11 Awesome Self-Drive Day Trips Around Seattle

Seattle is a fantastic destination in its own right and you can spend several days enjoying everything this city has to offer (including the coffee!). If you’ve had enough of urban pleasures, Seattle is also a great base for exploring the magnificent natural beauty of the Northwest. The Cascades and the Olympic Peninsula are all within reach if you’re willing to drive for a couple of hours, and both regions offer a wealth of amazing places to see and experience.
We’ve visited the area several times and it’s one of our favorites in the US. Some of the destinations mentioned here we visited as day trips from Seattle. Others, we took longer to explore over a few days. And some – I regret to say – we haven’t actually visited yet. So yeah, I’m saving this post for our own future visits to Seattle too! I hope you’ll do the same!
11 Awesome Self-Drive Day Trips Around SeattleHere’s the list of day trips from Seattle covered in this post, along with approximate driving times –
  1. Snoqualmie Falls (40 Minutes)
  2. Stevens Pass to Leavenworth (40 Minutes to the starting point)
  3. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (1 hour)
  4. Snoqualmie Pass (1 hour)
  5. Whidbey Island (1 Hour 10 Minutes)
  6. Deception Pass (1 Hour 30 Minutes)
  7. Mount Rainier National Park (1 Hour 30 Minutes)
  8. North Cascades National Park (2 Hours)
  9. Lavender Farms of Sequim (2 Hours 30 Minutes)
  10. Dungeness/Spit (2 Hours 30 Minutes)
  11. Mount Baker Ski Area (2 Hours 30 Minutes)

Mind you, travel time will depend on your exact point of origin in Seattle and how close to rush hour you leave. As always, check Google Maps using your exact location and time of day to get a better estimate of actual driving times.

Now that you have our list of best places to visit, read below for helpful, additional information about each destination such as fees, hours, and websites!

1. Snoqualmie Falls

Distance is 28 miles from Seattle. The Snoqualmie Falls drop from a height of 268 feet. Free parking awaits and a wheelchair-accessible view of the falls at no cost. Open from dawn until dusk, visitors flock to the view which features colorful lights in the evening. The view can also be seen from the lower observation deck.

Snoqualmie Falls

The falls can widen by as much as 100 feet following storms. Therefore, the most dramatic experience of Snoqualmie Falls, by far, shows itself right after the area has had some bad weather. Still, it’s beautiful and impressive pretty much any time of year.

Take a peek at this website.

2. Stevens Pass to Leavenworth

Panorama of the Stevens Pass ski area
Panorama of the Stevens Pass Ski Area | Photo by Martin Bravenboer

This trip would take a drive of 35 miles to the beginning of the pass. Driving along Stevens Pass is a treat in its own right, as this is one of the scenic byways which crosses the Cascades east of Seattle. Then, if you just drive through, after about a forty-minute drive, you’ll find yourself in a Bavarian-style village with alpine architecture.

Stevens Pass To Leavenworth
Majestic pines and gently sloping hills encase the road leading into the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.

Leavenworth was one destination that kept coming up in our itineraries over the years but alas we never got there. If you have, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought. According to the web, the town has an enchanting fairytale-feel to it. You’ll find a Nutcracker Museum with nutcrackers dating back centuries. The museum, which opens at 1 pm and closes at 5 pm, features activities for children. Admission is $5.00 for adults with other ages, including seniors, asking less.

On the Wenatchee River, ospreys and eagles can be viewed in the water park. Also of interest nearby are wineries and ski area. For more information, here’s the website.

3. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

About an hour’s drive from Seattle, you can visit this peaceful wildlife refuge area. This is a good day trip for summertime, however, there is a seasonal closure of the new Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail from October until January for the safety of the visitors during waterfowl hunting season.

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Panoramic view from the Visitor Center | Photo by Joaquimoly

During the season, a ‘bird walk’ takes place every Wednesday morning. Dress for the weather and be prepared. The walk may last as long as several hours as the bird enthusiasts cover every area of the refuge’s trails. However long your walk may take, there is no fee to participate. There will only be the admittance fee of $3.00 per four adults into the refuge. However, children, sixteen and under, are free.

Check out the website for more details.

4. Snoqualmie Pass

This is another option for a scenic byway near Seattle. Snoqualmie Pass – like Stevens Pass – traverses the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. Opening hours for skiing at Snoqualmie Pass can vary as there are no fewer than seven mountain areas.

If you want to visit the ski slopes, you need to call or check online for opening hours. For example, Summit West opens around December 5th followed by Summit Central. Alpental will usually open the third. In addition, during the December 22 to January 1 holiday break is when Summit East and Nordic Center are added. Skiers also can begin enjoying night skiing around this time. For an up-to-date schedule, check the website for opening hours.

Guye Peak at Snoqualmie Pass
Guye Peak at Snoqualmie Pass | Photo by Ron Clausen

Dog-Friendly Hiking at Snoqualmie Pass

Fido is welcome at Margaret Lake/Lake Lillian. It will take a ten-mile hike with your beloved canine. That amounts to a four to six-hour hike through woods and over the ridge down into the lake area.

5. Whidbey Island

Although Whidbey Island is a mere 34 miles from Seattle – as the crow flies – the trip can require a ferry or visitors may opt to drive over the high Deception Pass Bridge. Consequently, the trip may take you about an hour and ten minutes one way just to reach the island tip itself.

Whidbey Island is pretty to drive along but you can also make a day out of it by The beauty makes the trip worth the time to get there, however. There are several places you can enjoy exploring on your day on the island –

  • Deception Pass State Park (so unique, it’s our next item on this list).
  • Fort Nungent Park
  • For Ebey State Park
  • Fort Casey Historical State Park

Fort Casey is the most well-known and if you’re a military history buff, check out the guided tours of the gun batteries in the fort during the summer months. There is also a historic lighthouse and island trails to explore.

Battery Trevor at Fort Casey, Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island (WA)
Battery Trevor at Fort Casey, Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island (WA) | Photo by mikelehen

You can also visit the Whidbey Island Distillery for a tour and tasting. Visitors say prices are reasonable, also. The distillery opens at 11 am and closes at 5 pm. All in all, this is a great day trip out of Seattle that could easily fill up your whole day.

6. Deception Pass

This gorgeous point is the bridge connecting Fidalgo Island with Whidbey Island. The views from the bridge are breathtaking, and you can enjoy the grounds around the area. There are steps taking you down to the beach from the bridge itself.

We mention this as a day trip in its own right, as you don’t have to continue driving south. Just hiking around this state park and appreciating the views is great. When we were there, we could see people fishing along the shores too.

Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park | Photo by Jeff Gunn

Hours for Deception Pass Park are 6:30 am until dusk during the summer months and 8:00 am until dusk during the winter months. The bridge itself is open 24/7 of course, and you don’t have to pay anything to cross it or walk around it.

And if you’re looking to make this into a longer trip, you could stay the night – or more than one night – in this park. Deception Pass accommodates both tents and RVs. Primitive sites accessible by boat only are available. There are boat launches and overnight moorage. Depth at low tide is 25 feet. With 18 restrooms in the campgrounds, 10 are ADA accessible. The park is open year round for camping and day use, although Quarry Pond Campground is the only one open during the winter months.

Although reservations are not required as long as there are available sites, it may be best to reserve your site in case the campgrounds fill up quickly.

To find out more, go online here.

7.  Mount Rainier National Park

While it could take you 2-3 hours to get to Rainier National Park, it’s probably the best day trip to take out of Seattle – at least if the weather is right. This park stands at over 14,400 ft with an active volcano. Open year-round, the crowds peak during the dry season of July and August.

The first rays of morning sun on Mount Rainier, as seen from Sunrise.
The first rays of morning sun on Mount Rainier, as seen from Sunrise | NPS

This is a national park and it’s a large one. Just driving around the mountain takes several hours, and then there are gorgeous stops, hiking trails, and viewpoints just about everywhere. We spent three days exploring Rainier National Park, and I’m sure we’ll be back as there’s so much more to do and see.

However, if you only have one day, this can be a day trip from Seattle and one you should probably make. Seeing just part of the park will still be worth it. Plan ahead, see what you want to see, which visitors center to focus on and how to make the best of this day. Visitors also enjoy less crowded times of the year in Spring to see the waterfalls and Autumn to see the vibrant colors of the leaves. Weather may affect the availability of activities, trails, and campgrounds.

For more information, check out their website.

8. North Cascades National Park

Another fairly long-distance day trip, the North Cascades National Park is just over 100 miles from Seattle. The trip would take approximately 2 hours to drive.

Cascade Pass and Pelton Basin
Cascade Pass and Pelton Basin | NPS

The area is beautiful but not easy to explore. There are trails beginning from the highway and one visitor’s center you should see but other than that, the entire area is a wilderness and the park is far less developed than its Cascades-sibling Rainier NP.

Although there are no fees for trailheads on national park service property, other forest services nearby may charge $5.00 for trails that will lead into North Cascades National Park. A useful chart with trail information can be found here. For more information, take a look at the North Cascades National Park to be sure you’re up to date on any alerts that have been issued here.

9. The Lavender Farms in Sequim

Sequim is a town on the Olympic Peninsula, known for its majestic lavender fields that show their magical purple colors in springtime. Perhaps the most known of the farms is Purple Haze, located on 180 Bell Bottom Road. The farm is pet-friendly, and the owners invite you to stroll among the lavender gardens freely.

Lavender Picking at Graysmarsh Farms in Sequim, WA
Lavender Picking at Graysmarsh Farms in Sequim, WA | Photo by sk

They are open until 5:00 pm. Purple Haze runs two stores. The farm store is open during the summer. The other lavender store is located in town. This store is open year round, offering a variety of lavender products such as aromatherapy products, skin care items, and lavender food products as well as their lavender ice cream!

Nearby, in the same area as the farm are several other lavender farms you may be interested in visiting. Take a look at the Purple Haze website for more information.

10. The Dungeness Spit

The Dungeness Spit is a long strip of sand that goes out into the ocean, allowing you to hike with the ocean waves lapping away both to your right and left. This sandy area makes a great hike and is a personal favorite of ours. We’ve hiked the spit twice already and I have a feeling we’ll be back for more.

 

Dungeness Spit
Dungeness Spit | Photo by Eric Frommer

At the end of the spit, there’s a lighthouse. Hikers should allow five hours for the round trip hike. There is no fee at the Lighthouse, but donations can be made for maintenance. To be honest, we never made it all the way through. Just hiking for an hour in each direction was enough for us. If you want to go all the way, the Lighthouse is open year round from 9 am to 5 pm and it’s free to visit.

Check out the website for more details.

Your day trip to Dungeness including the sandy spit is a 76-mile drive that actually can take 2 and 1/2 hours. The Dungeness spit is about 5 and 1/2 miles long.

11. Mount Baker Ski Area

At 133 miles from Seattle, allow some time for this trip, however, it’s worth it, winter or summer. If visiting in the winter, you can check out the prices for season passes, lift tickets, and rentals here.

Mount Baker Ski Area
Mount Baker Ski Area

Although the ski activities are closed in summer, the view at the end of the Mount Baker Highway, known as Artist Point, of Shukstan and Baker is stunning. There is access to many trails as well.

Artist Point opens in July and remains open until the first snowfall. Artist Ridge Trail #669 is open for hiking in summer months. It has heavy usage. Be sure to take water as there is no potable water on the hike. A valid recreation pass is required at the trailhead. The area is dog-friendly, however, a leash is required in certain areas.

For more information, check out their website.

Explore Seattle – and its surroundings!

Now that you have the list, I hope you’ll find at least one day – possibly more – to go out there and explore these places. Of course, you don’t have to make it a single-day-trip. The Northwest is a great area for road trips. Many of the locations mentioned here are also included in my suggestions for road trip itineraries, so you may want to check out my post about Road Tripping Along The Washington Coastline.

Oh, and if you still want more city fun, check out my post about Seattle’s sibling city: 11 Best things to do in Tacoma. That can totally be a day trip in its own right!

Comments? Questions? Bring them on! I love interacting with blog readers, so please do leave me a comment below!

11 Awesome Self-Drive Day Trips Around Seattle

 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. As a native of Western Washington, I’d absolutely add the Mount Saint Helens National Monument to this list. The level of preservation since the eruption in 1980 is impressive and you can witness nature in action as the area continues to recover even to this day. Landmarks show the level of destruction from the eruption (the whole of Spirit Lake was actually *moved* from its original location) and historical markers and artifacts are very well preserved and detailed. This is probably one of the most interesting sites in Washington, though it often gets overlooked. Its not all that far from Mount Rainier, so maybe take a few days and see both?

    If you’re going to the eastern side of the state, consider taking the North Cascades Highway. (SR20) Its a bit longer than taking, for example, Snoqualmie Pass and I-90, but well worth the time as it’s a stunning drive. One word of caution: The pass is closed several months out of the year over the winter season, so double check online to make sure it’s open! WSDOT does a good job of clearly indicating the status of the pass and road. https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/travel/highways-bridges/passes/north-cascades-highway/home

    1. Fantastic addition, Cheryl, thank you!

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