Winter is here, bringing with it chilly weather that fills residents of the South Sound with a desire to stay warm, dry and indoors. While the urge to be wrapped up in a blanket while sipping cocoa does sound appealing, the winter months create endless outdoor experiences and a way to kick start a full year of adventures in the seemingly endless natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
This year, instead of being reclusive indoors, take the weekends to head outdoors and discover the best hikes and outdoor destinations for your family. Load up the car, bring your rain gear and warm clothes, and get ready for five breathtaking excursions in the most beautiful places around our region.
1. Drive to Paradise
Two hours from downtown Olympia, far from the salty air of the Puget Sound, a path to Paradise has been paved, complete with a parking lot. At 5,400 feet above sea level, on the slopes of our region’s iconic active volcano, Mount Rainier’s Paradise is one of America’s premier winter destinations, providing sweeping views of the always gorgeous Cascade Mountain Range. The region has a sledding area for families and even has snowshoes available if you want to join a tour led by rangers. Read more about winter at Paradise here. Under the shadow of the mountain and across the valley from the Tatoosh Range, Paradise is the ultimate Pacific Northwest winter wonderland. If the weather is too nasty for your family, stay down lower in Mount Rainier National Park and explore winter hikes around Longmire. Walk across the Nisqually River on the historic wooden bridge or enjoy the myriad of pull-offs and waterfalls along the road.
2. Take the Olympic Waterfall Tour
Known for rainforests and salmon-filled rivers, glacial-fed mountains and wilderness beauty, the Olympic Peninsula is one of the more underrated natural gems in the nation. What makes the region so spectacular is the endless amount of water pouring down from the mountains and clouds, gathering together and creating scenic awe-inspiring waterfalls. Close to Olympia, the Hood Canal has a few waterfalls that are great destinations for families of all ages and abilities. Above the South Fork of the Skokomish River, crossing the High Steel Bridge allows you a glimpse at Vincent Creek Falls. Dropping a total of 250 feet, this waterfall is seen from the bridge, which is 300 feet above the river below. If you love sweeping views and heights, do not miss this destination. Further up Hood Canal, along the Duckabush River, Murhut Falls is a family-friendly hike of less than two miles round trip. The falls drop 170 feet over two picturesque tiers. Surrounded by ferns, towering Douglas Fir trees and moss covered rocks, this spectacular waterfall is the epitome of Pacific Northwest beauty. Those more adventurous will want to explore the small trail leading straight down 60 feet of scree to the bottom of the lower falls. From here, you can explore and follow the creek to more secret waterfalls and stunning experiences.
3. Nourish Your Soul at Staircase
Located in the Hoodsport region of Olympic National Park, the Staircase area is full of beautiful forests, winter views, elk herds and magnificent wilderness experiences. While access to lakes, mountains and backcountry adventures is possible at Staircase, the highlight for families is the stunning Staircase Loop Trail along the North Fork of the Skokomish River. During the winter, the river is a raging wild beast viewed numerous times on the trail. The highlights of this hike, including the Suspension Bridge are definitely worth the 90 minute drive from Olympia. In less time than it takes to binge watch a few episodes of your favorite show, you could be wandering through the forests of the Skokomish River, having an adventure on one of the easiest and most loved trails in Olympic National Park.
4. Hit the Coast at Kalaloch
While many locals will head down to the Oregon Coast in the winter months, the Olympic Coast provides more beauty and wilderness than anywhere else in the nation. Towering sea stacks rise from the breaking waves of the Pacific Ocean, as driftwood lines the shore like the disposed toothpicks of giants. While many of the remote beaches of the Olympic Coast are quite a long drive, Kalaloch Beach is close enough to make an excellent day trip. Two hours from downtown Olympia, Kalaloch Beach gives you world class experiences right in our backyard. The highlights of Kalaloch Beach include gorgeous Ruby Beach and the Root Tree. Ruby Beach is a short, easy hike that, during the winter, provides solitude, endless beauty and breathtaking sunsets. As eagles circle overhead, and the waves pound the shore, beach-combing for agates or just taking in the view makes this a Pacific Northwest classic. Closer to the Kalaloch Lodge and campground, the famous Root Tree is just a short walk. Parking at the main parking area of the campground, head down the stairs and walk north a few hundred feet and look to the bluffs. Defying the odds, this tree is holding on by its roots, surviving against the power of erosion and the elements. Struggling and somehow living another day, the tree offers inspiration with its resilience, strength and beauty.
5. Rediscover Local Parks
If the previous destinations are too far away, staying locally still offers fun outdoor destinations, no matter the weather. After a dusting of snow, heading down to Millersylvania State Park gives you a snowy trek on eight miles of trails, through beautiful forests and flooded marshes. During cold weather, the normally muddy trails are solid and easy to maneuver, letting you wander for hours just a few minutes from home. In the Capitol Forest, the McLane Creek boardwalk, lets you follow a small creek that is lined with the corpses of hundreds of salmon who returned to spawn during the fall. In addition, the beaver pond, despite possibly being frozen, will be filled with geese and ducks enjoying the ample food supply. Finally, if views of snowy mountains are what you and your family enjoy, take a trip to Priest Point or Burfoot Parks for spectacular views. With the snowy and majestic Olympic Mountains looming large, both parks offer miles of hiking trails and a great way to reconnect with the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County. The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community. If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and the surrounding area, visit our complete event calendar.