Got some extra time to explore beyond the Emerald City? Renowned for its natural beauty and abundance of national parks, Washington State will leave you breathless. Experience the highlights of Washington and enhance your itinerary on the best day trips from Seattle.
During your Seattle side trips, you could find yourself staring up at the titanic Mt. Rainier or witnessing the awe-inspiring power of Snoqualmie Falls. You can experience the ever-popular Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands, hike through scenic Olympic National Park, or chill on the powdery sandy beaches of Lake Cle Elum.
Ready to experience the best of Washington State beyond Seattle? Create a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with this guide to the best day trips from Seattle, Washington.
Top-rated Seattle side trips
Looking to experience Seattle’s seaside pleasure? Embark on a day trip to Bainbridge Island. On this island, west of Seattle, you’ll feel the fresh Pacific air tickle your face and caress your lungs while being surrounded by majestic marine animals like orcas.
Bainbridge Island lies just 35 minutes from Seattle by ferry. As you approach the island via ferry, you’ll witness the majestic Seattle skyline fading away from the deck.
The island is one of many popular islands in Puget Sound. This inlet of the Pacific Ocean is not only famous for its interesting islands, but it’s a fantasy realm for any ocean lover. Whales, porpoises, otters, orcas, and even bald eagles call Puget Sound home. There are plenty of wildlife-viewing tours, ranging from a couple of hours to full-day excursions.
Bainbridge Island is a synergy of culture and natural beauty. Downtown Bainbridge offers hours of wandering options to the curious tourist. Explore the town’s galleries, boutiques, cafes, coffee shops, and curio shops to find everything from art to wine. If you’re a shopping enthusiast, you can get your hands on unique gifts that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.
Have limited time to explore the surroundings of Seattle? Move Snoqualmie Falls up on your Seattle wishlist. There’s a good reason why over 1.5 million visitors wander to these falls every year.
Snoqualmie Falls is a spectacular 268-foot waterfall. About 30 minutes of travel time east of Seattle, the waterfalls are easily accessible and will have the whole family in awe.
Stunning rock faces and lush green forests create a pristine backdrop for the waterfall. If you’re there at the right time of the day, you could also experience rainbows forming in the fine mist of the falls.
Still have storage space for photos after visiting the magnificent waterfall? Be sure to check out the tranquil wilderness of Cougar Maintain Regional Wildland Park and Tiger Mountain State Forest on the drive back to Seattle.
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You’ll also find plenty of quaint towns on the drive. Stop in for souvenir shopping and restaurants offering good quality meals with wonderful scenery to adore.
Mount Rainier National Park
If picturesque landscapes pique your interest, make sure to visit Mount Rainier National Park. The famed national park is the home to the gigantic Mt. Rainier, towering 14,410 feet into the sky. Mount Rainier National Park offers amazing opportunities to immerse yourself in nature and admire the magnificent natural scenery.
Explore the inland rainforest around Mt. Rainier and enjoy wildflowers during spring or adore the warm colors of the leaves during fall. Go extreme in winter at a ski resort and try snowboarding, skiing or take it easy with a bit of snowshoeing. Summertime offers the opportunity to cool down under the refreshing mist from one of the many waterfalls in the park.
For the more energetic explorer, Mount Rainier National Park is home to over 130 hiking trails. Some of the trails will even take you all the way up Mt. Rainer, an active volcano and the highest mountain in Washington State.
Although it’s only a 2- to 2.5-hour drive from Seattle, a day trip to Mount Rainier National Park can often feel rushed. If you have time, spend the night in Greenwater or near the Nisqually Entrance to the park.
San Juan Island
Are you a whale lover? Squeeze in a visit to San Juan Island. Located three hours north of the city, San Juan Island is one of the best Seattle day trips to see these peaceful giants in their natural habitat.
Explore the marina at Friday Harbor and indulge in delicious seafood, fresh from the boat. Be on the lookout for the cute local harbor seal called Popeye. Several tours and trips leave regularly from the harbor to explore Puget Sound. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to get close to the marine animals, rent a kayak at the harbor and take a leisurely paddle.
If you want to create a balance between the natural beauty of the land and the serenity of the sea on your day trip, slide into the alluring forests of San Juan Island. Bike or hike your way along many delightful trails set in the pristine forests of the island. Be sure to look out for the large herd of alpacas on the island. (Yes, you read that right: alpacas!)
North Cascades National Park
Are you a fan of alpine lakes? About three hours away from Seattle lies North Cascades National Park. Lake lovers and nature enthusiasts alike will be ecstatic to experience all the park’s natural wonders.
Over 300 glaciers snake around the beautiful snow-capped Cascade Mountains. The beautiful transparent lakes provide glorious reflections of the mountains and lush forests surrounding them. Hundreds of trails await in North Cascades National Park to immerse in its spectacular natural bounty.
The North Cascades Scenic Highway alone is worth the trip. The natural beauty radiated by the jagged cliffs and peaks of the mountains, pristine forest, many waterfalls along the way as well as the turquoise colors of Lake Ross and Diablo Lake would leave you in a trance.
If you are a wildlife fan, stop at the charming town of Newhalem. Meet with the park rangers to learn where to look out for the over 300 species of wildlife populating the area. The old-growth forest, also known as the ancient forest, is a perfect spot to watch out for animals such as deer, elk black bears, bald eagles, and more.
Olympic National Park
If majestic snowcapped mountains take your breath away, be sure to visit Olympic National Park. This 633,600-acre park is situated just over two hours west of Seattle and offers some of the best natural scenery in Washington State.
Explore the pristine waters of the glacially carved Lake Crescent, nestled in the hills of the Olympic mountains. Although Lake Crescent is smaller than Lake Washington, it’s three times deeper.
Several hiking trails offer explorers the opportunity to experience the splendid beauty of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains. The hike to Marymere Falls is one of the more popular hikes. You could also explore the mirror-like surface of Lake Crescent with a kayak or admire the views from one of the many sandy beaches.
Or you can enjoy easily accessible panoramic views of the majestic mountains and deep valleys at a height of 5,242 feet from Hurricane Ridge. Grab a bite to eat at the café or enjoy family-friendly hiking loops leading from the visitor center. Lucky visitors will experience a sea of clouds engulf the forest-clad valleys below Hurricane Ridge on select days.
You can shrink yourself to the size of an ant by entering the Forest of Giants close to Port Angeles. These 1,000-year-old gargantuan trees dwarf anything that gets close to it. This forest is known to have the highest number of colossal trees per small area of land in the entire world.
Are you a fan of island hopping? Make sure to visit Whidbey Island. Soak up the sea, divulge in seafood and enjoy the spectacular natural scenery of the island. Whidbey Island is located just two hours from the Seattle ferry terminal.
If it’s seafood you’re after, you’ll get your fill on your Whidbey Island trip, especially when it comes to mussels. The island’s finest mussels are farmed at Penn Cove. You can enjoy them as fresh as nature intended.
Where else could you catch or dig out your dinner? If you’re a fish fanatic, crab connoisseur, or oyster lover, you’ll be elated to know you can catch all of them on the island. Whidbey Beach Watchers offer classes and will allow you to cook your catch afterward on one of the island’s many beautiful beaches.
There are also several hiking trails through thick forests and along virgin beaches to enjoy. The Deception Pass Trail is one of the most well-known trails. It runs through the old-growth forests, along dunes, and the unspoiled shoreline. If the breathtaking views aren’t enough, the 174 varieties of birds along the trail will leave you mesmerized.
Can’t get enough of Seattle’s islands? Take the short ferry ride over to Vashon Island. Foodies will enjoy mouthwatering cuisine and fine wine on their day trip to the island. Explore its natural beauty on foot or bicycle and take to the tranquil waters surrounding the island.
Vashon Island is only a 45-minute ferry ride from the Seattle ferry terminal and is one of the best family-friendly day trip options out there. Take the kids to meet llamas up close in person and get unique photos with their new fluffy friends.
After meeting the llamas, take the kids to see the UFO crash site close to Vashon Municipal Airport. The UFO replica and the story behind it are sure to light up active imaginations.
Whale watching, paddle boarding, hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, and golf are some of the more popular activities on Vashon Island.
For beverage lovers, Vashon Island also offers many cideries, wineries, and breweries where you can do tastings and enjoy the unique flavors of the island. The island on Puget Sound has become renowned over the years for its unique award-winning wines. Don’t leave the island without trying some!
Dazzle at pristine lakes, lush forests, marine animals, culture, and art on a trip to Orcas Island. The island is part of the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. It’s filled to the brim with an inexpressible beauty that deserves to be explored.
One of the best ways to explore this pristine piece of paradise is on a road trip on a moped or scoot car. Feel the fresh air on your face as you scoot around the island, taking in the picturesque scenery. Other modes of transport are also available for the less adventurous type of explorer.
What would a visit to Orca Island be without seeing orcas? Get close and personal with these majestic mammals by booking a tour. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, set out time to kayak on the calm waters around the island.
Some of the island’s whale watching tours provide a “sighting guarantee.” If you don’t see any whales on your tour, you can come back for free on other tours until you spot one.
Lake Cle Elum
Lakes over oceans for you? Lake Cle Elum is a 4,566-acre lake about 1.5 hours east of Seattle. Nature lovers and freshwater anglers won’t want to miss out on a visit to this beautiful man-made lake.
The scenic drive to Lake Cle Elum is one of the most stunning road trips in Washington State, and almost as rewarding as the lake itself. Snoqualmie Pass is renowned for its amazing viewpoints. On the way, you’ll marvel at panoramic views of seas of forestry, interrupted by rugged mountain peaks and crystal clear lakes. With a brief detour, you could also stop by Snoqualmie Falls on your way from Seattle.
The beautiful blue waters of the lake reflect the snowcapped mountains and lush green forest surrounding them. It’s so stunning, you could confuse the scene with an oil painting.
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Take in the beautiful views from one of the many soft sandy beaches. Or try your hand at fishing. The lake is home to species such as trout, salmon, and burbot.
Located on the Quimper Peninsula, Port Townsend is one of the most interesting coastal towns in Washington State for day-trippers staying in Seattle. The town dates back to the mid-19th century when it was pegged to become one of the most important ports on Puget Sound.
Although its bid for West Coast port-superstar status ultimately failed, Port Townsend was left with a legacy of striking Victorian architecture that’s perfect for an afternoon of exploring.
Spend some time in the town’s bustling downtown area to browse its boutique shops, eat at its restaurants, or enjoy a beverage at its quaint cafes and bars.
History buffs should set their sights on Fort Worden State Park. Situated on the edge of the peninsula just north of town, the state park hides a handful of abandoned military bunkers. You’ll also find the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum and the historic Point Wilson Lighthouse at the park’s edges.
Located on Puget Sound northwest of Tacoma, Gig Harbor is yet another one of Washington State’s small-city coastal gems. The city’s historic waterfront twinkles with small boutique shops, art galleries, and trendy restaurants, making it the perfect escape from Seattle’s big-city vibes.
If you want to dig into the seaside community’s history, pencil in a visit to the Harbor History Museum. Among its permanent collection, you’ll learn all about the town’s history, from its earliest Native American inhabitants to its modern settlers.
Nature lovers will find plenty to love around Gig Harbor, too. Lace up your walking shoes or bring along your bike to traverse the 6.2-mile-long Cushman Trail, winding through the city’s beautiful green spaces.
Or pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic with stunning views over Puget Sound at Sunrise Beach. (Bonus points if you arrive early enough in the morning to catch the beach’s famed sunrises!)