• Find Fun in the Snow

    November 29, 2018

    Winter is a great time to get out and enjoy snow adventures! Luckily for us here in the Pacific Northwest, snow play is a short drive away. The opportunities for fun include sledding, snowshoe adventures, tubing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and more. Kids of all ages can enjoy almost all snow activities with a few modifications. Make sure to have everyone wear appropriate weather clothing and shoes along with packing hearty snacks and lots of warm liquids.

    Here is a list of all the best places to find snow adventure within a few hours of Seattle.

    Snoqualmie Summit

    The Summit Tubing Center is just about an hour from downtown Seattle and is simply snow tubing at its best. The gently sloped hills are the length of a football field and the 12 groomed individual lanes allow for hours of fun. Tubing tickets allow for two-hour sessions and include commercial-grade tubes and tows back to the starting line. Tubing usually starts at 9 a.m. on most days but are dependent on natural snowfall so check the website for days and times as they change often. Save time by downloading, printing and signing the Tubing Liability Release before you arrive. You can pre-buy tickets online and digitally sign the release. The Summit at Snoqualmie also offers downhill skiing, nordic skiing and snowshoe opportunities. This multi-faceted mountain has fantastic downhill runs but also offers serene nordic skiing paths which are accessable to snowshoers as long as they stay to the right of the two parallel tracks set by the groomers. Gear can be rented at Summit West which has a large inventory of both downhill and nordic skis along with snowshoe equipment.

    Looking to get off the beaten path? Check out the Sno-Parks as a base, such as Hyak, Gold Creek or Cabin Creek. Sno-Parks are plowed parking lots, often near groomed cross-country skiing trails. Trail maps are provided with the required parking pass, which can be purchased online or from outdoor retailers.

    Hurricane Ridge

    The Olympic National Park provides lots in the way of snow fun. Just head 17 miles from Port Angeles to the Olympic National Park for lots of snow play. Hurricane Ridge reliably has snow and offers snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, tubing and more. The ski area is small and might with two rope tows, a puma lift and tubing area. Tubes are provided at no extra charge.The visitor’s center provides place to warm up along with heated restrooms and a snack bar. Check weather and road conditions before heading up either online or via phone at 360-565-3131.

    Paradise Visitor’s Center on Mt. Rainier

    Mt. Rainier provides hours of snow fun along with gorgeous views. Head south to the Snowplay Area at the Paradise Visitor’s Center on Mt. Rainier. This BYO tubes and sleds area requires at least five feet of snow to open so check online before heading out. For even more fun, tag along on a ranger-led snowshoeing adventure from the visitor’s center at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. through March. You’ll need a park pass and all cars are required to carry chains while in the park during the winter.

    Lt. Michael Adams Tubing Park

    Head past Steven’s Pass to Leavenworth for a 100-foot tubing hill, 90-minute sessions and a tow rope at Lt. Michael Adams Tubing Park. The try it before you buy it trail run means you can experience the hill before purchasing a $20 per person ticket. Tubes are provided with your ticket but you can also bring your own tube.

    Suncadia Resort

    Snow adventure abounds at Suncadia Resort’s Winterfest with adventures available from ice skating to tubing, snowshoeing and cross country skiing along with horse-drawn carriage rides and ice skating. Located just 80 miles east of Seattle, Suncadia has everything for snow play. The tubing hill is available for kids 3 and up at $20 a session per rider for two hours of slip sliding fun. Inner tubes are included with lift ticket purchase. Cross-country skiing and snowshowing are ideal on the several miles of groomed trails at Suncadia. Bring your own gear or rent them from The Inn every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ski rental starts at $25 with snowshoe rental starting at $18. Ice Skating takes place Friday though Saturday at the Village Pavilion with three sessions a day. Skate rentals are provided and sessions start at $15.

    Hyak Sno-Park

    The nearest Washington State Sno-Park to Seattle is Hyak Sno-Park with a groomed sledding hill, marked snowshoe route, groomed ski trail and skate platform. Users can access the trails and sledding for free but must pay for parking the lot. A Seasonal Sno-Park permit with the special grooming sticker, or a day pass in conjunction with a Discover Pass (seasonal or day pass) starting at $20 a day is all you need. Gear is not provided at this location so make sure to bring your own snowshoes, sleds and skis. There are, however, heated bathrooms at the Sno-Park which will be greatly appreciated. Do check conditions before heading to the park as it is sometimes closed for ice.

    Stevens Pass Ski Resort

    Steven’s Pass offers many amenities similar to Snoqualmie Summit. The downhill ski options are fantastic along with nordic ski trails, snowshoeing and sledding. The sled & tubing area is offered free of charge and are just northwest of the Cascade Depot Lodge. The Nordic Center has maintained snowshoe trails for all abilities and require a trail pass which can be purchased in the Cascade Depot at the center.

    Mt Baker

    Mount Baker near Picture Lake:  There is no sledding at the Mt. Baker ski area, but there is free sledding nearby! Drive towards the ski area and be on the look out for the Chalet at Mount Baker.  When 542 splits near Picture Lake, look for a parking spot. The tubing area is free and there are no tube rentals, rope tows or restrooms.

    Looking for a back country adventure? Consider snowshoeing at Artist Point.  Accessible from the Heather Meadows parking lot at the ski area, Artist Point is famous for breathtaking views. Warning though: when entering the back country, be sure to stop in to ask about current safety conditions and recommendations at the Glacier Public Service Center and always be sure to have the proper equipment- be prepared! The routes to Artist Point go through avalanche terrain, so this trip is not without risk. Avoid the area when avalanche risk is considerable. Check the the NWAC avalanche forecast before venturing out (updated every night at 6pm).  The most rugged terrain and the more dangerous avalanche slopes can be avoided, but this requires experience with route finding and snow conditions. For a lower-elevation easy trek near Mount Baker, try White Salmon Creek, which is accessible from Salmon Ridge Sno-Park.

    By Rebecca Mongrain

  • Park Visits for Pennies

    November 15, 2018

    Living in Washington, we’re lucky to have an abundance of natural areas to visit, including 125 state parks and 15 national park areas. To avoid spending a fortune on entrance fees, take advantage of these programs that encourage families to get outdoors.

    Washington State Parks
    Visiting Washington State Parks requires a “Discover Pass” for entrance. The most economical option is to purchase an annual pass for $30 if you anticipate visiting parks more than three times each year, as the daily pass is $10. Even better, there are some ways to get into our state parks for free.

    Volunteer! IF you work 24 hours or more on approved parks projects, you are eligible for a free Discover Pass. Click here to find out more. 

    Free days: The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission designates specific “free days” each year which do not require a Discover Pass for entrance. The following are the remaining 2018 State Parks Free Days:

    • Nov. 23 — Autumn day

    2019 State Parks Free Days:

    • Jan. 1 — First Day Hikes; New Year’s Day
    • Jan. 21— Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
    • March 19 — State Park’s 105th birthday
    • April 20— Spring day
    • April 22 — Earth Day
    • June 1 — National Trails Day
    • June 8 — National Get Outdoors Day (State Parks and Fish & Wildlife free day)
    • June 9 — Fishing Day (State Parks and Fish & Wildlife free day)
    • Aug. 25 — National Park Service 102nd Birthday
    • Sept. 28— National Public Lands Day
    • Nov. 11 — Veterans Day
    • Nov. 29— Autumn day

    National Parks
    Washington is home to 15 impressive national parks, including a few that might surprise you. An annual America the Beautiful Pass ($80) gets you into all of the National Parks in the U.S. – good for the passholder and his or her passengers in a non-commercial vehicle, or passholder and 3 adults at areas where per-person fees are charged. U.S. military service members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass. National Parks also offer an annual 4th Grade Pass, which allows children to visit national parks for free throughout their 4th grade school year and through the summer between 4th and 5th grade.

    If you don’t want to invest in an annual pass, daily entrance to our state’s National Parks is currently $25 for a non-commercial vehicle or $10 per person (without a vehicle – hikers and cyclists). Children under 16 are always free.  Certain National Parks throughout the country also offer “fee-free days” – a great opportunity to check out a park you have not yet explored! Mt. Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Lewis and Clark National Historic Park and Fort Vancouver National Historic Site all participate in fee-free days.

    Ski Free (or At Least Get a Deal)

    Winter sports like skiing and snowboarding are a great way to stay active throughout the winter, especially with so many ski areas nearby. But the cost of equipment and lift tickets can be prohibitive for many families. To make snow sports a little bit more affordable, take advantage of these deals:

    Stevens Pass
    At Stevens Pass, thanks to a partnership with Carter Subaru, 5th graders can get a free season pass. Just provide proof of 5th grade enrollment (report card, school ID, teacher note, or certified letter of intent) and email it to guestrelations@stevenspass.com or bring it with you to Guest Relations at Stevens Pass.

    Mt. Baker
    5th graders can ride or ski for free at Mt. Baker as well, which offers a free season pass for 5th graders as long as the child is accompanied by an adult who has purchased a lift ticket or season pass. Families with kids ages 4-6 can participate in the Powder Pups program, which provides half-price lift tickets for up to two adults starting at 11:00am when accompanying a Powder Pup kid.  There is a limit of 10 total Powder Pup Adult tickets per kid per year.

    White Pass
    At White Pass, they start early by offering a free season pass for 3rd graders who enroll in the 3rd Grade Skier/Snowboarder Safety First class. Season passes for younger kids are affordable at White Pass as well – just $20 for kids age 8 and under.

    More discounts

    • Most lesson packages come with gear rentals included. If you are ready to buy, save money on gear by looking for used skis, snowboards, boots and bindings at end-of-season ski swaps.
    • Crystal Mountain offers steep lift ticket and season pass discounts for children under age 10.
    • At Snoqualmie Pass kids enrolled in multi-week ski school get a discounted season lift pass.
    • Leavenworth’s ski hill offers a family season pass good for two adults and their dependents (under age 22) for $415 – a good deal for families that plan to ski together all season!
  • Rain or Shine! Get outside with the Whole Family!

    November 7, 2018

    Rainy weather doesn’t mean the end of outside activities. Physical activity is important for everyone but it is even more important for kids. Getting time in the outdoors is vital to everyone’s health. Heading outside helps keep up Vitamin D levels which are important for growing bones and brain development. Just 20 minutes outside gives everyone their essential dose of Vitamin D.

    Put on some warm gear, pull on the rain boots and get ready to get outside, rain- or shine. Here is a list of fun activities to do as a family, in any kind of weather.

    By Rebecca Mongrain

  • Behind the Scenes at the Zoo

    November 1, 2018

    What Happens Behind the Scenes at the Zoo?

    A trip to the zoo is a fantastic way to spend a day with kids. The animals are fun to watch, there is usually plenty of space to roam and some zoos offer special play areas or exhibits. There is so much more happening behind the scenes though.

    Zoo are expensive to run and require long hours with challenging animal requirements but those who do it, wouldn’t trade their jobs for anything. Zoos have changed over the years and now feature more naturalistic exhibits with nationwide captive breeding program.

    A zookeeper’s day starts early before visitors show up. There are exhibits to clean, animals to feed and medical care to provide. Most zoos actually provide round-the-clock care for their animals with new Moms and aging animals in need of extra care. In recent years, zoos have begun to standardize feeding practices across the country. This means the Cleveland Zoo feeds their animals the same diet as the Woodland Park Zoo. This is important as animals are often transferred to other zoos for breeding programs. Many of the animals in zoos are endangered so zoos spend a lot of time on breeding programs to help boost the animals population and prevent them from going extinct.

    One thing that will surprise a lot of zoo visitors is that a lot of animals are not on display. There are many reasons for animals to live behind the scenes. Some animals are too young to be on display. Newborns might be kept behind the scenes to increase bonding with their parent or there just might be too many of them. Other animals are used for educational purposes from public shows or parties. By using off-exhibit creatures, staff can put together a live animal presentation without emptying the displays.

    Food and space keep captive animals alive but they need enrichment activities to keep from getting bored. Zookeepers come up with enrichment activities to keep animals engaged and to help them display behaviors they’d exhibit in the wild. These activities can range from changing their scenery to adding items to their exhibits. Disney World’s Animal Kingdom places perfumes and spices around the tiger paddock to encourage their natural behavior of scenting.

    Nocturnal animals often have to adjust when they arrive at a zoo. Zoos have designated nocturnal house with thick walls and dim lights. They leave the dim red, blue, green and yellow lights on during the day so guests can observe the animals when they are awake. At night, they turn on bright fluorescent bulbs to imitate daytime hours and reverse the animals’ normal sleep cycles.

    Educational programs advance the zoo’s mission by inspiring and cultivating an informed community of conservation stewards. For example, Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) in Seattle is the Washington hub for excellence in conservation education, WPZ programs are guided by a robust, science and outcomes-based framework for inspiring conservation:

    • Connecting children to nature
    • Developing ecological literacy
    • Providing pathways to conservation

    From early learners to senior learners, and on and off grounds, WPZ’s developmental approach to lifelong learning is to foster empathy for nature, build conservation knowledge and skills, and increase people’s personal ownership for action that benefits wildlife and habitats.

    Running a zoo takes more than a love for animals (though that certainly helps). There are hours of paperwork needed to transfer animals to another zoo, knowledge of endangered animals and a willingness to work hard.

    By Rebecca Mongrain