Winthrop is a tiny town with a population of less than 2,000 people, located in north-central Washington. You have to zoom in pretty far on a map to even see it, and then you will find that it is still pretty far from any sizable cities. North-central Washington has always held a bit of mystery for me, since it was an area we had yet to explore. After doing a little research though I decided that Winthrop would have more than enough to keep us busy for a weekend. Here is a summary of how our wintery weekend in Winthrop went and why I think it should be on every Pacific Northwesterners list 😉
It has the largest Cross-Country Ski Trail System in the USA
With over 120 miles of groomed ski trails, the Methow Valley has more than enough choices for everyone from beginners to experts! We were very much in the beginners category. I had been wanting to try cross-country skiing for years, but I was worried I wasn’t fit enough or that it would be expensive to learn. Thankfully, I had no reason to worry.
There are at least 3 different shops in downtown Winthrop where you can rent outdoor equipment, including cross country skis. Initially we thought we would just ‘wing it,’ but upon learning that an hour long lesson was only $35 per person, we decided it would be worth it. After renting our equipment for the day, we headed about 10 minutes out of town to an area called Mazama.
We were the only ones in our ski lesson, so it was a great value for a personal lesson. Skills learned in the lesson included: how to turn, get up after a fall, climb a hill with the skis on, and most importantly; how to stop. We grabbed lunch at the adorable Mazama Store. When we saw how adorable, outdoorsy and organic the store was we both looked at each other and said, “oh yeah, I could definitely live here.”
The trail we chose for our first ski was close by in Mazama. It was a 2.5 mile trail that had an easy rating. We only came across 2 other people on the trail, so it was a very low-stress place to learn how to ski, and it really sealed the desire for both of us to get into the sport more.
An Adorable Downtown with a Western Theme
In the 1970’s a man named Otto Wagner wanted to show his appreciation to the town of Winthrop for supporting his lumber mill. He dreamed of restoring the town to look like the early 1900’s. After his death, his wife was able to help fulfill his wishes and the town looks like it is straight from the early western days. This town is absolutely adorable. Even the houses have a woodsy and cabin feel.
You can walk downtown on the boardwalk walkway and come across places such as Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon, which is the oldest legal saloon in Washington state. We ate at Three Fingered Jack’s twice, for dinner and breakfast and had great service and food both times. There are multiple restaurants in downtown, a bakery, bookstore, outdoor stores, a wine shop and sweets/ice cream shop.
One of the Best Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks on the West Coast
The Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink has previously been rated by Sunset Magazine as one of the top #10 ice skating rinks on the west coast. This was only my 3rd time ice skating, and my first time as an adult and on an outdoor rink. On the weekends there is more ‘Open Skate’ opportunities, with each session lasting 2 hours. You pay by the session. We arrived with only 20 minutes left in a session, so we decided to grab a hot chocolate from the bookstore and wait for the 5:30 pm session to start.
By the time the session opened, the temperature was back down to 15º F. Oh yeah, did I fail to mention that we visited when they had abnormally freezing conditions?! It was freezing the entire weekend there, but I actually didn’t mind. We found a way to adapt, and we actually had gorgeous weather aside from it being cold.
The best part of ice skating in 15º F weather in a tiny town? I had the rink to myself! It took me a few laps to feel comfortable on my skates, but quickly I settled in and had a blast. Jake wasn’t so light on his feet though. After a half hour I was freezing and my sore legs started to remind me that I had spent the day skiing.
Great Snowmobile Trails
We have been wanting to go snowmobiling for a long time, but it’s not the most affordable winter activity. It was my birthday though, so we decided to go for it. We called Chewack River Guest Ranch to see if they had spots available on a tour, and they told us a tour wasn’t necessary. They gave us a directions and we headed out; about 15 minutes outside of Winthrop.
We had originally planned on riding double, so I could get some pictures as we went. However, they don’t allow just one snowmobile to go out, in case something happens to it. We each rented a single snowmobile for $115 each for 2 hours.
We were provided with a snow suit and a helmet. The snow suit actually did a great job of keeping me warm, the only thing that was freezing was my face, despite the helmet. I would say a buff is almost a necessity for snowmobiling. I bought this Buff (Inca Flair) at the outdoors store and I love it so much that I’ve used it nearly everyday since! It works great as a headband, neck warmer and to cover your mouth when it’s cold out. The snowmobiles also had hand warmers, for which I was thankful. My hands stayed nice and toasty.
The snowmobiles were very easy for us beginners to learn. We had to travel on a paved road that was icy for about half a mile before we got onto the snowmobile trail. That was the only point where I felt like I needed to go slowly because it was a little slick. Otherwise, the snowmobiles were very easy to maneuver.
In retrospect, I wish we would have planned ahead and booked the snowmobiles for at least a half-day (4 hours). The 2 hours went by so quickly! This is what I would recommend: bring along a Hydro Flask with some hot chocolate, and another with soup and make a day of it. Nothing would be more enjoyable than to be out in the woods by ourselves and have a hot meal to warm you up.
Honestly, I don’t usually have the highest expectation for restaurants in small towns. There can be a gem every now and then, but generally the food is average. Winthrop is an anomaly, in that for such a small town there are so many restaurants to choose from and they are actually really good! Winthrop boasts of a winery just out of town and a ciderhouse as well.
For my birthday dinner on our final night we ate at Arrowleaf Bistro, which has been rated as one of the top #10 restaurants in Washington State. They serve high end farm-to-table fare. This isn’t a restaurant that just says they are farm-to-table, the waitress told us what farms the beef and vegetables had come from.
If you are looking for something a little more casual, we enjoyed East 20 Pizza. The pizza is made with homemade dough from organic wheat, and a lot of the meat and vegetables are locally sourced. The only hard cider they had on tap, I hadn’t heard of before, but I enjoy trying new ciders. We split a pitcher of the locally made Sixknot Cider, which is organic as well. It wasn’t too sweet and is one of my favorite ciders I have tried!
If you’re skiing in Mazama, the Mazama Country Store is a great option to grab a bite to eat. The people at the outdoors sports store in Winthrop recommended we give it a try, and I’m so happy we did! The prices were great and the store was a dream for this organic-loving, country girl 😉
Where to Stay
I had initially booked this small mining shack on Airbnb. I hadn’t realized that a bathroom was not connected to the mining cabin, and it would require a walk outside to the office to use the facilities. When we arrived we were given the option of upgrading to a small cottage that had a bathroom in it. Since it was going to dip below 0º F that night, and would not get above the teens all weekend, we decided it would be worth upgrading. The cottage we stayed at was still affordable and was located in an excellent location downtown.
There are so many excellent choices of accommodation in Winthrop and the surrounding Methow Valley though. If you are wanting to stay in a cabin or rustic lodge you will have plenty of choices. We really want to return to Winthrop and stay in one of these rolling huts.
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Is there anywhere you like to travel in winter? Let us know where in the comments below!