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Originally published Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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A sleigh ride together, with you and yours

Here's where to take a snowy sleigh ride in and around Washington's Cascade Mountains this winter.

Special to The Seattle Times

Choosing an outfitter

Any outdoor adventure involves some risk. Some outfitters are insured. Some are licensed and carry permits to operate on public lands, while others restrict operations to private property. Some are members of Washington Outfitters and Guides Association (www.woga.org), which has its own code of ethics and operating standards. Depending on your own concerns, ask about such issues when you call, or check an outfitter's Web site for more information.

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EASTON — "Just hear those sleigh bells ringing, a ring ting tingling... "

That seasonal metallic tinkle of sleigh bells that heralded in the late December snowfall in the Cascade Mountains should continue the joyous jingle for the next two months. If snow keeps falling, draft horses will be dancing to its rhythmic ring from Easton to Leavenworth until early March.

With the bells ringing, an old-fashioned sleigh ride — snuggled under a thick blanket on a sleigh that looks much like a wooden wagon on skis while a team of horses wind through Currier and Ives-like settings — is my idea of enjoying the winter wonderland. It's perfect for those, like me, who haven't mastered cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling.

Meadows, woods, farms and resorts provide a backdrop of settings and sleigh routes in Eastern Washington. Multi-seat sleighs hold from 16 to 20 people, although private rides can be arranged.

My first sleigh ride of the season began only footsteps from where I'd parked in the plowed, but snow-covered, lot at Happy Trails Horse Adventures in Easton (551 Pioneer Trail Road, Easton; 509-656-2634, www.happytrailsateastonwa.com). The large sleigh emerged from the stand of Douglas firs — the tinkle of bells announcing its arrival.

"Hop aboard," called out driver Bob "Gabby" Gann, a volunteer at the camp located in Kittitas County just more than 70 miles from Seattle. "I'll take you out to the snow park." The sleigh is how you get around the 15-acre spread adjacent to Iron Horse State Park this time of year.

Since 1977 owners Jack and Linda Price have offered sleigh rides as part of their horse adventures. Reservations are required and the admission ($20 for adults, $10 for riders 10 and younger, free for ages 2 and younger) allows visitors an all-day stay and use of sledding hills, meadows and heated outfitter tents with wood stoves for heating food brought from home.

Price says of the sleigh rides that travel a half-mile loop between the parking area and snow camp, "You can ride for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or a half-hour, as many times as you want during your visit."

A slew of sleigh rides

Of course, sleigh rides depend on snow, which has been rare in recent days. Always call ahead to check on availability. Other sleigh-ride venues around the Cascades:

Methow Valley

• Views of Patterson Lake from the big green sleigh as it glides over gentle slopes behind Sun Mountain Lodge are a highlight of the ride, which includes a hot-chocolate stop in a heated tent. Weekends at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.; Monday through Friday at 3 p.m. $15 for adults; $10 for ages 5 to 12; free for ages 4 and younger. Saturday dinner rides follow the same route with a buffet dinner served in the heated packer's tent. Dinner-ride price: $40 for adults; $30 for 12 and younger. 9604 Patterson Lake Road, Winthrop; 800-572-0493 or www.sunmountainlodge.com.

Early Winters Outfitting has a morning sleigh ride (out to feed 100 horses) and two non-horse-feeding afternoon sleigh rides of about 50-minutes duration. Reservations are required. Price: $15 per person; 4 and younger free. 18078 Highway 20, near Mazama; 509-996-2659 or www.earlywintersoutfitting.com.

Leavenworth/Plain

• With the Stuart mountain range as a backdrop, you'll travel over open meadows and along the Icicle River with Icicle Outfitters and Guides. The 30-minute, 1.5-mile sleigh ride just outside the Bavarian-themed town concludes with hot chocolate, spiced cider, coffee and cookies.

Owners Bruce and Sandra Wick operate six sleighs of varying size, accommodating from two to 20 people per ride. The two-person sleigh ride is a hit with romantics.

"It is popular for marriage proposals," Bruce explains. "We stop down by the river and the couple goes for a walk together. We must have 20 or 30 a year."

Sleigh rides are daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $18 for adults; $9 for ages 3 to 12; free for ages 2 and younger. Reservations recommended for private rides, which cost $32 for adults and $16 for ages 3 to12. Free shuttle service from Leavenworth is available for those without transportation. East Leavenworth Road; 800-497-3912 or www.icicleoutfitters.com.

• Ross and Marianne Frank have run sleigh rides for a quarter century at their Red- Tail Canyon Farm, two miles outside Leavenworth, just off the Chumstick Highway toward Plain.

"We had a man call this week who is bringing his kids over and he said that he rode our sleighs as a child," Marianne said, adding, "but you do get a lot of repeats when you've done it for 25 years."

The 1.5-mile ride through wooded areas, a box canyon and barnyard at this 120-acre ranch ends with hot cider. $16 for adults; $8 for ages 12 and younger; free for children 2 and younger. A guesthouse and studio apartment on the property are available for rent. 11780 Freund Canyon Road, Leavenworth; 800-678-4512 or www.redtailcanyonfarm.com.

Eagle Creek Ranch, also just off Chumstick Highway, offers sleigh rides by reservation. Price: $16 for adults; $8 for ages 12 and younger; free for 3 and younger. A private cutter for two is $34 per person. Eagle Creek Road, Leavenworth; 800-221-7433 or www.eaglecreek.ws.

• It is over a bridge, through meadow and woods at Mountain Springs Lodge, located between Leavenworth and Lake Wenatchee. Riders sip hot cider at a warming fire in the barn at the end of the ride.

Reservations are required. There's a 10 a.m. breakfast ride, or regular rides at 11:30 a.m. and 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m. Plus there's a 4 p.m. dinner ride. Sleigh rides: $19 for adults, $12 for ages 3 to 12, free for ages 2 and younger. Breakfast rides (including a buffet breakfast and an opportunity to feed the horses): $35 for adults; $20 for ages 3 to 12; free for 2 and younger. Dinner rides: $65 for adults; $37 for ages 3 to 12; free for 2 and younger. 19115 Chiwawa Loop Road, Leavenworth; 800-858-2276 or www.mtsprings.com.

Jackie Smith is a Kirkland-based freelance writer.

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