The sun is shining, the blue waters of Puget Sound are sparkling, and the open road is calling—summer is finally here. And what better way to celebrate than with a road trip?
From a quick half-day excursion to an overnight trip by the coast, here are three road trip suggestions that will let you soak up the Evergreen State’s natural beauty. Grab your pals, queue up your favorite Spotify playlist, and hit the road!
For a half-day trip: Whidbey Island Loop
For a quick out-and-back with gorgeous views, take the Mukilteo ferry to Whidbey Island, and then head north on Highways 525 and 20. The scenic drive meanders north through the island, where you can take short detours to charming small towns on the water with art galleries, farmers markets, and quaint restaurants.
Highway 20 eventually leads straight into Deception Pass State Park, which is a nature lover’s dream. Take a dip in Cranberry Lake (great for little ones), check out the miles of hiking trails, peer into tide pools, or search for sea glass around Rosario Beach and Bowman Bay. Keep an eye out for seals and our resident Orcas, who might make a surprise appearance! And for that iconic bridge pic, head to the North Beach parking lot and walk down the trail to the beach.
After you’ve explored all the islands’ charms and you’re ready to head home, get back on Highway 20 and follow it east; this will put you on I-5 south and get you back within city limits in no time.
For a full-day trip: Mount Rainier
Many Seattleites looking for a weekend hike hit up popular I-90 trails, but just a few hours south of Seattle is Paradise. Literally.
The majestic Mount Rainier is an easy 3-hour drive out of the city, and within the sanctuary of our state’s most famous national park, you can truly get away from it all.
Depending on what part of the park you’re visiting, you’ll probably enter on SR410, which follows the path of the White River through small rural communities before entering Rainier NP. Once you’re in the park, you have lots of options for exploring.
Drive up to Sunrise to reach the highest point in the park that’s accessible by car; at 6,400 ft., the views are stunning. Hike the Summerland trail for a solid workout, then lunch with marmots and pink mountain heather in Summerland’s alpine meadow. Continue around the park via SR123 and check out the Paradise area, which is known for its charming wildflower meadows and access to a wide variety of trails, including Comet Falls (more than 300 ft. of stunning waterfall goodness) and Bench Lake. Look out for high-climbing mountain goats and berry-eating black bears throughout the park.
If you’re not much of a hiker, no worries – you can still enjoy beautiful waterfalls and scenic overlooks without any sweat equity. Just follow the road as it snakes through the park; from SR410, you’ll continue south onto SR123 and then head west to SR706. Highlights include the famous Reflection Lakes, where (on a clear day) the mountain is perfectly reflected in the water; Narada Falls, a 168-ft. fan of rainbow-filled water; and Christine Falls, which is perfectly framed by a historic stone bridge.
To complete your park loop, exit the park through the Nisqually Entrance in the southwest corner of the park. You’ll then pass through the small towns of Ashford and Elbe before taking SR7 north towards Tacoma and back to I-5.
For an overnight trip: Ozette Lake on the Olympic Peninsula
For an overnight trip that has it all, head out to explore the Olympic Peninsula. You’ll start in true Washington fashion with a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island. From there, head north via Highways 305 and 3 until you reach Port Gamble. This is a charming town in its own right, so make a quick pit stop and then head west on 104 to the famed Highway 101. You’ll follow this west across the peninsula, passing Sequim’s fragrant lavender fields and the hub of Port Angeles. From PA it’s a quick trip into the Olympic National Park and the spectacular views from Hurricane Ridge. Take the winding 112 towards Neah Bay to maximize your ocean views, and just outside of Sekiu, you’ll hit the Hoko Ozette Rd., which leads (metaphorically) straight to Ozette Lake.
Ozette Lake is the third largest lake in Washington and offers excellent options for camping, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, deer-spotting, and hiking. The highlight of the area is the Cape Alava Loop, aka the ‘Ozette Triangle.’ The trail leaves the campground and meanders across a series of wooden boardwalks through 3 miles of green, mossy old-growth forest until it eventually meets the coast. The trail then heads south for 3 miles of beach hiking (look for the ancient petroglyphs) before turning inwards again for the final 3 miles back to the lake. Before heading home, check out the Makah Museum in Neah Bay for a fascinating look at what life was like for native tribes, including a remarkably well-preserved collection of artifacts dating back 300-500 years from the Ozette Village site.
To complete a full loop of the peninsula, drive back to Highway 101 and head south. You’ll pass through the infamous town of Forks, complete with “Twilight” tourists and maybe a vampire or two. The 101 passes beautiful Ruby Beach before heading inland again (for an extended coastal trip, you can take the Moclips Highway west to visit Pacific Beach and Ocean Shores). Near Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, you’ll take Highway 12 east to SR8, which winds past the Capitol State Forest to Olympia and back to I-5. If you have more time, take the long way home and drive north on Highway 101 past the quaint towns and turquoise waters of Hood Canal. Be sure to stop by the Hama Hama Oyster Farm in Lilliwaup for a final road trip indulgence.
For more great Northwest road trip ideas, via car or bicycle, go to https://wa.aaa.com/maps/driving-cycling-tours.