Winter Getaways

Written By Beth Geiger

Winter is here — time to warm up to some of Washington’s coolest adventures. Tromp through snowy forests, dodge salt spray as waves thunder onto a driftwood-strewn beach, and get your wild on as you watch soaring eagles and blizzards of snow geese.

Snow Nice

Snowshoe into the Central Cascades for a delightful adventure in the wintery magic of forests you’ve helped protect. The quiet blur of falling snow, the flick of a gray jay, the rich shadows of a winter afternoon. Forest Service rangers lead snowshoe hikes at Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and other locations, with snowshoes available. No experience needed, but advance reservations are required. National Park Service rangers also lead guided snowshoe hikes at Paradise on Mount Rainier.

The Mountaineers’ Meany Lodge, east of Snoqualmie Pass, is a fine, if rustic, overnight base for winter explorations. The lodge, located within the Conservancy’s 2014 purchase of 48,000 forest acres, is accessible by ski or sno-cat. In winter, the property features cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, a private downhill ski area and simple, dorm-style accommodations including group meals. 

A little sunshine more your thing? Head east to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area outside Yakima, where elk share that same sensibility. Each winter, these four-legged “snowbirds” migrate from the snowy Cascade Crest to the relative warmth of the pine-scented eastern slopes. About a dozen years ago, The Conservancy purchased a 10,000-acre swath of adjacent forest and donated it to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. The addition protected migration corridors between the elk's summer and winter grounds. You can ride along on the feed truck for a close look at elk (reservations recommended, contact the refuge).

Surf’s Up

Waves lash the Pacific coast with wild fury. Gulls screech and whirl overhead. The scene is dynamic, yet somehow calming. And yes, storm watching is a thing, especially on Washington’s fabled western edge. At La Push, near Forks, dodge salt spray at First Beach or hike to the stunning wilderness coast at Second Beach. Either destination provides wind-whipped immersion into winter’s wrath.

Poseidon also dishes up plenty of excitement at Cape Disappointment State Park, further south near Ilwaco, Even better, some spray here may not be from waves, but the spout of south-bound grey whales. Thousands are spotted from here every winter in late December through January.

Washington’s coastline is a diverse gem, where commercial fishing is balanced with scenic treasures. The Conservancy works with the Quileute and Quinault Nations to recover lost crab pots, fishing gear, and other debris. With your help, we are working to preserve this coast for the future, while recovering valuable fishing equipment.

Winter’s For the Birds

Nothing shouts “Puget Sound winter” quite like the din of ten thousand snow geese. Clouds of the big white birds gather in the Skagit delta from November to March, attracting devoted flocks of birdwatchers. At the Skagit Wildlife Area near Conway, see birds along a two mile walk, or from the viewing platform at Fir Island Farms Reserve. Here, the Conservancy has helped restore the estuary, and farmers plant a buffet of winter wheat for geese.

It’s a special thrill to spot even one bald eagle in the wild, much less dozens. The majestic white head and stern pose are evocative symbols of nature’s power and beauty. Each winter hundreds of bald eagles gather along the upper Skagit River near Rockport to feast on a buffet of returning salmon. Pack a thermos of hot tea and float the river on a raft for a truly moving scenic experience, or look for eagles from several road-side points along Highway 20. Eagles and salmon are part of a fascinating ecological cycle at the heart of the Skagit River ecosystem. The Conservancy has been working here for decades, preserving critical habitat for both eagles and salmon.