Snowmobiling roared into popularity in the 1970s and has grown from a fringe hobby into a mainstream winter pastime.
An estimated 10 million snowmobilers live in North America, and there are more than 100,000 miles of signed, groomed trails in the United States - twice as many miles as the entire interstate highway system.
Snowmobiling is easy and fun. Today’s snowmobiles offer improved riding comfort, reliability and performance.
Snowmobilers receive a unique feeling of floating over the snow. With effortless travel, riders can cover a greater distance, see more winter landscape and reach more remote locations than a cross-country skier or snowshoer.
Wildlife watching and the ability to go ice fishing in remote alpine lakes are some of the benefits of snowmobiling. Riders should carry binoculars and cameras with telephoto lens to capture the special moments and to view animals from a distance.
Many vacationers heading to alpine ski resorts are including a day of snowmobiling in their plans. Rentals are becoming more widely available, and generally include a helmet and trail map. Boots, gloves and snow suits are often available for an additional fee.
Rental companies may offer guide service for an additional charge. The guides are trained in avalanche recognition and rescue and in first aid. Companies providing sleds in avalanche-prone regions generally provide complimentary avalanche beepers for each person.
Snowmobiling and lodging (sled & bed) packages have gained popularity in recent years in the United States and Canada. Some mountain lodges that traditionally closed for the winter months because of deep snow and poor road access by wheeled vehicles are now remaining open to provide lodging for snowmobilers.
Here is a small selection of popular Northwest snowmobiling areas within a day’s drive of Spokane.
Montana is fast becoming the snowmobiling capital of the West. The Montana Snowmobile Association has developed a vast trail network of over 3,000 miles.
Big Sky snowmobilers can visit ghost towns, sled across stretches of frozen lakes, stop at natural hot springs for a relaxing soak and climb to the tops of ski resort mountains.
The Lolo Pass Winter Sports Area is located at the Idaho-Montana border on Highway 12, about 45 miles southwest of Missoula.
There are more than 150 miles of groomed snowmobiling trails in the Bitterroot Mountains that can be accessed from the winter park. A visitor center is open Friday through Monday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The center sells Park ‘N Ski permits and has trail maps and general information. A warming hut is open during the same hours.
For more information on trail conditions and avalanche-prone areas, call the Powell Ranger District at (208) 942-3113.
Lolo Hot Springs Resort is a popular destination for snowmobilers. It is located on Highway 12 about six miles from the pass. Snowmobile rentals at the resort are $100 for a full day. Guides are available upon request. (406) 273-2290.
The Canyon Creek Trail System is located north of Columbia Falls. It offers steep hills for climbing and open meadows for snow play. One trail leads to the top of Big Mountain Ski Resort, where sledders can park their machines and enjoy a hot drink and snack at the Summit House.
Several snowmobile rental businesses in the Flathead Valley region provide day rentals and guide services for either the Canyon Creek area or other trail networks. They can assist with sled and bed packages. Their individual day rental rates are similar, typically around $80.
For details, call one of the following: Adventure Motor Sports, (800) 531-3511; Glacier Motor Sports, (800) 221-5098; and Middlefork Outdoor Recreation, (800) 933- 5133; Snedigar’s Snowmobile Service, (406) 882-4377.
The Flathead Convention and Visitors Association in Kalispell can provide a copy of the Northwest Montana Snowcat Trail guide and offer information on a host of winter recreation opportunities and locations in the Flathead Valley. (800) 543-3105.
The Garnet National Winter Recreation Trail is east of Missoula. Sledding into the Garnet Ghost Town and spending a night in one of the historic cabins is a popular snowmobiling destination. There are about 30 log cabins and framed buildings remaining in Garnet, which is one of Montana’s best-preserved ghost towns.
Cabin reservations can be made by calling the Garnet Preservation Association, (406) 329-3913. Information on the Garnet Resource Area can be obtained from the Bureau of Land Management in Missoula, (406) 329-3914.
North Country Motors in Missoula provides daily rentals and guided tours to Garnet and other locations. The company offers a choice of five models. Full-day rental rates start at $69 for weekdays and $79 for weekends and holidays. “Steep and deep” alpine adventures are available for experienced riders. (406) 728-7537.
The Missoula Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Missoula Chamber of Commerce have information on additional snowmobiling trails and the lodges that offer sled & bed packages in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. (800) 526-3465 or (406) 543- 6623.
For additional snowmobiling locations and their respective points of contact, call Travel Montana. Ask for a free copy of Montana’s winter guide. Call (800) VISIT MT or (406) 444-2654 for inside Montana.
Idaho has thousands of miles of groomed snowmobiling trails throughout. It has about 27,000 registered snowmobiles, but most of these are privately owned, and there are very few rental businesses in the Panhandle.
The Priest Lake area has over 300 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and lots of open areas. The mapped trail network, which almost encircles the lake, has been a cooperative effort by Priest Lake State Park and Priest Lake Ranger District. The East Shore Trail is a good choice for novice snowmobilers because it is well-groomed, covers easy terrain and it does not present avalanche hazards. For trail grooming information and maps, call the Priest Lake Ranger Station at (208) 443-2512 or Priest Lake State Park at (208) 443-2200.
Snowmobile rentals are available from Indian Creek Resort on the east shore of Priest Lake. Vacationers staying at lodges on the west side can receive snowmobile shuttle service with prior arrangements. Weekend and holiday rates range from $85 to $130 per day, depending on model size. Weekday rates are $70-$115. (208) 443-2292.
Some of Idaho’s best snowmobiling can be found on abandoned railway beds, such as near Wallace. The rail corridors extend over Lookout Pass and into the St. Regis Basin in western Montana. Rentals are available at Lookout Ski Area. Guided, full-day tours are $125 per machine; gas costs are not included. For reservations and rental details, call (208) 556-7211.
For additional snowmobiling locations, call the Idaho Travel Council, (800) VISIT ID or (800) 635-7820.
For maps of snowmobile trail networks, call the Off-Road Vehicle Division of Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, (208) 334-4199, extension 229.
Washington State Parks, in cooperation with other agencies and snowmobile clubs, administers a statewide snowmobile trail grooming program that provides over 80 plowed parking areas and 2,200 miles of groomed trails.
The annual Washington State Snowmobile Convention will be in Ellensburg, Feb. 17-19. Call (509) 925-3137.
The Lake Chelan area has over 180 miles of marked, groomed trails. Some of the trails parallel the lake and provide unrestricted vistas of the mountainous upper lake region, which is not accessible by conventional vehicles. About two-thirds of the trail system is along the north shore of the lake. Access points are at Antilon Lake and Echo Valley/ Echo Ridge.
The remaining third of the trail system is along the south shore with the access point at 25-Mile Creek State Park. For trail maps and additional information, call the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, (800) 4-CHELAN or (509) 682-3503, or the Chelan Ranger Station, (509) 682-2576.
Ship-N-Shore in Chelan provides guided snowmobile tours on the Lake Chelan trails. Full-day rates are $150/sled. (509) 682-5125 or 682-8422.
Mount Spokane State Park near Spokane has over 50 miles of groomed trails. A trailhead is located at Kirk’s Lodge, where rentals are available. The rental policy requires that the machines be used only on Mount Spokane. Single-rider and double-rider models are available. Rates are $30 for an hour, $60 for half a day, and $100 for a full day. Renters can receive a 10 percent discount on room rates at Kirk’s Lodge. Overnight rates start at $35. (509) 238-9114.
For trail conditions, call Spokane County Parks Department, (509) 456-4730.
For a copy of the Washington State Groomed Snowmobile Trails guide: Washington State Parks, (206) 902-8581.
For a list of businesses offering snowmobile excursions and rentals: Washington State Snowmobile Association, (509) 382-4368.
For a list of snowmobiling clubs: (509) 529-0043.
For free copies of Washington’s Travel Guide and seasonal Field Guide: Washington Tourism, (800) 544-1800, ext. 101.
The Oregon State Snowmobile Association has planned its groomed trail networks so that they adjoin U.S. and state highways running through Oregon’s mountain ranges. Some Oregon resorts with lodging and dining facilities offer packages for snowmobilers, as well as rentals.
Diamond Lake Resort near Crater Lake has four snowcats grooming over 300 miles of trails adjacent to the resort. Rental prices are $25/hour for a single rider, $75 for half a day and $125 for a full day. A four-hour guided tour to a scenic overlook at the North Rim in Crater Lake National Park is very popular. The trip costs $66 for a single rider. Other guided tours and Trail Mix Packages, which include overnight lodging, for snowmobilers and cross-country skiers are available upon request. (800) 733-7593 or (503) 793-3333.
The Bend region is Oregon’s most popular snowmobiling destination. The Wanoga Sno-Park, about 12 miles southwest of Bend, provides access to 195 miles of groomed trails around Mount Bachelor, which interconnects with other trail systems for a total of 560 miles of groomed trails.
Fantastic Adventures in Bend offers a variety of guided tours, ranging from two-hour to eight-hour trips and overnight treks. A typical two-hour tour costs $50 for a single rider and $75 if the machine has two riders. The full-day trip ranges from $110 to $175, depending on choice of make and model of snowmobile. A customized, 130-mile trip that includes a lunch stop at the remote Elk Lake Lodge costs $130 for a single rider. (800) 449-5640 or (503) 389-5640.
The Moon-Country Snowmobile Club in Bend can provide information on the club’s activities and grooming conditions. (503) 389-5470.
For additional snowmobiling locations and names of local snowmobile clubs, call (503) 820-3366 (days) or 820-4421 (evenings).
For a winter guide to Oregon recreation, call Oregon Tourism, (800) 547-7842 for out-of-state calls and (800) 543-8838 for in-state.
British Columbia has over 30 snowmobile clubs in its federation. The clubs represent geographical areas and buy their own groomers. Government grants and lottery money help support the efforts of the British Columbia Snowmobile Federation. No grooming sticker is required.
Revelstoke in British Columbia’s High Country region is a popular destination for snowmobilers. The snowfall in the Revelstoke area can reach depths of 60 feet. The two main areas are Boulder Mountain and Frisby Ridge, both within 10 minutes of Revelstoke.
The Peaks Lodge at Boulder Mountain is a snowmobiling resort. The lodge offers guided snowmobiling packages starting at about $120 U.S. equivalent, which includes applicable taxes, a full day of snowmobiling, helmet, boots, gas and a trail lunch.
The lodge also offers sled and bed packages, as well as packages for snow-cat skiing and heli-skiing. For reservations and details, call Peaks Lodge at (800) 668-0330.
For trail conditions in the Revelstoke area, call the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, (604) 837-4609.
For information on additional accommodations and recreation opportunities in Revelstoke, call the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, (604) 837-5345.
Challenge Enterprises provides guided snowmobile tour packages at the Beaverfoot Lodge, which is a 45-minute drive east of Golden, British Columbia, and a 45-minute drive west of Lake Louise, Alberta. The Beaverfoot Valley has over 300 kilometers of trails and lots of open meadows for snow play. Complimentary cross-country skis are available for guest. A full-day trip includes lunch and dinner, snowmobile rental and equipment (helmet, gloves and boots). The trip price is about $150 U.S. equivalent, which includes taxes. The company also offers customized accommodation packages. For reservations and details on snowmobiling packages, call the Calgary office for Challenge Enterprises at (403) 678-2628.
For additional snowmobiling information call the High Country Tourism Association in Kamloops at (604) 372- 7770 or British Columbia tourism at (800) 663-6000.
Kananaskis Country is a 1,600-square-mile region in southwestern Alberta. It is owned and managed by the Alberta government for the purpose of providing four-season recreation opportunities. Two of the most popular snowmobiling trail networks in K-Country are Cataract Creek and McLean Creek.
RWH Recreation is based in Calgary and offers guided tours of the Cataract Creek area, which is about a 90-minute drive from Calgary. Ground transportation is available for air passengers flying into Calgary. The full-day tour price starts at about $130 U.S. equivalent for one person. The price per person decreases for each additional snowmobiler to the group. The rate includes applicable taxes, equipment rental and ground transportation from Calgary. (403) 253-9697.
For maps and additional snowmobiling locations in K-Country, call Kananaskis Country at (403) 297-3362 or Alberta tourism at (800) 661-8888.
For snowmobiling trail conditions in Zone 4 (eastern slopes of Canadian Rockies), call (403) 932-7187.
For information on regional snowmobiling clubs, call the Alberta Snowmobile Association at (403) 791-9938.
MEMO: Winter Recreation Guide pull-out section