The Best Day Trips from Seattle: Hike, Island Hop & Explore
best day trips from seattle

The Best Day Trips from Seattle: Hike, Island Hop & Explore

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From Pike Place Market to the Space Needle, there is plenty to see and do in Seattle. But if you’ve got a few extra days in the area, get a little further out of the city. I promise: It’s worth it.

There are some awesome U.S. National Parks and natural wonders within a day trip’s drive of Seattle. And while Seattle has tons to offer, there are several other nearby towns that have unbeatable charm, too. Better yet – stay a bit outside of Seattle for more affordable accommodations and dining.

Don’t worry, we’ve got it all mapped out for you. Check out this Google My Maps with the must-see stops for each day trip tagged on the map for easy navigation. As you plan your Washington state adventure, include these best day trips from Seattle in your itinerary.
 

 

Best Hikes Near Seattle

It’d be a shame to visit the Seattle area and not fit some national park hiking in! There are three U.S. National Parks within driving distance of Seattle, and each are worth a visit.

 

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is about two hours northeast of Seattle. It’s a bit of a drive to get into the heart of the park, but there are plenty of great stops along the way.

Make your first stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center and chat with the park rangers about any road or viewpoint closures, recommendations, and tips for your day. Then take the suspension bridge to the Trail of the Cedars nearby. This short stroll with placards along the route is a great intro to the park’s history and foliage.

As you make your way further in, check out Ladder Creek Falls and Gorge Overlook Trail.

But make sure you save plenty of time for the main attraction: Diablo and Ross Lakes. Hike the Thunder Knob trailhead for a great midday hike. If you’re short on time – or legpower – head straight to the Diablo Lake Vista Point instead. This provides epic views of the lake and surrounding mountains!
 

day trips from seattle 

Just a bit further in, you’ll find the Ross Lake Overlook. This is a great stop for a picnic or a chilly dip in the water!
 

day trips from seattle 

If you get up at the crack of dawn – or are camping and spending more than a day in the park – you can likely make it further into some more epic hikes such as Rainy Lake Falls, Maple Pass Trailhead, Blue Lake Trailhead, and Washington Pass Observatory. Each of these hikes is close to one another, but pretty deep into the park.

Keep in mind that driving all the way in, making stops along the way, and managing more than one or two short hikes may not be doable unless you’re staying in or very near to the park. We stayed outside of Seattle in Anacortes, and still couldn’t make it to everything in a day. Plan your trip accordingly!

 

Mt. Rainier National Park

Mt. Rainier National Park is a little under two hours southeast of Seattle. This is a popular day trip to take while in the city, but you’ll want to go with a plan.

The national park is a giant loop around the mountain, the park’s centerpiece. You’ll enter either from the north or west side coming from Tacoma. If you’re planning to drive in one end and out the other, be ready for a day of driving with some pitstops and hikes along the way.

If you’re coming in from the north, your first stop will be – and should be – the Mt. Rainier Gondola. During ski season, the line for the Gondola can be long – the viewpoint shares the same line as the skiier. But the views from far up above are worth it. Be sure to buy your ticket in advance online to ensure a spot – and a time frame.

You can grab a bite to eat at the top, but the food is expectedly overpriced. Skip the dining and take in the views. This is one of the best photo ops of Mt. Rainier!
 

day trips from seattle 

Another great spot for some hiking and soaking in views of the mountain is at the south end of the national park. If you’re skipping the gondola, head straight into the park from the west instead of doing the whole loop.

Down the south side, you’ll find one of the highlights: Reflection Lakes. Just remember, there is quite a bit of snow in the park for a majority of the year, so it might be iced over during your visit! We went in late May and the lakes were snow-covered:
 

day trips from seattle 

While the Paradise area offers several hiking trails including Myrtle Falls, there was a huge congested line of cars to get up to the area, and several full parking lots at the top. If you don’t have the time or energy to wait in the line and choose one of the hikes up there, skip it and head back down the mountain to a few other stops instead.

Head for Narada Falls instead! This is an epic waterfall near the west entrance to the park, just a short hike down to the viewpoint below. The trail was still covered in slippery snow and ice when we visited in late May, so take that into consideration.
 

day trips from seattle 

Looking for a cool, easy hike to start or end your day in the park? There’s a short trail near the Longmire Museum called Trail of the Shadows with placards and some cool scenes along the way.

The National Park Inn is also here near the west entry point if you’re planning to stay for longer than a day trip. You can also camp inside the park to buy yourself more time.

If you’re heading to Mt. Rainier, consider staying in Tacoma or Olympia to cut down on driving time (and overall costs). We opted to make it just a day trip and stay in nearby Olympia. Check out this awesome renovated school bus Airbnb we stayed in!
 

day trips from seattle 

Now, this is glamping! This bus was decked out with a kitchenette, fireplace, full bathroom, and massive bed and lounge area.
 

day trips from seattle

 

Olympic National Park

We saved the biggest (and perhaps best?) for last. Olympic National Park is about 2 hours west of Seattle. However, much of the park’s highlights are even further west on the coast, so you’ll want to crunch the numbers on drive time to see if you can pull it off. If possible, give yourself two to four days to explore Olympic National Park.

Some of the major highlights in this famous park include the Hoh Rainforest, Rialto Beach, Quinault Rainforest and Maymere Falls. Plan to stay in the national park, either at an Airbnb, hotel, or campsite in the north or west. Though you can drive to the park in a few hours, you’ll want plenty of time to hike and explore.
 

best day trips from seattle

 

Other Day Trips from Seattle

San Juan Islands

Looking for something a little different? Head straight north about an hour and a half from Seattle to Anacortes. Make a pit stop at the Anacortes Viewpoint and Deception Pass Bridge for stunning views.

We stayed up north in Anacortes for a few days to have easier access to the northern day trips and activities outside of the city, and it was a welcome respite from the bustling metro. Our home for our stay was this Airstream camper on Airbnb – perhaps one of the best glamping experiences we’ve had to date!
 

day trips from seattle 

Not feeling the glamping vibes? You can stay at one of their B&B rooms on the property instead, and still get access to the luxurious breakfasts, backyard, hot tub, and viewpoint:
 

day trips from seattle 

Seriously, some of our best views of the whole trip were from this viewpoint. But the other main attraction is further west.

From Anacortes, catch the ferry or a seaplane to the San Juan Islands. There are well over 100 islands in this archipelago, but four main islands are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island. Each offers a similar view, but with different amenities and charm.

Read our guide to the San Juan Islands for help on which island(s) to visit during your trip.
 

san juan islands washington

 

Leavenworth

Looking for some small-town charm? No city in the U.S. does it quite like Leavenworth. This alpine city is two hours east of Seattle. If you’re heading that way, this is a must-see.

If you’ve never heard of this dreamy little town, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it. It’s a Bavarian-style village, complete with alpine chalets, German beer halls, ski areas, and much more. Go for winter sports, or hiking in the summer: any season is the perfect time to enjoy the European-inspired architecture right in central Washington state!
 

best day trips from seattle 

As you drive east from Seattle, enjoy the views of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on the way. Leavenworth is the perfect European-style getaway without the long flight and time change.

 

Bottom Line

Don’t get us wrong, we love Seattle.

But no matter which direction you head out from Seattle, you’ll find some of the coolest national parks in the country, stunning coastal islands, and magical alpine towns. Include some (or all!) of these day trips from Seattle into your next trip to dive even deeper into the Pacific Northwest.
 

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