big four ice caves snowshoe

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With winter fading in the mountains I decided to go to the Big Four Ice Caves for some snowshoeing. I headed up to Mountain Loop Highway for an easy track to follow. To my surprise the road was plowed the highway, and yet the gate still remained locked. Undeterred, I headed out walking along the highway.

While I was disappointed that the highway had been plowed I was excited to sit below Big Four and eat some lunch. Unfortunately, I had to share the road with dump trucks, snowplows, and other county vehicles throughout the day. If the road looks plowed, I would not recommend continuing on foot.

big four ice caves picnic area sign
big four ice caves picnic area
looking south from the picnic area
view from big four picnic area
big four mountain viewed from near the ice caves picnic area
big four mountain

Luckily I made it to the Big Four picnic area unscathed, and was excited to see a fair amount of snow. After putting on my snowshoes and walking over to a picnic table, I saw a small avalanche cascading down the face of Big Four mountain while eating some g.o.r.p. An awesome sight, but hearing the crackle of other avalanches throughout the day was a little unnerving as I approached the ice caves.

During the summer this area around the Big Four Ice caves is dangerous enough. If you choose to go closer to the caves during the winter, be sure to bring extra caution along. It should be noted that visiting the actual Big Four Ice Caves during the winter is dangerous and should only be attempted by those with training in travel through avalanche terrain and avalanche rescue. If you are able to follow the trail towards the ice caves, then you can stop where it warns that you are entering avalanche terrain.

big four ice caves snowshoe avalanche area sign
entering avalanche terrain
bridge through the marsh area
bridge through wetlands
bridge over the sauk river near big four ice caves
bridge over sauk river

Above the avalanche area signs, there lies a small hill marked on green trail map No. 110 as “viewpoint”, this is where I stopped. It provided a decent view of where the caves will be in 2 months, and a nice glimpse of some waterfalls starting to build on the mountain’s face. But the journey through the woods also provided a much more interesting walk than plowed Mountain Loop Highway.

The Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe trail is easy, and provided there’s still snow on the highway, it is a great first snowshoe trip with kids or people new to the sport. The road is all but level beyond the gate, and if you go on a weekday than you might find some nice solitude (I saw no other hikers all day). How far you go beyond the picnic area depends on your skill and comfort level. Certainly I will be returning here next year while the highway is still blanketed in white.


After my last try at the Big Four Ice Caves snowshoe, I thought I should return and experience it while there was actual snow on the ground. The road was busy with people sledding at the deer creek road and others making the trek to the ice caves. We were lucky to locate a parking spot. Make sure to come early if possible. The roadway parking fills up fast on a sunny winter day.

Mountain Loop Highway was covered in hard-packed ice with icy-snow in places. I was surprised to see a multitude of people walking to the big four ice caves in boots. Didn’t seem like the safest idea but to each his own. Whether the road is hard-packed or not I would recommend having micro-spikes at least. Slipping and hitting your head is no joke.

mountain loop highway headed towards the big four ice caves
mountain loop highway in winter
small meadow along the side of mountain loop highway
views on way to ice caves

The Big Four picnic area was well covered in snow. However, the covered area with tables was accessible and made a memorable place to stop and take in the views with a nice warm cup of cider and rum. While we were sitting enjoying a brew, 3 Stellar Jays decided to stop and visit us. This made for one of those rare close-up photo opportunities with Washington’s wildlife.

beginning of big four ice caves snowshoe route mountain loop highway
start of the snowshoe route
big four ice caves parking lot
big four parking lot
walking through the marsh area
big four ice caves snowshoe

The Big Four Ice Caves snowshoe is as straightforward as cascade snowshoeing is ever going to get. It’s easy enough for the whole family, but, still provides some resplendent views. The snowshoe made for a great day and would be a great trip for all ages. I even saw 2 or 3 people pulling their kids in a sled behind them.

Depending on who is in your group and the conditions for the year, you can get close to the actual ice caves. I was able to make it to the viewpoint of them at this time that I went there. Be careful and don’t get to close, the Ice caves are prone to collapse and can be extremely dangerous

steller's jay big four ice caves picnic area
steller's jay picnic partner
steller's jay near the big four ice caves picnic area shelter
steller's jay