Winthrop, Washington

No Play Is Like Snow Play in Winthrop’s Methow Valley

The swish and scrape of my skis against a freshly groomed corduroy trail are energizing my soul as I whizz past a dazzling rural landscape blanketed by soft, white snow. I’m gliding across one of the many scenic sections of the Methow Valley’s legendary 124-mile trail system under a vividly crisp blue sky in Winthrop.

Although the trail network is rightfully the most famous winter attraction in this remote valley, the area, which is home to timber lodges, rolling ranchlands, lolling rivers and endless backcountry, has a lot more to offer to those seeking an invigorating winter getaway.

(Please take recommended safety precautions when considering any travel, and call or check online before you go to confirm the availability of specific amenities and seasonal events and gatherings.)

Backcountry views stretch on forever (photo by H. Mark Weidman / Alamy Stock Photo).

Cross-Country Paradise

The main attraction is the network of trails that braid and loop through diverse terrain suited to a wide range of ability levels. They are divided into four regions — Mazama, Sun Mountain, Winthrop and Rendezvous — with the 19-mile Methow Community Trail (MCT) linking the towns of Mazama and Winthrop, as well as the full-service Sun Mountain Lodge. Access is available at any of the valley’s numerous trailheads, and day passes are sold at area businesses.

The Mazama Store, which sells passes and trail-friendly snacks, is a good place to access the MCT, and the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge, about 2 miles southeast of the store, is a must-see attraction for any visitor. Advanced skiers can experience thrills on Jack’s Trail, a narrow path that offers the sensations of skiing down a bobsled course, and the River Run Trail, which offers stunning views of a frozen ice fall on its course along the iconic Methow River.

 Rendezvous Huts (photo by Scott Spiker)

The Rendezvous Huts

Rendezvous huts offers a European-style hut-to-hut experience. The five mountain cabins are spread across rolling ridges, with an average of about 5 miles between the rustic bunkhouses — think bunk beds and outhouses. Reservations are required for these huts, which sleep eight to 10 and include full kitchens (no running water), a wood fireplace, propane lanterns and sleeping mats. You can pack in your supplies or pay to have them brought in by snowmobile.

The Winthrop Rink opens for the winter on Nov. 7, 2020 (photo by Aurora Photos / Alamy Stock Photo).

Snowshoes, Skates and More

For those seeking an alternative to skiing, 24 routes within the trail system are dedicated to snowshoeing, and several trails are open to dogs. When the conditions are right, certain trails are open to fat-tire bikes — find them on the daily Methow Trails grooming report.

Winthrop is home to a public, NHL-size outdoor ice rink (pictured above), open from November to March. Winter play includes open-skate and pick-up ice hockey in the open air, with equipment available to rent.

Snowmobilers can explore the Methow Valley’s terrain along trails and Forest Service roads that lead to high-elevation ridges and groomed riverside wanders. The Mountain Trails Grooming Association shows grooming schedules and trail maps on its website. A Sno-Park pass is required to park at most trailheads.

For a particularly unique experience, head over to the Loup Loup Ski Bowl (open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and select holidays), about 23 miles southeast of Winthrop. The small ski and snowboard hill (300 acres) offers luge-sledding on a gentle 3-mile course, with 1,200 feet of descent.

Oil painter Susan Donahue and woodworker Don McIvor at the Winthrop Gallery

Oil painter Susan Donahue (left) and woodworker Don McIvor are member artists at the Winthrop Gallery. (Photo courtesy of D.E. McIvor/Hinterlands)

Downtown Charm

Winthrop’s western-themed downtown is charming in any season, and snow adds an extra layer of allure. Highlights of a stroll along boardwalk streets include Winthrop Gallery, which showcases local artists’ works, and Rocking Horse Bakery, where you can fuel up for snow play on scratch-made muffins, scones and cinnamon rolls.

For evening entertainment, The Barnyard Cinema (temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic) screens eclectic films and hosts concerts in its stylish setting, which includes lounge-chair seating for about 75 and locally made wines and craft beers on the beverage menu. As always, remember to plan a safe ride home.

–Written by Jeff Layton

–Top image of the Winthrop Emporium in downtown Winthrop by iStock.com/benedek

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey, and was updated in October 2020.

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  • From Seattle: About 240 miles
  • From Spokane​: About 180 miles
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