By Jessi Loerch
If you’re looking for a winter adventure, you can still drive the entire Mountain Loop Highway. The road hasn’t been closed yet for the season.
If you’d like to just go on a mellow winter trip, you can do that. Or you could gear up and drive the entire loop.
Let’s start with mellow. The Ice Caves are a fun trip pretty much year round. Since the road is open, you can drive to the parking lot for the trail still. As of Friday, it was drivable in a passenger car.
It’s a fun trip for kids. I took my daughter, who is 3, out there earlier this week. She loved the boardwalk, with the water backed up by beaver dams running under it. She spent a long time tossing snowballs in the water. There was enough snow to make things interesting, but not enough to make walking hard.
We let her go at her pace, and only made it as far as the bridge over the river. We talked to others, though, and they said the trailer was easy enough to hike in just decent boots. A few people were wearing microspikes, also.
The hike to the caves is only a mile, with minimal gain. They change all year, so seeing them in the winter is always fun.
In addition to the ice caves, there are a few interpretive areas along the loop, as well as many campsites. They’re closed right now, but you can still walk in and have a nice picnic on the tables.
You could also bring sleds and drive until you find a likely looking hill.
If you’re up for a more adventurous, the road is open all the way around. I chatted with a ranger at the Verlot Public Service Center on Friday. He said if you want to drive it, you’ll need to be prepared for winter driving conditions. You’ll want a four-wheel drive vehicle. And, as a precaution, bring along chains and a shovel.
Bring some food and hot drinks in a thermos, and you could make a very enjoyable day of it. I’ve never driven the whole loop in winter. From my summer drives, though, I imagine it would be beautiful.
If you’re going to go, it’s a good idea to call the Verlot Public Service Center at 360-691-7791 or check the road conditions online. Weather conditions can change fast. The county keeps the road open until it can no longer keep up with plowing from the snow gate to Barlow Pass.
The service center is open Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. If they’re closed, the phone recording will mention if the road is closed.