I have to be honest, I debate whether snowshoeing is a good family activity. Sure, it’s great to be outside together, playing in the snow and wandering through the trees. It’s good exercise and good bonding time. Anyone who can walk can snowshoe; it’s technically very easy.
But snowshoeing can be slow and cumbersome, especially for kids. They tend to trip over their own feet when they are wearing those massive shoes (or anytime if we are talking about my kids). Still, with the right preparation and expectations, snowshoeing might just be the perfect family activity.
One of the beautiful things about snowshoeing is that you can wear the snow boots you already have–just strap them into the snowshoe. While I normally buy everything a little big, the right size snowshoe can make the difference between skipping up the trail and falling flat on your face. If your family isn’t totally committed to the sport, rent shoes to try it out.
Some people like to use ski poles, some find them a hassle–you decide. Using poles will give your child a little extra balance. Theyll also give your child something to poke their sibling with.
Like any winter sport, dress in layers and bring plenty of snacks.
Start out somewhere easy, such as an unplowed road or flat trail. It won’t take long before everyone has the gist of it. Then head off into parts unknown. That’s the beauty of snowshoeing, you can explore places your cross-country skis won’t fit or that are too much work to post hole through. Please practice good snowshoe etiquette and avoid stepping in ski tracks if you are on a ski trail.
Bozeman Creek/Sourdough Canyon
As one of the most popular trails around Bozeman, you can expect to see a lot of people here, but it’s a nice easy trail for a first snowshoe outing. Bridger Ski Foundation grooms Bozeman Creek for Nordic skiing, so stay to the side of the ski trail. The bottom section is generally pretty stomped out by walkers, though. Ditch the skiers and dog walkers and explore the area around the creek or off the road on the mountain side.
DIRECTIONS: From Bozeman, drive south on Sourdough Road 3.8 miles from Kagy Boulevard to Nash Boulevard. Turn right on Nash and after .25 miles turn left at the Forest Service access sign onto Sourdough Canyon Road. Drive .9 miles to the trailhead.
WARM UP: Grab a mug of hot cocoa at Storm Castle Café to celebrate.
Hell Roaring Creek
The Hell Roaring Creek trailhead is 18.2 miles south of Four Corners on the west side of Gallatin Canyon. The first 0.06 miles of switchbacks leads to a ridge, but you’re on snowshoes and can climb straight up if there is enough snow. From there, cruise downhill about 0.04 miles to a bridge over Hell Roaring Creek. Cross the bridge and follow the creek north as far as your family’s stamina allows.
DIRECTIONS: From Four Corners, drive south on Highway 191 18.2 miles. Turn right into parking area.
WARM UP: Bozeman Hot Springs
On the way home, take a dip in the warm waters of Bozeman Hot Springs.
East Side of the Bridger Mountains
If you want to make a weekend of it, or if several ten-minute snowshoeing treks seem more reasonable than a half-day outing, rent the Battle Ridge Cabin. From the cabin, you can explore in just about any direction. When you are ready to warm up, turn around and follow your snowshoe-made trail back.
DIRECTIONS: Travel on Highway 86 (Bridger Canyon Drive) about 18 miles from Bozeman to the “Y” intersection. Follow the main road to the left, go 1 mile north, take second left to cabin.
WARM UP: Battle Ridge Cabin
The cabin is about 20 miles northeast of Bozeman in Bridger Canyon. Water comes from a spring 500 feet behind the cabin, there isnt any electricity, but for $30 per night, it’s a pretty good deal. Warm-up around the wood stove with apple cider you heated yourself. Contact the Gallatin National Forest to rent.
For a great pair of boots that work as well with snowshoes as they do for sledding and playing in the snow, check out Keens Kalamazoo High Boot WP. They are easy to put on and fasten with Velcro straps. The boots are packed with 200 grams of insulation and covered in a waterproof upper to keep your kids tootsies warm and dry. They come in three colors for $75.
Snowshoes, are of course, the most important piece of snowshoeing gear. I’ve always really loved Atlas snowshoes. I’ve had my pair since 1996! They are really sturdy and stay on your feet. The newer ones have adjustable heel lifts to save your calves on the uphill. If I ever need another set of snowshoes, I’m going with Atlas again.Shop Atlas snowshoes on Amazon.
This story originally appeared in Montana Parent, December 2013 (p. 53-54)