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Re-Connect With Nature: Traveling in the Pacific NW

Editor's Message: This article was originally written for the deep winter months. However for someone like me who doesn't have a 4-wheel drive, winter travel can be a bit of a challenge. These destinations will offer a great late winter getaway for us to stretch our legs after months of hibernation, enjoy the cool breeze without the crowd.

When most of us think about planning a vacation, it’s usually in the summer. We often associate the warmer temperatures of June, July, and August with weekend getaways and family trips, but summer isn’t the only time to reconnect with nature.

End of year obligations, holiday festivities, and lots of time spent dormant indoors can make one feel a little stir crazy. Winter can be a wonderful time to travel, feel your lungs with crisp air, and experience the quiet peace of snow covered terrain.

Whether you’re looking for an invigorating trip into the backcountry, or simply want to experience the wild grayness of the winter ocean, there are plenty of destinations right here in the Pacific Northwest. If social obligations kept you in town over the past two months, this post-holiday lull might be the perfect time to sneak away. Here are some destination ideas:

Blog0314_WinterTravel_WallowaJoseph, OR and the Wallowa Mountains

Often referred to as the “Little Switzerland of America”, Joseph is a one-of-a-kind place rich in agriculture and history, nestled among some of the most outstanding geography you’ll ever see, topped off by the breathtaking Wallowa mountain range of northeast Oregon. Trails for cross country skiing, showshoeing, and snowmobiling are available in abundance in locations throughout the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The Eagle Cap Wilderness Area offers both backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. After a long day of exploring, enjoy food, lodging and entertainment in the town at night. Check out the town’s Calendar of Events here.

Blog0314_WinterTravel_LeavenworthLeavenworth, WA

Ever wondered what it would be like to live in a snowglobe? According to locals, visiting the small mountain town of Leavenworth, WA in wintertime is about as close as you’ll get. Abundant snow and sunshine make the Leavenworth area wonderful for both downhill and cross-country skiing. In addition to the local Leavenworth Ski Hill, Mission Ridge Ski Resort and Stevens Pass are both within easy driving distance of Leavenworth, making it a great base for a winter vacation. Nearby Wenatchee National Forest has trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. As a bonus, this quaint little town is a stop along Amtrak's Empire Builder route so you can leave the car at home! CHeck out the town’s recreation guide here.

Take A Tour

Don’t feel up to planning your own adventure? There are plenty of locally owned tour companies that would be happy to figure out the details so you can relax and enjoy yourself.

One Red Shoe Tours specializes in custom, escorted tours for the experienced traveler. During the winter months, you can plan a tour of the City of Portland, visiting such landmarks as Historic Portland, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Pittock Mansion, Pearl District, and taking a Willamette Jet Boat Excursion. If you’d rather get away from the city lights, their Oregon Coastal Tour will show you the majesty of such areas as the Astoria and the Astoria Column, Seaside Aquarium, Sea Lion Caves, Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Cape Perpetua, and Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area.

Field Guides Birding Tours can be a fun alternative for those who aren’t interested in strenuous winter sports or the low temperatures of the coastline. Their five-day extended weekend visits one of the best wintering areas for bird life in the state of Washington. Large concentrations of birds are attracted to the area's abundance and variety of winter food in a relatively mild climate. See a sample itinerary here.

Beth Buczynski is an environmental writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. Follow her on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

Photo credit: Wallowa Lake from Howard Mountain by Robert Ashworth; Horse Carriage in Leavenworth by TravelWeaver LLC