A road trip is a great way to experience Washington state's many wonders, from the coast to the mountains to desert landscapes to lush wine country. You have your choice of scenic routes that offer multiple places to stop, to eat, and to play. Some of these Washington State road trips can be done in a day or a weekend, others are best experienced over several days. And most can be added on to, for instance if you want to drive east, you can easily keep on going to places like Glacier National Park.
Here are some recommendations for the best road trips in the state of Washington.
Washington State is home to diverse landscapes, from rugged coast to mountain forests to pastoral farmland. You'll get to experience all of these things, and more, by traveling the Cascade Loop. The 440-mile route follows Highway 2 through Leavenworth to Wenatchee, where you'll turn north and follow Highway 97, passing through Chelan before you veer eastward. The Cascade Loop then takes you through Methow Valley and back over the Cascade Mountains via the North Cascades Highway. The big loop road trip then passes through Skagit Valley and along Whidbey Island. All of these places are fun destinations in their own right. Combining them in a Cascade Loop road trip makes for a memorable Washington vacation. This one is best if you allow plenty of time to stop and explore, or even add in a night or two along the way.
This road trip takes you around Washington's Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. The primary route, most of which follows Highway 101, is just over 300 miles. Side excursions will take you to such don't-miss destinations as Port Townsend, the Dungeness Spit, and Cape Flattery. You'll definitely want to explore one or more sections of Olympic National Park; Hurricane Ridge (south of Port Angeles) and the Hoh Rain Forest (south and east of Forks) are two highly recommended examples. This road trip can be done in a couple days, but there's so much to see and do it could take weeks to fully experience. This is one of those Washington State road trips that you'll want to do over and over again, whenever opportunity allows, and each time you'll be able to see something new.
You can experience Mount Baker Highway as a very full day trip, or over two or more days if you include camping. The route follows Highway 542 east from Bellingham, passing through rural areas before entering Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest and heading north. Lovely any time of year, this trip is best experienced during the summer months once the final (and highest elevation) length of highway up to Artist Point is open. The fall color is amazing even if the stretch of Highway 542 up to Artist Point is closed. The hiking stops along the way range from short and easy to longer and more intense. All are among stunning scenery, so be sure to bring your camera.
Packed with cool geology, outdoor recreation and unique views, a trip along Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway takes you through arid landscapes that are definitely not what people expect from the "Evergreen State". 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. The entire region was carved by enormous ice age floods that left deep channels - "coulees" in local parlance - that are now scattered with lakes large and small. 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. A tour and a stop at the dam visitor center are must-dos. If you're staying after dark during the summer, you can enjoy a narrative, musical laser show projected onto the dam itself.
North Cascades Highway
Part of the Cascade Loop, the North Cascades Highway has all the ingredients of a fun-filled and scenic road trip all on its own. This Washington State road trip 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 can stop to enjoy a float trip along the Skagit River. Early in the year, you'll have the chance to see migrating bald eagles. Then spend a few hours in Newhalem, an old company town with fun forest hikes and access to Skagit Tour's Diablo Lake boat tours. The North Cascades National Park Visitor Center is worth spending some time exploring. The drive over the mountain pass takes you past gorgeous - and extremely photogenic - Gorge, Diablo and Ross Lakes. The unique blue-green color of these lakes is a wonder not to be missed and can be enjoyed at scenic overlooks. The eastern section of the North Cascades Highway takes you through Methow Valley and the Old-West-style town of Winthrop, a region rich in recreation and visitor amenities. The North Cascades Highway is closed during the winter months of the year, typically from November into May.
While there are no connecting roads that can take you in a loop around Mount Rainier National Park, you can still put together a road trip that includes most major regions of the park, including Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh and Sunrise. The ability to view the peak of Mount Rainier from different sides, combined with the stunning surrounding scenery, makes this a memorable Washington State road trip. Throw in the many places to stop and take in a hike or a view or to visit a historic structure or a visitor center and you have activities to fill two or more days. Your overnight options include camping and the historic lodges at Longmire and Paradise.