Washington Blog

Washington Winter: What Is It Like

Washington winter: what is it like: 11 things only locals know. Who might not survive it in spite of everything (and it’s more common, than you think)

I hated our first winter in WA and was ready to go back to the sunny NJ. We didn’t know about Sno Parks and weren’t ready to visit Mt. Rainier during wintertime. I was pregnant and couldn’t ski or sled. It was a pretty miserable time and I totally understand when somebody says “I can’t stand this winter anymore”. This post is about Washington winter: what is it like and what we discovered only when we moved here:

11 things only locals know about Washington winter

In the picture below: winter in Washington: you can’t see the rain but we sure felt it:

Biking is popular year-round in WA. Winter version will make you tough or hate that biking
Biking is popular year-round in WA. The winter version will either make you tough or hate biking

1. There are only two seasons in the Seattle area: summer and fall-spring

There is no such thing as “winter” in Western Washington, where the majority of the state’s residents live. The months from October till May are similar in terms of weather: plenty of rain, gloomy skies, and temperatures around 50 F (+10C).

But once you reach the Cascade Mountains, the picture dramatically changes and you will enjoy the true winter wonderland:

2. Winter wonderland within a 1-2 hour driving distance from Seattle

Washington Winter: what does It like. Cascades Mountains
What is it like. Cascade Mountains

Walks in the woods, snowmobile parks, and skiing – are all great. The only con – not as many people could enjoy it during the mid-week because of the distance. It results in really busy weekends. We loved Vancouver for it: it has three ski resorts at the edge of the city and fewer crowds.

3. Washington Winter: What is it like. Renting a vacation house

House with 5 bedrooms near Lake Wenatchee, WA.
House with 5 bedrooms near Lake Wenatchee, WA.

Renting a “house in the snow” during the winter is a popular pastime in WA.

The price range is from $200 to $2500 per night, depending on size, amenities, location, etc. Christmas time and New Year’s is the most expensive and popular time. The house in the picture above costs $336 per night and has 5 bedrooms.

4. Road conditions in the mountains might freak you out

Driving Stevens Pass, WA
Washington Winter: What is it like. Driving on Stevens Pass highway, WA

Or not, depending on where you came from :). We came from NJ and used to driving in the snow. It’s our second winter with the front-wheel sedan and we feel comfortable in the mountains with it. In the 5 winters we had in WA, we had a necessity to wear car chains/socks only once.

5. Kids enjoy 2 winter breaks in WA…

Although parents might not be happy about it, there is a traditional Winter break and “Mid-winter break”, an extra week in the middle of February. We didn’t even know it’s possible while we were living on the East Coast!

P.S. One more weird thing about schooling in WA – Wednesday is a half-day. Always. Year-round. Even in middle school!

6. … Sometimes even 3!

Despite most of the time, there is no winter weather in Seattle but snow days happen. Seattle is a hilly city as well as the surrounding areas. With schools buses and cities unprepared even for the slightest ice/snowfall it’s a big deal every year.

No school for a week happens almost every winter, and two years ago there was no school for almost 2 weeks.

School grounds transformed into sledding hill. Bellevue, Washington
School grounds transformed into sledding hill. Bellevue, Washington

7. It’s hard to believe, but…

Lake Wenatchee, WA
Lake Wenatchee, WA

Washingtonians are crazy about camping. We haven’t tried this snow version yet, and no way I ever say yes, but the cabin and yurt camping was a big hit during cold weather.

8. The best Christmas Lights we have ever seen in the US

Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed village and the most popular place for Christmas spirit, bratwurst, and beer. It is a must-see during the winter holidays and a good thing – you can see the lights till Valentine’s Day when most crowds are gone.

It is the top destination for vacation rentals during winter. You can look for deals on Airbnb, we use it too for booking Leavenworth.

9. Washington Winter: What is it like. Skiing, Snowboarding, Sno Parks

Skiing and enjoying sno parks are the main Washingtonians’ secrets for surviving winter. For us, living in the foothills of the mountains makes it possible to enjoy the snow several times a week (if the weather permits), from November to April.

Stevens Pass WA
At Stevens Pass ski resort, WA

10. Swimming pools and libraries – oases of serenity during wet, short winter days in WA.

To stay sane during midweek we, locals, loved to spend time at the libraries and swimming pools. (Everything closed now due to Covid). At least in Western WA, they are everywhere and in great condition:

Sammamish YMCA, our favorite swimming pool
Washington Winter: What is it like. Local swimming pool

Libraries in WA are more than a place to borrow books and ESL classes. STEM-oriented, LEGO, music, culture, and other cool programs for kids of all ages were held in the local libraries. (Before Covid). Free of charge.

With a library card, you could take free passes for the entire family to dozens of museums, zoos, and the Seattle Aquarium.

Local libraries used to be much more than "just a library", especially in winter
Local libraries used to be much more than “just a library”, especially in the winter

11. Washington Winter: a lot of people are actually struggling during the wintertime

There is no middle ground for Washington winter: you either love it or hate it and counting days till moving to a place where nobody ever heard of SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing here due to lack of sunlight.

In Seattle, going to the mountains takes effort and planning. Add traffic, lack of parking spaces (most popular spots might be full by 10 am). And sometimes the weather or road conditions just aren’t good for getting out.

Compare with the East Coast, I’m rarely feeling cold and enjoy mild weather in Seattle. Often, after weeks of dark and wet weather, when the sun comes up, I feel like a zombie who asking “What?!!” at the first sun’s rays :D. I also fall in love with skiing and snow.

Thanks for reading, friends!


The book on the left (in the picture below) is a real find, it could save us a lot of time and nerves during the first year in WA. I wish I discovered it earlier than our 3d year here :). The one on the right I love as well:

52 Seattle Adventures With Kids: A four-season guide” and “Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington

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By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

We are very happy to have YOU here 😻

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