The holidays are behind us, and the gray, cold weather is here. It would be easy to hunker down with a fluffy blanket, in front of a crackling fire, with a book, and hibernate until spring. Or you can go search for snow and make the most of winter. And then of course, come back inside and get cozy. Here’s your ultimate winter fun guide — hot chocolate recipe included!
Chilling Close to Home
You don’t have to travel far with the kids to have “snow much fun!” We’ve rounded up a list of options to suit everyone from your littlest snow bunnies to thrill-seeking teens.
If you’re looking for a close-in adventure that feels a world away, head to Leavenworth.
This faux Bavarian village is beautiful year-round, but only a Grinch couldn’t be charmed by its storybook shops sprinkled with snow. Leavenworth also pulls out all the stops this time of year, with more adventure and entertainment than you can possibly fit in one long weekend. And now that the holidays are over, the crowds aren’t as thick, but the nostalgia is still going full blast.
The Leavenworth Ski Hill, just outside of town, is the place to head for tubing. There are also trails for cross-country skiing, two ski resorts nearby, and multiple companies offering everything from snowmobile rentals to horse-drawn sleigh rides. If the kids would like to get an idea of what Rudolph and his crew do in the “off season,” book a tour of the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. They’ll also get a kick out of the Gingerbread Factory and The Nutcracker Museum.
If you happen to visit during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, you’ll be there for IceFest,which features snow sculptures, games, a snowmobile sled pull, fireworks, and more fun.
If you like a slightly less crowded experience, you can still enjoy a festive atmosphere all winter long. The twinkling Christmas lights typically stay up through mid- February, and the other fun continues as long as there is enough of the white stuff!
Want to stay closer to home? Here are a few more options for family fun.
Shuttle to the Snow
Don’t want to drive in the icy weather and search for parking? The Seattle Ski Shuttle to The Summit at Snoqualmie runs Saturdays and Sundays and picks up riders in Bellevue and North Bend. Round trip tickets are $40. Reserve your spot at seattleskishuttle.com.
Hyak Snow Park
Hyak is less than an hour from Bellevue if the weather cooperates. Note that you will need a Snow Park Permit and a Discover Pass for this popular spot. Regulars suggest you go as early as you possibly can to snag a parking space. You won’t find rope tows or magic carpets here, but you will find a great big hill to sled down on your own sled or inner tube once you make it to the top. This is a multi-use area, so be prepared to share with cross-country skiers and snowshoers, and leave the dog at home!
Hold on tight! The Snoqualmie tubing center features eight or more lanes. The hill is 550 feet long with about 40 feet of elevation. Your tweens and teens will be going so fast, they won’t even have time for an eye roll! You book your time here by reserving a two-hour session, and you will want to do that in advance, online, as times do sell out. While this isn’t a total bargain, it is a ton of fun, and getting everyone off electronics is priceless.
Paradise at Mount Rainier
The snow-play area at Paradise is the only part of the park where sledding is permitted. It usually opens late December, but do always check conditions before you head up. Families with children ages 8 and up may also want to sign up for ranger-led snowshoe walks!
Adventures in a Winter Wonderland
There’s nothing like experiencing the outdoors under a blanket of snow. Ride the Mount Rainier Gondola to the top of Crystal Mountain, snowshoe through old-growth forests, tube down hills under the stars, and more. Here are cool adventures for every kind of winter enthusiast.
Exploring is Easy at Suncadia
When Suncadia Resort and Spa in Cle Elum is covered in snow, it’s simple to get out and explore with rental equipment and activities nearby. Ice skate outdoors next to the forest and beneath twinkly lights at the Village Pavilion. Or, rent cross-country skies and snowshoes and set out on several miles of groomed trails. Want the view without the work? Tip & Lucky, two Percheron horses, will trot you around on a sleigh. And recreational enthusiasts might enjoy fly fishing for local trout at one of the icy streams with an expert fisherman. Warm beverages and snacks are packed for the two- to three-hour outing. There’s also a long drift-boat fishing trip available. But let’s face it: Not everyone enjoys the snow by tromping through it. Take in the winter season cozied up by the fire at The Lodge, or warm up in the hot tub.
Ride the Mount Rainier Gondola
Crystal Mountain is known for its powdered slopes. But if you’re not an avid skier or snowboarder, there’s still a lot to do. Take a scenic ride up the mountain above snow-covered evergreens on the gondola. After traveling about 2,500 feet up, there’s a bird’s eye view of Mount Rainier and the Cascade range. Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant, Summit House, is also perched there, at about 6,872 feet. Warm up inside with hot chocolate or a glass of wine.
Snowshoe Crystal Springs
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Long gone are the bulky, tennis-racket-shaped shoes of yesteryear; they have been replaced by modern, hard-deck snowshoes such as the MSR Denali, which are small and easy to manage. Grab a Thermos full of hot cocoa, a picnic lunch, and head up to the Crystal Springs Sno-Park for a day of adventure and sunshine that isn’t often found at lower elevations this time of year. Located on the sunnier, drier side of Snoqualmie Pass, Crystal Springs boasts approximately five miles of ski and snowshoe trails through old-growth forest and stunning vistas. Many of them can be reached on easy trails with less than 100 feet of elevation gain, making this an adventure perfect for those of varying skill and fitness levels.
Zoom Around on Snowmobiles
There are more than 3,000 miles of groomed snowmobiling trails through Washington state’s Winter Recreation Program. The program offers Sno-Parks throughout the state for snowmobilers to access the trails. For a map of snowmobile areas and more information, go to parks.wa.gov/winter/boundaries. The Washington State Snowmobile Association is also a good resource for rentals, riding areas, safety tips and more. wssa.us
Cozy up in a Mount Rainier Cabin
Looking for a romantic getaway? Quaint cabins and cottages are scattered throughout the Mount Rainier area. Secluded in quiet forests and along riverbeds, there’s a lot of charming getaways to choose from. Some have outdoor hot tubs, where guests can soak while snowflakes flutter down. visitrainier.com
Glow Tubing in Oregon
Over 600,000 LED lights, laser light shows, black lights, and colored lights keep Mount Hood vibrant at night so tubers can slide down the mountain under the stars. There are also conveyor lifts to keep tubers on the slopes. Mount Hood SkiBowl offers the night activity. During the day, visit Frosty’s Playland and the Winter Adventure Park, where there’s a play zone, a carousel, and kiddie snowmobiles. skibowl.com
Ziplining in Whistler, B.C.
Fly above the icy creeks and through majestic old-growth trees covered in a blanket of snow. Whistler Zipline Tours is an epic way to see the area’s beauty. Along the way, you’ll learn about Whistler’s ecology and wildlife. No experience needed. whistler.com
Dog Sledding in Montana
Experience the beautiful, rugged landscape of Montana while being pulled by a team of dogs. Dogsledding is a thrill and offered at several different venues throughout the western side of the state. Yell “mush,” and you’ll be on your way! visitmt.com
Hot Springs in Idaho
Heat things up in the icy cold with a trip to one of the many natural hot springs in Idaho. Lava Hot Springs has five pools ranging in temperature from 102 degrees to 112 degrees. More than 2.5 million gallons of hot mineral water runs through the pools each day before entering the Portneuf River. visitidaho.org
Ultimate Homemade Hot Chocolate
Over medium-low heat, slowly melt 1 cup of bittersweet chopped chocolate (or chips). Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ¾ cup granulated sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Slowly add 4 to 5 cups whole milk and stir. Start with 4 cups, and add more if desired. (This is a party in a mug, so more chocolate, less milk is always my choice.) Bring the mixture to a simmer, but do not boil. Keep stirring. Top with marshmallows or whipped cream; stir with cinnamon sticks if you like a little spice. — danielle kartes
Winter in the Canyons
Escape the summer crowds with a winter visit to Utah’s national parks.
I peered over the ledge into the orange teeth of Bryce Canyon, a cloud of steam emerging from my lungs as I tried to catch my breath in the cold, dry air at this 9,000-foot elevation. It was my first attempt at cross-country skiing, but not the first time beholding those hoodoos. From the rim, the undulating fins and totem pole-esque rock formations are often described like an amphitheater. But dusted with powdery white snow in January, they resemble a massive Bundt cake made only sweeter by the distinct lack of summer crowds jockeying for a selfie with Mother Nature.
Twenty years had passed since I last stood at the rim of this incredible natural wonder, then clad in denim overalls and a white T-shirt. It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and I was stuck on a stupid family road trip away from my friends. As I trudged to the edge for a look, my whiny inner monologue was struck dumb by the eerie beauty of Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos.
Made up of limestone, siltstone, dolomite, and mudstone, the four types of rock erode and weather at different rates, causing the undulating shapes known as hoodoos. Hundreds of yearly freeze/thaw cycles result in “frost wedging,” eventually breaking plateaus into fins; “windows” form in the fins, and finally enough material breaks away, leaving lumpy columns — some with teetering boulder-sized tops like Thor’s Hammer.
The Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles) begins at Sunset Point, and winds down through fins and pinnacles onto the hoodoo floor. Hikers are often bathed in the rock’s rosy glow depending on the time of day. The eastern half of the trail is open year-round, though snowshoes may be needed to traverse through deep snows.
Seventy-two miles southwest, Zion National Park slumbers under a frosty blanket. The scale of Zion’s landscape inspires superlatives like they’re going out of style. It is exceptionally difficult to look up at the striated ridges and not spout poetry or Bible verses in an attempt to strike the proper reverential tone, lest the mountains rise up and crush you with their majesty. Right, so Zion is really pretty.
During the summer, Zion is a zoo — a very hot, very crowded zoo — drawing more than half a million visitors each month from April through September. Compare that with barely 90,000 in January, and the park feels much more peaceful. Cold enough to snow at night, the average daily temperatures in January hover around 50 degrees, making for comfortable hiking conditions.
There were a couple of dicey sections on the Canyon Overlook Trail hike that had me sliding in my sneakers. Fortunately, the short hike packs a big bang for its buck, winding quickly away from the road, hugging the rock wall in places and even going under a cave ledge before terminating at a gorgeous view of the West Temple, the Towers of the Virgins, the Streaked Wall, and the Beehives. Last year, I photographed the view in both January and July. Patches of white snow set off the red rocks, giving my winter photos an even more striking vista than those of the summer sunset taken six months later.
Hiking Angel’s Landing produces epitaphs both sacred and profane even without an icy layer of difficulty. Instead of tackling that monster during the winter, I went the way of the Virgin, traipsing through the river’s north fork that has been carving this magical place for millions of years.
Feet shod in a stylish pair of Adidas Hydro Pro water shoes topped with waterproof coveralls, I carefully picked my way up the breathtaking slot canyon known as The Narrows. The Virgin River eddied around my ankles, shins, even up to my waist in some places. All around me, canyon walls twisted and turned to the will of the river — smooth and swelling, pulsing with red, ochre, and black stripes. Frozen waterfalls cascaded down notched cliffs, still on the surface but rippling with melting movement just visible through the ice. I felt a song of praise threatening to erupt from my lips — a hymn proclaiming the profound beauty of this place. Right, so, like I said: Zion is really pretty.
Whatever cumbersome footwear is required, a winter visit to either of these national parks is a treat not to be missed. Note: thesaurus highly recommended.