16 Top-Rated Day Trips from Seattle
Seattle offers no shortage of fun things to do, and it's easy to take advantage of the many surrounding attractions with a day trip by ferry or car. Whether you're seeking a rural or urban getaway, surrounding the city are secluded islands with quiet bays, friendly native communities, and vertical landscapes with a volcanic past. Washington is known for its outdoor recreation, and from Seattle, day-tripping explorers can reach some of the best national parks in the state (Rainier, Olympic, & North Cascades), as well as Mount St. Helens and Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.
Larger cities near Seattle, like Tacoma and Bellevue, lure visitors with their 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. To the east of Seattle, in places like Renton or North Bend, more of Washington's wild side is on display, as well as unique community connections, like the final resting place for Jimi Hendrix or the filming locations for the cult-classic Twin Peaks TV show. Plan your adventures near the city with this list of the top-rated day trips from Seattle:
1 Puget Sound
Much more than a geological feature, Puget Sound is 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. North of Seattle, Whidbey Island is home to many attractive towns and natural attractions, like Deception Pass State Park. Directly west of Seattle, Bainbridge Island boasts beautiful landscapes and many fun things to do. To the north of Puget Sound, 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, the Friday Harbor Day Trip & Whale Watching tour from Seattle is a great option. This full-day tour departs directly from downtown Seattle and includes round-trip ferry service, a 2.5-hour guided whale-watching cruise with an experienced naturalist, and a visit to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Minke whales, humpbacks, orcas, seals, porpoises, otters, and bald eagles are just some of the magnificent animals you might see while cruising these waters.
2 Mount Rainier National Park
Standing at more than 14,000 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Pacific Northwest, and one of the most iconic landforms of the region. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Mount Rainier National Park each year, and 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 base of the mountain (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, and tours like the Mount Rainier Day Trip from Seattle not only make it easy, but virtually stress-free. On this 10-hour tour, travelers enjoy a narrated bus ride into the national park, avoiding the 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 normal tourist path.
3 Victoria, British Columbia
A three-hour high-speed ferry ride from Seattle, flower-flecked Victoria on Vancouver Island is the capital of British Columbia and one of Canada's prettiest cities. Thanks to its sheltered location between the surrounding mountains and the warm North Pacific current, Victoria enjoys one of the country's mildest climates. Highlights of a visit here include beautiful Butchart Gardens; the Royal British Columbia Museum; the magnificent dome-capped parliament buildings; and Craigdarroch Castle, an evocative example of Victorian architecture. While you're here, a fun thing to do is enjoy 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 as well as beverages and snacks on board. After a day spent exploring the sights and attractions of Victoria, and perhaps some afternoon tea, hop back aboard the ferry and return to Seattle by late evening.
4 San Juan Islands
Located north of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands are a cluster of communities and natural spaces that offer a recreational and relaxed getaway. A longer ferry trip from Seattle, this archipelago encompasses 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 can be found on San Juan Island as well, including Friday Harbor, a fun jumping-off town to explore the rest of the islands. Adventures abound on and around the San Juan Islands, and popular activities include sea kayaking, seasonal whale watching, and simply enjoying the stunning views found in this far northwest corner of the country.
5 Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is a beautiful area 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 outskirts of the park, never entering the park's wild heart. Many visitors spend a number of days or a week exploring the park, but driving up to Hurricane Ridge from Port Angeles is a reasonable goal for a day trip. Other day trip options include 90-foot Marymere Falls near Lake Crescent and exploring the mossy environment of the Hoh Rain Forest.
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 snow-capped 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.
Address: 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles, Washington
6 Mount St. Helens
Just south of Mount Rainier and located within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount St. Helens stands as a testament to Washington's volcanic past and present. It is best known for its dramatic 1980 eruption, which scorched more than 200 square miles of the surrounding forest, and visitors to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument today can still see the major impacts of this massive geological event. Lakes, caves, and hiking trails are at the center of recreation at Mount St. Helens, and users with a permit can even make the steep climb to the edge of the crater. Fishing, camping, and horseback riding are other popular adventures.
One of the most interesting aspects of visiting Mount St. Helens is learning about its geological history. To get the full story, the small-group full-day tour of Mount St. Helens Volcano from Seattle explores the beautiful landscapes with a knowledgeable guide. As well as a narrated experience, this tour takes care of all the logistics of traveling to the crater and back, plus a locally sourced lunch, making this significant Washington landscape easy to explore.
7 North Cascades National Park
Spanning the border of British Columbia, the North Cascades are a rugged mountain territory filled with vertical landscapes. A main entry point for most people is the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), which cuts horizontally across this region of northern Washington. About a two-hour drive from Seattle, this scenic byway enables access to North Cascades National Park, including Ross Lake National Recreation Area and the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake. Farther north into the North Cascades, Mount Baker Ski Area is a popular downhill ski destination with a reputation for high amounts of snow. Mount Baker Ski Area can be reached within a three-hour drive from Seattle.
From its industrial roots, Tacoma has developed into a surprisingly modern city with a host of excellent, engaging museums. Thirty miles south of Seattle and on Puget Sound shoreline, the city is perhaps best known for its stunning glass sculptures, many by renowned Washington artist Dale Chihuly, and the immense Museum of Glass is a testament to the art form. There's more art to behold at the nearby Tacoma Art Museum. Stretching 500 feet, the Bridge of Glass pedestrian walkway connects the Museum of Glass to the Washington State History Museum. Outside of the downtown museum hub, LeMay - America's Car Museum displays a world-class collection of automobiles. An average of 250 cars are permanently on display, with approximately 100 other cars on temporary exhibit from private collections.
The city of Bellevue, on the eastern outskirts of Seattle, lies in a picturesque setting in front of the Cascade Mountains. It is a rather prosperous and growing community that attracts commuters from the surrounding areas. The Bellevue Arts Museum is the primary attraction, featuring changing exhibits, programs, lectures, and workshops. Free to visit, the Bellevue Botanical Garden covers 53 verdant acres and features Washington's showy state flower, the rhododendron. For some window shopping in a relaxed atmosphere, Bellevue Square has a reputation as one of the best shopping malls in the Seattle metro, with more than 200 stores and 50 restaurants to choose from. Farther east along I-90, Issaquah is a growing town with family-friendly attractions like Cougar Mountain Zoo. Endangered species are a highlight of the zoo, along with large mammals like cougars, reindeer, and alpacas.
10 Blake Island Marine State Park
Within Puget Sound and accessible only by boat, Blake Island State Park is 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 their way throughout the island, and the shoreline provides plenty of moorage for personal watercrafts. 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 also includes round-trip boat transportation, a salmon feast, and traditional storytelling and dance performances.
11 Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island, within Puget Sound, is a small island community located just west across the bay from Seattle. Tourists can access Bainbridge Island either by ferry (on foot or with a car), or by car 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 the local history. Other island attractions highlight nature, such as the lovely grounds of Bloedel Reserve and the shoreline of Fort Ward State Park.
12 Gig Harbor
In Puget Sound opposite Tacoma, the city of Gig Harbor is a popular tourist hangout and one of the most rewarding small towns to visit in Washington state, with a historic waterfront sprinkled with shops, galleries, and restaurants. You 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 Native American culture, boat building, and early life on the Gig Harbor Peninsula. This welcoming community also features plenty of natural places to explore, as well 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.
13 Future of Flight - Aviation Center & Boeing Tour
In the seaside city of Mukilteo, half an hour's drive north of Seattle on US 526, the factory of the Boeing Aircraft Company has the largest aircraft construction hangar in the world. 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. You can also 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, which includes hotel pickup and drop-off and an experienced guide.
A visit to the nearby city of Everett, on the shores of Port Gardner Bay, is a great way to round out your day trip to the Aviation Center. Popular attractions in Everett include a large marina, waterfront hotels, and historic buildings. 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 members of the family.
Address: 8415 Paine Field Boulevard, Mukilteo, Washington
14 North Bend
In the Snoqualmie Valley, North Bend is probably best known for being the filming location of the television series Twin Peaks. The town is just east of Seattle in a scenic area along the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. This relatively small city is home to many delicious restaurants and bakeries that are 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.
A southeastern suburb of Seattle, Renton is famous primarily 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. A short drive and easily accessed from Renton, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park provides more than 3,000 acres of important wildlife habitat and trails to explore. From here, it's easy to circle back to Seattle through Bellevue.
An important naval base with many large vessels (such as the USS Turner Joy naval ship museum), Bremerton is otherwise a small city. It is located directly west of Seattle across Puget Sound, and the town has worked to develop its waterfront and historic areas in recent years. Other popular attractions to include in a day trip are the Puget Sound Navy Museum and the adjacent Harborside Fountain Park.
Farther north, on the Kitsap Peninsula, the quirky town of Poulsbo proudly displays its Norwegian heritage. Local shops and bakeries 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.