|Area: White Pass Area||Starting Point: Nordic Center|
|Distance: 1.7 miles RT Lake Loop
4.0 miles RT Lake and Waterfall loops
| Duration: 2 hrs Lake Loop
4 hrs Lake and Waterfall loops
|Difficulty Level: Moderate|
|Elevation Start: 4,200 ft||Elevation End: 4,500 ft||Elevation Gain: 100 ft Lake Loop
300 ft Lake and waterfall loops
Trailhead directions: From Morton, follow US 12 east for 55 miles to White Pass. Turn left and proceed to parking area near the Yurt behind the Village Inn Condominiums.
Well known for its excellent family-friendly tracked and groomed cross-country ski trails; the White Pass Nordic Center also offers family-friendly snowshoeing trails. You can loop around a mountain lake or traipse through old-growth forest to a small hidden waterfall.
The Nordic Center with its easy access, marked trails, and fairly gentle terrain makes for an excellent destination for first-time snowshoes and novices, as well as for experienced folks looking for new territory to explore. If you don’t own a pair of snowshoes, you can rent them at the center’s Yurt, open Thursday-Sunday (and holidays) 8:30 am – 4:00 pm. Here you’ll also be able to get a map of the trails, talk to friendly staff, get a hot drink, and purchase your permit for using the trails.
The snowshoe trail begins from the Yurt and is clearly marked. It is absolutely imperative that you do not snowshoe on the tracked ski runs. You’ll cross over ski trails several times-just don’t venture along them as snowshoe tracks damage ski tracks creating annoying and potentially dangerous conditions for skiers.
Follow the main snowshoe trail north crossing several ski trails reaching the shoreline of Leech Lake after .1 mile. While not exactly donning a name that conjures up a warm fuzzy feeling, this 41-acre pretty mountain lake is cradled by big trees and fed by an array of pristine wilderness creeks. When not frozen, it offers good fly fishing for brookies and rainbows. Blanketed in snow you won’t see any leeches-or other aquatic creatures in the lake, but it sure is pretty carpeted in white. Avoid the temptation to snowshoe out upon it as the ice is thin in many places.
Now head right on the Lake Loop Trail along the shoreline enjoying good views east to Spiral Butte. The trail hugs the shore for awhile before darting into a beautiful stand of old-growth Alaska yellow cedars. The way then follows along the lake’s outlet creek coming to the Lake Loop Ski Trail and a bridge at .7 mile. Turn left and staying on the edge of the ski trail cross the bridge and come to a junction.
Time to make a choice; do you want to continue snowshoeing around the lake, or head out to the waterfall? If the waterfall is your objective, turn right and head up a small bluff. You’ll immediately cross the Pacific Crest Trail which may or may not be tracked; and then soon afterward cross the Corral Loop Ski Trail. Continue north across a small opening and then begin traversing beautiful old growth forest. The trail skirts a steep slope and makes one small climb before descending about 50 feet coming to a major ski trail junction at 1.3 mile. Cross the ski trail and pick up the snowshoe trail once more.
Now in impressive forest, follow alongside a small creek coming to a junction at 1.8 miles. Head left first on a short spur coming to a small waterfall in a hidden little gorge. Depending on how cold it is and how much snow is on the ground will make the difference if you witness a sheet of ice flanked in snow, or a tumbling silvery ribbon of water on a small rock face.
Retrace your steps back to the previous junction and continue straight passing through a small frozen meadow before reentering old-growth forest. At 2.4 miles reach the Dog Lake Loop Ski Trail. Turn right and walking on the edge of that trail cross the South Fork Clear Creek on a good bridge returning to the major ski trail junction and snowshoe trail shortly afterward.
Turn left and hike familiar ground .6 mile back to Leech Lake. From here you can continue your loop around the lake or return the way you started from the Yurt. The northern shore of the lake loop is a little rougher than the southern shore, crossing a lot of streams that may make crossings a little tougher in low a snow pack and warming temperatures. If this is the case, just head back to your start the way you approached. Otherwise continue the on loop right primarily passing through shoreline forest before climbing around a steep point near an open talus slope at the western edge of the lake.
Here traverse the open slope above the lake taking in a sweeping view of Leech Lake, Spiral Butte to the east and the White Pass downhill ski slopes to the south. At .8 mile from the Falls Trail junction reach a familiar junction at Leech Lake. Enjoy one last glimpse over the frozen lake before hiking .1 mile back (and slightly uphill) to the Yurt.
– Craig Romano
Trailhead at Yurt: N46 38.379 W121 23.465
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