Where to Go and What to Do During Pacific Northwest Winters

Winter is coming, and if you live in the Pacific Northwest, that means rain, rain, and more rain. The PNW isn’t exactly known as a winter-wonder getaway, but if you’re familiar with the area, it can be heavenly. Whether skiing on an active volcano, staying at a lodge that made movie history, driving along a misty coast, or sitting by a fire and drinking a hot cup of tea, winters in the PNW might just be the best time of year.

The Coast

The Orcas islands in Washington State are always packed in the summer with kayakers hoping to catch a glimpse of the famed killer whales that frequent the waters. But in the winter, the island turns into a quaint, dreamy, picturesque town covered in white (fairy) dust. Visit the many charming chapels and shops or simply take in the awe-inspiring natural beauty that never loses its luster no matter what time of year. Hike the 4,600-plus acre Moran State park and climb the summit of the island’s highest point, Mount Constitution, where splendid views of Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains can be seen. One thing’s for sure, if you love solitude, then Orcas Island in the winter will not disappoint.

The PNW is pretty mild in the winter compared to other areas; it is neither a snowglobe of powder and ice or a tropical paradise. To put things in perspective, winter in Oregon and Washington feels like spring in the upper Midwest. That means you can comfortably do outdoor activities with just a warm rain jacket and boots, and the coast doesn’t normally freeze or snow. The scenery is mysterious and dramatic all along the Oregon coast during winters. Travel Oregon made a stunning video that featured Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, Sea Lion Caves, Devil’s Lake, and Thor’s Well, among others, in the wintertime. Rent a room right by the water and watch as angry waves crash against the rocks.

Ski Resorts

The Timberline is probably Oregon’s most famous hotel. Situated 5,960 feet on Mount Hood, this depression-era hotel oozes with rustic sophistication. The lodge has been named a National Historic Landmark and the exterior was featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic, The Shining. Timberline has its own extensive ski chalet with a plethora of instructors at your beck and call. Once you’re down skiing or snowboarding down Mount Hood (an active volcano), sit down next to the massive stone fireplace and sip some hot chocolate. It’s the perfect place for writing that novel you’ve always thought about completing; just make sure it’s not “all work and no play.” The lodge offers rooms in the hand-built “People’s Lodge” for as low as $75.

USA Today reports that the Eastern Cascades’ Mission Ridge ski resort for is the best destination for light and easily-traversable snow in Washington State. The lodge can hold its own weight when compared to Telluride or Vail, and it sits 4,570 feet above sea level. You know you can’t go wrong, as it has stellar reviews on both Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Hot Springs

There’s nothing better than taking a dip in a steaming hot tub of water when it’s cold outside. Luckily, there are an abundance of natural hot springs in the PNW. Bagby Hot Springs is nestled in the Mt. Hood National Forest provides numerous wooden tubs filled with volcanic mineral water straight from the mountain for visitors. Just be sure to bring warm clothes because the hike in is about a mile and half through some tough terrain.

Up in Washington State? Make sure to visit Olympic Hot Springs. The popular destination lies within a lush forest of fir and hemlock, between the whitewater rapids of Boulder Creek. There are seven soakers in a various sizes and temperatures, and one by a waterfall.

If you are inn Alaska (yes, the land of the midnight sun is part of the PNW), go to the Chena Hot Springs Resort. These springs were found in 1905 during the Gold Rush and is said to cure rheumatism. Two hours from Fairbanks, this resort is one of the premier attractions of inner Alaska. The average temperature of the water hovers around 153 degrees (Fahrenheit). KTUU has called Chena Hot Springs “the fountain of youth” due to its healing waters.

Hot Tea and a Comfy Seat

Red Robe Tea House & Cafe (located in the Old Town/Chinatown part of Portland) is across from the stunning Lan Su Chinese Gardens. The teahouse has an extensive list of high-quality oolong, pu-erh, black, green, and herbal teas from the land where tea began. According to Portland Monthly, the cafe is filled with “beautiful teapots and ceramics, and Chinese instrumental music all add to the ambience, allowing a calming break from the city’s bustle.” Best of all, the menu features many healthy vegetarian dishes and traditional Chinese treats.  

Nothing hits the spot better than a warm cup of tea in winter. Portland isn’t just known for exceptional coffee, they are also tea fanatics. Homegrown Portland company Tea Chai Te started off as a college project, but later evolved into one of the best handcrafted tea companies in the PNW. With over 120 tea selections, visit either one of two locations (southeast or northwest Portland).

Another school project, Townshend’s Tea Company, began in 2002 with the goal to serve high-end tea in a relaxed, chill atmosphere. Sit back on a comfy tufted sofa and drink a candy-cap mushroom latte blended with Yunnan Hong Cha black tea, or have a hot toddy tea. It’s easy to see why this teahouse has such a loyal following.

Day at the Museum

Seattle has a plethora of amazing museums, and there’s no better time to visit than during the cold, wet days of winter. Hailed as the “best art museum in the Pacific Northwest,” the Seattle Art Museum is top notch. Located in downtown Seattle, SAM offers free admission on the first Thursday and Saturday of the month. Established in 1933, the museum has over 25,000 pieces.

The Frank Gehry designed Experience Music Project (EMP) museum is dedicated to pop culture and rock ‘n’ roll. Created in 2000 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, it features memorabilia from Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. Bask in the birth of grunge and visit the EMP museum. According to the Seattle Times, the museum is currently hosting an “eye-popping” Hello Kitty exhibit.

Or Just Stay in and Toke…

One of the best things about the PNW is that weed is recreationally legal throughout Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. If you’re not into outdoor activities, go to one of many dispensaries and buy some LEGAL weed. Bring it back to your room, order a pizza, put on a movie, and just chill. It’s the perfect PNW winter recreation.

How will you spend your Pacific Northwest Winter?




Zara Zhi
Zara Zhi
Zara is a freelance writer and filmmaker who has worked for numerous magazines and news sites. When not coming up with puns or writing screenplays, she enjoys having blind children read to her and donating plasma TVs. Follow her on Twitter: @zarazhi