for skiing. There are miles and miles of trails and loops and places to enjoy on these trails.

The important key is to keep a ear out for approaching snowmobiles and your dog close by if they are off leash. We had plenty of spills due to our lack of skill and also our attempt to grab Sora and keep her from the snowmobiles. The safest bet is to use a hands-free leash like the Ruffwear Slackline that we love.

See our review for the Ruffwear Slackline leash here.


Hiking near Duvall? You bet! When some friends and I were searching for an easy, snow free hike located in between Seattle and the Everett area, we were surprised when our results lead us here. The small town is quite cute and has a great post weekend hike brunch spot called The Grange.

Cherry Creek Falls

Elevation gain: 450 feet

Trail distance: 5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Pass required: None

Even on a dry weekend, the foot traffic at Cherry Creek Falls is sparse, mostly catering to locals who have long known about the network of trails in this former logging camp site. The trail is great for any level of hiker as well as families. Keep in mind that there are some river crossings using log bridges that can be slippery and require good balance. During the winter months, the water levels can be high with rapid flow.

The trail to the star of the hike, the 25-foot waterfall is relatively flat, and saves the uphill for the return hike. After about 1.5 miles of hiking, a sharp turn leads down a hill past an abandoned car that makes for great photo ops. Keep going and cross the river, crawling if you have to and then after a mile or so, you’ll reach the waterfalls.

There is a large sandy beach where dogs can play and include some logs to sit on if you brought your lunch. When you’re ready to return, head back up the trail that leads to a view overlooking the falls and continue following the path to complete the lollipop loop. The river crossing here is a bit easier and there are generally nice walking sticks left behind by other hikers.

Gear You’ll Need for Winter Hiking

For your Dog

Warm Jacket

Sora never got cold, so we didn’t have to worry about jackets for her. Laila, on the other hand, has a much shorter coat. We have been using the Kurgo Loft Jacket which works great for our needs. If your dog has a tendency to feel really cold, something with a bit more cover like the Hurtta Extreme Warmer should do the trick. Got a small dog with jacket needs? Check out my friend You Did What with Your Wiener for best jackets for small and hard-to-fit dogs.

Paw Protection

Again, Sora never had issues with snow getting caught in her paws or needs to protect her feet, so we didn’t have to worry there, either. What can we say, she was a tough pup. For those whose dogs do need paw protection, a safe bet are the Ruffwear Polar Trex booties. The Vibram sole provides traction, and the insulated softshell fabric offers breathable, weatherproof protection in cold and inclement weather. My friend Robin Ventures has the small, hard-to-fit dogs covered here.

If you don’t need booties, but just need to keep those ice chunks from forming in your pups paws, everyone across all the dog Facebook groups and Instagram photos swears by Musher’s Secret. The wax-based salve protects paws against hot pavement, sand, and ice and salt.

Eye Protection

You  see Sora sporting her RexSpecs quite often on this blog. That’s because like humans, dogs need eye protection, too. On sunny winter days, the reflection off the white snow can cause eye injuries. Plus, you may likely be at altitude, which adds an additional factor to cause eye damage.

To learn more about sun and eye protection for dogs, read our detailed post on the topic.

For the Humans

Traction Devices

On most of these hikes, you’ll need a set of traction devices to keep from slipping on the ice and snow. I don’t have a pair of my own and was able to borrow a couple different pairs from friends last year. I found that both the Kahtoola MICROspikes and the Hillsound Trail Crampons did the job. They were fairly easy to put on and I felt completely confident walking over slippery surfaces without worry.

Snow Shoes

I used an old pair of snowshoes I had inherited from Cabela’s long, long ago. They worked fine, but after snowshoeing with friends and seeing their set up, I made a point get a new pair for future snowshoeing adventures. I wasn’t able to get a pair before leaving on our trip, but I’ve had my eye on a couple, like the MSR Evo (both men and women) or the Atlas Elektra Rendezvous, which are specifically designed for women. REI offers a helpful guide for choosing the right snowshoes for you.


I love, love, love the Washington Trails app and website. It is one of the very best hiking resources around for Washington, and in generally, really. The non profit organization is responsible for trail maintenance throughout the state, strategic planning for trails, and educational programs. The app allows users to save hikes into their “backpack,” which are then available offline, submit new trip reports, sync between the app and the site, view user photos, and more.

Maps.ME is our go to offline mapping source. We’ve used it on hikes around the world, throughout our cycling journey, and for driving directions. Simply download the region you will need for your trip (i.e. the State of Washington), and never (or at least rarely) get off track again.

The NW Avalanche Center is the source to check before embarking on any sort of winter excursion. Avalanches are prevalent in the Cascades and people are caught in them every year. Check the conditions before making plans and again the morning before departing. Call the forest station if you have doubts.

The center also offers basic avalanche safety classes for free in Seattle. For more in depth and hands-on classes, the center has a list of courses offered by local providers in both Washington and Oregon, starting at $150, depending on the course.

Recreation passes and permits are required at many trailheads in Washington. While most require the NW Forest Pass ($30/annual), which is also good in Oregon, state parks require a Discover Pass ($30/annual), and some winter parks require the Sno Pass ($40/season or $20/day).

The rules can be confusing during the winter months, so see this handy page on the WTA website for more information.