Compiled by Peter Bauer, photos by Gordon Congdon**
Winthrop ‘Town’ Trailhead. This trailhead is located on the far side of the bridge crossing the Methow River on the southeast edge of downtown Winthrop. Turn onto Twin Peaks Road and look for trailhead on your right. You can use the tours below to ski toward or to Sun Mountain.
Intermediate Tour and Advanced Tour (16 km and 26.5 km respectively)
- Start on the Community Trail bordering the Methow River, then turn left after about 1.5 kilometers onto the Winthrop Trail.
- Cross the Twin Lakes Road after another 1.1 km. If you’re doing the Intermediate Tour, do both the Bitterbrush and Barnsley Lake loops — they have nice open views and fun rolling terrain with a few steep sections. If you’re doing the Advanced Tour, you may want to save your energy for the climbing up higher and just remain on the Winthrop Trail.
- After the loops, continue along the Winthrop Trail for 0.6 km and re-cross the Twin Lakes Road again. Now climb steadily through the woods for 1.7 km.
- At the next intersection, the Intermediate Tour turns right onto Power’s Plunge. The Advanced Tour, however, goes straight at this intersection. Remain on the Winthrop Trail for 2.7 km (uphill), then follow Cabin 1.4 km (uphill), and finally take Chickadee 0.3 km to reach the Chickadee Trailhead. Reaching the very top of Sun Mountain is another 2.5 km farther (follow Beaver Pond, Short Cut, and Sunnyside). Return to the intersection at the start of this bullet by retracing your route.
- Head down Power’s Plunge on a thrilling but not overly difficult descent.
- Intersect the Community Trail after 2 km, turn right, and ski 4.6 km of flat terrain back to the Town Trailhead.
- Total distance of the Intermediate Tour with the Bitterbrush and Barnsley loops included is 16 km (the route can be shortened about 3.5 km by not doing the loops and just remaining on the Winthrop Trail leading up to Power’s Plunge). Total distance of the Advanced Tour to the top of Sun Mountain is 26.5 km.
- Trail map for this tour.
Chickadee Trailhead. This trailhead west of Winthrop is reached by driving southeast out of downtown Winthrop on Riverside Street (Highway 20). Immediately after crossing the bridge over the Methow River, veer right onto Twin Lakes Road. Follow the Twin Lakes Road for 3.1 miles and then turn right onto the Patterson Lake Road. Follow this for another 5.4 miles to the trailhead. The Chickadee Trailhead and warming hut is the starting point for all the Sun Mountain tours described below. See a trail map of the area.
Wolf-Fox-Beaver: Easy tour (9 km)
Leave the Chickadee Warming Hut skiing along Little Wolf. This is mainly flat ground for 2.5 kilometers. At the end of Little Wolf, tack on the Aqua Loop (2.2 km) for a little more rolling terrain. Return via Lower Fox and Beaver Pond. The loop is about 9 km long, and follows wide trails that are predominantly wooded.
Wolf-Meadownlark-BlueJay: Intermediate Tour (13 km)
- Warm up to the day by heading out of the Chickadee Warming Hut along Little Wolf and skiing a total of about 0.8 km to the intersection with Overland.
- Turn left and follow Overland 1.4 km to the Thompson Road. Turn right onto the road and (ugh) climb steadily up the Thompson Road for 1.3 km to the Meadowlark Intersection.
- Turn left onto Meadowlark and follow this entertaining trail with its views and undulations a total of 3.9 kilometers.
- At the intersection with Blue Jay, turn left and ski this fun and scenic trail 3.1 km until it merges with Meadowlark again.
- Follow Meadowlark back to the Thompson Road (1.4 km), turn right and make the quick descent along the road back to the Chickadee Warming Hut (1 km).
Sun Mountain Perimeter: Advanced Tour ( 23 km)
- Begin at the Chickadee Trailhead, ski up Thompson Ridge, a 6.1 km grinding climb, the second hardest in the entire system.
- The road is wide and often has the best grooming in the entire system, which makes up some for the relentless grade. In fast snow, the climb can be fun.
- Ski to the end and turn down Meadowlark for a fun whoop-de-doo descent. After all that climbing, you’d think it would all be descending, but the trail throws in some short, steep climbs.
- After 2.8 km, turn right at the junction with Blue Jay and ski 3.1 km until this trail rejoins Meadowlark. There are views to the northeast across the Methow Valley.
- After rejoining Meadowlark, enjoy a fast, rolling descent for 1.2 km to Lower Inside Passage and turn right here.
- Rush downhill along the switchbacks of Lower Inside Passage until it dumps you out on Thompson Ridge Road a short distance above Chickadee.
- If time is short, you can return to the car here. To complete this Perimeter Tour, however, take Overland for 1.6 km to Little Wolf and follow it 1.1 km to the connector with the Homestead Trail.
- Drop down to the Hough Homestead (bathrooms here and by Chickadee Warming Hut) and then head out Sunnyside, which gives you nice views of a beaver pond and surrounding foothills.
- Stay on Sunnyside for nearly 3 km and, as you climb to Sun Mountain Lodge, you’ll see Patterson Lake laid out below you.
- Stop at Sun Mountain Lodge to enjoy the views from their deck.
- Start the return by retracing Sunnyside for 1.3 km and then turn left and descend rapidly to Beaver Pond via the Short Cut Trail.
- Finish the tour off by following Beaver Pond 0.8 km to the Chickadee Trailhead.
- In total this tour is 23 km long. If you want to take on a really masochistic version of this tour that adds another 21 km to the day, start at Town Trailhead and climb to the Chickadee Trailhead via the Winthrop Trail, Cabin, and Chickadee Trail (10.5 km one way). Then do the Perimeter Tour as described. Finally, return to the Trailhead the way you came or via Power’s Plunge. This tour is not for the faint of heart.
Geography & Trail Maps. The system of cross-country trails throughout the Methow Valley is the second largest groomed trail system in North America. It takes some time to get a handle on the monster, but studying the schematic maps prepared by Methow Trails (formerly called the Methow Valley Sports Trails Association) will help you visualize how the different pods of trails piece together. The Sun Mountain Trails are close to Winthrop to the west and the Rendezvous Trails (covered in this guidebook entry) are situated between Mazama and Winthrop but are higher and to the north.
Ski Passes. Ski passes are required on the groomed trails managed by Methow Trails. In 2014, daily trail passes cost $22 for adults (ages 18 to 74). Multi-day passes for adults cost $57 for the first three days and $19 for each consecutive day. Children 17 & under and seniors 75 and over ski free.
Passes can be purchased at the following locations:
- Twisp: Methow Valley Inn, Twisp River Suites.
- Winthrop: Chewuch Inn & Cabins, Methow Cycle and Sport, MVSTA Office, Nordic Ultratune, Red Apple Market, River Run Inn, Rocking Horse Bakery, Sun Mountain Ski Shop, Winthrop Ice Rink, Winthrop Inn, Winthrop Mountain Sports.
- Mazama: Brown’s Farm, Jack’s Hut – Freestone Inn, Mazama Country Inn, Mazama Store, Goat’s Beard, MV Ski School & Rentals, North Cascades Basecamp, Rolling Huts.
About Dogs. Information here about skiing with dogs, the passes required for dogs, leash rules, poop rules, and the number of dogs allowed. Aggressive dogs and dogs that chase wildlife are not allowed. Dog are welcomed only on certain groomed trails.
- Rendezvous System This map has the details about which Rendezvous trails allow dogs (28 km). Access to the dog trails are only from Cub Creek and Gunn Ranch. There is no dog access from Mazama side. A dog pass is required for all the trails in the Rendezvous System.
- South Spring Creek Ranch Loop– located at the Winthrop Town Trailhead
- Big Valley Trail – Big Valley Trailhead (4 km and 8 km loops). No dog pass is needed here. This is a multi-use trail available, free of charge, to all users.
Other Trail Uses. A wide number of trails throughout the Methow Valley accommodate snowshoers (details here). Recently fat-tired bikes have been allowed on designated groomed trails within the system (details here) .
Grooming Report. In winter, read the daily grooming report for all trails here.
**Editor’s Note: The cognoscenti will recognize that the pictures complementing this post were not taken on Sun Mountain, but are from other locales around Winthrop and Mazama. Apologies, we’ll add more place-appropriate photos as we receive quality images taken on location. (Yes, that is a hint).
This post was originally published on 11/23/15.