One of the best parts of winter has to be snow. As a kid, I’d dream of the chance to join forces with the neighborhood children to build jumps for our sleds, engage in an epic snowball battle, and build a life-size replica of Frosty the Snowman.

The only problem was, living near the Puget Sound often meant accumulation of snow was rather unlikely. In fact, Thurston County only averages eight inches of powder annually leaving many families making the decision that if the snow doesn’t come to them, then they must head to the snow.

There are many options for winter wonderland fun just a short road trip away.

paradise sledding
A winter scene at the Snowplay Area at paradise in Mount Rainier National Park

First stop? Paradise. The aptly named location on Mount Rainier quickly becomes the spot for snow enthusiasts of all ages. For the cost of $25 per car, families gain access to all Mount Rainier National Park has to offer including their Snowplay Area. This permitted parking area includes sledding and snowshoeing with nearly 50 feet of snow and the famous peak looming in the background. The Snowplay Area is only open weekends and during school winter breaks so plan accordingly. For the most updated information on the park, check out their Twitter page.

About an hour and a half northeast of Olympia the The Summit at Snoqualmie offers access to snow through skiing and tubing. The biggest problem with the busy spot can be the cost. However, there is a way to take the family for a flurry of fun without breaking the bank. First, they offer snow tubing tickets for kids age five and younger that are only $5 each, making this a great choice for families with young children. They also offer a 10% rebate on all tubing tickets for military service members with ID. Be sure to buy tickets online as many days on the slopes sell out quickly.

snow play
Snowball fights, sledding, and snowshoeing await families that explore a variety of snow sites.

If the Summit is too costly, along the I-90 corridor, snow seekers will find Hyak Sno-Park. A one day permit of $20 allows visitors access to groomed sledding hills, marked snowshoe trails and heated restrooms. This old Milwaukee railroad stop is located within Iron Horse State Park. Original tunnels and tracks trail through the park making for historical exploration as the family enjoys fun in the snow. This park is especially popular during winter weekends so it’s important to head out early to guarantee one of the coveted parking spots.

White Pass Ski Area is well known for skiing but they also have a great tubing and play area. Visitors to this area can enjoy tubing at a fraction of the price found at ski resorts closer to Seattle. Children eight and under are $5 a session while those over eight will only pay $8 per session. If you happen to have a child that is in third grade, White Pass offers a program called 3rd Grade Free. If your third grader takes a safety class and proves their grade level status with a student identification card, they will receive a free season pass. It’s a great way to experience what White Pass has to offer.

white Pass
The annual Winter Carnival at White Pass is a huge draw for families, offering everything from ski racing and ice sculptures to the snow castle pictured here.

Finally, if you are willing to wait, there is an opportunity to enjoy the snow very close to home. In January, The Hands on Children’s Museum hosts Snow Days. Fresh powder from White Pass is brought into town by the truckload for children of all ages to enjoy. As the snow pack grows, the official dates will be announced for this annual event. Keep an eye on the HOCM events calendar for updates.

Gather the family, pack those mittens, and head out into the winter wonderlands that are only a short drive away for snow filled fun this season.

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 For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and the surrounding area, visit our complete events calendar.

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