13 Fantastic Road Trips to Take This Winter

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Brush 2020 off like melting snow on warm woolen mittens. Party like it’s 2021 and head out of town on a winter getaway road trip guaranteed to finally recharge your mind, body and soul, for young and old. From nearby spots just a short ferry ride away, to spectacularly snowy mountain towns that feel worlds away, these vacation destinations have got it all for families.

Leavenworth

This year Leavenworth should be renamed Christmastown. If your celebration felt rushed then relive it in Washington’s own slice of Bavaria—its famous square and holiday trees will remain lit around the clock through Valentine's Day. The village houses a Nutcracker Museum, wintry themed gift stores, festive outdoor restaurants under twinkling lights and a litany of libations for Littles and their parents. Prost! With an average of 89 inches of snow every year, you're pretty much guaranteed to enjoy the white stuff during your visit. The Leavenworth Winter Sports Club has a vast array of sports for your amusement, including the only ski jumping facility on the West Coast. They also host snowshoeing, sledding, tubing and snow biking. One notable excursion is the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, open year round. The look on the children’s faces when they see the reindeer for the first time is pure wonder.

After all the excitement, there is no better place to get your hygge vibe on than Sleeping Lady Resort. Named for the mountain that resembles a sleeping woman, it should be named for the absolute, perfect slumber guests enjoy in their cabins. Dinner is a delicious seasonal chef’s menu with locally sourced ingredients, or grab quick snacks at O'Grady's, then take a self-guided art walk around the property, while listening to Icicle Creek gurgling nearby.

Online: leavenworth.org

Orcas Island

The San Juan Islands are some of the most mystical and scenic in the world—and they're right in our backyard. Orcas Island is a standout, with its balance of quiet respite and just enough notable dining and swanky shopping to keep city slickers occupied. Much of the island's charms will be discovered by simply biking or driving around the island. Family-friendly Orcas Island Winery makes for a picturesque pit stop. It's set outdoors around a beautiful barn. Take a hike up Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juans, for mind-blowing views. Foodies must visit Hogstone's Wood Oven, technically a pizza joint but actually one of the most interesting restaurants in the state and Mijitas Mexican take out is a delicious win-win for the fam. The Kitchen has that coveted garden seating, plus yummy veggie options, and Brown Bear Baking is a staple for a quick sweet treat or sandwich. Shopping highlights include: Forest Ceramic Gallery, Wanderlust + Wildhearts and Island Thyme, although any boutique is sure to please.

Stay at the Outlook Inn on Orcas Island, overlooking the much-photographed Indian Island. Explore the "secret garden" in back for ball games and the private lawn deck across the street for sunset and avian viewing. The attentive owners will be glad to point out the town's many great features.

Online: visitsanjuans.com

Sun Valley, Idaho

Since the time of Ernest Hemingway, Sun Valley has sparkled with celebrities and international acclaim. No wonder Seattle families have had a long love affair with this area. The snow-covered mountain provides breathless thrills with 3,400 vertical feet and over 2,000 acres of varied terrain. This season there's more, with the introduction of a 380-acre expansion of skiing on Bald Mountain. The Cold Springs lift has been replaced by an express quad lift. Kids can mix it up with sledding, snowmobiling, ice biking or cross-country skiing. Consider enrolling them in SnowSports School to improve those skills. The ice-skating rink is always a highlight and afterwards head to Duchin Lounge for an après-ski adult bevvie. If you're lucky, the ghost of Hemingway might be sipping one next to you.

Knob Hill Inn Sun Valley is an oasis within an oasis. Located in the heart of Ketchum, this boutique mini chalet is steps away from shops, dining and art, and Knob Hill Inn's suites are well designed for families. Spacious sitting areas glow with fireplace light and can be sectioned off with a sliding door for late night stories while others snooze. For more relaxation slip down to the Mediterranean-style hot tub and pool with garage door walls. While you soak in the heat, kiddos splash in the pool, as fresh air and snow swirl just outside.

Online: sunvalley.com

Bainbridge Island

A ride on a Washington State Ferry is a unique escape unto itself. Add an overnight or two on Bainbridge Island and your family will feel like they're worlds away--after just one thirty-five minute ferry crossing. Bainbridge has wonderful parks, views and inlets to explore. Picnic at Fay Bainbridge park; the pirate ship playground goes well with the water views. Bloedel Reserve is a peaceful place of solace and natural beauty. Take your group on the slow, easy one-hour walk through this serene garden, where you'll spot the former home of the Bloedels, straight from a fairy tale, and the gorgeously groomed Japanese Garden. Reservations are required. While on Bainbridge, visit book and record stores like Eagle Harbor Book Co. and Backstreet Beat as well as specialty stores like Dana's Showhouse and the popular Calico Toy Shoppe. Wind down at Eagle Harbor Wine Co. at their winery (tastings available by appointment) or hop over to Bainbridge Brewing Alehouse. Winslow Way is a smorgasbord of indie shops, so pop in and support local.

Stay at The Marshall Suites, named after the juicy Marshall strawberries that used to cover the island. It's perfectly placed near chic, walkable Winslow Way. The large, comfy suites are family-ready and the Family Stay and Play Package is wow-worthy with maps to local playgrounds, plus a KiDiMu Explore Bainbridge STEM box. As always, guests get 10% off at partner restaurants including the kiddo-tested Plate & Pint directly across the road. 

Online: visitbainbridge.com

photo: Greg Freitas

Bellingham

The secret is out! Bellingham is filled with history, endless trails, rural delights and a hoppin’ beer scene. Call it the new Tacoma or the new Ballard, just don’t call Bellingham the PNW’s best kept secret anymore. Begin in the historic Fairhaven neighborhood for the best of the city in a nutshell. Keeping the spirit of town founder “Dirty” Dan Harris alive, Kolby LaBree is owner, lifelong Bellinghamster and historical researcher for The Good Time Girls. Her tours provide fascinating insights into the city’s past. Self-guided history tours are also listed on the city website. After the tour, stroll downtown Fairhaven. Village Books is a fantastic general bookstore with a huge kids section and Tony’s Coffee is a local legend. Whatcom Falls Park is an awesome 241-acre land of adventures with five miles of trails, a 100-year old railroad trestle, a pump track for BMX-ers and oh so many waterfalls. Further afield, Bellingham lies in the heart of fertile Whatcom County farm country. There’s always fun at Bellewood Farms where families can stock up on apple treats, peanut butter, crafts and locally distilled booze. With 14 breweries for just 90,000 people, Bellingham has become a beer mecca. Boundary Bay was the first, and families can enjoy relaxed outdoor seating with individual fire pits that truly warm up the entire table.

Dine or stay at lovely The Chrysalis Inn & Spa, with views of the bay and easy access to Taylor Dock, the walking-on-water trail which connects Fairhaven to the Bellingham Farmer’s Market, two miles north. On-site restaurant Keenan’s at the Pier invites a lazy linger over lunch, with yummy “handhelds” (sandwiches) and chowders, and beers on tap from Wander Brewing. The grilled cheese sandwich is “probably the best grilled cheese sandwich on a kid’s menu in history,” according to one eight-year old aficionado.

Online: bellingham.org

Western Montana

For rustic winter elegance, there's nowhere quite like Western Montana. So cross that state border, Big Sky Country is yours to discover. Relish some of the world's most famous "dude ranches," which are world-class resorts, filled with the finest food and drink, horse and carriage rides, hiking, mountain biking, archery, fishing, skating, skiing and more. It's worth treating your group to the rhinestone rodeo luxury at The Resort at Paws Up, about 30 minutes from Missoula. Glide on an ice-skating rink, horseback ride or try dog sledding or skijoring—a wild ride where skiers are pulled by a dog or horse!

The Ranch at Rock Creek, 90 minutes southeast of Missoula, is also known as "RRC," the monogram appearing on the plush towels and linens. It is a stunning wonderland of glamping, revelry and endless fun. Whether leading a ride deep into snowy mountain ravines, or simply pouring a dram of the fine local single malt, the guides and hosts at the Ranch at Rock Creek are always the friendliest and best reason to visit. Bowling alley, theater and stagecoach rides add to the delights.

Online: visitmt.com

Ilwaco

The stormy waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest have been called the Graveyard of the Pacific, and Ilwaco’s lighthouses still brave the night and fog to keep sailors safe. Ilwaco is rich in seafood, friendly locals and untamed natural beauty along with fantasies of adventure on the high seas. Located in a peaceful harbor inside the river, the Port of Ilwaco is where the action is. Time Enough Books is a well-stocked indie bookstore and the Salt Hotel & Pub fills little tummies with kid’s grilled cheese and chicken strips. Take your picnic to Cape Disappointment, one of the most impressive state parks in Washington. The site overlooks the confluence of the world’s largest ocean and the West’s largest river. Walk in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark, see an installation and gaze upon the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast. From there active families can hike trails to another lighthouse, or bring bikes and ride the Discovery Trail.

Barely a year old, At the Helm is the type of property that rejuvenates an entire community, as well as its guests. Owner and local resident, Marcene Miller, comes from a fishing family and her passion for boating life, along with her great style, is reflected throughout the property. Kiddo-friendly on-site restaurant Waterline Pub serves local Willapa Bay oysters and steamer clams, and locals rave about the Seafood Nosh Board. The outdoor firepit makes for a convivial family hangout, as the boats anchor lazily just feet away.

Online: visitlongbeachpeninsula.com

Suncadia Resort - Cle Elum

Suncadia arrives just as the sun breaks through over Snoqualmie Pass, leaving the Seattle gray behind. Now is the time to go for sunlight glistening on snow at this year-round property bedecked in winter wonderland adventures. Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ice skating and sleigh rides all await. Rope Tow Inner Tubing Hill and guided winter tours, like fishing and snowmobiling, offer safe, exhilarating fun for all ages. Fancy yourself a lumberjack? Try their latest offering axe throwing (the older kids will love it). The Winter Shop has snowshoe rentals—impromptu forest walks encouraged. Stroll by Nelson Dairy Farm to wow your kiddos when they see the elk herds passing through.

Due to recent guidelines, all Suncadia activities are for guests only, ensuring your family’s health and safety. Groups can stay at The Lodge at Suncadia or rent a home. For a quieter experience couples stay at the charming Inn at Suncadia. Enjoy dinner in your room, Portals serves delicious farm-to-table Pacific Northwest cuisine to-go. For an escape from your escape, visit the nearby City of Roslyn, a cute village with shops and restaurants.

Online: suncadiaresort.com

Port Townsend

Port Townsend is like a portal to another dimension, with its perfectly preserved Victorian architecture juxtaposed with artists, aging hippies, foodie finds and military history. The town's fine assortment of Victorian B&Bs offer warm blankets and blazing fireplaces for chilly travelers. Walk down to the water’s edge, aptly named Water Street is the place to eat, shop and explore. Howell’s Sandwich Shop is tucked away behind Lively Olive Tasting Bar, with a wonderful ocean view for sundowners and sandwiches. Elevated Ice Cream Company is a favorite stop for kids of all ages, a local institution since 1977. For a special night out, Finistere has become a major culinary destination, so shed your hiking gear for smart shoes and prepare your taste buds for excellence. For wintry fresh air with sea views, the čičməhán Trail features 18 interpretive trail signs organized into three-, six- and 12-mile loops. The totems and markers educate visitors on the history of the Jamestown S’Klallum people, who lived in the area for centuries, as well as the European settlers. Stroll around a few easy monuments or bike around to see more. 

Online: enjoypt.com

Long Beach

Long Beach’s old-timey vibe welcomes families and allows for an instant exhale. Ah… vacation. The wide, aptly named beach stretches for 28 miles, with dunes and waving reeds, and you can still drive on the beach for wave watching and sunset gawking. Besides walking, playing, biking, bird-watching and beach combing, the town has much to offer. Famous for its summer kite festival, a stop into the Kite Museum is a must. Dylan's Cottage Bakery is a true gem. The century-old, family-run bakery and deli has the friendliest staff who guide you through cases of mouthwatering doughy sweets. BOLD has the best coffee in town. Peruse their unique art for sale while waiting for your latte. Eden's Bouquet is a tasteful, exquisitely curated kids boutique.

Stay at the Boardwalk Cottages, well-positioned near the main drag and beach. These charming abodes make you feel like you just purchased property a la plage. You receive your own private code via text, making check-in safe and simple. Kitchens are stocked with everything needed to reheat, cook or cocktail. The electric fireplace warms the room, and amenities like microwave popcorn encourage movie nights. Part of Adrift Hospitality, Boardwalk Cottages has access to the Adrift Hotel amenities. Your little water babies will love the heated outdoor, covered pool while you sweat it out in the wooden sauna a few steps away.

Online: visitlongbeachpeninsula.com

photo: Greg Freitas

Olympia

Small town warmth, bountiful farms and the best pizza in the state. You can find it all along the Thurston Bountiful Byway, a region that extends from Olympia to such colorful rural towns as Yelm, Tenino, Rainier and Grand Mound. Stretch little legs after the scenic drive by heading to Nisqually Wildlife Refuge which hosts wintering songbirds and peregrine falcons. Biking along the flat, 14-mile Yelm-Tenino Trail is a relaxing way to enjoy the fresh air. Grab a free bike from the Tenino Yellow Bicycle Project or bring your own. We love Lattin's Country Cider Mill & Farm because there is a delicious market, award-winning apple cider, a play area with wooden maze for kids and baby animals! We promised insane pizza and here it is: Pizzeria La Gitana. They use only organic produce, antibiotic-free meats and organic, non-GMO flour imported from Italy. Each bite is like a taste of Roma in your mouth. Bellissimo! Talking Cedar Brewing is a buzzing new place with an excellent kids menu, as well as adult-sized burgers and their own beer on tap. For a real sugar rush stop by Main Street Cookie Company, you will be addicted after one bite.

Check into the Prairie Hotel in Yelm and make it your home base. The welcoming and accommodating staff provide a warm vibe, and the huge suites are as well-equipped as they are homey. Sofas in the living area turn into beds for the kids, and flat screens in each room make for movie and sports viewing simultaneously. No fighting over the remote!

Online: experienceolympia.com

Walla Walla

Calling all foodie families! Walla Walla is your gourmet getaway. Tasting rooms abound, enabling oenophiles to sip award-winning wines with ease in kid-friendly environs. Tiny art aficionados will love exploring the sculpture garden at Whitman College and the self-guided map makes for a great scavenger hunt for the kiddos. Walla Walla is a fertile region known for its asparagus, sweet onions, and much more. Walla Walla restaurants have brought their menus outdoors to diners seated in bright orange “parklets.” Bacon & Eggs starts the day right with bountiful breakfasts and cocktails to match. Brasserie Four serves fine French for a classy night on the town. Ooh la la! For authentic Mexican, we highly recommend Grandma's Kitchen, or order family-style entrées like glazed meatloaf or veggie lasagna from Walla Walla Steak Company's to-go menu.

Hipster parents and kids with faux-hawks will flock to The Finch. The festive downtown hotel is a short walk to all the fun and winter decorations. The Finch is modern and sleek, with whimsical wine décor adorning each room. Upon check in adults enjoy complimentary wine while kids gather s'mores kits for the outdoor fire pit. The Finch offers bikes for cruising around town and games like Cornhole and pétanque for "friendly" competitions in the courtyard. 

Online: wallawalla.org

photo: Josephine Skoog/Loews Hotel

Seattle

Who's in for a winter staycation? Seattle area hotels are ready to pamper and spoil your family, so cut the drive time and let the chillaxing begin! The polished design of Hyatt Regency Lake Washington greets guests as they enter, along with the peaceful lake view and Seattle skyline. Check into the posh rooms, all have water views for a sunset show. Order the Lakeside Glamping package to see the delight in your kids' eyes when they open the door and a tepee—replete with cozy pillows, soft blankets and s'mores plate—greets them. Kids also receive a board game of choice to play and adults get late check out for sleeping in...fingers crossed. This getaway has long been a local favorite, but the new addition of Dock & Drink levels it up. This lakeside bistro is a glittering gem, and the heaters and well-ventilated air-filtration system make this outdoor oasis warm and safe.

Check into the Loews Hotel 1000 and take advantage of their Welcoming You Like Family package. Free parking, daily $25 food credit at All Water Seafood & Oyster Bar, room upgrades and best of all–late checkout at 4 p.m. This enables families to have that extra last day exploring all the waterfront fun nearby. Be sure to ask for their “Getaway in a Glass” cocktail recipe to stir up a sundowner. Have the kids fill the bathtub, the design is fun for everyone, and get your afternoon soak on.

Wonder what it's like to live in a penthouse suite? Book a room at the Hyatt Regency Seattle and ask for a Regency Club room on the 45th floor. When the door opens, jaws will drop. More like a famous fashion designer's abode than a hotel room, these spaces have open kitchens, a dining room that seats ten and two separate sitting areas. Worry not, there will be no cooking as long as Andare Kitchen & Bar is on call for room service. Board games like Aggravation, Backgammon, and 3D Clue provide entertainment for hours. The Hyatt Regency Seattle is focusing on families for 2021 and hopes to roll out movie nights and game nights by late January.

Online: visitseattle.org

—Natalie Compagno

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