So close to the city you can still get KUOW on the radio, the Cle Elum–area campus sits just barely on the sunny side of the mountains. When there’s snow—not a guarantee—the resort serves as basically a landlocked cruise ship stuffed with winter activities, boasting its own tubing hill with rope tow and groomed cross-country trails. Even during dry spells the ice-skating rink is frozen and guides lead beginners fly-fishing on the Yakima River.
Idaho’s inland mountain ranges manage to rock a desert-type climate: low humidity and just enough snow to keep the ski bums happy. With a new chairlift and no reservations required, the ski part of the resort should hum along as usual this winter, though the 125 miles of Nordic ski trails offer even more social distancing. Three direct flights link the tiny town to Seattle most days, but it’s only a 10-hour drive to get there in the bubble of your own car.
The tight quarters of Western-themed Winthrop—the wooden sidewalks crowd easily—belie the big-sky feel of the Methow Valley around it. The resort perched high above town sits next to 37 miles of Nordic ski trails and 15 minutes from 87 miles more, plus an outdoor skating rink. The state’s lone heliskiing operation takes off nearby, and Sun Mountain might be the only place in the state to rent Altai Hok Ski shoes, a kind of combo snowshoe-ski. On the other end of the spectrum: a stunning view from the outdoor hot tub.
While the four golf courses that wind through the high desert south of Bend are closed in the winter, indoor golf simulators faithfully recreate each of the links (though the software can boot up carnival-style golf games too). Outdoor activities range from sleigh rides to a holiday light show, and visitors can even chop down their own Christmas tree in the Central Oregon forest after purchasing a permit in the main lodge, the ultimate vacation souvenir.
Good thing Idaho’s capital gets winter sun; one of its biggest tourist draws, the historic state penitentiary, would feel grim in constant drizzle. It’s a fascinating museum, with space to stroll outside to boot, and not far from the city’s urban wineries. Known for its Basque culture and dining, Boise’s burgeoning international food scene goes even broader; refugee-owned eateries have proliferated, serving Peruvian, Bosnian, Cuban, and more. This multitude warrants its own featured restaurant week every fall.
Eastern Washington’s biggest city is like Seattle on opposite day: flat instead of hilly, sunny to our gray skies. A 40-mile paved trail runs the length of town, along the Spokane River, all the way to Coeur d’Alene in Idaho next door for ambitious cyclists. Modest prices at the constantly multiplying local breweries and restaurants are in stark contrast too. Hotel Indigo Spokane, however, follows a familiar Emerald City pattern: new, but in a historic century-old hotel space that retains original mosaic floors and moldings.
Wine Country Shine
The hotel at the foot of Lake Chelan boasts that its founder walked three days from the railroad’s end to the stunning lakeshore at the turn of the twentieth century, then paid $400 to a seller who thought he was unloading sandy land to a sucker. Nearly 120 years later, now with fire pits along the shoreline and rooms that face the long lake, it looks like a great deal. Still operated by the same family, the hotel sits walking distance to the small town’s holiday light shows and decorated trees, and less than 10 miles from a small ski and tubing hill. Local wineries, crowded in summer, offer wide-open tasting rooms in winter.
How does the luxury hotel at a Walla Walla winery manage an almost Southern feel? A wide porch fronts the rentable main farmhouse like it expects you to gaze at the sunbaked wheat fields year-round. A carriage house converted to accommodations has the crisp lines of a Kentucky barn home to prize racehorses. (Only from outside; indoors they’re luxury suites.) Abeja erected a new winery building on the property this year, though the tasting room for visitors sits closer to the burbling creek that runs through the property.
Wide-open Central Washington scrubland—so much prettier than its name suggests—and neat rows of wine grapevines stretch in every direction from Cave B, broken only by the geologic show-and-tell of the Columbia River Gorge. Almost every room opens to a terrace and a private entrance for distancing. Given the all-day restaurant service (with takeout available), there’s little reason to leave the ultra-chill sanctuary near George, though the luxe spa is still shuttered.
Eastern Oregon’s out-there destination doesn’t call itself a ranch just to describe a rustic-chic design ethos; heritage cattle and range goats on the property south of Seneca are sold as steaks, and even the hay harvested from its 145,000 acres is for sale. Not that roughing it is required; the spa operates year-round, and every accommodation is standalone, with a private entrance. Amenities reach well beyond the usual to include “cool” golf—in the snow—and ice fishing.
Data site Bestplaces.net uses a handful of weather models, from NOAA's to one from the National Climatic Data Center, to estimate days of sunshine in zip codes across the U.S. Seattle scores a modest 152 days.
Seattle 152 sunny days
Walla Walla 194
Cle Elum 199
Sun Valley 205
Unless you’re very new to the PNW, it comes as no surprise that even places that bask in sunrays over the winter aren’t particularly warm—think crisp air and sun reflecting off snowdrifts. Expect even colder temps than in Seattle, where that cloud layer acts like a damp duvet over the city. In short, pack a puffy that matches your shades.