Planning a visit to the U.S. Pacific Northwest? There’s no better place to start your journey than in beautiful Washington State.
With millions of acres of protected land, Washington State is home to some of the most stunning state & national parks in the United States. From the Cascade and Olympic Mountains Mountains to lush coastal rainforests, Washington is nirvana for outdoor adventures. Whether you want to ample along hiking trails or carve skiing slopes, Washington State is the perfect place to do it.
Washington State is also home to Seattle, one of the coolest cities in the USA. With its abundance of museums, galleries, and cultural events, Seattle is the perfect urban destination to visit any time of year. Within a short reach of the big city, you’ll also find lovely coastal towns and islands perched around Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.
Planning your ultimate trip to Washington State? Check out our Washington State travel guide.
Where to go in Washington State
Famed for its music, art, and coffee culture, Seattle is the perfect place to start any Pacific Northwest adventure. From its bustling downtown to its scenic waterfront and hiking trails, Washington’s main metropolis dishes out plenty for every style of traveler.
Although smaller than many other U.S. cities, Seattle has had a disproportionate effect on American culture. The former frontier city has produced legendary music acts like Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana along with Starbucks, the world’s most popular coffee chain.
As you wander the streets of Downtown Seattle, you’ll stumble into world-class art galleries, sandwiched between gleaming skyscrapers. Between all the cultural attractions, you’ll chow down on some of the region’s best food, from fresh seafood to delightful Asian fusion.
But don’t end your journey here. Head west to Capitol Hill and the University District, two of the city’s most charming neighborhoods. Here, you’ll find a mix of old-fashioned West Coast charm and hipster cool.
If you’re looking for something a little different, head south to Ballard. This neighborhood is known for its eclectic shops, craft breweries, and funky eateries.
After exploring the city’s many sights, take a break by visiting one of Seattle’s many parks. You’ll find gorgeous green spaces throughout the city, including Kerry Park, delivering an epic view of the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline. Or drive a little further from the city to check out Discovery Park, where you’ll delight in a spectacular panoramic view of Puget Sound.
Ready to plan your Seattle trip? Get started with these travel resources:
- One Day in Seattle: Itinerary
- Best Places to Visit in Seattle
- Best Places to Stay in Seattle
- Day Trips from Seattle
Olympic National Park
For outdoor enthusiasts, no Washington State trip is complete without a stop at Olympic National Park. Home to snow-capped mountains, crystal clear lakes, and lush forests, the park is a haven for hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, and nature lovers.
Olympic National Park sits on the Olympic Peninsula, home to some of the most pristine wilderness in America. The park spans between the towering Olympic Mountains to mossy old-growth rainforests.
If you’re visiting on a time crunch, start your visit with Hurricane Range. Located just 18 miles from Port Angeles, it’s the park’s most accessible mountain area. From its visitor center, you’ll be able to attack a variety of hiking trails, ascending to ridgelines and descending into alpine valleys.
With a little more time, poke west to Forks to dig into the Hoh Rain Forest. The area is one of North America’s most pristine primordial coastal rainforests. On the rainforest’s main hiking, the Hoh River Trail, you’ll amble past mystical moss-covered trees that’ll leave you spellbound.
San Juan Island
Looking for a Pacific coast getaway? Spring up to San Juan Island. Located in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the U.S. mainland, the island is the most popular gateway to the beautiful San Juan Islands. Its idyllic maritime setting offers a variety of experiences for travelers, from lavender fields to whale-watching tours.
Start your journey to San Juan Island at Friday Harbor, the only incorporated town in the archipelago. Although just one square mile, the small town is packed with charms. Wander about its seafront in search of Washington State’s finest seafood or embark on a whale-watching excursion to catch a glimpse of these majestic mammals in their natural habitat.
Outside of Friday Harbor, plenty more adventure awaits, too. Rent a car (or ferry your own across) to explore the island’s Scenic Byway. The route runs north, south, and west from the town, sliding past pastoral farmland and pristine coastlines dotted with historic lighthouses.
On your trip, be sure to carve out time for unique attractions like Pelindaba Lavender Farm and Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, home to over 50 cheeky alpacas.
Only got time for one destination outside Seattle? Beeline for Bainbridge Island. Just 35 minutes west of the city center over Elliott Bay, the Puget Sound is a favorite day trip for locals looking to escape the urban buzz of Seattle.
Art lovers will love perusing the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, home to a rotating collection of art from local artists. If you’re traveling to Bainbridge Island with kids, pop into the Kids Discovery Museum. The interactive children’s museum offers a variety of fun hands-on science & art exhibits to keep the kids busy for hours.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty on Bainbridge Island. To enjoy some of the island’s natural highlights, venture northward to the Bloedel Reserve. With over 150 acres of wilderness, the reserve dishes out several nature trails winding through landscaped gardens and lush forests.
Mount Rainier National Park
For outdoor adventure in Washington, no destination stuns quite like Mount Rainer National Park. At 14,410 feet, the park’s namesake active volcano is one of the most iconic sights in the Pacific Northwest. Even if you’re stuck in Seattle, you’ve probably caught a passing glimpse of this majestic peak.
Despite the fury brewing underneath, Mount Rainier National Park is home to some of Washington’s loveliest wilderness. Beneath the glaciated volcano lie old-growth forests and subalpine meadows peppered with colorful wildflowers.
Mount Rainier National Park splits into five areas: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon River & Mowich. The most popular among travelers is the Paradise area, accessible via the Nisqually Entrance. Start with the easy Alta Vista Trail (1.7 miles) and Nisqually Vista Trail (1.2 miles) before moving onto the epic Skyline Trail / Panorama Point Trail (5.4 miles).
North Cascades National Park
Established in 1968, North Cascades National Park is one of the most stunning swaths of wilderness on the U.S. West Coast. The park sprawls from the Canadian border in the north to the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area in the south. Although just three hours from Seattle, it’s one of the country’s least visiting national parks, making it a wonderful escape from modern life.
The national park’s 789 square miles hide endless miles of pristine alpine landscapes, from jagged peaks laced with glaciers to waterfalls tumbling into forested valleys. And with over 400 miles of trails, hikers and outdoor adventures will find plenty to keep them busy.
Only one major road cuts through the park, Highway 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway. Many of the park’s best hikes, including the Sterling Munro Trail, the Diablo Lake Vista Point, and Gorge Lake Overlook depart from here.
More places to visit in Washington State
- Whidbey Island
- Mount St. Helens
- Orcas Island
- Lopez Island
When to visit Washington State
The best time to visit Washington State is between July and August. The summer months bring warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine to the famously wet Pacific Northwest.
The summer, however, also falls within Washington State’s tourism high season. In popular destinations like Seattle and the San Juan Islands, expect larger crowds, less availability of accommodations, and higher prices. To avoid the worst of it, September is a good alternative to the summer months. Although not quite as warm, you’ll still enjoy plenty of sunny days before the rainy season.
The wettest months of the year in Washington State fall between October and early July. Winters in Washington are often cool, cloud, and wet, with the coastal areas seeing a higher amount of precipitation.
How to get to Washington State
Most visitors traveling to Washington State by air arrive via Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA), also known as Sea-Tac.
Located about 14 miles south of Downtown, Sea-Tac is the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest, offering over 90 non-stop domestic routes and over two dozen international routes. Major airlines flying in/out of SEA include:
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
Washington State is well-connected by road to the neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho, as well as the province of British Columbia in Canada. Popular routes and sample driving times include:
- Vancouver, BC, to Seattle (2h35m)
- Victoria, BC, to Seattle (5h)
- Portland, OR, to Seattle (3h)
- Cour d’Alene, ID, to Spokane (45m)