If silence is golden, then the cross-country trails of Washington's Wind River Winter Recreation Area are the mother lode. The scolding of a chestnut-backed chickadee and the croaking of a curious raven are often the loudest sounds you'll hear when skiing these trails in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, 30 miles north of the Columbia Gorge.
The gently rolling terrain, weekly grooming, and loops of varying lengths and difficulty make the Wind River trails ideal for nordic skiers of all abilities. Sno-Park Permits ($9 daily for Washington residents and $3 daily for Oregon residents) are required and can be purchased at Washington and Portland-area convenience stores.
Beginners can ski snow-covered Forest Road 3053 to the edge of McClellan Meadows. For a bit more of a challenge, try the 3.9-mile Trail 148-Trail 150 loop, which has lots of ups and downs and passes through all three of the recreation area's Sno-Parks. If you're looking for a good workout, try the 10.3-mile Hardtime Loop, with plenty of long hills and occasional views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Saint Helens. But the generally low elevation of Wind River trails can mean fickle snow conditions, so contact the Mt. Adams Ranger District ( www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/winter or 509/395-3400) before you go.
At the end of the day, stop in Stevenson at Walking Man Brewing ($; dinner Wed-Sun; 240 S.W. First St.; 509/427-5520). The wide array of beers ― including the Homo Erectus Imperial IPA ― is far from pedestrian. Accompany an aprées-ski ale with a black-pesto pizza (made with black olives) for a justly deserved carbo binge.
If your snowy exertions have left you aching, head to Bonneville Hot Springs Resort (1252 E. Cascade Dr., North Bonneville; www.bonnevilleresort.com or 509/427-9720), 8 miles west of Stevenson off State 14, where the landscape is lush even in February. Here, for $10, you can soak your sore muscles in the treated mineral water of the outdoor hot tub and swim in the dramatic indoor pool.
The Wind River Winter Recreation Area's Sno-Parks are 60 miles east of Vancouver, WA. From the Bridge of the Gods, go east on State 14 to Carson, then head north 30 miles on Wind River Rd. (Forest Rd. 30) to the recreation area.