This is our ultimate road trip itinerary for Washington State, spending two weeks seeing the best Washington has to offer.
Washington is located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It’s best known and largest city Seattle is known for producing some of the biggest known bands in the world including Nirvana, Alice in Chains, the Foo Fighters and even Jimi Hendrix. Washington State has also provided the setting for some of the biggest film franchises in the last decade including Twilight and 50 Shades. However there is much more in this corner of the USA than rock bands and vampires, not to mention a little known coffee chain that started here – Starbucks.
Spending two weeks road tripping around Washington State is a good amount of time to give you a flavour of what this fantastic State is all about. It offers variety in sights and experiences that most other States will struggle to match. The main transport hub for flights is Seattle so we’ll start our road trip itinerary for Washington State there.
Day 1 – Seattle
You will not need you car in the city, Seattle has excellent public transport and a car will be an unnecessary expense at this point.
Choose a hotel or apartment in the downtown area of Seattle, we can recommend the Edgewater Hotel which is located on the waterfront as well as apartments booked through Stay Alfred on Western Avenue.
Spend your first day in the city exploring the downtown area. Many of Seattle’s best known sights and experiences can be found in this area. Don’t miss Pike Place Market, we also recommend checking out the Sky View Observatory at the Columbia Center, from here you can get the best view of the city – with the Space Needle included in your pictures.
Day 2 – Seattle
Seattle is a large city with more than enough activities to warrant a second day of a two week road trip itinerary from Washington State. Spend day two exploring some of the neighbourhoods outside of the city centre. We recommend heading north and visiting Fremont and Ballard.
Fremont and Ballard are on the north bank of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. You can reach this area of the city by bus from downtown, the bus takes approximately 20 minutes.
Fremont is home to many independent shops and hipster bars and cafes. Once you have had your fill of Fremont head towards Ballard which is within walking distance. You can take in more of the bohemian scene of this area of Seattle on route.
If you’re a Deadliest Catch fan like us don’t miss checking out the ship yards in Ballard, if you’re in the city at the right time of year then you may just see a few familiar boats.
While you’re in Ballard we can recommend a great place for some dessert, check out Cupcake Royale. Afterwards you can walk it off by heading across Ballard Locks which is beautiful on a sunny day. If you feel like walking further check out Discovery Park to the south of Ballard Locks.
Day 3 – Port Townsend – 111 Miles to Drive
Pick up your car this morning as you head out of the city. You can collect your car at the airport where there is plenty of choice of rental companies. At SEA-TAC Alamo offer a pre-check-in service where you can fill out the paperwork online and so avoid a queue when you collect the car, just head straight to the garage. We used this service and were driving our car away from the airport within 15 minutes of arrival
If you collect your car from the airport the best way to get to Port Townsend is by taking the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. You can avoid taking a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula by taking this route and from the airport it won’t take any longer than if you were to board a ferry.
Port Townsend is a beautiful historic town on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a great place to relax before heading out early to explore Olympic National Park over the next couple of days.
Day 4 – Lake Crescent – 69 Miles to Drive
The highlight of the next couple of days will be exploring Olympic National Park. To find out more about what you can see and do here you can check out our posts on Olympic National Park – Exploring Olympic National Park and Visiting Hurricane Ridge
You will be following highway 101 around the Olympic Peninsula however the main sights are off the main road. The first turn off into the park we would recommend you take is towards Hurricane Ridge. This is a fantastic drive up into the mountains, not suitable for winter due to snow but from late spring through early autumn it’s accessible by car. Once you reach the top of the road there are a number of hiking paths you can take to get further into the mountains. The Hurricane Hill trail is the best one to take if you only have a couple of hours to spend here.
If you want to try something a bit different then in nearby Port Angeles you will find Adventures Through Kayaking who do fantastic tours. We had a half day sea kayaking tour with them starting in Fresh Water Bay, no previous experience is necessary. Getting out on the water gives you a totally different perspective of the Olympic Peninsula.
Back on highway 101 continue until you reach Lake Crescent. It’s a very picturesque area. The bonus of staying here for the night is if you don’t make it before the sun goes down you can still take in the beauty of this area the following morning before moving on.
Day 5 – Kalaloch – 69 Miles to Drive
Another day on the Olympic Peninsula and another opportunity to see the variety Olympic National Park has to offer. Between Lake Crescent and Kalaloch lie some beautiful wild beaches. Rialto Beach has some of the biggest drift wood we’ve ever seen.
For any Twilight fans you will want to make a pit stop in Forks after visiting Rialto beach, it’s just further along Highway 101. There isn’t a lot in Forks really, don’t set your hopes on a lunch stop here. You will find a couple of photo opportunities where the locals have taken advantage of this major franchise being set in their town.
Further along highway 101 a do not miss stop is the Hoh Rainforest. This is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the US and who would have thought you’d be coming to the US to see rainforests? Especially up by the Canadian border. There are numerous hiking trails within the Hoh Rainforest. If you’re short on time the Hall of Mosses is the one to go for, with a bit more time head for Hoh River Trail.
After visiting the Hoh Rainforest make your way back to highway 101 heading south to Kalaloch for the night.
Day 6 – Olympia – 118 Miles to Drive
Setting off from Kalaloch today you have the option to explore more wild beaches and rainforests. Nearby is the very popular Ruby Beach, you’re in a great location to get there early before it gets too busy.
Further along highway 101 you have the option to explore another rainforest, maybe not as well known as the Hoh Rainforest by visitors but still worth the stop. Quinault Rainforest and Lake Quinault are about 40 minutes drive from Kalaloch. You will find a cafe and restaurant in this area if you want to stay past lunch.
From Quinault it’s the best part of a two hour drive to Olympia, the capital of Washington State. It’s not as big as Seattle but there’s plenty to keep you occupied for an over night stay in this city. If you want to break up the drive consider a stop in Aberdeen which is about half way between Quinault and Olympia and it’s the hometown of Kurt Cobain.
Day 7 – Mount Rainier – 72 Miles to Drive
Washington State has some of the best natural attractions in the US in our opinion. At the half way point of our road trip itinerary for Washington State is another big one – Mount Rainier National Park.
Mount Rainier is generally covered in snow until summer. Spring arrives late due to its high elevation. If you’re visiting outside of the summer season be prepared for cool or even cold weather and that some of the roads may have closures.
Day 8 – Levenworth – 162 Miles to Drive
Today head north through Seattle to Everett. From here you will start the Cascade Loop, it claims the title for Washingtons Ultimate Road Trip for good reason – the North Cascades are beautiful and there are some great small towns in this mountain range.
From Everett you will cross the mountains using highway 2. This road takes you all the way to Leavenworth which is a great place for your first over night stop on the Cascade Loop. Leavenworth is a bit unusual in that it’s styled as a Bavarian town, which does suit its mountain setting! It’s only a small town so you will have plenty of time with just a one night stay to get a good feel for the place. Take your time getting there as there is plenty of spectacular scenery on this drive.
To keep you on track you will notice small signs at the side of the road highlighting the Cascade Loop, they look like this;
Day 9 – Winthrop – 115 Miles to Drive
From Leavenworth to Winthrop is a fairly short driving day but there are a few options for slight detours on route. Two main highlights are taking a boat trip on Lake Chelan, Lady of the Lake offer tours year round departing from Chelan, which is conveniently located on the Cascade Loop.
Departing slightly from the Cascade Loop consider a detour to see the Grand Coulee Dam. It’s a huge concrete gravity dam on the Columbia River and you can take a tour to get a close look at the dam and even go inside. The Grand Coulee is the largest power station in the United States by nameplate-capacity at 6,809 MW, worthy of a detour on your Washington State road trip to check out.
After visiting the Grand Coulee Dam continue onto Winthrop. Staying here for the night will give you a feeling of being in the Wild West. It’s a great little town on the edge of the North Cascades National Park – the highlight of this area of Washington State. You can take tours from Winthrop, take a horse trail ride or go on a cowboy cookout. Tours depart from nearby Sun Mountain Lodge they accommodate guests on their tours who are staying with them as well as those who are just passing through.
Day 10 – Friday Harbour, San Juan Island – 176 Miles to Drive
Most of the day today will be spent exploring the North Cascades National Park before catching a ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbour. Book your ferry in advance using the Washington State Department of Transport website.
Leaving Winthrop heading west on highway 20 this route crosses the North Cascades National Park. It will take a couple of hours to cross through the National Park with no stops, however you will want to make plenty as the views are spectacular.
Stops not to miss coming from Winthrop heading west are firstly Ross Lake Overlook followed by Diablo Lake Vista Point. These viewing points are signposted from the road but try and be ready for them as there isn’t as much notice that the lay-by or car park is coming up as some might like.
Be prepared to spend a while at these vista points if you’re a photographer, especially Diablo Lake. The colours in our photographs are true to life, it is a fantastic viewing point and the scenery is beautiful.
Moving on from Diablo Lake the next point you will not want to miss is Gorge Creek. Parking is available at this location as well and if you want to stretch your legs a bit there is an easy hike at this point, the Gorge Overlook Trail.
You have the option after Gorge Creek to stop off at the North Cascades National Park Visitors Centre. It’s worth a stop if you have some time to spare but not really necessary. It’s pretty small and due to the direction you have travelled you have already seen most of the sights they have information on.
There are some lay-bys further along the road where you can stop for a picnic if you haven’t already. At this point you are out of the mountains but sitting beside the Skagit River for a lunch break is not a bad option at all.
Continue on highway 20 all the way to Anacortes where you will catch your ferry. Aim to arrive around an hour before the ferry departs to give yourself time to check in and join the queue for departure. They will start loading the ferry in good time so you won’t be sat around waiting for long even if you arrive an hour early.
The ferry crossing from Anacortes to Friday Harbour takes just over an hour. There is plenty to keep you occupied on board. There are places to eat and drink and there is also fantastic views to be had for the entire journey so make sure you take advantage by getting a seat with a view rather than staying with your vehicle.
When choosing where to stay on San Juan Island we rate Friday Harbour as the best option, however there is also options for staying over night in Roche Harbor on the north coast of San Juan Island.
The ferry will dock at Friday Harbour and it’s a very walkable town. Drive to your accommodation and park up. You can explore on foot and there are plenty of options for dinner and drinks in the town centre.
Day 11 & 12 – Friday Harbour, San Juan Island
I cannot say enough good things about San Juan Island, it’s probably our favourite place in Washington. It’s well worth a couple of days exploring to finish off our road trip itinerary for Washington State.
One thing this area is famous for is it’s one of the best locations in the entire world to see orca pods in the wild. Do not miss taking a whale watching tour here, orca as well as humpback whales are spotted here year round. To give yourself the best chance during the summer months there are more whales in the area as transient orca pass through this area so your chances of seeing orca increase between June and September. We recommend Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours the crew were very knowledgable and also put the welfare of the animals first.
San Juan Island is first and foremost an island so get out on the water. Another great tour we recommend while here is sea kayaking, although we didn’t see any whales while we were kayaking in this area we did spot some curious steller sea lions! We highly recommend Discovery Sea Kayaks for sea kayaking tours from San Juan Island, we took the full day tour.
If you’re feeling less active there’s also plenty of activities which you can do while relaxing, try a visit to San Juan Island Distillery near Roche Harbor – they offer free tastings! Also you can do a while tasting at San Juan Vineyard, if you buy a bottle you get the price of your tasting deducted.
If craft beer is more your thing then they have you covered too, head to San Juan Island Brewing in Friday Harbor. They offer a flight so you can taste a few of their brews and the food is great there too so definitely keep it as an option for lunch or dinner while you’re in town.
History fans can also be kept occupied while learning about the unusual history of the island at American and English camps, at opposite ends of the island. Learn how town nations nearly went to war over a pig!
Day 13 – Seattle – 107 Miles to Drive
The last full day of the road trip in Washington State will complete the round trip route ending back in Seattle. It’s not as crucial to pre-book your ferry back to Anacortes, you can book your place the morning of the day of departure at the dock – where there are plenty of options for breakfast.
On your way back to Seattle consider stopping off at a few more sights on route while you still have the car. Popular options are Deception Pass State Park while is near Anacortes and Snoqualmie Falls which is on the outskirts of Seattle.
Consider staying in a place with parking for your last night in Washington. You will find the additional price of having the car an extra day is about the same or less than a taxi or even Uber from Seattle to the airport. Dropping the car at the airport before your flight is easy and convenient, just leave yourself an extra half an hour to make sure you have time to drop it off.
We hope you find out two week road trip itinerary for Washington State useful. If you have more than two weeks then head east to see a bit more of Washington which is totally different away from the Puget Sound.
Let us know your favourite places to visit in Washington in the comments.