Off-season travel
Some NW getaways don't depend on weather
With Northwest temperatures dropping and skies  1sometimes turning gray, the prime Northwest travel season traditionally winds down a bit during the late fall and winter months – but does it have to? Not really.

In fact, the more budget-conscious among us make a point to travel in the off-season because that’s when you save as much as 50 percent off what you would pay for your lodging during summer. Sure, kids do have school, but there are ways to get those homework assignments ahead of time and take the kids right along with you. After all, you’re saving a ton of money.

And if weather is the issue, keep in mind there are many places in the Pacific Northwest that are quite temperate during the winter months – far from the severe winter weather in other parts of the country. It may not be Palm Springs, but then you didn’t want to pay Palm Springs prices, did you? Here are a few suggestions for off-season travel in the Pacific Northwest:

Lake Chelan

Okay, we get it – Lake Chelan is incredibly gorgeous in the summer time and you’re wondering who in their right mind would want to visit the lake during the winter when you can’t really dip even your toes in the water without getting frostbite. But truth be told, the Chelan area has become a pretty fun place to be in winter.

That’s because the area has dozens of wineries that have been built up over the years, each offering tasting or a unique dining experience, or just a really cool place to sip your wine with some of your wine-lover friends. If you didn’t bring your friends along, a wife or husband will do and there’s no question you’ll make new friends in some of these popular tasting rooms that seem to be like beehives of social activity year-round in Chelan.

But the wineries aren’t the only reason to consider Chelan in the off-season. The hotels are running with very minimal occupancy during the winter months and they’re eager to offer great deals to people who will give them a try during the off-season. With 300 days of sunshine each year, you’ll still get great views of the lake, even if you don’t want to test the lake’s hypothermia-inducing waters.

Finally, Lake Chelan’s restaurants are still there – an incredible selection of fun dining experiences that run quite a gamut between simple burger bars to much more elaborate cuisine that you might expect in the Big City. Come during Lake Chelan’s Winter Fest and there are even more festivities to make it worth your while.

For more information on Lake Chelan, call 1-800-4CHELAN or visit www.lakechelan.com.

Columbia River Gorge

 1For those who enjoy the outdoors, the Columbia Gorge is one of the most beautiful locations to spend your time and the nice thing is, it’s just as beautiful in winter.

Separating Washington from Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is about 80 miles long and is as deep as 4,000 feet. This area is not only known for its unique outdoor activities but also for its luxury hotels and resorts, arts and museums, as well as great dining experiences and shopping.

As you travel the Gorge - you can drive on either the Washington or Oregon side of the river - you'll encounter charming, unique towns with names like Hood River, the Dalles, Goldendale, White Salmon, Stevenson and many more. Not to mention, of course, the big city of Portland which is only a short drive from the best of the Gorge scenery.

The Gorge is the only sea-level passage that will take you through the Cascade Mountain range and, as such, does not require a slog through snow to get from one side of the mountains to the other. There are lots of natural attractions that, if you simply put on a good coat, are just as pretty as in summer. For example, you can view Multnomah Falls, which is a large 620-foot waterfall that is just one waterfall of several that can be seen in the Columbia River Gorge area. Year-round trails are plentiful throughout the Gorge.

Major hotels and resort areas in the Gorge offer great prices in the winter, and there’s a better selection of rooms this time of year.

Great Wolf Lodge

Many Northwest families no doubt are  1feeling the pinch of the economy and that trip to Disneyland might just be on the chopping block. The good news, though, is that a Disney-like experience is right here in the Northwest – and it's year-round.

Okay, the Great Wolf Lodge is not going to have any Space Mountains or Buzz Lightyear rides – or any “rides” at all, for that matter. But it will have thrills and spills for kids of all ages and fun Disney-like characters and animatronics that make you feel like you're in the Happiest Place on Earth – or at least the Happiest Place in Olympia, Washington.

And, if you're in Seattle or Portland, it's just a 90-minute drive, meaning you have just eliminated one of the biggest expenses of a Disneyland vacation: getting there. No air fare, no baggage charges or, alternatively, no mini-vacations at the gas pump where your SUV seems to take on more fuel than a 747.

The Great Wolf Lodge actually is just a few miles south of Olympia in a place called Grand Mound where it's far enough out of the urban area to build something really big at a more reasonable cost. Our guess is the developers – unlike most resort developers -- were more concerned about being close to Interstate 5 than having any views of the mountains, lakes or sea. That's because no one is going to the Great Wolf Lodge for the view – you're going there to spend a lot of time with your kids in the resort's giant indoor water park, and to play arcade games, watch the Disney-like animals put on shows and dine on family-friendly food.

Now if all this is starting to sound like spending a vacation inside a Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlor, don't worry. The resort is so big and spread out that it's easy to get away from the noise any time you need to. For more information, phone 800-640-9653 or visit www.greatwolf.com.

Kalaloch Lodge

 1There is no doubt that many Big City visitors to the Kalaloch Lodge will think they have just landed on another planet – it’s one of the few lodgings in the Pacific Northwest nowadays where you have no in-room phones or internet service. Want to stream a Netflix movie on your laptop? You’d have better luck if you were on the lunar landing module with Neil Armstrong.

But that’s the lure of the place, and the visitors who keep coming back to Kalaloch and its cozy cabins are purposely leaving civilization in the rear view mirror. Out here on the Olympic Peninsula, it’s all about rain forests and incredibly scenic beaches where you can explore for hours while the surf pounds nearby and the only other sounds you’ll hear are the hungry seagulls. And it’s ideal for a winter getaway. No mountain passes to travel through to get there, and the winter storms are so spectacular that people travel to this area just to watch the storms.

Kalaloch is the only such lodging on about a 75-mile stretch of pristine coastline, about an hour away from the nearest big city. The fully self-contained cabins – with the exception of phones and internet, of course – are positioned perfectly out on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s just a short walk down to the beach and then you can walk north or south until your heart’s content. The beaches, with their ample supply of driftwood and other washed-up treasures, seem utterly endless.

And just an hour up the road from Kalaloch is the Hoh Rain Forest where you can hike deep into some of the most vegetated terrain on earth. A lush green canopy covers much of the region while mosses and ferns give you the feeling you are hiking right into some sort of fairy tale. Like the pristine beaches, there is almost an other-worldly feel to the rain forest and the Olympic National Park has provided some excellent trails and facilities to help you enjoy your visit.

For more information on Kalaloch Lodge, phone 866-662-9928 or visit www.thekalalochlodge.com.
PHOTOS: Lake Chelan in off-season; Columbia Gorge Hotel; Great Wolf Lodge; cabin at Kalaloch
PHOTO CREDITS: Photos by Cary Ordway
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