Let’s be real: Seattle is freaking great. But I’m sure you’re feeling the need to get the heck out of town right now. I love Seattle, don’t get me wrong… It’s just that everyone’s going stir-crazy after several months of not being allowed to travel for leisure. I feel it too.
Between that stir-craziness we’re all feeling and the fact that air travel – and especially international travel – are still no-gos, it’s an ideal time to plan an epic road trip. Luckily there are some fantastic road trips from Seattle, including ones you likely already know and some you don’t.
In addition to loving Seattle, I love a good road trip – I take a ton of pride in having the best Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide on the internet (in my humble opinion anyway!). Inspired by the PCH (which makes a small appearance on this list), I’ve put together this list of road trips from Seattle that you may want to start planning.
Whether you turn your wheels North, South, East, or even West (though there’s not far to go!) – now’s the perfect time to plan a Seattle road trip, even if you don’t hop in the car right away.
My Definition of a “Road Trip”
When I write any post, I always read other articles on the topic to learn what fellow travelers are recommending. I found a lot of junk, to be honest: most of the top results from Google list Seattle road trip destinations rather than Seattle road trip routes.
But here’s the thing: you already know cool weekend trip destinations from Seattle. There are a TON of them and they rock. But they’re not road trips just because you need a car to get there.
Here’s how I define a road trip: a road trip is a car/vehicle journey that takes you to a series of Points of Interest (POIs) or destinations over at least one night.
The focus of a road trip is as much on the journey (by car) as the destinations themselves. Road trip routes can be one-way, a loop, or an out-and-back – kind of like hiking. I generally prefer loops and made all of the Seattle road trips in this post into loops or partial loops.
In this post, you won’t find a list of destinations or day/weekend trip spots you can drive to. Instead, you’ll find nine awesome road trip routes that start and end in Seattle.
How I Make Road Trip Maps
You’ll notice that in this post, I use a map interface from Roadtrippers. I’m pretty obsessed with how much easier it is to make road trip maps using their tool than Google Maps, which was my go-to for years.
This post isn’t sponsored by Roadtrippers or anything, but gimme a sec to explain why you should use their maps instead of other map tools:
- Their name is Roadtrippers. They are obvs experts.
- Their map interface is way easier to use when adding POIs and reorganizing them.
- They provide the distance and time estimate data between each stop by default.
- Every trip has a total estimated time, distance, and gas cost. That last one is freaking gold.
Anyway, you’ll see a map for each Seattle road trip below; you can click the name of the trip on the map itself to jump to a bigger view with a lot more detail.
(If you dig these maps and want to make your own, I used Roadtrippers Plus to create this route; you can get $5 off Plus by clicking this link and using code BTR5QTP.)
The 9 Best Road Trips from Seattle
1. The Olympic Peninsula
When I first moved to Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula was one of the first road trips I made. Somehow isn the span of just 600 miles circumnavigating the peninsula, you can experience the huge diversity of natural wonders in the Pacific Northwest. Rocky Pacific Beaches, wild coastal storms, towering mountains, and verdant sunny vistas in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains… the Olympic Peninsula somehow has it all!
While you can do this trip in as few as three days (just cut out the extensions to Port Townsend and Cape Flattery/overnight in Neah Bay), four days is the perfect length of time for an Olympic Peninsula road trip.
I’ve got a whole guide for doing an Olympic Peninsula road trip if you’re sold on it.
2. The San Juan Islands
I’ll admit it: the San Juans are a bit of a stretch based on the definition of road trips I set up above. Really, a trip to the San Juans is more of a road+waterway trip – it has to be done by car and by ferry.
I’ve done a car-and-ferry trip to the San Juans in as little as three days, but I think it’d be less stressed and more leisurely in four days. This will give you a chance to explore three main points of interest by car and foot: Anacortes on Fidalgo Island, Eastsound on Orcas Island, and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. You’ll need that car to explore the rest of each of the islands themselves too.
Like the Olympic Peninsula, I have a complete guide to visiting the San Juan Islands to help you plan your own “road” trip to the San Juans.
3. The PNW Coast Highway
However, if you want to do a loop of it, do it as a “Pacific Northwest” Coast Drive along the Washington and Oregon coasts. From Seattle, head to the coast at Aberdeen then turn south and wind your way down Highway 101; you can instead start in Olympia and add on the Olympic Peninsula to drive from the highway’s origination point. On the way home, stop in Portland to rest.
4. Along the Columbia River
If you’re looking for an unconventional road trip from Seattle, consider this: the Columbia River runs from the Pacific inland along the Washington-Oregon border before turning north to the Canadian border and its headwaters.
To do this road trip, make your way from Seattle to Long Beach for the first overnight, then follow the river into Portland and Hood River for the second overnight. Continuing east along the river at Hermiston, turn north, and drive up to Richland and Vantage in turn. This will give you a sample of the Columbia’s powerful force, carving through the Pacific Northwest.
5. Connecting the Cascade Volcanos
- Suggested Days: 5 minimum
- Suggested Overnights: Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount Rainier
One of my favorite parts of living in the Seattle area is the looming specter of Mt. Rainier. Just one of the pearls, the Cascade mountain range is a string of volcanoes including Rainier: Adams, St. Helen’s, and Hood to name a few more. Why not string them together into a rustic road trip of car camping on the slopes of each one?
(The Cascades also stretch all the way to California, and I have a similar road trip on my list of San Francisco road trips, too.)
On this 5-day/4-night road trip, you’ll visit each of the major volcanoes near Seattle in a big loop – it includes a fair amount of driving on mountain roads and you’ll need to bring camping gear so upgrade to something bigger for a more comfortable road trip.
6. The Cascade Lakes Loop
- Suggested Days: 4 minimum
- Suggested Overnights: Diablo Lake/Ross Lake, Lake Chelan, Leavenworth
So far, I haven’t recommended any Seattle road trips in the northern part of Washington; let me make up for that now. This road trip, which I’m calling the Cascade Lakes Loop, takes you up into the mountains to some of the state’s beautiful mountain and alpine lakes – and even to Leavenworth for a little Bavarian R&R.
To do this road trip, take I-5 north to Highway 20. Follow WA-20 east to Diablo Lake and Ross Lake. Then take US-97 to Lake Chelan, before turning westward on US-2 to toward Leavenworth. If you haven’t had enough water visiting the lakes, I’ve done a lovely river float in Leavenworth in the summer months (as part of a Leavenworth bachelorette party, actually!).
7. Glacier & Yellowstone National Parks
- Suggested Days: 7 minimum
- Suggested Overnights: Spokane, Glacier NP, Missoula, Yellowstone NP, Boise, Walla Walla
Road tripping to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks is the biggest road trip on my list of Seattle road trips – you need at least 7 days, but adding a few extra days will make it much more enjoyable. I’ve put together this itinerary to combine cities with natural wonders: it includes stops in Spokane, Missoula, Boise, and Walla Walla.
But, of course, the real highlights are Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Rather than rushing it, give yourself a full day in each park in between driving days to and from.
Here are tips for maximizing your time in each park:
- One day in Glacier, from the National Park Service
- One day in Yellowstone, from my blogger friend Marissa at Postcards to Seattle
8. The Sea to Sky Highway
Whenever I think about my favorite drives, the Sea to Sky Highway is on my mental list. I last drove the Sea to Sky southbound as the final leg of driving the Alaska-Canada Highway from Alaska. I remember being held in the mountains on a winding timber road, and then the expansive blue waterways of Howe Sound opened up in front of the car in all its Pacific Northwesterly glory.
In this road trip, I recommend doing it the other way and ascending from sea level to the mountain passes. Making it a loop, you can stop in Whistler to breathe the mountain air, then head east to Kamloops for a bit of the high arid desert of Southcentral BC. From then, it’s back to big city Vancouver to round out the different climates and settings on this quick road trip.
9. The Oregon Wine & Cheese Route
Okay, here we go: one last Seattle road trip for the foodies out there. Some of the road trips on this list are well-known and named – others are ones I’ve put together and named myself. This is one of the latter, and I couldn’t help but name it honestly: it’s a road trip to sample Oregon’s best wine and cheese.
The first stop is McMinnville, home to many of Oregon’s best wineries. You can spend the evening of the first day tasting wine – or stretch it to a full day afterward. Then head west to the coast to Tillamook where the cheese of the town’s namesake is made. Lastly you can head back to Portland for a night where you can find any other food and drinks you might want beyond cheese and wine.
This is a delicious and quick road trip from Seattle, and probably one you’ve never considered.
Which road trip will you plan first, once this is all over? Let me know in the comments – or any questions you have too!