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, manmade wonders, lush rainforests, or even deserts. Some trips can be done in a day or over a long weekend, but to make the most of Washington's natural splendor, you should give yourself at least a week to really explore and enjoy the great outdoors. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, apple orchards, and roadside cherry stands—all iconic touchstones of a Washington road trip.
The Cascade Loop is a circular route that has a short section on the coast and also encompasses the majestic Cascade National Park. From Seattle, this 440-mile route follows Highway 2 past Leavenworth and Wenatchee. From there, you'll turn north and get on Highway 97, passing the town of Chelan before you veer eastward. It's here where things get really scenic as you travel through the Methow Valley and over the Cascade Mountains via the North Cascades Highway. On your way back west, you'll pass through the Skagit Valley and then along Whidbey Island.
It would take 11 hours to drive the whole loop if you didn't stop at all, so you'll be better off taking your time and breaking up the trip into sections over three or five days. 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.
Washington's Olympic Peninsula is located in the state's northwestern corner, just across the Salish Sea from Victoria, Canada. Highway 101 forms a 300-mile loop around the peninsula, which encompasses Olympic National Park. 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 Dungeness Spit. Fans of the "Twilight" series may even wish to visit the town of Forks, which is right off Highway 101. While you're in the park, the most popular sections to visit are Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, and the Hoh Rain Forest. It's an extremely popular RV destination, but there are also many places to camp in the park. If you'd prefer a bed and plumbing, there are a variety of lodges with cabins and rooms, as well as bigger hotels throughout the park.
Spanning about 70 miles, a ride down the Mount Baker Highway— Route 542—is short enough for a day trip from Bellingham. However, it's also a good destination for one or two days if you want to camp overnight in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest. 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. However, a summer visit has the benefit of being able to access the road that leads up to Artist Point at the very end of the highway. Here, you'll find the best views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. There are a lot of campsites along the highway, but there are also plenty of lodges and resorts off the main road, particularly near the towns of Warnick and Glacier.
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. These unique landscapes are now home to several state parks and provide habitat for abundant birds and wildlife.
All of the natural wonders along this Washington State road trip are accompanied by one massive man-made wonder, Grand Coulee Dam, which is open for tours. The complete Coulee Corridor road trip runs from the town of Othello and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge north, past Grand Coulee Dam, to Omak. From Othello, it's about 146 miles north to Omak along Highways 17 and 155, which will take you about three hours to drive.
North Cascades Highway
If you don't have time for the whole Cascade Loop, or would rather focus on the concentrated beauty of the park, the North Cascades Highway has all the ingredients of a fun-filled and scenic road trip all on its own. While planning your trip bear in mind that The North Cascades Highway is closed during the winter months, typically from November into May.
The road follows State Route 20 from Sedro-Wooley on the west side of the Cascade Mountain Range to Twisp on the east side. Along the way, you'll pass the Skagit River and the town of Newhalem, and plenty of other places in between like the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, which is worth a visit.
Mount Rainier National Park is only 63 miles south of Seattle and while there are no connecting roads that can take you in a perfect loop around the mountain, you can still put together a road trip that includes most major regions of the park, including Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, and Sunrise. Traveling through all of these will allow you to see the peak of Mount Ranier from many different angles.
From Seattle, travel southwest via Highways 164 and 410, which will start to bring you around the east side of the park, past the entrance for Sunrise Park Road. Then you can follow Highways 123 and 12 around the south side of the park and until you can turn north to get onto Highway 7, which will connect you to Highway 706. Follow this road west to drive into the park towards Longmire and Paradise. 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. Your options include camping in the park and the historic lodges at Longmire and Paradise.