Year round hiking in the Pacific Northwest. Sound crazy? Perhaps so. But when you’re in love with the outdoors, it’s hard to let weather get its way. If you’ve lived here through a winter season, you’ll know that seasonal depression is real whether or not you like to deny it. The days are short and the days are dark. Everything is wet and it often seems unpleasant to step foot outside your cozy home. The holidays help a little with the cheery lights and festivities but that only lasts so long, dying as the near year passes. By then days start to get longer but the gloom really doesn’t evade until March. Everyone has different ways to cope and here are my favorite ways to pass the winter time and incorporating the outdoors.
Note: summer/dry hiking season lasts a short 3-4 months from about mid/late June to early/mid October depending on where you go, when the snow melt ends, when the first snowfall starts, and when the constant rainfall begins. Some places may only have a short 2 month dry period if you’re looking for snow free high elevation hikes. So unless you are open to off season hiking the joys of spending time outside can feel fairly limiting.
This is a brief guide (that got maybe a tad long) for all the various activities you can do whether inside, outside in good weather, and outside in bad weather. Obviously this is not all comprehensive, but I’m trying to include as much variety as I can here. The point is to make the winter more fun! Comment if you have more ideas to add on!
Honestly the things you could do indoors is endless. Be open to find different opportunities. Here’s some of my favorites and some my outdoor friends enjoy doing indoors as well!
- Baking and cooking: find a new recipe to challenge your kitchen skills, or impress your friends by hosting a fun dinner. Something I’ve done is hosting a little afternoon tea with all sorts of baked items and savory sandwiches. Find out more of what I’m baking at Vanilla Whisk. Some of my other favorite bloggers include Half Baked Harvest for her hearty yet simple meals, Broma Bakery for her brownies and cake, The Woks of Life for their Chinese cooking. Super stoked for when The Burnt Butter Table gets her website fully running for all things pasta (some recipes on her IG). I also really love cookbooks. Some of my favorites include Le Cordon Bleu (French pastries), anything by Thomas Keller (7 Michelin star chef), Candice Brown (GBBO winner), Mimi Thor (French and Italian cooking)
- Indoor active classes: These are some of the best ways to stay active without going outside, and for some, you can even stay at home! Things like yoga, pilates, climbing gym, aerial silks (I also really like aerial yoga), dance (there’s literally any kind of dance for all levels you can think of, I personally enjoy modern and ballet), your standard gym
- Pick up a new art skill/hobby: knitting, pottery, painting, weaving, embroidery, playing guitar, carving, wood burning
- Resetting yourself: Organize and clean your outdoor gear so they can be safely stored till next use. Plan out what summer trips you want to take and what permits might be needed.
- Do something with your photos! If you’re like me and take thousands of photos every year (or even just hundreds), it’s nice to organize them so you can easily go back to your favorites. Or print them out so you can flip through them physically. I’m a huge proponent of printing out photos even if it’s just and phone picture and even if it’s on a 4×6.
- Get cozy: Find yourself a cozy cabin in the woods with a fireplace or wood burning stove. Add a book or a puzzle or a board game. Enjoy it by yourself or with your closest friends. Cook up some hearty food like stew or chili or a toasty warm drink. Of course all of this could be done in the comfort of your own home too!
- Indoor events: Go to that museum that’s always been on your list (Did you know there’s a bonsai museum in Tacoma??) or that restaurant that you’ve been eyeing for a while. Or take a food tour around all the bakeries or rank your favorite brunch spots. Or go on a bar hop and try out new places! Oh and can I put ice skating here too?
- Volunteer: There’s always something to help around the community with. Whether it’s sorting at a local food bank, tutoring, there’s plenty of opportunities out there!
- The list is pretty endless but I hope this kickstarts a few things for you!
There might be a million niche things to do outdoors in the winter, but it’s probably a little less endless as indoor activities, or at least a bit limited based on gear and such. Here’s ideas based on different conditions
Self explanatory but for sunny days or just barely cloudy days out there
- Biking: It doesn’t normally get too cold in the PNW, so you can still bike around if you bundle up correctly. Gloves are a big must!
- Hiking: Duh, if the weather’s good, get out and hike! Wear layers and monitor your body heat to minimize sweating because it is hard to warm up from that once you stop and get cold. More on snowy hikes below though and this guide to winter hiking to prepare you for what to bring and how to find hikes.
- Rock climbing: If it’s not too cold, you can reasonably rock climb in the winter. Sometimes if you go further east (past the Cascades), you can find the drier, sunnier weather. Otherwise, many people migrate south for that warmer air.
For when it’s dreary out and it might seem annoying to go outside
- Trail running: You can be surprisingly warm while trail running in the rain, just be careful of slippery mud and take appropriate risks (i.e. don’t go out in a full storm), have a change of dry clothes so you can be toasty in your car. Running in the rain can be fun if you let it be! Run with friends, run at whatever pace you feel like, run locally, run at the foothills of the mountains, whatever goes!
- Hiking: Yes, it can still be fun, but you may be limited to only light rain unless you have full protection rain gear like goretex which can get expensive. At minimum I’d recommend a cover for your pack (be it trash bag or backpack specific cover), a waterproof not just water repellant rain jacket with a more oversized hood. If you have rain pants, use them! And waterproof boots if you have them. The most important thing is to keep your upper body warm and happy, so no cotton if things are going to get wet. Pick a hike you have no issue turning around when things get too icky. The snow line falls lower and lower throughout the winter, so although I may recommend hikes that end at 4000 ft in elevation in the fall, that number might drop to 2000 ft or less in the winter if you want to avoid snow. In which I’d consider that a snow hike instead of a normal rainy hike. Bring a hot thermos of tea or coffee and hand warmers for a little breath of joy. And above all, embrace the rain! It makes for some beautifully full waterfalls.
When there’s snow, I could care less if it’s also actively snowing, but there’s lots of activities you can do in the snow.
- Sledding/tubing: If you’re not into walking on snow, you can still have fun and play in the snow. It’s been a while for me, but sledding has always been fun! Some ski resorts also offer tubing where you get pulled up the hill before you sit on a tube and slide your way down. I would only suggest to do it on soft snow, and not where the ground has turned icy.
- Winter hiking: When you can still hike on trails but sometimes they might be snow covered or a little icy. Many of the popular summer trails are still hiked in the winter (except those that are under avalanche terrain ahem Snow Lake in Snoqualmie is a bad choice for example) and the trail gets packed down enough you don’t need much equipment other than good footing. I’d highly recommend investing in some microspikes and hiking poles for stability and traction though. For more about hiking in the winter check out my guide here.
- Snowshoeing: Generally snowshoeing happens when there’s been fresh snow on a trail or if you’re blazing a new trail that isn’t so popular. You use them so you don’t sink in waist deep in snow. A good rule of thumb is if there’s snow on a slope, you need to be avalanche aware, whether that’s just taking an REI avalanche class or a more fundamental class like AIARE 1.
- XC skiing: Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are probably the cheapest ways to get out on the snow, so I highly recommend it if you’re new to snow. XC skiing is super fun and takes less skill than downhill skiing, or at least less time to learn the basics of gliding. It’s even easier to balance than on ice skates. You can rent from most local gear stores and though you can make your own trails, it’s probably easiest at places like near a ski resort or by a sno-park where they’ll groom trails for you to ski on. It’s a great way to maintain your fitness but also be able to catch up with friends at the same time. Son-park passes are more expensive but if you get a season pass, 3 trips is worth it all (per car). There’s also places like Three Sisters Hut Traverse where you can ski from one hut to another.
- Resort/downhill skiing: This is where we enter the pricier range. It’s a great way to be active on the weekends in the winter. But I find that this is highly inaccessible to a large population of people. The time it takes to learn and the cost of equipment and lift tickets is a fairly high price to pay, plus being able to drive to a ski resort and have right clothes for that too. A good way to cut down on costs is to go night skiing after work, get a season pass and go regularly enough to make it all worth the $$. Anyhow, if this is in your realm of activities, go have fun!
- Backcountry skiing: If like me, you thought that backcountry skiing (where you walk uphill with skis before skiing downhill) would bypass the costs of skiing since you don’t pay for lift tickets, you might be wrong. Unless you are good at hunting down sales or second hand gear, a whole setup could cost more than a thousand dollars, plus the cost of taking AIARE 1 for avalanche safety and all your other avalanche safety equipment. But the freedom you get from backcountry skiing is unsurmountable. With the right knowledge and appropriate risks taken/not taken, you can explore the mountains in a whole new way, where you might not have been able to in the summer. With those terrible bushes covered, it’s easier to travel across any given terrain. Another option for minimizing costs here: snowshoe uphill and carry your skis/snowboards on your back. Unwieldy but it works.
- Ice climbing: This is yet another difficult sport to get into, but not impossible. There’s quite a few people who are into ice climbing even in the PNW where it is often thought of as being harder to find ice. Most people like to go to places like Montana where you are more certain to find plentiful ice that is good for climbing. In the PNW, you’re likely going to have to know several other skills to travel through snowy terrain before reaching your ice because our weather tends to be warmer and doesn’t hold ice in low elevations as much.
- Snowmobiling: I feel that those involved in human-powered activities like backcountry skiing aren’t fond of snowmobiling. But I think it’s a very valid way to explore the backcountry. There’s restrictions on where you can and cannot go. Sno-parks are great places to start driving around (they’ll have clear markings for where motorized vehicles are allowed). Obviously, it costs some to get a snowmobile and to transport it somewhere.
I’d love to hear what you enjoy the most in the winter months! Comment below or tag me on Instagram!