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Seattle is well known as the home of Amazon, Starbucks and the lush forests that got it named Emerald City. But the most northerly city on the USA’s west coast has way more up its emerald sleeve than that.
Sure, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle in downtown Seattle deserve a visit. But, venturing beyond the city skyline is arguably the best way to experience this Pacific Northwest region. (At least my family thought so.)
Washington State’s stunning and unique natural beauty truly shines in its state parks and national forests. Visitors can hike, bike, go whale watching, and explore the water. The state’s charm is unparalleled in its small towns. And many of the best places to go are easy drives (or ferry rides) from the city.
Check out these 15 Seattle day trips to experience the wonder of Washington State.
Best Seattle Day Trips an Hour or Less Away
You really don’t have to go far from Seattle to see a different side of the Pacific Northwest region. In fact, Washington’s beauty is so close to the city that many areas are only about half an hour away. Expand the radius to an hour away, and several more great options are available.
There are opportunities to explore breathtaking waterfalls, adorable small towns, and a national park.
Whether you’re hoping to stroll through town, get some steps in on easy hikes, or up for something more challenging, you’ll find it less than an hour from Seattle.
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Snoqualmie Falls is the perfect place for the first spot on our list and not just because it’s only 30 minutes from Seattle. It’s also the site of a breathtaking waterfall surrounded by native fauna.
The well-marked hiking trail that goes to and from the falls is about 1 ½ miles long. Placards along the way identify the plants and trees you pass and several picturesque footbridges can be crossed along the way.
Salish Lodge and Spa overlooks the falls and makes a fantastic place to pick up a souvenir or eat brunch, lunch or dinner. Whichever meal you choose, be sure to ask for their signature “honey from heaven”. It’s a longstanding item on the menu that comes with a traditional and fun way to be served. Our family loved it so much we were asking for seconds.
If you want to turn your day trip from Seattle into an overnight getaway, certainly no one would blame you. The lodge has 86 guest rooms, a full spa, and a fascinating history.
At just 30 minutes or so from the city, Woodinville is a short drive. It’s also one of our family’s favorite Washington state spots. We made it our home base from which to explore the Seattle area, but it’s a great day trip option too.
Check out Woodinville’s wineries, like the opulent and welcoming Chateau St. Michelle. Delille Cellars and JM Cellars are two others we loved. And for the distillery option, Woodinville Whiskey is definitely worth a visit.
The best part about Woodinville were the bike paths that connect the town with surrounding areas. It was so fun to hop on bikes as a family and explore restaurants, kid-friendly breweries, playgrounds, and scenic areas.
If you’re looking for a place to make Woodinville your home base too, check out Willows Lodge. It has gorgeous gardens, a spa, fireplaces in the rooms, and a super friendly staff.
Just over half an hour south of the city limits on the Puget Sound, sits the city of Tacoma. It’s the third largest city in the state, although its population is ⅓ that of Seattle. The artsy city has its own vibe… and its own reasons to visit.
For starters, Tacoma’s museum game is strong. It comes in the way of art, history, and car museums as well as a children’s museum. One of the most unique though is the Museum of Glass, complete with the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which extends over Interstate 705.
Nature lovers will appreciate the many parks in Tacoma. Point Defiance Park, which has gardens, trails for biking and walking, and scenic water views is a fan favorite. Families also love the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. And the W.W. Seymour Botanical Garden, Owen Beach, and the Tacoma Nature Center make great places to visit.
Just outside Tacoma, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is where the river flows into the Puget Sound. Visitors can go spot over 200 species of waterfowl as well as maybe even a whale if they’re lucky.
However you choose to spend your time, you’ll find the sophisticated feel of Tacoma gives Seattle a run for its money for sure.
Bainbridge Island is practically the antithesis of Seattle with its stark contrast to the city’s hustle and bustle. Yet, at 35 minutes via ferry, it’s super close to the city.
During the ferry ride, visitors get great views of Mount Baker to the north, the Olympic Mountains to the west, Mount Rainier to the south, and Seattle to the east.
Upon docking, the village of Winslow is within walking distance. Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, Fletcher Bay Winery, and Bainbridge Brewing Alehouse are very close to the ferry terminal. All are fantastic stops.
Farther in town, there are lots of cafes, bakeries, and restaurants, as well as boutique shops.
The interesting history of the area can be explored at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. It has exhibits detailing the island’s Japanese American history, lumber history, Mosquito Fleet, and natural wildlife.
Little ones will enjoy the Kids Discover Museum and water enthusiasts can explore the area kayaking or sailboating.
On the north end of the island, Bloedel Reserve is accessible via bus or car. The 150-acres include walking trails, a Japanese garden, a pond, and a museum. It’s a beautiful area to spend a few hours exploring.
Whidbey Island is about an hour by ferry or car from Seattle. Exploring this Puget Sound island means you see state parks, several adorable small towns, and a ton more.
If you have a day on the island, make sure you don’t miss Deception Pass State Park, the cute town of Langley, and Fort Casey.
Deception Pass State Park is the site of the iconic arch bridge that stands 180 feet high. The rocky beach nearby provides good views, as well as good hiking.
The quaint seaside town of Langley has nice restaurants, art galleries, shops, and a whale museum. You may even spot one of the gentle giants that inspired the museum along the shores of Langley.
And Fort Casey State Park is the fort built in 1890 to protect Puget Sound from invading ships. Although it was never used in defense, the cannons and structures are still around to give visitors a glimpse of what it was like when it was in working condition.
You might have to zoom in a bit on your map to find Cle Elum (pronounced klee ELL- um). But I promise it will be worth it. Our time here was a highlight of our Washington State vacation. At just an hour and 15 minutes from Seattle and in the Cascade Mountains, it showcases some of the best of small town Washington State.
Cle Elum was an even smaller town until the opening of Suncadia, a 6,000-acre resort. The resort has golf courses, 40+ miles of hiking and biking trails, a spa, restaurants and wineries. Visitors can rent bikes, paddleboards, canoes and more onsite. And you don’t need to be staying at the resort to use its amenities. (The pool and fitness centers are the only thing reserved just for resort guests.)
The town of Cle Elum is also the site of Nelson Family Farm, where guests can participate in ax throwing, archery, giant chess, and so much more. The farm hosts outdoor movie nights, festivals and concerts throughout the year too.
Once you’ve explored Cle Elum, be sure to check out nearby Roselyn. If it reminds you of the show Northern Exposure, it’s because it’s the town where the cult classic was filmed.
Mount Rainier National Park
The spectacular active volcano that is Mount Rainier is just 1 ½ hours from Seattle.
Skyline Trail is one of the main paths for hiking the popular Paradise area of the park. This southside part of the park has beautiful wildflowers in July and August and access to Paradise Inn. Even if you don’t stay at the inn, brunch there is pretty epic. Visiting Myrtle Falls and Reflection Lake are other must-dos in Paradise.
For those coming into the oak from the north, Sunrise will be your entry point. (Don’t you just love the names?) One of our favorite spots is Sunrise Point, which has gorgeous views of the snow-capped mountain and a spot where you can pull over in your car to take them in.
Visiting Mt. Rainier later in the year? No worries. Those same hiking trails offer great snowshoeing opportunities in the winter.
Bellingham is situated between North Cascade National Park and Salish Sea, only 20 miles from Canada. People are flocking to the town lately thanks to its reputation as an outdoorsman’s paradise. At about 1 ½ hours from Seattle and about the same distance from Vancouver, British Columbia, it’s an easy drive from both cities.
If you’re in search of nature in warm weather, bike or hike the trails and moss-covered bridge at Whatcom Falls Park. Hike other trails like those found on Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Chuckanut Mountain, or Maritime Heritage Park. Search for tide pools at Larrabee State Park. Or swim or fish at Lake Padden Park.
Some trails remain open as the weather cools. And once snow begins to fall, visitors can enjoy fresh powder at Mount Baker Ski Area.
Any time of the year, enjoy indoor fun at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention or the Mount Baker Theatre. Or stroll Bellingham’s charming historic district, called Fairhaven Village, and the year-round Bellingham Farmers Market.
Best Day Trips between 2 and 3 hours away from Seattle:
Ready to venture just a little farther outside of the city? These Seattle day trips are in that sweet spot – not too close but not too far away either.
Two of the three national parks close to Seattle fall in this category, one to the west and one to the northeast. Olympic National Park is known for its diverse landscapes, lush rainforests, and beaches. North Cascades National Park is known for its plethora of varied wildlife and plants, waterfalls, glaciers, and lakes.
There are also opportunities to see a unique German-themed town, one of Washington’s best wine regions, and the capital of British Columbia.
Olympic National Park
Located on the Olympic Peninsula about 2 hours from Seattle, Olympic National Park spans nearly 1 million acres and encompasses several distinct ecosystems.
Ranger-led programs, hiking, water activities, wildlife viewing and snow sports can all be enjoyed here.
Port Angeles is the closest city to some of the most popular spots in the park, like Lake Crescent. Visitors can relax on the shore, kayak, sail, or rent rowboats on the serene, glacially carved lake.
About an hour from there, the Hoh Rain Forest is one of the things that make the park unique. Its lush, green canopy of trees is definitely worth exploring.
Also about an hour from the lake, Hurricane Ridge is one of the most picturesque spots in the park.
North Cascades National Park
You’ll find the west entrance to North Cascades National Park just about 2 hours from Seattle. And the great thing about this park is the diversity in which it can be experienced.
One of the best views of gorgeous Diablo Lake can be observed by driving to the vista point. In fact, a scenic drive is a perfect thing to do to see a lot of the park.
Want to up the ante just a bit? Get some steps in on an easy trail, like the one around Blue Lake. Up for something more challenging? Hike Sourdough Mountain or Desolation Peak.
Biking, white-water rafting, canoeing, and camping are some of the other activities available to visitors of the park.
One of the most unique things about this park is the small community to explore, called Stehekin. This uber-small town has a population of about 75 residents and is only accessible by boat, small plane, or on foot.
There are a few options for staying overnight, like Ross Lake Resort, which consists of 15 floating cabins. However, getting reservations in one of them can be practically impossible during peak times. Luckily, the cabins can be enjoyed on a day trip too.
With such a northerly location, it’s no surprise that this destination is best enjoyed from mid-July through September. Since some of the best areas of North Cascades National Park are a bit challenging to get to, it’s always one of the least visited parks in the state too. So, making the trek is worth it.
The Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth is about a 2 ½-hour road trip from Seattle. And it’s the second most visited town in Washington.
The town got its German focus in the 1960s when community leaders decided to creatively address their fledgling economy. Now, the entire town is themed after Munich and other towns in Germany. The alpine mountains that exist in both spots are the common denominators.
So, of course that means you’ll find breweries, restaurants serving pretzels and schnitzel, and shops filled with things like beer steins.
You’ll also find beautiful outdoor spaces for hikers, bikers, and those wanting to enjoy water activities. Waterfront Park, Icicle Gorge, and Wenatchee State Park are just a few. All have lots to do, with the latter even offering groomed trails for cross-country skiing in the winter.
Our favorite thing to do in Leavenworth was taking a guided tour of the town. Our lederhosen-clad guide taught us about the history of the town and showed us the best things to do there.
If you choose not to make the drive on your own, full-day tours of Leavenworth from Seattle are available. You’ll enjoy a scenic drive with stops along the way.
If you want to make Leavenworth a weekend getaway, check out the several family-friendly, Bavarian-themed, locally-owned options. Or for an adults-only lodge, Posthotel is worth the hassle of finding babysitting.
Of course like most of Washington State, the Yakima Valley offers outdoor adventures and North Pacific scenery. But, as the location where ⅓ of all the state’s grapes are grown, it’s also a wine-tasting haven.
The area is about 2 ½ hours from Seattle and makes a great weekend getaway or day trip. Just the drive alone is worth it as you enter the desert (yes – desert) region of Yakima. It turns out those mountains you cross to get there are where the rain of Seattle ends and the rolling hills, striped green and brown from irrigation systems, begin.
Chardonnays, Bordeaux blends, and Syrahs are some of the most popular varieties of wines. And the wineries in the region are beautiful and welcoming.
J. Bell Cellars in the town of Zillah was one of our favorite wineries because it was gorgeous, had yummy food, and was kid friendly. A few dogs, chickens, and cats roam around the beautiful grounds that are flanked by lavender fields.
Trevari Cellars in Wapato was at the top of our list too. They make only sparkling varieties. And they also have picturesque views and a delicious food menu.
A 2-hour and 45-minute Clipper Ferry ride from Seattle takes you to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.
Beautiful flower gardens and coastal views define this small city. Spend a day trip here by visiting them along with the parks and small communities that dot the landscape.
At Fisherman’s Wharf, for example, you can find small, colorful private residences to stroll by as you grab a coffee or ice cream. The downtown and waterfront area is also where you’ll find farm-to-table restaurants, museums, and great architecture. There are wineries and breweries too for sampling local offerings of the liquid variety.
This city has an adventurous side beyond what you choose to eat and drink though. Whale watching, ziplining, and biking make even the most active traveler happy.
Best day trips over 3 hours from Seattle:
While it’s true that much of Washington State can be experienced within a few hours of Seattle, it’s no doubt there are great things to see and do beyond that radius.
The San Juan Islands are hundreds of small islands that are ripe for exploring. Mount St. Helens is famous for good reason.
So, if you’re up for just a bit more time in the car, buckle up and head with us to these 2 great Seattle day trip destinations that round out our list.
San Juan Islands
At 3 hours and 45 minutes from Seattle, this Washington State destination may be a long ferry ride for a day trip. But, as one of the best places to see orcas in the country, it will be worth it. Lime Kiln North State Park, located in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island has one of the largest populations of orcas in the US.
Visiting between May and September will increase your odds of seeing orcas and other whales. Porpoises, seals, sea lions and bald eagles can also often be spotted.
But it’s not just the huge mammals that bring people to the San Juan Islands. Kayaking, sailing, hiking, and fishing are other things to do on the laid-back islands. Strolling the charming small towns is also a great way to spend some time.
Of course, if you really want to see all the islands have to offer, turning your long day into a weekend trip is a great way to do it. Boutique hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals in San Juan are totally worth an overnighter.
Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is about 3 ½ hours from Seattle. So, yes, it’s a bit far for a trip there and back. But seeing one of the most active volcanoes in the country is pretty worth it.
The mountain is an awe-inspiring sight that towers over 8,000 feet above sea level. Its eruption over 40 years ago killed 57 people and had massive effects. Today the entire area is deemed a monument and attracts 750,000 people annually.
As you enter the national forest that surrounds the area, the Science and Learning Center is a great place to start. On-site, the Johnston Ridge Observatory features a short film, interpretive displays and ranger talks.
But, exploring through hiking the mountain and nearby lake and taking in those epic views is what really shouldn’t be missed. Harry’s Ridge Trail is one of the best options for views of the above-ground variety while Ape Caves lava tube is a super cool way to see what’s below ground.