Located on the calm Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, the city of Seattle has a temperate climate and is nestled between lush forests, the majestic Cascade mountains and several bodies of water; making it an adventurers dream. Using Seattle as a home base, it’s easy to get out and explore some of the incredible surrounding regions and all they have to offer. We’ve outlined some of our favorite day and weekend trips from the Emerald City, and hope you’ll love these hidden gems just as much as we do!
Mount Rainier National Park
This nearly 240,000-acre national park is home to several impressive glaciers and to Mount Rainier, one of the only active volcanoes in the United States and one of Washington’s most well-known landmarks. At 14,410 feet above sea level, the mountain peak boasts unparalleled views of the surrounding regions and offers quite the challenge for climbers and hikers alike. The park is full of hiking trails, walking paths, waterfalls, viewpoints, and campsites at a variety of altitudes, so there’s sure to be something for everyone whether you’re an experienced explorer or just on a day’s adventure. If you plan your trip for the Summer months of July or August, you take the Wonderland Trail to see the parks renowned subalpine meadows and their charming wildflowers in full bloom. As a bonus, the meadows even have their own designated picnic areas so you can make the most of your day visit.
As with most day trips from Seattle, the easiest and most convenient way to access the park is by car, and it’s just under a two-hour drive from downtown. There’s multiple entrances depending on which part of the park you’d like to start with, and there’s plenty of parking on-site.
With the Olympic Mountain Range to the West and the Cascades looming in the East, Bainbridge is a picturesque island town in the middle of the Puget Sound. This charming locale is popular as an easy and convenient escape from city life and is the perfect day trip for both locals and tourists. Excellent for visiting on bicycle, on foot, or by car, Bainbridge is easily accessible by ferry boat from Pier 52 just south of downtown Seattle. The ferry crossing will take about 30 minutes, so be sure to head to the upper deck to take in the sea breeze and some spectacular views of Elliot Bay and the Seattle city skyline.
Once on the island, there are plenty of parks, art museums, local shops and outdoor activities to check out all over the island. Don’t miss Winslow, a quaint and lively village just minutes from the ferry dock, where you’ll find the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art as well as abundant local shopping, dining and of course, an incredible farmers market stocked with fresh local produce. If you love discovering local producers, you’ll be pleased to learn that Bainbridge is home to seven wineries, a brewery and a distillery, which are open for touring and tasting almost all year round.
Ideal for a day trip, Bainbridge is accessible by ferry and will only take about an hour from the city center including the ferry crossing time. Lines for the ferry can be long, especially in Summer, so be sure to check the seasonal sailing schedule and arrive at least twenty minutes in advance for your crossing.
Nestled in the North Cascades National Park, this gorgeous blue-green glacier-fed lake is a sight to behold. Offering many trails, hikes, water activities and campsites with majestic views, this lake is the perfect destination for any fan of the outdoors. The lake itself is surrounded by dense, old-growth forests and the moderate 7.5-mile hike around it makes for a great day excursion.
About a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle on I-5, the North Cascades National Park and Diablo lake are ideal for a weekend or overnight trip, but can just as easily be done in a day as well. The drive is very scenic and offers view of the surrounding natural landmarks and mountain ranges. Campsites at the lake fill up quickly, so if your plan includes camping overnight, make sure to reserve well in advance.
One of the Northernmost towns in Washington, Bellingham is home to about 85,000 residents and has the perfect mix of quaint, countryside charm and metropolitan convenience. Artsy, industrial and of course, outdoorsy, the town itself is very walkable and is made up of several distinct neighborhoods, so you’re sure to fall in love with the Bellingham vibe. Spend an afternoon walking or cycling along the waterfront, or head over to Fairhaven for some organic shopping and local art galleries. For a change of pace, get out into nature and visit the Sehome Hill Aboretum or check out Whatcom Falls, a spectacular waterfall and park just outside the city center.
Known for its many microbreweries and local eateries, there are plenty of excellent options for a meal or drink out in Bellingham. Enjoy a cold, locally-brewed beer and some tasty snacks at Boundary Bay Brewery or North Corner Brewing Supply, two of the city’s most popular breweries. Finish off your day with a homemade ice cream at the local favorite Mallard’s, an ice cream shop offering a vast array of deliciously unique flavors like lavender honey or fresh blackberry.
Just south of the Canadian border, Bellingham is an hour and a half drive from Seattle and can be a welcome escape from the busy city. Cruise up I-5 until you see an exit for WA-11 and make the rest of your journey on the incredibly scenic Chuckanut Drive. Consistently rated year after year as one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country, this little detour is well worth it and offers breathtaking views overlooking the Puget Sound and the idyllic San Juan Islands.
Image Sources: Boundary Bay Brewery by Cascade Bicycle Club – cc by 2.0, Whatcom Falls by visuallight – cc by sa 2.0, North Cascade National Park by CheWei Chang cc by nd 2.0, Diablo Lake by Analise Zocher – cc by 2.0, Eagle Harbour by Patrick Lordan – cc by 2.0