Winter’s arrival in Seattle may mean gray skies, chilly temperatures, and shorter days—but the cold season doesn’t mean a shortage of fun for those of us who love adventures in the outdoors. From snowy peaks to holiday festivities, now that it is December some of the area’s best perks are ready to be taken advantage of in the months ahead.
Here, our top recommendations for winter adventures in Seattle, from an icy plunge in Pontiac Bay, to snowshoeing in the North Cascades, so you can get the most out of the season this year.
1. Night ski at Snoqualmie Pass.
Just an hour’s drive from downtown, The Summit at Snoqualmie is Seattle’s most convenient way to get a quick fix of powder. And if you want to really maximize your time on the slopes, visit at night: It will mean less time in line, so in just a few hours you’ll feel as if you’ve gotten in a full day. The Summit stays open until 10 pm, so it's also a great way to get in a mid-week adventure after work.
2. Go for a run in your holiday best.
Nothing makes a footrace festive like the collective jingling of bells tied to the feet of fellow runners. Join for Jingle Bell walk/run, Run Run Rudolph 5K, or Street Scramble at the Market, and you’ll get in the holiday spirit while dashing through a sea of Santa hats.
3. Chow down at Winter Feast.
One of Seattle’s favorite outdoor markets, the Fremont Market, held every Sunday, is a perfect place to pick up last-minute holiday gifts. Come December 13, you’ll be able to sample the local grub, too, as 20 food trucks will be parked near the Burke-Gilman , serving up delicious dishes at the annual Winter Feast .
4. Soak up the lights at Leavenworth.
Leavenworth is not only a kitschy Bavarian-themed tourist town but also the launching pad for weekend excursions full of climbing, hiking, or biking in the summer, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. Come see it during Bavarian Icefest, held MLK weekend, January 17-18, and the village will take on an extra-festive flair. You'll be able to make snow sculptures, sled, and see fireworks from the village decked out in lights.
5. Take the Polar Bear Plunge.
Take 2016 head-on by throwing yourself into Lake Washington’s frigid winter waters at the annual January 1 Polar Bear Plunge. There's a few options for how to do it: Run into the 49-degree water in the company of hundreds of other crazies at the official event at Matthews Beach, warm up by jogging the Resolution Run 5K through Magnuson Park before jumping off the park’s boat launch, or take the challenge even further by rounding up some friends to submerge yourselves in Puget Sound’s 43-degree water at Golden Gardens or Alki Beach.
6. Cycle Chilly Hilly.
A decades-old tradition, Chilly Hilly is a much-loved annual race that circles the perimeter of Bainbridge Island. Jump on the ferry with your bike, and join over 5,000 other cyclists for the tough 33-mile ride on February 28. There may be a lot of hills to climb, but stick with it and you’ll be treated to Puget Sound views, a fun vibe, and hot chili and baked goods at the finish line.
7. Warm up at an outdoor fire pit.
When you find yourself longing for summer’s sweet campfires, do yourself a favor and head to a restaurant or bar equipped with an outdoor fire pit. Westward ’s fire pit overlooking Lake Union has the best views, Quoin boasts the best atmosphere, and the Shelter Lounge will let you satisfy your cravings when you inevitably want to start roasting s’mores.
8. Tromp in the snow.
While Seattle doesn’t usually get snow in the city, there’s usually ample of it to be found in its nearby hills. Strapping on a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis and exploring the evergreens blanketed in white is a Pacific Northwest experience that can’t be missed. Head to the North Cascades, Snoqualmie Pass, or Lake Wenatchee State Park and you’ll quickly find yourself in a winter wonderland.
9. Sample the brews at Winter Beer Fest.
One of the best things about getting outside in the winter is sipping on a dark, spicy seasonal brew at the end of the adventure. But with so many local breweries to choose from, how to know which one to choose? Come to Winter Beer Fest on December 4-5 at Magnuson Park and you’ll be able to sort out the conundrum by sampling varieties made by more than 50 Washington breweries. 'Tis the season for tasting, after all.
10. Visit a state park—for free.
From Bridle Trails to Saint Edward to Wallace Falls , Seattleites are lucky to have a lot of beautiful state parks nearby. They’re well worth the price of admission (the Discover Pass is required to park in the lot) any day of the year, but the deal is especially sweet when that price is free—which it will be this winter on January 1, January 17-18, and March 19. Consider it a present to yourself and put one (or all) of those dates on the calendar.