Every parent knows that good things come in small packages. And when those packages are coupled with Christmas-y villages and miniature trains, even better. Located on Bainbridge Island, the Bloedel Reserve is a 150-acre public forest and garden that is worthy of a visit any time of the year. But during December, your holiday crew can marvel at the garden’s Holiday Village—an intricately designed village of miniature houses, completely decked out for winter. Read on for the scoop on this new-to-you holiday outing!

photo: Korum Bischoff

A Tradition Begins
Dwight Shapelle, the skilled now 80-plus-year-old artist behind the houses displayed at the Bloedel Reserve, started crafting them in the 1960s when he lived in Kansas. That’s where many of the first village structures were built, including the town hall, country church and mill house, inspired by the Hameau of Versailles garden fame. Since that time, he’s designed and built, using only his imagination and repurposing talent, at least seven other buildings, many of which will be on display this holiday season. And he’s spent thousands of countless hours unearthing materials, designing and then building these magical displays he loves to share with Bloedel’s visitors. Our favorite part? That the only supplies he buys are glue, paint and hinges; everything else is second-hand.

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Little House on the Island
Each holiday season families will find Shapelle’s creations set up around the Residence at Bloedel Reserve. As you and your mini-me walk from room to room, taking it all in, you’ll see beautifully rendered designs like the Gingerbread House (built in 1986), which combines the tales of Hansel and Gretel with that of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s one that will definitely pique your sidekick’s interest. As will the Tree House (built in 2013), Shapelle’s newest creation, that looks like it might be inhabited by the Swiss Family Robinson, Tarzan or an amusing group of garden gnomes. Each of the many houses is decked with lights, Christmas trees, stockings hung with care and plenty of fluffy white filler snow to make it feel wintery and magical inside the grand mansion. Electric train sets are out too, gliding along their sleek tracks, making the rounds around miniature towns and completely mesmerizing. It’s an outing that takes a sweet peek into creatively designed, pint-sized living quarters that are the perfect size for your half pint. And the hot cocoa and cookies you’ll find at the end of your journey doesn’t hurt either.

photo: Keith Brofsky

Gardens Galore
Bloedel’s gardens are just as lovely in the winter as they are in the summer, and there’s still plenty of green to be seen as you wander the trails to the Japanese garden, moss garden, reflecting pool and more. One of the reasons they still hold up even after the leaves have fallen is that the garden-scape relies as much on texture as it does color, so there’s always something that’ll catch your eye, no matter what the season. And while you can make a quick beeline using the service road to the house to see the miniatures, we recommend walking the grounds while you’re there to really make a day of it. Three cheers for mild Seattle winters!

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Silent Night
If you want to add something extra to your hike around the reserve, plan to participate in the Solstice Walk for Families, scheduled for Dec. 17 & 18 at 5:30 p.m. It’s a chance to see the property in a whole new light. You and the fam will set out carrying tranquilly lit LED lanterns (included in the price) as you make your way through the grounds. It’s one of the Reserve’s most popular events, and sells out quickly, so book your tix while you still can. And remember to dress for the weather—it’s a rain or shine event—and wear sturdy shoes too. The cost is $17 for adults; $5 for kids ages 6-16 and free for kids 5 and under.

photo: Keith Brofsky

Bloedel Reserve
7571 N.E. Dolphin Dr.
Bainbridge Island, Wa 98110
Online: bloedelreserve.org/event/holiday-village

Dates: Dec. 9-31, 2017
Hours: Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: $17/Adults; $6/Kids (5-12); 4 & under Free

Do you think you will check out Bloedel Reserve’s Holiday Village this year? Have you been before? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

— Allison Sutcliffe