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9 Fun Ways To Get Through a Washington Winter

North America

 

 

Things to do in Washington State in the Winter.

Washington State is one of the best places to enjoy a Winter Wonderland. Snow blankets the conifer-coated mountaintops, while the nearby Pacific Ocean staves off the bitter freeze you might experience in Idaho or Montana. The state comes alive with winter activities, a chance to appreciate a whole different palette in a terrain already rich in natural beauty.

While other nomads flee south during the holiday months, winter in Washington is one of my favorite seasons. Here are my eight favorite winter activities in Washington State …

1. Warm Up In A Hot Spring

Washington’s position at the edge of the Pacific tectonic plate—the famous “Ring of Fire”—gives rise to natural thermal hot springs, heated by magma beneath the Earth’s crust. For my money, there’s no greater pleasure in the winter than hiking through the snow to a steamy pool and taking a hot plunge in the middle of a snowdrift.

 

 

Scenic Hot Springs

Where to get your hot spring on in Washington

Scenic Hot Springs

Discovered during the Stevens Pass railway construction project in 1880, Scenic Hot Springs was abused by skiers for decades before it came under private ownership. Now restored to pristine condition, Scenic Hot Springs benefits further from the restriction to ten visitors per day. Check out the Scenic Hotsprings blog to find out how you can be one of those ten!

Scenic Hot Springs may require snowshoes to access in the winter. But if you brave the heavy snowfall, you will be rewarded by natural hot tubs ranging from 102 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit, perched on the edge of cliffs with panoramic views of snow-capped peaks and fir, cedar, and pine forest for miles.

Covid Update: Due to Covid-19 and Gov. Inslee’s planned state reopening mandate, Scenic Hot Springs is currently closed to the public and most likely will not reopen to visitors until King County has entered phase 3 of the reopening plan.

Goldmyer Hot Springs

Secluded in the Cascades twenty-five miles east of North Bend, Goldmyer Hot Springs is your reward for a 4.5-mile hike through old-growth forest. Named after one of Seattle’s first settlers, the springs are fed by a waterfall that cascades from a 30-foot cave. Skinny-dippers rejoice—nude bathing is allowed here.

Up to 20 people per day can visit the Goldmyer Hot Springs, which range from 104 to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to reserve your spot in advance, as well as obtain the required Northwest Forest Pass.

What You’ll Need

2. Take A Hike

Washington has nothing if not a wealth of hiking opportunities. The fun doesn’t stop when the weather gets cold, either. A whole different side of Washington is on display in the winter months with vistas of deep green, blue, and white that beg to be photographed as much as seen.

Some considerations for winter hiking …

Choose Hikes At Lower Elevations

At higher elevations—the mountain trails that Washington hikers know and love—snow can pile up 20 feet or higher, making trails impassable without snowshoes or skis. Moreover, because a lot of forestry roads aren’t plowed in the winter, the trailheads wont be accessible. Between November and May, it’s usually best to stick to low-lying trails.

 

 

Lake Blanca in late November, before the lake froze over. Make sure to check conditions before you head out on any winter hike. Photo by  Yuriy Trebushnoy .

Lake Blanca in late November, before the lake froze over. Make sure to check conditions before you head out on any winter hike. Photo by Yuriy Trebushnoy.

 

 

Wearing Back Country’s    Cirque Insulated Jacket   ,    Sundial Tight   , & The North Face    Shellista Boot   .

Wearing Back Country’s Cirque Insulated Jacket, Sundial Tight, & The North Face Shellista Boot.

Dress Appropriately

When the temperature drops, appropriate attire becomes a matter of safety, not just a fashion statement. Make sure to dress appropriately for winter hiking. This includes:

  • A moisture-wicking base layer.

  • A fleece or puffy middle layer to keep you warm.

  • A water- and wind-resistant outer layer, like a Gore-Tex jacket and softshell or rain pants.

  • Sturdy waterproof hiking boots.

  • Warm moisture-wicking socks. I always recommend wool.

  • Beanie or balaclava—most of the heat that leaves our body leaves through the head.

  • Waterproof mittens or gloves.

What You’ll Need

For more detailed winter gear and apparel, information check out my top tips for staying warm while camping, or my complete hiking and camping gear guide.

Bring The Right Gear

Your attire isn’t the only gear you can bring to prepare for a safe, comfortable hike. Other equipment to consider bringing on your winter hike includes:

Always Check Trail Conditions & Reports First

Winter and spring in the Northwest are tricky seasons for hikers and snowshoers. Temperature, precipitation, snow conditions, and hazards can change dramatically over a short period of time (Hence, the Ten Essentials). One of the most important things you can do before any hike, but particularly before a Washington winter hike, is to read trip reports for the trail you are headed to. You can find these reports on the Washington Trails Association website and AllTrails websites.

Scroll down to the bottom of the web page and read the recent trip reports. Ideally, you can find a report that was written within a few days of your planned trip, so you get a good idea of how to prepare for your Washington winter hike before you go. Remember that trip reports are written by individual hikers and thus are based on that hiker’s skill-level and experience.

While you are researching trail conditions for your Washington winter hike, you should also make it a habit to check for avalanche risk. The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center is a great reference for hazardous areas.

Where to hike in the winter:

  • Heybrook Lookout

  • Franklin Falls

  • Barclay Lake

  • Sol Duc Falls

  • Hoh River Trail

  • East Peak Rattlesnake Trail

  • For more options check out my list of Best Spring Hikes in Washington. Many of the Washington spring hikes are at lower elevations and might be accessible during the winter as well.

3. Rent A Cozy Cabin In The Woods

Maybe you’d rather take in views of the Washington winter through a double-paned glass window, sipping coffee or cocoa in your robe while the fire crackles in the fireplace of a cozy cabin you rented for the weekend.

Dozens of parks and small mountain towns offer a rich selection of cabins available as vacation rentals by the night, week, even month. You can find cabins for rent on sites like Airbnb.com or VRBO.com. You can find a cabin that is part of a rustic neighborhood, or a cabin secluded in the deep woods with nothing but trees for neighbors.

 

 

Tye Haus  is located in the private cabin community of Timber Lane Village just outside of Skykomish, WA.

Tye Haus is located in the private cabin community of Timber Lane Village just outside of Skykomish, WA.

 

 

Getaway ’s Pacific Northwest Outpost is a collection of tiny cabins nestled in Glenwood, Washington.

Getaway’s Pacific Northwest Outpost is a collection of tiny cabins nestled in Glenwood, Washington.

Where to rent a cozy cabin in Washington

There is no shortage of mountain towns in Washington that are perfect for a little cabin in the woods getaway. Here are a few of my favorite! Plug any of these destinations into Airbnb and find the cabin of your dreams:

  • Skykomish, WA

  • Packwood, WA

  • Winthrop, WA.

  • Leavenworth, WA.

 

 

Chataue Marmot  is located in Packwood, Washington, near Mt. Rainier National Park, the Pacific Crest Trail, and White Pass Ski Area.

Chataue Marmot is located in Packwood, Washington, near Mt. Rainier National Park, the Pacific Crest Trail, and White Pass Ski Area.

4. Cross Country Ski In The Methow Valley

There’s never a bad time to visit the Methow Valley, one of my favorite destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Tucked into the northeastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains, with a much dryer and sunnier climate than the western slope of the Cascades, winter is the perfect time to visit. The Methow Valley is crisscrossed by 120 miles of nordic ski trails, maintained by the Methow Valley Trails Association. In fact, Methow Trails touts itself as the largest cross-country ski system in North America. There are also snowshoeing, fat tire biking, and hiking trails to explore.

 

 

This is the Rendezvous Hut, one of many backcountry huts that you can rent out and ski to along the Rendezvous Trail. This was in April (the last week that the trail was open for cross-crountry skiing. I promise there’s usually A LOT more snow! Photo by  Josh Steele .

This is the Rendezvous Hut, one of many backcountry huts that you can rent out and ski to along the Rendezvous Trail. This was in April (the last week that the trail was open for cross-crountry skiing. I promise there’s usually A LOT more snow! Photo by Josh Steele.

Cross-country skiers in the Methow Valley can expect picturesque landscapes, a peaceful atmosphere and well-groomed terrain with trails for beginners and the experienced skier alike. For strong skiers, there’s even the option to do an overnight hut-to-hut ski adventure along the Rendezvous Trails. This network of backcountry huts allows visitors to pick their way across the valley with a series of invigorating overnight stays, warming your bones after each exhilarating day of cross-country skiing. The region is also a popular backcountry ski area, and is the base for North Cascade Heli Skiing.

5. Try Snowshoeing

If skiing and snowboarding don’t appeal to you, that doesn’t mean that the high elevations in Washington are out of the question. Snowshoes make the impassable passable, even when your destination is under 20 feet of snow.

Some of the greatest views, hot springs, and lodges in Washington are only accessible by snowshoe during the winter, so it’s a great hobby for a year-round outdoor enthusiast to take up.

Plus, it’s relatively easy to learn to snowshoe, compared to the difficulty of learning to ski or snowboard.

 

 

Artists Point at Mount Backer is one of Washington’s best snowshoeing destinations. Photo by  Josh Steele .

Artists Point at Mount Backer is one of Washington’s best snowshoeing destinations. Photo by Josh Steele.

Where to go snowshoeing in Washington

Some of the best beginner-friendly snowshoe trains include:

  • Stevens Pass, just two hours’ drive from Seattle.

  • Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

  • Mt. Rainier National Park. Especially the Paradise area.

  • Crystal Mountain Resort in the shadow of Mt. Rainier.

  • The Summit at Snoqualmie Nordic Center.

  • Artist Point at Mount Baker.

 

 

Getting ready for some cabin time after snowshoeing near Winthrop, Washington. Wearing:  Jacket ,  Beanie ,  Leggings ,  Boots .

Getting ready for some cabin time after snowshoeing near Winthrop, Washington. Wearing: Jacket, Beanie, Leggings, Boots.

6. Long Weekend In Leavenworth

When Washingtonians hear “Leavenworth,” we don’t think “prison”—we think “paradise.” Leavenworth, WA is a resort town that dates back to the timber-industry beginnings of settlement at Stevens Pass. Today, Leavenworth is a playground for adults and children alike, the perfect place to breathe fresh air, kick back, and relax surrounded by the glorious northern Cascades Mountains.

Crafted to resemble a rustic Bavarian village in the Alps, the charming architecture of downtown Leavenworth enjoys soaring, snow-capped peaks as its backdrop, the perfect setting for a gourmet meal or a leisurely day browsing high-end merchandise in upscale boutiques. In December, downtown Leavenworth lights up with dazzling displays of public Christmas lights.

Whether it’s the ritzy Bavarian Lodge, the remote Sleeping Lady Resort, or a secluded cabin at Alpine Lakes High Camp, Leavenworth wasn’t made for cooling your heels in your hotel room (although there’s certainly no harm in burning a day doing exactly that!) Once you’re ready to venture out, a world of winter adventure awaits!

For some summer fun near Leavenworth check out my guide for The Cascade Loop – Washington’s Best Road Trip!

 

 

In the winter time downtown Leavenworth feels like a holiday snow globe!

In the winter time downtown Leavenworth feels like a holiday snow globe!

What You’ll Need

7. Pamper Yourself At A Mountain Resort

It’s not all roughing it in Washington. For people who love to treat themselves, the soaring vistas of the Cascades Mountains and the Olympic Mountains have given rise to an elite selection of five-star resort spas where you can.

You can pass a weekend of massages, pedicures, plunges, and room-service champagne brunches while snow flurries rage outside the massive picture windows of your suite.

 

 

The Lodge at Suncadia. Photo by  Emily Thomas .

The Lodge at Suncadia. Photo by Emily Thomas.

Where to stay at a mountain lodge in Washington

You have dozens of opulent mountain resorts to choose from in Washington. Two of my favorites (that are great for kids as well) are:

The Lodge at Suncadia

Roughly eighty miles east of Seattle, this grand, expansive resort hotel right outside of Leavenworth boasts spectacular northwest architecture and soaring views of the nearby mountains and rivers.

Sun Mountain Lodge

The gem of the Methow Valley, Sun Mountain Lodge is foodie heaven. The farm-to-table restaurant boasts one of the few AAA Four Diamond Awards in the state. It also has an award-winning wine cellar. Or just grab a beverage in the bar and enjoy the spectacular view! In the winter you can utilize any number of snowshoe and cross-country ski trails on the property and adjacent national forest.

8. Go For A Paddle

 

 

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding on Diablo Lake on a calm morning in January.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding on Diablo Lake on a calm morning in January.

I know I know. For most people Stand Up Paddle Boarding is synonymous with sunshine, warm weather, and well frankly…summer. But I have to tell you that of all the potential winter activities on this list, Stand Up Paddle Boarding might be my favorite. And it’s precisely because most people don’t think of it. There are few things more magical than gliding across an empty lake on a calm crisp winter morning. No other people, no motorboats, no kids splashing around in the shallows. Just you and the rhythmic sound of your paddle. I’m tearing up a bit right now just thinking about it!

Of course, winter probably isn’t the best time to try out Paddle Boarding for the first time. You want to feel comfortable enough on the board that there’s essentially no risk of you falling in. That also means diligently checking the weather for wind on the day you want to go out. You’ll also want a personal flotation device, warm jacket, gloves, and a good pair of waterproof shoes (I like to use rubber boots because they make launching the SUP easier). Other than that, try winter Paddle Boarding once, and I guarantee you’ll never think of it as purely a summer sport again.

Where to Paddle Board in Washington

There’s no shortage of easily accessible lakes in Washington that are perfect for Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in the winter. If you’re near Seattle, there’s Lake Washington and Lake Union just a stone’s throw away from almost anywhere. But if you’re looking for more of a wilderness vibe these are my favorite spots:

  • Diablo Lake in the North Cascades.

  • Lake Wenatchee in the Central Cascades.

  • Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park.

  • Lake Cushman on the Olympic Peninsula.

9. Go Sledding

No, you’re never too old. Is there any more primal, childlike bliss than hiking up a hill and sliding back down on a plastic dish, a toboggan, a cookie tray, or whatever you can find?

The wind stinging your face, the rush of adrenaline, the satisfaction of speed … if there’s a snowy hill, a Washingtonian will sled down it with whatever vehicle is available. I strongly suggest that you join the fun.

The beauty of sledding is that it can be done anywhere, with just about anything. Most popular sledding destinations offer sled rentals. “Tubing,” a variation of sledding where you slide down hills in an inner tube, is equally popular. For something unique, there is the luge course at the Loup Loup ski area outside of Twisp, Washington (in the Methow Valley).

 

 

Wearing  Columbia Omni-Heat Boot  up at Stevens Pass.

Wearing Columbia Omni-Heat Boot up at Stevens Pass.

Where to do it!

Some of the best sledding destinations in Washington State include:

  • The Summit at Snoqualmie.

  • White Pass.

  • Hyak Snow Park.

  • Lake Wenatchee Sledding/Tubing Hill.

  • Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park.

  • Echo Valley at Lake Chelan.

  • Suncadia Resort Tubing Hill.


 

 

Winter hiking in Washington State at Mount Rainier. Wearing:  Winter Warm Tights ,  Sorel Boot s,  Arc'teryx Jacket , and Icebreaker Beanie.

Winter hiking in Washington State at Mount Rainier. Wearing: Winter Warm Tights, Sorel Boots, Arc’teryx Jacket, and Icebreaker Beanie.

If you have avoided the Pacific Northwest in the winter because you thought it was too cold, or too inaccessible, think again. Washington in the wintertime is truly a sight to behold, with beauty and excitement around every corner … and we’re not trying to keep it a secret. Grab your camera, your ski cap, and your snowshoes—and come see for yourself.

Please note that this blog post was written in partnership with Backcountry.com and some of the links above are affiliate links. That means I may earn a small commission on any purchase made – at no additional cost to you. You can also use JESS15 to get 15% off your entire first order at Backcountry. (Some exclusions apply). As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. I appreciate your support!

Happy Adventuring. jess

 

 

 

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  1. Julianne says:

    I live in Seattle and love these types of blogs! Always looking for ideas on how to get outside to make the winter more bearable.

    • You and me both! This year has been a really good exercise in looking for more adventures and fun activities to do right here in Washington. . . regardless of the time of year.

  2. O Maximo says:

    Loving your blog more! Thanks for sharing such a good amount of locations here without being boring or too tiring. Your writing just makes me wants to keep reading the whole thing.

  3. Felicia says:

    Thank you! I’ve lived in Seattle for 3 winters already but I still feel like I struggle to plan adventures and get outside in the winter. This list is my go-to for the rest of winter!!

    • You’re so welcome! And don’t worry, I’ve lived in Seattle for about 20 winters and I still struggle sometimes. That’s why I wanted to sit down and write this post. 🙂

  4. Love that you share clothing and accommodations. We have a hard time figuring out accommodations since we like being close to that National Parks but away from people We pretty much used your best hikes in Washington blog to plan our trip. @50stateschallenge

    • Aww thanks Jennifer! I feel so personally invested in your trip to Washington now. I’m so excited for you and your girls. I know it’s been a long time in the making, and I hope you guys absolutely love it.

  5. Kirtan Patel says:

    Amazing post as always, Jess! Practical and easy to follow. Love the Leavenworth shot, can’t wait to visit some day!

    • Thanks so much, Kirtan! Hope your winter is going well. And yes! I hope you can make it out to Leavenworth and the Central Cascades someday. Definitely one of my favorite areas.

  6. Jordan Cargill says:

    Thank you for this amazing write up! Beautifully captured and great recommendations! I can’t wait to put all these suggestions to good use next month for my winter getaway in the mountains!

  7. Pamela says:

    Reading your blogs are wonderful! Unfortunately, not able to travel with pandemic, I feel as if I’ve actually been to the many places you post. Beautiful pics and writing takes me away as if I’m adventuring with you. I save all you blogs in a separate file, so when it’s time to travel I have a wealth of information and ideas. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much Pamela. I love that you save them for later. That’s such a great idea! It will be nice when the world opens back up a little bit and we can travel more. In the meantime, stay safe out there!

  8. Haig says:

    Thanks for the information… my wife and me enjoyed reading everything and heading there soon … we have so many adventures ahead with our new member in the family and want to read everything .. keep the good life you are having …and god bless you ..Thanks for all the insights and tips …

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read the blog post. I really appreciate it. I hope you are able to get out and have some fun with the new addition to your family when you are here.

  9. Maggie says:

    Eep! Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I visit WA a few times a year and will be back next week. Hopefully, I can squeeze in at least one winter activity during my trip.

  10. Kim says:

    Excellent as always! Thank you for making winter seem a little be less chilly with all your great clothing suggestions, and of course your wonderful photos!

  11. Morocco Desert Tours says:

    Thanks for sharing. Beautiful blog.

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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