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Your Northwest Winter Bucket List: Winter Family Fun From A t oZ

Snow wonderlands, sledding meccas, winter hikes and more

Author Joanna Nesbit

Published on: October 26, 2014

Stevens Pass

Winter is on! After last year's tragically snow-free season, the winter of 2015–16 is off to a great start, with early and deep snowfall. But a Northwest winter is much than snow: Here’s your A–to–Z bucket list of snowy getaways, winter hikes, waterparks, indoor playspaces and more best adventures to families.


Washington Park Arboretum | Credit: Larry Howard

Daphne, witch hazel, cyclamen, dogwood, winterberry: From late November to March, the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden at Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum — just a short walk from the Graham Visitors Center — is alive with color and fragrance, the perfect nature outing for a dreary day. Before you head out, rent an Explorer Pack (binoculars, magnifying glasses, activities) from the visitors center.


The largest ski resort in the Cascade Range, Mount Bachelor — near Bend, Ore. — offers 3,683 acres of liſt-accessible terrain in sun-soaked central Oregon. With 10 lifts, a terrain park, 56 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails, snowshoeing, two tubing lifts and two beginner carpets, this friendly ski area, situated in a pristine national forest, has it all, even if you'd rather sled than ski. Kids 5 and under ski free; check out the kids-ski-free program (for 12 and under) when parents purchase multiday lift passes in advance. Stay in Bend or at the family-friendly Sunriver Resort.

Sleigh Rides at Sunriver Resort | Photo Courtesy of Sunriver Resort


Go … Canucks! Celebrate winter as the Canadians do, by cheering on Vancouver’s pro hockey team at Rogers Arena downtown. Buy tickets at If you make it a weekend getaway, ice-skate for free at downtown’s open-air, glass-domed Robson Square Ice Rink (Dec. 1–Feb. 28). Skate and helmet rentals available.
Robson Square Ice Rink | Photo by Denise M (tenize) on flickr CC

Deception Pass

When the high country is under snow, Deception Pass State Park makes a lovely lowland outing for winter hiking. The 4,000-acre park offers nearly 40 miles of trails featuring views of the Olympic Mountains, rugged headlands, tide pools and towering conifers. Try the family-friendly 1.5-mile Lighthouse Point trail and don’t forget your Discover Pass (day fee is $10, or look for free Discover Pass days, such as Jan. 1, 17, 18).


Whistler is on everyone’s must-ski list, and if you’re a Washington or B.C. resident, you qualify for an EDGE Card, which gives you perks on lodging, shopping and food during your Whistler vacation, as well as discounts on rentals and lessons. The big resort fun includes tubing, dogsledding, sleigh riding, snowshoeing and Nordic ski trails.

Fifth graders

Your 10-year-old is a cheap ski date: Fiſth graders are eligible to get a free season pass at Stevens Pass (a partnership with Carter Subaru), free liſt tickets at Mt. Baker Ski Area and — through the 5th Grade Ski and Ride Free Passport program — free skiing or snowboarding at any participating Ski the Northwest Rockies ski area.

Stevens Pass


The newest gondola on the block is the Sea to Sky in Squamish, B.C. — and you don’t need skis to enjoy it. Head up from Vancouver (it’s about an hour away) or on your way to Whistler to get whisked to the top for stunning vistas of Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains. If you have time, walk the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge and Spirit Trail, or rent snowshoes for family-friendly exploring or a toboggan for high-energy fun.

Highwood Lake

At Washington’s northernmost volcano, Mount Baker, sled and tube for free at Highwood Lake, an unofficial sledding area at Milepost 55 off the Mount Baker Highway near one of Mt. Baker Ski Area’s day lodges. The lake freezes to create a bowl rimmed by snowbanks with slopes for all ages. Bring your own sleds and tubes (no rentals available). Nearby, you can enjoy some of Mount Baker’s epic snowfall (it holds the world record for greatest snowfall in one season) at the ski area. In addition to fiſth graders, kids 6 and under ski free. 


Where can you hit the slopes and a waterpark in the same day? Idaho’s Silver Mountain Resort, located in Kellogg (about a five-hour drive from Seattle), delivers snow and surf adventures for all ages with low-crowd skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, the Northwest’s longest gondola (3.1 miles) and Idaho’s largest indoor waterpark — free to Silver Mountain’s Morning Star Lodge guests.

Silver Mountain Resort in Idaho

Jackson Visitor Center

For free snow play, head to Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise, the only place sledding is permitted in Mount Rainier National Park (a pass to the park costs $20 per car, $40 an annual pass). You can also join rangers for free guided snowshoe walks into the hills for ages 8 and up (call 360-569-6575 to reserve). Check for opening dates (usually around early January) and allowable sleds at


Journey to interior British Columbia’s Kamloops for an intimate Euro-style village weekend at nearby Sun Peaks Resort. B.C.’s second-biggest resort aſter Whistler, Sun Peaks is a ski-through village sized just right for families. The terrain is notably good for beginner and intermediate skiers — with expert options, too. And you’ll find every other kind of winter fun imaginable.

Sun Peaks Village


From Hood Canal’s cozy Alderbrook Resort & Spa to San Juan Island’s rustic Lakedale Resort to the deluxe, western-style Sun Mountain Lodge in the Methow Valley, the Northwest’s historic lodges are especially alluring in the winter, as home base for skiing, hiking, beach strolls and more. Find reviews of our favorite lodges here.

Manning Park Resort

Shhh ... Just east of Hope, B.C., and only four hours north of Seattle is Manning Park, a cozy, all-inclusive winter resort that is not well known outside of B.C. or the Bellingham area but offers affordable alpine skiing, outdoor ice skating, sledding, tubing on nearby Gibson Hill and indoor swimming. Try an evening of lantern-lit cross-country skiing on select evenings.

christmas lights at manning park
Christmas lights at Manning Park | Photo by Thomas Quine (quinet) on flickr CC


Head over the mountains towards Naches (just east of Mount Rainier National Park, about 2.5 hours from Seattle) for an adventure at a wonderful, lesser-known ski area, White Pass. The unique locale offers the deep snow of the west side; the cool, dry air of the eastern slopes; and a fun family ski experience without crowds. Also find tubing and groomed Nordic trails. Stay at the White Pass Village Inn condos right at the ski area or roost in Packwood.

Olympic National Park

The Olympic Peninsula is home to Hurricane Ridge, one of only two ski areas in a U.S. national park. With sweeping high-country views, this circa-1960 ski area offers alpine skiing and snowboarding for all abilities. Many families come here just for the tubing and sledding. 

Padilla Bay

Near Burlington, Wash., Padilla Bay Research Reserve offers coastal hiking, an observation deck and the Breazeale Interpretive Center for an educational indoor option (open Wednesday– Sunday). Hike part or all of the 4.8-mile Shore Trail for scenic coastal views and abundant bird life — herons, eagles, brants and falcons — or the Upland Trail through the former Breazeale dairy farm.
Opalescent Sea Slug at Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve | Photo credit: NOAA on flickr CC

Quicksilver chairlift

Hop the 1-year-old Quicksilver liſt at Crystal Mountain Resort, Washington’s premier ski resort. Opening during the 2014–15 season, this chair provides better access to beginner and intermediate runs, a nice step up from the beginner Discovery chair. Tip: Kids 6 and under ski at Crystal for free.


Holiday rinks are open until early January at Bellevue’s open-air Magic Season Ice Arena, Seattle Center’s indoor Winterfest Ice Rink and Tacoma’s outdoor Franciscan Polar Plaza. Further afield, Winthrop’s outdoor ice rink was ranked one of Sunset magazine’s Top 10 in America.

Summit at Snoqualmie

The four ski hills at The Summit at Snoqualmie offer excellent learning terrain only an hour from Seattle. Last year saw the opening of the new Rampart chairliſt, which boosts access to slopes on Summt East, and don’t miss 12 lanes of tubing thrills at the Tubing Center, arguably the best in the state. There is also a new brewery at the pass, Dru Bru, part of a new development near Summit West. 

Tubing Center | Summit at Snoqualmie | Mike Yoshida

Timberline Lodge

Sip cocoa in the yesteryear ambiance of Mount Hood’s historic Timberline Lodge, built in the Depression-era 1930s and now a National Historic Landmark. Then head out to one of Mount Hood’s ski areas, including the Mount Hood Skibowl, home to the country’s largest night skiing terrain and “Cosmic” tubing under lights.

Underwater dive with sharks

For a thrill sure to shake off winter doldrums, sign your kid up for a swim-with-sharks experience at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. Kids ages 8 and up, wearing a dry suit, can get close to sharks in an underwater cage, while kids ages 10 and older (a brand-new experience) can do a dive "Beyond the Cage." Kids and adults ages 15 and older who are scuba-certified can actually dive with the sharks. 

Diving with sharks | Photo courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

Volunteer Park Conservatory

Soak up the warm air and admire the vivid bougainvillea, bromeliads and palm trees at this just-restored greenhouse gem in Seattle’s Volunteer Park. Tip: Kids ages 12 and under are always free, and everyone is free on the first Thursday and first Saturday of every month.

Wings & Waves Waterpark

About an hour from Portland, the ingenious Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark delivers aviation-themed watery fun in its 70,000-square-foot facility. Highlights include “747” slides — yes, they descend from a real 747 airplane — as well as pollywog slides, a leisure pool and the H2O Science Museum. Next door, find the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Courtesy of Wings & Waves

X-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is cheap, excellent exercise, easy to learn — and it gives you an excuse to visit the Northwest’s Nordic skiing mecca, the Methow Valley, a winter wonderland in north-central Washington famed for its 200 kilometers of trails that are free for kids ages 17 and under. Don’t miss the StorySki trails, two 1-kilometer loops with story panels by Winthrop kids’ author Erik Brooks. You can also alpine ski nearby at the unpretentious, affordable Loup Loup Ski Bowl. And for a real wilderness adventure, try hut skiing with Rendezvous Outfitters; team up with family friends to rent a hut as a base camp.

Photo by Joanna Nesbit


For an affordable winter beach getaway, go yurt camping on the Washington coast. Try Grayland Beach State Park for sandy beaches or Long Beach’s Cape Disappointment State Park for a historical coastal fort, lighthouses and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.


Year-round, you can soar through the canopy at Skamania Lodge Resort on a 2.5-hour guided tour of seven ziplines and three sky bridges. On Camano Island, Canopy Tours NW’s tour includes six ziplines, a log bridge and a 47-foot rappel. For a splurge, Whistler offers four tours ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 hours.


And for when you need it ... THE GREAT INDOORS

Then there are the days — because of weather, whining or what-haveyou — when only indoor outings will do. Here are some of our favorite solutions. Visit our Rainy Day Fun page for Details and more.

Museums for free. Most local museums are free at least one day a month (hello, MOHAI, the Burke Museum and Seattle Art Museum), and some are always free (Children’s Museum of Tacoma, Gates Foundation Visitor Center). 

Kid-friendly coffee shops. You get caffeinated and catch up with friends while kids play. Deal? From Vios Cafe in North Seattle to Frog 'n Kiwi Cafe in University Place, coffee shops that double as play spaces abound.

Swimming pools. Lazy rivers, water slides, sprayers, hot tubs, surf-simulation machines: Increasingly, super family-friendly pools are everywhere — the newest are in Rainier Beach and Snohomish. Find the one nearest you by visiting our full list.

Zoos. Winter is a terrific time to visit a zoo — no crowds, new animal sightings, rainy-day discounts, indoor spaces where you can warm up and explore. See Woodland Park Zoo’s visiting cheetahs before they leave, or Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s new tiger cubs.

More ways to wear them out. Your kids have bounced and bounced. But have they tried indoor skateboarding? Or roller skating? Or rock climbing? Find the latest at

–Elisa Murray

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