In late winter, trail conditions can range from a thin layer of rock-studded ice to six feet of slushy, layered snow hollowed out by melt-down channels. Locals dub the latter “Cascades cement.” Call Goldmyer Hot Springs (206-789-5631) for conditions, and if it’s icy, pack Kahtoola Microspikes ($59, 12.5 oz., kahtoola.com). These crampons-writ-small hold firm on icy trails and hardpack snow, and ½-inch, stainless-steel points resist bending or breaking, so you won’t have to remove them to hike over rocky sections. The easy-on, burly rubber bindings grip toe and heel firmly, but are pliable enough to fit a wide range of boot sizes. Conditions more like wet concrete? Find a pair of snowshoes with the perfect blend of float and traction at backpacker.com/snowshoes.
SEE THIS NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL
Equal parts poster boy (to conservationists) and whipping boy (to loggers), the spotted owl claims the ancient boreal forests north of Snoqualmie Pass among its few remaining habitats. Its brown plumage is dotted with white slashes, and just after dusk, it waits on high tree branches for its favorite meal (flying squirrel). A breeding pair requires between 2,000 and 5,000 acres of uninterrupted forest, where it nests at the tops of broken trees, in abandoned northern goshawk nests, or other natural crevices. During the day, look in deep shade high on mature trees to spot one of the estimated 10,000 individuals.
LOCALS KNOW Cascading more than 200 feet over three tiers, Tin Cup Joe Falls is exactly the kind of waterfall that shutterbugs and dayhikers would seek out—if the trail to it didn’t act as a natural deterrent. Route-find and scramble your way to a solo viewing a mile from the Cripple Creek Bridge, which is five miles northwest of Goldmyer Springs. Where two small streams join Cripple Creek, .9 mile up the trail, stay to the right and scramble 50 feet up bare rock cliffs (beware of ice) to find the top two tiers that are hidden from below.