The “Emerald City,” as Seattle is known, earns its nickname from the lush evergreen forests that surround this cultural capital of the Northwest. While the city offers a number of iconic sites for visitors to enjoy, from the Space Needle to Pike Place Market, the awe-inspiring nature found at every turn on one of several day trips from Seattle is what sets it apart from other U.S. destinations.
Nature lovers will rejoice at the wonders of the Northwest including myriad hills, lakes, rivers, sounds, mountain ranges, craggy coastline, and roads that wind their way through seemingly endless forests. A drive from Seattle will also take you through vineyards, waterfront towns and former logging outposts, with plenty to do and see along the way.
The most famous landmark in the region and an ever-present sight from Seattle, the snow-capped Mt. Rainier, beckons to road-trippers as an ideal destination from the city. For one of the most scenic approaches, start at the rural town of Enumclaw, which also serves as a gateway to a number of state and national parks.
Head east on the Chinook Scenic Byway (Highway 410), as the horse and dairy farms that dot the plateau – formed from ancient volcanic mud flats – give way to dense forests of tall firs and a gradual rise in elevation. The road closely parallels the White River as you enter Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and then Mount Rainier National Park, leaving all signs of civilization in your rearview mirror.
You’ll soon be traveling through the Cayuse Pass and into Stevens Canyon, along the backside of Mt. Rainier. It’s a rugged area of the park, with lots of switchbacks it offers amazing views of the surrounding mountains, deep rock gorges and stunning waterfalls. Park at one of several roadside stops for a short hike to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. After reaching the aptly named Paradise, the road begins to straighten out as you slowly descend, heading west and north back toward the city.
For another excellent drive, look due west from Seattle and you’ll find a patchwork of islands and the vast and rugged wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula. The 3,600-square-mile land mass is made up of multiple state and national parks, most notably Olympic National Park.
Make your way around Puget Sound, or across via car ferry, to Bainbridge Island, then north and west to the seaside town of Port Angeles, a former logging center. One option is to stay along the coast on the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway (Highway 112), cruising by jagged cliffs and cedar forests, with views of Vancouver Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Otherwise, veer south and circle through the 1 million-acre Olympic National Park on the Olympic Highway (Highway 101). You’ll pass through old-growth rainforests with amazing views of mountain lakes and streams, rough glacier-capped peaks, with the opportunity to stop along the way and relax in natural hot springs.
East of Seattle
Another scenic day-trip option starts due east of Seattle on Stevens Pass (Highway 2) and meanders up into the mid-section of the Cascade Range and towering forests of pine, spruce, fir and cedar. The road follows the South Fork Skykomish River as you pass through mountain villages, with several picturesque views that make for great pit-stops, including the half-mile trail to take to Deception Falls.
You’ll pass near Lake Wenatchee as you wind through Tumwater Canyon along the Wenatchee River, and eventually come to the Bavarian-esque town of Leavenworth in the shadows of the Cascade’s east side. The festive tourist town features the Nutcracker Museum and restaurants serving up schnitzel and sausages, with a host of events offered throughout the year.
With breathtaking natural sights and plenty of local culture, a road trip through the Pacific Northwest is bound to be amazing. Before you plug in ‘Seattle’ into your GPS, take a moment to review your car insurance and make sure you have the coverage you need.