Washington: Four Incredible Weekends

February 8, 2021
Monica overlooks Dry Falls in Washington State

There is no question that Washington is one of the most beautiful places to live in the USA. Clearly the word is out because everyone is moving here, (and running up the cost of everything). What Washington lacks in culture and affordable housing we make up for in mountains, ocean, forests, and tech companies.

They say our coffee is good, but is it $5 good? I mean, come on.

Whether you are coming to join us for a weekend or a lifetime, or until you get sick of the rain, there are an abundance of amazing things to do in Washington. Check out our 20 Best Things to do in Washington State to get warmed up.

If you’re looking for something memorable to do in the Pacific NW, try one of these weekend excursions. We will show you several key locations in the state that are truly magnificent, and none of them are downtown Seattle. Not that Seattle isn’t worth exploring… it’s fine. But time is precious. There is stunning beauty and remarkable natural history in these parts that you won’t see anywhere else in the country.

We have included most of the driving directions courtesy of google maps. Click any blue links for additional information. These adventures are prepared with time allotted destinations that will keep you moving. Adapt them at your leisure for a slower pace.

Table of Contents

1. Columbia River Gorge

2. Channeled Scablands and the Blue Lake Rhino

3. Puget Sound Islands and Peninsulas

4. Olympic National Park

1. Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge National River Area is stunning in Washington.

The first 3-day itinerary takes you to the southern part of the state near the border of Oregon.  

One of the most amazing geological features in Washington is Mt. Saint Helens.  The old girl is an active volcano whose eruption in 1980 is considered the most destructive in US history.  Forty years later, the hollowed-out stratovolcano remains a haunting, magnificent sight.  

Washington is also home to spectacular river rafting, so we will take you down one of our absolute best rivers, the White Salmon.  While in the area we invite you to climb Beacon Rock, a large, free-standing monolith, for mountain top views of the Columbia River gorge.

We will also take you into a cave system that is the 3rd longest lava tube in N. America, known as Ape Cave, as well as visit one of our regions most beautiful waterfalls, Multnomah Falls.  Your home base will be the famous wind/kite surfing town of Hood River. 

Kite surfing in Hood River, Oregon.

Full Itinerary:

Friday 7 AM:                Drive to Johnson Ridge Observatory, Mt. St. Helens (155 mi).  

Friday 12 PM:               Beacon Rock (130 mi).  Hike Beacon Rock (2H).

Friday 4 PM:                Multinomah Falls (40 mi).  Enjoy the falls (1H).

Friday 6 PM:                Hood River, Or (30 mi) to eat/sleep.

Saturday AM:              Drive to Husum / B Z Corner (10-15 miles).  

Saturday 8 AM:           River Raft the White Salmon River

Sunday 8 AM:              Ape Caves (70 mi).  Explore the cave.

Sunday 11 AM:            Windy Ridge Viewpoint of Mt. Saint Helens (55 mi).  

Sunday 2 PM:              Drive back to Seattle (140 mi).

Total Miles:                 630

Total Travel Time:     13.5 hours

Travel Notes for Friday:

Mt. Saint Helens view from Johnson Ridge Observatory in Washington.

This is the busiest day, for sure.  We start the day early to make sure we aren’t getting you into your lodging too late in the day.  Packing a lunch is recommended.

We have budged about two hours of time at the Johnson Ridge Observatory.  Here you can mind tremendous views of Mt. Saint Helens, listen to eyewitness stories from survivors, take a walk, and watch a movie.

Beacon Rock State Park

Beacon Rock State Park is about two hours south of Mt. Saint Helens, within the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. It has sufficient parking for about 30 cars at the base of the rock and trailhead access is adjacent to the parking lot. The trail takes 30-60 minutes to complete.  There are lots of switchbacks and handrails, which makes it a mildly challenging jaunt up the rock.

The top of Beacon Rock is an excellent place to have a picnic lunch. For an interesting/morbid aside on Beacon Rock, click here.

Beacon Rock in Washington along the Columbia River Gorge.

Multnomah Falls

Next we will drive to Multnomah Falls, going over the Bridge of the Gods. Spend about an hour enjoying the falls.  The area is usually crowded with tourists, but parking should be plentiful.  We recommend the short hike to the upper falls.

Multnomah Falls is one of the best waterfalls in the pacific nw.

This region is called the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and has some of the best hiking in the USA.  It is also geologically important because many iterations of glacial Lake Missoula made their final decent to the Pacific Ocean along this carved gorge path.  *More on this in the next itinerary.

There are an abundance of beautiful waterfalls in this area.  Some of the names are:  Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Latourell Falls, Oneonta Falls, Horsetail Falls, Wahclella Falls, Punch Bowl Falls, Triple Falls, Fairy Falls.  

Hood River

After you’ve had your fill of beautiful waterfalls, drive 30 miles to the town of Hood River.  For a more scenic drive, take the Historic Columbia River Highway instead of Vietnam Veterans Mem. Hwy.  Most of the above-mentioned waterfalls are along this route.  If you like, visit multiple waterfalls along the road before you head to Hood River to settle in for the night.

Hood River is the perfect place to get a hotel or RV site.  White Salmon across the river is also an option.  If you are interested in wind surfing, click here.

Travel Notes for Saturday:

White Salmon river is a top five river to raft in Washington State.

There are several options for river rafting companies.  You can choose from a half-day or full-day itinerary.

River Drifters

Wet Planet Whitewater

Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys

Be sure to get yourself to the River Rafting site on time to go through the safety tutorial.  The rafting outfits are typically in Husum or B Z Corner.  

We have not scheduled anything for after your rafting trip.  Being on the river is hard work, and you did a lot of driving the previous day.  If you have the energy, perhaps consider hiking to one of the earlier-discussed waterfalls along the gorge. Another idea would be to check out the town of Hood River.

If River Rafting isn’t your thing, there is plenty of stuff to do in the area. You could drive to Mt. Hood and enjoy the Fruit Loop on the way, or hike Eagle Creek, one of the best hikes in the USA.

Travel Notes for Sunday:

We will start our day early with a drive to Ape Cave. The large cave entrance is a short walk from the parking lot.  To begin your Sunday adventure, take the staircases to the floor of the cave.  

Ape Caves are the third longest lava tube in the USA, in southern Washington.

The upper cave is an interesting, 1.5 mile one-way trek.  This is the more rugged path and requires more time and agility.  There will be rock piles to scamper and low ceilings in places.  A slick “lava fall” must be scaled and some people require assistance.  A metal ladder is required to exit the cave at mile 1.4.  The return trail topside is easy and marked well.

The lower cave is an easier, 1.5 mile round-trip.  The lava tube is broad, and houses a geologic anomaly known as “the meatball”.  

The main entrance stairwell to the Ape Caves is in between them.  In total, the cave is 13,042 feet long, or 2.4 miles, making it the 3rd longest lava tube in North America.

Ape Caves near Mt. Saint Helens in Washington State.

Ape Cave was formed nearly 2,000 years ago when liquid lava from Mt. Saint Helens flowed through the cave before hardening.  A logger discovered the cave in 1950. He told his friend about it, which inspired the friend to take his sons and their friends into the cave.  They called themselves the Mt. Saint Helens Apes, which became the name of the cave.

Windy Ridge Viewpoint — Mt. Saint Helens

Our last stop on our adventure will be the Windy Ridge Viewpoint at Mt. Saint Helens. This vantage is much closer to the mountain than the Johnson Ridge Observatory, and it sees far fewer visitors.

Windy Ridge Viewpoint with Spirit Lake makes Mt. Saint Helens one of the top five things to see in Washington State.

The stairs climb up above Windy Ridge and give views of Mt. Saint Helens and Spirit Lake.  It’s a 300-stair slog uphill and it is recommended. It is amazing to see how the trees were blasted to the earth by the mighty eruption forty years ago.

In spring and summer, the US Forest Service give free lessons about the history of the mountain and the 1980 eruption.  Also, there are an assortment of hikes to indulge from the Windy Ridge Viewpoint.

Drive 130 miles back to Seattle.  

2. The Channeled Scablands

Glacial Lake Missoula tore through the channeled scablands in Washington State.

One of the great stories of Washington is the cataclysmic flooding that took place 15,000 years ago.  The Cordilleran Ice Sheet pushed south from Canada to about the middle of our state during the last ice age.  Over in Missoula, Montana the ice formed a dam 2500’ tall in the Clark Fork River valley.  It was the largest ice dam known to have ever occurred.  

The river backed up against the dam until it submerged the Missoula valley up to 200 miles eastward, which created a massive, glacial lake roughly the size of Lake Eerie and Lake Ontario combined. 

The ice dam eventually gave way, unleashing a torrent of water equivalent to the force of the world’s rivers combined — TIMES TEN.  This hellacious waterflow tore across the Idaho panhandle into Washington state, eventually depositing into the Pacific Ocean.  The entire lake emptied in a few days to a week.  

Much of Washington’s central region, known as the Columbia Basin, was ravaged by the water.  It’s loess and soft basalt layers were easily peeled off and carried downstream.  Huge river valleys were dug into the basalt, some with walls 400’ high.  The area most affected by this process – a process that happened as many as forty times – is now known as the Channeled Scablands.  

The pathway of Glacial Lake Missoula as it worked its way to the Pacific Ocean across Washington.

The clues are all around us, still most Washingtonians have no idea why the landscape of Eastern Washington looks the way it does.  The region is dismissed mainly because the loess (similar to soil) was stripped away in the flooding, which prevents much from growing in these parts.  When one understands the history of the channeled scablands, it becomes more meaningful and beautiful.

We want to show you some of the more incredible clues:  glacial erratics; gigantic coulees, channels and potholes; an ancient waterfall that makes Niagara Falls look like a bath faucet; and a prehistoric rhino-shaped cave that defies all probability.  Your Washington weekend will also include a visit to the second largest concrete structure in the world, the Grand Coulee Dam, itself a modern marvel.

Full Itinerary:

Friday 7 AM:               Ginko Petrified Forest State Park (135 mi).  

Friday 10 AM:             Roza Columns (10 mi).  Have lunch.

Friday 12 PM:              Blue Lake Rhino (60 mi).

Friday 6 PM:                Sun Lakes State Park.  Explore Deep Lake and Lava tubes. Stay in Sun Lakes area.

Saturday 9 AM:           Dry Falls Visitor’s Center.  

Saturday 11 AM:         Yaeger Rock on Mansfield Loop (80 mi).  

Saturday 1 PM:           Steamboat Rock State Park (20 mi).  Hike the rock or rent a paddle board.  Pick up lunch in Coulee City and eat it here.  

Saturday 6 PM:           Grand Coulee Dam (15 mi).  Enjoy the visitor’s center.  Dinner.

Saturday 10 PM:         Watch laser show at night.

Saturday 11 PM:         Drive back to Sun Lakes State Park or other resort.

Sunday 9 AM:             Lake Lenore Caves (7 mi).

Sunday 12 PM:            Potholes Coulee and Ancient Lake (43 mi.)

Sunday 2 PM:              Catch a concert at George, or drive to Seattle (170 mi).

Total Miles:                 590

Total Drive Time:     10 hours

Travel Notes for Friday:

Ginko Petrified Forest State Park in Vantage, Washington.

Drive from Seattle to Ginko Petrified Forest State Park. You can spend upwards of an hour perusing the museum. The river view out back is your first incredible look at the Columbia River Valley. A short walk makes it easy to check out the petrified wood.

After you drive across the I-90 bridge and turn left, a few miles ahead on the right will be the Wild Horse Monument. You can hike to the horses if you want. It’s a pretty sweet view up top and makes a great pic.

Wild Horse Monument in Vantage, Washington.

Our next stop will be a row of basalt columns referred to as the Roza Columns, or The Feathers.  This is an excellent place to rock climb, if that’s your thing. Map.

Roza Columns

Roza Columns, or the Feathers, outside Vantage and George, Washington.

If Glacial Lake Missoula had drained one more time the Roza Columns would have gone down.

If you walk around the backside of the columns, you will find access that allows you to climb to the top of them.  The views from the top are extraordinary as you look down Frenchman Coulee to the west, an ancient river valley of mind-boggling size.

Frenchman Coulee in central Washington.

Across the street you can get an even better look at Frenchman Coulee.  If you have the guts to peek over the edge – don’t feel bad if you don’t – there are cars at the bottom.

Sun Lakes Area

Your next stop is the Blue Lake Rhino of Washington. To get there you will drive inside Grand Coulee, the largest of all the ancient riverbeds.  You can tell by the scalloped appearance of the cliffs on your left and right.  Believe it or not, this is one of the more verdant places you will find in all the Channeled Scablands.

There are five major lakes along this coulee:  Soap, Lenore, Alkalie, Blue, and Park.  This region is called the Sun Lakes.

When you reach Laurent’s Sun Village Resort behind Blue Lake turn right into the resort. Park in the very back corner. You may feel like you don’t belong here, but it is ok. This is the access point for the Blue Lake Rhino Hike.

Laurent’s: 33575 Park Lake Rd. NE. Coulee City, WA 99115

Blue Lake Rhino

The Blue Lake Rhino experience is challenging, even dangerous.  It is not for the faint of heart, the lead of foot, the fragile, and those with intense fear of heights.  You could potentially be subjected to unforeseen disaster, as rocks could give way in crucial moments which could result in unmitigated death.  If you have small children, or are elderly, this might not be the best experience for you.

Here’s a simple map:

Blue Lake Rhino Map from Laurent's Sun Village Resort in Washington.

If you walk down the small but clear path that leads toward the corner of the lake you will be on your way. We’re told it is possible to rent a rowboat from Laurent’s Resort and row to the destination.

There are a few challenges along the trail.  The first is a fork in the path. Take the higher route to the left and not the one that heads out toward the cliffside.

The next challenge is a climb-down cliff about ten feet high that can be maneuvered by the nimble.  We once did this with a group of unathletic, mixed company 16-year-olds.  If you cannot find a way down here your only bet is to rent a boat and traverse the lake.

Hike along Blue Lake toward the Blue Lake Rhino.

Hug the wall of the cliff while walking along the lake. The third challenge is the descending, talus hillside that leads to the far shore of the lake. Be sure to arrive at the end of the lake before you descend.

Scamper down the talus hillside toward Blue Lake Rhino.

The Rhino cave is on the far wall of the coulee — past the lake — about halfway up.  Walk along the beach and straight up the talus hill on the other side. If you look closely on the rock wall of the coulee, you will see the words “Rhino Cave Here” next to a small, dark hole.  You will notice the ledge below the cave — this is where you need to get.

Scale the side of the coulee to arrive at the Blue Lake Rhino Cave in Washington.

Scamper up the talus hill to access the ledge. It’s a tricky climb around some large boulders.

Scamper toward the Blue Lake Rhino.

Next, work up the nerve to walk out on, and linger on, the 300’ high ledge. The Blue Lake Rhino Cave requires an eight foot climb to get up into the cave. It helps if someone can give a boost and support the climber.

Ryan sits in the mouth of the Blue Lake Rhino Cave in Washington.

The cave is small, but it can fit an above-average sized human. You’ll have to slither a little.  I’m 5’11, 200 lbs and I fit inside just fine.

The rhino is situated upside-down with it’s legs extended upward.  The rhino’s head is to the back of the cave, therefore it’s horn extends down.  You can reach into the space where the rhino’s horn would have been.

Please be careful climbing down out of the cave.  The ramifications of a misstep are apparent.

We once had a dozen young men up here.  Everyone had to keep their back against the wall.  The mantra was reinforced every couple of minutes because t’s a long way down and we didn’t want to face their parents.

Scout Troop waits for their turn to climb into the Blue Lake Rhino Cave in Washington.

When leaving Laurent’s, take Park Lake Rd. to the right and drive along the lake for two miles. You will arrive at the entrance to Sun Lakes State Park on Park Lake.

Sun Lakes State Park campground, or the nearby resorts, is where we recommend you spend the next two nights. There is plenty of lodging along this string of lakes. We recommend you book far in advance.

Deep Lake

State Park Road is between Sun Lakes State Park and Laurents, but much closer to the state park. Turn here and drive 2.5 miles to arrive at Deep Lake.

Deep Lake in Washington  is excellent for cliff jumping.

At the west end of the lake (near the parking lot), there are some picnic tables and a boat launch.  To the left is a trail that meanders along the north side of the lake.  A sign reads “Warning:  People die jumping off these basalt cliffs”.  This is where you say, “But that’s why I’m here!  Not to die, but to live!”

The cliffs start small and get real big real fast.  There is a 10’ jump, then a 25’ jump, and most people stick to these two places.  If you push further down the path the jumps get into the 40’-50’ range. 

Everyone likes to talk about Sugarloaf, the 180’ cliff visible further down the way.  

Cliff jumping at Deep Lake in Washington.

On the south side of the lake, opposite the cliffs, are lava pots.  From the picnic tables, take the trail to the right until you see a hole in the rock wall off to your right. Climb through the hole (it is big and not scary at all). This leads to an elaborate network of large holes in the ground known as lava pots. 

This is a fun place to explore, but be careful back here. Heck, be careful everywhere. This would be a fine place to mention that rattlesnakes are indigenous to the area.

Travel Notes for Saturday:

View from Dry Falls Visitor Center in central Washington.

Imagine a waterfall five times the width of Niagara Falls and twice as high.  Now imagine all the rivers of the world combined times ten pouring over that waterfall.  Imagine the sound it would make. 

Our first stop of the day is the Dry Falls Visitor Center which opens at 09:00. Feel free to arrive a little early to take in the incredible views. Remember, these are not just rock walls and lakes, they are the remains of the largest waterfall the world has ever known. Those lakes are ancient plunge pools.

Spend an hour perusing the Visitor Center. There is some good stuff in there.

Dry Falls were the largest waterfalls in  history of the planet.  Five times the size of Niagara Falls, right here in Washington State.

Mansfield Loop and Yaeger Rock

Next we will drive a 72-mile rectangular path to see remarkable evidence of the last ice age.

Just beyond the tiny town of Winthrow, Washington you will notice large rocks in the fields.  These boulders are glacial erratics carried from Canada on the Cordilleran Ice Sheet.  The further you drive, the more erratics you will see.

Notice how the farmers plant and plow around these massive boulders.  Notice how quickly and dramatically the landscape changes. The Cordilleran Ice Sheet stopped advancing exactly here.

Twelve miles after Hwy 172 bends to the right and heads east you will arrive at Yaeger Rock. This is the best accessible glacial erratic to be found in these parts.

Yaeger Rock is a glacial erratic pushed from Canada into Washington during the last ice age.

Yaeger Rock is a three-story, Canadian chunk of basalt the Cordilleran Ice sheet pushed down into Washington 15,000 years ago.  The rock has been tagged by Mansfield graduating classes for years, which clearly classes up the place.

Feel free to climb around on the rock. There is a large crack in the middle of it to help you get to the top. Please be careful!

This is an excellent place to get the perfect “roadkill” photo. You can see miles down the road in either direction.

Roadkill photo by Yaeger Rock, one of the coolest things to see in Washington State.

Steamboat Rock State Park

Our next stop is Steamboat Rock, a 3500-acre park named after an 800’ high basalt butte in the river.  The plateau atop the massive rocky table is 600 acres by itself.  The top of the rock is accessed by a moderate hike that requires some skill.

During the ice age floods, Banks Lake was part of the raging river that hurried down Grand Coulee.  The Columbia River now routes in a different direction, leaving behind Steamboat Rock as a protuberant feature of bygone time.

Steamboat Rock State Park is a great place to hike in Washington.

The state park has trails for hiking, biking, and equestrian use.  Water activities including boating, swimming, waterskiing, and fishing. Stay long as you want at Steamboat Rock State Park.  Hike to the top and take in the views.  Spend the afternoon fishing or paddle-boarding.  

Grand Coulee Dam

Our goal for you is to have you arrive at the Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center by 8:30 PM at the latest.  That will give you time to learn about the history of the dam before the laser show, One River Many Voices. The show begins around 10:00 pm and lasts 30 minutes.

Grand Coulee Dam is the second largest concrete structure in the world, right here in Washington.

The drive from Steamboat Rock to Grand Coulee Dam is 15 miles.  Electric City and Grand Coulee are along the way and offer plenty of places to eat.

Grand Coulee back to Sun Lakes is 40 miles.  

Travel Notes for Sunday:

Lake Lenore Caves are a cool thing to see near Sun Lakes State Park in central Washington.

We will start the day with a short drive to the Lake Lenore Caves.

The hike features more than a dozen caves.  Ancient Native Americans once dwelled in these caves. It is still a sacred gathering place for them to this day.

From the parking lot, take the staircase up.  When the path parts take the path to the right (south) for a safer hiking experience.

Potholes Coulee and Ancient Lake

Now we are heading to Potholes Coulee and Ancient Lake. 

From the trailhead, hike for 0.7 miles then turn left into the coulee.  The lakes are about a mile from here.

Potholes Coulee and Ancient Lake are a great hike in Eastern Washington.

This is a beautiful coulee with multiple lakes.  In the background is a waterfall.  Hike above the waterfall to find more beautiful lakes and even better views.

Potholes Coulee was one of three major channels the water took before it plunged into the Columbia River.

This coulee is an amazing place to watch the sunset, if you have time.  It is also a popular place to camp.  

The Gorge at George

Worth noting:  Just a few miles away is The Gorge at George, Washington’s single best venue to enjoy an outdoor concert.  Before you plan your trip, perhaps check The Gorge calendar and see if anyone you like is playing that Sunday evening.  Or plan the whole trip around it!  We have seen The Who, Roger Waters, and Jack Johnson here.  A Gorge concert is one of the top 20 things to do in Washington State.

You have to see a concert at the Gorge at George.  One of the twenty best things to do in Washington State.

If you are driving back to Seattle from Potholes Coulee, here’s a map. If you’re driving back to Seattle from The Gorge at George, here’s a map.

3. Puget Sound Islands & Peninsulas

Ferry Rides in Seattle and Puget Sound Washington are a must-do.

The Puget Sound region is perhaps the most beautiful place to visit in entire United States.  The Strait of Juan de Fuca pipes in from the Pacific Ocean between Vancouver Island and the Washington Peninsula. Its frigid waters fill the spaces left behind when the Cordilleran Ice Sheet retreated 12,000 years ago.  

Beautiful islands of unusual shapes and a series of well-positioned shipping ports have brought outdoor enthusiasts and industry to the area.  When you add in the stunning Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges, it is easy to understand why so many people call Western Washington their home.

This three-day adventure will focus on exploring the pastoral islands and quaint towns that bring peace to an increasingly trafficked region.  There will be breath-taking scenery.  Dramatic sunsets behind mountains across the water will paint your perfect evenings.  Any visit to the Puget Sound is incomplete without a ferry ride.  We’ll get you on two of them.

And you will see tulips, lots and lots of tulips.  Perhaps you never wanted to see lots of tulips.  We understand, but you were wrong then.  

Tulip Festival in Mt. Vernon is a must-do in Washington.

Full Itinerary:

Friday 7 AM:               Drive to Mt. Vernon (60 mi).

Friday 9 AM:               Visit the tulips (4H).

Friday 1 PM:                Drive to La Conner (10 mi).  Spend the day in town.

Saturday 9 AM:           Drive to Deception Pass (15 mi) through Whitney.

Saturday 10 AM:         Walk around Deception Pass.  Have cliffside lunch.  Enjoy the beach.

Saturday 4 PM:           Drive to Ft. Casey (10 mi) and ferry to Port Townsend.

Saturday 6 PM:           Drive to Ft. Worden for sunset (2 mi).  Visit the lighthouse and battery.

Sunday 9 AM:             Enjoy Port Townsend

Sunday 12 PM:            Drive to Paulsbo (35 mi).  Stay ~3H.

Sunday 4 PM:              Drive to Bainbridge Island Ferry (25 mi).  Ferry to Seattle.

Total Miles:                 170

Total Travel Time:       5 HOURS

Travel notes for Friday:

Beautiful view of North Cascades behind the tulips of Roozengaarde.

Only 60 miles north of Seattle, the Skagit Valley is one of the most stunning locales in the state of Washington.  Skagit is home to hundreds of miles of trails, bicycle routes, and kayaking waterways, all amongst a dream-like setting.  Sensational, snowy peaks tower over the foothills to the east.  Islands and rivers border farmland to the west.  Do you like to watch birds?  They say Skagit is an excellent place to do it.  Do you like to gamble at the casino?  There are six within 30 miles.  

Roozengaarde tulips at the tulip festival in Skagit Valley, Washington.

April is the month to see the tulips.  There are two primary tulip farms from which to choose:  Roozengaarde comes highly regarded and is easy to find. Tulip Town is fantastic as well.  You can’t go wrong with either one, or both — they are less than two miles apart (map).

Tulip Festival in Washington is a top thing to do.

La Conner, Washington

Located six miles SE of Roozengaarde, La Conner is a quaint town on the cut that separates Fidalgo Island from the mainland.  For years, La Conner has been an overnight getaway destination for Washingtonian bike riders and romantics.  The town offers a unique blend of interesting shops, art galleries, and waterfront restaurants.  Dinner overlooking the river is highly recommended, and you will have several options.  Lodging is ample, but the rooms fill far in advance.  If you wish to stay in La Conner, especially during Tulip season, book ahead of time.

La Conner is a perfect weekend getaway town in Washington.

If you have extra time or La Conner doesn’t float your boat, Mt. Vernon is a cool, old town.  From Historic Barn Tours to Sloppy Wine Tours, farmer’s markets to Korean BBQ, craft stores to thrift stores to bakeries, Mt. Vernon has plenty of action for an afternoon.  If the lodging is booked up in La Conner, Mt. Vernon is a good second choice ten miles away.

Travel Notes for Saturday:

Deception Pass State Park has beautiful water views in Washington Puget Sound region.

After grabbing a pastry at the Calico Cupboard Old Town Café, set out on a gorgeous drive toward Deception Pass.  There are two ways to get there from La Conner:  1.  Take Reservation Rd. across the Swinomish Indian Reservation; 2.  Take La Conner Whitney Road to Whitney.  Both routes join in the WA-20 Highway, which will take you west toward DP.  We recommend the Whitney route, as it is much more scenic and takes you over an elevated bridge that boasts an incredible view of the valley and the islands in the sound.

At Sharpe’s Corner, Highway 20 splits.  Take the roundabout all the way around and turn onto Highway 20 West.  The Fidalgo Country Inn will be on your right when you exit the roundabout.  About six miles south from the roundabout is Deception Pass.

Deception Pass is a straight that separates Fidalgo Island from Whidbey Island.  It is called “Deception Pass” because George Vancouver initially thought Whidbey Island was a peninsula.  He was deceived, but then he figured it out.  Pretty lame.  The waterway is spanned by twin bridges, one from Fidalgo to Pass Island, the other from Pass to Whidbey Island.  

Island Views from Deception Pass bridge in Washington.

There are several features that make Deception Pass worthy of our attention.  It goes without saying that we are talking about tree-covered islands with beaches covered in hiking trails and surrounded by water.  The water itself is unusual and dramatic, as tidal flow between the islands moves swiftly, leading to whirlpools and eddies.  The bridge that spans the three islands is 177’ tall and has foot traffic walkways on both sides.  The view from atop the bridge is breathtaking, if not unnerving.  Driving across is pretty spectacular, but walking across is the thing to do.

Parking is available on all three islands, although limited on the small Pass Island.  We recommend using the large parking lot on the west side of the road on Whidbey.  

Rosario Beach on Fidalgo Island, Washington.

There are several things to do here and really, you can’t go wrong.  

Hiking on Fidalgo Island is fantastic.

We recommend the following:

1. Walk across the bridge.  Unless you have a fear of heights, this is a no-brainer.

2. Hike around on Fidalgo Island.  Bowman’s Bay is just north of the bridge and has lots of trails.  Rosario Beach sits just above Bowman’s Bay, and has tidal pools, island views, and a great trail that loops around Rosario Head.

3. Explore the beach below the bridge on the Whidbey side.

Beach adventure at Deception Pass State Park in Washington.

4. Cliffside lunch on Pass Island or Fidalgo Island.  We found a terrific ledge on the west side of Pass Island just beneath the bridge.  Best seat in the house.

5. Climb around on Pass Island.  There are stairs that take you beneath the bridge.

Deception Pass is a fantastic place to spend the morning and afternoon.  

Oak Harbor / Ft. Ebey State Park

The town of Oak Harbor and Ft. Ebey State Park are two places you can stop on your way to the ferry docks at Fort Casey.  Oak Harbor, Washington is the largest town on the island.  It has the usual town fares, some decent restaurants, and a nice park on the water called Windjammer Park.  If you have small children, Windjammer Park is a great place to swim, throw the football, shoot some hoops, find crabs on the beach, and more.  The newest renovation installed a splash park with a pirate ship, which is kind of a big deal.  Never mind that the sewer treatment plant is next door.

Ft. Ebey State Park has expansive island views and a military battery system (which is always a good time). The cliffside hiking is easy and beautiful, especially at sunset.   We strongly recommend a visit if you didn’t get enough eye candy at Deception Pass.  Ft. Ebey Campground is about 2.5 miles off of Highway 20 between Oak Harbor and Coupeville.  

Fort Casey is another Washington military heritage site w/ a lighthouse and batteries and cannons.  The ferry dock is right next door, so if you need to kill some time between boat rides you’re in luck.  

Port Townsend / Fort Worden

Click here for the Port Townsend / Coupeville ferry schedule.  At the time of this writing, the ferries leave @ 1:15 pm, 2:25, 4:15, 6:00, 7:30, 9:10.

Port Townsend is the only destination from the Fort Casey terminal, making an easy thing simple.  The ferry lands right at the strip in PT, which is fantastic for pedestrians. 

However, assuming you haven’t been walking from Seattle until now, you’ll need to find parking if you want to look around or buy stuff.

Fort Worden is the best State Park in Washington State.

Fort Worden is the best military relic in the state of Washington.  It can be found two miles north of Port Townsend on Cherry St.  The State Park is situated at the tip of the peninsula — the primary access point for the Puget Sound, Deception Pass being the other — an important perspective for military defense of the region. 

Among the many things to do at Fort Worden are:  Visit the lighthouse, the Artillery Museum, and the Marine Science Center; a large battery system (fantastic for flashlight hide-and-seek); a very nice beach to hunt crabs or spy otters and seals.  The grounds are large w/ fields and trails and barracks. The camping is recommended (and books way in advance), and the old military housing is available for rent also. 

Fort Worden battery system provides lots of fun and excitement at the tip of Washington Puget Sound.

Fort Worden is a real treasure in western Washington and one of our favorite places to camp.  If you’re a view hunter and hankering for a championship sunset, this peninsula is always in the playoffs.

Port Townsend, Washington  Saturday Market ragtime band.

For nightlife head back to the bars and restaurants of Port Townsend.  Just remember it is Port Townsend and not Los Angeles.  There are an assortment of hotels along the waterfront ranging between $100-200/night.  We do not recommend the Manresa Castle Hotel for lodging, although they have a nice breakfast.

We do strongly recommend Waterfront Pizza.  You can buy a slice just off the sidewalk, or head upstairs and gobble the whole pie. 

Travel Notes for Sunday:

Views from the beautiful Port Townsend Harbor in Western Washington.

Regardless of where you spend the night, spend the morning checking out the artsy Port Townsend waterfront.  You can’t beat the island views on a sunny day.  The Saturday Farmers Market is convivial (and a touch weird), and goes from 9am-1pm.  If you are here on Sunday, the market moves south ten miles to the small town of Chimacum from 10am-2pm.

Paulsbo, Washington

Around noon head 35-miles south for the town of Paulsbo, Washington.  Along the way you will drive across the Hood Canal floating bridge.  Bangor Trident Naval Base is nearby and the nuclear Trident Submarines run through this large canal.  As you drive over the bridge, ponder the devastating nuclear weapon perhaps lurking below you in the ocean water.

Paulsbo Washington is home to many breweries and bars.

Paulsbo is a charming Nordic town full of breweries, bakeries, and hanging flower pots.  Front Street is easy to stroll with its painted walls and inviting storefronts.  There are myriad restaurants and the waterfront park is funky.  This is a popular destination for Seattle day trippers because you can visit Norway and save $1300.

Unusual art installation in Paulsbo, Washington.

Check out this cooler of strange seafood.

Strange seafood cooler in Paulsbo.  Little Norway.

And the Beer… Not that we drink. Impressive, tho.

Excellent beer selection in little Norway Paulsbo, Washington.

Bainbridge Island / Winslow / Ferry to Seattle

When you’ve had enough swords and steins, head to Bainbridge Island via the State Highway 305 NE.  This road will take you directly to the WSDOT ferry terminal. 

If you find yourself with some extra time at the ferry dock, walk five minutes around the corner to the capricious town of Winslow, Washington.  While there are no painted walls or viking ships to pose beside, Winslow has plenty of bookstores, galleries, wineries, delis, and gift shops. It also possesses the greatest market in the entire region, Town and Country Markets Inc.  We repeatedly lose our minds in the market, and wind up buying packets of seeds and trowels, and fancy salads from the deli.  It’s hard to explain where our minds go.

Washington Ferry system WSDOT is a great way to get around the region.

The ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, Washington is a must-do if you’re visiting the Pacific NW. It is a visceral experience and the views are immensely gorgeous.  Be sure to get out of your car and stand on the decks to feel the wind blow.  Check out the view on all sides.  Bring some bread with you to feed the gulls — they like to fly along the boats.  From the ocean, Seattle is damn good-looking city.  If you have any time left over, the ferry terminal is at the Seattle Waterfront.

4. Olympic National Park

View from atop the Storm King in Olympic National Park in Washington State.

The Olympic National Park and Forest is perhaps the greatest treasure in all of Washington.  An incredibly diverse region, one can access alpine meadows of wildflowers, prehistoric beaches, and moss-strung temperate rainforests all within the peninsula.  

You’ll also find misunderstood werewolves and brooding vampires (if you wander into what was once the town of Forks).  We do not recommend the Twilight tour.  Be better.  

In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Mount Olympus National Monument. It was re-designated a national park by congress in 1938.    UNESCO designated it a world heritage site in 1981.  

Evening sea stacks on Rialto Beach, Washington.

The park is home to over 60 miles of coastline, which is a major highlight.  Realto Beach, Ruby Beach, Shishi beach – all highly recommended beaches in Washington.  The Hoh rainforest is like Savannah, Georgia climbed into the mountains and lost the plantations, (which is to say they both have moss).  

Then you have the star of it all, the Olympic Mountain Range.  Home to 60 named glaciers, 3,000 miles of rivers and streams, and over 170 hikes, the Olympic mountains are literally and figuratively a place to lose yourself for a lifetime.

On this itinerary we are going to sample a bit of everything and try to keep it simple.  Like the other 3-day weekends, this will require some driving.  

Full Itinerary:

Friday 7 AM:               Drive to Hurricane Ridge in Port Angeles (155 mi w/out ferry).

Friday 10 AM:             Hike Hurricane Ridge.

Friday 5 PM:                Sol Duc Hotsprings (60 mi).  Stay the night.

Saturday 7 AM:           Hike to Sol Duc Falls

Saturday 10 AM:         Hoh Rainforest (70 mi).  

Saturday 3 PM:           Rialto Beach (45 mi). Hike to Hole-in-the-Wall.  Stay in La Push.

Sunday 9 AM:             Drive to Lake Crescent (50 mi).  Stop in Forks if you love Twilight (weirdo).

Sunday 10 AM:            Hike to Marymere Falls.

Sunday 1 PM:              Picnic at Lake Crescent.

Sunday 3 PM:              Drive to Seattle (100 mi w/ ferry from Kingston).

Travel notes for Friday:

Cirque Rim Trail at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington.

There are two primary ways to get from Seattle to Port Angeles:  

1.  Take a ferry from downtown to Bainbridge Island then drive 80 miles.

2.  Drive around Tacoma and across the Narrows Bridge, a total of 140 miles. 

Ferries run every 1.75 hours.  Ferry cost is $16/car/driver + $ for each additional passenger.  Each way takes about the same amount of time.  

As you are driving through the town of Port Angeles you will turn left onto Race St.  There is a Jack in the Box on the corner.   Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is 20 miles off Hwy 101.

Hurricane Ridge

It should be stated that Hurricane Ridge is a major destination in Washington and draws sizable crowds.  There’s an assortment of trails to hike in the immediate area of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.  The view from the center itself is magnificent.  If you don’t want to wander too far, the Cirque Rim Trail and Big Meadow Trail are in the direct vicinity of the parking lot.  

Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in Olympic National Park in Washington.

For an intermediate distance hike, Sunrise Point Trail is about 3 miles round trip from the HRVC.  For many people this is the perfect distance and it gives some sweet mountaintop views.

If you’re looking to log a few more miles on your boots, Drive to the end of Hurricane Ridge Road to the Hurricane Hill Trailhead.  This trail is 3.2 miles RT, however, if you turn left onto the Pacific NW Trail a quarter-mile before the end of the Hurricane Hill hike it can become an 11.5 mile RT hike to the Elwha River.  

We’ve budgeted seven hours for Hurricane Ridge.  If you want to go for the Elwha River, it should be enough time.  If you want to hike Cirque Rim, Big Meadow, and Sunrise Point (approx. 3.5 miles RT — all near the visitor center), it should be enough time.  If you want to bail out early and move on, you’ll have extra time for lunch or to spend at the next destination.

For a greasy hamburger, fries, and shake, we recommend Frugals on Highway 101. They make one of the best burgers in Western Washington.

Frugals has the best burger in Port Angeles.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

The drive from Hurricane Ridge to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is 60 miles. It’s a slow drive and will take 1.5-2 hours.

Sol Duc Hot Springs is a mountainside resort built around a mineral hot spring.  The main facility has three circular pools of varying temperatures, a large, cold swimming pool, a spa, gift shop, restaurant, and a small grocery store.  There are 32 cabins, 17 RV sites, and camp sites for tent campers.  

Sol duc hot springs in Washington.

For those squeamish about soaking in small pools with Washington mountain folk, it’s worth mentioning that each pool is emptied and refilled each night.

Travel notes for Saturday:

Sol duc Falls in Olympic National Park

At 07:00, drive SE for 1.8 miles to the end of Sol Duc Road and park at the trailhead.

Sol Duc Falls is a 1.5 mile round-trip hike from the trailhead.  Depending on the water volume, the river splits into as many as four channels as it falls into the 48’ narrow canyon.  There are several viewpoints to observe the falls, including from a bridge that spans the river.

Hoh Rain Forest

Next, we’ll drive 70 miles to the Hoh Rain Forest.

The Hoh is one of the best remaining examples of a temperate rainforest in the USA.  The Washington park receives 140 inches of rainfall each year, more than anywhere in the nation sans the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.  By comparison, Mt. Waialeale on Kauai, HI receives 460 inches of rainfall a year.  That’s over 30 feet, which puts it in a league of its own.

From there visitor’s center there are two easily accessible hikes:  

1.  The Hall of Mosses Trail

2.  The Spruce Nature Trail 

Combined they are 2 miles RT and easily navigated.  Both trails are highly recommended.  You will see the result of all that rainfall:  a lush, green canopy of large tree species, hundreds of species of mosses and ferns, nurse logs galore, and perhaps and elk, bear, or river otter.  Be sure to bring coffee for the bears.

Hoh Rainforest Hall of Mosses Trail

If you’re loving the nature and feeling a bit walky-hoofy, the Hoh River Trail tangents off the Spruce Nature trail and heads up the Hoh River for 18 miles one-way.  At 2.7 miles there is a waterfall, Mineral Creek Falls.  This is a beautiful place to explore and perhaps worth a return trip to hike the distance and camp along the trail.

Rialto Beach

When you’ve had your fill of moss and trees head west to the coastal shore.  You will pass through the town of Forks, the rotting corpse of Twilight fandom.  Stop if you must.

Shishi Beach, Rialto Beach, and Ruby Beach are the most well-known beaches on the Washington Coast.  Rialto Beach is arguably the best of the three, and it is the easiest to access and the most in-line with our route.  The drive is about an hour (45 miles).

Rialto Beach is our other kind of favorite beach:  Coastal forest rolling up to an untamed coastline rife with clusters of tree-topped sea stacks.  The beach hiking is exquisite and replete with gnarly driftwood.

Rialto Beach is a top ten beach on the west coast

Hole-in-the-wall is a natural rock arch in a large sea stack.  People like to snap a photo here, as the arch almost perfectly frames one of the more majestic sea stacks in the distance.

We suggest hiking at least 3-4 miles up the beach, or as much as you can tolerate.

Many folks like to camp on the beach, and if you’re prepared for that it is recommended (requires a permit).  The nighttime star viewing is naturally out-of-this-world.  From here the Milky Way can be clearly observed in summertime.  It is best viewed during the moonless windows of time that last about ten days during the summer months.

For hotel, campground, or other lodging, the town of La Push, Washington is near the beach and has several places to say.  You can also drive back to Forks, but why?

Travel Notes for Sunday:

Lake Crescent is the best lake in olympic national park.

We recommend starting the day with another walk on Rialto Beach.  If you’re looking for a little variety, there are two beaches in La Push, aptly named First Beach and Second Beach.  

Lake Crescent

When you’re ready to move on, Lake Crescent is about an hour away.

Halfway around the lake you will reach a small headland on your left.  Turn left onto Lake Crescent Road and then take your first right to a small parking lot.  This is the Marymere Falls Trailhead.  

The hike is an easy, well-maintained 1.5 miles RT jaunt through an old growth forest to a waterfall.  A half-mile into the hike you will reach a junction where you will follow the path to the left.  Shortly before the Storm King Trailhead junction, take a right to the 90’ falls.  The trail forms a loop at the waterfall offering different views.

If you want to hike the Storm King, be our guest. It is one of the best, most challenging hikes in Washington. You’ll have the time to squeeze it in, but do your research.

Lake Crescent Lodge is a great hub for your vacation to Olympic National Park.

A half-mile away from the Marymere Falls parking lot is Lake Crescent Lodge. Resting beautifully on this picture perfect Washington lake, this centrally located accommodation provides a roomy stretch of lakefront shoreline on which to waste the afternoon away.  

Rent a kayak, paddleboard, or canoe and explore the pristine setting.  Send a fishing line out into the depths.  Pull up a chair on the end of the dock and be amazed at how the mountains funnel into a cloud basted valley.  Have lunch at the lake front dining room, or kick back in the rustic lodge.  The wicker-cozy sun porch is a great place to enjoy the view while trouncing your loved on in a game of checkers.  

View of Lake Crescent from Lake Crescent Lodge.

If you were so inclined, you could spend the entire trip using the Lake Crescent Lodge as a hub. We have designed this trip to keep you off the roads at night because we would prefer to kick up our feet around the campfire.  That said, one could easily travel back to this central point after the activities of the day rather than settling down at the latest point of interest.

When ready, it’s time to head back to Seattle, Washington (or wherever you’re headed).  If you are indeed headed to Seattle, consider taking the ferry out of Kingston or Bainbridge Island (they take about the same time).

We prefer the Bainbridge route for several reasons:  

1.  It is more scenic.  

2.  The ferry lands in downtown Seattle as opposed to Edmonds.  

3.  Winslow is a cool town next to the ferry dock on Bainbridge, and if you have time to kill waiting for a ferry it is fun to sniff around the shops. 

In Conclusion:

Hofftoseetheworld.com

We hope you have enjoyed this article about some amazing Washington getaways. By no means are these the only four areas to explore, and we would recommend Mt. Rainier, North Cascades National Park, and possibly downtown Seattle as well.

Thank you for reading! We hope it has inspired you. We would love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment or send us an email: hofftoseetheworld@gmail.com.

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