Winter Road Trips from Seattle
Sure, winter might be off-season for some road trips—your wildflower romps, your visits to swimming holes. But thanks to the Pacific Northwest's varied landscapes, plenty of destinations are perfect for the colder months. Just don't forget to check highway conditions and chain requirements.
Historic buildings, a broad dining scene, and a famous garden that can brighten even a rainy day—Vancouver Island's biggest city shines in the off-season. Afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel shows off the region's British roots with towers of tiny sandwiches and a tea menu the size of a textbook. Plus, it adds a boat ride to the road trip.
No, really. Because our stretches of sand (or rocks) never really attain bikinis-and-suntan levels of warmth, cold weather shows off their best aspects. Try a hike through the Evergreen State College campus to a hidden shoreline, or the shorebird sanctuary of Dungeness Spit.
The state capital: Not just for politicians and boring school field trips anymore. Downtown Olympia retains the vibe that launched an alternative music scene in the 1990s, with coffee shops and independent stores lining walkable blocks. The farmer's market is open at least one day a week year-round, and a public fountain bubbles with artesian well water, crisp and cool.
No one said road trips had to be long. Just an hour east of Seattle, Snoqualmie Pass manages to cram a lot of entertainment into one bend of I-90. There's the skiing, of course, but also a tubing hill and a sledding area. Snowshoe trails trace the snowy woods, and a gourmet market has upped the food game with fancy sandwiches.
Try to keep the jealousy in check. Our sister city boasts giant bookstores, funky museums, and a massive park right in the middle of town. They even got a women's sports bar before Seattle did. Try one of the new hostels in town for a cheap, social overnight.
We know you couldn't forget about one of the biggest ski areas in the world, one that spans two mountains, five gondolas, and countless chairs, plus a bustling village at the base. Visitors can even ride the bobsled track left over from the 2010 Olympics. Overwhelmed? Explore Sun Peaks in central British Columbia, a kind of mini, family-oriented Whistler.
The Columbia Gorge
As the dividing line between Washington and Oregon, the Columbia River makes for an ideal west-to-east trek, from the evergreens to the broad prairie. Twin museums on either side make for a full educational experience, and the combo of a charming Greek bakery and a puzzling Stonehenge replica provide worthy spots to pull over.
The trio of military forts that stand guard around the seaside town is one of Washington's best adult playgrounds, offering beaches, museums, and cool underground installations to explore. The town specializes in indoor fun, like a pirate-themed store and quirky bars with live music. And hey, every season is ice cream season.