Winter Mt.Rainier views in Washington

Snowy Escapes: Your Guide to Winter Wonderlands in Washington State

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Washington is one of the most breathtaking secrets to visit. From the west to the east side of the state there are numerous wonderlands to visit with friends and family around the holidays.

This is a guide to the top 10 winter wonderlands in Washington to travel to. I’ve listed why each of these locations made the list, what travel restrictions may occur, what to pack, and more.

10 Winter Wonderlands in Washington State

1. Leavenworth

Why Leavenworth?

Washington’s Bavarian-themed town is tucked up in the Cascade Mountains. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, over half a million lights are put up throughout the town. Leavenworth feels like a winter village during Christmas and the New Year. Making it one of the most popular destinations in the winter in Washington.

If skiing, snowshoeing, or sledding are on the activity list, all are feasible to do within 2 miles of Leavenworth. Check the status of Ski Hill for grooming and ski conditions here.

Leavenworth lights in the village in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Highway 2 is the route travelers will take from the west side of the mountains. This is one of the more dangerous highways in the state. Heavily trafficked with outdoor enthusiasts traveling to Stevens Pass and the Leavenworth and beyond areas. Stay cognizant.

If the adventure begins from south of Seattle or the Spokane area, I-90 will be the best route. Be mindful to check the conditions first.

2. Mount Rainier National Park

Why Mount Rainier National Park?

“The mountain is out” is a common local phrase when Mount Rainier is looking even more stunning on a bluebird day. The top winter activities in this national park are snowshoeing and winter photography. For all of my skiers out there, Crystal Mountain will be the closest mountain to shred at.

Wildlife Tip: Learning how to respect the local animals and their habitats is not only important for the animals…but it’s what makes these beautiful parks flourish.

Winter Mt.Rainier views in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Staffing and weather conditions are the main reasons why this National Park might be closed during the holidays in Washington. Some of the roads never see too much sun during the day, making them a bit too icy for traveling. National Park Service keeps updated alerts and conditions that you can access here.

3. Spokane

Why Spokane?

Spending time during the winter in Spokane is an underrated trip. During Christmas, Spokane will show off all the twinkly lights throughout the city. Santa may be walking around, or even in the ice skating rink. Mt. Spokane is close by to hit the ski lifts or snowboard lifts 😜

New Year’s Eve in Spokane also has a variety of activities and events. Take a walk around the town (bundle up!) and maybe grab a hot chocolate or peppermint mocha. Get ready for a delicious dinner at Tavolata (gluten-free friends will love this establishment) or Osprey. Once the bellies are full, maybe stroll to the symphony and end the night with fireworks.

Pasta in Spokane in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) provides real-time alerts, cameras, and restrictions that can be monitored when traveling to Spokane on I-90. It is extremely helpful to have a passenger or someone who knows your trip itinerary to check periodically for any closures.

4. Winthrop

Why Winthrop?

Winthrop is not only a wonderland during the winter, but a loved destination year-round. It is known for the numerous cross-country ski trails that network together. Family-friendly events during Christmas include a Christmas Market, wreath competition, and sleigh rides.

For the 21 and over crew, check out the Holiday Sip and Shop all-day event and support local businesses.

Sleigh ride in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Highway 2 will also be utilized from the Seattle area to arrive in Winthrop. Keep an eye on the weather and accident reports for this route. Heavy snowfall and ice may impact travel plans.

5. Snoqualmie Pass

Why Snoqualmie Pass?

One of my favorite locations throughout the year is Snoqualmie Pass. Debating on snow levels, certain lower elevation hikes will take your breath away. Maybe even literally if you aren’t dressed appropriately. For more hiking and what-to-wear tips in the winter, this guide is helpful!

Snoqualmie Pass has a ski resort with places to stay as well. If you are a backcountry skier, Alpental Back Bowl is a rad place for some wild terrain. This will require a certain pass to access and Avalanche Safety Courses completed prior. Back bowls can be an exciting time, but can turn dangerous quickly.

Chilly waterfall in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Interstate 90 (I-90) is known to close during the winter due to heavy snowfall. WSDOT keeps real-time updates throughout the day and night to check the road status.

6. Olympic National Park

Why Olympic National Park?

Hurricane Ridge is a popular destination within the Olympic area. Tubing, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, this location has it all for those who want to have an active trip. November to March is the best time to visit for those deep-snow activities.

First Beach outside of the Olympic National Park is a commonly photographed area. During the winter, curl up in a hotel or cabin and watch the winter storms roll through. The large waves and drizzly weather make the perfect cozy getaway.

First Beach in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Hurricane Ridge can sometimes be closed during the winter, and periodically during the rest of the year. Click here for the National Park Services’ status of the Olympic area.

There are a few different routes in the winter to reach the Olympic National Park
✅ From Olympia: I-5
✅ From Seattle: State Route 16 or take the ferry. Ferry Schedules may change in December and January due to holidays. Arrive early to ensure a spot!
✅ From the Washington Coast: Highway 101

7. Tacoma

Why Tacoma?

Holiday markets and Point Defiance Zoo exceed the standards of Christmas celebrations. From late November to January 1st, the zoo will host “Zoolights”. Colorful lights and tunnels with vibrant light-up animals (not real ones) to find throughout the walk.

Zoolights in Washington in December

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Since Tacoma is a city, there are fewer worries about crossing over high-elevation passes or heavy snow areas. December till January is a busier time of the year with holiday travel and always good to check roadways on WSDOT.

8. Wenatchee

Why Wenatchee?

Nordic skiing, Pybus Public Market, many wineries, lots of apples (apple capital of the world!), and fat tire biking. Wenatchee is an epic location because of the amount of things to do, other activities nearby, and many different types of accommodations. Whether you want to stay in a unique hotel or a resort, spend time in the snow or a spa, grab a pizza or a salad, attend a yoga class, or walk around a museum. There is SO much to be seen and done.

Spa day in the cold in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

Traveling to Wenatchee in the winter will require travel over US-2 and US-97. Wenatchee has been known to receive anywhere from inches to multiple feet of snow. Plan travels accordingly and check those road updates to be prepared.

9. Bellingham

Why Bellingham?

Everybody loves free, right? The Holiday Port Festival happens the first weekend of December. Elf on the shelf scavenger hunts, harbor lights, and we can’t forget about the brewery Winterfest. Bellingham is filled with diversity, good food, and better beer. Plus, the city has a lively, artistic, and community-oriented vibe.

Brewery inside in December in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

WSDOT will also be your friend for the Bellingham area. Traffic on 1-5 going north to Bellingham can also become a doozy during the holidays. Prepare with a little extra time when traveling that way.

10. Yakima Valley

Why Yakima Valley?

When a local thinks of Yakima, typically the first thought is WINE. Beautiful fruit tree orchards look magical with the snowfall on the ground. Yakima is extremely family-friendly with parades and letters to Santa drive-thrus. This wonderland is also a great spot to stay and go skiing at White Pass for the day.

Dog running in snow in Washington

Road closures & travel restrictions:

The main road, I-82 that brings locals and visitors into Yakima Valley can get icy at times. Checking winter weather can help navigate if it is safe for traveling.

Packing for Washington around Christmas

Warm and waterproof clothes will be your best friends during your trip. This gift guide can help with recommendations of products for outdoorsy folks or just basic items that may be necessary or wanted for the trip.

Some of my favorite clothing items are listed below:
❄️ Rain Jacket: REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket – Women’s
❄️ Beanie: Carhartt Cuffed Beanie
❄️ Boots: Danner Mountain 600 Leaf GORE-TEX Hiking Boots – Women’s
❄️ Down Jacket: Marmot Highlander Down Jacket – Women’s
❄️ Pants: Trailhead Pants – Coalatree
❄️ Bibs: Flylow Foxy Bib Pants – Women’s
❄️ Gloves: Outdoor Research Arete II GORE-TEX Gloves – Women’s
❄️ Socks: Darn Tough – Women’s

Stevens Pass in Washington

FAQ’s for holiday travels in Washington

  1. What is the best airport to fly into?
    • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
    • Paine Field Airport (Located in Everett, more expensive)
    • Spokane International Airport
    • Bellingham International Airport
  2. Is it safe to hike in all areas?
    • No, areas with heavy snowfall might be enticing but there are numerous safety precautions and limitations. The Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) has updated conditions and mountain forecasts. If you have to debate whether it’s safe or not, probably a good idea to stay back and find another activity.
  3. What do I need to bring for safety in the outdoors during winter?
  4. Beginner skier/snowboarder, what to think about before hitting the slopes?
    • You probably will be more on your hindquarters than your feet, we all start somewhere
    • Bunny slopes can be crowded and crowded with more beginner shredders, so keep your head on a swivel. We don’t want to get hit or hit someone accidentally.
    • Ski lifts can be intimidating for some. You can try to request a ski instructor for assistance on best practices. Otherwise, lean back enjoy the views up, and try to sit on the outside so if you do lose balance, you can go off to the side easier.
  5. I don’t have gear, can I rent?
    • Yes! Rentals at REI are quick and painless.
    • Ski resorts also have rentals. I wouldn’t recommend counting on this though because they are typically rented out early in the day.
  6. What should I bring in my car for traveling?
Frozen lake in Washington

Conclusion: 10 Top Winter Wonderlands in Washington

These top 10 towns & cities in Washington are dreamy oases in the winter. Visiting Washington in December or January will bring the holiday celebrations to life.

I hope this guide helped filter down winter travel plans.

There is something to do for anyone in the family, old or young, outdoorsy or homebody in each of these places. Start planning your trip to the beautiful PNW now!

Happy Trails,
Mindful PNW Travels