Our Favorite Day Trips from Seattle: A Complete Guide

Looking for a guide to the best day trips from Seattle? You’re in the right place! Matt grew up in the Seattle area, and before settling down in Portland, we lived in our minivan and spent our summers exploring Washington State (where Matt’s family still lives).

We’ve done all of the day trips on this list, and are here to help you discover – and plan – your next day trip.

One of our favorite things about Seattle is the sheer amount of natural beauty within a couple of hours of the city.

Sure, Pike Place Market is cool, the coffee scene is great, and there are some fantastic neighborhoods to explore. But what really makes Seattle shine is the beauty that exists juuuuust outside the center of the city. 

Whether you’re looking to escape the city for a tranquil island retreat, or you’re in the mood for an epic alpine adventure into the Cascades, there are tons of Seattle day trips that will satiate just about anything you desire. 

We’re going to take you through eight great day trips that will give you a range of different experiences.

You could spend a day taking a ferry ride out to one of three different islands, where time seems to slow down as soon as you step off the ferry, and the pastoral nature of the island means a cornucopia of great fresh produce, cheese, and cider.

Or, if you’re craving an adrenaline rush, you could spend a day driving up into the heart of the Cascades, hiking your heart out and exploring with your own two feet. 

In the guide below, we’ll give you our favorites, along with the details you need to know to plan them (like how far it is and how to get there) and our favorite things to do and see while you’re there. 

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

The Best Day Trips from Seattle to Plan Now

We’re going to make the cut off for calling something a “day trip” five hours of round trip travel, including both driving and ferries. Anything over that and it deserves AT LEAST one night, if not more, and is probably a better weekend getaway from Seattle instead.

If you’re driving more than five hours, you’re looking at a 12+ hour day, which is LONG. 

There’s plenty to do and see within two and a half hours of the city, and we’re going to do our best to bring you some new ideas based on our own experience exploring around Seattle.

That limitation means that you will not find places like Olympic National Park, Mount Baker, and Mount St. Helens on this list.

While those are all amazing places to visit, they definitely deserve more than a day given the travel time to get there and back (for all three, you’re looking at 3+ hours of driving each way).  

Below you’ll get all the information you need to plan your trip – how to get there, when to go, and our favorite things to do and see. Plus, at the end, we’ll give you a few ideas for a winter day trip, which is a little more complicated given the weather in the Pacific Northwest.

Snoqualmie Pass

Distance From Seattle: 50 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 50 minutes (to Snoqualmie Pass)

I’m not sure there’s a better combination of proximity and natural beauty than taking a day trip to Snoqualmie Pass. In our minds, a perfect day trip includes one part physical activity (usually in the form of a hike), one part natural beauty, and one part great food and/or drinks. 

When we’re visiting Seattle (usually to see my mom or friends) and we’re looking for an easy escape from the city into the woods and mountains, the first place our minds go is Snoqualmie Pass.

The pinnacle of Snoqualmie Pass is the ski resort – the Summit at Snoqualmie – which isn’t the best ski resort in the world, but its proximity to Seattle is nice. In high school, we used to have a ski bus that took us up to Snoqualmie for the afternoon after school on Wednesdays.

Unfortunately, about 50% of the time it was raining on the mountain. But you win some, you lose some, right?

Anyway, between Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass you’ll find hundreds of hiking trails, a handful of beautiful waterfalls (including a few of the best waterfalls in Washington), and forests as far as the eye can see. 

If you’re looking for an easy alpine escape from the city, Snoqualmie Pass is a great option.  

Getting There

It’s an easy drive from Seattle out to the area between Issaquah and Snoqualmie Pass. All you have to do is hop on I-90 East and follow it as it climbs through the forest. North Bend is the midpoint (ish) on the drive. 

Another great option if you don’t have a car and just want to get a hike in is Trailhead Direct, a pilot program from King County Metro that takes you from Seattle out to a few points along the I-90 corridor.

It offers you less flexibility than driving yourself – it only goes to the trailheads for Little Si, Mount Si, and Teneriffe Mountain – but at just $2.75, it’s about as affordable as it gets. 

What to Do in Snoqualmie Pass

Here are a few of our favorite things to do along the I-90 corridor. Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the area between Issaquah and the Summit at Snoqualmie, and that most of these are summer activities.

In the winter, it’s all about the skiing and snowshoeing (snowshoeing at Gold Creek Pond is a great winter day trip from Seattle!). 

Hit the Trail
Alysha at the top of Little Si

Like we mentioned, there are a bunch of great hikes along this corridor. Far too many to list here, in fact. Here are some of our favorites. 

  • Rattlesnake Ledge: One of the more accessible hikes in the Seattle area, you’re likely going to be sharing this trail with lots of people, ranging from families with kids to more experienced hikers, and just about everything in between. It’s a short, steep climb up a long series of switchbacks to reach the lookout at the top, which has nice views of Rattlesnake Lake below, and a view out to the east towards Snoqualmie Pass and Mount Si. More trail information and recent trail reports here.
  • Snow Lake (and Gem Lake!): This is one of the most popular hikes in the Seattle area because it’s a moderate effort with a pretty spectacular reward. Snow Lake, which is roughly six miles roundtrip, is a beautiful, crystal-clear alpine lake. It’s one of the more accessible lakes of its kind – usually you have to hike for miles and miles to find lakes as beautiful. You can – and should, in our opinion – continue on up past the lake to Gem Lake, which is another two miles up the trail. You’ll share the trail to Snow Lake with a bunch of people, but that crowd gets very, very thin once you’re up at Gem Lake. 
  • Mount Si or Mailbox Peak: If you’re looking for the top end of strenuous hikes near Seattle, then these two thigh-burners are right up your alley. Both are straight up, and straight down, and are some of the hardest hikes in the state. Mailbox Peak literally gains 1,000 feet per mile (anything over 500 I consider moderate to hard). But that feeling of accomplishment when you get to the top? Unbeatable. Keep in mind that these will take you most of the day, so you aren’t going to have as much time to spend on a visit to Snoqualmie Falls and stop for food afterwards. Yes, there is literally a mailbox at the top of Mailbox Peak. 
Snoqualmie Falls

A must-stop when you’re out in this area, Snoqualmie Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in western Washington. The falls is 268 feet tall, and tumbles over a rocky ledge into a bowl below.

The best view is from the upper viewing deck, but you can walk out along a well-maintained boardwalk to the lower viewing platform, where you’ll get a nice spray from the falls.

Parking is free at the lot across the street from the complex, or at the lower trailhead. 

Refueling Post-Hike

At Snoqualmie Pass, the answer is Dru Bru, a brewery with a hot dog food truck onsite. It’s right at Snoqualmie Pass, which is nearby if you choose to do Snow Lake, but a detour that’s not really worth it if you do one of the hikes above that are closer to North Bend.

In North Bend, go to Volition Brewing (for beer, duh) which also usually has a few food trucks outside. You could also head to the small town of Snoqualmie, which is charming and old-timey, and has some cool places to eat and drink (plus it’s right on the Snoqualmie River).

There are places for waffles, wine, and beer, but our favorite is Caadxi Oaxaca for Oaxacan food. 

Bainbridge Island

Distance From Seattle: 10 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 45 minutes (including ferry)

Bainbridge Island is the best day trip to take if you don’t have a car. 

Though, I will say, a car will make your day trip more enjoyable because you can get further out onto the island to see places like the Bloedel Reserve, which should absolutely be on your radar. 

Bainbridge is across the Puget Sound from Downtown Seattle, and you get there by taking a 30-40 minute scenic ferry ride from the ferry terminal in downtown Seattle

The ferry ride is part of the adventure – on a clear day, you can see the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, and the Seattle skyline as you make your way across the Puget Sound.  

On Bainbridge, there’s a nice variety of things to do and see, centered mainly around the downtown area right off of the ferry. 

If you don’t have a car, it’s a very pleasant place to spend half a day or so. With a car, you’ll be able to get out and see more of the island. Or, rent a bike! Uber and Lyft are also an option, though they’re less plentiful than they are in Seattle. 

Pssst! We have a whole guide dedicated to planning the perfect day trip to Bainbridge Island.

Getting There

Take the Seattle – Bainbridge ferry from the Seattle ferry terminal. Easy!

What to Do on Bainbridge Island

Here are some of our favorite things to do on a day trip to Bainbridge Island, in no particular order. 

Explore Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel is an internationally famous garden, often named among the best in the country, with 150 acres that combines natural woodlands and stunningly landscaped gardens, including a Japanese Garden, Moss Garden, Reflection Pool, and the founders’ former estate home. 

You can take a beautiful walk through the Moss Garden’s carpeted floor and through the diverse forest with hemlock, western red cedar and Douglas firs. There’s some great bird watching opportunities that include trumpeter swans and great blue herons, too. 

You’ll need a car to get there from the ferry terminal (or a bike) – it’s about 7.5 miles away, up on the northern end of the island. 

Wine Tasting on Bainbridge

Right across the street from each other on the downtown strip, Eagle Harbor Wine and Eleven Winery

You can taste a variety of their wines there without needing a car. If you have a car, definitely head out to one of the many wineries on the broader island instead! 

Bainbridge is part of the Puget Sound AVA (as are San Juan Island, Vashon Island, and Orcas Island), and they actually DO grow grapes on Bainbridge. However, most of the wines are made using grapes from the broader Pacific Northwest, namely Eastern Washington. 

Head out to Heyday Farm

Heyday is a family-owned working farm on Bainbridge, and it’s a fantastic place to visit – particularly for foodies. 

If you’re up for a late ferry home, you can dine at the farm and have a wonderful meal made with uber-local ingredients and a long list of Washington wines. 

They also have a market at the south end of the island where you can get farm-fresh eggs, produce, and made-to-order sandwiches for lunch (not gluten free, though, sadly).

Explore Downtown Bainbridge

The cute little downtown area along Winslow Way E – a quarter of a mile from the ferry terminal – is full of shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, and more. 

Get amazing ice cream at the always-busy Mora

Find your next read at the best independent bookstore on the island – Eagle Harbor Books

Coffee at Pegasus Coffee (or Storyville, which is just north of town and requires a car). 

Tea at Steepologie or Bainbridge Apothecary and Tea Shop

Beer (and cider) at Bainbridge Brewing’s Taproom (their brewery is a couple of miles north, and is worth the trip).  

Award-winning fish and chips (NOT GLUTEN FREE) at Proper Fish – served on newspapers, like it should be.

Read more: How to plan a perfect day trip to Bainbridge Island from Seattle

Vashon Island

Distance From Seattle: 50 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 50 minutes (including ferry)


Of the three islands in the Seattle area that make for a good day trip (we’re not counting San Juan Island and Orcas Island in that group, though we love them too), it’s the one that immediately makes you slow down and get on island time as soon as you step off the ferry. 

Vashon is situated between the Seattle area, Tacoma, and the Olympic Peninsula in the middle of the Puget Sound. It’s only accessible by ferry, so crowds are somewhat limited (though it can get crazy busy on Saturdays during the summer). 

Getting There

Head south on either 99 or I-5 to get onto 509 South, then take the exit towards White Center and follow it straight out to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. Then hop on the Fauntleroy – Vashon Ferry (schedule here).

To do this carless, you’d have to get yourself to the ferry terminal, and you’d probably want to bring a bike. 

What to Do on Vashon Island

There’s a ton to do and see on the island, from charming farm stands where you can pick up fresh seasonal produce and flowers, to a lighthouse with views towards Mount Rainier. Here are our favorites. 

PS: We have an entire guide to the best things to do on Vashon Island, which has all of our favorite things to do, see, eat, and drink on the island!

Devour Incredible Thai Food

May Kitchen might be the absolute best Thai food we’ve ever had (well, Alysha has been to Thailand, so maybe just the best for Matt). It’s right in downtown Vashon, and is always busy. Lots of gluten free options, too!

Grab it to go and have a picnic at the little park a block north.

Hike to the Point Robinson Lighthouse

I use the term “hike” a little bit loosely here, because this is a very, very short and easy stroll out to the lighthouse. It’s at the south end of the island – technically on Maury Island – and it’s a great spot to see wildlife like whales, seals, and bald eagles. 

Dragon’s Head Cider

We’re big cider lovers, and Dragon’s Head makes some of the best cider in Washington mainly from fruit grown in their orchard on Vashon. 

They have a cider garden, which is a lovely outdoor space to go taste some of their ciders (they have flights, which is our recommendation for you).

It’s kid-friendly, dog-friendly, and they don’t serve food but do allow you to bring your own (maybe grab some Thai food from May Kitchen?). 

Nashi Orchards is another option for tasting some cider on the island. 

Farm Stands

This was one of our favorite things about Vashon. As you drive around the island, you’ll notice that there are a ton of farms. 

A bunch of them have little farm stands where you can pull over and peruse their selection of farm-fresh produce, flowers, and occasionally homemade cheese. It’s a unique, quirky aspect of driving around Vashon. 

Read More: All of Our Favorite Things to Do on Vashon Island

Whidbey Island

Distance From Seattle: 24 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 1 hour 15 minutes (including ferry)

As we toured the forested property of Glendale Shepherd on Whidbey Island alongside one of the farm’s friendly owners (named Stan), who has been on Whidbey for more than 30 years after relocating from Seattle, I quickly realized what makes Whidbey special. 

Here we were, having come from a place – Seattle – that is changing too fast for anyone (or anything – looking at you, roads!) to keep up with, as Stan pointed out the trees he used to play on when he was a kid and his parents owned the farm. 

Despite being in the heart of a region that has changed drastically in the past two decades, Whidbey Island still has that small town feel that is increasingly hard to find in western Washington. 

The kind of feeling where you can tell that each member of the community knows everyone else by their first name (which became apparent when I asked for a recommendation for a local winery and he named a few of the wineries, and gave a quick overview of the owners of each). 

Though, I’m sure Stan, and others who have lived on Whidbey for decades, would say that it has changed over the years. Longer ferry lines. More people on summer weekends. More expensive houses and property.

That interaction came at a time when interacting with strangers had become more stressful and anxiety-inducing than I can ever remember, and every single interaction on Whidbey – from the one with Stan, to the one with the volunteer at Fort Casey State Park who took several minutes to tell us all about the GIGANTIC guns on the batteries – was a good reminder that connection with other humans is important, and will always be an integral part of travel. 

The best way to do Whidbey as a day trip is to take the ferry one way. You can do it either way, really, but we’d recommend taking the ferry over in the morning and tackling the island from south to north only because ferry lines coming back to the mainland can be atrocious.

It’s the largest island in Washington (and the fourth largest in the US, which is crazy), so it will take you the better part of a day to explore the island from tip to tip. 

Getting There

This route requires both a car and a ferry hop. Head north on I-5 out of Seattle and take the exit for 525 North, which you’ll take all the way to the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal. From the terminal, hop on the ferry to Clinton, which is on the southeastern end of Whidbey. It comes roughly every half hour. 

What to Do on Whidbey Island

Here are our favorite stops on the island, organized from the southern end to the northern end. 

Glendale Shepard

Glendale Shepherd makes amazing sheep’s milk cheese. Yum. Get the herb-crusted White Cap and make yourself a picnic. They’re open at 11:00 am, which means you might have to rearrange your stops a bit if you catch an early ferry over from the mainland.  

Wine, Liqueur, Whiskey, and Mead

All the beverages! Whidbey Island is home to a bunch of craft beverage purveyors who make things using the bounty of farm fresh produce on Whidbey and across the broader state. 

Go to Spoiled Dog Winery to taste wines made out of grapes from both Washington and Oregon on their splendid patio, or Whidbey Island Winery, where they planted grapes back in 1986 and haven’t looked back since (though they also get grapes from Eastern Washington, these days). 

To try some amazing fruit liqueurs and whiskey (the latter isn’t my thing, so I can’t really comment on it), head to Whidbey Island Distilling. We did a tasting of each of the liqueurs they had available, and loved the raspberry so much we bought a bottle to share with my older brother, who has a penchant for fruity liqueurs. 

There are approximately FIVE POUNDS of fruit per bottle – it’s like drinking a raspberry! Don’t believe me? They win all sorts of awards. 

For mead, which is made with honey that is fermented like wine, go to Hierophant Meadery, who is a relative newcomer to the island. Normally, mead tends to be too sweet and syrupy for us, but we enjoyed theirs, especially the bubbly ones. 

Explore Langley

Langley is a charming little waterfront town, perched on a strait, whose downtown area is roughly two square blocks by two square blocks and is filled with locally owned restaurants and shops. Occasionally, whales make their way into that strait. 

Peek into Moonraker Bookstore to see if you can find a PNW-inspired read, then head around the corner to Ulysses Coffee to, you know, read it (they use Espresso Vivace, one of the best coffee shops in Seattle). 

Ultra House, a popular ramen spot, had an hour-long wait when we were there, but it’s DEFINITELY not gluten free in any way, shape, or form. 

Fort Casey and Fort Ebey State Parks

Two great Washington State Parks on the western edge of the island, we’d recommend going up onto the batteries at Fort Casey to see the huge WWII era guns and walking over to Admiralty Head Lighthouse. 

Then, hike out onto the bluffs at Fort Ebey State Park – here’s the nice easy hike we’d recommend. 

Lavender Wind Farm

If you’re a sucker for all things lavender like us, you’ll love this place in late July and early August, when the lavender is in full bloom. Probably worth skipping outside of those months, though. 

Deception Pass State Park

The bridge that connects Whidbey to the mainland is called Deception Pass Bridge, and there’s a ton to do and see on either side of the bridge. 

On the southern side – on Whidbey itself – check out the beaches (North and West Beach). North Beach has great views of the bridge. 

On the northern end of the bridge, hike out into the headlands and to Rosario Head, where you’ll have great ocean and bridge views along the way. 

Views of the bridge are particularly good along the Lighthouse Point Trail, which is just northwest of the bridge (the hike linked there is a shorter version of the first link). 

More information on the park here

Mount Rainier National Park

Distance From Seattle: 100 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 2 hours 30 minutes (to Paradise)

Mount Rainier, looming over the Seattle Skyline, is the tallest peak in the Cascades. I don’t know about you, but we generally judge the weather based on whether or not you can see Mount Rainier from the city.

In the winter, when the gray descends on Seattle, it might as well be a holiday every time Rainier shows its face. 

If you want to take a day trip to Mount Rainier, it’s going to be a full day, including five hours of driving (without traffic). However, if you’ve never experienced the abundance of waterfalls and wildflowers and the nonstop postcard views of Rainier’s peak – the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 – we would say it’s worth it. 

If it’s your first time at Mount Rainier National Park, we’d highly recommend focusing your time on one region of the park – Paradise.

That’s quintessential Rainier to us, with subalpine meadows full of blooming wildflowers in the summer, an impressive collection of great hikes (including a few on our list of the best hikes in Washington), and too many waterfalls to list here. 

In Paradise, you’ll want to make sure to see the three waterfalls – Myrtle, Christine, and Narada (Comet Falls, a fourth, is a short hike off of the main road) – and spend some time exploring the meadows at Paradise.

The Skyline Trail is our favorite hike in Mount Rainier National Park, and if you’re up for six miles of nonstop jaw-dropping views, we’d highly recommend it (make it your first stop so you can get an early start!). Last, head up to Reflection Lakes, and see the postcard view of Rainier reflected in the surface of the lake. 

If it’s not your first time, Sunrise, which is on the east side of Rainier, is another great option. That’s where you’ll find the best hiking in the park, we think, though hiking is kind of the only game in town.

Our favorites are the Burroughs Mountain Trail (for up close views of Rainier), Berkeley Park (for amazing wildflowers in late July, ish), and the Fremont Lookout (for a cool historic fire lookout with an incredible view). 

Rather than give you a more detailed list of things to do here, we’re going to direct you to our guide to planning a Mount Rainier day trip to Seattle, which has everything you need to know to plan your trip.

We’ll also link to our other Rainier guides below, which have even more information for your trip planning purposes. 

Getting There

You have two options for getting to Mount Rainier. There is no shuttle to speak of, so you’ll either need a car, or to join a guided day trip. 

Having a car is our #1 recommendation here, because it gives you the flexibility to see things at your own pace, and pick and choose the things you’re interested in. 

However, if you don’t have access to a car – like if you’re visiting Seattle for a few days and want to get out of the city to see Washington State’s abundance of natural beauty – then a guided day trip would be a good option.

Though, we wouldn’t recommend renting a car for your entire time in Seattle. 

In terms of what tour to do, we’d recommend either this guided tour, which takes you to many of the main sights in both Paradise and Ohanapecosh and includes a picnic lunch, or this tour that takes you to Paradise and includes transportation, a picnic lunch, and some hiking. 

North Cascades National Park

Distance From Seattle: 150 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 3 hours (to Washington Pass)

This day trip from Seattle involves a lot more driving than some of the other ones on this list, but we decided to include it because driving is part of the attraction. You’ll head up I-5 to Highway 20, and take it east all the way up to Washington Pass. 

This stretch of road, which is basically only open during the summer (June to October, ish), is one of the most scenic drives in the Pacific Northwest. 

The North Cascades are one of our favorite places in Washington State, and we’ve been many times to experience the jagged rocky peaks and clear alpine lakes that make this part of the state special.

Another bonus is that it’s far less visited than the other two national parks in Washington State – Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park – though that is slowly changing as more and more people discover it. 

Below, we’ll cover step-by-step how to plan a great day trip to the North Cascades. It’s going to be a long day, but you’ll cover some of our favorite ground in Washington, hike one of our favorite hikes in Washington, and do one of the most scenic drives in Washington. 

In other words, we think it’s probably worth it. 

You’ll need to pack lunch and plenty of snacks – there are no services in the park, which means no food. 

Getting There

You’ll need to have a car. The end! There’s no other option here. You’ll head straight up I-5 North until you get to Arlington, and then take Highway 531 to connect with Highway 20 in Rockport. From there, it’s a straight shot east on Highway 20 up to Washington Pass. 

What to Do in North Cascades National Park

Here is our version of how to plan a perfect day trip from Seattle up to the North Cascades. 

You’ll start by driving all the way up to Washington Pass, the highest point on Highway 20 (the road that runs through the Cascades down into the eastern foothills), which is a fantastic view. Then, you’ll tackle a hike, and see some great views on the way back down from the pass. 

One thing to know here – if you’re coming from Seattle, it’s going to take you a full three hours to get up to Washington Pass. LEAVE EARLY – we’re talking 6:00 am here – so that you can get to the trailhead before it fills up. 

Like we mentioned, we’d start by driving up to Washington Pass (here on Google Maps). Stop at the Diablo Lake Overlook (here on Google Maps) on your way up, and get out of the car to stretch your legs on the short path at Washington Pass before hopping in the car and heading back west. 

From here, you’re just a few miles away from two of our absolute favorite hikes in Washington State. 

If you’re up for a long one, you should do the Heather-Maple Pass Loop, which is in the top 3 of the best hikes we’ve EVER done.

The postcard-perfect view at the top of Maple Pass

We’ve done it multiple times, and it never gets old. You’ll complete a big loop around an alpine lake, climbing to a high pass above the lake with stunning views of the Cascades.

Plus, some great wildflowers in the summer (or fall color in the fall) and plenty of marmots and pika to gawk at along the way. 

For an easier hike up to a gorgeous blue-green alpine lake, tackle the Blue Lake Trail, which also makes our list of the best hikes in the state.

Crystal clear Blue Lake on a summer morning

It’s pretty easy, though it’s a steady uphill the entire way to the lake, and we’ve seen young kids on the trail before.

At the lake, make sure to walk the lakeshore path in both directions, particularly up to the right, where you’ll find some great views and, potentially, mountain goats on the rocky slopes at the far side. 

After your hike, enjoy your packed lunch (if you haven’t already) and head back towards I-5. Stop at the Ross Lake Dam overlook for a quick walk to the dam that is responsible for the lakes here. 

If you want to get out on the water, your best bet is Ross Lake Resort, which is a floating resort out on, you guessed it, Ross Lake. Ross Lake extends far to the north – all the way to the Canadian border, although you’re not going that far today – and you can hop in a kayak and do some exploring in Jack Keruoac’s footsteps (he famously loved the Cascades).

Check equipment availability here

Continue down Highway 20 and head out to the other side of Diablo Lake to get down to the lakeshore (here on Google Maps). You’ll drive over the dam, too, which is kind of neat.

After that, make one last stop at Ladder Creek Falls (partly to walk across the cool bridge to get there), and your day trip is over! 


Distance From Seattle: 135 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 2 hours 10 minutes 

Leavenworth is a *checks notes* Bavarian-themed town perched in the eastern foothills of the Cascades that is a gateway to some of the region’s best hiking (in the vaunted Alpine Lakes Wilderness) and outdoor recreation. 

The thing about Leavenworth is that it feels like something that shouldn’t work. The story of Leavenworth’s origins makes me chuckle every time I think about it. 

The way I understand it – and this is probably a little bit of a “Drunk History” (love that show!) rendition of it – is two Seattle developers bought some land in the eastern foothills of the Cascades for cheap after the logging industry basically collapsed when the railroad moved, said “hm, let’s see if we can make some money on this,” and somehow convinced the town to become a mini Bavaria out in the mountains. 

Funny enough, they got inspiration from Dutch-themed Solvang, California (a great stop on a San Francisco to L.A. road trip), but I think Leavenworth is much, much more successful for a couple of reasons. 

First, the architecture and overall look and feel of Leavenworth is well done and consistent. Even multinational corporations like Starbucks have bought in, and use a more Bavarian-style logo (is it really Bavarian, though?). 

Second, Leavenworth (unlike Solvang) has unparalleled access to outdoor recreation, which really is what makes it special to us. 

Getting There

You definitely need a car for this one. Take I-90 Eastbound over Snoqualmie Pass, then turn off onto US 97 North to climb over Blewett Pass and drop down into Eastern Washington. Catch US-2 for a couple of miles to get to Leavenworth itself. 

There is a train – the Empire Builder – that runs between Seattle’s King Street Station and Leavenworth’s Icicle Station, but its only departure is at 4:55 pm, which means it’s not really an option if you’re looking to visit Leavenworth as a day trip from Seattle. 

What to Do in Leavenworth

Here are our favorite things to do in Leavenworth, in no particular order. 

Hiking near Leavenworth

Colchuck Lake is one of our favorite hikes, and we recently did it again for my mom’s birthday and it did not disappoint.

It’s a tough hike (8 miles, 2,300 ft. elevation gain), but the climb is definitely worth it when you reach that dazzling turquoise lake at the top. It’s crazy busy, though, which is the downside.

You need to get to the parking lot NO LATER THAN 6:00 AM to get a spot on a summer weekend (and, really, all days during the summer).


Which means a brutal 4:00 am wake up call if you’re coming from Seattle.

If you aren’t up for that, head over to Icicle Ridge instead, which is less traveled and a good substitute (though, not as spectacular as Colchuck). 

The River

You have two options when it comes to getting out on the water in Leavenworth, and we’ve done both.

First is floating the Icicle River. You’ll choose between the two mile and four mile float, then they will shuttle you out to the put-in, give you a quick safety briefing, and you’ll float your way down the river, eventually ending in Leavenworth.

It’s a great time, and you can bring a cooler full of snacks and beverages to enjoy along the way.

The second option is rafting the Wenatchee River, which is best in the early summer when the water is high. It’s a class III+, which means it’s not a float by any means, but it’s not so intense that kids aren’t welcome.

I used to work for a rafting company in Washington, and it’s one of the more accessible river trips from Seattle. 

Exploring the Town of Leavenworth

Leavenworth itself is also worth a couple of hours of exploration, probably after your hike.

You’ll find a handful of vaguely German-inspired restaurants serving sausages and sauerkraut (we like Leavenworth Sausage Garten at the eastern end of town), which is a good option for a post-hike lunch.

After lunch, hit Whistlepunk Ice Cream for a sweet treat, and grab a drink at either Icicle Brewing (beer), Bushel & Bee (cider), or one of the many winery tasting rooms lining the main street in Leavenworth.

There are some fun shops here too – we like Posy Handpicked because they work with local artists, and have their work on display (and for sale). 

Read More: The Best Things to Do in Leavenworth, Washington (What to Eat, See, Drink, and Hike)


Distance From Seattle: 90 miles | Travel Time from Seattle: 90 minutes

Bellingham, at its core, is a charming college town located just south of the Canadian border, roughly 90 minutes from Seattle up I-5. 

Out to the west, you have the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound, with the Olympics towering over them in the background. Look east and find the snowy peak of Mount Baker, with the Cascades acting as its backup dancers. 

The city itself is full of a dazzling array of small businesses, from independent coffee shops, cideries, and breweries, to shops catering to all sorts of interests (including but not limited to comic books, records, outdoor activities, and board games). 

Add to that the nice selection of outdoor activities – like the hikes along Chuckanut Drive and Whatcom Falls – and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a perfect day trip. 

Getting There

It’s a straight shot on I-5 N. Another easy one! There are buses that run between the two cities, but you’re going to need a car if you’re doing a day trip.

What to Do in Bellingham

Whatever you do, make sure to drive Chuckanut Drive – the scenic, windy coastal road that connects the towns of Bow and Edison to Bellingham – either on your way up or on your way back to Seattle. Here are a few pictures to show you why I think it’s a must do. 

Drive Chuckanut Drive

The scenic coastal drive taking in the coast between Edison and Bellingham (just south of the city) is a must-do either on the way to or from Bellingham. 

If you’re doing it on the way up, start in the towns of Bow and Edison with freshly baked bread at Breadfarm and some local cheese at Samish Bay Cheese

Head north, admiring the coastal views peeking out through the trees, and stop for a quick stroll out to Clayton Beach

Then, make your way through a residential neighborhood to get out to Clark’s Point (pictured above), where you’ll have a beautiful view of the railroad tracks with water on both sides. Stop in the charming town of Fairhaven for some window shopping before making your way into Bellingham. 

Cider in Bellingham

Bellingham has an amazing array of cider thanks to the fertile apple-growing soil of the land surrounding it. 

There’s Lost Giants, which makes some great, mostly dry ciders – get the Pineapple, if they have it. 

Finally, there’s Bellingham Cider Co, whose ciders are a little on the sweet side for us, but the location can’t be beat with water views from their outdoor patio. 

To try mead and cyser, a unique experience that you don’t find in too many other places, head over to Honey Moon

Coffee in Bellingham

The best coffee in Bellingham is Camber Coffee, and I don’t think it’s that close. Go for a pour over of single-origin beans, a perfectly frothed cappuccino, or one of their seasonal lattes. 

Ice Cream

If it’s a warm summer day (or a drizzly rainy day, no judgment here!), head to Mallard Ice Cream and choose from 28 different handcrafted flavors. They’re always rotating through special flavors they throw together in the kitchen like Ghost Pepper Chocolate and Lemon Coriander. 

Whatcom Falls

It’s well worth a trip over to Whatcom Falls to see the waterfall, which is right near the parking lot, and take a short walk through the woods. See the entire park with this four mile loop, which is essentially flat. 

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