a car drives through a sweeping landscape of mountains in the Idaho Countryside.
The Summer
of the
Road Trip
(Courtesy of Idaho Tourism)
State COVID-19 restrictions are expected to expire by June 30 and Washingtonians need a vacation. If you’re not ready to fly, or you just want to explore the Pacific Northwest, consider these 12 road trips from Seattle.

Special to The Seattle Times

Published June 5, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE – With all of Washington in Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan for the state, and with a statewide reopening date set for June 30, Washingtonians are likely to hit the road this summer. Even with coronavirus restrictions lapsing at the end of the month, keep public health guidelines in mind when deciding whether to travel. Before you go anywhere, it’s always a good idea to check with the Washington Department of Health for updates on coronavirus in Washington state. These itineraries are meant to help you plan getaways based on current coronavirus conditions in the state and the region. When restrictions change, plan accordingly!

Vaccinated, stir-crazy and eager to hit the road this summer but not sure where to go? The good news is that summer staples like the Gorge Amphitheatre, Minor League Baseball and Oregon Shakespeare Festival are slowly coming back to life. Small-town summer festivals up and down Western Washington are back on the calendar and the Washington State Fair promises a return to form from Sept. 3-26. But if you aren’t ready for large crowds or find yourself struggling to score a ticket for a coveted outdoor concert, play or sporting event, we have you covered — with itineraries perfect for the weekend warrior, the long weekend getaway and the weeklong vacation.

Whether you’re a couple, a small group of friends, a family, or someone on a solo trip, there is something that will pique your interest along the way and teach you a slice of local history. Whether old normal or new normal, there are (at least) two constants in the Pacific Northwest: our jaw-dropping natural beauty and our summer bounty from farm to forage. Buckle up for a tasty and scenic ride.

Before you travel, check the public health regulations in any counties you will be visiting, and check the operating hours of any restaurants, lodging or attractions.

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Victorian Flair: Port Townsend
150 miles from Seattle
Victorian Flair: Port Townsend
112 miles round trip from Seattle
Port Townsend has come into its own and is the perfect gateway to summer fun on the Quimper Peninsula. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Take a morning sail (or just the ferry) to Bainbridge Island. Pay respects at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, which memorializes the Japanese Americans removed from their homes during World War II and sent to incarceration camps. The memorial wall lists the names of the 276 people exiled from Bainbridge Island, and is a unit of the Minidoka National Historic Site. If you start on Bainbridge, check out the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. If you start in Kingston, stop by Chief Seattle’s grave.

Chief Seattle’s gravesite is located near the island across Elliott Bay on the Port Madison Indian Reservation, owned by the Suquamish tribe, for travelers wanting to take in even more history. A marble headstone flanked by two 12-foot cedar poles commemorates the Suquamish leader and our city’s namesake. After cruising out state Route 305 over Agate Pass and onto the Kitsap Peninsula, stop at Sluys’ Poulsbo Bakery for a Viking doughnut in this pocket of Little Norway.

Continue north up to Port Townsend for a taste of fin de siècle charm. Explore historic Fort Worden overlooking Admiralty Inlet or tour the new čičməhán Trail, then stop at Finistère for happy hour or a dinner of fried Washington oysters. Can’t get a table at this upscale spot? Roomy Sirens Pub and its waterfront deck is a worthy back-up plan. While the indie darling Rose Theatre remains closed for the time being, the Wheel-In Motor Movie is showing classics all summer long under the stars. Spend the night at the Old Consulate Inn, a charming Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast with a view of Port Townsend Bay from the porch swing.

Fun on the Fjord: Hood Canal
196 miles round trip from Seattle
A rainbow crosses over the Hood Canal, one manageable road trip for Washington travelers this summer. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

You don’t need an Alaskan cruise to experience a fjord, just a Washington State Ferry. Go counterclockwise, starting with a ferry to Bainbridge Island and crossing the Hood Canal Floating Bridge. Pretty soon after Quilcene, you’ll be hugging the shoreline, wedged between the forested hillsides leading deep into the Olympics and the calm, glacier-carved saltwater that wends its way like a backward J.

Stop at Dosewallips State Park for the best of both worlds: fern-lined forest trails and gentle beachfront. Pick up a shellfish-harvesting permit beforehand and dig for clams, mussels and oysters. No luck — or still hungry? Stop at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon further south for lunch.

Round the bend at the Skokomish River delta and head east. Hunter Farms has dazzling Kitsap Peninsula honey and endless rows of pickled delights like spicy okra. If you need another afternoon beach stop, try Twanoh State Park for a different vantage point on the fjord. Grab one for the ferry at Deep Draft Brewing in Port Orchard — the kolsch is a real thirst-quencher on a hot day — and catch an evening sailing back from Bremerton.

Almost Canada: Skagit Valley and Whatcom County
226 miles round trip from Seattle
Tweets is just one stop along the Bow/Edison Food Trail, where you can eat your way through these twin towns and the surrounding area. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

The Canadian border remains closed to nonessential travel, but your radio dial will pick up Vancouver stations in the Skagit Valley, where the Bow-Edison Food Trail is one enticing attraction. Breadfarm is among the best bakeries on the West Coast. Browse for home goods at Hedgerow or unique furniture at The Lucky Dumpster. Lunchtime? Edison for tacos at Mariposa or farm-to-table fare at The Rhody in neighboring Bow. Be warned: You can’t eat everything in these gastrotowns in a day.

Head north along Chuckanut Drive and work off the calories on a hike up to Oyster Dome, or go for a more leisurely beachcomb at Larrabee State Park. If you can stomach more food, a stop at Taylor Shellfish Farms is a must for some bivalves. Dip on down to Bellingham for the evening, where you can post up for happy hour at Aslan, Kulshan or one of 11 other breweries in the City of Subdued Excitement.

After breakfast at Homeskillet, take your pick: Rent a kayak from Bellingham Bay Community Boating Center, mountain bike world-class trails at Galbraith on a rental from Jack’s Bicycle Center, explore Chuckanut Mountain on foot, or swim in Lake Whatcom. Try Simmering Tava for lunch — don’t miss the homemade chai — then head to Birch Bay State Park, where you can see our neighbor to the north before zooming home on Interstate 5. So close, yet so far.

American Alps: North Cascades National Park
258 miles round trip from Seattle
Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park is the perfect place for a bit of summer fun in one of the state’s most secluded natural offerings. (Jeff Layton / Special to The Seattle Times)

Our most remote yet arguably most majestic national park is a local’s secret contrasted to the out-of-state visitors that throng Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier. With no lodging available other than the 15 nearly impossible-to-score floating cabins at Ross Lake Resort, this is a long day trip or a camping destination, but well worth the jaw-dropping scenery along North Cascades Highway and down the trails you’ll find spidering through the so-called American Alps.

Heading east on Highway 20, marvel at the Seattle City Light dam in Newhalem and take a self-guided walking tour of this quaint company town tending to the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Head through the gorge until you reach the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake. Take a dip if you dare — this glacier-fed beauty is as cold as they come — or stay on the surface with a boat tour led by naturalists from the North Cascades Institute.

Head into the heart of the North Cascades further east. Both Rainy Pass and Washington Pass offer endless hiking options. Check the Washington Trails Association Hike Finder for a trail suitable to your group’s ability level — and don’t forget the 10 essentials for hiking, plus some sanitation gear. A smattering of drive-in or very short walk-in campsites can be found along Highway 20. Colonial Creek is a favorite for easy Diablo Lake access.

Mountain Town: Leavenworth
252 miles round trip from Seattle
Yes, you know Leavenworth for its Bavarian kitsch. But there’s a true mountain town underneath that coat of German makeup. (Paige Collins / The Seattle Times)

If you’ve braved the crowds for holiday lights, come back in summer for a more relaxing experience. Do your best to ignore the fake Bavarian kitsch and seek out the true Cascadian mountain town blossoming east of Stevens Pass. Indeed, Leavenworth is a Cascadian playground that can keep you occupied all day, whether you hike to Colchuck Lake, climb along Icicle Creek Road, float the Wenatchee River or mountain bike Freund Canyon.

Back in town, feast on sausage and sauerkraut if you must, but know that better options abound. Taste Leavenworth’s up-and-coming local food culture at Yodelin. If it’s too warm for one of their signature broth bowls, then a Pacific Northwest shrimp roll will hit the spot. Wash it all down with some Huney Jun kombucha brewed in nearby Peshastin. For an upscale experience, farm-and-forest-to-table dining at Mana is a worthy splurge (reservations required). Handmade ice cream at Whistlepunk Ice Cream Co. will satisfy any time of day.

Rest your weary bones at the Sleeping Lady Resort or the Wedge Mountain Inn in nearby Peshastin for a more budget-friendly option.

On the way out to Leavenworth, the scenery along Highway 2 can’t be beat. When it’s time to come home, Highway 97 over Blewett Pass links up to Interstate 90 for a more reliable ride home.

Surf’s Up: South Beach
292 miles round trip from Seattle
Westport is part of South Beach on the southwestern Washington coast, where getting on the water is a must. (Mike Coverdale / Special to The Seattle Times)

No, this isn’t a trip to Miami. South Beach is the stretch of the Washington coast from Westport to Tokeland, offering real-deal ocean waves and seemingly endless stretches of sand for long walks on the beach.

Working your way north to south, start in Westport, where you can try the state’s most reliable surf breaks. Steepwater Surf Shop promises you’ll be out the door with board and wet suit in 10 minutes. At the marina, you’ll find a handful of sport-fishing charter boats ready to help you snag salmon, rockfish, lingcod, halibut or albacore tuna. Rather watch than catch? Westport Seabirds offers guided birding trips.

Twin Harbors State Park and Grayland Beach State Park both offer ample public oceanfront access. Don’t miss the yurts if you are looking for a unique and affordable lodging option that is more comfortable than camping.

If you crave a proper bed, you are in luck. At the southern tip of South Beach, post up at the Tokeland Hotel, where Seattle chef Heather Earnhardt has transformed the state’s oldest lodging into a must-visit coastal eating and sleeping destination. Down at the point, don’t miss Nelson Crab, a historical cannery that sells fresh seafood and canned albacore tuna for stocking your larder. On your way back to Puget Sound along state Route 105, end your trip with a throwback to a slower travel culture at the Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond.

The Evergreen State Classic: Methow Valley via the Cascade Loop
431 miles round trip from Seattle
The Methow Valley is justifiably famous for its winter recreation. Those same cross-country ski trails are great for hiking, though, and taking a dip isn't exclusively for adrenaline-seekers. (Courtesy of The Cascade Loop)

The Methow Valley isn’t just a winter destination. Summertime means biking the same trails you cross-country ski in winter, saddling up for a horseback ride, fly fishing the Methow River, hiking the Pasayten Wilderness or visiting a ranch. It’s the perfect destination at the far end of the Cascade Loop Scenic Byway.

Families and larger groups can check Methow Reservations to find a nightly rental, like a cabin alongside a babbling brook. Indeed, the valley abounds with lodging options, from the avant-garde Rolling Huts by Seattle architect Tom Kundig to luxurious Sun Mountain Lodge. Once you settle in, remember that you are now in apple country. Try a cider at Methow Valley Ciderhouse or Sixknot Taphouse, or if you insist on beer, saunter over to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. All can whet your appetite as well.

Rocking Horse Bakery will start your morning off right before tackling the Methow’s extensive trail network. Methow Cycle & Sport in Winthrop can rent anything you need on two wheels, including attachable trailers for the kids. Grab lunch at the rightly cherished Mazama Store then grab any missing gear next door at Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies. Keep an eye out for the Methow Made logo, a surefire sign you are buying a quality good made right here in the valley, from wool spun at McFarland Creek Lamb Ranch to Dog Paw Knives.

If you go clockwise on this route, then don’t miss Blue Star Coffee on the way south for an afternoon pick-me-up or a bag of beans to take home.

The Forgotten Pass: Highway 12
378 miles round trip from Seattle
On Highway 12, you can complete a “fruit loop” by visiting the local farmers markets for fresh fruits and vegetables. (Sy Bean / The Seattle Times)

Snoqualmie? Stevens? White Pass along Highway 12 crests higher than either one. Heading west to east, start at Ike Kinswa State Park outside Mossyrock, which has a roped-off swimming area. From Randle, follow the Cowlitz River east and settle in for the night in Packwood. Scour Airbnb or Vrbo for a deal on an A-frame cabin, or stick to a budget at one of the local motels. Rub shoulders with loggers at the Blue Spruce Saloon or try the local brew at Packwood Brewing Co.

The Mountain Goat will fuel up your morning and sell you a trail lunch for later in the day. At the crest of White Pass you’ll find chairlifts hanging still for the summer. Make a mental note to return for ski season, then head downhill. Along the way, you can enjoy the eastern slope of the Cascades. Rimrock Lake is ideal flatwater for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. The Soup Creek Trail offers a manageable introduction to downhill mountain biking. Bear Canyon and the Tieton River Nature Trail serve up local hiking options. Stay high above the Yakima Valley, whether you browse the wares in arts hub Tieton or idle at Naches Heights or Wilridge Vineyards for biodynamic wine. Check in for the night and grab a bite in the morning at the White House bed-and-breakfast.

Stock up on fruit for friends, the freezer, or your own finger-licking delight from one of the plentiful seasonal stands in Naches. Don’t be bashful with cherries, peaches, nectarines or whatever’s in season. Down in Yakima proper, visit former Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas’s boyhood home — his summer job picking cherries in the surrounding orchards inspired his law career — then chow down on the best Mexican food this close to the 49th parallel. For sit-down dining, try Antojitos. For taco truck takeout, look for Taco El PerronTaco El Perron — or one of the dozens of others that carpet the Yakima Valley. Return via I-90.

Roving the Rainforest: Olympic Peninsula
490 miles round trip from Seattle
The views on the Olympic Peninsula are breathtaking, from the depths of the Olympic National Forest to the peaks of the Olympic Mountains. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

It took the Seattle Press Expedition six months to cross the Olympic Mountains in 1890. Today, fortunately, you can circumnavigate the fearsome range in several days, making strategic incursions along the way to visit different facets of Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest.

Going clockwise, lesser-traveled corners of Olympic National Forest like Wynoochee Lake offer easy-to-reach waterfalls and lush forested trails. Lake Quinault Lodge offers rustic lakeside accommodation in 1920s style, just a short walk from six of the world’s tallest conifers in the so-called Valley of the Giants.

Even as tourists return this summer, the Hoh Rain Forest will hopefully be a quieter destination — see if you can find the One Square Inch of Silence. Back along the coast, the Kalaloch Lodge is open for a chance to commingle with the wild Pacific. Make this your coastal stop, since the Quileute and Makah Tribal Nations have closed outside access to La Push, Neah Bay, Shi Shi Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach until at least Oct. 1.

Winding your way back along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, make a stop in Clallam Bay, where Sunsets West Co-op offers a charming place to refuel. Further east, take a gander at the now free-flowing Elwha River, where salmon have returned in abundance since the dams came down. All that water comes from snowmelt, which you can see up close and personal from 5,242 feet above sea level at Hurricane Ridge, where snowcapped peaks persist well into the summer. Back down at sea level in Port Angeles, dinner awaits at Next Door Gastropub. Spend the night in a local bed-and-breakfast before making the daytime trip home with side trips to Dungeness Spit and Sequim or a ride on the Olympic Discovery Trail if you brought your bike. The newest section, a 10-mile paved and ADA-accessible multipurpose stretch along the shores of Lake Crescent known as the Spruce Railroad Trail, opened in December.

Gritty But Pretty: Astoria, Oregon
371 miles round trip from Seattle
The Astoria Victory Monument honors World War I veterans and is one attraction in a city on the border of “gritty” and “pretty.” (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Head back in time at the mouth of the Columbia River to Astoria, the oldest European American settlement on the north Pacific Coast. Take Highway 101 and make your first stop at Cape Disappointment on the Washington side. Contemplate the River of the West with the help of landscape architect Maya Lin’s basalt fish cleaning table, crushed oyster shell path and cedar driftwood columns at one of her designs for Confluence, an arts nonprofit that tells Indigenous stories along the river. (Whitman College’s Maxey Museum hosts an exhibit on Lin’s Columbia River earthworks until Dec. 11; it is viewable by appointment only through Sept. 3.)

Cross over the Astoria-Megler Bridge, a steel cantilever truss spanning the river. Fort Clatsop draws visitors enamored of Meriweather Lewis and William Clark’s 1803-1805 expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase. Tucked away amidst the reconstructed log cabins, a plaque notes the first election in the West, when the expedition members voted whether or not to winter over along these damp, foggy banks. With both Sacagawea (Shoshone) and York (an African American man enslaved to Clark) given votes, historians believe this moment was the first time a woman, an Indigenous person, and an Afro-descended person were given a vote in democratic decision-making on U.S. soil.

In Astoria proper, decide for yourself where the once fur-trading outpost sits along the axis of gritty/pretty as the working waterfront town transforms into a riverfront destination. Stay at the Cannery Pier Hotel and eat at the Bridgewater Bistro to see for yourself how a tuna cannery can become an upscale destination.

Returning home via I-5, stop in Centralia for a slice of pizza at the McMenamins’ Olympic Club Hotel, then another slice of history. Find the newly unveiled monument to the town’s founding father, George Washington, the son of a slave who arrived as a pioneer in 1875. Elsewhere downtown, “The Resurrection of Wesley Everest” is a colorful two-story mural that commemorates the 1919 shootout between World War I veterans and the radical labor organizers known as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or “Wobblies.” Three veterans died and one Wobbly, Wesley Everest, was lynched. Artist Mike Alewitz connects the century-old history to today’s labor struggles, especially for Latinx workers.

Rugged Pacific: Oregon Coastline
663 miles round trip from Seattle
Admit it, Washingtonians — the Oregon coast is tough to beat. Case in point: these stunning views at Heceta Head Lighthouse in Florence. (Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

There’s no getting around the fact that when it comes to road trip-worthy coastline, Oregon has us beat. So chew up the miles to Longview and point yourself west until you reach the mouth of the mighty Columbia. Astoria is your launching point for an exploration down one of the most picturesque coastlines imaginable, where charming, salt-encrusted towns lead to sandy beaches framed by teetering sea stacks.

You can take this trip as fast or as slow as you want and easily spend a week or more enjoying the Oregon coast’s delights, stopping at every beach, cove, headland and lighthouse along the way. Overnight accommodations, especially campgrounds, tend to book solid in a normal summer, so plan in advance.

Heading south from Astoria, skip touristy Cannon Beach for funkier Manzanita. If the surf is up, rent a board and a wet suit from Bahama Mama’s to brave the frigid swell. With the right gear, it’s really not as cold as it looks. Got cold feet? They also rent beach cruiser bikes.

The Tillamook Creamery is open again for self-guided tours; ice cream always hits the spot, with classic Northwest flavors like marionberry pie, mountain huckleberry and Oregon dark cherry available.

Seafood is a must along the coast, so pick apart a Dungeness crab at Pacific Kitchen at Nye Beach in Newport. While you’re in town, the Newport Bayfront Hike takes visitors past local sights such as the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Keep a close eye out for whales from the vantage point of Yaquina Head, where its 1873 lighthouse still warns sailors along the Graveyard of the Pacific.

Seal Rock lives up to its name — you are likely to find barking seals galore. Check the tide tables and at low tide, explore the tide pools for a plein air aquarium — but never turn your back to the open ocean, lest a rogue wave sweep you away. At the north end of the beach, mammoth Elephant Rock harbors coastal bird-watching opportunities aplenty.

End your coastal exploration in Yachats, whose approximately 700 souls live the good life between foraging the Coast Range for chanterelles amidst the spruce and letting their dogs run wild at low tide on the beach. Yachats Brewing is the town’s center of gravity, where house-smoked salmon chowder pairs mighty well with the Ten Mile Brewing saison. Head east along state Route 34 through the Siuslaw National Forest, which will eventually dump you out along the I-5 corridor at Corvallis. Break up the trip home with dinner in Portland.

An Epic Flight: Nez Perce National Historical Park
1152 miles round trip from Seattle
Nez Perce National Historical Park spans multiple states and offers an educational angle to your summer road trip, as visitors follow the trail of the Nez Perce and Chief Joseph. (Courtesy of Idaho Tourism)

The nimí·pu (Nez Perce) embarked on a 126-day journey over 1,170 miles in 1877 as they fought the U.S. Army before Chief Joseph finally surrendered in October of that year. That’s a lot of ground to cover on a road trip, much less by foot or horseback, but the National Park Service has preserved 38 sites scattered across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana that stitch together that history. Following these threads can make for an engaging and educational road trip that will also bring you to new corners of the Northwest.

For the short version, start at the end. Joseph, the Oregon town that bears his name, is an end-of-the-road destination surrounded by the Wallowa Mountains, which see far fewer hikers than popular Cascade trails. Bonus: You can take a pack trip with a llama. Backtracking up the valley, stop into M. Crow & Co., a classic century-old general store with some very au courant wares like denim and ceramics made on-site.

For those with the time and inclination, following the path of the Flight of 1877 will take you far into Idaho and Montana to spots like Fort Lapwai, White Bird Battlefield, Lolo Pass, the Cottonwood Skirmish Site, and the Big Hole National Battlefield. Interpretive signage will help you stitch together the story of how the Army pursued the embattled Nez Perce, even as the tide of public opinion largely supported the Indigenous tribe.

If you opt for these longer forays, make a home base in Lewiston, Idaho, just down the Clearwater River from the Nez Perce National Historic Park Visitor Center and Museum, which is currently open to the public. All-day Mystic Cafe, set in a 1926 coffee roasting building, has you covered for breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on when you are coming or going from different historic sites.

If you make it as far as the Bear Paw Battlefield outside Chinook, Montana, steel yourself for the raw, emotional words of Chief Joseph’s surrender speech. “I am tired of fighting,” he said. “From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” The lessons of this pivotal moment in Pacific Northwestern history, and American history, will offer a lot to reflect on during the long journey home.

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