Travel

Winter Escapes

These cold destinations are pretty hot this time of year

By Natalie Compagno and Greg Freitas November 29, 2023

The modern, stylish, and upscale Josie Hotel reflects the best of British Columbia, including skiing on pristine powder.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

Winter in Seattle is a magical time for holiday lights, cool walks with hot beverages, and the occasional dusting of snowfall on our beautiful parks. Winter is also, paradoxically, the ideal time to get out of town. As the skies darken and the days get shorter, the lure of adventure tempts.

Here are some ideas for winter escapes that will ignite the bonfires of travel as soon as the temperature drops.

Northern Lights in the Yukon

Sometimes it’s fun to zig when others zag. When the neighbors tell you they’re going to Mexico for the umpteenth year in a row, tell them you’re off in search of more cold, more darkness, and more snow. You’re off to see the northern lights in the Yukon.

Both Whitehorse and Dawson City in Yukon Territory are ideal venues to dance beneath the aurora. Direct flights to Whitehorse take off year-round from Vancouver, British Columbia, or make the short flight from Seattle to switch planes. Whitehorse (population 25,000) is the territorial capital, with plenty to do during the short days, and year-round dining and lodging options.

Whitehorse

Visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve to see moose, elk, bison, caribou, and more in their natural habitat. Explore the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site to learn about the history of riverboat transportation in the Yukon, jump-started by the Klondike Gold Rush. Then check out the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre to discover the ice age mammals that roamed the region. Beringia is the name of the land bridge that once connected Asia to North America, so learn about the first citizens of North America, who crossed over roughly 15,000 years ago. Then take a brisk stroll along the Millennium Trail along the banks of the Yukon River.

When it’s time for the main event, consider Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs. The former Takhini Hot Springs has undergone three years of renovation and reinvention, from recreational hot springs to health and wellness spa. Cold, dry air, soothing hot mineral water, and northern lights glimmering overhead — it’s the ultimate winter adventure.

There is some light pollution in Whitehorse, so if the aurora cooperates you could try driving the scenic roads out of town toward Fish Lake or Chadburn Lake Road. Or keep heading further north to Dawson City. Just a 70-minute flight away on friendly Air North, Dawson City is a tiny northern town with big Yukon hospitality, and a perfect location for aurora viewing.

Dawson City

Home of the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush, the town is awash in kitsch and history — from former bordello Bombay Peggy’s to showgirl revues at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s — but many attractions and hotels are seasonal. One classic open year-round is The Downtown hotel, situated on the river next to the S.S. Keno historic paddle steamer. The Sourdough Saloon inside is notorious for its Sourtoe Cocktail Club, whose only membership requirement is downing a shot of whiskey with a mummified human toe inside the glass.

Whether visitors partake in the toe or not, when the aurora borealis beckons get some fresh air with a hike or drive to Midnight Dome. At 1,700 feet above town, the views of the Yukon River and Klondike Valley will take your breath away, and if the northern lights are out as well — simply mind-boggling.

Useful Tips

Northern lights viewing is weather-dependent, so spend a few nights dedicated to aurora hunting in both Whitehorse and Dawson City to maximize your chances of witnessing this natural wonder.

Tour operators will make viewing smooth with transportation, warm outerwear, bonfires, and yurts. Visit or contact Travel Yukon for a list of vendors. While the lights can be seen from August to April, the longest nights of winter are the best. Target dates around the new moon, if possible, for maximum darkness.

Storm Watching on the pacific coast

Between Japan to the west and the Pacific Northwest coast, there is nothing but 3,000 miles of raging Pacific Ocean. Winter storms build up at sea and pound our shores mercilessly, creating a bold and wild show every season. The ideal storm-watching site combines torrential rain, gale-force winds, and gargantuan waves, along with a cozy room plus a fireplace for sipping warm beverages and enjoying the spectacle of these monsters from the sea. Storm watching is quickly growing in popularity as a travel destination and theme — here are three ideal storm-watching locales along the coast.

Misty Cannon Beach offers spectacular views of the Pacific.

Debibishop / Getty Images

Cannon Beach

Set against the stunning backdrop of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon, the Surfsand Resort rolls out the sandy carpet so visitors can experience the astonishing power of the sea. With oceanfront views capturing the Oregon Coast’s raw beauty, witness waves at their most majestic. Step onto the beach for an up-close encounter with nature’s grandeur, then cozy up in the stylish guest rooms. Build a bonfire on the sand; the staff will provide wood, blankets, and the fixings for s’mores.

The charming town offers plenty of opportunities to shop, dine, and revel. Visit the Sleepy Monk for morning coffee, The Wayfarer for seafood and sundowners, and the Cannon Beach Hardware and Public House — aka the Screw and Brew — for great food and stiff drinks in a real hardware store.

Copalis Beach

With all the familiarity of a home away from home, Iron Springs Resort in Copalis Beach, Wash., embraces the untamed beauty of storm season. Nestled along the rugged shoreline, this resort provides a view of the giant waves crashing against the cliffs from your cabin. Venture out to beachcomb, razor-clam during the season, or simply savor the wild coastal ambience from the comfort of your private haven. Family owned, filled with games, puzzles, and famous cinnamon rolls, Iron Springs Resort delivers an immersive experience. The quaint yet perfect town of Seabrook is just 4 miles away.

Olympic Peninsula

Farther up the coast in the heart of Olympic National Park, Kalaloch Lodge’s cabins overlook the crashing ocean from atop a cliff, giving guests a front-row seat to nature’s frenzied performance. Cuddle up by the fireplace in your comfortable cabin for an unforgettable storm-viewing experience amid the pristine wilderness.

Take leisurely walks along the windswept shoreline, collecting beach treasures as you go, taking care to avoid the giant driftwood logs. Bring groceries since you’re hunkering down, but Creekside Restaurant is also open for all three meals, including a breakfast buffet. Enjoy Kalaloch Lodge while you can; as of this writing the Park Service has been forced to close several cabins due to beach erosion.

Snowy Adventures

Sometimes the best winter escapes are the simplest: Ski. Snowboard. Après-ski. Hot tub. Repeat. Located on the “Powder Highway,” Red Mountain in Rossland, British Columbia, checks all the boxes for an epic winter sports retreat. Known by some as the last great undiscovered ski area in North America, Red Mountain is a giant resort in a friendly, unpretentious mountain village. With 3,850 skiable acres it’s in the top 10 in size, larger than every resort in Colorado except for Vail. It receives a reliable 300 inches of snow per year and features 3,000 feet of vertical drop. But what puts Rossland a cut above is the town itself.

Rossland is the only resort in Western Canada that sits just across the border, 120 miles north of Spokane. It is a former gold rush era mining town, with indie shops and eateries. The old mining trails have also made Rossland a haven for mountain bikers. The town lays claim to the true birth of flight, the “Flying Steamshovel” of 1902. More of a helicopter than a plane, and possibly more legend than fact, visitors can grab a pint and a hearty meal at The Flying Steamshovel Gastropub. Gabriella’s is another local favorite, as is the Rossland Beer Co. — go on a live music night to experience the intense vibe of community spirit. The bands usually play tucked in between the giant steel tanks visible from the tasting room above.

The Velvet Restaurant at the Josie Hotel.

Photo courtesy of The Josie

For lodging, the resort boasts slopeside multi-bedroom condos, each with its own blissful private hot tub on the patio. Or, for a stylish boutique option, check into The Josie Hotel, then be sure to visit the Velvet Restaurant & Lounge for the buzzing après-ski scene. Rafters at the base lodge is another lively place to toast the end of another perfect powder day on the mountain, and a wonderful winter escape.

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