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Snow, Sun, Storms: Four Getaways that Embrace the Best of Winter

Lauren Braden

Published on: January 15, 2014

Boy on beachWith spring break still weeks away, you may be dreading the soggy, grey remaining weekends of our Puget Sound winter. Here’s a little antidote to the winter doldrums: don’t wait to escape winter, try embracing it.

To plan your perfect getaway, first determine what your family would most enjoy right now. Are your kids restless from being cooped up inside all winter? Pack plenty of layers and head straight into the snowy mountains — playing in the cold and snow will invigorate them. Got a weather buff in the house? There is nothing like watching a winter storm roll in from the front window of a cozy cabin on the Oregon Coast.

Are your kids enthralled with nature? The San Juan Islands are both stunning and serene this time of year, with no ferry lines in sight. And the trees at Lake Quinault are always magnificent.

You can’t change the weather, but you can change the scenery. Here are four getaways that embrace the best of winter.

Next: Ski the slopes at Mount Baker


Mount Baker skiingSki the Slopes at Mount Baker
Want a good dose of snow to complete your winter? Baker has lots of it right into springtime.

One of the indigenous names for Mt. Baker is Koma Kulshan, which loosely translates into white mountain with a puncture would on top, meaning its crater, the second-most thermally active crater in the Cascade range after Mt. St Helens.

You won’t see steam pluming from Baker’s top, but you will see plenty of white snow. Low-priced lift tickets and late-season snow make Baker a magnet for powder-loving families. Make the tiny town of Glacier your home base for a day of skiing the slopes or exploring the terrain on snowshoes.

STAY: The mountain has plenty of family-friendly vacation cabin and condo rentals; find the perfect one at or

EAT: Stop at the self-proclaimed “quintessential exotic grocery” Everybody’s Store just south of Deming on your way up to Mt. Baker for dinner supplies like organic produce, wine, cheeses and custom-made sausages (don’t forget the cocoa!) They also make delicious deli sandwiches. Milano’s Restaurant and Deli in Glacier is a favorite hangout for all ages after a day on the slopes—try their homemade pasta dishes and tiramisu for dessert. If the kids just want a pizza and soda, head to North Fork Brewery for a hand-tossed pie.

DO: Go downhill skiing at the  Mount Baker Ski Area, where children 6 and under (and 5th graders – apply here) ski free. Adult lift tickets are $54 all day and youth ages 7-15 are $38. This ski area offers kid and youth ski lessons and features learner-friendly ski runs. Ski equipment rentals available. One of the state’s premiere snowshoe routes, Artist Point, is just beyond the ski area.

Next: Watch whitecaps in Oceanside

Storm-watching on the Oregon coast Watch Whitecaps in Oceanside
Catch the end of storm-watching season from a front-row seat on the Oregon Coast.

STAY: Fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves in one of the cute shingled cottages just steps away from beach at Ocean Front Cabins in Oceanside ($55-$85 per night). The cottages are clean, comfortable and have kitchens, so stop in Tillamook for groceries on your way into town. Many of the cottages boast beautiful views of the Three Arch Rocks sea stacks.

EAT: Oceanside may be tiny, but its few eateries make a big impression. Less than a block south of your cabin is Roseanna's Café where the taste of the ocean is deliciously served on your plate – try fresh oysters, grilled salmon or a steaming bowl of clam chowder, and save room for cobbler made with Oregon berries. Across the street is Brewing in the Wind, the local place for a perfect cup of coffee and filling breakfast.

DO: If the weather keeps you indoors, seize the perfect opportunity to tour the nearby Tillamook Cheese Factory and grab a cone of their house-made ice cream (the free tour is self-guided, daily 8am to 6pm). Just north of Oceanside is the Cape Meares Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge (open daily, 7 am to dusk, no entrance fee) has three miles of hiking trails, including a path to Big Spruce, Oregon’s largest Sitka Spruce tree.

Next: Hug giant trees on Lake Quinault

Lake QuinaultHug Giant Trees on Lake Quinualt
Hike in Washington’s temperate rain forest when it is most verdant— in the rain.

If you can’t escape the rain, you might as well embrace it in all its glory. At the edge of the rainforest on the southwest corner of Olympic National Park lies a large, glacially-carved lake. On chilly winter mornings, a ribbon of fog hovers over the still water. Snow-laden peaks loom as a backdrop, and the shoreline is rimmed all around with tall trees. This is Lake Quinault, and in late winter you’ll practically have its miles of mossy nature trails all to yourself, save for the occasional Roosevelt elk.

STAY: Book a lakefront cabin with a kitchen and rustic woodstove at Lochaerie Resort on the north shore ($140 per night double occupancy plus $16 per person, kids under 2 free). Just opposite sits the historic Lake Quinault Lodge($99-$245), a favorite of families for its grand communal lobby, indoor pool and game room.

EAT: Reserve a table with a stunning lake view for breakfast, lunch or dinner at Lake Quinault Lodge’s Roosevelt Dining Room. Dinner entrees range from scallops to pastas and trend a bit pricey, though the kids’ menu is affordable. Just up the road you’ll find an even greater variety of excellent fish entrees at the Salmon House Restaurant, also served with a lake view, and their prices are more reasonable.

DO: Even toddlers can take a walk through an emerald paradise on theQuinault Rain Forest Nature Trail, just half a mile long. The Quinault Loop Trail is closer to five miles, allowing for a few good hours of easy hiking. After your walk, corral your family into the grand lobby at Lake Quinault Lodge and play a board game together near the crackling fire.

Next: Bask in the rainshadow on San Juan Island

San Juan IslandBask in the Rainshadow on San Juan Island
Explore San Juan Island like a local in the off-season.

If ever there was a family weekend destination to save for late winter, it would be the San Juan Islands. While summers here are stunning, the small towns and pastoral landscapes of the islands possess unique charms in winter and early spring, not the least of which is the lack of tourists. Ferry lines shrink to a trickle, inn vacancy is plentiful and off-season rates are a steal. Best of all, you can escape the rain here because the Olympic mountains create a “rainshadow” effect for the islands. Of the four islands reachable by ferry, San Juan Island is our favorite for a winter family getaway for its dozens of restaurants, great lodgings, and plentiful parks.

STAY: Book a room or suite with kitchenette at Earthbox Inn downtown Friday Harbor ($150-$250 per night). This refurbished motor inn not only has an onsite spa and indoor pool, their jewel-toned pedal cruisers are complimentary for guests to take for a spin around town.

EAT: Overlooking the harbor near the ferry landing is Downriggers, where entrees range from local seafood to chicken tenders and kids will love watching the boats come in and out of the harbor. For an affordable lunch or dinner try inspired Mexican fare like chipotle red snapper tacos or kale and cheese empanadas at Pablito’s Taqueria.

DO: Take a hike! Kids will love exploring the tidepools and interpretive nature trails at San Juan Island National Historical Park. On the island’s west shore, Lime Kiln State Park is known as a great spot to see passing orca whales, but it also boasts 1.6 miles of hiking trails through a hillside forested with madrona trees. Kids will learn all about the amazing orcas at The Whale Museum (open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., admission $3-$6, kids under 5 free).

Lauren Braden is a Northwest writer with a focus on recreation and local travel; she was formerly the communications director for Washington Trails Association, where she wrote about local hiking for nine years. She blogs at

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