Washington State is in the top 5 of the most beautiful states in the US. Which is kind of a bold stance to take given the country’s sheer natural beauty. Now, I may be biased, having grown up in Washington, but hear me out. There are only a handful of other states (P.S. they’re Oregon and California) that have:
- Spectacular ocean beaches
- Mountain passes full of snow capped rugged rocky peaks
- Evergreen trees everywhere
- Too many alpine lakes to count
There are definitely places that have two or three of those, but only Washington, Oregon, and California have all of them.
Want to hear something crazy? You can find all four just in Olympic National Park, which is one of the best in the United States! On the 2 week Washington road trip itinerary you’ll find below, you’ll see all four of those natural characteristics that make Washington special, explore three National Parks, and probably discover a few things on your own that you’ll talk about for years to come.
I want to note here that, with only two weeks, you’re only scratching the surface of Washington State. In the road trip below, you won’t find amazing places like the San Juan Islands, Mt. St. Helens, Palouse Falls, or Cape Disappointment and Long Beach. And the reason for that is time – you just don’t have enough time to make it to all of those places and truly experience them.
You should think of this Washington State itinerary as our recommendations for first timers to the state, with the best places to visit over two weeks. From there, you can adjust it based on your interests and desires. For example, if you’ve been to Seattle before, maybe you don’t need to spend the full amount of time we recommend, and you’d rather spend an extra day on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s up to you!
We’re aiming to give you the tools and information you need to plan an epic road trip through Washington State based on your travel style, budget, and preferences.
Want to stay in an Airbnb on your trip? Great choice! Check out the 17 Best Airbnbs in Washington State according to, well, us.
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 I don’t stand behind 100%.
Where to Start and End Your Road Trip
Seattle. The end.
We think the best way to do this trip is to form a giant figure 8 (more on that in a second) that starts and ends in Seattle. That’s where the airport is, if you’re flying in from out of state, and it’s the most convenient place to find flights and rental cars in the state.
The Road Trip Route
You’ll find a much more detailed guide to doing this road trip in Washington State below, but at a high level, you’ll be putting together two incredible loops to form a figure 8 through the great state of Washington.
Southern Loop: Rainier & Olympic National Parks
The first loop connects Seattle with Mt. Rainier National Park, and Olympic National Park. Here’s a visual.
Northern Loop: The Cascades
The second is a loop through the northern part of the state, taking you from Seattle, north to the creative college town of Bellingham, east over the Cascades through North Cascades National Park, and to the Bavarian town of Leavenworth before returning to Seattle over Snoqualmie Pass.
Note: Ignore the time on the bottom map above – I had to choose “by bike” to allow me to show the full loop. The road from North Cascades National Park over Washington Pass to Winthrop is closed during the winter, and Google Maps isn’t smart enough to let me make it a summer/fall route.
How Many Days to Spend in Washington State
To do this entire road trip itinerary, you’ll need (AT LEAST) a full two weeks (14 days), which is how the detailed itinerary below is written. If you have less time than that, I’d pick one of the two loops and spend your time exploring one of them. Here are some sample itineraries.
For the southern loop including Mt. Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park:
- 7 days: Seattle (1 night), Paradise at Mt. Rainier (2 nights), Olympic National Park (3 nights), Seattle (1 night)
- 10 days: Seattle (2 nights), Paradise at Mt. Rainier (3 nights, with day trip to Sunrise area), Olympic National Park (3 nights), Port Townsend (1 night), Seattle (1 night)
For the northern + eastern loop including Bellingham, the North Cascades, and Leavenworth:
- 7 days: Seattle (1 night), Bellingham (2 nights, with day trip to Mt. Baker), North Cascades National Park (2 nights), Leavenworth (2 nights)
- 10 days: Seattle (3 nights), Bellingham (2 nights, with day trip to Mt. Baker), North Cascades National Park (2 nights), Chelan (1 night), Leavenworth (2 nights)
A Complete 2 Week Washington Road Trip Itinerary
Now that you’ve got the logistics handled, let’s dive into exactly what to do, see, eat, drink, and where to stay along the way.
Here is an overview + map of the full 14 day itinerary you’ll find below.
- Days 1-3: Seattle
- Days 4-5: Mt. Rainier
- Days 6-8: Olympic NP
- Day 9: Bellingham
- Days 10-11: North Cascades NP
- Day 12-13: Leavenworth
- Day 14: Drive to Seattle, fly home
And the map. Again, ignore the drive time – because the road through the North Cascades is closed at the time of writing (December 2020), I had to choose “by bike” to get it to allow you to see the full loop. The actual drive time is closer to 20 hours.
Days 1-3: Seattle
One of my favorite cities in the world – admittedly I’m more than a little biased – Seattle is full of amazing things to do, see, eat, and drink. You could spend a full week here and never run out of stuff to do, neighborhoods to explore, and hidden gems to find. But, you’ve got roughly two and a half days, so you’ll be doing the “best of” tour, saving some for your return trip.
Seattle is known for a couple of things at this point – rain, Amazon, grunge, and coffee to name a few. And those are all mostly accurate. It rains, often. Amazon has had a huge impact on the city, both in helping to create a housing crisis and revitalizing an entire area of the city in South Lake Union. Grunge did, in fact, happen here. And Seattle has an amazing coffee scene (fellow coffee snobs shouldn’t miss our guide to the best coffee in Seattle).
Here’s how to make the most of a couple days in Seattle. Make sure to read our full 3 day Seattle itinerary, which has much more detail than you’re going to find here, including how to get to and from the airport and how to get around.
Where to Stay in Seattle
Since you’ll be in Seattle for a full three nights, you’ve got a choice between staying in a hotel and staying in an Airbnb, and you really can’t go wrong either way. It comes down to your taste and preferences. We prefer Airbnb, since it gives us access to our own kitchen and usually a little bit more space for the money.
Make sure to read our full guide to the best places to stay in Seattle to learn about the seven neighborhoods we recommend, pros and cons for each, and some of our top hotel recommendations.
If you’d rather stay in a hotel, you’ve also got tons of options. We’d recommend looking at these four hotels:
- Moxy Hotel Seattle: Super stylish and affordable, the Moxy is high on our list of the coolest hotels in Seattle.
- CitizenM Seattle: Everything you need, nothing you don’t. That’s their motto, and rooms are small but comfortable, and the hotel is in a pretty perfect location.
- The State Hotel: Right downtown near Pike Place Market, this place is a stunner, though it’s a little more expensive than the other hotels on this list.
- Hotel Andra: A super stylish boutique hotel in the heart of Belltown with a Scandinavian-inspired design.
What to Do in Seattle
You only have a couple of days in Seattle if you include the day you arrive, which we do. You’re going to want to see the highlights, which is what you’ll find below.
- Pike Place Market: Probably the most famous attraction in Seattle, Pike Place Market lives up to the hype and then some. Though I can’t say the same for the also-famous but largely uninspired gum wall, which is downright disgusting if you really stop to think about it. Anyway, walk through the market and check out the vendors selling everything from candied nuts to flowers, and of course, the flying salmon. Stop by Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Beecher’s Cheese (their flagship cheese is one of my top three all time favorites), and Elleno’s Frozen Greek Yogurt while you’re there. To go a level deeper, take this awesome guided tour of Pike Place with a Local Chef.
- Discovery Park: Get yourself ready for some longer hikes with an easy stroll out to the western edge of Seattle, where you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse is pretty cool, and is definitely worth the price of admission, which is simply a three mile round trip hike to get to it.
- Explore Capitol Hill: Our favorite! “Cap Hill” as we locals call it, is home to the best selection of food, drinks, and coffee in the city. It’s packed full of interesting spots to stop in, whether you’re looking for vegan ice cream or a unique boutique selling who knows what. Our favorite stops are Espresso Vivace and Victrola Coffee for some of the best coffee in Seattle. Frankie and Jo’s and Molly Moons for awesome local ice cream (Frankie and Jo’s is 100% gluten free and vegan!). Elliott Bay Books for the best local bookstore in Seattle. Capitol Cider for a huge selection of Pacific Northwest ciders and a 100% gluten free kitchen.
- The Underground Tour: A little quirky and offbeat, kind of like Seattle, the Underground Tour is worth doing while you’re in Pioneer Square. The tour guides are funny, and you get to learn about the history of Seattle from a slightly different perspective.
- Seattle Center: I actually don’t really recommend you go up to the top of the Space Needle. The views are cool (check out Kerry Park nearby for the best views in Seattle), but it’s expensive and kind of uninspiring. Seattle Center has some cool attractions though. The MoPop is a must for music and culture lovers, with tons of unique and fascinating exhibits about music and pop culture you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The Chihuly Glass and Garden is a one-of-a-kind art installation featuring hand blown glass in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The Pacific Science Center is a great stop for kids, with interactive exhibits that make for a perfect rainy day activity in Seattle.
Days 4-5: Mt. Rainier National Park
Drive Time from Seattle: 2.5 hours (110 miles)
Before we get to what to do and see at Mt. Rainier, let’s quickly cover the geography of the area.
There are three main areas of Mt. Rainier National Park: Paradise, Sunrise, and Mowich Lake.
Here’s a quick summary of each.
- Paradise – Best for first-time visitors: Paradise is the most popular area to visit, located on the southern side of the Mountain, and home to some of the best hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park.
- Sunrise – Best for epic hikes: Sunrise, which is on the east side of the park, has a large network of hiking trails winding through the rugged yet stunning wilderness. It is also home to the highest point in Mt. Rainier National Park that you can drive to. However, for our purposes here, it’s further away from everywhere else on this itinerary, so I’d recommend taking a day trip here instead of making it your home base in the park.
- Mowich Lake – Best for peace and quiet: Mowich Lake, on the northwestern side of the mountain, is the quietest area of Mt. Rainier National Park. It is free from the tourist hype of Paradise and Sunrise, and the long and arduous bumpy gravel road to get there cuts the number of visitors significantly.
I recommend basing yourself for your two days in the Paradise area, and spending one day in Paradise and one day in Sunrise as a day trip. This will set you up nicely for your next stop, the Olympic Peninsula.
Where to Stay in Mt. Rainier National Park
Since it’s a national park, you really don’t have too many options in terms of places to stay. However, whatever you choose, book early – accommodations book up months in advance.
You should stay near Paradise, which means you’re looking at places just outside the boundary of the national park near the town of Ashford.
Camping Near Mt. Rainier NationalPark
If you want to camp, we stayed at Cougar Rock Campground for a couple of nights, and it was pretty nice. Flush toilets, plenty of sites, and just a 15-20 minute drive to the Visitor’s Center. You could also camp at Ohanapecosh Campground, which is roughly equidistant between Paradise and Sunrise. Either way, book early. They fill up months and months in advance, particularly for peak summer.
Vacation Rentals in Ashford
If camping isn’t your thing (or you don’t have the equipment for it), then we’d recommend staying in one of the many charming A-frame cabins you’ll find in Ashford.
Hotels & Lodges in IN ASHFORD
Want to stay in a historic lodge? Look at the Paradise Inn, which is literally in the parking lot at Paradise. On the plus side, the location couldn’t be better, and the rustic interior adds to the charm of staying at the foot of Mt. Rainier. On the negative side, it’s expensive and a little outdated – the value for your money isn’t the best.
A good alternative to the Paradise Inn would be Paradise Village, which is a little confusing. It’s further out, in the town of Ashford, but offers a much better value for the money.
What to Do in Mt. Rainier National Park
In a word, hike! There are so many great opportunities to see the sheer natural beauty in Mt. Rainier National Park for all levels of experience and fitness.
I’d spend your first day exploring the Paradise area, which is the south side of the mountain, then take a day trip over to Sunrise the next morning to explore the eastern face before returning to the south side to spend that night.
You should plan on doing a long hike each morning, followed by some exploring the drive-up sights in each area.
Day 4: Paradise
On the Paradise side, the best hike in the park in terms of bang-for-your-buck is the Skyline Trail. You’ll hike just under six miles in a loop (go counter-clockwise) that takes you to a viewpoint that is literally at the base of Mt. Rainier, with incredible 360-degree views of the mountain and the Tatoosh Range, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams to the south. It’s spectacular.
After your hike, make sure to stop at Myrtle Falls, the most photogenic waterfall I’ve ever seen, and then walk the short and sweet Nisqually Loop for more stunning views of Rainier. Finish your day by driving to Reflection Lakes, an awesome sunset location with a perfect reflection of the mountain in the lake (on a calm day, anyway), and Ruby Falls, which is along the road from Ashford to Paradise.
Day 5: Sunrise
The drive to Sunrise from Ashford, if that’s where you’re staying, is going to take about an hour and a half. Get an early start to make sure you get parking.
Then embark on one of the amazing hikes in this part of the park. Experienced hikers should choose the Burroughs Mountain Trail (9 miles, 2,500 ft. elevation gain), which takes you to an overlook at the eastern face of Rainier where you’ll probably be joined by a couple of curious mountain goats and a bunch of cute marmots.
Less experienced hikers should choose the climb to the Mount Fremont Lookout (6 miles, 1,100 ft. elevation gain), which is significantly shorter and easier, and also pretty spectacular. This is a super popular trail, so go early to beat the crowds.
On the way back to the Paradise area, make sure to stop by Tipsoo Lake for another picture-perfect reflection of Mt. Rainier (a great family-friendly hike), and the Grove of the Patriarchs, which is where you’ll find the biggest trees in the park.
Days 6-8: Olympic National Park
Drive Time from Ashford to Lake Quinault: 3 hours (145 miles)
Like Mt. Rainier, before we get into the best places to explore in Olympic National Park, it would make sense to quickly cover geography first. Olympic National Park is GIGANTIC. It’s also incredibly diverse – you’ll see everything from towering sea stacks rising out of the sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean, to the most spectacular temperate rainforest in the United States, and waterfalls galore.
The other thing to know is that it is WET. It rains a ton, hence the rainforests. Bring a rain jacket and waterproof shoes and thank me later.
There are four main regions of the park that we’d recommend that you take the time to explore.
- Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent – This region features towering mountains on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s easy to get to from all points east, like Seattle, and it also sits just 17 miles south of Port Angeles. Don’t miss Sol Duc Falls, Marymere Falls, and Hurricane Hill.
- La Push Beaches – Rialto, First, Second, and Third Beach will all provide you with million-dollar sunsets and views onto the sea stacks with cliffs rising up from the sea. Make sure to look up too! You might spot the elusive bald eagle waiting patiently for its next meal (we saw two).
- Hoh Rainforest – This is the moss-covered rainforest region that features sphagnum moss, wildlife, old-growth Sitka spruce, ferns, banana slugs, and wildlife of all kinds.
- Lake Quinault – This is a region in the western part of the park that features the stunning Lake Quinault, located within the extraordinary Quinault Rainforest.
Pssst! You won’t want to miss our Olympic National Park itinerary with all the details on what to do and see and how to organize your time.
Where to Stay in Olympic National Park
First of all, you should know that I have an entire guide to the best places to stay in Olympic National Park with tons of detail. Go read that if you want more information than you find below.
The best way to organize this section of your road trip is to stay two nights in Forks and a night in Port Angeles (or nearby).
In Port Angeles, stay at the rustic Olympic Lodge if you want a hotel, or one of these gorgeous and super unique vacation rentals:
What to Do in Olympic National Park
Here is a day-by-day breakdown of what to do in Olympic National Park for three days. You can find more detail in our guide to planning an epic Olympic National Park itinerary.
Day 6: Quinault Rainforest & Kalaloch Beach
Coming from Rainier, you’ll head west through Olympia, and along the south end of the Hood Canal to get to Quinault Rainforest, the first stop on your tour de Olympic Peninsula.
Explore the Quinault Rainforest and Lake Quinault – do the quick and easy rainforest loop – before heading north up the coast and stopping at Kalaloch Beach. While you’re there, don’t miss the famous Tree of Life!
From there, continue north, with a stop at Ruby Beach in the late afternoon and spend some time wandering along the sandy beach before arriving in Forks to spend the night.
Day 7: La Push and the Hoh Rainforest
On your second day, head to the Hoh Rainforest in the early morning to hike both the Hall of Mosses Trail and the Spruce Nature Trail. Both of which are under a mile long, making them two easy family-friendly hikes through the temperate rainforest. If you want a longer hike, hike a portion of the Hoh River Trail.
In the afternoon, head out to First, Second, and Third Beaches in La Push – Second Beach is the best, so if you’re low on time definitely choose that one.
For sunset, you definitely do not want to miss the hike to Hole in the Wall at Rialto Beach. It’s a flat four mile round trip hike along sandy Rialto beach that takes you to a unique rock formation. It’s an arch that has been created by years and years of erosion that you can walk through. The views along the way are nothing short of spectacular, and the sunset we experienced here is one of our favorite memories of our time in Washington.
Day 8: Hurricane Ridge & Port Angeles
On your last day, follow Highway 101 out to Port Angeles, stopping at Lake Crescent, Marymere Falls, and Sol Duc Falls, the latter of which are two of the region’s best waterfalls.
Adventure enthusiasts definitely shouldn’t miss the hike to the top of Mt. Storm King, which involves ropes and a steep climb. The reward is worth it though, with panoramic views over Lake Crescent and the surrounding landscape.
Hike the three mile round trip trail up to the top of Hurricane Hill just before sunset to close out your time on the Olympic Peninsula with views of the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean and the sunset’s pink glow on the peak of Mt. Olympus, the highest mountain in the park. From the top of Hurricane Hill, you can see clear over to Victoria, Canada, and over to Mt. Baker to the east.
Do you love hiking? Then you’ll definitely want to read our guide to the best hikes in Olympic National Park.
Day 9: Bellingham
Drive time from Port Angeles: 3.5 hours (pro-tip: take the ferry across the Puget Sound to Fort Casey and drive up through Whidbey Island)
Bellingham is a cute and charming college town at the northwestern edge of Washington State with a thriving food and drink scene thanks to the incredible abundance of local produce and nearby farmland. It’s home to Western Washington University, so it has a big college student population that makes it feel a lot like the small college towns that you’ll find all across the country. Hipster coffee shops, craft beer and cider, and farm-to-table dining are all abundant within the city limits.
On this itinerary, this is more of a stopover before the journey into the North Cascades more than anything – the drive from the Olympic Peninsula will take you most of the day.
It also has two of the most scenic drives in Washington nearby – Chuckanut Drive, which is a coastal drive south of Bellingham, and Highway 542 or Mt. Baker Highway. While you’re in Bellingham, you should do one of them. Chuckanut Drive is definitely more accessible and would be our top pick – it fits nicely on your way into Bellingham.
If you find yourself with an extra day, then the drive up to Picture Lake and Artist Point along the Mt. Baker Highway is the first thing I’d add. It’s spectacular.
The journey from Port Angeles will be a scenic one – you’ll take the ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville, drive north on Whidbey Island, passing Deception Pass State Park which is worth a stop, and finish with the scenic drive along Chuckanut Drive into Bellingham. Here’s a map of the route.
Bellewood Farms and Distillery is worth the journey north. They have an apple orchard that you can walk through, and make all of their spirits out of apples (so they’re all gluten free!). It’s cool to stroll the orchard and see all the different kinds of apples, and the store has all sorts of apple concoctions. If you’re there during the fall harvest, stop in for u-pick apples experience.
If you’re into cider, I have some good news for you. Because of all the apples grown nearby, Bellingham is paradise for cider lovers. Make sure to grab a drink at Thousand Acre Cider House and stop by two of the best cideries in town, Bellingham Cider Company and Lost Giants. Even if you’ve never had cider before, it’s worth trying. When in Rome, right?
Stay the night at a hotel in Bellingham – we recommend Hotel Leo for the central location and stylish (but also pretty affordable) rooms. Some of their rooms have kitchens, if that’s something you need so that you can cook for yourself.
Days 10-11: North Cascades National Park
Drive time from Bellingham: 1.5 hours (70 miles)
North Cascades National Park gets, by far, the least fanfare and visitors of the three national parks in Washington. In our opinion, it’s no less spectacular, and we’ve found ourselves here multiple times over the past several years.
The crystal clear alpine lakes with rugged rocky peaks of the Cascades in the background are second to none, and you should spend most of your time here hiking and exploring the wealth of outdoor activities.
Where to Stay in North Cascades National Park
Your choices of where to stay near North Cascades National Park are few and far between. Essentially, you’ve got two main options.
Camping in the North Cascades
There are a bunch of campsites along Highway 20 – the road that takes you from Bellingham into the park. If you can get a site at Colonial Creek Campground, which is on the shores of blue-green Diablo Lake, do that. It’s a nice campground. We stayed there on our first trip, but it was sold out on our latest venture into the North Cascades.
Your next best bet is Newhalem Campground, which is where we stayed on our latest trip. It’s a little more packed in like sardines, rather than tranquil and private, but it’s in a solid location (though not as good as Colonial Creek).
If you can’t get a site at either of those, stay at Baker Lake at one of the campgrounds on the west side of the lake. We can vouch for Bayview South Campground, but don’t expect too much – it’s a pit toilet sort of place with no drinking water (bring your own!).
Hotels and Vacation Rentals in the North Cascades
If you’re not into camping, then we think the next best option in the North Cascades is going to be the town of Winthrop, which is on the east side of the mountains. It has the best selection of both hotels and vacation rentals, and puts you in the best position to continue your road trip down to Leavenworth.
As far as hotels and resorts go, it doesn’t get much better than the River Run Inn, which is a great resort right along the Methow River where you can choose from lodge-style rooms and cute cabins. Though, the River’s Edge Resort is a close second.
If you prefer vacation rentals, you’ve got plenty of options in Winthrop, and just north of Winthrop along Highway 20, which is actually an even better location for exploring the North Cascades (it’s going to save you about 15 minutes each way).
Couples, look at Skytop, a hilltop cabin with great views that offers a blend of seclusion and convenience since it’s only a few minutes from Winthrop. You could also stay at this romantic riverfront cottage one mile from Winthrop.
Families and groups, stay at either this zero-energy hilltop retreat that is walkable to town (sleeps 8), or this two bedroom cabin in the woods (sleeps 6), which is north of Winthrop in a location that would make a great home base for exploring the park.
What to Do in the North Cascades
The North Cascades are home to some of the best hikes in Washington State, and that’s where you should focus your time.
Here are three awesome hikes to tackle over your two days:
- Heather / Maple Pass Loop: This is the best hike in Washington in terms of bang for your buck. You get a picturesque lake – which is worth the short detour – views of the Cascades on all sides, and spectacular wildflowers in the summer. It’s quintessential Washington, and it’s not really that hard. It’s a 7.2 mile loop, and you’ll climb 2,000 feet over those miles. I would go counter-clockwise, which means a less-steep climb that goes on for longer, and a steep descent. Hiking poles will save your knees.
- Blue Lake: Another great hike that isn’t terribly long or difficult. It takes you to a picturesque lake, set in between a couple of sets of rocky peaks. You’ll climb through the forest for a bit, with a little bit of elevation gain along the way. Definitely explore the trail up the hill on the right side of the lake. It’s a 4.4 mile out-and-back hike, with just 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
- Hidden Lake Lookout: This was our first hike in the North Cascades, and it sure set the bar high for all future hikes. The road to get to the trailhead is gnarly, and it’s a good thing we borrowed my mom’s SUV because our van would have never made the journey (although, somehow, we saw a Prius at the trailhead). The hike itself is equally rough – 8 miles long, with 3,300 feet of elevation gain. And it feels like you’re climbing straight up the entire time. But when you get to the top, with views of the perched lake with the Cascades in the background, it’s all worth it. Even the pain you’ll feel in your thighs and calves for the next several days. You can actually sleep at the fire lookout at the top, but it’s first-come-first-served and in VERY high demand due to its Insta-fame these days.
In addition to those hikes, you’ll definitely want to make it to the Diablo Lake Overlook, which has a fantastic view over the emerald green waters of Diablo Lake, and drive the scenic North Cascades highway up to Washington Pass, which is actually just past the trailhead for the hike to Blue Lake.
Day 12-13: Leavenworth
How Leavenworth, a quasi-Bavarian town just east of the Cascades, came to be is actually a pretty interesting story that features shrewd businessmen who made a bet in the face of a declining timber industry. They saw the writing on the wall – that when the timber was gone, they would have no economy to speak of (sound familiar?) – and instead of saying “we’ve gotta keep all the timber going!” they said “well, what are we going to do insead?”.
And, somehow, the answer to that question was “build a fake Bavarian town to attract tourists.”
Having been to Bavaria, specifically to the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is basically Leavenworth, but actually in Bavaria, I can say that they did an admirable job imitating the small Bavarian towns dotting the German countryside. But the inevitable sound of the drunk twenty-somethings chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” really takes you out of the atmosphere.
Still, Leavenworth is a pleasant spot to spend a couple of days, and there are some pretty incredible outdoor activities nearby to keep you busy.
Plus, this is your only foray into Eastern Washington (though it’s BARELY Eastern Washington), which is a completely different landscape from its western neighbor. It’s much drier, with bigger temperature swings throughout the year, and is a good place to grow tons of different kinds of produce, from apples to cherries and everything else you can think of, including grapes.
Getting to Leavenworth
Getting to Leavenworth from the North Cascades is part of the adventure, and there are a couple of stops to make along the way. Coming from Diablo Lake to Leavenworth will take you just about three and a half hours without stops, but every second of the drive is beautiful. Plan to spend the entire day on the road and at the many stops along the way.
You’ll drive east along Highway 20, passing Washington Pass, which marks the high point of the most scenic road trip in Washington State, before descending down into the foothills of the Cascades. Except, this time, you’re east of the mountains.
The first stop to make, is the town of Winthrop, which reminds me a little bit of Bend, Oregon, in the sense that it’s an adventure town (it’s not nearly as big as Bend is today, more like Bend of several decades ago). It is Western-themed, with cool barns and saloon-esque architecture along the main drag. It’s a good spot to get out and stretch your legs.
The next stop is the town of Twisp, which is hardly even a town, really. The real reason to stop here is Blue Star Coffee Roasters, which serves up the best coffee in the region.
Stop for lunch in Lake Chelan, a summer getaway destination for tons of Seattleites looking for higher temperatures than you’ll find in Western Washington. If you have an extra day, you could spend it here, relaxing by the lake after a trip full of hiking your way around the state. You earned it!
Where to Stay in Leavenworth
Because it’s built for tourists, there are a ton of places to stay near Leavenworth.
You can’t go wrong with the Bavarian Lodge, which will put you smack dab in the middle of downtown Leavenworth (seriously, the location couldn’t be better).
At the south end of town you’ll find the Icicle Village Resort, which is a great spot for families with tons of games and a mini-golf course on site.
This affordable studio in town would also be a great option on a smaller budget.
What to Do in Leavenworth
Pssst! We have an entire guide to what to do in Leavenworth – for more detail, you should DEFINITELY go read that!
- Float the Icicle River: One pleasant way to spend an afternoon in Leavenworth is floating down the Icicle River in an innertube (pro-tip: bring your own cooler with your adult drink of choice). There are tons of options in terms of outfitters who will take you up to the point where you get in the river and let you float down into town.
- Hike to Colchuck Lake: We tackled this jaw-dropping hike as part of our longer backpacking trip in the Enchantments, but the hike to Colchuck Lake is one that should be on your Washington hiking bucket list. It’s an 8 mile out and back hike that gains 2,300 feet of elevation, and ends at a crystal clear blue-green gem of a lake. It also makes a great overnight backpacking trip, and serves as the gateway for backpacking in the Enchantments (but to get there, you have to climb Aasgard Pass, which gains 2,900 feet in less than a mile. Woof).
- Drink plenty of beer (and cider). Downtown Leavenworth is full of places to grab a drink and a bite to eat, ranging from cringeworthy to cute and kitschy. We like Leavenworth Cider House, because of course we do, and Rhein Haus, which has a great outdoor patio with plenty of wine, beer, and cider options. Icicle Brewing Company is another great option, but they were full when we tried to go there (they did have gluten free beer in cans).
- Wine Tasting: It might be a little bit surprising, but this region is actually known for wine. There are tasting rooms in town, and just outside of town to the east. Head out to Icicle Ridge Winery or Silvara Cellars to visit a winery with great views over the surrounding landscape and the Wenatchee River, or just stick to one of the many tasting rooms in the town of Leavenworth itself. Go to Bergdorf in the winter for their gluhwein, a German spiced wine that is best when it’s warm. My little brother and I drank our body weight in it every night when we were exploring the Christmas Markets in Germany.
- Whitewater Rafting on the Wenatchee River: The Wenatchee River, for a few weeks between June and late July, is some the most accessible whitewater rafting in Washington. It’s class II/III, which means it’s the perfect place for your first whitewater rafting adventure. I have personally rafted it multiple times since I used to work for a company that operated out there. Before you go, you should know that your experience is going to vary wildly based on the water levels that year, which are impossible to predict. Don’t book too early, otherwise you might end up spending part of the trip literally carrying the raft. The best time is usually June and early July. Go with Blue Sky Outfitters (full disclosure – I worked there in college many years ago).
Day 14: Drive to Seattle, Fly Home
On your last day, you’ve got a two plus hour drive awaiting you over Snoqualmie Pass.
Get an early start and allow double the time to complete the drive, just in case. Head back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to catch your flight home, or drive back home if you live nearby.
When to Do This Road Trip
To do this road trip as written, it will be best in the summer. Summer in the Pacific Northwest might be different from what you’re used to – it essentially runs from July 5th to Labor Day, which is when you’ll get warm, dry weather, snow-free hiking trails, and super long days (think 5am to 9:30pm).
Another great time to do this road trip would be early fall (Sept through mid-October). Weather will be more unpredictable (it will probably rain at some point), but fall is still a great time to be in Washington, and you might get to catch the famed golden larches in the Cascades if you happen to time it right (usually it’s mid-October, but it varies by year). Most hiking trails will still be accessible through mid-October.
If you plan this in the winter or spring (roughly late October through late June), there are a few changes you’ll have to make that mostly affect the higher elevation spots in the itinerary below.
- The North Cascades Scenic Highway closes from about November through late May, so you won’t be able to complete the loop through the North Cascades. Instead, I’d spend that time in and around Bellingham or out on Whidbey Island.
- Most of the hikes around Mt. Rainier and the North Cascades will be covered in snow and closed. That being said, you can rent some snowshoes and still get out there at Rainier, but you’ll probably want to choose another place to visit other than the North Cascades. You’ll be fine on the Olympic Peninsula, especially on the coastal hikes like Rialto Beach and Shi Shi Beach (though it will be stormy, so be prepared for rain!).
- Leavenworth over Christmas is quite a sight – the small Bavarian town lights up with Christmas Markets and takes on a fairytale winter wonderland feeling. You won’t be able to hike Colchuck Lake or float the river, but it’s still worth visiting.
Do You Need a Car?
In short, yes, you need a car. There’s really no way to do this road trip without one. If you’re coming from out of town, rent a car when you land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Or, since you won’t need a car while you’re in Seattle for the first couple of days, wait to rent one until your last day in Seattle, which will be cheaper than renting at the airport, and will save you a couple days of rental car costs and potential parking tickets.
P.S. If you’re planning on tackling some of the best hikes in Washington along the way, I’d consider renting a high-clearance vehicle like an SUV. You’ll spend more money on gas, but some of the trailheads for the best hikes are at the end of a bumpy forest road best accessed by high-clearance / 4WD vehicles. Believe us, our Honda Odyssey was NOT happy with us by the end of our trip. Enterprise, which is my favorite rental car company, has multiple locations near Downtown Seattle. Find your rental car here on RentalCars.com.
There you have it – a complete, super detailed guide to planning a perfect road trip from a local Washingtonian who basically did this in four weeks last summer.
What did we miss? Spoiler: A lot, because you only have two weeks. We’d love to hear about your favorite spots – leave us a comment below and let us know where we should explore in Washington State next.
More to Explore in Washington State
Heading to the great state of Washington? Here are some other posts you might like.
- The Best Things to Do in Seattle: A Local’s Complete Guide (coming SOON!)
- Where to Stay in Seattle: 7 Amazing Areas to Stay
- How to Plan an Amazing Weekend in Seattle (3 Day Itinerary)
- One Day in Seattle: How to See The Best of Seattle in a Day
- The 8 Best Day Trips from Seattle: A Complete Guide
- 10 Amazing Weekend Getaways from Seattle: A Complete Planning Guide
- Where to Find the Best Coffee in Seattle: 15+ Amazing Seattle Coffee Shops
- Gluten Free Seattle: A Complete Travel Guide for Celiacs
- How to Plan an Amazing Washington State Road Trip
- The 19 Best Airbnbs in Washington State
- 33 Incredible Cabins in Washington State
- How to Plan an Amazing Olympic National Park Itinerary
- What to Do in Leavenworth, Washington: A Complete Guide
- What to Do on San Juan Island: A Complete Visitors Guide
- The Best Things to Do on Orcas Island: Complete Planning Guide