Washington State is home to some of the loveliest natural areas in the Pacific Northwest, including the iconic Cascade Mountain range and the picturesque waters of the Puget Sound. Area visitors have a plethora of day trip destinations to choose from, ranging from major cultural centers like Seattle and Bellingham to island destinations like Bainbridge and Vashon Islands. Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument offers some of the area's best hiking experiences, while the Mount Baker Ski Area is renowned throughout the world for its prime skiing conditions. Nearby in Oregon, Hood River is known as one of the Pacific Northwest's top outdoor recreation destinations, offering excellent opportunities for windsurfing and kitesurfing on the Columbia River Gorge. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.The San Juan Islands
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The San Juan Islands are a chain of beautiful islands located within Washington State's Puget Sound, near the Haro and Rosario Straits and Vancouver Island. San Juan Island is home to lovely San Juan Island National Historical Park, which preserves American and English Army campsites connected to the 1859 Pig War boundary dispute. Visitors can explore the island's charming art galleries, antique stores, and bookstores or visit attractions such as the Whale Museum and the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. Tourist hub Friday Harbor is home to a spacious marina and a number of fine dining destinations. Lime Kiln Point State Park is a top spot for shore-based orca whale watching, home to an interpretive center and a preserved historic lighthouse. Other major attractions include the Pelindaba Lavender Farm, one of the nation's largest lavender farms, and the Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, which is home to a herd of over 50 alpacas.
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Leavenworth is a lovely central Washington village that is best known for its unique German-style heritage and cultural attractions. The city, which originally developed as a logging community within the beautiful Cascade Mountains, reinvented itself as a European-themed tourist destination in the 20th century after the departure of the area's railroading industry. Today, it is home to a variety of beautiful Bavarian and Alpine-style buildings and German-themed attractions, including beer halls and German restaurants on its lovely Front Street. The unique Nutcracker Museum displays exhibits of historic nutcrackers produced in Europe and the United States. Each year, the city hosts a number of German-themed events, including a fall Oktoberfest celebration and a holiday Christkindlmarkt.
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Bainbridge Island is a delightful community in Kitsap County, accessible from the Washington State mainland in downtown Seattle via a daily connector ferry service. The island, which has been named as one of the United States' best places to live by CNN and Money Magazine, is a popular bedroom community for Seattle residents and a year-round tourist destination for day trippers and weekend warriors. Visitors can peruse the exhibits of the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, view gorgeous artwork on display at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, or take young ones to the Kids' Discovery Museum, which offers interactive science and art exhibits. Fay Bainbridge Park is home to a seasonal beach, while the Bloedel Reserve offers nature trails and gorgeous landscaped garden areas.
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Bellingham is a lovely coastal Washington city located near the state's Canadian border, known as a major port city for ferries and cruise ships traveling north to Alaska. The charming city is one of the Pacific Northwest's best emerging craft beer towns, home to 15 breweries that have won more than four dozen medals at major national and international brewing competitions. Its renowned local music scene has launched the careers of major independent artists, including Death Cab for Cutie and the Posies. Visitors can catch performances by the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra or the North Sound Youth Symphony, attend the internationally-renowned Bellingham Festival of Music, or peruse the exhibits of the lovely Whatcom Museum of History and Art, which sponsors monthly gallery walk events. Outdoor recreational opportunities abound at the 241-acre Whatcom Falls Park and the Mount Baker Ski Area, which holds the world record for most snowfall in one season.
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Carnation is a charming rural community in western Washington State, located within convenient day trip driving distance from Seattle's downtown district. The city is named in honor of the Carnation Milk Products Company, which was originally founded within its borders as the Tolt Milk Products Company. Visitors can explore the recreated Camlann Medieval Village, which was founded in the 1980s and replicates daily life within the English countryside in the 14th century. Remlinger Farms offers family-friendly park rides and locally-grown produce, located less than a mile outside of the city's borders. Outdoor recreational opportunities abound on the nearby Tolt and Snoqualmie Rivers and within the nearby foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
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Carson is a lovely town along the banks of the Columbia River, located near the cities of Stevenson, Washington and Hood River, Oregon. The city is best known as the home of the Carson Hot Springs Resort, which is anchored around natural mineral hot springs and showcases an authentic 1900s bathhouse and a the par-71 Elk Ridge Golf Course. The Carson National Fish Hatchery has been raising salmon and trout populations since the 1930s and has been credited as a major factor in the recovery of Chinook salmon populations on the lower Columbia River. Today, it offers guided tours, showcasing operations and historic buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Nearby, Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, kayaking, and camping.
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Castle Rock is a lovely city located at the western base of Mount Saint Helens within the gorgeous Willapa Hills in Cowlitz County. The town is named for its unique volcanic rock outcropping, which rises 190 feet above the Cowlitz River on the city's southern edge and was known as a major geographic landmark during the region's pioneer era. Lovely Rock Community Park is home to hiking trails and day-use picnic sites, located within a beautiful Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest climate. Visitors can also explore the unique Spirit Lake Memorial highway, commemorating the covering of a previous highway before Mount Saint Helens' 1980 eruption, and the Hummocks Trail, which offers easy hiking experiences for families. Downtown, visitors can enjoy delicacies from Castle Rock Donuts, or peruse new and used books at Vault Books and Brew.
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Chehalis is a lovely city in Lewis County, originally established as a pioneer settlement in 1873 connected to the Northern Pacific Railroad. The city, which is named in honor of the region's historic indigenous people, preserves its pioneer-era history along its Historic Downtown Walking Tour and at its lovely Lewis County Historical Museum. Riverside Golf Club offers public golfing experiences, while the Gail and Carolyn Shaw Aquatics Center is home to a beach-entry pool, water slides, and children's play areas. Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library, named in honor of philanthropist Orin Smith, is housed at the site of the city's former 1910 city hall building. Each year, the city hosts the annual Southwest Washington Fair, which brings rides, games, 4-H attractions, and fair food vendors.
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Davenport is known as the official gateway to the lovely Lake Roosevelt Recreation Area, which offers a plethora of year-round water sports and outdoor recreational opportunities less than half an hour away from the city's downtown district. The charming Columbia Basin city is surrounded by a beautiful landscape of rolling wheat fields, pothole lakes, and basaltic coulees. The Lincoln County Historical Museum is home to collections of railroading and farming memorabilia, while Fort Spokane preserves an 1880s-era frontier army post. Davenport Water Park operates throughout the summer months, offering water slides and play areas for swimmers of all ages. Each year, the city hosts a plethora of special events, including the July Pioneer Days festival and the Lincoln County Fair, held each August.
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, Michigan beaches
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Gig Harbor is a lovely maritime village located within the shadow of majestic Mount Rainier, known as a popular weekend getaway spot for Seattle and Portland residents. The town is a hub for water sports and outdoor activities, including opportunities to rent kayaks, paddle boats, and other watercraft for recreational sailing. Family-friendly attractions line the city's downtown district, including the Harbor History Museum, the Ocean 5 laser tag and bowling funplex, and the lovely Waterfront History Walk. Adults can sample famed brown sugar bourbon at Heritage Distilling, which offers distillery tours and a cask club, or dine at delicious pubs like Tide's Tavern, known for its delicious craft burgers and local beer selection. Harborview Avenue is lined with excellent restaurants and charming shops, while Uptown Gig Harbor is home to an open-air shopping mall.
11.Green Lake Trail
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Green Lake Trail offers scenic views of its namesake lake, which is surrounded by lovely forested lands near Tolmie Park. Its trailhead is located at the picturesque Carbon River and leads through a massive old-growth forest section for 3.6 miles to Ranger Creek. Some of Mount Rainier National park's oldest and largest trees are showcased along the trail, which is also home to a stunning waterfall panorama at Ranger Falls. Its trail section slopes up a moderately easy incline, making it a great choice for families and novice hikers. Another mile along the trail, visitors reach Green Lake, which offers outdoor recreational opportunities.
55210 238th Avenue East , Ashford, WA 98304, Phone: 360-569-2211
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Hood River is one of Oregon's top outdoor recreational destinations, known as one of the Pacific Northwest's top sites for windsurfing. The city, which is located at the confluence of the scenic Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Mountains, serves as the western gateway to the beautiful Mount Hood Scenic Byway, a top scenic driving destination in the area. Visitors can enjoy a plethora of opportunities for year-round recreation, including kitesurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, skiing, and mountain biking. In the city's downtown district, visitors can dine at acclaimed fine dining destinations, sample wines at Stoltz Vineyards, or catch performances by the arts troupes of the Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association. Each year, the city hosts the Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim, which draws top international swimmers, and the Hood River Valley Harvest Fest, named as one of America's top harvest festivals by Food and Wine.
La Conner is a charming Skagit County town that is connected via bridge to nearby Fidalgo Island, which is home to the gated Shelter Bay Community and the Swinomish indigenous reservation. The town is known as an arts hub in the Pacific Northwest, home to the lovely Museum of Northwest Art, which showcases a permanent collection of works by Northwest artists. Visitors can peruse art exhibits at galleries such as the La Conner Seaside Gallery, and Cassera Arts Premiers or attend the annual Arts Alive! local artist showcase. Local museums include the Skagit Historical Museum, the Quilt Museum, and the Gaches Mansion living history museum. Each spring, the town hosts an annual Tulip Festival, celebrating the beautiful tulip plantings throughout its farmland fields.
Metaline Falls has been named as one of America's 100 best small arts towns, best known as the filming site for the Kevin Costner film The Postman. The former 20th-century mining and logging town is home to lovely historic attractions such as the Mill Pond Historic Interpretive Site, located within the Colville National Forest. Guided cave tours are offered at Crawford State Park, showcasing Washington State's second-largest limestone cavern. Visitors can dine at delicious area restaurants such as homestyle Cathy's Cafe, take guided tours of the historic 1912 Cutter Theatre, or camp at sites like Mount Linton RV Park or the Sullivan Lake Ranger District. Each year, the city hosts annual special events like the Spring Ding bluegrass and folk music festival and the Labor Day weekend Affair on Main Street.
15.Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument preserves the natural areas surrounding the iconic volcanic mountain of the same name, which gained international attention following its dramatic eruption in 1980. Two years later, a 110,000-acre natural area surrounding the mountain was protected by the National Park Service to study and preserve natural habitats and landmarks that were impacted by the eruption. Today, the park is open to the public as a recreational and ecological area, offering excellent opportunities for hiking to the majestic mountains's summit. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views at the stunning Windy Ridge Overlook, which is widely acclaimed to be one of the state's top scenic drives. Lava tubes are preserved along the National Recreation Trail Ape Cave Trail. The park's visitor center also offers interpretive trails, nature exhibits, and showings of a documentary film related to the volcano's eruption.
3029 Spirit Lake Hwy, Castle Rock, WA 98611, Phone: 360-449-7800
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Mount Baker is one of the Cascade Mountains' most heavily-glaciated volcanoes, known around the world as one of the Pacific Northwest's top destinations for skiing and winter sports. The delightful Mount Baker Ski Area, which holds the world's record for most snowfall in a single season, offers excellent skiing trails and snowboarding areas at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet above sea level. Lovely Mount Baker National Recreation Area, located along the mountain's southern slopes, showcases high-elevation lakes, rocky peaks, and natural alpine meadows. Visitors can climb popular trails such as the Heliotrope Ridge Trail, which winds through the Coleman Glacier, or drive scenic routes such as State Route 542 and the Mount Baker Highway. Nearby Mount Baker Foothills communities such as Kendall, Maple Falls, and Nugents Corner are home to craft breweries, Pacific Northwest vineyards, casinos, restaurants, and lodging options.
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Olympia is Washington State's capital city, located along the southern edge of the picturesque Puget Sound. The beautiful city is known for its fine arts attractions, including the Olympia Little Theater, and the historic State Theater. Visitors can catch performances by the Olympia Symphony Orchestra at Washington Center, tour the city's 1909 Governor's Mansion and stately Legislative Building, or explore public art at beautiful waterfront Percival Landing Park. Natural areas include the 600-acre Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area, which stretches for more than five miles along the Puget Sound waterfront, and Watershed Park, which protects a second-growth forest. Hip cultural attractions include local coffee favorite Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, the Art House Designs gallery and performance space, and Monarch Contemporary Art Center and Sculpture Park. Each year, the city hosts a plethora of special events, including the Olympia Film Society's annual film festival and one of the Pacific Northwest's largest Earth Day celebrations.
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18.Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is one of the Pacific Northwest's most beautiful national parks, spanning more than a million acres along Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. The park, which was originally declared as a national monument in 1909, is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site today, home to more than 70 miles of rugged, picturesque wilderness coastline. Visitors can explore beautiful areas of temperate rainforests, dry forests, and alpine regions, which all offer excellent day-hiking experiences for experienced nature hikers. Beach backpacking trails include the popular nine-mile Ozette Loop trail. Three visitor centers within the park offer exhibits on the region's ecology and serve as trailheads for interpretive trails. Ranger-led programming throughout the year includes wildlife watching trips and night sky programming.
3002 Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA 98362, Phone: 360-565-3130
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Prosser is a charming city in Benton County, located along the banks of the majestic Yakima River. The city is known as the birthplace of the wine industry in Washington State, home to more than 30 delightful wineries and tasting rooms offering tastings and tours throughout the year. Two delicious craft breweries and a distillery also populate its downtown district, along with the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center, which offers educational experiences elaborating on the region's wine and agriculture. The city's historic downtown area is home to a plethora of delightful art galleries, independent shops, and antique stores, perfect for strolling and perusing throughout the year. Annual cultural events include a Balloon Festival in September and a number of wine-related festivals and tasting events throughout the year.
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Seattle is the largest metropolis in the Pacific Northwest, known throughout the world as one of the great centers of technology, innovation, and independent music. The city, which is located on the banks of the picturesque Puget Sound in western Washington State, is acclaimed for its thriving rock and jazz music scene, which launched the careers of rock bands like Nirvana and the Foo Fighters throughout the 20th century. Visitors can ascend the city's iconic Space Needle, constructed for the 1962 World's Fair, or take a ride on the scenic Seattle Great Wheel, one of the largest observation wheels in the United States. Family-friendly attractions include the Seattle Aquarium, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the lovely Pike Place Market, best known as the birthplace of internationally-renowned coffee shop chain Starbucks. Major events held throughout the year include the Seattle International Film Festival, which highlights showings of independent and arthouse films.
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Snoqualmie is a lovely resort destination located just half an hour east of Seattle, best known as the home of iconic Snoqualmie Falls, Washington State's second most-visited natural landmark. The falls, which reach heights more than twice the size of Niagara Falls, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their majesty and cultural significance. Salish Lodge, which sits atop the falls, was featured as a major filming site in David Lynch's iconic Twin Peaks television series. Visitors can explore the attractions of the Northwest Railway Museum, which operates a scenic tourist railway throughout the city. Washington's only Jack Nicklaus Signature Course golf course is offered at the Club at Snoqualmie Ridge. Other attractions include the PSE Hydroelectric Museum, which chronicles the development of the world's first underground power station.
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Twisp is a delightful year-round vacation destination in Okanogan County, located at the confluence of the Methow and Twisp Rivers in the state's north-central region. The region is best known as the gateway to the Okanogan National Forest, which spans millions of acres and offers excellent opportunities for hiking, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping. Popular hiking routes lead to the nearby North Cascades and Sawtooth Mountains, which are home to cross-country and backcountry skiing areas during the winter months. In town, Twisp Park offers pet-friendly amenities, a children's playground, and a public community pool. Arts and cultural attractions abound, including the Merc Playhouse, housed within the former Twisp Ranger Station.
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Vashon Island is a lovely census-designated place located on Vashon-Maury Island, the southern Puget Sound's largest inlet island. The island, which is roughly the size of Manhattan, is accessible from the mainland via ferry or water taxi and serves as a peaceful refuge away from Washington State city life, home to expansive beachfront stretches, natural pastures and preserves, and public park areas. Visitors can explore the island via bike or kayak and stop at spots such as Point Robinson Park, which protects sandy shoreline stretches and saltwater marshes. Island attractions include delicious coffee shops like Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie. Each year, the Vashon Island Strawberry Festival features parades, artisan vendors, and fresh-picked sweet berries.
Waitsburg is a lovely Washington State city with strong ties to the region's pioneer era, originally explored by Europeans in 1806 as part of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition. The city, which is located along the banks of the Touchet River, is the state's only city to still operate under its original territorial charter today, home to a landscape of rolling hills and farmland. Visitors can stroll the city's quaint Main Street, which is home to attractions such as art galleries, wineries, and craft microbreweries. Exceptions hiking, biking, fishing, and water sports opportunities are located just 20 minutes away within the Walla Walla Valley. During the winter months, the scenic Bluewood downhill ski basin offers some of the region's most picturesque skiing opportunities.
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Woodinville is a delightful waterfront city located along the banks of the beautiful Sammamish River, known for its charming downtown attractions and hip craft liquor scene. Visitors can enjoy delicious wine tastings at Washington State's oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, or try new vintages at family-friendly winery Novelty Hill. Craft spirits are served up at the Woodinville Whiskey Company, which specializes in housemade bourbon. Excellent dining abounds at local favorites such as Hollywood Tavern, known for its potato-chip-stuffed club sandwiches, or the elegant Barking Frog, which serves four-course tasting menus throughout the week. A plethora of artisan shopping opportunities are offered at the Woodinville Farmers Market. Outdoor recreational sites include Adventura, which is home to an aerial ropes course.
25 Best Day Trips & Small Towns in Washington State
- The San Juan Islands, Photo: Jo Ann Snover/stock.adobe.com
- Leavenworth, Photo: Jamie & Judy Wild and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Bainbridge Island, Photo: Bill Perry/stock.adobe.com
- Bellingham, Photo: Cliff/stock.adobe.com
- Carnation, Photo: valentyne/stock.adobe.com
- Carson, Photo: Michel Hersen and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Castle Rock, Photo: CrackerClips/stock.adobe.com
- Chehalis, Photo: Gudellaphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Davenport, Photo: Simun Ascic/stock.adobe.com
- Gig Harbor, Photo: Bill Perry/stock.adobe.com
- Green Lake Trail, Photo: Marina Krasnovid/stock.adobe.com
- Hood River, Photo: tusharkoley/stock.adobe.com
- La Conner, Photo: paulfell/stock.adobe.com
- Metaline Falls, Photo: JOAN/stock.adobe.com
- Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Photo: khomlyak/stock.adobe.com
- Mount Baker, Photo: inboundhorizons/stock.adobe.com
- Olympia, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Olympic National Park, Photo: Jenifoto/stock.adobe.com
- Prosser, Photo: Elizabeth Kraus/stock.adobe.com
- Seattle, Photo: khomlyak/stock.adobe.com
- Snoqualmie, Photo: Jeremy Janus/stock.adobe.com
- Twisp, Photo: Jamie & Judy Wild and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Vashon Island, Photo: Crin/stock.adobe.com
- Waitsburg, Photo: sergnester/stock.adobe.com
- Woodinville, Photo: Africa Studio/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Jason/stock.adobe.com
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