We all know that Seattle is one of the most awesome cities in America, but it has one disadvantage compared to other cities: Because of its location in the Pacific Northwest, it has fewer road trip options in the immediate area than more centrally-located cities like Chicago.
Still, if you’re willing to drive a bit, you can find some great day trips from Seattle, as well as some exciting longer road trips from Seattle.
As a Seattle resident, I’ve done all of the shorter road trips on this list, and many of the longer ones as well. Most of the best day trips involve staying in Puget Sound and visiting places like Rainier or Olympic National Park, or Whidbey Island.
When Seattle folks take weekend getaways, they typically go to Portland or Vancouver. Those cities are great, but they’re not the only options!
If you can extend your journey to a 7-10 day road trip, you can potentially go as far south as San Diego, or as far southeast as Denver, or as far east as Mount Rushmore.
Some of these more distant destinations are ambitious road trips from Seattle, requiring up to 18 hours of driving to reach. But if you’re here, I’m assuming you’re an enthusiastic road tripper who’s up for a longer drive!
By the way, I’ve already got an article on the best Washington state road trip routes, if you want some detailed road trip maps, recommended lodging, and more. The article you’re currently reading is more about offering up some road trip destination ideas that you may not have considered.
Let’s cover the best road trips from Seattle. We’ll list them in order from shortest to longest, starting with day trips, then long weekend trips (2-4 days), and then extended trips (7-10 days).
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Day Trips from Seattle
1. Whidbey Island
I personally think Whidbey Island is one of the best day trips from Seattle. You don’t have to go very far from the city, and you can experience a lot of just a few hours.
Start by driving to Deception Bridge. Look for whales from shore or hike through Deception Pass State Park. Head on through the towns of Langley and Coupeville for charming local shops. Visit the Price Sculpture Forest to see artwork hidden among the trees.
Fort Casey is fun to check out to see its old cannons and lighthouse. I also recommend walking the short Bluff Trail at Ebey’s Landing. If the skies are clear, you can potentially see mountain peaks in three national parks from there!
Whidbey Island also has wineries, cheese shops, whale-watching opportunities, and more. See our full article on things to do on a Whidbey Island day trip!
Seattleites rarely think of Olympia when it comes to short trips from the city. But Washington’s capital city has plenty to keep you busy for a full day, and the drive is only 90 minutes each way (assuming traffic cooperates… I know, I know…)
Start with the Capitol building itself. Join a free guided tour, offered daily, or take a self-guided walk through the structure to see where the governor and legislature do their business.
The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is an often-overlooked gem for wildlife watchers. Birds and coyotes are abundant in the refuge. Spring offers the chance to see bald eagle couples nesting.
Other tips? Squaxin Park is good for walking trails, Monarch Sculpture Park is good for quirky Instagram-worthy pics, Tacos California for excellent Mexican food from a downtown food truck, and Dumpster Values for vintage clothes.
The Bavarian mountain town of Leavenworth (2.5 hours away) is often visited as a weekend trip, but it’s an excellent day trip if you start the day early enough.
The cafes and boutique shops in town are reminiscent to a European atmosphere. Leavenworth is fun to visit any time of year, but it’s especially fun at Christmas, when the town transforms itself with bright lights, and the Nutcracker Museum becomes very popular.
Be sure to check the forecast before heading out, as visiting Leavenworth requires driving over one of the mountain passes, and they can receive snow anytime from October to May. You can also take a guided tour there from Seattle.
4. Olympic National Park
To truly experience Olympic National Park, you’ll need a few days. But you can certainly explore the main highlights as part of a single day trip from Seattle.
Head to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center and take the Hurricane Hill hike, which is about 3 miles roundtrip and includes 820 feet of elevation gain. You’ll get nifty views of the park from up there.
At 12 miles long, Lake Crescent is a must-see. One of the best hikes in the entire park is Mount Storm King, which starts at Lake Crescent and ascends 2000 feet in two miles. That’s quite steep, so it’s best for experienced hikers. At the top, the payoff is a stunning view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
For an alternate one-day itinerary, you could skip the forested sections of the park and head straight to Ruby Beach, one of the coolest sections of coastline on the Olympic Peninsula.
Stop by Kalaloch Campground, and maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll spot gray whales swimming past in the ocean below, as I did on my last visit!
The drive to Olympic takes about 3 hours and requires either boarding a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, or taking the longer drive around Tacoma and up the peninsula.
5. Mount Rainier National Park
Standing more than 14,000 feet tall, Mount Rainier may be the most iconic of all of Washington’s peaks. So much so that it was given its own national park way back in 1899.
Rainier NP has sooo much to do. I’ve visited more than 10 times and have yet to see everything. But if you only have one day, there’s a pretty obvious itinerary to follow.
First, visit Reflection Lakes early in the morning, before they get crowded. Take pics of the peak reflecting in the water.
Then, head to Henry Jackson Visitor Center and hike the Skyline Trail. It’s a 5.5-mile loop with 1700 feet of elevation gain. Bring lunch, and you can sit at the top and eat while staring in awe at six glaciers on the mountain.
Finally, stop at Narada Falls, where you can drive right to a 168-foot waterfall that drops over a cliff. Rainier has so much to offer, but these three key points of interest will give you a full day at Rainier.
I recommend starting your day very early, because the park is extremely popular during summer weekends. The parking lots fill completely, and there can be long waits just to get inside the park. Leave Seattle by 6 am to arrive at the park before 9.
Due to frequent snows at its high elevation, Rainier is best-visited from June through October.
Long Weekend Trips from Seattle (2-4 Days)
6. Vancouver, BC
Every Seattleite is familiar with the weekend trip to Vancouver. It’s one of our favorite getaways! Vancouver is similar to Seattle in many ways, with awesome water activities, mountain hiking, and urban adventures.
I love that Vancouver is a lot flatter than Seattle, which is great for walking and biking around the city.
Vancouver is about 2.5 hours from Seattle, assuming traffic is fine and the border crossing doesn’t take too long.
7. Portland, Oregon
Three hours away via car, Portland is the other obvious weekend trip from Seattle. It’s a slightly smaller, slightly quirkier city with a lot of fun neighborhoods and hidden spots.
And don’t forget to check out the Hawthorne District, Powell’s Books, Mount Tabor, and the International Rose Test Garden. Here’s a full driving itinerary with 13 recommended stops between Seattle and Portland.
8. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
The Columbia River that forms the border between Washington and Oregon is one of the most scenic spots in both states. It’s a great place to spend a few days for everyone who loves the outdoors.
Go hiking, view waterfalls, enjoy wine tastings, visit a salmon hatchery, try stand-up paddleboarding, or even take a river cruise!
This Half-Day Gorge Hiking and Waterfall Tour visits Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and multiple scenic viewpoints in the area.
9. Coastal Washington Towns: Ocean Shores, Westport, Long Beach
Washington has so many interesting little communities along the Pacific Ocean. I really enjoy Ocean Shores, Westport, and Long Beach.
In Ocean Shores, visit the Coastal Interpretive Center, or rent fat bikes and ride on the beach by the ocean. On the way to Westport, stop in to the quirky International Mermaid Museum, then climb the Westport Viewing Tower to see the waves smashing against the seawall.
In Long Beach, enjoy the beach and boardwalk, follow in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark on the Discovery Trail, and visit attractions like the Cranberry Museum and the World Kite Museum.
10. North Cascades National Park, Washington
You can make the 3-hour drive from Seattle to North Cascades as a day trip, but it’s better to do a weekend there so you have time for multiple hikes and visits to the park’s top points of interest.
The bright blue waters of Diablo Lake are one of the park’s main features. View the lake from the overlook, or go down and kayak in the lake.
If you’re an experienced hiker, try the Maple Pass, Cutthroat Pass, or Cascade Pass treks, all of which offer incredible scenery, surrounded by the peaks of the Cascades. These are my favorite hikes in this part of the park.
11. Whistler, British Columbia
During winter, Whistler is one of the Northwest’s top ski destinations. And there’s a lot of fun to be had even during a summer visit.
Ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. It’s nearly three miles and provides a literal bird’s-eye view of the valley below. The Alpine Village has good food and shopping.
The hiking in this area is excellent. Or save yourself the workout and go ziplining instead!
12. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
I cannot recommend Crater Lake enough. This place is absolutely gorgeous! Crater Lake sits inside an active volcano (don’t worry, it hasn’t erupted in 4800 years.)
Rim Drive circles the crater and provides numerous viewpoints for awesome photos. You can even hike down to the lake and swim in some of the bluest water you will ever see!
I find that too many of my Seattle friends have never visited Crater Lake, which is a shame. Lodging does fill up during the summer, so start planning ahead and get yourself to this underrated national park!
13. Quirky Central Washington Road Trip
The middle of the state has a lot of quirky and interesting places. Wenatchee has good hiking and a giant triceratops statue in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant, for no apparent reason.
The town of George, Washington has a huge statue of our first president at a gas station. The town of Zillah has a gas station shaped like a teapot. Gingko Petrified Forest State Park has remnants of petrified wood on display.
Dry Falls is a state park that used to be the largest waterfall in the world. It’s totally dry now, but 20,000 years ago, these falls were five times as wide as Niagara Falls!
To see a more detailed itinerary for this trip, find it on my list of the best drives around Washington state.
14. Redwood National Park, California
You’re looking at an 8-hour drive from Seattle to reach northern California’s famous redwoods. That’s totally doable as a 4-day trip on a long weekend.
The redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet. It’s an overwhelming feeling to be standing next to 200-foot-tall trees with trunks 15 feet in diameter.
Redwood National Park has a hidden secret – a former World War II-era spy station disguised as a farmhouse. After Pearl Harbor, the station was built to serve as a lookout for Japanese planes that may be trying to invade. You can visit the site today.
7- to 10-Day Road Trips from Seattle
15. Boise and Craters of the Moon, Idaho
Craters of the Moon is one of the most remarkable sites in America that isn’t a national park. The park contains the remnants of volcanoes that littered the region.
It truly feels like an alien landscape here. Hike through dried lava fields, walk through lava tunnels, and ascend some of the cinder cones that remain.
Boise is a really underrated city, with attractions like the old Oregon Trail (you can still see wagon wheel ruts in the ground!) and the Boise State University blue football field (take a tour and get a pic next to the field!)
Twin Falls has the impressive Perrine Bridge and Shoshone Falls, aka “the Niagara of the West.” Pocatello is home to the delightful Idaho Potato Museum.
Boise is 8 hours from Seattle and Craters of the Moon is another 2.5 hours beyond that, so give yourself a minimum of 5-7 days for the best experience. I did this road trip myself, and had way more fun in Idaho than I imagined!
16. Glacier National Park, Montana
I’ve been trying (with limited success) to convince my Seattle hiking friends to take a trip to Glacier NP. They seem to think that because our mountain views in Washington are so incredible, the views at Glacier couldn’t be much better.
Let me tell you… they are incorrect! Glacier has some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. Start with the drive itself.
Created in 1933, Going-to-the-Sun Road winds through the peaks and valleys of the park, presenting numerous vantage points. The road is both a National Historic Landmark and a National Civil Engineering Landmark.
The wildlife is more diverse here, too. Glacier has grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolverines, bighorn sheep, and other large animals not found in most of the lower 48 states.
Glacier gets very busy in the summer, but if you plan head, you can assure yourself a memorable visit. Secure a campground reservation, or stay in the cute town of Whitefish and drive into the park each morning.
The drive to Glacier NP from Seattle is 550 miles, or 9 hours. Make the long drive in one day, or stay overnight in Spokane or Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
17. Jasper and Banff National Park, Alberta
Seattle residents seeking a longer road trip often don’t consider this part of Canada, but it’s actually not that far! The glacier-fied parks of Jasper and Banff are totally accessible during the summer, via a 10-hour drive through the Canadian Rockies.
Don’t miss Whistlers Mountain, Sunwapta Falls, Jasper Lake, and the Glacier Skywalk as well.
Give yourself at least two days in Banff to explore Lake Louise, the bright turquoise waters of Peyto Lake, and the waterfalls on the Johnston Canyon hike.
Another benefit of this road trip is that you can easily visit two of western Canada’s largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary. Both have a lot of fun activities and small-city charm.
In Calgary, I recommend visiting the Calgary Tower and Glenbow Museum. And don’t miss the restaurant called Regrub, which serves decadent milkshakes that have deep fried Oreos, glazed donuts, and cheesecake slices on top of them!
Edmonton has the Royal Alberta Museum and Elk Island National Park, which has a sizable population of bison and elk.
18. San Francisco Bay Area, California
A few years ago, I used to drive for Lyft. I vividly remember at the end of one very long day, after realizing that I’d driven around Puget Sound for more than 12 hours that day, thinking to myself, Wow… I could’ve driven all the way to San Francisco in the same amount of time!
That’s right – you can go all the way to SF in one day if you’re motivated. Stop at Redwood National Park along the way to see the famous towering trees.
San Francisco, of course, has numerous attractions. See the city from above at Coit Tower. Go inside old jail cells at Alcatraz. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. See animals from around the world at the California Academy of the Sciences.
Save some time for the nearby city of Berkeley, too! Quirky and fun things to do in Berkeley include the Sake Museum, Sather Tower, BAMPFA museum and film center, and exploring famous Telegraph Avenue.
19. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone is another destination you can reach in less than 12 hours from Seattle. Every traveler should visit the country’s most famous park at least once in their life!
Surely I don’t have to sell you on the appeal of Yellowstone. The world’s first national park is known for its wildlife (bison!) and geothermal features (Old Faithful!)
Yellowstone is massive, so spend at least two full days here (preferably three) to allow time to hike and drive as much of the park as possible. With its spectacular waterfall, the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone” is another must-visit attraction.
20. Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado
The drive from Seattle to Salt Lake City takes 13 hours. Boise is a natural halfway point to stay overnight. Salt Lake City is the big urban area in Utah, with lots of activities of all kinds.
Stop by Great Salt Lake to see one of the most impressive bodies of water in the west. Check out the Natural History Museum of Utah to see dinosaur bones and fossils. Step inside the state capitol building. Visit the Mormon Church Grounds, if only out of curiosity.
Denver is another 8 hours east of Salt Lake, so going that far may be pushing it for a road trip. But if you’ve got the time, it’s worth the trip.
Denver has so many fun neighborhoods. They’ve got the One Mile Above Sea Level sign right on the steps of the state capitol building. Add some free Denver activities to your itinerary, like Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the Money Museum.
We have a lengthy guide on taking a drive from Seattle to Denver. Before trying this drive, check out the forecast and current road conditions, because this route goes through multiple mountain passes that could be snow-covered in winter.
21. Los Angeles/San Diego, California
When it comes to winter road trips from Seattle, the options are somewhat limited. Most of the places within a short drive from Seattle are still going to be cold.
The best chance to escape the rain and dreary skies on Washington during winter is to head for southern California. Los Angeles is about 18 hours (1130 miles) away by car, so it’s best to allow three days to make the journey.
Of course, once you arrive, you’ll have all the time in the world to hike in the Hollywood Hills, explore the Walk of Fame, visit the Griffith Observatory, head to Santa Monica Beach, and go celebrity-hunting.
San Diego is only a couple hours south, and it has a ton of awesome activities as well. There’s the iconic San Diego Zoo, as well as the Kissing Sailor statue that celebrates a famous moment from WWII.
The Cabrillo National Monument honors the first European explorer to reach the west coast. The Maritime Museum celebrates the history of naval travel and offers the chance to board ships that are more than 150 years old.
Want some more suggestions for places to stop? I have a complete Seattle to San Diego driving guide.
22. Mount Rushmore and Badlands, South Dakota
The drive to those famous presidential heads in South Dakota is about 18 hours. Is it worth driving that far just to visit Mount Rushmore?
Perhaps not… but that answer changes when you consider all the other amazing sights in South Dakota. Like Crazy Horse, the giant, in-progress sculpture of a Native American hero that will be ten times larger than Rushmore.
And Badlands National Park, which has rolling hills of rock that look like they’re from another planet. And Custer State Park, which has thousands of bison and wild burros that approach your vehicle. And Wall Drug, a mini-mall that has become one of the most famous roadside attractions in this part of the country.
Add it all up, and this is a fun road trip from Seattle. This journey takes you through several mid-size cities in Montana that I really enjoy, including Missoula, Bozeman, and Billings.
23. Las Vegas and Great Basin National Park, Nevada
One last 10-day road trip suggestion for folks who don’t mind 18 hours behind the wheel: Las Vegas!
Red Rock Canyon outside the city is one of the best spots for outdoor fun in the area.
On the drive to Vegas, don’t miss Great Basin National Park in central Nevada! It’s another of my favorite parks. It’s never crowded, it has a small glacier (yes, a glacier in Nevada!), and it has some bristlecone pine trees that are more than 4000 years old.
You can get to Vegas either by interstates 94 and 83 through Idaho, or by routes 5 & 95 through northern California.
Other Options for Road Trips From Seattle
Need a few more ideas? For day trips, consider also Victoria, British Columbia, which can be reached via ferry from Seattle and has a vibrant business district.
Or go to Aberdeen, Washington, to see Kurt Cobain’s hometown, the house he used to live in, and the bridge he used to hang out under, which is now Kurt Cobain Memorial Park.
In terms of longer trips, one other option I’d suggest is Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. It’s 17 hours away and features a lot of unique wildlife, like prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, and wild horses.
You could also go south and hit up Yosemite, another famous national park that is 16 hours away by car. Driving two days there and two days back still leaves 5-6 days to explore the park!
What Time of Year Should You Make These Drives?
When planning any road trip from the Puget Sound area, be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast. Any road trip that goes through the Cascade Mountains to the east will be difficult in winter and possibly spring, due to snow.
So summer is obviously ideal for road trips. But some of these trips are great winter road trips from Seattle – particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles, because those drives are mostly on highways that are pretty much guaranteed to be free of snow.
Check traffic and weather here from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Make sure to have a full supply of road trip essentials, including a roadside emergency kit, a dash cam, and portable outlets. Check our recommended road trip snacks, and our playlist of songs about driving.
Do you have any other suggestions for great road trips from Seattle?