It is hard to see all of Washington State in a weekend, but you can see some epic places if you take off on weekend drives. Some of the best drives in Washington take 1-3 days to complete, so if you have a couple extra vacation days, Washington is a great place to use them up.
Travel Washington: Best Road Trips – East to the Gorge
Near the tiny city of George (population around 5K), just northeast of Quincy and two hours east of Seattle is the breathtaking Gorge. The Gorge has often been called the little Grand Canyon of Washington. The rocks shine in brilliant shades of reds, gold, and various shades of tans and browns. There is also a mix of desert-type flora throughout the area.
You can hike down into the Gorge or around the top to take in the clean fresh air. Be alert for wildlife and have fun seeing some really beautiful flowers as you hike in this natural wonder.
You may want to schedule your visit around on of the popular Gorge Amphitheater shows, where some of the greatest rock bands and solo performers have staged their concerts. The Gorge and the Columbia River create the backdrop for the stage in this outdoor music amphitheater which seats 27,500, so it’s a concert you won’t forget. Hotels book up early on concert weekends and there is limited camping available – book early so you don’t miss out. If you’ve purchased tickets and you can’t find a local hotel, book one in Moses Lake. It’s only a 40-mile drive, but be warned, it can take hours to get out of the Gorge parking lot.
Plan a few hours extra in your schedule to stop at Snoqualmie Falls on one of your trips across the pass. It’s one of Washington’s most popular natural attractions and worth the time to visit. Parking is free (choose the large parking “garage” and use the overhead walkway to access the Falls area. For those that are able, the hike down to the falls is a great way to see the true power and majesty of the Falls.
The best times to visit depend on your desires. Rain makes for some amazing and ferocious water while summer can be quite tame during drought years.
The 270-foot waterfall is open from dawn to dusk and amenities are available including a small store for gifts and snacks as well as the world-famous Salish Lodge & Spa at Snoqualmie Falls. Known for it’s fine dining and posh guest rooms, it’s a popular location for destination weddings and romantic getaways. Prices start at $195 a night.
The Snoqualmie Falls Pancake mix and old-fashioned oatmeal are the best around and worthy of their premium price. If you cant’ stop by the Falls to pick it up yourself, you can find them at many local Seattle grocery stores and online at Amazon.com and Made in Washington. Books that include the history of Snoqualmie Falls, nearby hikes and other tourist destinations are available at the Gift Shop and Amazon.com.
Travel Washington: Best Road Trips – West to Port Angeles and the Olympic Peninsula
Heading west from Seattle you can drive north to the Kingston-Edmonds Ferry terminal and travel via a Washington State Ferry. This run has two boats, the Spokane and the Walla Walla, which begin services at 5am and ends at 8:40pm (or depending on the weather). There are some special ticketing systems in place because the terminal and line causes major congestion – read about the Kingston Tally System here before you go. Washington Ferry tickets start at $35 (expect to pay about $50) and go up. Fees for the vehicle and driver are collected when travelling from Kingston to Edmonds. Travelling from Edmonds to Kingston you’ll pay for driver/car/passengers.
If a ferry isn’t in your budget, you can drive around the sound by taking I-5 south to US-101N to Port Angeles. Which you take, road or ferry, depends on the time of year and how much time you have for the journey.
Summer weekends can mean waiting in line at the ferry dock for hours (check out the Kingston Terminal and Cameras to see how long the wait will be). Driving around on those weekends is generally easier and can be done in about 3 hours (the shorter drive and ferry can take as little as 3 hours depending on your wait at the ferry terminal). Checking for current traffic conditions is the best way to choose a route, though the Washington State Ferries are worth a visit. They offer stunning views you won’t get any other way.
Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park
Once you’ve arrived on the Olympic Peninsula, you’ll want to take the beautiful drive along WA -112. Stop and go tide pooling at Salt Creek Recreation Area. There is also a wildlife refuge, roadside gardens, and a couple wineries that offer free wine tastings.
Then head up to the Olympic National Park Hurricane Ridge Visitor’s Center. It’s just 17 miles south of Port Angeles and is open in summer (during the winter season road access is limited and chairs are required – check the status of the road before heading out).
It’s one of the few places you can see Mount Olympus (check out hikes available on the Washington Trails website), the most prominent mountain in the Olympic Mountains. Mount Constance is the most visible of the peaks on the range. (Check out the National Park Service’s Getting Around page for the distances and access information for this area).
Camping in the Olympic National Park
There are plenty of camping areas, but during peek season, reservations are a must. Choose from Dosewallips (walk-in only), Elwha, Fairholme, Graves Greek, Heart O’the Hills (this campground is the closest to Hurricane Ridge), Hoh, Kalaloch (online reservations), Mora, North Fork, Ozette, Queets, Sol Duc, South Beach, and Staircase. Find out more about all of these camping areas, which are closed/open, and what facilities they offer on the National Parks Service website.
While you’re visiting, note that black bears call the Olympic National Park home and take appropriate precautions. If you’ll be hiking or camping, that includes securing your food and trash (read the NPS’s Wilderness Food Storage page for information). Bear canisters are required in most areas , so know before you go. Bear vaults are available online and at many sporting goods stores and range from $50 – $100. You may also want to invest in Bear Deterrent. These small canisters of Capsaic spray are used when confronted by a bear. It’s a last resort; the first line of defense is making noise while you’re in bear territory so that they’re away you’re there. Learn the Do’s and Don’ts of Bear Country from the Washing Department of Fish and Wildlife.
There are also aggressive mountain goats. By law you’re required to stay 50 years away from all wildlife while in any of the parks or campgrounds. Never, ever, feed or try to pet any of the wild animals. That’s for your safety and theirs. Rabies has also been found in the area in an infected bat. Keep aware of the dangers by checking out the Wildlife Safety page on the Olympic National Forrest Page.
Before you head out to hike anywhere in the Olympic National Park, check out the current trail conditions online. You can also call 360-565-3100 for a recorded message.[caption id="attachment_103308" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Lake Crescent Lodge – Washington State[/caption]
Lake Crescent Lodge
If you’d like more amenities and a comfy bed, check out Lake Crescent Lodge run by the National Park Service. The popular vacation destination has 52 rooms, a beach area, boating and interpretive activities, free wireless Internet, a gift shop, lounge, and restaurant, and they’re a pet-friendly hotel. They also rent kayaks, fishing poles, and is a great place to sit back and relax taking in Crescent Lake.
The Lake Crescent Lodge can be reserved online, by telephone (855-584-52930), or via the Internet. Rooms state at $114 and go to $258 depending on the season.
Travel Washington: Best Road Trips – Lake Quinault
Continuing on the 101 takes you around the Northeastern part of Washington State where you can see the Pacific Ocean. There are many places to pull over and see the hundreds of logs on the beach.
Heading south to Lake Quinault is a very, beautiful and peaceful drive as this area of the state does not have many tourists nor motorists.[caption id="attachment_103309" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Pacific Ocean – Washington[/caption]
Lake Quinalt Lodge
Once you get to the lake, stop in at the Lake Quinalt Lodge, the place President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited quite often. The Lodge was decorated and maintained to be able to house royalty from all over the world as they came to vacation with the President.
The Lake Quinalt Lodge is run by the National Parks Service and rooms start at $109 per night. There are 91 rooms available, an arcade/game room, heated swimming pool, sauna, Wi-Fi, and massage therapy is available. The pet-friendly hotel also has a restaurant on site and has ADA/Handicap access.
Lake Quinalt a motor-free lake so it’s always serene, peaceful and the perfect place to let the stresses of your life melt away.
These three drives are all within a few hours of Seattle and are the perfect excuse for you to get out and see all that Washington has to offer.
So, which road trip would you take next time you travel Washington? East or west?
More Washington Travel Stories:
- Photo of the Day: Mt Baker from the Washington State Ferry Hyak
- Moran State Park – The View From Mt Constitution, Orcas Island, WA
- Our Washington State Ferry Random Good Deed and Gorgeous Sights
- Photo of the Day: Rosario Resort Marina – Orcas Island, Washington
- Photo of the Day: Sailboats and Lavender at Rosario Resort