Escape (or embrace) the Big Dark: 5 travel ideas for winter in WA

After the holidays, the gloom and gray skies of Seattle winter can seem to last an eternity. But you can ditch those winter blues and book an adventure near or far to break up the stretches of dark, damp, dreary days in Western Washington.

Take a winter retreat in the Cascades where the rain turns to snow. Stay close to Seattle and pamper yourself. Or chase the sun to replenish your supply of vitamin D — with a volunteer-minded, nature-focused twist on a Hawaiian getaway.

These five ideas for winter travel will help you embrace (or escape) the Big Dark in Seattle. Click through the following options to travel to that section.

Salish Lodge, winter walks | Mountain Loop Highway escapes | Try a Seattle staycation | … or a spa day | Go to Hawaii, give back 


Salish Lodge, Snoqualmie Falls and winter walks

You can drive an hour from Seattle in almost any direction and find a vacation-worthy destination. If you want to escape the city but don’t have the time, budget or energy to travel far, drive 30 miles to Salish Lodge & Spa (salishlodge.com; 6501 Railroad Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie; 425-888-2556). Situated on the edge of the roaring Snoqualmie Falls, you can tap into the calm nature of the Pacific Northwest at this gorgeous lodge known for its star turn on “Twin Peaks.” 

From the doorstep of Salish Lodge & Spa, you’ll be able to walk along a number of interactive paths to the falls. Snoqualmie Falls takes on a different life during each season, and in winter, it’s particularly powerful and often found encircled by fog and mist — or falling snow, if you’re lucky. Head out to one of the observation decks to take in the grandeur of the Cascade rapids and the surrounding scenery and inhale some fresh, mountain air. When you’re ready, head back inside and cozy up in the lodge’s modern, cozy, swanky digs. 

Or take a walk through nearby downtown Snoqualmie, filled with fun shops, cafes, eateries, the Northwest Railway Museum’s historical Snoqualmie depot (trainmuseum.org; 38625 S.E. King St., Snoqualmie; 425-888-3030) and Snoqualmie Falls Brewery (fallsbrew.com; 8032 Falls Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie; 425-831-2357). If you’re feeling adventurous, consider layering up for a snowshoeing jaunt at the new Annette Lake Sno-Park. After some fun in the snow, return to a crackling fire at the lodge. 

If you’d rather stay in and stay warm, Salish is the perfect place to unwind: Have a locally sourced, seasonal meal in the lodge’s Dining Room restaurant or indulge in treatments at the day spa like deep-tissue massages, deep exfoliations and nourishing facials. Find your happy mental sunny place.


Cozy escapes on the Mountain Loop Highway

Washington’s Mountain Loop Highway is a slice of PNW heaven, boasting a treasure trove of majestic evergreen trees and snowy peaks along the 55-mile highway between mountain towns Granite Falls and Darrington. Unfortunately, the loop is incomplete for winter travelers: The section between Deer Creek Gate and Bedal Campground is closed until spring. But the road up until Deer Creek is still reachable from Seattle, weather permitting, as is the northern half of the scenic byway that stretches south from Darrington.

You’ll find no shortage of the powdery white stuff in this neck of the woods, so if snowshoe, backcountry and cross-country ski adventures are what you seek, pack the gear, book an Airbnb or Vrbo and take a winter road trip to trade Seattle’s drizzles for snowy scenes in the Cascades away from ski-area crowds.

The Mountain Loop Highway is dotted with countless cozy cabins. Think timber A-frames complete with hot tubs, crackling fireplaces and piles of blankets. Bring your favorite games (or see if your host has any), hot cocoa and whatever else you need for the coziest weekend of the season. 

Short-term rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo are littered with cabins for groups of different sizes and budget levels, from chic, intimate nooks overlooking Canyon Creek to secluded mountain escapes and even a treehouse decked-out with a luxurious tub. (Yes, a tub is a must.)


Take a Seattle staycation

If you’re craving a change of scenery without leaving town, treat yourself to a staycation in the heart of Seattle. Pack a bag and head downtown for a weekend exploring your own backyard with two fun hotels as your potential home base. We picked one splurge and one option that won’t break the bank.  

The Palihotel Seattle (palisociety.com/hotels/seattle; 107 Pine St., Seattle; 206-596-0600) is a fun, contemporary, budget-friendly boutique with 96 rooms that opened in 2018. Right across from Pike Place Market and Elliott Bay, Palihotel makes a great place to play tourist for the weekend. The quirky space is awash in shades of green, blending contemporary with vintage touches throughout. You’ll find options for queens and kings, of course, or even bunk beds. 

Truly, the hotel itself is a draw. The lounge is filled with intriguing décor and piles of books to entice you on a rainy day. The hotel restaurant, The Hart and The Hunter, is a twist on the classic diner, with tiled floors and green vinyl booths that evoke 1950s Americana.  

Nearby, the luxurious, recently renovated Hotel 1000 (hotel1000seattle.com; 1000 First Ave., Seattle; 206-957-1000) sits on the doorstep of the Market, offering a weekend escape right downtown. Act like a tourist in your town — or just get some R&R at the hotel. 

Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city’s energy … or book yourself a massage at the hotel spa. In prime foodie territory, enjoy dinner downtown … or forget the cold and start your evening in the hotel’s Bell Lounge, unwinding with a cocktail to the strums of local musicians. Or try All Water Seafood and Oyster Bar, which serves seafood classics with Pacific Northwest flair, from seared halibut and seafood chowder to king salmon, moules frites and local oysters on the half-shell. (Not a seafood lover? The truffle pecorino pasta is a creamy bowl of heaven.) After dinner, let your worries float away as you soak in one of Hotel 1000’s signature pedestal tubs, then sink into plush bedding overlooking the Seattle waterfront. 


… or just a spa day

You may be sensing a spa theme here.

If you are looking to counter the cold weather and breathe some life back into your mind and body amidst the darkest days of Seattle’s winter, not much beats a spa day. There are many good options around Greater Seattle, including the “urban spa experience” at Banya 5 in South Lake Union (banya5.com; 217 Ninth Ave. N., Seattle; 206-262-1234). Banya 5 has a bit of everything: steam rooms, saunas, cold and hot pools, Turkish hammams, and a menu of body treatments like massages, mud wraps and salt scrubs. 

Book a two-hour spa pass for $60; if you pay to reserve an additional treatment, access to the spa facilities is reduced to $45. You can complement your pool and sauna day with custom massages and reflexology to help release tension or scrubs and wraps to refresh your skin. 

The sauna and steam room will help stimulate blood flow and circulation, while cold-water immersion helps flush toxins from your body. The sauna, steam room and hot tub also help relax tense muscles and soften skin to leave you feeling refreshed and renewed.  


Go to Hawaii, find nature and give back

If you typically counter the humdrum of gray winter days by escaping to warmer climes, consider an island vacation with a natural, service-minded twist: Trade in the crowds of Oahu or Maui for the Big Island; Alaska Airlines flies direct.

The island of Hawaii is a haven of microclimates renowned for its volcanic activity. Start your escape with a road trip among the lush valleys and small-town treasures in Waimea and Hāwī, or stop at Pololū Valley for a day of hiking or lounging on a black sand beach. At Makalawena Beach on the western coast of Hawaii, you can trek among volcanic rock and admire the brilliant blue waters. 

The island has many immersive experiences that allow visitors to learn and give back. Wander back in time on a guided hike from Hawaiian Legacy Tours (hawaiianlegacytours.com) at ‘Umikoa, exploring a centuries-old Hawaiian forest, keeping watch for rare birds, and aiding reforestation efforts by planting a seedling.  

At Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (nps.gov/havo/index.htm), you can witness active lava glowing and help protect the summit landscapes of Kīlauea volcano and the Hawaiian forest Kīpukapuaulu, too: Volunteers can assist National Park Service workers clearing out invasive species in the forest to help native trees thrive, all while being serenaded by birdsong.

Or head out on an excursion with Uluha‘o o Hualālai (uluhao.com), a family company that has been engaged in the stewardship of the Hualālai volcano for four generations. Traverse forests buzzing with the sounds of native birds and circle the summit of the crater while listening to legends about the volcano. 

Finally, for an underwater adventure, Hawaii’s Kona Coast is known for its giant manta rays, which are nocturnally active. (Rough conditions can cancel dives during winter.) Kona’s Anelakai Adventures (anelakaiadventures.com) offers eco-friendly tours that showcase these awesome creatures without using gas, oil or motors, allowing visitors to paddle out in a hull canoe and dip into the Pacific to snorkel with manta rays beneath the glow of moonlight. 

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