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How to Plan an Amazing Washington Road Trip Itinerary

Looking to plan an amazing Washington State Road Trip? You’re in the right place. In this detailed guide, we’re going to go over a perfect road trip itinerary that takes you to all three national parks in Washington over 10 days. 

Have more or less time than that? Have no fear, we’ve got ideas on how to structure a trip with more and less time below the main itinerary, and you can use the details in the main itinerary to help you plan out your trip. 

We might be biased, since Matt grew up in the Seattle area, but we firmly believe that this has to be the most scenic road trip in the United States.

From the diverse collection of landscapes on the Olympic Peninsula, to majestic Mount Rainier, and the rugged North Cascades, prepare to be immersed in some of the most stunning landscapes in the country, full of awesome hikes and jaw-dropping views from beginning to end. 

In this complete guide to planning your Washington road trip itinerary, we’re going to give you the logistics you need to know – when to visit and our recommended route – along with a mini guide to each place on the itinerary. That mini guide will have information like what to do and where to stay, along with links to more in-depth content we’ve written on the destination. 

In each “where to stay” section, we’ll give you options for camping (which is what we usually do) and not camping, which we recognize is what the vast majority of people prefer. 

Finally, at the end, we’ll give you some ideas on how to shorten or lengthen the itinerary to fit your particular trip. 

Sound good to you? This guide is super detailed, full of our tips and favorite places based on our extensive experience exploring Washington, which means it’s LONG. Strap yourself in, grab a cup of coffee (or beer or wine, no judgment here), and let’s get to exploring Washington State!

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental 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 absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

When to Plan a Washington State Road Trip

This is a very, very important section in this guide, which is why it’s the first thing we’re talking about. 

If you are interested in hiking in the Cascades – specifically near Mount Rainier and in the North Cascades – your trip will need to be sometime between late July and mid-October. Otherwise, high elevation hiking trails (like the ones in both of those parks) will be covered in snow, and some roads and sections of the parks will be closed. 

You can still access certain parts of the parks – Paradise at Rainier is open year round (except in notable snow storms) and the North Cascades Highway is usually open up to Ross Dam in the winter and spring (same caveat about storms here), but that’s about it. 

The exact timing depends on the year, precipitation, and spring temperatures (among other factors), but you will be most safe with a trip in August or September

Late July and October can depend on the year, but we’ve been to both Rainier and the North Cascades in late July and found a bit of snow, but nothing crazy. 

Check road conditions for Rainier here, and the North Cascades here

How Many Days Do You Need?

The short version of the longer answer below is at least 10 days, if you want to see all three national parks in the state. With less time, you can still do a fun trip, but you’ll need to make some decisions and focus a little bit. 

If you want to fit in Washington’s three national parks – Olympic, Mount Rainier, and the North Cascades – you’re going to need at least 10 days. 11 or 12 days would be even better, because as you’ll see below, 10 days is barely enough to get to them all. Each park deserves two to three days at the very least to justify the amount of driving you’ll need to do to connect them. 

If you have anything less than 10 days, we’d strongly recommend cutting the North Cascades (a shame, we know) and focusing on Olympic, Mount Rainier, and the Seattle area. You could still head over to Leavenworth for a day and hike Colchuck Lake, but the North Cascades are going to be too far out of the way to justify the drive time. 

With 7 days, you can do a sweet little loop that covers the Olympic Peninsula and Mount Rainier. That trip basically follows the first seven days of the itinerary below. The breakdown would essentially be three days in Olympic National Park (here’s a guide!), three days in Rainier, and one day in Seattle. 

With Two Weeks, you have more flexibility to include some other places in your adventure. We’d recommend choosing two places to add two extra days each. The locations we’d choose between are the San Juan Islands, Seattle, and Mount Baker, and we have a “More Time” section below the main itinerary covering what to do and see and where to stay in each place. 

Where to Start and End Your Washington Road Trip

The road trip route below starts and ends in Seattle. The easiest place to fly into is going to be Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), known as “SeaTac” to most people who live in and around Seattle. 

You could rearrange this road trip to start in Seattle and end in Portland, if you’re interested in exploring the area around Portland at the end of your trip. Which we both love and recommend. 

If you’re interested, make sure to read our Portland guides – written by Diana, a lifelong Portlander –  for more information on what to do and see around Portland. 

The Road Trip Route

Here is the route that we’d recommend with 10 days in Washington – which features all three of the National Parks in Washington State, and makes a big loop around the state starting and ending in Seattle. 

  • Day 1: Arrive in Seattle, Drive to Olympic National Park (Port Angeles)
  • Day 2: Olympic National Park – Lake Crescent & Hurricane Ridge
  • Day 3: Olympic National Park – Rainforest & Pacific Beaches
  • Day 4: Olympic National Park & Drive to Mount Rainier National Park
  • Day 5: Mount Rainier National Park – Paradise
  • Day 6: Mount Rainier National Park – Sunrise
  • Day 7: Drive to North Cascades National Park & An Afternoon Hike
  • Day 8: North Cascades National Park & Drive to Leavenworth
  • Day 9: Hike to Colchuck Lake & Leavenworth
  • Day 10: Seattle & Head Home

Of course, that’s just the base itinerary that we’d recommend for a Washington road trip. The exact route you take is going to depend on your particular interests, what time of year you’re visiting, and more factors than we can possibly take into account here. 

We have ideas for shorter and longer itineraries below the main itinerary if you have more or less time. 

We’ll do our best to give you all the information you need to plan YOUR road trip in Washington, but if we miss something or you have more questions, leave us a comment below and we’ll do our best to either answer your question, or point you to someone who can. 

An Amazing 10 Day Washington Road Trip Itinerary: A Complete Planning Guide

Now that we’ve covered the important logistics – when to go, where to start and end, and an overview of the route – let’s get into the specifics of what to do and see in Washington. 

Day 1: Arrive in Seattle, Drive to Olympic National Park

On your first day, you’ll be arriving in Seattle, where you’ll need to pick up your rental car and make the journey from the airport out onto the Olympic Peninsula, home to Olympic National Park. 

Olympic National Park is massive, so the logistics are important here to avoid days that include several hours of extra driving. 

There are basically three main areas of the park we’d recommend focusing on here, and they form a nice counter-clockwise loop. Those sections of the park are Hurricane Ridge / Lake Crescent, the Pacific Coast, and the Hoh Rainforest

To do this, you’ll want to make a counter-clockwise loop starting with Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent, moving west to Forks and the Pacific Coast, and ending with a drive south along the coast, with a few beach stops along the way.

You’ll want to spend your first night near Port Angeles, a good home base for Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent, then spend the next two nights in Forks (yep, that Forks) to do the Hoh Rainforest and Pacific Beaches. 

One other thing: there are no two ways about it – getting from the Olympic Peninsula to Mount Rainier National Park requires some driving, so be prepared for a long drive at the end of this leg. However, there are a bunch of places to stop along the way, which will break it up a little bit. 

Driving to Olympic National Park

On your first day, pick up your rental car and drive out to the area around Port Angeles, which is the perfect home base for Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent. 

There are two possible routes – one that involves taking an expensive ferry to Bainbridge Island, and one that involves driving around to the south and taking the Narrows Bridge in Tacoma to get onto the Peninsula. 

We’d opt for the long (and also, free) way around, because it means you don’t have to deal with driving into Seattle (which can be a veritable nightmare) and you don’t have to pay to take the ferry (which can be expensive with a car). 

The drive from SeaTac to Port Angeles should take you around three hours, depending on traffic. 

Where to Stay near Port Angeles

Where you choose to stay here depends a lot on whether or not you’re up for camping, which will be the most convenient option.

You’ll spend one night here, then move on to spend the next two nights closer to the coast, which will put you in a better position for exploring the rest of the park. 

One more thing: Port Angeles is the gateway to the park, but it’s not really the coolest city in the world. Which is why we’ve carefully chosen our words and said “near Port Angeles.” There are some really cool places to stay outside of town, particularly to the northwest. 

Camping near Port Angeles

There are 14 campgrounds inside Olympic National Park (along with quite a few along the boundaries). 

There are only three campgrounds that accept reservations in advance – Sol Duc, Mora, and Kalaloch. Book these well in advance as they fill up quickly, especially on summer weekends and holiday weekends. 

More information on camping in the park here

The best camping options near Port Angeles are either Heart O’ the Hills Campground (first come, first served), which is along the road up to Hurricane Ridge, Fairholme Campground (first come, first served), or Sol Duc Hot Springs Campground (reservable in advance). 

Hotels & Vacation Rentals near Port Angeles

Look at the area north of Port Angeles along the Strait of Juan de Fuca or west of the city near Lake Sutherland where you’ll find plenty of rustic log cabins that make a perfect home base for exploring the area.

Another great option would be to find a cozy cabin on the shores of Lake Sutherland. It’s roughly equidistant between Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge, which makes it a great choice. 

Plus, you’ll spend your day exploring and your evening relaxing on the lake, which doesn’t sound half bad! We like this one for couples, and this one for bigger groups.

Day 2: Olympic National Park – Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent

On your second day, you’ll be in the perfect position to tackle both Hurricane Ridge, and the area near Lake Crescent before making your way west to settle in Forks for the evening. 

What to Do near Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent

Start your day bright and early at Hurricane Ridge for some hiking, and then make your way back down to lower elevation to do Lake Crescent and Sol Duc Falls. 

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge is the alpine section of Olympic National Park, sitting at 5,000 feet above sea level. If you’re looking to be immersed in the mountains, this is the place for you. Even from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center you have a spectacular view of the Olympic Range to the south, including snow-capped Mount Olympus.

There are a couple of worthwhile activities at Hurricane Ridge. 

  • Hike Hurricane Hill: A nice, paved path takes you up to the top of Hurricane Hill. From the top of the hike on a clear day, you’ll have sweeping views in all directions, including Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, Mount Baker and the San Juan Islands to the west, and the Olympic Range to the south. It’s a relatively easy hike. 3.2 miles / 650 feet elevation gain. More trail information here.

  • Drive Obstruction Point Road: Not for the faint of heart, Obstruction Point Road takes you out along a narrow, gravel road on a ridge to access a more remote alpine section of the park. Probably best to do it with a high-clearance, preferably 4WD vehicle. More information here. There are some incredible backpacking trips that start from here, and some longer day hikes – see here

  • Walk up to Sunrise Viewpoint: An easy path from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center takes you up to Sunrise viewpoint, which has a great view of the Olympics. It’s short and sweet, and leaves right from the parking lot of the Visitor Center. 
Lake Crescent, Marymere Falls, & Sol Duc Falls

After Hurricane Ridge, descend back into the lowlands and head west towards Lake Crescent. There’s a nice trail through the woods to the Lake Crescent Lodge, which would be a good place for lunch (if you didn’t pack your own), or a drink along the lake shore. 

After a break, do the short hike over to Marymere Falls, a nice, easy stroll through the woods to a beautiful waterfall that is 90 feet high.

Marymere Falls
Sol Duc Falls

Hop back in the car and continue west along the shores of Lake Crescent. At the western end of the lake, you’ll see signs for Sol Duc Hot Springs. Follow them and drive to the end of the road, where you’ll find a parking lot and a short, easy hike to Sol Duc Falls, your second waterfall in Washington State that you’ve encountered on your trip. 

Then, continue on to the town of Forks, which will be your home base for the next two days. 

Where to Stay near Forks

For your second and third nights, stay in Forks or La Push.

Camping Near Forks

If you want to camp, stay at Mora Campground, which is about five minutes from Rialto (perfect for sunset) and is a nice campground that we enjoyed – we stayed there on both of our last two trips. It’s reservable in advance. 

If you can’t find a reservation there, look at Bogachiel State Park, which is in Forks near Highway 101. 

Hotels & Vacation Rentals near Forks

If you’re not up for camping (or you just don’t have the equipment), look at these places near Forks. 

I will say that we really like the Hoh Valley Cabins, which aren’t in the town of Forks itself, but are along the way to the Hoh Rainforest, your first stop tomorrow morning, which will put you in prime position for getting to the rainforest before the crowds and maximize your chances of seeing elk!

If you want a hotel, there are three great options near Forks that would make an excellent home base for your next two days. 

  • Woodlands Inn: Amazing cabins that are a perfect balance of modern and rustic. Each cabin has a kitchen, and they have different layouts that can accommodate up to 4-6 people.

  • Misty Valley Inn: A gorgeous bed & breakfast just outside of Forks with a beautiful property overlooking a lush valley. The highlight is the breakfast, which is made-to-order and features things like waffles and biscuits and gravy.

  • Pacific Inn Motel: The best hotel in Forks. It’s right in the middle of town, and has traditional hotel-style rooms at affordable prices.

If you’d rather stay in a vacation rental, where you’ll generally have more space and a full kitchen, look at these options near forks.

Day 3: Olympic National Park – the Hoh Rainforest & Pacific Beaches

On your third day, round out your trip to the Olympic Peninsula with two places that are sure to be among the highlights of your entire trip – the Hoh Rainforest and the Pacific Beaches. 

Make sure you’re up early to make it to the Hoh Rainforest before 9:00 am – when the lines start to form to enter the small parking lot. 

On our last trip, we were there in the height of summer and got caught in the line at 10:00 am. It took us an hour before we were parked and ready to go, so if you show up around 9:00 am, you should be good to go. 

Keep in mind that it takes about an hour to get from Forks to the Hoh Rainforest, so leave early. 

The Hoh Rainforest

The Hoh Rainforest is one of the most unique places on this entire itinerary. It’s a temperate rainforest, which is something this part of the world is known for, and it sees around 140 inches of rain per year. Which is a lot of rain. 

Most of that precipitation happens between November and April, when it’s really, really wet here. 

It sits in the Hoh River Valley, which was formed over thousands of years if Glacier runoff carving a beautiful valley with a river that empties into the ocean. 

Taking a break on the river along the Hoh River Trail

There are three things we’d recommend doing in the Hoh Rainforest, and they all involve some walking. Bring comfortable, waterproof shoes and rain gear!

  • The Hall of Mosses: The premier rainforest hike in Washington, this is worth braving the crowds for. You’ll walk along a well-worn path immersed in an enchanting environment full of ferns that look like they should be in Jurassic Park and vivid green mosses hanging from the giant trees. It’s a completely different experience than the other parts of the park, and is one of the most unique experiences you’ll have on your entire trip to Washington. Trail information is here

  • The Spruce Nature Trail: Another short hike through the rainforest. You can combine the two trails into a nice, 3 mile loop. More information here

  • The Hoh River Trail: This is a portion of a longer, overnight hike that takes you up the river to the base of Mount Olympus. The portion we’d recommend is the first three or so miles, which takes you through a nice portion of the rainforest that is far less traveled than the Hall of Mosses or Spruce Nature Trail. Eventually, you’ll be able to get out to the Hoh River, which is a nice place to break for lunch or a snack. More trail information here

Second Beach & Rialto Beach

After the Hoh Rainforest, head out to the coast to explore some of Washington’s best beaches. These aren’t going to be the wide, sandy beaches you might see in, say, Los Angeles. They’re rocky, rainy, and rugged. 

In our humble opinions, the two best beaches near La Push and Forks are Second Beach and Rialto Beach (Ruby Beach is great too, and you’ll do it tomorrow). 

Second Beach requires a little bit of hiking to get to, but it’s only two or three miles round trip, including some exploring on the beach. Once you’re down on the beach, you’re treated to sea stacks just off the coast, all sorts of fun driftwood, crashing waves, and towering pine trees above you. The trail is usually well-maintained, and features a series of switchbacks from the trailhead down to the beach (which you’ll climb on the way back to the trailhead).

There are two other beaches near Second Beach, First Beach and Third Beach, that are worth a visit if you have some extra time on your hands. 

Rialto Beach is our favorite. The hike out to Hole-in-the-Wall past sea stacks, tide pools, and bald eagles perched in the trees is a must-do while you’re in this part of the park. Do the hike around sunset for a real treat. It’s a three mile hike that’s essentially flat, though it is on the beach, so it’s harder than it sounds thanks to the sand. You’ll end at a, well, hole in the wall. Make sure to check tides before you go – you want to go at low tide. 

Day 4: Kalaloch, Lake Quinault, & Drive to Mount Rainier National Park

Today, you’ve got a long drive ahead of you that you’ll break up with some stops along the Pacific Coast.

Start your day with a couple of amazing beaches, hit your second rainforest of the trip near Lake Quinault, and finish your Olympic Peninsula loop, heading east towards Mount Rainier. 

Ruby Beach, Kalaloch, & the Tree of Life

Your morning will be spent meandering south along the coast, stopping at a couple of beaches en route to Lake Quinault, a good spot for lunch and a break. 

Ruby Beach might be the nicest beach on the entire coast. It has everything you want in a good Washington beach – plenty of driftwood, picturesque sea stacks, a sandy beach (!!!), and plenty of cute pups frolicking on the beach (which is unique to this part of the park – no dogs allowed up north!). 

Further south are the Kalaloch Beaches. There are four of them, and they’re equally creatively named as the ones near La Push – Beach 1, 2, 3, and 4. Somehow, there’s also a Beach 6, but no Beach 5? It makes little sense to us. In general, these beaches are closer to the wide, sandy beaches you’ll find on the Oregon Coast than anything you’ll find near La Push, though they’re still a far cry from beaches in L.A. or San Diego. 

Beach 2 is the best if you’re looking for a big, sandy beach, while Beach 3 has some cool tide pools to explore at low tide. Just north of the Kalaloch Lodge, there’s a cool tree – which someone named the “Tree of Life” – that grew into a spot on the bluff above the ocean that has since eroded, leaving the tree’s roots exposed. 

Lake Quinault

Your last stop on the Olympic Peninsula should be Lake Quinault. There’s a nice, grassy area behind the Lake Quinault Lodge that we’ve used as a place to relax before continuing to drive – it has nice lawn furniture and views of the lake. 

After relaxing, hit the Quinault Rainforest, then hop back in the car and continue your journey all the way out to Mount Rainier. 

The Drive to Mount Rainier

The drive to Mount Rainier National Park’s Paradise area is going to take you about four hours from Lake Quinault. It’s a long drive, but we couldn’t think of a good way to avoid it.

In the end, it’s worth it, because Mount Rainier is magical. 

The drive will take you to Olympia – which is the capital of the state – and onwards towards Rainier, which is just east of Olympia. 

Your destination is the Paradise part of the park, which is the area on the south side of the mountain.

Over the course of the next few days, you’ll make your way around the south side of the park to the eastern side – called Sunrise – and then continue east towards the eastern slopes of the Cascades, where the landscape changes drastically from the wet, temperate weather of western Washington.  

Reflection Lakes at Sunset

If you’re up for an activity in the evening, head to Reflection Lakes on the south side of the Mountain to watch the sun set behind Rainier’s glaciated peak. In the summer, be aware that this place is extremely popular with both people and mosquitoes. 

Where to Stay near Paradise at Mount Rainier

There are fewer options near Rainier than there are near Olympic, so you’ll need to be strategic about booking your place to stay nearby. 

Camping near Paradise

There’s really only one option here – Cougar Rock Campground. It’s reservable in advance, but you’ll need to make reservations early because it’s very, very popular. 

You could also camp at Ohanapecosh Campground, which has more sites available though it’s further away from Paradise. 

Hotels & Vacation Rentals Near Paradise

The best home base for exploring Paradise is going to be the nearby town of Ashford, which is just outside the park entrance. 

The exception is going to be the Paradise Inn, which is right at the main Visitor Center at Paradise, and is walkable to the trailhead for the incredible Skyline Trail, which is your main attraction tomorrow. You’ll pay a premium for the location, but it’s a nice, rustic lodge (though, like many national park lodges, the amenities are a bit limited and the décor is a little dated).

In Ashford, look at the Mountain Meadows Inn, a highly rated apartment-hotel with rooms that have kitchenettes (toaster oven, mini fridge, and hot water kettle) or Paradise Village, where you’ll find more modern décor and renovated rooms split between hotel-style rooms and cabins, along with amenities like a cool wood-fired hot tub. 

If you’d rather have your own space, there are some nice vacation rentals in and around Ashford. This riverfront cabin has been on our list for a few years, and would be a great home base for exploring Rainier. This cabin with a hot tub has a similar vibe. For something more upscale, look at this modern cabin with a wraparound deck. 

Day 5: Mount Rainier National Park – Paradise

There are five (or six, depending on who you ask) regions within Mount Rainier National Park, but the reality is that you’re not going to be able to fit them all in with a short visit to Washington. So, we’re going to recommend you focus on three of them: Paradise, Sunrise, and Ohanapecosh. 

Your general route for exploring Mount Rainier National Park will be a counterclockwise half loop. Starting in Paradise, the most visited area on the south side of the Mountain, you’ll make your way east to Ohanapecosh, in the southeast corner of the park, then north to Sunrise, on the eastern side of Rainier. 

These three regions – which are the most popular in the park – are going to give you some of the best hiking, waterfalls, and dramatic landscapes that make this national park one of the best on the west coast. 

It takes a long, long time to get from Ashford (the town at the southwest entrance to the park, where you’ll be coming in) to Sunrise, and the road is closed until June or July most years. For that reason, you’ll want to break up your three nights at the park, staying one in Ashford to explore Paradise, and two in Sunrise to explore that portion of the park. 

There are a couple of main attractions to tackle at Paradise in the morning, and then we’d recommend spending the afternoon exploring Ohanapecosh, which is halfway between Paradise and your final destination, Sunrise. 

Hike the Skyline Trail

Your first order of business is the Skyline Trail, which along with the Maple – Heather Pass Loop in the North Cascades (we’ll get there, don’t you worry), is at the top of our list of our favorite hikes in Washington State

The hike leaves from the main parking lot at Paradise, just outside the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center (here on Google Maps), which is a good spot to check with park rangers about trail conditions before you hit the trail. 

We like doing this hike counterclockwise for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a more gradual ascent, climbing to the highest point over four miles, rather than two if you did it clockwise. Second, it’s against the main flow of traffic, and you’re likely to see fewer people along the eastern half of the hike, which you’ll tackle first. 

Get a bright and early start to secure a parking spot, and to have some peace and tranquility on the trail. Keep an eye out for marmots, the medium-sized rodent creatures that call the rocky landscapes at high elevations home. They’re pretty cute. 

At the beginning of the hike, you’ll pass Myrtle Falls. If you take the path down the hill to the right before crossing the bridge over the falls, you’ll come to a viewpoint where you have the waterfront in the foreground and the towering, glaciated peak of Rainier in the background. 

The hike climbs to Panorama Point, where you’ll have a 360-degree view of the surrounding area, including a view of Mount Rainier that is one of the best in the park, and sweeping views out towards the Tatoosh Range, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens to the south. 

Pro-tip: There’s a pit toilet at Panorama Point, just in case. 

More trail information and recent trail reports here

Waterfalls – Christine Falls & Narada Falls

Next, let’s see some waterfalls! You’ve already seen our favorite – Myrtle Falls – if you hiked the Skyline Trail. 

Christine Falls at Mount Rainier

There are two other waterfalls in the area that you can basically drive to – Narada Falls (here on Google Maps) and Christine Falls (here on Google Maps). 

Comet Falls, which might be the most impressive of the four in terms of the waterfall itself, is a steep four mile hike from the trailhead near Christine Falls, which might be a bit much if you’ve already done the Skyline Trail this morning. 

Ohanapecosh – Grove of the Patriarchs & Silver Falls

A suspension bridge on the Grove of the Patriarchs trail

After you wrap up your morning in Paradise, start the journey to Sunrise, the area on the eastern side of Rainier, with a brief stop in Ohanapecosh. 

Keep in mind that this road is closed seasonally – usually from late October to June or so, but it depends on the year. Check road conditions here before you leave. 

There are two attractions here, and both can be combined in one handy loop that leaves from the Ohanapecosh Campground. First is the hike to Silver Falls, which is a nice walk along a river to a waterfall. Second is the Grove of the Patriarchs, which is less of a hike and more of an educational boardwalk about the giant old growth trees that call the Cascades home.

To combine the two hikes into one, hike the first half of the Silver Falls Trail, take the connector trail before you descend to the falls and cross the road to do the Grove of the Patriarchs, then come back to Silver Falls and hike back along the opposite side of the river back to the parking lot.  

Drive to Sunrise

After some exploring, hop back in the car and finish the journey to the Sunrise area and check into your accommodations for the night. It should be about an hour, give or take 15-20 minutes depending on where you stay. 

Where to Stay near Sunrise

Sunrise has far fewer convenient places to stay, which makes it a little difficult to spend the night nearby. Plan on staying here for two nights.

Camping Near Sunrise

If you’re up for camping, there are a few options here. 

White River Campground is by far the best option, but it’s also the least convenient. It’s first come, first served, and on summer weekends it’s usually full by about Thursday at noon. If you’re here on a weekday, great! If not, bummer. It’s only open late June to late September. More information here

Ohanapecosh Campground is less convenient, located in the southeast corner of the park about 45 minutes from Sunrise, but you CAN reserve sites in advance, which might give you some peace of mind. The hike to Silver Falls is nice, and leaves right from the campground. 

Outside the park entrance towards Enumclaw, there are a few different camping options that are a good option for exploring Sunrise. We’ve stayed at Silver Springs, which is the closest to the park, and there’s also Buck Creek a few minutes further along the road. 

Hotels & Vacation Rentals Near Sunrise

The options get even more sparse when you start talking about hotels and vacation rentals near Sunrise. There’s no lodge in this part of the park, which means staying outside of the park is basically the only option. 

We don’t think you’ll want to drive all the way back to Paradise or Ashford, which will take you between two and three hours or so. 

Instead, we’d look at the area right outside the park entrance to the north. 

Alta Crystal Resort is right along Highway 410, and is probably your best bet here, though there are some places up at Crystal Mountain, one of the premier ski resorts in the state, that would also make a nice home base. We’d opt for the  Both are about 45 minutes away from Sunrise, give or take a few minutes. 

Day 6: Mount Rainier National Park – Sunrise

The Sunrise portion of the park is heaven on earth for hikers who love alpine terrain and staggering mountain vistas. Which is us. This area is where you’ll find the highest concentration of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park (spoiler: they all leave from the same parking lot). 

To get to the main parking lot, it’s a steep drive from Highway 410 up to the Sunrise Visitor Center. Roughly half way up, you’ll pass a turnoff, which is where you’ll find White River Campground. 

In a word, hike. There are so many amazing hikes in this little slice of paradise. 

A Morning Hike

All of the hikes on this list leave from the parking lot at the Sunrise Visitor Center – here on Google Maps. Again, remember that this area is only accessible in the summer and early fall, when roads are open and trails are clear of snow. 

Here are three hikes we love, and think you will too. They all offer something a little different, and which one you choose depends on what you’re looking for. 

All three of these hikes follow the same basic path along Sourdough Ridge, where you’ll have incredible views of Rainier and the White River Valley, before diverging at Frozen Lake, heading in three different directions. 

A view from the Sourdough Ridge Trail
  • The Burroughs Mountain Trail: Our favorite of the three here, this hike is hard. It takes you up to a point where it really feels like you can reach out and touch Mount Rainier’s face. There are three burroughs, and the journey to the first two is relatively easy. To get up to the third burrough, it’s a steep, long climb, but we think the views are worth it. Read our Burroughs Mountain Trail guide for more information. 

  • The Mount Fremont Lookout: Do this trail for the views from the retired fire lookout, which has a commanding view of the surrounding landscape, including Rainier. The hike heads right at Frozen Lake, and climbs up to a ridge that you follow out to the lookout. Keep your eyes open for marmots, and bring bug spray in the early summer – we’ve never seen more mosquitoes in our lives than we did at the top of this hike. More trail information here

  • Berkeley Park: This is the hike to do for an epic wildflower show in the summer (we had good success with the last week of July). The trail heads straight at Frozen Lake, dropping down into an idyllic meadow full of blankets of wildflowers, babbling brooks, and… black bears. This area is a favorite haunt of the park’s black bear population, and it’s easy to see why. We’d like to live there, too. Keep your wits about you, make some noise on the trail, and you’ll be fine. More trail information here
The Burroughs Mountain Trail
Wildflowers on the descent to Berkeley Park
The view from the Mount Fremont Lookout

Sunset at Tipsoo Lake

For sunset, head to Tipsoo Lake (here on Google Maps) which is on the other side of Highway 410 about 20 minutes away from the Sunrise Visitor Center.

From the road above Tipsoo, there’s a picture perfect view of the lake in the foreground with the glowing peak of Rainier in the distance. The light is also good at Sunrise, which is when we’ve been here, and the peak gets a brilliant pink glow. 

An alternative spot to watch the sunset is from the eastern side of the lake where you’ll have a partial Rainier reflection, looking towards the mountain. Definitely don’t climb up into the fragile wildflower meadows though, which we saw countless people do as we sat there watching nature’s light show unfold. 

This is also the starting point for the Naches Peak Trail, which is one of the best easy hikes in Washington and might be the best bang-for-your-buck hike in the entire state.  

Where to Stay near Sunrise

Stay in the same place you were the previous evening. 

Day 7: Drive to North Cascades National Park & An Afternoon Hike

Again, with just 10 days, there’s no good way to avoid a long drive from Rainier to North Cascades National Park, the third national park in Washington State.

It’s also the least visited, mainly because it’s the least accessible thanks to winding mountain roads that close for large portions of the year and hiking trails covered in snow from October to July (sometimes late July!).

Today, spend the morning driving to the North Cascades, then embark on a scenic road trip through the entire park and take an afternoon hike before settling in Winthrop for the evening.

The Drive to North Cascades National Park

The drive will take you about three and a half to four hours, depending on where exactly you’re coming from near Rainier. 

You’ll pass through Seattle along the way, but if you only have 10 days AND you want to explore all three of the state’s national parks, you don’t really have much time to stop and explore (more on Seattle on day 10, and in the “with more time” section below). 

The North Cascades are the most pristine alpine setting in Washington, with jagged rocky peaks towering above crystal-clear alpine lakes that seem to be glowing blue-green when the sunlight hits them. 

Two days is a great amount of time to spend exploring here, and will set you up to do a couple of the best hikes in North Cascades National Park, and take in some truly incredible views. And, if you’re lucky, mountain goats. Be careful, though, they can be aggressive!

A Scenic Drive along the North Cascades Highway

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

We’ll go with the bad news first. 

After a long morning of driving to reach the western side of the park, we’re going to go ahead and recommend that you continue driving for another hour or two to get to the eastern side of the park, which is a much better home base (there’s really nowhere to stay on the west side if you’re not camping). 

For example, some of the nearest hotels on the west side are a full 90 minutes away from the trailhead for the Maple Pass Trail, which we think is a must-do in the North Cascades. 

So, we’d recommend spending the first of your two days in the park driving from west to east, stopping at all of the great viewpoints and spending the night in Winthrop.

You’ll end up in a better position to tackle the best hike in the North Cascades – the Heather / Maple Pass Loop – and for your trip to Leavenworth the next day. 

So what about the good news?

This is one of the more scenic drives in Washington, and there are plenty of places to get out, stretch your legs, and hike a little bit along the way. 

The scenic portion of the drive starts at the North Cascades Visitor Center in Marblemount (here on Google Maps) and ends at the Washington Pass Overlook (here on Google Maps). Here are the stops you should make along the way.

The view from Washington Pass Overlook
  • Trail of the Cedars: Your first opportunity to stretch your legs, this is a very short stroll through a forest with good interpretive signage that serves as a nice introduction to the flora and fauna in the Cascades. Plus, a fun suspension bridge! Park in the town of Newhalem, and you can do the next stop without moving your car. More trial information here

  • Ladder Creek Falls: A nice waterfall at the end of a short hike that crosses the Skagit River, passes the Gorge Powerhouse, and arrives at a waterfall after just a quarter of a mile or so. More trail information here

  • Diablo Lake Overlook: About 20 minutes (12 miles) east, you’ll run into Diablo Lake. First, you’ll drive over a bridge, which doesn’t really give you an accurate picture of the natural beauty that’s in store for you when you drive up the hill immediately after the bridge and pull into the overlook on the left. Here, you’re treated to a spectacular view of Diablo Lake’s turquoise water, backed by the rocky peaks of the Cascades.

  • The Ross Dam Trail: Ross Lake, along with Diablo Lake, is the other huge lake in the park. There’s a cool resort in the middle of the lake – the Ross Lake Resort – that you can stay at overnight. It’s only accessible by water taxi. There’s also a short hiking trail that takes you down closer to the water and Ross Dam, which is worth doing. 

  • Washington Pass Overlook: Your final stop marks the top of the pass, and the border between the mild, temperate climate of western Washington and the harsher, drier climate in eastern Washington. It’s about 35 minutes from Ross Dam to the top of the pass, and it’s a windy, scenic drive. 

From Washington Pass Overlook, it’s a downhill drive to your home base for the evening in the eastern Cascade foothills.

An Afternoon Hike

The view at the top of the Blue Lake Trail

We opted to split these two sections up, because while all of these hikes are along your drive today, we think they’re worth their own section. 

If you’re looking for some of the best hiking in Washington, you’ll find it in the North Cascades. 

Here are three hikes along your drive today that we love – one (Park Butte) is a little bit out of the way and outside of the park’s western boundary, but takes you to an amazing view of Mount Baker and a historic fire lookout, so we included it. 

Note that we’re saving the epic Heather – Maple Pass Loop for tomorrow, which is why you won’t find it here on this list. 

  • Park Butte (Trailhead here) – 7.5 miles / 2,200 ft. elevation gain: The road to the trailhead is a little rough, but we made it in our minivan, so it should be passable in most passenger vehicles. This hike is outside the park, but takes you up to an old fire lookout with an incredible view of the southern face of Mount Baker. In the summer, the meadows leading up to the lookout are blanketed in wildflowers like lupine, and the views of Baker get better and better. More trail information here

  • Blue Lake (Trailhead here) – 4.5 miles / 1,100 ft. elevation gain: One of the best easy hikes in Washington State takes you up to a gorgeous alpine lake. Make sure to do the little loop on the western side (right side as you approach the lake), which has a better place to view the lake and a cool little tarn. More trail information here

  • Hidden Lake Lookout (trailhead here) – 8 miles / 3,300 ft. elevation gain: A tough hike that has the best views out of any hike we’ve done in the North Cascades. The only problems are that the trailhead is nearly impossible to get to in a passenger vehicle – high clearance and 4WD recommended here (we took my mom’s SUV) – and the hike itself is a steep climb the entire way through. Still, you end at a fire lookout overlooking a perched lake with the North Cascades sprawling out in the background. Truly incredible. More trail information here
The view of Mount Baker from the trail up to the Park Butte Lookout
The perched lake at the top of the Hidden Lake Trail

Where to Stay at North Cascades National Park

If you’re not up for camping, there really aren’t many good places to stay on the western side of the park, which is the direction you’ll be coming from.

Which is part of the reason we’d recommend doing the road trip across the Cascades, so that you can stay in Winthrop for the night, which is a beautiful little town in the foothills of the mountains. 

There are some great places to stay in Winthrop – including hotels, resorts, and cool cabins. Here are three of our top picks. 

  • River’s Edge Resort: Just off of the main street in town along the Chewuch River, this collection of cottages has options for various group sizes, all with some sort of kitchen facilities. 

  • Alpine Woods Cabin: About 10 miles northwest of Winthrop – which means 10 minutes closer to the park – you’ll find a cozy cabin in the woods with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an open floor plan with plenty of windows and natural light. 

  • Artemisia – Zero Energy Home with a View: Perched on top of a hill above the town of Winthrop (but close enough to walk into town), this four bedroom eco-friendly, solar powered home is gorgeous. It’s full of natural light, has great views of the surrounding landscapes, and has plenty of room for bigger groups. 

If you are up for camping, stay at Colonial Creek Campground (our top choice, having stayed at both main campgrounds in the park) right on the shores of Diablo Lake, or at Newhalem Campground closer to the western edge of the park. 

Day 8: North Cascades National Park & Drive to Leavenworth

The view from the top of the Maple Pass Loop

On this day, head back into North Cascades National Park to tackle our favorite hike in the state, then head south to Leavenworth, a fun Bavarian themed town. 

Hike the Heather – Maple Pass Loop

This is at the top of the list of the best bang-for-your-buck hikes in the Pacific Northwest. It has it all – a nice alpine lake, a climb to the top of a mountain pass for a good workout, and stunning views almost the entire way through the hike. 

The trailhead is along Highway 20, about five miles west of Washington Pass (here on Google Maps). 

The parking lot is relatively large, but it will be full by about 10:00 am on summer and fall weekends, when hikers from all over the state flock here for the wildflowers or the fall color, depending on the time of year. 

We’d hike counter clockwise, which has you doing a more gradual ascent, with the steepest part of the trail done on the descent from the pass. However, if you have bad knees, we might recommend going clockwise so that you’re going up the steep part, because it is brutal on the downhill, even for us. 

If you choose to go the same direction we did, you’ll start with a series of switchbacks, climbing away from the parking lot. It’s a gradual climb to the top of the pass, and you’ll gain about 2,000 feet of elevation in 3.5 miles – just over 500 feet per mile. Not too hard, but plenty of climbing to get a good workout in. 

There’s a detour you can take to the shore of Lake Ann, the aforementioned alpine lake, that you should definitely take. 

When you reach the pass, you’ll have panoramic views over Lake Ann and the surrounding rocky peaks of the North Cascades. The views to the east are particularly impressive from the summit, with the trail winding its way through the landscape, with the Cascade Range in the distance. 

The trail is still covered in snow into July most years, so take that into account as you’re planning your trip. 

More trail information here

The Drive to Leavenworth

It’s a two hour drive south to Leavenworth, a fun Bavarian town in the foothills of the Cascades that’s a home base for adventures year round. There’s not much to do and see along the way, but it will give you a taste of the differences between the worlds that exist on either side of the Cascades. 

You’ll spend most of the drive along the Columbia River, which continues south into Oregon, cuts west through the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, and empties into the Pacific. 

Where to Stay in Leavenworth

Because it’s a tourist destination, the town of Leavenworth has plenty of great options in terms of places to stay. 

We like Loge (we stayed there last summer), which is an adventure-forward hotel company who have a downtown Leavenworth hotel, and a set of riverside cabins, the latter of which we’ve personally stayed at and enjoyed. 

The other option we’d recommend is the Bavarian Lodge, which is as central as it gets and gets consistently glowing reviews. 

Another good option is to find a nice cabin near Leavenworth with a little more space to spread out and some privacy. 

If you’re camping, stay at Eightmile Campground, which is a nice shady slice of paradise about 15 minutes outside of town, which puts you in the perfect position to tackle the amazing hike to Colchuck Lake and the gateway to the Enchantments on your second morning, if you’re up for the hike. 

Day 9: Colchuck Lake & Leavenworth

For what it’s worth, we’ve been to plenty of kitchy towns that were built up around a theme to attract tourists, and Leavenworth is our favorite of them all, and pulls it off the best. 

Everything – even the Starbucks in town – has been constructed along strict guidelines to immerse you in the “Bavaria, ish” feeling. 

Our perfect version of a day in Leavenworth is to hike up to Colchuck Lake in the morning (make sure to read our detailed Colchuck Lake trail guide) and then spend the afternoon in Leavenworth, refueling with wine, beer, bratwursts, and anything else you can get your hands on.

The Hike to Colchuck Lake

The hike to Colchuck Lake is many things. It’s one of the most beautiful day hikes in the state, and it’s also one of the most popular. Which means that, on summer mornings, the trailhead is consistently full by 7:00 am. At the latest. We’d plan on arriving by 6:30 am if you can. It’s worth it, we promise. 

Once you’re situated, it’s a tough 8 mile hike (round trip, so 4 miles to the lake) that brings you to a truly amazing alpine lake, with blue-green water and Dragontail peak and Aasgard Pass rising above the far shore. 

We did this hike again last summer for my mom’s birthday, and it’s particularly spectacular before the sun rises over the peaks on the eastern side of the lake. The earlier you can do this hike, the better. 

Rather than going over all the specifics here, we’re going to direct you to our detailed Colchuck Lake trail guide, where you’ll find everything you need to know to tackle the hike.  

Lunch & an Afternoon in Leavenworth

Once you arrive in Leavenworth after your hike, spend the afternoon exploring the charming, Bavarian-esque mountain town. 

Here are some of our favorite things to do in Leavenworth. 

  • Float the River. There’s nothing better on a hot summer day than jumping in the water and doing the leisurely float down the river. Here, you have two river options! You’ll need to go with a company that will drop you up north at the put-in, so you can float down the river and get out in town. Check out Leavenworth Outdoor Center for more information.

  • Taste Wine, Beer, and Cider. For whatever reason, there’s a thriving alcoholic beverage scene in Leavenworth, with producers of beer, cider, and wine opening up tasting rooms lining the streets of Leavenworth. For wine, go to Icicle Ridge Winery or Archibald James (who also makes great cider), for local beer go to Icicle Brewing Company (who has a great outdoor patio area, perfect for an afternoon beer), and for cider go to Leavenworth Cider House or Bushel & Bee Taproom

  • Eat a Sausage or Three. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of German cuisine (specifically, Bavarian)? Something about beer, sausage, and pork knuckle is probably at the top of the list, and that’s what we think you should eat in Leavenworth! The Leavenworth Sausage Garten is our go-to spot for post-hike sausage and beer or cider, though München Haus across the street is a close second and has pretzels, sausages, beer steins, and more German-ish things to eat and drink. Make sure to stop by Whistlepunk Ice Cream (Alysha’s favorite!) afterwards for a well-earned post-hike desert!

The Drive Back to Seattle

You’ve got a two and a half hour drive ahead of you to get back to the airport to catch your flight home (assuming you’re flying to Washington for this road trip), so you’ll need to plan around the time of your flight out. 

If you’re planning on staying another night in Leavenworth and tackling the drive on your last day, simply move this section to tomorrow. 

If you’re planning on heading back to the western side of the state to spend an evening and morning in Seattle and catch your flight home, then hop back in the car after your afternoon in Leavenworth and hit the road.

The drive will take you around two hours, give or take 15 minutes. It’s a pretty drive, especially up over Blewett Pass. We’d recommend If you have time, it’s worth a stop at Snoqualmie Falls on the way back west to Seattle. 

Where to Stay in Seattle

Make sure to read our guide to where to stay in Seattle to find a perfect place to stay if you’re spending the night in the city. 

The short version is that we’d recommend staying somewhere in Downtown Seattle (near Pike Place Market), Belltown, or South Lake Union to be central. 

Look at the CitizenM Hotel, which is an excellent value in a good location, or the State Hotel, which is one of the coolest boutique hotels in the city (and is right near Pike Place Market).  

Day 10: Seattle & Fly Home

Depending on whether or not you’ve done the drive on the previous day or not, you might find yourself with some time to explore Seattle.

We’ve got an entire guide dedicated to spending one day in Seattle, so head over to that to get some ideas about how to organize your time. 

The airport is about 30 minutes south of the city, but traffic can be a nightmare and that drive can turn into an hour pretty easily. Make sure to check the drive time before you leave so you’re not pressed for time. 

What to Add with More Time in Washington State

If you are lucky enough to have more time in Washington State, we have a few suggestions. 

Multiple places on the list below – like the San Juan Islands and the Mount Baker Wilderness – are on our list of our favorite places in the state. But, with a shorter trip, they probably are too far out of the way to fit in. 

It’s also worth noting that you could easily add a day or two to each national park, and still not run out of things to do and see. That’s another way to spend your extra time, and we’d recommend reading our more detailed guides to the national parks in Washington State for more details on what to do with extra time. 

Anyway, here are three more amazing places in Washington to consider adding to your road trip itinerary. 

The San Juan Islands (1-3 Days)

The island chain to the northwest of Seattle, this is one of our favorite summer getaways from Seattle. The weather is slightly cooler, and it’s a great time to get out on a kayak and explore the islands (though, the waters are treacherous and you’ll need to do a guided trip because it’s too dangerous for 99% of people to do solo).

Plus, orca whales!

The two main islands are San Juan Island, home to Friday Harbor and the Lime Kiln Lighthouse (where to go to see orcas from shore), and Orcas Island, home to Mount Constitution and some good hiking.

One island can be done in one day / one night, both will take three days / two nights. Obviously, you could easily spend more time (we spent a full week between San Juan Island and Orcas Island last summer). 

Mount Baker (1-3 Days)

Mount Baker, specifically the north side along highway 542, is the most underrated hiking destination in the Pacific Northwest, we think.

It’s hard to get to, with higher elevation trails covered in snow into August some years, and the snow creeping back in by early October, but those two months are pure bliss for lovers of alpine landscapes.

Plus, there are far fewer people on the trails than in any of the national parks, even the North Cascades which is relatively undiscovered when compared to Rainier and Olympic.

Definitely tackle the Chain Lakes Loop and Yellow Aster Butte, and head to Picture Lake (here on Google Maps) and Artist Point (here on Google Maps) for amazing views

Here’s our guide to hiking near Mount Baker

Spend Time in Seattle (1-3 Days)

You might have noticed that, if you were to follow the itinerary above exactly as written, you wouldn’t actually spend any time in Seattle itself. Which would be a shame.

We love Seattle, and it’s well worth a day or two at the end of your trip to unwind after days spent hiking and exploring. Lucky for you, we’ve got a bunch of Seattle guides for you to use to plan your time in the Emerald City.

We have guides to both one day in Seattle and two days in Seattle, which you can use to plan your time.

Use our detailed guide to the best places to stay in Seattle to find the right neighborhood and hotel for your style and budget.

See all of our Seattle guides here, including day trips, things to do, hikes, and more. 

What to Do with Less Time in Washington State

If you have less than 10 days, you can still absolutely plan an amazing trip, and you’ll have plenty of places left to see on a return trip!

For each of these alternatives, we’ll give you an overview of how we’d think about your time, along with a sample shorter itinerary. Then, you can use the relevant sections above to get the details you need to plan your time. 

With 7 Days

With 7 days in Washington, we feel pretty strongly that you should essentially cut the North Cascades from the main itinerary above and focus your entire trip on Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. Depending on what you’re into, you might cut a day at Rainier to spend in Seattle. 

Here’s what that looks like. 

  • Day 1: Arrive in Seattle, Drive to Olympic National Park (Port Angeles)
  • Day 2: Olympic National Park – Lake Crescent & Hurricane Ridge
  • Day 3: Olympic National Park – Rainforest & Pacific Beaches
  • Day 4: Olympic National Park & Drive to Mount Rainier National Park
  • Day 5: Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise)
  • Day 6: Mount Rainier National Park (Sunrise) & Drive to Seattle
  • Day 7: Seattle & Fly Home

With 5 Days

If you really rush it, you can fit both Rainier and Olympic into 5 days. But you’ll have to cut certain sections of both parks to make it happen. 

Here’s how we’d organize that trip.  

  • Day 1: Arrive in Seattle, Drive to Olympic National Park (Port Angeles) & Hurricane Ridge
  • Day 2: Olympic National Park – Day Trip to Pacific Coast & Hoh Rainforest
  • Day 3: Drive to Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise)
  • Day 4: Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise & Ohanapecosh) & Drive to Seattle
  • Day 5: Seattle & Fly Home

With 3 Days

With 3 days in Washington, you really only have enough time to do one national park. We’d pick one and follow the itinerary in the main section above for that single park, spending any additional time you end up with in Seattle. 

For example, here is an idea focusing on Olympic (which is fairly similar to our Olympic National Park Itinerary). 

  • Day 1: Arrive in Seattle, Drive to Olympic National Park (Forks)
  • Day 2: Olympic National Park – Rainforest & Pacific Beaches
  • Day 3: Olympic National Park – Lake Crescent & Hurricane Ridge & Drive to Seattle

MORE TO EXPLORE IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

If you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve got you covered with all sorts of super detailed travel guides to our favorite places in Washington and Oregon.

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