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Winter escapes
Fun ideas for great winter getaways in NW
The scenery here in the Pacific Northwest 1 is spectacular in winter and there is every reason to get out and enjoy it. Sometimes it's a great destination or just a good hike, but there are plenty of fun "escapes" that are excellent choices during winter weather. Here are five suggestions for interesting getaways you may not have thought about.

Rattlesnake Ledge

For example, you'll want to check out Rattlesnake Ledge, near North Bend, east of Seattle. It's an especially good choice for Seattle area residents who want to escape the city and get into the mountains -- but not too far into the mountains given the potential for deep snow and cold weather.

In winter, there are far fewer hikers taking the trail to Rattlesnake Ledge, but you'll still enjoy panoramic views of the Cedar River Watershed, Mount Si and other scenic spots. It's easy to get to the trail without going up a mountain pass, which is the main advantage you have in choosing this for a winter hike.

The trail to Rattlesnake Ledge is only two miles long and is fairly easy, and you'll be rewarded with amazing winter views.

The amount of snow on the ground can vary, depending on how much sun shines through the forest canopy. The higher you get, the less dense the canopy and the greater the views. But be careful as there are several points in the trail that are near sheer drop-offs.

To get to the trail from Seattle drive east on I-90 to exit 32 for 436th Avenue SE. Turn right onto 436th Avenue SE, also signed as Cedar Falls Road SE. Proceed about four miles down the road to the Rattlesnake Lake parking lot on the right.

Winthrop Rink

Winter is a great time to head for the Methow Valley in North Central Washington where you'll find the Winthrop Rink, the perfect place for you and your kids to learn how to ice skate.

With a new refrigeration system Winthrop Rink is able to have guaranteed ice throughout the winter. The rink is so successful it's been named one of the top 10 public ice skating rinks in the west by Sunset Magazine.

This is a National Hockey League size rink and comes with a 6,000 square-foot building that includes four changing rooms, bathrooms, showers and rental skates. In other words, it's the perfect place for beginners to try their hand -- or feet -- at ice skating.

And of course, the Methow Valley is known for its incredible cross-country skiing trails, considered some of the best in the country.

There are major resorts and lodges in the area, as well as less expensive motels. So Winthrop is a great destination that most everyone can afford.

For more information, please visit www.winthroprink.org or phone (509) 996-4199.

Rockport State Park

Not all state parks are great destinations in winter, but Rockport State Park, located in the Northwest part of the state, will give you plenty of reasons to hop in the car and enjoy a cold-weather outing.

The park is about 35 miles east of Burlington, along the North Cascades Highway, and it offers a temperate rain forest that is ideal for winter exploration.

There are trails of varying lengths such as the three-mile-long Evergreen Trail and the half-mile Sauk Springs Trail. Each trail offers close-up views of 300-year-old moss-covered trees like you would see out in the Olympic Rain Forest.

There are even guided tours through the winter months that will teach you more about the area's ecology. Your group will enjoy hot cocoa and a warm fire in the park's Discovery Center.

And don't forget the bald eagles that can be observed near the Skagit River each year -- a real added bonus for hikers. For more information on Rockport State Park, please call (360) 853-8461.

Lake Chelan wineries

There's no need for a lot of physical exertion on your winter escape when you decide to take advantage of this next suggestion: touring wineries near Lake Chelan. The area has dozens of fine wineries, many of them open for tasting during the winter months.

Lake Chelan, of course, conjures up the image of jet skis and ski boats, of sun and fun for people of all ages who visit this popular lake in summer. The sun is still there in winter, and the views of the lake and snow-covered mountains on a sunny day are spectacular.

And many people enjoy those views while sipping some of the Northwest's best wine in one of several tasting rooms located near the lake.

The atmosphere is totally different from summer. There are no crowds -- just lots of different wines to sample, and a fun little downtown area with some excellent restaurants. There's an amazing variety of restaurants and stores given the size of the community.

The only thing to keep in mind is that, during winter, many tasting rooms are only open on weekends, or Friday-through-Sunday.

For more information, please visit www.lakechelan.comor phone ((509) 682-3503.

Seward Park Audubon Center

If you're visiting Seattle this winter, you might consider taking a break from the shopping, fine dining and sightseeing to go see a little bit of what Mother Nature has to offer. And one way to do that is to try a little bird-watching near Lake Washington.

The Seward Park Audubon Center offers bird walks that cost only $5 per person and will be a great introduction to the birds that congregate around the lake. You learn all about the water birds making their winter home on Lake Washington. These birds fly in from Alaska, the Yukon and many colder climates up north.

You're likely to see ducks, grebes, mergansers, coots and even eagles, and your guide will educate you about each bird.

This is a great experience that combines the beauty of Lake Washington, the exercise you get by walking the trails and knowledge that, who knows, may introduce you to a whole new hobby.

For more information, please visit www.sewardpark.audubon.org or phone (206) 652-2444.
PHOTOS: Lake Chelan in winter
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