Seattle is a beautiful city with majestic mountain ranges and glistening bodies of water to admire from the heart of town. But when you’re ready to get away, you’ll find a near-endless list of scenic drives close to Seattle that will take your breath away. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful drive through the woods or a trek into the mountains, these drives are sure to please. So grab your keys and take advantage of all Seattle has to offer!
- Distance from Downtown Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass: 54 miles
- Drive time (without traffic): 1 hr
- Most-Used Highway: Interstate 90
The drive from Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass is the shortest on this list, giving you more time to enjoy delightful detours along the way. The trip can be completed entirely on Interstate 90, not including a brief jaunt on I-5 to get you out of Downtown Seattle.
The first noteworthy views appear shortly after you get on 90 West. At the edge of Seattle, you’ll cross over Lake Washington on the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge. The tranquil waters and city vistas never get old.
Next, you’ll enter Mercer Island. You could spend an entire day exploring this Lake Washington gem. Enjoy seeing the lush parks and high-end neighborhoods before, or push forward to discover exciting attractions in Bellevue.
The scenery turns to dense forest as you continue east. Cougar Mountain Regional Park, Lake Sammamish State Park, and Squak Mountain all contribute to the breathtaking beauty.
The most stop-worthy attraction at this point of the trip is Snoqualmie Falls. Located just outside of the eponymous town, this nearly 300-foot waterfall can be viewed from two different observation decks. For the best views, try hiking the 1.5-mile out-and-back trail.
Coming up next on I-90 is Olallie State Park. If you didn’t get your nature fix at Snoqualmie Falls, this is the place to do it. The park boasts miles of hiking trails through teeming meadows, riverside areas, and rugged cliffs.
Things to Do in the Snoqualmie Pass Area
The Snoqualmie Pass has two main attractions: The Summit at Snoqualmie and Keechelus Lake.
During snowy months, people flock to The Summit at Snoqualmie. This popular ski resort has four areas, just under 2,000 acres for skiing and snowboarding, and a total of 25 lifts. The resort also boasts more night skiing trails than any other resort in America. Non-skiers can check out the tubing hill, explore Nordic ski trails, or browse shops and restaurants at the mountain base. When the snow melts, the focus shifts to hiking and mountain biking.
That said, Keechelus Lake is the real star of Snoqualmie Pass during the warmer months. Anglers love this spot for its wide variety of fish. There are numerous species of trout in the water, including rainbow trout, cutthroat, and burbot. All fishermen are asked to adhere to catch limitations to preserve the population.
- Distance from Downtown Seattle to Skagit Valley: 72 miles
- Drive time (without traffic): 1 hr 15 min
- Most-Used Highway: Interstate 5
Skagit Valley is a beautiful region in Washington State known for its lush farmland, verdant forests, and snow-capped mountains.
To get to the Skagit Valley area from Seattle, take I-5 North for about 72 miles. You’ll know you’re there when you see the signs for Mount Vernon, snow-capped Mount Baker, and the Cascades mountain range to the northeast.
There’s no shortage of gorgeous scenery along the way. As you travel north on I-5, you can expect peekaboo views of Puget Sound, Port Susan, and Skagit Bay on your lefthand side. To the east, feel free to admire the quaint towns, charming farms, and rolling hills.
Things to Do in The Skagit Valley Area
The valley is home to several small towns and cities, each with its own unique charms. Skagit Valley is perhaps best known for its Tulip Festival, which attracts tourists from all over the world. The event lasts all of April, from the first to the 30th, in and around the town of Mount Vernon. Festivalgoers can drive to all three tulip gardens and snap once-in-a-lifetime photos of the stunning scenery.
However, the valley has much more to offer than just tulips. Visitors can enjoy hiking and camping in the North Cascades, horseback riding in the foothills, or fishing and kayaking in the Skagit River. There are also several interesting museums, including The Skagit County Historical Museum, the Children’s Museum of Skagit County, and the Anacortes History Museum.
Spring is the preferred time for most people to make this drive, as the blooming tulips are hard to beat. That said, it’s a beautiful drive in every season. Even though evergreens dominate the landscape, there’s still some fall foliage to be found from September to October. During the winter, people make the trek from Seattle to hit the slopes at the Mt. Baker Ski area. Travelers can also drive west to catch a ferry to Orcas Island, where orca whales are famously spotted from the shores and charter boats from May to October.
Mount Rainer National Park
- Distance from Downtown Seattle to Mount Rainier: Approx. 100 miles
- Drive time (without traffic): 2 – 3 hrs
- Most-Used Highways: State Route 161, State Route 164
On a clear day, Mount Rainier dominates the background of Seattle. It seems so close, you might think you could walk there! Mount Rainier is actually located about 70 miles away from Downtown Seattle, and the drive is famously beautiful in every season.
If you’re planning a trip to Mount Rainier National Park, there are a few things you need to know.
First, the park has four entrances: the Nisqually entrance, the White River entrance, the Ohanapecosh entrance, and the Carbon River entrance. The Nisqually and White River entrances are the most commonly used, so if you’re coming from Seattle, those are your best bet. Both routes from downtown Seattle start on Interstate 5.
If you’re headed to the Nisqually entrance, you’ll want to go all the way to the Pioneer Bay exit outside of Tacoma. Then, you’ll take WA-7 passed sparkling Alder Lake. Once you reach the town of Elbe, you can hop out for a bite to eat at one of the charming lakefront restaurants before driving the last stretch of the trip on National Park Highway.
The route to the White River entrance takes you to State Route 167 via I-405 in the SeaTac area. From there, most of the trek is made on State Route 164 and State Route 410. As the name suggests, you’ll be traveling along the White River for most of the trip. This side of the park is less developed. While there are fewer towns to stop at along the way, you can enjoy seeing Washington’s untouched natural beauty for most of the drive.
Things to Do in The Mount Rainier Area
Mount Rainer National Park is huge (spanning more than 230 acres), so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to explore.
Mount Rainier National Park is home to some of the most popular trails and scenery in the country. The park features active volcanoes, stunning glaciers, and over 38 miles of coastline. Visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, and birdwatching. The most popular trail in the park is the Wonderland Trail, which encircles Mount Rainier. Other popular trails include the Lakes Trail and the Skyline Trail.
Towns like Ashford and Paradise offer numerous restaurants, inns, and campgrounds near the Nisqually entrance. There are fewer options on the White River side, but you can still find places to eat and sleep near Crystal Mountain Resort.
Olympic National Park
- Distance from Downtown Seattle to Olympic National Park: 111 miles
- Drive time (without traffic): 2 hrs 20 minutes
- Most-Used Highways: Interstate 5, US Route 101
Olympic National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Washington state. The area is home to towering mountains, a pristine coastline, and ancient forests. In total, the park spans about 1 million acres.
The drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park is relatively easy and wonderfully scenic. You’ll take I-5 south before switching to US Route 101 once you reach Olympia.
The views might be a little drab as you make your way out of the Seattle-Tacoma area. If you keep an eye out to the west, you’ll enjoy water views and quick glimpses of small islands.
No trip to the Olympic National Park would be complete without a quick pit stop in Olympia, Washington’s capital city.
Located at the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia is a vibrant city with a thriving arts scene, diverse shopping and dining options, and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. Visitors to Olympia can explore the downtown area and visit the State Capitol Campus, which features the Washington State Legislature Building, the Temple of Justice, and the Legislative Building. The Hands On Children’s Museum is a great place to take kids, while adults will enjoy exploring the fascinating exhibits at the Olympia History Museum. No matter what your interests are, you’ll find plenty to do in Olympia.
After a fun stop in Olympia, you can head northwest on 101 towards the National Park.
Things To Do in the Olympic National Park Area
There’s nowhere in the world quite like Olympic National Park. The park is home to a wide variety of landscapes, including forests, rivers, meadows, and coastlines. It’s such a sprawling space, you’ll need to understand the park’s four regions to make the most of your time.
North Pacific Coastline Region: Located north of Lake Crescent, the Pacific Coastline region is one of the most popular areas of Olympic National Park. Here, you’ll find picturesque Pacific views, sandy beaches, and tide pools filled with sea creatures.
Forks & La Push: The Forks and La Push communities serve as welcoming basecamp near the park’s most-visited beaches.
Hoh Rainforest Region: This area occupies the western side of the park and is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States.
Interior Alpine Areas: This is where you’ll find Mt. Olympus itself. Know before you go: there are no roads leading through the center of the park.
- Distance from Downtown Seattle to Vancouver: 143 miles
- Drive time (without traffic): 3+ hrs
- Most-Used Highway: Interstate 5
In the mood for an international adventure? Then consider driving north to Vancouver, BC. This Canadian city is just over three hours away, and the drive can be as fun as the destination.
The drive up I-5 is relatively straightforward. However, there are a few things to note before you go. First, be sure to have your passport handy, as you’ll need it to cross the border. Next, plan which stops you want to make along the way.
If you’ve already explored the Skagit Valley area, you might consider driving straight through Bellingham.
Bellingham, Washington, is a beautiful city with outdoor activities, shopping, and entertainment. For those who enjoy spending time outdoors, Bellingham is home to several parks and hiking trails. Shopping enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the many shops and boutiques downtown, while history buffs can tour the Whatcom Museum or the Pickett House Museum. And for those who just want to relax and enjoy the scenery, Bellingham’s waterfront is the perfect place to do just that. Just before you reach the border, you can hop out in the town of Blaine to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant overlooking the Dayton Harbor.
Things to Do In Vancouver, BC
There are so many fun things to do in the city of Vancouver it can be hard to decide what to do first.
Stanley Park is a must-see. The park offers plenty of trails for hiking and biking, as well as stunning views of the ocean and mountains. Vancouver Aquarium is another popular attraction, where visitors can learn about local marine life and see animals like dolphins, penguins, and seals. Those interested in history and culture will enjoy a visit to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, which houses an impressive collection of First Nations artifacts. No matter what your interests are, Vancouver has something to offer everyone.
Scenic Drives Await Near Seattle
If you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of Seattle, look no further than the scenic drives near Seattle. With options like Mount Rainier National Park, Skagit Valley, and Snoqualmie Pass, there’s something for everyone. And if you want to explore a little bit beyond Washington state, Vancouver, BC promises accessible international adventures. So get in your car and take a road trip – we promise you won’t regret it!
Photo by Joe Gardner on Unsplash