Guest spotlight: A pup-approved winter hiking guide to the North Cascades

Published February 2021

This winter, many people are looking to the great outdoors for a safe getaway, where they can social distance in the fresh mountain air. In fact, Google’s search volume for “cabin rentals near me” has jumped almost 150 percent year-over-year during the pandemic.

It’s no surprise then that our favorite Aussie (Australian Shepherd, that is) from @house.of.koda and his human, Melissa, were eager to get away to a Vacasa vacation rental near North Cascades National Park in Washington State.

Though hailing from New York, Koda was right at home at Timber Creek Cabin in the town of Index and its surrounding nature. It’s only a half-hour drive from the slopes at Stevens Pass and even closer to some of Washington’s best hiking (as always, be sure to check the forecast and conditions in winter). Lucky for us, Melissa happily wrote about her favorite dog-friendly adventures in the area, along with tips for enjoying them in winter, so read on below to get her inside scoop.

Koda, the Australian Shepherd, poses in his North Cascades vacation rental
Koda, the Australian Shepherd, sits proudly in front of an indoor hammock inside a North Cascades vacation home

We live in Brooklyn, but Koda and I regularly visit my family in the Pacific Northwest and love to get outdoors while we’re back home. While my brother is an avid snowboarder and spends most winter weekends up on the slopes, I prefer hiking the trails with Koda in search of fresh snow. Timber Creek Cabin and the North Cascades turned out to be the best of both worlds for us.

We were so impressed by the thoughtful touches throughout the rental (and Vacasa’s cleaning standards!), we almost—almost—didn’t want to leave during the day. But it was the perfect place to come home to after our adventures and curl up in front of the fire.

Australian Shepherd named Koda shakes for the camera while standing amidst the North Cascades mountains

Here are the the top hiking trails, of varying difficulty, that Koda and I explored during our stay:

Heybrook Lookout Trail:

This short and sweet hike up to a lookout tower with amazing views is right in the heart of Index. The Heybrook Lookout trailhead is right off the side of the highway, so you won't have to worry about driving through much snow. While the trail is only 2.6 miles round trip, it’s steep to get to the top—though well groomed and not too icy, even in the winter months. Your hard work will pay off in the form of gorgeous mountain views from the lookout tower and a relatively easy downhill walk back to the trail entrance.

Barclay Lake Trail:

You'll probably want microspikes for this one, as the trail is pretty icy in the winter, but the overall elevation gain and mileage (4.3 miles round trip) is on the easy side. And, with the right equipment, Barclay Lake is great for all members of the family! You'll get unobstructed mountain views throughout the hike, ending with a breathtaking stroll around the lake itself. I’d recommend a high-clearance vehicle with all-wheel drive for this one, as the road leading up to the trail has a few potholes.

Lake Serene & Bridal Veil Falls Trail:

If you're looking for a challenge and want to spend more time out on the trail, check out this hike to Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls. At 7.5 miles round trip and roughly 2,700 feet in elevation gain, this will give you a better cardio workout than the aforementioned trails. On top of the fitness perks, you'll get to experience the beauty of the alpine lake in the winter. You’ll want microspikes for this one, too, because the trail near the lake can get quite slick in the winter.

Australian Shepherd stands beside a river in the North Cascades

Stevens Pass:

If you want to tackle the 1,125 acres of skiable terrain at Stevens Pass, you’ll need a travel companion to watch your pup, because the resort itself isn’t dog-friendly. However, there are a number of snowshoeing trails nearby, like the beautiful out-and-back trek to Lanham Lake. The trail starts about 5 miles east of the resort and climbs more than 1,100 feet in the 1.6-mile ascent to the lake—a fairly steep trail, so be prepared and pack accordingly. Don’t forget a leash! It’s important to practice good owner etiquette on the trails and keep dogs close by as you pass others.

Leavenworth:

OK, so my last suggestion isn’t a trail, but I can’t end this post without a mention of Leavenworth. The Bavarian-inspired village is a great day trip, located about an hour away from Index and full of so much character. In the winter, it really feels like you've been transported to Europe. I suggest going early on any weekend, because it does get busy and parking can be limited even during the pandemic. Grab a bratwurst to go from München Haus—and a treat to distract your dog while you eat—or snag a fireside seat at one of the various pubs and cider houses that offer outdoor dining in town. The Leavenworth website does a great job of outlining what’s currently open under state guidelines.

You can read more about Koda and Melissa’s Vacasa experience in her blog post: Our Stay at Timber Creek Cabin in Index, WA.