Ask anyone from outside the USA (and even some within) to tell you what they know about Washington State and a good number will respond with something along the lines of ‘Isn’t that where the President lives?’ The answer of course is a big fat no. In fact, Washington State is around 2,500 miles from the White House and it takes around five hours by air to fly from its largest city Seattle to Washington D.C.
Even those who do know where it is, tend to overlook it as a potential travel destination with its cold, blustery reputation making it the considerably less hip sibling of California and perhaps even Oregon, the other two states on the USA’s West Coast.
However the area is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the USA and in this post we’re going to quickly run through five of the best places to visit in Washington State, which might give you a bit of inspiration for a possible American road-trip in the wild Northwest.
5 of the Best Places to Visit in Washington State – Possible Road Trip
While not the state capital, Seattle is the most important and certainly liveliest city in Washington and the obvious starting point. It is home to the 8th busiest airport in the United States making it an easy destination to fly into.
If you’re travelling with friends, consider renting a car for a week or two and use it to explore first Seattle and then the whole state. If you don’t have the option to park at your accommodation in the city, there is parking near SeaTac Airport from just $8 per day.
Seattle is a great place to hang around for a few days with a more manageable size than some of the other big US cities but still with plenty to see and do. As well as being the birthplace of Starbucks, it’s famed for its arts and music scene. With many microbreweries too, it has some really quirky evening options with live music and great beer the order of the night. By day, you can explore Seattle’s many parks, cruise along the harbour, check out the Pike Place Flea Market or visit one of the many art museums and galleries.
Mount Rainier National Park
While there are a few other small cities in Washington, most of the appeal lies in the state’s natural areas with a damp, green landscape consisting of coastal, mountain and pine forest regions.
One of its real gems is Mount Rainier National Park which lies around 50 miles southeast of Seattle. The big draw is the giant Mount Rainier volcano which rises to its cone-like peak at almost three miles above sea level. As well as the volcano, which last erupted some 150 years ago, the park is home to 26 glaciers as well as hundreds of rivers, streams and lakes. It’s a wonderful destinations for hiking or just spending some time in amongst the nature.
Wrap up warm if you decide to visit though as even during the summer, sub-zero night time temperatures are common and it’s rarely above freezing even during the day from November to April.
Columbia River Valley
A bit further south, you should find it marginally warmer on the banks of the Columbia River which forms the state boundary between Washington and Oregon. City-types might want to head to the town of Vancouver which lies on the Washington side of the river but borders and is almost a suburb of Portland, the largest city in Oregon.
If nature is more your thing, you’ll want to head to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The spectacular canyon is the highlight where the river meets the Cascade Mountains, which dissect the state of Washington. There are plenty of options for beds and camping on both sides of the river.
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Olympic National Park
Swinging back round in the direction of Seattle but heading a bit further west and you’ll discover the Olympic National Park which is another great hiking destination. Some of the routes, such as the Klahhane Ridge hike, are quite challenging but the stunning views reward the effort with the snow-capped Mount Baker and Canada visible in the distance on a clear day.
The Olympic National Park covers a large area and what sets it apart from other parks of its type, is just how diverse the landscape is. As well as the mountainous region that feels like it could be somewhere in the Alps of Himalayas, you can also hike through green forests, visit lakes and check out the impressive Marymere Falls.
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Just east of the Olympic National Park, you can take the ferry over to Whidbey Island which as well as more natural delights, has a fascinating cultural history. It was previously inhabited by many different native American tribes and it’s believed that not until the mid 19th Century did any outsider spend a night on the island.
About 80,000 people live on Whidbey these days and it is home to some beautiful beaches although it’s rarely warm enough to venture into the water. If the weather is bad, or even if it isn’t, a trip to the Whidbey Island Distillery in Langley is highly recommended. It’s one of the best reviewed attractions in the whole state with a range of high quality spirits produced there.
If you have more time, you may wish to continue north and hop over the border into Canada with the city of Vancouver only 150 miles north of Seattle.
This countdown of some of the best places to visit in Washington State was published in November 2019.