When it comes to life in the Pacific Northwest, we couldn’t think of a more synonymous phrase than outdoor adventure. From mountainous hikes and surfable waves to leaf-peeping, ice castles, and snowshoeing, there are endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors every season of the year. As one of the top-rated locations in the United States for growing families, the PNW is an adventure all of its own, waiting on you to explore and enjoy every shore, foothill, and trail ahead.
Although the winter brings on its own challenges with several inches of snow and sometimes bitter cold, there are still plenty of activities for your family to enjoy during the colder months. We encourage you to get outside and explore all that winter in the PNW has to offer; we promise you won’t regret it.
Here are some of our favorite must-do winter activities.
1. Go Skiing or Snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding are sure to be on anyone’s list for winter if they love the outdoors, enjoy deep snow, and are excited about the fun and adventurous workout that can involve the entire family. So whether you’re looking to enjoy a weekend getaway with your partner, a group of friends, or hope to involve the whole family, skiing and snowboarding can be an excellent option for adults and kids alike.
Some of the most popular family-friendly spots to shred some snow in the PNW this season include:
- Mt. Hood, Oregon
- Mt. Baker, Washington
- Crystal Mountain, Washington
- Stevens Pass, Washington
For more expert slopes, try:
- Whistler, British Columbia
- Hurricane Ridge Ski & Snowboard Area, Washington
- Sun Valley, Idaho
Whatever location seems like the best fit for your needs, make sure to pack all the gear you need to enjoy the mountain in comfort. From your warmest winter coat, gloves, boots, and eye protection, to your go-to bag for all of your family essentials, being prepared is the most important part of your adventure.
2. Visit an Ice Castle in White Pass
The White Pass Winter Carnival, featuring the famous ice castle, is one of the most popular winter events in the PNW. The ideal activity for children, the lifesize ice castle built each year at White Pass welcomes sledding, tubing, and skiing enthusiasts of all ages.
Started on a whim in 1985 by Dave “Spike” Mahre, a ski resort manager and father of Olympic medalists Steve and Phil Mahre, the ice castles were originally built at the base on the ski resort as a way to entice and entertain younger children. Aside from the giant life-sized castles, local artists create snow sculptures each year.
It is tradition to have the crew who builds the castle take the first pass down the famous inner-tube run each year. Then, at night, a torchlit ski parade travels down the mountain with a fireworks display to follow.
A tradition long embedded into the local community’s history, it is cherished and anticipated each year. To learn more or plan your trip to the next winter carnival, visit https://skiwhitepass.com/.
3. Go Dog Sledding
If you’re looking for a fun and unique winter activity this year, why not try dog sledding at Mt. Bachelor in Oregon? This wildly magical experience gets you and your family up close and personal with a team of professional dogs who take you along a snowy tree-lined trail with experienced mushers leading the way. This is sure to be an adventure of a lifetime and one of the best ways to check off a winter activity on your bucket list.
Sled dog rides are offered daily from mid-December through late April, conditions permitting. Prices vary by day, and reservations must be made in advance. Children must be at least three years old to ride.
4. Go Cross-Country Skiing
If you love the idea of skiing but would prefer to stay away from the high mountains slopes of the PNW, cross-country skiing is a great alternative that allows you to be one with nature while enjoying the workout and exhilaration of skiing.
The ideal conditions for cross-country skiing include low to medium density snow allowing for a smoother ride. Most of the snow-packed ground is filled with that perfect density during the winter months, making it the ideal place to enjoy this fun sport.
Our favorite Washington-area cross-country skiing locations are:
- Lake Wenatchee State Park
- The Plain Trailhead, 30 minutes north of downtown Leavenworth
- Icicle River
- Salmon Ridge Sno-Park
- Mt. Tahoma Trails
- White Pass Nordic Center
- Spokane Nordic Ski Area
5. Soak in a Hot Spring
The prevalence of hot springs throughout the Pacific Northwest is unlike any other location in the country. Visiting hot springs could be turned into a family-friendly adventure that you can use to teach your kids about the geothermal activity that’s heating the springs. A perfect winter activity to get warmed up in the cold of the season, soaking in a hot spring should be on your winter activity bucket list.
Some of our favorite hot springs in the Oregon and Washington area include:
- Cougar Hot Springs, Central Oregon
- Deer Creek Hot Springs, Central Oregon
- Austin Hot Springs, Portland, Oregon Metro Area
- Bagby Hot Springs, Portland, Oregon Metro Area
- Carson Hot Springs, Southwest Washington
6. Go Sledding or Tubing
Do you remember playing king of the mountain using a massive pile of plowed snow as a kid? Us too.
Sledding and tubing are classic winter activities for kids and adults alike and have been around for decades. Not as risky or difficult as downhill skiing, sledding can occur anywhere a mountain, hill, or pile of snow is located.
Although we love the “on the whim” spots in your local community that you can just grab your sled and head to, one of our favorite PNW spots is Mt. Bachelor. Situated in the heart of central Oregon, your family can enjoy the joy of snow tubing at a picturesque resort sure to leave lasting memories.
With an 800-foot ride full of rollers and up to six lanes of action, your kids (and adults) are sure to squeal with glee. The best part? No hiking is required. You and all other riders can sit comfortably in your tube on the way up specially-designed tows to take you back up to the top.
7. Visit Silver Falls State Park
Although enjoying waterfalls in the dead of winter is not usually top of mind during the coldest months of the year, it can still be a unique and enjoyable experience for your entire family. There may be no better place than Silver Falls State Park near Salem, Oregon.
The famous South Falls is nature’s way of showing off. Offering up a 177-foot wall of water that can be enjoyed from all angles all year, it’s a picture-perfect spot to relish in the beauty of nature while teaching your children about the importance of water conservation and natural wonders.
Aside from the waterfalls, over 35 miles of hiking trails can be enjoyed throughout the year. So consider strapping on some snowshoes and taking on the snow-covered trails this winter.
8. Go on a Day Hike
The PNW is filled with endless opportunities for scenic day hikes. With no shortage of mountains, you can take your pick of trails to hike. Whether you’re hoping for an easy, flat loop or a winding and challenging path that boasts elevation climbs and mind-blowing views, the PNW always delivers.
Some of our favorite family-friend hiking trails are:
- Marymere Falls, Olympic National Park
- Dungeness Spit, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge
- Quinault and Hoh Rainforests, Olympic National Park
- Red Top Lookout, Outside of Seattle
- Johnson Ridge Boundary Trail, Mt. Saint Helens
9. Visit a Museum
Although we focus a lot on the importance of spending time outdoors, not all winter activities need to take place in nature. In fact, you can learn a lot about the importance of nature from the warmth and comfort of a museum, especially one that focuses on science.
If you’re in the PNW, it’s worth visiting Seattle to check out one of the many museums. The best part about Seattle’s many museums is the interactive, hands-on nature of the exhibits, perfect for both children and adults alike.
Here are some of our must-visit Seattle museums that we encourage you to check out this season:
- Kids Discovery Museum
- Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
- Seattle Art Museum
- Seattle Aquarium
- Pacific Science Center
- Museum of History & Industry
The next time your family is looking for fun indoor activities, consider spending your day in a Seattle-based museum. Pack all the essentials for a day on the go and enjoy relishing in all that you’ll learn by immersing yourself in such wonderful, all-encompassing experiences right in the PNW.
10. Visit Leavenworth, WA
The Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Washington, is famous for its winter splendor. Surrounded by mountains, Leavenworth can act as a staging point for some of the outdoor winter activities on this list, such as cross-country skiing, hiking, and enjoying all that nature has to offer in the winter months.
Some of our favorite Leavenworth winter staple activities include:
- Sledding downtown.
- Indulging in German-themed foods and drinks, like danishes, sausages, and themed beer.
- Heading outside to enjoy all the holiday light displays throughout the quaint neighborhoods.
- Enjoying the gingerbread factory.
- Exploring the trails and beauty of Waterfront Park.
- Sparking your Christmas spirit by visiting the Nutcracker Museum.
- Satisfying your sweet tooth at Alps Candy Store.
Wrapping Up Winter Activities in the PNW
Don’t let the cold and snow of winter keep you indoors. Head out this season and explore all that the PNW has to offer you and your family. From a day on the slopes to an evening spent exploring quaint winter towns, there is no shortage of fun to be had in the winter. No matter where you are and what you decide to do, we encourage you to always be packed and prepared, especially if you have young ones in tow. Use your favorite bag to pack the essentials you need for you and your family. From snacks and drinks to diapering needs and spare clothes, you can never be too prepared for a day (or weekend!) on the go.