From a half-day hop to the Peninsula to an overnight loop through North Cascades National Park, here are three summer road-trip adventures from the experts at AAA that get you up close and personal with wildlife, hiking trails, waterfalls, the waters of Puget Sound, and many more exciting places only found in the Pacific Northwest.
Half-day trip: Port Townsend
For an adventure with gorgeous views of Seattle, Puget Sound, and rolling countryside, riding the ferry is the way to go. Ride the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, or Edmonds to Kingston, then head north and follow the signs to Port Townsend. Make sure to check the ferry schedules before your trip and allow extra time during the summer months.
Port Townsend is billed as Washington's Victorian Seaport. Enjoy the historic architecture, eclectic shops, restaurants, museums, inns, idyllic views, recreational activities, fun year-round events, and a thriving arts scene. Much of Port Townsend is a National Historic District and a AAA Great Experience for Members (AAA GEM). Don't miss exploring Fort Worden, the views of Admiralty Inlet, and walking out to Point Wilson Lighthouse.
If you have a full day to explore, Port Gamble is an excellent stop to or from Port Townsend. Built by the first lumbermen of the area in the mid-1800s, Port Gamble is a re-creation of their New England hometown. In addition to lots of historical spots throughout town, Port Gamble offers great Northwest seafood, local art, and beautiful views.
Return the way you came or head south through Olympia or Bremerton to Tacoma. Any way you choose it's the right answer for a beautiful drive.
Full-day trip: Yakima River and Canyon
The Yakima River Canyon is only two hours from Seattle and directions couldn't be simpler—just drive east on I-90 for 80 miles. The scenic two-hour drive begins in Cle Elum, travels east to Ellensburg, then south to Selah before returning to Cle Elum.
Cle Elum, American Indian for swift water, is located on the banks of the upper Yakima River and was established in the late 19th century on coal, lumber, and subsequent railroad industries. This historic city offers a glimpse of a simpler time with historic museums and outdoor adventures for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders throughout Iron Horse State Park.
The next destination is Ellensburg—head east via SR903 which becomes SR970 then continue to SR10. From here the highway closely follows the river's path and this stretch is popular with whitewater rafters. Ellensburg was founded in 1867, and much of downtown was rebuilt Victorian-style after a devastating fire in 1889. It remains the trading center of the fertile Kittitas Valley and is home to Central Washington University. The area's largest event is the Labor Day weekend Kittitas County Fair and Ellensburg Rodeo, another AAA GEM Attraction.
From Main Street, drive south just a few miles to the junction with SR821, and you'll come face-to-face with spectacular Yakima Canyon. The river winds through stark cliffs of basalt and long talus slopes tumble down to the canyon floor for a dramatic scenic, winding drive.
For our return route to Cle Elum, I-82 heads north to the Fred Redmon Memorial Bridge, the longest bridge of its kind in North American when it opened in 1971. Drive just a bit further, and you'll come to the Selah Canyon Rest Area with one of Washington's most spectacular panoramic views of Mount Adams and Mount Rainier.
The freeway drops down to the valley floor, then turns north to join I-90 just east of Ellensburg.
Overnight trip: North Cascade Loop
A road trip along the North Cascade Loop traverses one of North America's treasured excursions. From Seattle, head north on I-5 to the bountiful Skagit Valley farmlands then east on SR20. As you wind along the Skagit River, visit the old-growth forest of Rockport State Park and then onto Diablo and Ross Lake Overlooks—with dazzling views of blue-green glacial fed lakes.
Onto the crest of the Cascade Range via Washington Pass, the highest point on the North Cascades Highway at 5,477 feet. A spectacular view, which stretches from the rocky spire of Liberty Bell Mountain. As the highway parallels the Methow River, you pass through the restored mining town of Winthrop before arriving in Twisp.
About an hour south of Twisp lies Chelan—a charming resort town full of shops, cafes, accommodations, and recreation on the lake. This area is also known for its attractive surroundings and plentiful wineries. Continuing along the Columbia River via US97A brings you to Wenatchee, the "Apple Capital of the World." The Bavarian village of Leavenworth is next with its scenic setting nestled in the base of the Cascades.
Stevens Pass is the crest of the Cascade Range, and the long, gradual descent is decorated with alpine forests, which thin to meadows before reaching Snohomish. This quaint and historic city contains more fine examples of Victorian period architecture. Spanning the main stream of the Snohomish River, US2 returns you to I-5.
One great thing about road trips is they rarely go out of style. Check out our suggestions from last year to Whidbey Island, Mount Rainier and Ozette Lake. For more great Northwest road trip ideas, via car or bicycle, explore AAA Washington's Driving & Cycling Tours guide.