Last updated: November 18, 2023
I’ve been living in Washington state for a few decades now, coming from Alaska, and have to say that Washington state has everything Alaska does, without the extreme cold or isolation. There are few places in the world as wonderful as Washington in winter.
The beautiful state of Washington is the perfect place for people who appreciate the hum of city life, who want to immerse themselves in cultural diversity, and who are always looking for things to do outside, even in winter. Washington winters hold something magical for everyone.
Top Things to do in Washington State in Winter
- Events: Christmastown in Leavenworth, Winthrop Balloon Roundup, Seattle Winterfest, ZooLights
- Attractions: Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park, Crystal Mountain
- Indoor Activities: museums, rock climbing, escape rooms, ice skating, theater
- Outdoor Activities: cross-country ski, downhill ski, snowboard, snowshoe, waterfall chasing
Washington in Winter
There are many places to visit in Washington state in winter, specifically some rather beautiful winter destinations with tons of outdoor activities, scenic views, and cozy getaways.
Winter Destinations in Washington
The top 12 places to make the most out of winter in Washington state.
1. Suncadia Resort
Suncadia is rustic luxury and nature immersion all in one. Located in Cle Ellum, less than two hours east of Seattle, it’s a captivating retreat for those looking for solace, adventure or a delightful combination of both. For families, romantic getaways, girls trips and more.
While mostly known for its’ summer retreats, winter is a wonderful option as well. From nearby downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing to cross-country skiing, tubing and hiking, there is plenty to appreciate when you’re not indulging in their spa or cozying up by the fire.
2. Salish Lodge & Spa
One of the most romantic winter getaways in Washington state. This is where I spent my honeymoon many moons ago. The Salish, only 30 miles east of Seattle, takes pampering to a new level.
Salish has several soothing massages, facials, and hydrotherapy options to help you escape from the cold. With beautiful hikes and the Snoqualmie Falls just next door, you’ll find many outdoor activities to keep you occupied when you’re not enjoying the spa facilities.
3. Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop
This area is one of the best places to stay in Washington state in the winter, a haven for cross-country skiers in particular, with over 120 miles of groomed trails and even lessons if you’re in need. It’s also one of the best places in Washington for star gazing and viewing the Northern Lights.
The Methow Valley is overflowing with picturesque landscapes, a charming lifestyle and the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve ever seen. It’s secluded enough to find whatever you’re looking for. For weddings, family holidays and romantic retreats. Once is simply not enough.
I love and recommend the Sun Mountain Lodge Resort, and reservations as far in advance as you can make them.
4. Sleeping Lady Resort, Leavenworth
The Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort is a treasure of cozy accommodation for relaxation, with soothing treatments and therapies to unwind and rejuvenate. Their cabins are fun and cozy and their food is out of this world.
I’ve stayed here with my kids, my dogs, my kids and my dogs, and as a romantic getaway with just my husband. I have never been disappointed with my experiences here.
The Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Enjoy festive lights, charming shops, and winter activities like sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, sleigh riding and snowmobiling.
5. Crystal Mountain Resort
A popular ski resort located near Mount Rainier, Crystal Mountain offers excellent skiing and snowboarding options, rentals, and lessons. The gondola ride alone is worth the drive, with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
If the skies are clear, you’ll see Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, and everything in between. You can stay at a variety of places close by or bring your own RV and hook up for a few amazing snow days.
6. Snoqualmie Pass
This area is home to the Summit at Snoqualmie and Alpental ski resort. It’s a convenient option close to Seattle for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports.
While the weekends are unbelievably busy on the slopes, the weekdays are exactly the opposite. Rent a house at the pass and lose track of time in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest winters.
7. Olympic National Park
The Olympic Peninsula’s diverse landscape includes just about everything – snowy mountains, lush rainforests, and rugged coastlines. Winter activities include snowshoeing at Hurricane Ridge and exploring the Hoh Rainforest.
While the weather is less reliable, the crowds are less overwhelming too. Just be sure to check on seasonal closures before taking the time to journey here.
8. Mount Spokane State Park
This park offers both downhill and cross-country skiing, as well as snowshoeing and tubing, making it a great destination for families and outdoor lovers.
There are several places to stay in the Spokane area, but the Davenport Grand, Autograph Collection is the most famous by far. A luxurious and upscale hotel located downtown, known for its elegant design and excellent amenities.
9. Lake Chelan
While primarily known as a summer destination, Lake Chelan provides a peaceful winter getaway as well. Enjoy wine tasting, hot tubs, and the scenic beauty of the lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
If you enjoy winter sports, you can find opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing in the nearby mountains.
The Lake Chelan area is also known for its wineries and vineyards. While some wineries may have limited hours in winter, there are often special events and tastings that continue throughout the season.
Wenatchee, Washington, is another wonderful place to visit in the winter, offering a variety of outdoor activities and attractions that cater to snow lovers. If you’ve ever been curious about snow camping, Lake Wenatchee State Park is the perfect place to get started.
The Wenatchee Valley provides many opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and winter hiking, as well as a charming downtown area with local shops and eateries.
Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort, in Wenatchee, is an especially popular spot for downhill skiing and snowboarding.
Winter Events in Washington
There are many unique ways to celebrate winter in Washington. It’s one of the best things about this state, as you can find activities that cater to an enormous variety of interests, from holiday celebrations to outdoor sports.
11. Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival
Leavenworth is famous for its annual Christmas Lighting Festival. The town is beautifully adorned with lights and decorations, and you can enjoy holiday-themed activities, live music, sledding, ice skating and visits from Santa Claus.
12. Bavarian Ice Festival
Leavenworth’s Bavarian Ice Festival is a weekend of winter fun, including ice sculpting competitions, snowball tossing, and even a delightful downtown parade. It’s a great way to experience the town’s unique charm.
13. Seattle Winterfest
Held at Seattle Center, Winterfest features a truly festive atmosphere, with ice rink, holiday lights, and various entertainment options. The event includes ice skating, ice sculpting, live performances, and an extremely impressive model train village.
If you have a little one who is fascinated with all things trains, this is the place to be in December.
Woodland Park Zoo, in Seattle, transforms into a dazzling winter wonderland during ZooLights. You can stroll through the zoo’s pathways illuminated by thousands of colorful lights, enjoy hot cocoa, and see various animal-themed light displays.
15. Christmas Ship Festival
The Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship Festival takes place on Puget Sound in Seattle in December. Decorated ships sail slowly around the region, spreading holiday cheer with carolers, choirs, and dazzling festive lights.
The best part is that you can enjoy the performances from the shore or on board the ships.
16. Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular
The city of Spokane hosts an annual Winter Glow Spectacular, with over a million lights illuminating their amazing Riverfront Park. The event includes a skating ribbon, carriage rides, and seasonal holiday performances.
Spokane is on the very eastern edge of the state, approximately 280 miles from Seattle.
17. Wintergrass Music Festival
For bluegrass enthusiasts, the Wintergrass Music Festival in Bellevue offers multiple stages of live bluegrass performances, workshops, and jam sessions, bringing warmth to the winter months with lively music and entertainment for all ages.
18. Winthrop Balloon Roundup
The Methow Valley Balloon Festival is a fantastic annual event set against the stunning backdrop of the North Cascades. A hidden gem only because it takes a while to reach, a 250 mile road trip from Seattle. Colorful hot air balloons fill the sky and gracefully ascend over the Methow Valley’s picturesque landscapes.
People gather to witness the vibrant balloons dance with the sunrise, enjoy tethered rides, captivating balloon glows at dusk, and a festive atmosphere filled with live music and local vendors. This family-friendly event in early March celebrates the artistry of ballooning and the enchantment of flight.
Winter Outdoor Activities in Washington
Washington state winters are made for those who love the outdoors. I may have mentioned that before, but it’s so true. Here’s a brief list of outdoor things to do in Washington winter.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Washington has several excellent ski resorts, such as Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass, Mt Baker, and Snoqualmie Pass.
Explore the serene winter landscapes by snowshoeing through national parks like Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Snoqualmie Pass, and Olympic National Park. If you’re looking for a fun way to exercise in the winter, this is it!
Who says camping is restricted to the summer months? Experience camping in the snow and you may never return to the old way of doing it. You can camp up high at all of the places mentioned above or down low for an easier camp at the same places, as well as Lake Wenatchee State Park and some of the campgrounds near North Bend.
Relax and unwind in natural hot springs like Sol Duc Hot Springs on the Olympic Peninsula or Goldmyer Hot Springs near North Bend. Goldmyer requires lottery entry and a 4WD vehicle, as well as some hiking to get there.
From Snoqualmie Falls to Franklin Falls to Palouse Falls, the best time to view them depends on what you’re looking for.
With more rain comes more powerful waterfalls, but many are drawn to them in mid-February or so, when they completely freeze and extreme sportsmen and women are able to ice climb up them.
Many hiking trails remain accessible during the winter months, offering a unique perspective of Washington’s beauty. Check out trails in lower-elevation areas or coastal regions, such as North Bend or the Olympic Peninsula.
Winter is an excellent time for wildlife watching. Head to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge or Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to observe migratory birds and other animals.
Swans, owls, and eagles are plentiful and reliable in the first few months of the new year in Skagit Valley, just north of Seattle.
Along the coast, especially in places like Cape Disappointment, Ocean Shores and Long Beach, you can watch the dramatic winter storms roll in from the Pacific Ocean.
King Tides are viewable in a variety of places up and down the coastline as well and provide for an absolutely unforgettable experience.
Explore groomed cross-country ski trails in areas like Methow Valley and Leavenworth, which offer miles of beautiful routes.
Winter Indoor Activities in Washington
What are Seattle winters like? It depends entirely on the year, but a good amount of rain is your best bet. Even still, you’ll find many things to do near Seattle in winter. Especially indoors.
Museums and Art Galleries
Washington is home to many incredible museums and art galleries. Explore the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle, the Museum of Flight, the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Bellevue Arts Museum, among others.
Indoor Rock Climbing
If you’re looking for an active indoor activity, try indoor rock climbing at one of the climbing gyms in cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue or Spokane. It’s a great way to stay fit and have fun.
Challenge your problem-solving skills by participating in escape room games available in many cities across the state. Work with a group to solve puzzles and unlock clues to “escape” within a set time limit.
Indoor Ice Skating
Enjoy ice skating indoors at rinks like the Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace, the Highland Ice Arena in Shoreline, or the pop-up ice rink in the Downtown Bellevue Park.
There’s nothing as magical as ice skating in Seattle in December, unless it’s followed by the wonder of hot chocolate and pastries at a nearby bakery.
Indoor Pools and Water Parks
Relax and have fun at indoor pools and water parks like the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound or the Snohomish Aquatic Center, where you can spend the day shooting down water slides, swimming and even surfing.
This was one of my children’s favorite winter activities when they were little and I admit, mine as well.
Theater and Performing Arts
Catch a live performance at one of Washington’s theaters, such as the Paramount Theatre or The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, or check out local productions in smaller venues.
These tend to be crowded throughout the year, depending on the show, and always deliver on entertainment and memories.
No matter your interests, winters in Seattle are no time to hibernate. There are just too many things to do to keep you entertained and engaged during the winter months.
Tips for Visiting Washington in the Winter
Visiting Washington state during the winter can be a rewarding experience, but be prepared for the colder temperatures, potential rain, and varying conditions.
- The weather can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to dress in layers. A waterproof and insulated jacket, warm clothing, gloves, and a hat are recommended. Waterproof boots and comfortable walking shoes are also important. If going in the direction of snow, all your snow gear is a safe bet for comfort and safety.
- Keep an eye on weather forecasts before and during your trip. Rain is common in many parts of Washington during winter, so having a good umbrella and waterproof gear can be helpful.
- If you’re planning to drive, be aware that mountain passes and rural areas may have significant amounts of snow and ice. Roads can be sketchy in the winter and passes often close, due to accidents or avalanche control. Check road conditions and carry tire chains if you’re traveling to snowy regions.
- Winter days are shorter, so plan your activities accordingly to make the most of daylight hours. Keep in mind that some attractions and parks may have shorter operating hours.
Be prepared, stay safe and have fun!
Travel Tips and Recommendations for WA in Winter
Packing for a trip to Washington State in winter
Pack warm layers, including a waterproof jacket, insulated gloves, a hat, and sturdy waterproof boots. Bring clothing suitable for cold and wet conditions, as the state often experiences rain and snow. Don’t forget an umbrella and consider thermal undergarments for added warmth.
Don’t forget to pack a pair of sunglasses for those bright winter days.
Travel restrictions or considerations for visiting Washington in winter
Highway 20 is closed through most of the North Cascades from November to late spring. You can still reach Mt Baker Ski Resort, which is right before the closure. Chinook Pass, at Mt Rainier National Park, is closed from about November to late spring as well.
Many mountain passes close temporarily due to accidents or avalanche control, particularly after a heavy snowfall. Check for any road closures or delays due to winter weather, and stay updated on local advisories. It’s advisable to have snow chains if you plan to drive in mountainous areas. Chains are required at both Mt Rainier and the Mt Baker Ski area during the winter months.
Best ways to get around in Washington State during the winter season
In urban areas like Seattle, utilize public transportation, including buses and light rail. If planning to explore the mountainous regions, ensure your vehicle is equipped with snow tires or chains, and stay updated on weather and road conditions. Consider the Washington State Ferries for scenic and efficient travel between coastal destinations.
Washington State Winter Weather
Washington state experiences a huge range of winter weather conditions due to its varied geography, which includes coastal regions, mountains, and inland areas. Here’s a general overview of what you can expect in different parts of the state.
Winters in the coastal and Puget Sound areas tend to be relatively mild, with average high temperatures ranging from the upper 40s to mid-50s Fahrenheit (8-15°C).
Winter is the rainy season, and these regions can receive a significant amount of precipitation in the form of rain. While snowfall is less common in the lowland areas of western Washington, it can occur occasionally, especially at higher elevations.
The Cascade Mountains receive abundant snowfall during the winter months, making them a popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports.
Temperatures can vary widely depending on elevation. Higher elevations experience freezing temperatures for sure, while lower ski resort areas may see milder conditions.
Eastern Washington experiences colder winters compared to the western part of the state. Average high temperatures range from the mid-20s to low 40s Fahrenheit.
Many areas in eastern Washington receive significant snowfall during the winter months, making it suitable for winter activities like skiing and snowmobiling.
The areas in northeastern Washington experience cold and snowy winters, with ample opportunities for winter sports and activities. The weather can vary from year to year, and specific conditions may differ based on the current weather patterns.
When planning a trip to Washington in the winter, especially if you’re traveling to mountainous areas or participating in outdoor activities, be sure to check the weather forecast and road conditions.
Highway 20 is closed for most of the winter, but there is still plenty to do on either end of the openings, west and east.
When is winter in Washington state?
Winter in Washington state typically spans from December to February. However, the exact timing and duration of winter can vary depending on the specific region.
How long is winter in Washington state?
That depends entirely on the year. It can feel longer than three months for sure, depending on where you live, how much you enjoy the outdoors in the winter, and what that year’s weather is like.
Does Washington get a lot of snow?
Washington state can receive a significant amount of snow, particularly in the mountainous regions and higher elevations during the winter months. The amount of snowfall can vary widely depending on the specific location and elevation.
The Cascade Range, which runs north to south through Washington, receives substantial snowfall during the winter. This makes it a popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports.
It also makes for periodic road closures due to accidents, unsafe conditions and avalanche control. Be sure to check the roads before heading out.
Many areas in Eastern Washington, especially those at higher elevations, experience snowy winters. Cities like Spokane and the Methow Valley are known for their white winters, recreational activities and snow-covered landscapes.
Lowland and Coastal Areas
Lowland and coastal regions, such as the Puget Sound area and cities like Seattle, typically receive significantly less snow compared to mountainous and inland areas. These areas often experience more rain during the winter months.
Lastly a note about winter storms. Intense storms, sometimes referred to as “Pineapple Express” events, can bring heavy precipitation, including rain at lower elevations and heavy snowfall in the mountains.
These storms are associated with atmospheric rivers that transport moisture from the Pacific Ocean. While often inconvenient, they’re remarkably dramatic and beautiful in a twisted and amusing way.
If you’re planning to travel to or within Washington state during the winter, especially to mountainous areas, it’s important to be prepared for winter driving conditions, check road and weather conditions, and follow any travel advisories.
If chains are required on your tires, they’re required for a very solid reason.
FAQs, Washington State Winter
Yes! While it may not be as well-known for winter tourism as some other destinations, there are many fantastic reasons to visit Washington during the winter. Winter sports, natural beauty, hot springs, and seasonal activities and events all make winters in Washington worth your time.
You can experience nearly every kind of weather in Washington in winter. Coastal areas have mild temperatures and rain, while mountains receive heavy snowfall and sometimes sunny days. Eastern parts experience cold temperatures and snow. Seattle and lowlands get rain with occasional snow.
Snowfall varies across Washington state. Mountainous regions receive heavy snow, ideal for winter sports. Lowlands and coastal areas experience occasional snow with milder conditions. Some winters can bring significant snowfall, affecting travel and daily routines.
Yes, Seattle is worth visiting in winter. While it receives rain and occasional snow, the city offers indoor attractions like museums, galleries, and tons of culture. Festive events, holiday markets, and the city’s unique charm make it an appealing winter destination.
Seattle in winter is damp and cool with rain, occasional snow, and temperatures averaging in the 40s°F (4-8°C). Indoor activities like museums, theaters, and cozy coffee shops are popular. Festive holiday events and neighborhoods adorned with lights create a charming atmosphere.
Yes, Seattle can be quite charming in winter, depending on your perspective. While the weather is cool and rainy, the city’s holiday lights, iconic landmarks like the Space Needle, and the Great Wheel’s reflections on Puget Sound make for a picturesque and unique atmosphere.
Yes, Seattle can be cold in the winter, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to high-40s°F (1-8°C). Rainfall is common, and occasional cold snaps or snowfall can occur, especially in higher elevations.
Final Thoughts on Washington in Winter
I love where I love and hope you do too! Visiting Washington State in winter is a charming and thrilling blend of cozy retreats and outdoor adventure. Whatever you choose to do, Washington promises a beautiful balance of exhilarating activities and peaceful moments in a breathtaking winter wonderland.