Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house you can't go—this year at least. But just because Seattleites are taking Covid precautions and skipping extended family gatherings (...right??) doesn't mean we all have to stay trapped inside on Christmas Day. Pack a lunch and hit the road, whether for festive trappings or to pretend the holiday is long over and it's already 2021.
Part sculpture park, part nature preserve, Whidbey Island's zen center is open every single day (daylight hours only, no dogs) for distanced strolling and reflection. Multiple stone circles, including one made of basalt columns from the Columbia River area, stand ready for impromptu Outlander cosplay, tucked into the forest along with modern sculpture, a hedge labyrinth, and a Buddhist stupa. During the holiday season, the owners have hidden tiny fairy doors around the property for kids to spot. $7 per person
One of our favorite beginner snowshoe hikes begins just off I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, Gold Creek Pond is the ideal combo of being easy and beautiful, and is never prone to dangerous avalanches. Be sure to score a Sno-Park pass for parking. Plop down for a winter picnic mid-hike, then get more use out of your pass at Hyak Sno-Park across the freeway; the sledding hill is open when snow levels allow. Sno-Park parking $20 per day or $40 per season
Pierce County's famed holiday light show, a two-mile stretch of road near Spanaway Lake, defies the 2020 curse and illuminates as usual this year. Sparkling every night from 5:30–9pm, animated lights include Christmas classics alongside dinosaurs and soccer scenes. Tickets are available online and are recommended in advance, especially on Christmas Day; this year's hunger for levity has led to sellouts. $20 per car on peak days, including Christmas
Just east of Snoqualmie Pass, Cle Elum's sprawling resort had to dial back some of its usual jolly fun (tubing and ice skating are for resort guests only)—but their Nelson Farm area is still lit with light displays. The treed acreage around the lodge is ideal for snowshoeing, and snowball launchers literally elevate the art of winter's chilliest weapon. Hang around the farm's firepit with hot drinks and consider staying until the next day for Suncadia's big Boxing Day organized snowball fight. Free entry, fees vary
Though several historic military installations dot the north end of Puget Sound, one sits much closer to Seattle, on the west side of Bainbridge Island and a brief ferry ride away. Fort Ward Park, formerly a military fort and then a state park, is now overseen by the island's metro park system and benefits from an out-of-the-way location. Two former gun batteries have aged into mossy, climbable relics, and a bike path winds through thick forest near the beach. Animal life teems just offshore; it's not unusual to see seals lounging on logs bobbing in the sound. Picnic tables close to the rocky beach are accessible by foot only. Free
Open all year—as long as park staff are able to plow the road—Mount Rainier National Park's main visitor area at Paradise is a jaw-dropping wonder, even from the parking lot. Snowshoers can circle the historic stone edifice of Paradise Inn, or head to snowfields closer to the majestic volcano (as long as they feel prepared for the dangers of winter travel). A snowplay area near the visitor center has not yet opened this year, but there are plenty of snowdrifts for exploration. Proof of car chains is required for park entrance. $30 per car
The mountains east of Seattle are a sure bet for snow over Christmas, but the coastline and lowlands are reliably bare for hiking. The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is open every day until sunset, its series of flat waterfront trails and boardwalks ideal for birdwatching. South of Bellingham, Oyster Dome delivers a scenic panorama of the San Juan Island chain at its rocky summit after a moderate hike. And on the north side of Mount Rainier, Melmont Ghost Town is usually snow-free and only a little spooky. Parking fees vary