Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park in Washington

13 Best Day Trips From Seattle

Naomi Tomky

Naomi Tomky

November 29, 2023

12 min read

Table of Contents

Leaving Seattle is, ironically, one of the most essential parts of visiting the city. Nature surrounds it, and while the many hikes through parks and boat excursions along the waterways give visitors a taste of the Pacific Northwest’s incredible landscape, the full buffet sits a short drive—by car, boat, or combination—from the dense urban core.

A few hours from Seattle brings visitors to see the year-round snow on the high glaciers of Mount Rainier National Park, slurp oysters at the beach they grew on, or embrace the laid-back vibes of small-town Washington. To fully understand the Pacific Northwest, head out of the city and into the mountains and islands that decorate the horizon.

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Snoqualmie Falls and Pass: 30–60 minutes by car

Snoqualmie Falls in Washington

Snoqualmie Falls and Snoqualmie Pass are not as close to each other as the names might imply, but both the gushing 270-foot waterfall and the snowy mountain crossing are worth visiting and easily done in one combined day trip. At the falls, a viewing platform at the top gives breathtaking views. A short trail, signed with information about native plants, takes you down to the bottom of the falls and offers a second view, though does require a steep walk back up. The neighboring Salish Lodge houses a visitor center and gift shop, owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe, which purchased this area in its effort to reclaim ancestral lands; the history is explained in an exhibit there, along with a gallery of Indigenous art. Snoqualmie Pass is best known for its ski area, the Summit at Snoqualmie—though that is most notable for its proximity to Seattle rather than its snow quality. However, the tubing and sledding at the Sno-Park is a quick and fun outing, and in summer, there are excellent hiking trails along I-90, from the falls to far over the pass.

How to get to Snoqualmie Falls and Snoqualmie Pass from Seattle

Head east out of Seattle on I-90 for about 30 minutes to reach the falls; continue another 30 minutes and you'll reach Snoqualmie Pass. There's no real alternative to driving your own car, and don't attempt to drive to or over the Pass in snow without significant preparation or four-wheel drive.

Bainbridge Island: 35 minutes by ferry

Bainbridge Island in Washington

Wineries, bookstores, and waterfront parks draw visitors across Elliott Bay from Seattle. Both the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, a stunning building with galleries full of local artists, and the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum are free to enter and just a few steps from the ferries. The commuter town doubles as a quick getaway for locals, who mark special occasions by taking the ferry to a fancy seafood dinner at Seabird or a date night at creative Vietnamese restaurant Ba Sa. Visitors with more time can spend a day making their way slowly down Winslow Way, the main street on the island, stopping into Salt House Mercantile and Plum for adorable souvenirs and home goods, the Bainbridge Apothecary and Tea Shop for a curated cuppa, and Proper Fish for lunch that pairs local seafood with British-style (and quality) batter and chips.

How to get to Bainbridge Island from Seattle

The ferry from Downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island takes just 35 minutes and pulls right into the charming small town of Winslow.

Tacoma: 40 minutes by car 

Tacoma, Washington

For decades, Tacoma got the short end of the stick: It was mostly known as an industrial town with a signature stench. But as the region began to grow, Tacoma began to glow—the historic Downtown features the Washington State History Museum, the Museum of Glass, America’s Car Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum. The Ruston Waterfront brings visitors down to the water leading to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, and stalwarts of the food scene, like En Rama, have been joined by quirky upstarts like Cat & Rabbit Cake Shop and Howdy Bagel.

How to get to Tacoma from Seattle

Tacoma is located just 30–40 minutes south of Seattle on I-5, a drive plagued by unpredictable traffic and to be avoided anywhere near rush hour. On weekdays, the Sounder Train takes about an hour to get from King Street Station in the Chinatown-International District to the Tacoma Dome Station, about a mile (well served by busses) from the museums. But be careful: The trips are designed for commuters, so times are not regular through the day and the last train north leaves at 5:15pm.

Woodinville Wine Country: 40 minutes by car

Few of Washington’s best grapes grow in Woodinville, but that hasn’t stopped the suburb from becoming the center of the state’s wine industry. More than 130 wineries from around the region run tasting rooms in the former logging town, along with a few breweries, distilleries, and restaurants. Tasting fees run from $5-25, though most waive it with purchase; some smaller tasting rooms require appointments.

How to get to Woodinville Wine Country from Seattle

Woodinville is about a 40-minute drive from Downtown Seattle. Public transportation runs from Seattle to Woodinville but requires patience, connections, and limits you to only one of the towns four districts. For the hardcore, the Burke-Gilman Bike Trail connects Seattle to Woodinville and, though a long trip, is relatively flat and extremely pleasant, as it traces the shore of Lake Washington. 

Olympia: 70 minutes by car

The Capitol in Olympia, Washington

Washington’s quiet capital city rarely receives much attention, but in many ways, it represents the Seattle of an earlier era. The music, coffee, and beer made here are all excellent, and the small, walkable town includes a pleasant waterfront and farmers market. A day spent browsing record stores like Rainy Day and Lantern between coffee at Olympia Coffee Roasting and beer at Three Magnets Brewing Co. would not be at all wasted. But if you want more, head out to the Mima Mounds, a National Natural Landmark that is—as the name implies—a bunch of mounds. An interpretive trail system explains some of the theories behind their formation (hint: not aliens, supposedly).

How to get to Olympia from Seattle

Olympia is located just over an hour south of Seattle on I-5.

Whidbey Island: 80 minutes by car and ferry 

The coastline of Whidbey Island, Washington

Rolling green hills, windswept dunes, and steep bluffs over Puget Sound paint Whidbey Island’s pastoral landscape. At approximately 37 miles long and 10 miles wide (1.5 miles at its most narrow), the island lays just off the mainland coast. Langley to the south and Coupeville more north—two of the most popular destinations on Whidbey—embody the charm of small towns impeccably, with quirky craft shops, excellent restaurants featuring local shellfish, and impressive farmers markets. 

How to get to Whidbey Island from Seattle

It takes about an hour and twenty minutes to get to the island, whether driving to Mukilteo to catch the half-hour ferry to the southern tip or driving north to take the heart-stoppingly high bridge across Deception Pass. Ideally, take one in one direction, make your way around the island, and leave the other way.

The ferry costs $10.15 for a car and driver, but the views—which can include whales mid-winter to early summer—are worth the cost. On the island, you’ll want to have Washington State’s Discover Pass ($11.50 for a day/$35.00 annually) to park at the many state parks, including Fort Casey to explore the abandoned military bunkers and Fort Eby for beachside strolls.

Bellingham: 90 minutes by car

The coastline of Bellingham in Washington

This small college town brims with cute coffee shops, intriguing restaurants, and tons of craft breweries. A visit here works well combined with a scenic drive, like Chuckanut Drive, popping down to the beach at nearby Birch Bay, or a visit to nearby Mt. Baker for hiking, skiing, or mountain biking. Shop at Fairhaven Village, check out the outdoor sculptures on the campus of Western Washington University, and stop for cake at Saltadena Bakery.

How to get to Bellingham from Seattle

Bellingham is about 90 minutes north of Seattle, straight up I-5—as long as you don't set out during rush hour, which will add anything from a few minutes to an hour to your drive. Rush hour runs 3–7pm on weekday afternoons and even earlier on Fridays.

Bow/Edison: 90 minutes by car 

Plots of green land near Bow and Edison in Washington

In spring, tulips fill the Skagit Valley with color and traffic, but the rest of the year, the region grows the grain, fruit, and vegetables that feed the region. Stop at Bow Hill Blueberries and Samish Bay Cheese to sample their berries and dairies (and don’t forget to stop at other, less-formal farm stands, which have things that are just as good). Then head into town to collect additional picnic supplies—charcuterie and drinks at Slough Food, bread from Breadfarm—and bring them down to the tables on the nearby beach of Samish Island.

How to get to Bow/Edison from Seattle

To reach the twin agricultural towns of Bow and Edison, head 90 minutes north from Seattle on I-5 and take exit 231 to State Route 11—the scenic Chuckanut Drive.

Port Townsend: 2 hours by ferry and car

A lighthouse in Port Townsend, Washington

A Victorian seaport and sweet little town, Port Townsend offers a day-trip sized glimpse of the Olympic Peninsula. The Northwest Maritime Museum, Port Townsend Marine Science Center, and a walk along the beach at low tide show off the various aspects of the waterfront. The tree-lined streets shade the Victorian-style buildings, which house galleries, restaurants, and bookstores.

How to get to Port Townsend from Seattle

You can access Port Townsend by traveling about 2 hours by ferry and car from Seattle. Ferry lines can get long at rush hour, as people commute across, so try to avoid leaving in late afternoon. 

Hood Canal: 2 hours by car or car and ferry

The shellfish-filled beaches of Hood Canal sit straight west of Downtown Seattle, but, as the saying goes, you can't get there from here. The roundabout route (see below) is worth the rather scenic journey because the natural fjord, wedged between the Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Peninsula, creates a fascinating landscape. It offers a mini-version of the excellent hiking and birding opportunities in neighboring Olympic National Park without the longer drive and higher fees. Plus, the beaches are open to foraging, so anyone can grab a license and pluck oysters from the sand at Twanoh and Potlatch State Park. Or let someone else do the dirty work and sit back at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon, as much a beachfront party as it is a restaurant.

How to get to Hood Canal from Seattle

It's a little over 30 miles from Seattle to Hood Canal as the crow flies, but here on terra firma, the trip takes longer, whether you choose to drive around to the south or go north and drive onto a ferry. Both directions shake out to about the same duration, though it's always a good idea to check ferry schedules and delays and Hood Canal Bridge closures for the northern route; it's also worth checking the unpredictable, often-awful traffic on I-5 South for the southern one. 

Leavenworth: 2 hours 15 minutes by car 

The town of Leavenworth and surrounding mountains

Yes, a Bavarian-themed town in the middle of the Cascade Mountains of Washington seems like a ploy for tourists, but it’s a darn good one. Leavenworth leans into its alpine scenery with German architecture and lederhosen-clad waitstaff serving pretzels. But while the theme is fun, the real draw is the jaw-dropping surroundings. Ski the 1,125 acres of terrain at nearby Stevens Pass in winter (or bike it in the summer), raft the chilly rapids of Wenatchee River, or hike Icicle Gorge.

How to get to Leavenworth from Seattle

Leavenworth sits just over two hours east of Seattle by car, a scenic drive into the mountains that is often plagued by traffic along narrow Highway 2. That still tends to be the best way, as the other option, Amtrak's Empire Builder, runs only once daily in each direction. It takes 3.5 hours to make the trip and—particularly returning to Seattle—is often delayed.

North Cascades National Park: 3 hours by car 

North Cascades National Park in Washington

The three-hour drive from Seattle puts this under-the-radar national park on the precipice of the definition of “day trip,” but if you only have a day, the jagged peaks and crystal glacial lakes still make it worth the long trip. Highway 20 brings you into the park and into the best part for a day trip: Diablo Lake. The shockingly green-blue lake is visible from a roadside overlook, or you can take the Thunder Knob hike to get an even better angle. The lake itself is too cold for much more than dipping a toe in, but the beach is great for picnics. The neighboring Skagit River Hydroelectric Project powers Seattle; Seattle City Light, the municipal utility, offers guided boat tours of the lake for $45.

How to get to North Cascades National Park from Seattle

North Cascades National Park's western entrance is located three hours north of Seattle. There is only one real road to and through the park, and it closes November to April. A small northern part of the park can be accessed by gravel road from Canada, and backpackers can hike in from the town of Stehekin, itself only accessible by seaplane or ferry. 

Best day trips from Seattle to Mount Rainier 

Mount Rainier at twilight

Mount Rainier National Park covers more than 230,000 acres with 275 miles of maintained trails, so planning a trip can be daunting. Set your GPS to either a visitors center or an entrance. (Outside the busy summer season, this will be the Nisqually entrance, as it is the only vehicle entrance open year-round.) In summer, if you arrive early and head to Ohanapecosh, you can avoid some of the crowds, and, if the weather is wet or foggy, luck into a bit more sunshine. Plan to take two or three short hikes or center your trip around one longer one. Then pick out a few of the roadside attractions to stop at along the way, like waterfalls, lakes, and viewpoints.

The park is divided into five sections, with Longmire, Paradise, and Sunrise being the most visited. The Longmire National Historical District includes concessions, a museum that’s now mostly a visitors center, and a nice picnic area. Pause at Christine Falls just east of the museum to see the cascade and historic bridge, just a few steps from the road. Trail of the Shadows is a nice short hike through a meadow to an old-growth forest with a mountain view and leaves from the museum. For a slightly longer hike, walk out to Carter Falls.

Paradise has the most informative visitors center, with tons of information, exhibits, and guided ranger programs. It’s the main winter-use area and often has snow well into July. The Skyline Trail leaves right from the visitors center and leads around the colorful wildflower meadows, which gives great views of both Mt. Rainier itself and the surrounding mountains. Just east of Paradise, Reflection Lakes has a doubly-amazing view of the mountain, as it reflects perfectly in the roadside waters.

Sunrise Point, in the Sunrise section, is the highest point on the mountain accessible by car, and—as the name implies—has an incredible morning view. Given the early summer sunrise hours in the Pacific Northwest, that’s not really doable on a day trip from Seattle, but the nearly-360° panorama remains breathtaking throughout the day, as it looks up at the mountain and wildflower fields and over neighboring valleys and volcanoes. For an easy hike, look to Tipsoo Lake and its subalpine meadow, or for a harder one, head up the Crystal Lakes Trail—keep an eye out for elk and mountain goats.

After a long day, if you head out via Nisqually, stop for a hearty Nepalese meal at Wildberry Restaurant, which is owned by a Sherpa who set a world-record climbing Everest and located just outside the park.

Best winter day trips from Seattle

The town of Leav

While getting anywhere in the mountains outside Seattle leaves visitors at the mercy of the mountain passes, Leavenworth’s Bavarian theme shines under icicle-bearing eaves, especially when the annual Christmas markets are on and Santa visits the nearby reindeer farm. The other option is to skip the passes and head north to Bellingham, where the roads are more dependable; from there, hit the powder at nearby Mt. Baker, which regularly tops the records of most snowfall per year of North American ski resorts.

Best day trips from Seattle with dogs 

Fido is part of the family around here, and you can definitely bring your dog with you on your day trips from Seattle. Washington’s beaches largely require dogs to be on leashes, but head to Whidbey Island to let Rover roam free at Double Bluff Beach. The nearby Double Bluff Brewing is also dog-friendly, as are many of the local wineries. While the trails of Olympic National Park are off-limits even to leashed dogs, the nearby state parks in Hood Canal have no such rule and make a great place to wander with your furry friends. And bringing along your bud won’t stop you from lunching at the iconic Hama Hama Oyster Saloon, which welcomes dogs.

Best day trips from Seattle without a car 

Most of the best day trips from Seattle require a car, but there are a few that are totally doable without your own transportation. Bainbridge Island’s main strip sits just a few steps from the ferry dock, and boats make the 35-minute crossing about hourly to and from Downtown Seattle. Numerous trains connect Seattle to Tacoma, including the Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak. Woodinville’s wine country is, with a little planning, also totally doable without a car. The easiest way is by rideshare app, though it is a bit expensive and limits you to only one of the four districts. Much cheaper and more difficult is by bike—the 26-mile Burke Gilman Trail connects Seattle to the wineries. Public buses run between Seattle and Woodinville but unfortunately not super frequently.

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Other Seattle guides

Naomi Tomky

Naomi Tomky

Freelance Writer

Award-winning Seattle-based writer Naomi Tomky explores the world with a hungry eye, digging into the intersection of food, culture, and travel for AFAR, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, and more. Find her on the shelves of your local bookstore as the author of The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook.

Published November 29, 2023

Last updated December 21, 2023

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