Washington State National Park Itinerary: For Foodies & Hikers
This Washington State itinerary is centered around food and forests as you make your way through it’s three beautiful national parks. If you love quality food, you will love all the eating experiences in the Pacific Northwest. My family still talks about the amazing soup we had at a farmers market in Bellingham. Getting quality produce from roadside stands makes eating healthy very easy on this trip.
In less than 1000 miles you will experience three of our nation’s best National Parks: Mount Rainer, North Cascades, and Olympic National Park. Driving through these scenic forests and getting to be in the presence of so much raw beauty will fill you with awe.
If you are in Washington state in the summer, you will find wild blueberries and blackberries growing along the hiking trails. Or, stop by one of the blueberry farms and see the delight on your kid’s faces when you buy a wooden flat of blueberries and let them eat to their heart’s content.
Make sure you bring good hiking shoes because making this an active holiday will be no problem since there will be an overwhelming number of trails to choose from. If your feet need a break from the trail, try out your climbing skills in Leavenworth or near Deception Pass.
If you don’t get your ocean fix on the ferry ride from Deception Pass to Port Townsend, head over to the San Juan Islands to see orcas. Note: The orcas come by San Juan Island NOT Orca Island.
You’ll also get to explore the beautiful beaches of Kalaloch with this road trip. We loved this area and the efforts they are making to preserve nature. The ranger presentation at Kalaloch Campground was one of our all-time favorites.
Day 1- Seattle, Washington
We didn’t see nearly enough of this city. We did, however, take a unique tour called Seattle Underground that gave us a history lesson into how Seattle was originally built and then rebuilt on top of the first level after a fire wiped out most of the mining town.
No trip to Seattle would be complete without walking through Pikes Place and taking a picture of the original Starbucks. If you stay in the area longer, you can take the ferry to Bainbridge or explore the many nice beaches close by. (When we were in the Seattle area, we stayed with friends in the small nearby town of Snohomish, which was quaint and worth stopping at if it’s on your route.)
Day 2- Seattle to Mount Rainier (65 Miles)
Campground: Cougar Rock (inside Mt Rainer NP)
You can’t go through a Washington state national park itinerary without the mention of Mount Rainier. It feels very wild and raw still here. In fact, on one of our hikes, a baby deer and mom walked right up to us. The short popular trails are beautiful and taking pictures of Mount Rainer from the visitor center is nice. However, if you can get on the longer trails, you will be amazed by the tranquility and solitude you can find. Like other national parks, the ranger programs are fantastic (my kids love them). Make sure you pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center when you arrive. The visitor center also has a great movie on volcanoes and geology.
For the adventure enthusiast: The very popular Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile long backpacking trail that encircles Mount Rainier and draws hundreds of hikers every year. Don’t worry if backpacking isn’t your thing, there are many beautiful day hikes all over the park.
Day 3- Mount Rainier to Leavenworth (170 miles)
Campground: Lake Wenatchee
Leavenworth, known for its Bavarian charm, has so many trails that you can hike every day of the year and not see the same thing twice. This town is an outdoor enthusiasts fantasy due to the abundance of rock climbing, biking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, kayaking, river tubing and much more (and that’s just in the summer). Make sure you get your fill of the great German beer and brats.
Detour to Washington State’s most popular scenic attraction, Snoqualmie Falls. The 268-foot waterfall and the short 0.7-mile interpretive hike is another good pit stop on your road trip.
Day 4- Leavenworth to North Cascades (180 miles)
I loved Glacier National Park, so when a ranger there told me that she liked North Cascades even more because there were more glaciers here, I had a hard time believing her. She was right though. With over 300 glaciers and countless snowfields, the North Cascades has more glaciers than anywhere in the U.S. outside of Alaska.
Between the hundreds of miles of hiking trails; power boating, kayaking, and canoeing on Lake Ross; bouldering and sport climbing in Skagit Gorge; mountain biking in Methow Valley; and road biking on North Cascades Highway, squeezing in everything you want to do will be the biggest challenge here.
Take a detour up to Bellingham and visit their farmers market. It was one of our all time favorites and all the food in the area is great.
Day 5- North Cascades to Deception Pass (70 miles)
Campground: Deception Pass
First, stop in Anacortes to take the ferry to the San Juan islands. We saw orcas on San Juan Island (not Orca Island), which was very exciting! You do have to be patient though because you never know when the pods will swim by. The lighthouse has a lot of information on the pods that live in the area. If you go, bring binoculars to help see the whales better. While in Anacortes we also enjoyed climbing at Mount Erie. Deception Pass is a wonderful area of driftwood beaches and hiking trails.
There is a really nice campground at Washington Park, on the west end of Fidalgo Island, just a few miles from the Anacortes Ferry Port. It has a great 2-mile biking/running trail through forested hills and sits next to a beautiful beach full of driftwood and views of the San Juan Islands.
Day 6- Deception Pass to Olympic National Park (100 miles + ferry)
Campground: Heart O’ the Hills
Olympic National Park consists of nearly a million acres spread out over four different regions and is made up of several very different ecosystems. The first one you will come to on this road trip is Hurricane Ridge, which is known for its wildflowers. It is just a few miles south of Port Angeles.
It is a popular backpacking destination and has numerous day hiking trails to subalpine lakes and valleys, many of which are easy to moderate and can make a nice way to spend a day. Although you could stay longer, I’d recommend just making a nice day out of it and then moving on.
Port Townsend and Port Angeles have really good farmers markets and natural foods stores.
Day 7- O.N.P. Fairholme to La Push (40 miles)
Campground: Second Beach, Olympic National Park get permit here
The next area, Lake Crescent, was a good stopping point for us to have a picnic and hike the popular trail through old growth forest to Marymere Falls. Being less than one mile each way, it was a nice leg stretcher. If you want something more challenging, the Spruce Railroad trail is a popular route. If you feel brave (& hot after hiking), jump off the dock and swim in the cold lake.
There is a campground nearby at Fairholme, which is a good option because Second Beach can get crowded. The third area is right next to Forks and La Push, which is an Indian reservation popularized by the book/movie Twilight. The coastline here is a unique combination of fauna and beach. We loved the forested trails and haystack beaches that were great for tide pooling.
A popular thing to do here is to camp overnight at Second Beach. It’s a short 0.7-mile hike in from the parking lot. Make sure to get a wilderness camping permit, pack plenty of potable water, a bear canister, and to choose a spot above where high tide will rise to.
Day 8- La Push to Kalaloch (85 miles)
These next three areas of Olympic National Park are beautiful. First, stop at Hoh Rainforest and see how incredible this temperate rain forest is. With 12-14 feet of rain a year, you will see elk grazing through a dense understory of mosses and ferns that cover the forest floor. I think the epiphytes draping off the branches of maple trees like tendrils makes this area so unique. There are two easy hikes from the visitor center, Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Nature Trail that were very educational for the kids (and me).
Second, spend your days combing the beaches and searching for sea life in the tide pools at Kalaloch. While enjoying these pristine beaches, keep an eye out for marine wildlife such as dolphins, whales, otters, and seals that live in this protected environment.
Last, stop by the Quinault area and drive the scenic loop or hike one of the many hikes in the area. We enjoyed the Kestner Homestead and Maple Glade loop. Keep an eye out for the many elk that are protected here.
We hope you love the destinations on this Washington State itinerary as much as we did. We love road trips so much we decided to make road tripping our normal life. Read our book, The Road Less Traveled, and get a glimpse into what life on the road is like (hint: it’s not all sunshine and daisies) or 1000 Miles of Memories: how To Plan Your First Epic Road Trip and Save Money By Camping. Either way, get outside and get moving. An active life is a happy one!
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