18 Top-Rated Day Trips from Seattle, WA
Seattle's surroundings add to the appeal of living in or visiting the city. It's surrounded on all sides by Pacific Northwest landscapes, including volcanic mountains, the open sea, and an ancient archipelago filled with adventure. These day-trip landscapes include many of Washington's best state and national parks, including Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and the Olympic Peninsula.
Larger cities near Seattle, like Tacoma and Bellevue, also lure visitors with art museums and international cuisine. Smaller communities along Puget Sound maintain a slower speed, a pace that makes time for boat trips to state parks, discovering fun local heritage, and simply enjoying the island escapes.
All the best day trips from Seattle are accessible by car, ferry, or other public transportation. And while any time of year is good for adventures outside the city, summer is arguably the best time to plan a trip. Find your next memorable excursion from the city with our list of the top day trips from Seattle.
1. Puget Sound
Puget Sound is much more than a geological feature. It's a cultural region of Washington framed by an intricate system of channels, inlets, and islands. The lovely island escapes and communities of Puget Sound warrant more than a day trip, but it is still easy to see some major highlights without spending the night.
Directly west of Seattle, Bainbridge Island boasts beautiful landscapes and hiking trails like those in the island's Grand Forest. North of Seattle, Whidbey Island has many attractive towns and natural attractions, like Deception Pass State Park. And further north, the San Juan Islands offer even more of a watery world to enjoy.
If you want to explore the waters of Puget Sound on a day trip and see some of the region's wildlife at the same time, consider a whale watching tour.
Minke whales, humpbacks, orcas, seals, porpoises, otters, and bald eagles are just some of the magnificent animals you might see while cruising the waters of Puget Sound. Whale sightings occur in Puget Sound throughout the year, but the best time to visit for whale watching is between June and September.
The Friday Harbor Day Trip & Whale Watching tour from Seattle is one option. It's a 2.5-hour guided whale-watching cruise with an experienced naturalist, including a visit to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. This full-day tour departs directly from downtown Seattle and includes a round-trip ferry service.
2. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier stands at more than 14,000 feet. It's the tallest mountain in the Pacific Northwest and one of the region's most iconic landforms. A national park encompasses the mountain on all sides, and thousands of visitors flock to Mount Rainier National Park each year for good reason.
Between accurately named areas like Paradise Valley and the beautiful landscapes found on hiking trails like the Skyline Trail, this wildlife-rich natural space is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail circumnavigates the mountain base (a permit is required for overnight travel), and the park hosts several great campgrounds.
Residents and visitors to Seattle can easily see the peak and explore some trails in a day. The Nisqually Entrance is one of the most popular spots to head from Seattle, but the less-developed Mowich Lake region is closer. It's approximately a two-hour drive to either park region, so with an early enough departure, the entire park is accessible in a day.
The Mount Rainier Day Trip from Seattle is extremely popular and makes it easy and virtually stress-free. You enjoy a narrated bus ride into the national park on this 10-hour tour, avoiding congestion at the entrance station, and spend the rest of the time exploring Paradise and seeing waterfalls. During the shoulder months, the tour includes a chance to don some snowshoes and step off the typical tourist path.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm
3. Victoria, British Columbia
Flower-flecked Victoria on Vancouver Island is the capital of British Columbia and one of Canada's prettiest cities. And thanks to its sheltered location between the surrounding mountains and the warm North Pacific current, Victoria enjoys one of the country's mildest climates. This international tourist destination is a three-hour high-speed ferry ride from Seattle.
Highlights of a visit to Victoria include beautiful Butchart Gardens; the Royal British Columbia Museum; the magnificent dome-capped parliament buildings; and Craigdarroch Castle, an evocative example of Victorian architecture.
A fun thing to do on any visit is enjoying afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, a landmark hotel dating from 1908. Miniature World is another popular attraction on the hotel grounds, with delightful dioramas depicting the past, present, and future.
An easy way to visit the island and capital city is via the Day Trip from Seattle on the Victoria Clipper. Departing early in the morning from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle, guests can relax on the ferry's comfortable seats and purchase duty-free goods, beverages, and snacks onboard. After a day exploring Victoria's sights and attractions and perhaps some afternoon tea, visitors hop back aboard the ferry and return to Seattle by late evening.
4. San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are a cluster of communities, islands, and natural spaces north of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, offering a recreational and relaxing getaway. Popular activities include sea kayaking, seasonal whale watching, and simply enjoying the stunning views in this far northwest corner of the country.
The archipelago encompasses over 170 named islands, including four main islands: San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw.
The most populous, San Juan Island, features fun natural places to explore, including Lime Kiln State Park. Diverse communities inhabit San Juan Island, too, including Friday Harbor, a fun jumping-off town to explore the rest of the islands.
Orcas Island, also known as the "Gem of the San Juans," is home to a verdant and rural landscape that's fun to explore on a scenic drive, hike, or airplane tour. The spacious Moran State Park offers great adventures, including a hiking trail to the top of Mount Constitution.
Washington State Ferries service the four main islands with departures throughout the day. Vehicles can drive onto the ferries with reservations required. Pedestrians and bicyclists are welcome to come aboard and enjoy the San Juans vehicle-free.
5. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is a beautiful region of snow-capped mountains, lush old-growth forests, alpine wildflower meadows, and rugged beaches. It takes up almost the entire Olympic Peninsula, and roads only ring the park's outskirts, never entering its wild heart.
Many visitors spend several days or a week exploring Olympic National Park. For a day trip from Seattle, driving up to see the view at Hurricane Ridge from Port Angeles is recommended. It's a journey to reach Port Angeles from Seattle with a ferry ride across Puget Sound, or by driving south through Tacoma and back up north through Port Orchard and Poulsbo. Expect at least 2.5 hours of commuting either way.
Other viable day-trip destinations from Port Angeles include the 90-foot Marymere Falls near Lake Crescent. Here, the historic Lake Crescent Lodge encourages visitors to extend their trip and stay the night beside the water. The Salt Creek Recreation Area is also accessible nearby and is a popular tide pooling and diving destination.
The Olympic National Park tour from Seattle handles the logistics of traveling into this dense region. After a pickup in downtown Seattle, the tour includes a leisurely two-hour drive in a van or SUV and a guided experience of the forest, beaches, and snowcapped mountains that define the Olympic Peninsula. With breakfast and a gourmet lunch included, all that tour members need to bring are their cameras and comfortable clothes for exploring outside.
Converting a day trip into an overnight adventure is easy in Olympic, especially with its ample campgrounds. See my guide to Guide to Camping at Olympic National Park for details. And to fill in the time between sleeping in a tent or an RV, tire yourself out with some of the best hiking trails in Olympic Park.
Address: 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles, Washington
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm
6. Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is a testament to Washington's volcanic past and present. It's just south of Mount Rainier within Gifford Pinchot National Forest and is best known for its dramatic 1980 eruption, scorching more than 200 square miles of the surrounding forest.
Today visitors to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument can still see the major impacts of this massive geological event 40 years prior. The closest access point to the mountain from Seattle is via Interstate 5 and the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (State Route 504). You can reach the pinnacle of this scenic highway, the Johnston Ridge Observatory, with a 2.5-hour drive in perfect driving conditions.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory is an excellent destination for a day trip. It has ample parking and interpretive information relating to the 1980 eruption, and the view of the crater itself is up close and clear to see nearby. Check out the Boundary Trail for a choose-your-own-length adventure from the Observatory.
And all the best hiking trails in the park, especially the Boundary Trail, do well to explore the volcanic impact on the region. Lakes, caves, and wildflowers comprise some of the other reasons for a day trip, and users with a permit can even do the steep climb to the edge of the crater. Fishing, camping, and horseback riding are other popular adventures.
Official site: http://www.mshinstitute.org/
7. North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades are a rugged mountain territory filled with vertical landscapes. They encompass much of northern Washington and span across the British Columbia border. The main entry point for most people is the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), which cuts horizontally across this region.
This scenic byway is accessible from Seattle with less than an hour's drive, and it's approximately another hour's drive to reach the park properly. Along the way, scenic destinations like Ross Lake National Recreation Area and the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake encourage pitstops.
Highway 20 is a seasonal thoroughfare and remains unplowed throughout the winter. The typical operating season is between early May and mid-to-late November. Camping at North Cascades National Park is available for those looking to pitch a tent or park an RV.
Farther north into the North Cascades, outside the national park, Mount Baker Ski Area is a popular downhill ski destination with a reputation for high amounts of snow. This mecca for downhill snow sports also has a reputation as one of the best ski resorts in Washington, but it's also a reputable outdoor playground come summer.
Several hikes throughout the area lead to outstanding views of Mount Baker and its neighboring mountain, Mount Shuksan. A few day trip hikes I suggest include Baker Lake, Yellow Aster Butte, and Lake Ann – departing from the aptly named Artist's Point at the end of the Mount Baker Highway. Mount Baker is a three-hour drive from Seattle.
Leavenworth is a unique mountain town on the east side of the Cascade Crest, approximately two hours from Seattle. Alongside incredible mountain peaks surrounding the streets, this tourist-friendly town stands out because of its unique Bavarian flair. Thanks to revitalization efforts throughout the late 1900s, every inch of Leavenworth today, including the local Mcdonald's, is decked out with genuine Bavarian architecture.
The town also hosts several annual Bavarian festivals alongside authentic storefronts and landscaping. Almost every month of the year offers visitors a reason to celebrate, including events like Maifest in May and a Kinderfest in July. The town also illuminates during December with the very popular Village of Lights and the Christmas Lighting Festival.
Leavenworth is also a major adventure destination in the state. It's located near the confluence of Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River, and startling Cascade peaks add to the town's Alps-inspired theme.
One of the first stops to head, and a reason for a day trip alone, is the Icicle Creek corridor on the city's north side. This beautiful area is home to several of Leavenworth's best hiking trails, including the world-renowned Enchantments within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Leavenworth
Tacoma, thirty miles south of Seattle on Puget Sound, developed from its industrial roots into a modern city with many excellent and engaging museums. The city is perhaps best known for its stunning glass sculptures, many by renowned Washington artist and Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, whose work is well-known across the world. The city's immense Museum of Glass is a testament to his art form.
Stretching 500 feet, the Bridge of Glass pedestrian walkway connects the Museum of Glass to the Washington State History Museum. And there's more art to behold at the nearby Tacoma Art Museum, with a collection featuring over 5,000 pieces from primarily regional artists.
Outside the downtown museum hub, LeMay – America's Car Museum displays a world-class collection of automobiles. An average of 250 cars is permanently displayed, with approximately 100 other vehicles on temporary exhibit from private collections.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Tacoma, Washington
Bellevue lies in a picturesque setting in front of the Cascade Mountains on the east side of Lake Washington, opposite Seattle. It's a prosperous and growing community that attracts commuters from the surrounding areas. And with its proximity to Seattle, accessible with a 20-minute drive across the water, or a 30-minute bus ride, Bellevue offers an easy day trip away from the city.
The Bellevue Arts Museum is a primary attraction, featuring changing exhibits, programs, lectures, and workshops. The free-to-visit Bellevue Botanical Garden is also a popular place to visit. The gardens cover 53 verdant acres and feature Washington's showy state flower, the rhododendron.
Bellevue Square has a reputation as one of the best shopping malls in the Seattle metro for some window shopping in a relaxed atmosphere, with more than 200 stores and 50 restaurants to choose from. Other shopping and dining opportunities line the downtown district of Bellevue.
Farther east along I-90, Issaquah is a growing town with family-friendly attractions like Cougar Mountain Zoo. The zoo highlights endangered species and large mammals like cougars, reindeer, and alpacas.
Bellingham is a university city in northern Washington, approximately 80 miles north of Seattle. The town sits next to Bellingham Bay and has the impressive Mount Baker as a backdrop to the east. It's also home to Western Washington University and nearly 90,000 residents. This combination of collegiate appeal and defining Pacific Northwest landscapes add to the town's laid-back charm and emphasis on outdoor adventures.
And outdoor recreation is aplenty in Bellingham. One of the first routes to follow is Chuckanut Mountain Drive, where places like Larrabee State Park offer several routes to explore these uniquely named mountains. Other adventure destinations in Bellingham include places to visit, like Whatcom Falls and Galbraith Mountain Bike Park.
After a mountain bike ride or trail run, Bellingham offers plenty of places to refuel with food and entertainment. The downtown district sits adjacent to the waterfront, with several local storefronts lining the streets. Similarly, south of downtown, the Fairhaven Historic District also offers menus for all three meals of the day.
12. Blake Island Marine State Park
Blake Island State Park is within Puget Sound and is accessible only by boat. It's a marine park known for its calm beaches, Native American heritage, and beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains looming in the background.
Miles of hiking and biking trails wind throughout the island, and the shoreline provides plenty of moorage for personal watercraft. This picturesque island was the birthplace of the famous local leader Chief Seattle, and you can soak up some of the island's heritage at Tillicum Village at its northeast end.
A fun and convenient way to explore the island from Seattle is the Tillicum Village Cultural Experience tour. On this half-day excursion, you can hop aboard a 45-minute narrated cruise to the island, tour the village, and learn all about Native American culture. The tour includes round-trip boat transportation, a salmon feast, and traditional storytelling and dance performances.
13. Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island is a small island community located just west across the bay from Seattle in Puget Sound. Tourists can access Bainbridge Island by ferry (on foot or with a car) or by personal vehicle without crossing the water via an extended route leading through Tacoma.
A short distance from where the ferry docks, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum is housed in a 1908 schoolhouse. The museum contains artifacts, photographs, and information on local history. This part of town is also the most developed, with local restaurants, charming storefronts, and places to sit and soak in the island life.
Other island attractions highlight nature, such as the lovely grounds of Bloedel Reserve and the shoreline of Fort Ward Park - one of Washington's best beaches. This retired military installation is now well-equipped for day-use visitors. Visitors enjoy various forested inland hiking trails at the park alongside a long rocky shoreline with a boat ramp overlooking Puget Sound.
14. Gig Harbor
The city of Gig Harbor is in Puget Sound opposite Tacoma and is a popular tourist hangout as one of the most rewarding small towns to visit in Washington state. The city's backbone is a historic waterfront sprinkled with shops, galleries, and restaurants. Strolling this waterfront, passing places like Skansie Brothers Park and Netshed, offers a great day-trip experience.
Visitors from Seattle reach the community by crossing the twin Tacoma Narrows suspension bridges, which replaced the infamous "Galloping Gertie" bridge that collapsed in 1940. The town's Harbor History Museum features permanent displays about this history, Native American culture, boat building, and early life on the Gig Harbor Peninsula. Expect the commute to take approximately an hour outside of rush hour.
This welcoming community also features plenty of natural places to explore and easy access to the rest of Puget Sound. A popular means of recreation in Gig Harbor is the 6.2-mile Cushman Trail, a 16-foot-wide, paved pedestrian and bike path surrounded by green spaces.
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Gig Harbor, WA
15. Future of Flight - Aviation Center & Boeing Tour
The Boeing assembly plant is the largest aircraft construction hangar in the world. It's in the seaside city of Mukilteo, near Everett, a half-hour drive north of Seattle on US 526. Here, you can see the latest high-tech aircraft under construction, as well as different models of the enormous Dreamliner, and watch a short film about how the planes are built.
Visitors enjoy interactive exhibits in the Aviation Center Gallery, including a flight simulator. A convenient way to visit the center from Seattle is on the 4.5-hour Boeing Tour, including hotel pickup and drop-off and an experienced guide.
Official site: http://www.futureofflight.org/
A visit to the city of Everett is a great way to round out a day trip to the nearby Future of Flight Aviation Center. The city sits on the shores of Port Gardner Bay with several fun things to do. A few Everett attractions include arboretums; event centers; and the increasingly popular Funko headquarters, where this toy company offers the chance to make a custom Pop! Vinyl - their flagship collectible product.
Laid out like a mini town, Everett's Imagine Children's Museum offers fun and exciting exhibits for children of all ages. The city is also home to the Schack Art Center, where a robust collection of multi-media artwork appeals to all family members.
Address: 8415 Paine Field Boulevard, Mukilteo, Washington
Read More: Top-Rated Attractions in Everett, WA
Address: 8415 Paine Field Boulevard, Mukilteo, Washington
Official site: http://www.futureofflight.org/
16. North Bend
In the Snoqualmie Valley east of Seattle, North Bend is probably best known as the filming location of the television series Twin Peaks. The town sits in a scenic area along the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It's a fun place to visit for a more natural respite without leaving the city too far, accessible with a 40-minute drive on Interstate-90.
This relatively small city is home to many delicious restaurants and bakeries worth the drive alone. Just to the south of the city limits, Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area offers some popular day hikes near Seattle, like the rugged Rattlesnake Mountain and Rattlesnake Ledge trails.
Northwest along the river, the equally small community of Snoqualmie is also featured regularly in the Twin Peaks TV show. The town's centerpiece is the 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls, and a historic lodge overlooks the spectacular view. The town's Northwest Railway Museum is also a favorite with railroad buffs.
Renton is a southeastern suburb of Seattle and is primarily famous as the final resting place of musician Jimi Hendrix. A Hendrix family memorial is in Greenwood Memorial Park. Another interesting local attraction is the Renton History Museum, where exhibits present Native American history and pioneering artifacts in an Art Deco-era fire station.
For outdoor recreation, Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park, on the shore of Lake Washington, is a great place to swim, fish, and launch a boat into the water. This popular park also has a large playground, reservable picnic shelters, and tennis courts. Dogs and bicycles are prohibited at Gene Coulon.
A short drive and easily accessed from Renton, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park offers other outdoor areas worth a day trip. The park comprises more than 3,000 acres of critical wildlife habitat and trails to explore. It's easiest to come back to Seattle through Bellevue from Cougar Mountain.
18. Bremerton & Poulsbo
Bremerton is home to an important naval base with many large vessels (such as the USS Turner Joy naval ship museum) but is otherwise a small city. It is located directly west of Seattle across Puget Sound and offers a pleasant and easy day trip from the city with a ferry ride. The Puget Sound Navy Museum and the adjacent Harborside Fountain Park are popular attractions to include on a day trip to Bremerton.
Farther north, on the Kitsap Peninsula, the quirky town of Poulsbo proudly displays its Norwegian heritage and welcomes visitors. Several local shops and bakeries in Poulsbo attest to these Northern European roots. This bayside city is also home to great cultural and natural attractions, like the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum and Kitsap Memorial State Park.
From Poulsbo, it's possible to drive southeast to Bainbridge Island and return to Seattle by ferry.