Credit: Natasha Dillinger
Looking for an outdoor holiday outing this winter break? Swap your sleigh for a ferry (enjoy the lack of peak-season crowds!) and head over to Bainbridge Island’s Bloedel Reserve for its new Winter in the Woods experience for families.
I have two young kids and we're always eager for nature fun, so we decided to give it a try. 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.
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 COVID-19 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 almost on schedule for our pre-booked 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 puddles play and our masks, 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 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: The reserve is open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; the Winter in the Woods experience runs through Jan. 3, 2021.
Cost: Winter in the Woods is included with regular reserve admission. Adult tickets cost $17; military and seniors are $12; teens ages 13–18 are $10; kids ages 5–12 are $6; and children ages 4 and younger enter free. Book timed-entry tickets in advance.
COVID-19 protocols: Timed tickets are required and limited to five per order (and only 12 per time slot). Masks are required for entry and any time you cannot maintain social distance between your group and other groups. Read the full COVID-19 safety info on the website.
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.
Food drive: The reserve is accepting food donations for the YWCA of Kitsap County. Consider bringing a donation if you are able to.
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.