When the Big Gray sets in, the best way out is up.
By Melissa Queen
In the Pacific Northwest some might call it the Big Dark – those winter days when it feels like you live more of your day-to-day life in the dark than in the daytime. Across these parts of Eastern Washington, it can feel like the Big Gray may be a more apt description in the winter months, especially when the hours of sunlight are already sparse and on gray winter days when the sun stays hidden behind the fog.
But just a small change in elevation can change one’s perspective towards this region’s winter weather. Quite often it seems that when thicker fog is down in the valley, the bluer the skies and the brighter the sun up in the Blue Mountains.
With a day trip up to Horseshoe Prairie Nordic Ski Area to go snowshoeing, spirits lift as soon as the road begins lifting out of the valley fog.
Horseshoe Prairie Nordic Ski Area has a multitude of trail options for both cross-country skiers as well as snowshoers. The Tamarack Trail – a beginner’s level 2.1 mile groomed loop – works well for either cross-country skiers or snowshoers, as well as for folks with a blend of skill levels.
The Tamarack Trail has a lower gradient, running along what are forest service roads beneath all the snow. It is also wide and well-marked for easy navigation. All this makes it a great beginner’s trail.
And after a day out in the cold, it’s nice to have a place to warm up and dry out. For those who may be participating in Dry January, Walla Walla’s FVC Gallery is a charming spot to stop in once you’ve made it back into town. FVC Gallery is an art gallery and cafe, and their drink menu features a selection of zero-proof cocktails and nonalcoholic beers, in addition to coffee. While the cafe typically closes at 4pm, FVC Gallery often hosts later evening events on weekends, so check out their Instagram for what’s coming up.
Things to know before you go:
- Access to the snowshoe and Nordic ski trails is in an Oregon Sno Park recreation fee area. The fee is $4 per vehicle for day use, but passes have to be acquired ahead of time because there is no payment dropbox on site. Accepted Sno-Park passes for Horseshoe Prairie day use can be purchased at several locations around Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater, including the Milton-Freewater Ranch and Home.
- If you pack it in, pack it out. If you aren’t already, get familiar with these basic seven principles of Leave No Trace for protecting and preserving natural landscapes.
- Winter recreation is the most enjoyable when everyone’s enjoying it. If this is your first time in a nordic ski area, learn how to share the snow with others by familiarizing yourself with winter trail etiquette.
From Walla Walla, drive southwest on WA-125. At the Washington-Oregon state line, the highway becomes OR-11. Continue heading south through Milton Freewater and on towards Weston, Oregon. From Weston, go east on OR-204 for 26 miles. The Horseshoe Prairie trailhead will be on the right, but vehicle parking is past the trailhead on the left in the Andies Prairie Sno-Park parking lot.