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 hop over to Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island for its charming Winter in the Woods experience for families.
I have two young kids and we're always eager for nature fun, so we went to give it a try. Bloedel Reserve is a beautiful 150-acre green space situated on the north end of Bainbridge Island. The grounds include manicured gardens, natural Northwest landscapes and forest.
We pre-purchased ferry tickets (no reservations are available for the Seattle-to-Bainbridge route, but advance purchases save time and contact at the tollbooth) and stayed in the car on the boat. Not only did this reduce our virus transmission risk, but it also meant I was the only passenger deafened by my kids’ loud rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
We showed up at Bloedel Reserve almost on schedule for our pre-booked 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 for 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 guest house. Trail features such as water views, bridges and a birch grove helped keep them interested in between stops.
Those of us craving human connection from a distance will appreciate the Community Wishing Tree 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 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. 4, 2021, through Jan. 9, 2022. The reserve is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. (Closed Mondays, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.) Free admission day is Dec. 11 (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.
COVID-19 protocols: Masks are required in indoor areas.
Snacks: Picnicking at the reserve is not allowed, so snack strategically in your car on the ferry or support a downtown Bainbridge business by picking up takeout. Dogs are also not allowed, so leave your pooch at home.
Clothing drive: If you're able to, bring new or gently used winter items being collected for Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center.
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 time to load and unload.
More family fun on Bainbridge Island:
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2020 and updated for 2021.