Land Agency: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Roundtrip: 6.0 miles
Elevation gain: 780 feet
Green Trails Map: White Pass No. 303
Contact: White Pass Nordic Center
Access: From Yakima or Morton follow US 12 to White Pass and proceed north to parking area near Yurt behind the Village Inn Condominiums.
Permits: trail pass required Thur—Sun and holidays (purchase at Yurt) if utilizing White Pass Nordic Center trails
Notes: dogs are not allowed on the Nordic Center’s trails before 3:30 pm
Good to know: dog-friendly, kid-friendly, exceptional old-growth, backpacking opportunities
Located just inside the sprawling William O. Douglas Wilderness, Deer Lake feels likes it’s deep within the backcountry. Yet it’s a mere 3.0 miles from White Pass making it an easy objective for beginning and younger snowshoers. Much of the route is via the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT). The preferred starting point is from the White Pass Nordic Center where there is ample parking. The center offers snowshoe rentals too if you don’t have your own pair. However, if you use the center’s trails on Thursdays through Sundays and holidays, you’ll need to purchase a trail pass. If you opt to start on the PCT where it crosses US 12 at White Pass, it is best to park at the ski area and carefully walk along the road to the trail.
From the Nordic Center follow the signed snowshoe trail north crossing a couple of ski trails to Leech Lake. Then turn right and walk along the pretty lake coming to a junction with the Lake Loop Ski Trail at .7 mile. Now turn left and walk along the edge of the ski trail crossing a bridge and shortly afterward coming to the Pacific Crest Trail at a major ski trail junction.
Head north here on the famous long-distance trail. The way makes a sweeping switchback left and then one right gently climbing up a thickly forested slope graced with old-growth giants. At 1.2 miles cross a ski trail and continue climbing along a gentle shoulder shrouded in hemlocks and firs. At 1.9 miles enter the William O. Douglas Wilderness. Named for a Yakima famous son, Douglas served as an Associate justice of the United States Supreme Court for 36 years; the longest in Supreme Court history. He was a champion of civil rights and the environment; and hiked and rode horses through the 168,000-plus acre wilderness named in his honor.
Continue soon coming to a junction with the Dark Meadows Trail which heads right 1.6 miles to Dog Lake. It makes for a nice alternative approach. To reach Deer Lake, stay straight rounding a small ravine before traversing a short steep slope to a broad ridge. The way then skirts pocket meadows before briefly reentering forest. Soon afterward emerge in a wide open area. Here at 3.0 miles you’ve reached Deer Lake—but you’d never know it in the dead of winter. It appears more like a big frozen meadow. Surrounded by towering subalpine firs the scene is quite serene. You won’t get any alpine views here, but the subalpine forest embracing the lake and open basin blanketed in white is quite scenic.
If you’re savvy at wilderness navigation consider continuing north on the PCT for an easy half mile to Sand Lake. There’s an old shelter nearby that you may want to locate, but you probably won’t want to stay in it. However, if you are interested in camping; both Sand and Deer Lakes make great destinations for trying out winter camping.
Return the way you came. Upon reaching Leech Lake; either retrace your initial approach or turn right and return to the Yurt via the northern shore of the lake. If you opt for this route, it adds a mere .3 mile to the trip and provides nice views of Spiral Butte and the White Pass Ski Area.
Looking for other great hikes in Washington state? Consult one of my guidebooks to get you on your way!