Credit: Natasha Dillinger
Looking for an outdoor holiday outing with kids this winter? Swap your sleigh for a ferry (enjoy the lack of peak-season crowds!) and sail over to Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island to enjoy its charming Winter in the Woods experience for families.
Bloedel Reserve is a beautiful 150-acre greenspace situated on the north end of Bainbridge Island. The grounds include manicured gardens, natural Northwest landscapes and forest. The reserve debuted Winter in the Woods in 2020, and it’s back for a third season, operating Dec. 1, 2022, to Jan. 8, 2023.
My two young kids and I are always eager for nature fun, so we went to check it out.
We pre-purchased ferry tickets (no reservations are available for the Seattle-to-Bainbridge route, but advance purchases save time) and waved goodbye to Seattle as we headed across the water.
We showed up at Bloedel Reserve almost on schedule for our prebooked Winter in the Woods time slot. I chose a weekday morning to avoid crowds, and the parking lot was only about half full.
Into the woods
After donning our rain gear in anticipation of puddle play, we headed off to explore. Sturdy strollers could handle most parts of the trail, which alternates between pavement and mulch, and covers about a mile through the highlights of the reserve space.
Charming snow people, mushrooms and reindeer greeted us around every corner. Crafted out of fallen trees and greenery from around the grounds (we also noticed a couple of live deer munching on grass), these characters clearly got the creative juices flowing in the staff who created them. I especially liked the hula dancers with cedar-bough skirts and the carolers wearing birch-bark fascinators.
My daughter enjoyed counting how many different colors of gloves the snow people were wearing, while my toddler son was delighted by surprise snow people peeking out beside the reflection pool and Japanese guesthouse. Trail features such as water views, bridges and a birch grove helped keep them interested in between stops.
The Community Wishing Tree is stationed near the main residence. Families can stop by a mailbox to grab an individually wrapped wooden ornament and pencil. We wrote our holiday wishes on the ornaments and then placed them on the tree.
I was surprised and touched by all of the selfless wishes we saw hanging there. One child wished to be a better role model for her younger sister, while another hoped that all families would have a warm place to live.
We explored the preserve for about 90 minutes, although I could have spent much more time roaming other trails. After a quick stop in the single-occupancy restrooms, we had just enough time to pick up a takeout snack at Blackbird Bakery before boarding our Seattle-bound ferry.
If you go …
When: Winter in the Woods runs Dec. 1, 2022, through Jan. 8, 2023. The reserve is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. It’s closed Mondays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Creativity Day day is Saturday, Dec. 10, when children ages 11 and younger enter free (though you must still book timed-entry tickets in advance).
Cost: The Winter in the Woods experience is included with regular reserve admission. Adult tickets cost $20; military and senior tickets cost $15; teens ages 13–18 are $10; kids ages 5–12 are $5; and children ages 4 and younger enter free. Book timed-entry tickets in advance.
Snacks: Picnicking at the reserve is not allowed, so snack strategically in your car on the ferry, or support a downtown Bainbridge business with a lunch or snack stop. Dogs are also not allowed, so leave your pooch at home.
Getting there: Seattle-area families will likely take the Bainbridge–Seattle ferry line and can check schedules here. Remember to allow a buffer for your reservation — the crossing takes about 35 minutes, plus extra time to load and unload. South Sound families can drive north across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and reach Bainbridge Island by bridge.
More family fun on Bainbridge Island:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2020 and updated for 2022.