Best Washington Road Trips

Brent Mccoy
• Monday, 23 November, 2020
• 14 min read

You'll need plenty of time to explore the hiking trails and viewpoints when you get to the park, but you might also decide linger in Leavenworth, a town that looks just like a German village complete with an authentic snowy mountain backdrop. Give yourself a couple of days to take side excursions not just in the park, but also to interest points like Cape Flattery and the Denseness Spit.

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The route is lovely at any time of year, but most beautiful during the fall when the autumn foliage lights up the landscape in shades of red and yellow. East of the Cascade Mountains, a road trip along the Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway may be less green than one would expect for the “Evergreen State,” but the area is still full of fascinating geology, unique views, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

The entire region was carved by enormous ice age floods that left deep channels, known as “coulees,” that are now scattered with lakes of all sizes. While planning your trip bear in mind that The North Cascades Highway is closed during the winter months, typically from November into May.

Along the way, you'll pass the Skagit River and the town of Whale, and plenty of other places in between like the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, which is worth a visit. The route covers about 270-miles, which translates to seven hours of driving time, so make sure to stop along the way and plan for overnight accommodation.

Washington State is home to diverse landscapes, from the rugged coastline to the snowy mountain peaks, and the best way to see it all is to pack up your car and hit the road. The state offers a plethora of scenic routes to take, where you can marvel at mountains, man made wonders, lush rainforests, or even deserts.

Route highlights: Cascadia Farm Roadside Stand; Washington Pass Overlook; Winthrop; Twist. It runs along the entire Olympic Peninsula, meanders through a national park and rain forests, along ocean beaches, then extends south to the border with Oregon.

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This 54-mile scenic byway spans the length of Whitney Island, providing access to everything from beaches, walking trails, friendly, quaint communities, a naval air station, amazing fresh seafood and super-fresh salty sea air. This diverse geographic range offers visitors an unlimited playground, with camping, hiking and snowshoeing trails.

Route highlights: Rifle Lake; Windy Ridge Viewpoint; White Pass Ski Area; Niches. Expect picture-perfect glimpses of the second tallest peak in the continental United States, dense Fir forests and desert plains.

Route highlights: Enumclaw; Sodium Falls; Mount Ranger National Park (15 miles off byway); Tipsier Lake. The Mountains to Sound Greenway is a beautifully scenic drive of 101 miles between Thor and Seattle’s waterfront along Interstate 90.

You’ll drive east from Seattle on I-90 through pastoral valleys, lush forests and a dramatic mountain landscape. Visit historic towns and scenic spots for forest walks or challenging hikes.

Whether you’re driving along our coast, cutting through our forests or cruising past the Pa louse, your scenery will be beautiful. While we continue to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, please take proper precautions or add them to your bucket list to see at a later date.

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This route takes you through some of our most picturesque small towns, which is great for anyone who wants a relaxing journey without the hustle and bustle of the big city. Highlights include Ch elan, Leavenworth and our Old West town, Winthrop.

Mount Rainier, the Columbia Gorge and Pa louse Falls are some of our most stunning natural wonders, and this road trip allows you to see them all in a weekend. Recently we designed a road trip through an area dense with majestic lighthouses.

We covered the major highlights, but you’re welcome to modify this trip to include some of the more northern sites, like the lighthouse in Mutilated. Put yourself in a Halloween state of mind any time of year by trekking through some of Washington’s ghost towns.

Get into the holiday spirit by checking out some of Western Washington’s most beautiful light displays. This is a trip that can easily be recreated in Eastern Washington since Spokane always has plenty of lights to see.

Retrace the Lewis & Clark journey from Hell's Canyon to the Pacific Ocean and see the landscape as it would have looked 200+ years ago. This 440-mile byway is so grand it contains three of our other road trips, Stevens Pass, Whitney Island and the North Cascades Highway.

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The Olympic Peninsula receives hundreds of inches of rain each year and is home to three temperate rainforests that are full of magical, misty waterfalls to explore! The remote Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway 112 winds along the magnificent shoreline of the narrow body of water that connects Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean.

LEARN MORE Accessible from the I-5 corridor, these road trips include routes up, over and through the towering Cascade range that separates the “wet” and “dry” sides of Washington State. From the rolling fields of Enumclaw west of the Cascades to Niches on the Eastside this road trip wraps around the northeastern flank of iconic Mount Rainier.

This 24-mile trip hugs sheer sandstone cliffs and provides spectacular views of the San Juan Islands, ending in Bellingham's Fair haven District. Winding past waterfalls and old-growth forest groves, this 58-mile trek ends at the base of the 10,781-foot volcano Mount Baker.

With its hairpin turns and jaw-dropping vistas, many argue that the North Cascades Highway is the most scenic road trip in Washington State. This road trip starts on the shores of Puget Sound, climbs over Stevens Pass then drops through Leavenworth to Wenatchee on the Columbia River.

A magnificent driving tour from the lush evergreen forests of western Washington, over the Cascades into the sage-covered hills on the state’s east side. Journey from the vibrant Puget Sound area, through thick forests, into historic towns, over a mountain pass, and onto the farms and sagebrush hills of eastern Washington.

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Retrace the Lewis & Clark journey from Hell's Canyon to the Pacific Ocean and see the landscape as it would have looked 200+ years ago. LEARN MORE North central Washington is a geologic marvel of coulees and potholes created by the cataclysmic glacial Lake Missoula floods that gouged, scraped and shaped this wondrous landscape and event caused the Columbia River to jump its banks between 14-16,000 years ago.

Explore the dry canyons gouged out by the Glacial Lake Missoula floods that roared through here several times up until around 13,000 years ago. With its hairpin turns and jaw-dropping vistas any argue that the North Cascades Highway is the most scenic road trip in Washington State.

This road trip starts on the shores of Puget Sound, climbs over Stevens Pass then drops through Leavenworth to Wenatchee on the Columbia River. This byway rambles through back roads from Roslyn east of Snoqualmie Pass to Vantage on the Columbia River and reminds travelers of a bygone era.

Journey from the vibrant Puget Sound area, through thick forests, into historic towns, over a mountain pass, and onto the farms and sagebrush hills of eastern Washington. From the foothills of Enumclaw west of the Cascades to Niches on the Eastside this road trip wraps around the northeastern flank of Mount Rainier.

Retrace the Lewis & Clark journey from Hell's Canyon to the Pacific Ocean and see the landscape as it would have looked 200+ years ago. A magnificent driving tour from the lush evergreen forests of western Washington, over the Cascades into the sage-covered hills on the state’s east side.

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(Source: www.pinterest.com)

The gentle Yakima River winds through rolling desert hills is popular for hiking, fly-fishing and tubing. Beautiful mountain passes filled with rivers, lakes and wildlife are accented by tiny logging and historic gold mining communities.

This drive through Colville National Forest is a favorite of outdoor adventurers, wildlife enthusiasts who appreciate natural and human history. Washington’s southernmost leg of the International Selkirk Loop includes a Water Trail and follows the Pend Oracle River on our eastern border with Idaho from Newport to Tiger.

Discover the bucolic communities and mesmerizing rolling wheat fields of the Pa louse, some of the most productive dry farmland in the nation. Since I moved to Seattle a few years back, I’ve taken no fewer than four road trips around the state, checking out everything from the natural beauty of its mountains and coastlines to the character of its small towns.

If you want to cross off two amazing national parks in one road trip, follow this route. Mount Rainier National Park is an awesome place for hiking and camping.

Stop at the Henry Jackson Visitor Center and take some hiking trails by the parking lot. Visit Narmada Falls, Reflection Lakes, Klutz Creek Nature Trail, and any other areas that look cool as you drive past.

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(Source: www.scenicwa.com)

It’s close enough that you can see Victoria across the water, and you can pick up Canadian radio stations as you drive. From Port Angeles, you’re not far from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in Olympic National Park.

The High Ridge Trail is a nice easy hike at the visitor center. Most of the lodging options here are national chains like Days Inn or smaller local motels.

Even though it doesn’t include any major cities, the Central Washington excursion passes by some of the quirkiest attractions in the state, including the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, the largest (dry) waterfall in the world, and a gas station shaped like a teapot. Heading east from Seattle through the mountains on Route 2, stop first at the Wayside Chapel in Sultan.

The empty church is just four pews, and there’s nobody inside, unless you bump into other folks who like oddball roadside attractions. Quirky stuff on this road trip: A Harry and the Henderson's Bigfoot statue; a giant George Washington ; and a tiny church.

That’s where you can pose with a Bigfoot statue, created in honor of the 1987 film Harry and the Henderson's. The movie filmed in this location, and the coffee shop has all sorts of Bigfoot-themed memorabilia for sale three decades later.

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(Source: www.budgettravel.com)

Then comes Leavenworth, a city of 2000 whose entire business district is designed to look like a Bavarian town. Between the design of the buildings and the shops selling bratwurst, chocolate, cheese, you may feel like you’re in Germany.

Leavenworth is hugely popular on weekends, when Seattle residents flock there for festivals and fun. That’s doubly true during the holiday season, when the city gets decked out in Christmas decorations.

Leavenworth is a good place to spend the night, though rooms can be pricey, and they can sell out. That will give you a chance to casually stroll down the main street and grab a few brews before bed.

On day two, head east from Leavenworth, and you’ll notice the landscape immediately change from green forest to brown desert. Start with a morning hike on the hillside at ESSTIN Pinnacles State Park, where sandstone spires tower into the sky.

Drive east 75 minutes to reach Dry Falls, the largest waterfall in the world! When the last ice age ended, melting glaciers caused waters to rush over these 350-foot cliffs.

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And swing by the Three’s Truck Stop gas station to take a selfie with the statue of George Washington himself. Then, head south and cross the mighty Columbia River to stop at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park.

The next historic site on your central Washington road trip is the Hanford Reach National Monument. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation was used in the 1940s to manufacture the plutonium that was used in the Nagasaki atomic bomb from World War II.

The reactor ceased operation in 1968, and the land has been untouched since then, so in 2000 it was turned into a national monument. I chose to just drive by and grab some distant pics of the “B Reactor” which made that historic bomb.

If you choose the latter option, grab dinner at the Palace Café, an Ellensburg institution since 1892. And don’t forget to take a photo with the bizarre coyote-human statue at 209 N. Ruby St.

Seriously, you can sit on a picnic bench and watch the orcas swim past every day! If you choose to explore Orcas Island instead, you’ll have hiking and camping options there, too.

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I stayed for a couple nights in Moran State Park and did some kayaking on Mountain Lake. I recommend camping at Moran State Park or grabbing a room at the gorgeous Landmark Orcas Island Condo Hotel.

I also hiked (okay… I drove) to Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands at 2410 feet. That may not sound very high, but remember that the surrounding terrain is basically at sea level.

Constitution, giving visitors a chance to climb even higher to get some awesome views of the water and nearby islands. But I recommend you drag yourself away and make the trip to North Cascades National Park.

Stop off at the visitor center to pick up a map and choose which hiking trails you might want to try. Or plan ahead and get yourself a spot at a campground, so you can stay overnight and have more time to explore the national park before making the 2-hour drive back to Seattle.

Hiking is the main recreational activity for casual visitors to North Cascades. Many of the hikes ascend mountains and provide stellar views at the top, so you’ll have some great rewards if you want to work for it.

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During the winter months, much of the North Cascades Scenic Byway (Route 20) closes entirely because the high-elevation area gets dozens of feet of snow. Start your road trip by taking a leisurely 2-hour drive west on Routes 2 & 28.

With its population of 1500, Soap Lake is a “booming metropolis” compared to the other towns on this road. Grab a meal at a diner in Soap Lake, then head north to Grand Coulee Dam.

Next, it’s on to another historic attraction, Fort Spokane, which was built along the Columbia River in 1880 to maintain peace between white settlers and native people. The visitor center is operated by the National Park Service and includes a museum with exhibits about the “Indian Frontier” and the history of the area.

Drive two hours east toward the town of Nine Mile Falls (unfortunately, there isn’t an actual waterfall here anymore.) Or, drive another hour east to Mount Spokane State Park, which has 100 miles of scenic trails in the forests of the Selkirk Mountains.

Drive or hike to the top of Mount Spokane (5883 feet) and you’ll be able to see all the way to Canada. Finally, you can’t visit Spokane without heading 30 minutes east into Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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This city has grown a lot in recent years, with the addition of ski resorts, theme parks, and other tourist attractions. The museum isn’t anything special, but it does educate visitors on the history of the region’s people and industries.

It’s a great downtown park with a large sandy beach on Lake Four D’Alone. In the morning, if you’re not ready to head back to Spokane just yet, drive another hour east to check out the mountain town of Wallace, Idaho.

The historic mining town is full of character, with breweries, museums, and outdoor activities like zip lining and kayaking. These four road trips are enough to keep you busy for quite some time, but the amazing thing is that we haven’t even covered everything that Washington has to offer.

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