With everything Seattle has to offer, it can be hard to imagine wanting to get out of the city for even just an hour or two. But it would be a shame to spend a sunny day in museums and craft breweries when there’s such gorgeous scenery to enjoy beyond the city limits.
Whether you need a break from the tourist crowds and bustle of downtown, are looking for a serious hike, or have a pup threatening all the zoomies after being dragged to yet another farmers market, there are plenty of opportunities to get out of town for the day.
In fact, some of the most breathtaking scenery, charming towns and picturesque back roads in the state lie within an easy drive or ferry ride out of the city. Here are some of our favorite day trips from Seattle.
Mt Rainier National Park
Why go: to enjoy breathtaking scenery, no matter the season
The drive – about two hours, depending on the route and traffic conditions – makes this a bit of an investment for a day trip, but you can’t be this close to one of the most impressive mountains in the United States and not go see it.
The views are spectacular, whether it's a sunny spring day with wildflowers in bloom, a moody, cloudy afternoon, or a snowy winter’s day.
You could easily spend weeks hiking in the Mt Rainier area (permits permitting), but you can develop a healthy appreciation for the place through any of the several day hikes from Paradise, which is home to the relaxing Paradise Inn and a visitor center.
Paradise also makes for a fun Seattle day trip during the winter because it's one of the most popular areas in the park for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding. It's also the only area in the park that allows sledding. Bring good shoes, warm clothes and a camera, and try to visit midweek to avoid crowds.
How to get to Mt Rainier National Park
The park has year-round access via the Nisqually Entrance, just under 90 miles and an almost two-hour drive from Seattle along SR-706. If you use GPS, use the address 39000 State Route 706 E, Ashford, WA 98304, or you’ll otherwise be taken to the park headquarters in Ashford.
From the Nisqually Entrance, it’s another 29 miles via Longmire to the Henry M Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise, where you can find parking and several trailheads. Note that in winter, the road between Longmire and Paradise is closed at night.
If your idea of a successful day trip to Mount Rainier involves hiking and biking, the Carbon River Entrance is a little over 60 miles – nearly 1½ houra – along SR-165. No cars are allowed beyond this entrance, only pedestrians and cyclists.
You can also enter the park on its east side during the summer. It’s just under 82 miles – 1¾ hours – from Seattle to the White River Entrance via SR-167 and SR-410. From there, it’s about 18 miles, or half an hour’s drive, via SR-123 to Ohanapecosh. There are no public transit connections from Seattle to the park.
Why go: to feast on German staples in a quaint setting
Adorable and unashamedly touristy Leavenworth has oodles of charm all by itself, but the imitation-Bavarian town’s idyllic wilderness setting is what really puts it over the top. Grab a beer and some brats at München Haus, then choose your adventure: the hiking, rafting and rock climbing here are all fantastic.
Leavenworth is the gateway to the Wenatchee River and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, where you’ll find some of the best hiking in the state, including several easily accessible day hikes.
How to get to Leavenworth
The 117-mile drive east along US Hwy 2 via Monroe, through the Cascades and over Stevens Pass, is truly spectacular. It takes under 2½ hours, but you’ll want to stop often for photo ops.
The route via the Snoqualmie Pass along the I-90 takes about the same time, even though it stretches over 135 miles. Several bus companies serve the route between Seattle and Leavenworth, or you can take the Amtrak train, although the three to four-hour bus journey makes it less feasible for a day trip.
Why go: to get on the water
Bainbridge Island is a favorite vacation destination for Seattleites and visitors from further afield, but the island is close enough to the city that it contains a healthy full-time population, many of whom commute to Seattle by ferry.
It’s the quickest and easiest way to get out on the water from the big city, and the ride over provides stunning views of both Seattle and the Sound. Lazily stroll around, tour some waterfront taverns like Doc’s Marina Grill, taste wines, and maybe rent a bike and cycle around the invitingly flat countryside.
As far as family day trips from Seattle go, it doesn’t get much easier than this; the ferry ride is short enough that kids won’t get bored, and once they’re on the island, they’ll love exploring the Kids Discovery Museum.
Lively pubs and great Washington wines are the order of the day on Bainbridge. The island doesn’t stay up very late, but you won’t go thirsty when it comes to happy hour or leisurely cocktails in the evening.
Bainbridge Vineyards is a quaint and certified organic winemaker about five miles from the Bainbridge ferry terminal off Hwy 305 – perfect for a bike ride on a sunny day.
How to get to Bainbridge Island
Washington State Ferries run several times a day from Pier 52 in Seattle. The crossing takes about 35 minutes.
Why go: to enjoy craft beer and a dose of culture
Bellingham is underrated as a fun town for nightlife, especially if you’re into craft beer. Try the Kölsch at Chuckanut Brewery, a Bellingham Blonde ale at Boundary Bay and a Cosmic Dreams IPA at Aslan Depot, a historic bus and streetcar station renovated to look and feel like a cozy old English parlor.
If you like your adult beverages with a side of culture, start with a visit to the Whatcom Museum, a three-building collection of local and regional art, culture and history.
You can also wander the well-preserved Fairhaven neighborhood, with its shops, restaurants and lovely bookstore, Village Books. Alternatively, drive 15 miles north to the traditionally Dutch town of Lynden, which has a pioneer history museum, bakery and historic hotel.
To stretch this day trip a little, opt for scenic Chuckanut Drive on the way there or back. This byway hugs the coastline between Bellingham and Mt Vernon, with opportunities to stop for hiking in Larrabee State Park and oyster-eating at the Oyster Bar in Bow along the way.
How to get to Bellingham
Head north on I-5 for about 90 miles (an hour and a half) to Bellingham. For the more scenic Chuckanut Drive (SR-11) option, take exit 231 off I-5 just north of Mt Vernon. This route is about the same distance but adds around 15 minutes to the drive, that is, if you don’t stop to admire the scenery.
Why go: to experience a modern take on Victorian sensibilities
At around a 2¾-hour ride on the fast ferry, Victoria stretches the definition of a "day trip," but the British Columbia provincial capital is worth the effort if you remember to bring your valid passport and meet the requirements for entry into Canada.
With double-decker buses, afternoon tea, homes that look like castles and pubs with names such as the Sticky Wicket and the Penny Farthing, Victoria has long traded on its British affiliations.
But while the fish and chips remain first class, and summer cricket games still enliven Beacon Hill Park, the days when Victoria was more British than Britain are long gone. In Victoria 2.0, the food culture embraces fusion, the beer leans toward craft brews, and the abundance of bicycles resembles The Netherlands more than England.
Compared to the glassy skyscrapers of Seattle, Victoria is more laid-back and low-rise. On balmy summer days, a distinct holiday atmosphere takes over as people pile off the ferries to escape the mayhem of the mainland and forget their work. Sure, Victoria might have become trendier and more sophisticated in recent years, but in pace and essence, it remains comfortingly old-fashioned.
How to get to Victoria
Victoria Clipper runs a passenger-only, high-speed catamaran from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle to Victoria’s Inner Harbor. There’s one round-trip a day; check the website for departure times, as these may vary according to season.
Why go: to feast on seafood and fresh produce in a pastoral setting
Whidbey Island is an idyllic emerald escape beloved by stressed-out Seattleites. At 41 miles, Whidbey is the longest island on the US West Coast. While it’s not as detached or nonconformist as the San Juans (a bridge connects it to adjacent Fidalgo Island at its northernmost point), life is certainly slower, quieter and more pastoral here.
Having six state parks is a bonus. There is also a plethora of B&Bs, two historic fishing villages (Langley and Coupeville), famously tasty mussels and a thriving community of artists and artisans. Also on the island is the US Naval Air Station that dominates Oak Harbor.
Whidbey is a particularly desirable day trip during the fall harvest: grapes, apples and pumpkins abound, as do cider and pumpkin beer. The season also brings wild mushroom foraging tours, which, unless you’re an expert, are best to join if you want to pick some. In the words of Terry Pratchett, “All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once.”
Emerging from Fidalgo Island's flat pastures, the precipitous Deception Pass cliffs are overlooked by a famous bridge made all the more dramatic by the churning, angry water below.
The bridge has two steel arches spanning Canoe Pass and Deception Pass, joined by a central support on Pass Island. Built during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), it was considered an engineering feat in its day. The 5.5-sq-mile park also spans the channel, with facilities on the north and south flanks of the passage.
How to get to Whidbey Island
Take I-5 north and SR-525 from Seattle to Mukilteo; depending on the route and traffic conditions, this trip will be around 40 to 50 minutes. The Sound Transit train on the Sounder North N-line isn’t a good choice for a day trip since it departs from Seattle twice in the late afternoon and returns from Everett twice in the early morning. Washington State Ferries run 20-minute trips between Mukilteo and Clinton throughout the day.
Why go: to admire the tulips
A small town with a surprising number of things to see and do, La Conner is practically made for a day trip; it has a compact, walkable center lined with shops, pubs and restaurants, a spring tulip festival that shows off its pastoral surroundings, and a top-notch art museum in the heart of town.
Its position alongside the lazy Swinomish Channel adds a cool maritime feel. And at around a 1¼-hour drive, it’s one of those short trips from Seattle that you can do without spending most of your day on the road.
Arguably the best time to visit La Conner is in April when the tulip fields around town paint themselves in bands of vivid purples, reds and yellows. Weekend traffic can be discouraging at this time, but the blooms are worth it.
Once you’ve had your fill of flowers, wander downtown toward the tiny marina. Stop in and browse at Handmade La Conner, where artisans in a back-room workshop make all the coffee mugs, textiles, fancy soaps and letterpress cards on offer. Be sure to save time for an exploration of the Museum of Northwest Art, which has an outstanding collection of regional paintings and sculptures and mounts several temporary exhibits each year.
How to get to La Conner
From Seattle, take I-5 north about 55 miles to exit 221, then follow signs another 10 miles west along Fir Island Rd to La Conner. There are no bus or train services to La Conner.
San Juan Islands
Why go: for an adventure with your dog
The sleepy San Juans exist in striking contrast with Seattle’s sensory overload, and they’re easier to reach than you might think (though if you can spare the time, an overnight stay is even better than a day trip).
It may be nearly a four-hour ferry ride from Seattle to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, but the voyage itself is one of the highlights – you can make the trip as part of a whale-watching tour, but it’s a gorgeous ride even without the whale element.
On arrival, your entertainment options include mellow bicycling, paddling around in a kayak, eating decadent, locally-sourced meals from restaurants like Doe Bay Café, and just hanging out. This day trip is also fantastic to make with your dog; there are several off-leash dog parks, including San Juan Islands Sculpture Park.
How to get to the San Juan Islands
From mid-April to mid-October, the scenic San Juan Clipper goes directly to Friday Harbor from the Seattle waterfront’s Pier 69 in 3¾ hours.
Or you can drive the 85 miles or so to Anacortes – it should take a maximum of two hours, depending on the route and traffic conditions – and hop a Washington State Ferry to Lopez Island (45 minutes), Shaw Island (55 minutes), Orcas Island (a little over an hour) or San Juan Island (an hour). Schedules vary by season, so check the WSF website for the latest.
Note that for the San Juan Clipper, any pets need to be in a carrier, and you will need to book the trip in advance. For the Washington State Ferry, passengers can bring their leashed dogs into the exterior passenger areas, including the shelter decks.