One of the many benefits of living in Seattle is the amazing getaways around Washington State. The following summer vacation ideas are some of the most beautiful sites in the United States. You can use these ideas to plan a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a family vacation. There are vacation options for all budgets!
Residents and tourists alike venture out to see all Washington State has to offer. You’ll spend less time getting there and more time having fun since we have all these spots are a hop, skip, and a jump away. Travel by car, catch a ferry, or sail above it all in a seaplane. Find it all right here in our own backyard.
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At these vacation spots, you can enjoy a wide variety of activities, from tasting Washington wines and marveling at alpine wildflowers to whale watching and much more. Accommodations range from camping (DIY to glamping) to rental cabins, charming local inns, and motel chains, as well as rustic resorts, full-service casinos, and luxury spas.
In the list below, most of the summer vacation ideas are within an easy day drive from Seattle. A few are farther away over the Cascade Mountains or across Washington State. Customize your itinerary to fix your style, from vigorous activities to scenic drives or lazy days at the shore and spur-of-the-moment roadside attractions.
Washington State Summer Travel Tips & Tricks
Travel in the Pacific Northwest is unlike travel anywhere else. Especially this far north. If you’re new to the area or planning a summer vacation around Washington State, these travel tips will help you plan a stress-free vacation.
Traffic in Seattle can be rough. Plan to drive before or after rush hour or you may end up spending extra time in the car. Consider leaving early in the morning and returning late at night–especially if you’re planning a day trip.
Late nights, early mornings
In summer, expect it to be light out until at least 11 pm. You’ll see the sun peeping up again around 4 am. If you’re camping, bring eye-shades or blackout curtains for your RV. Even in hotels, the curtains may not keep the room as dark as you like.
It doesn’t always rain
Contrary to popular belief, summer in Seattle is dry–drier than most other areas of the country except desert regions. We can go for weeks without rain. But just in case, pack a rain jacket and hat, which can double as wind or sun protection, or layering for chilly nights. Most likely you’ll stay dry.
Sunny days chase the clouds away
Did you know Seattle sells more sunglasses than any other major US city? Summertime here has lots of sun from sunrise until sunset. Make sure to pack hats, sunglasses, and sun protection.
The wildfire season is from late July to early September. In the past years, we’ve had at least one week with dangerous air quality. And more recently, stretches of hazy, smoky days. Travelers may want to pack an N95 face mask (which we all now have in abundant supply) and have backup indoor plans.
90+ degree temperatures do happen
We can see the upper 80s and low 90s here. Sometimes even 100+. Make sure to stay hydrated–especially in the mountains, or at the beach.
Camping and hotel reservations
Some travelers like the fun of an open itinerary, waiting until they arrive at a destination to seek out accommodations. However, be aware summer travel can be crowded in popular spots, including campsites. Do some research and plan to make reservations if you want to stay at key spots along the way.
Best summer vacation ideas in Washington State
(Listed roughly north to south and west to east.)
San Juan Islands, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle are a must-see for many travelers to the area. They hug the Canadian border and require a WSDOT ferry ride to access. There are 172 named islands, but only three are served by ferry: San Juan Island (with the county seat Friday Harbor), Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. Shaw Island is also accessible by ferry but has limited camping and visitor amenities. These islands have the majority of lodging, dining options, and sightseeing activities. You can do the San Juans as a day trip, but you’ll feel rushed. To do it in a day, take a walk-on ferry. If you can, plan for at least a weekend. Plenty of lodging options exist including camping, plus low-cost cabins, B&Bs, hostels, and farm stays. The San Juans offers many summer vacation activities from kayaking and biking to Orca whale watching, fishing, and a zip line adventure. Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor are two popular town destinations where you can wine and dine, shop, relax at a spa, visit art galleries, or search for second-hand goods. It’s a great destination for a getaway whether you are a nature lover or looking for a relaxing city escape. And it’s a popular spot for a romantic getaway.
North Cascades Scenic Byway begins about 70 miles north of Seattle. Commonly referred to as the North Cascades Highway, State Route 20 (SR-20) is the northernmost route across the Cascade Mountain Range. Note the highway is closed over the mountain pass in winter (November to April) due to snow and avalanche danger. SR-20 offers some of the most breathtaking mountainous beauty in Washington State. The scenic byway is part of the Cascade Loop, a 400-mile driving tour through the Cascade Mountain Range, which bisects the state. The 140-mile North Cascades Scenic Byway spans the section of the Cascade Loop from the town of to Sedro-Woolley in the Skagit Valley (about 70 miles north of Seattle) and over the mountains to the towns of Winthrop and Twisp in the Methow Valley. Expect the landscape and environment to change radically as you head out of green, pastoral Skagit Valley and ascend into the North Cascades National Park. You will wind your way through jagged mountain peaks, rocky spires, rushing waterfalls, and alpine glaciers. (The North Cascades are often referred to as the “North American Alps”.) Don’t forget to stop at Ross Dam and Diablo Dam overlooks for iconic photo ops. If you have time, take in a dam tour of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project (the chicken dinner is highly recommended). Finally, descend into classic Methow Valley Country (think spaghetti westerns and real-life cowboys and cowgirls). Pick out a few must-see spots for a long day trip, or plan overnight stays for a multi-day trip to see more; Winthrop has the most budget-friendly accommodations. Camping is available but reservations fill up fast in the summer, so plan ahead. This is a must-see for nature lovers and hikers. There will be opportunities for viewing Washington State wildlife, as well as scenic photo ops; you may even get to see snow.
Olympic Peninsula has a variety of vacation options for day trips, long weekends, or summer vacations. The stunning Olympic Peninsula loop drive covers more than 300 miles and offers a multitude of experiences, from world-renowned shellfish and award-winning craft beverages to wildlife and waterfalls. You can drive it in a day with minimal stops or opt for a longer drive, taking in the scenic attractions along the way. You can visit the lavender fields in Sequim (see our list of Getaway: Lavender farms on the Washington Peninsula – Greater Seattle on the Cheap) and the Hoh Rain Forest (which gets 14 feet of rain a year!), go bird watching, explore coastal beaches, visit lighthouses, hike for petroglyphs, paddle bottomless Lake Crescent (officially 624 feet deep), or trek Dungeness Spit–the longest natural sand spit in the United States. If you plan to do a lot of driving, it might make for a better family vacation with older kids or a couple looking for a romantic getaway. With kiddos in tow, you will want to pick an area to stay and explore from there. Either way, the Olympic Peninsula is one of the best places in Washington State, offering plenty of things to do and amazing natural wonders. It will not disappoint.
Ocean Shores and Long Beach are not to be missed on the Washington Coast. With Puget Sound at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget the Pacific Ocean is less than 200 miles away. Long Beach is the World’s Longest Drivable Beach, so put the 28-mile-long drive on your bucket list. In the area, you’ll find a plethora of museums, attractions for kids, and great shopping. It makes a great family vacation or romantic getaway. Campgrounds and cabins are plentiful, many right on the beach. Or get a motel room, but remember, you’ll pay a premium for a room with a beach view. Look for lodging in town to save money.
Mount Rainier National Park is about 90 miles southeast of Seattle. Mount Rainier towers at 14,411 feet. On a clear day when “the mountain is out”, it is easily visible from many Seattle vantage points. You can make a visit to Mount Rainier a day trip or stay a few nights to take in more of the scenery. Visiting Rainer is unlike any other mountain in the nation. Hikes range from easy walks suitable for all ages to skilled treks summiting the peak. This is a nature lovers vacation spot, a great family vacation, as well as a romantic getaway. Camping is the most affordable option, though there are plenty of lodging options, including two inns inside the park and plenty of accommodations along the routes to the park. There are off-road biking trails and it is not known as a key fishing destination. Walking, hiking, climbing, birdwatching, and wildflowers are favorite activities. Head there in July or August if you want to catch peak wildflower season.
Wenatchee is a small city of 80,000 people over the Cascade Mountains, 140 miles east of Seattle. The lush, agricultural valley sits in the center of Washington State at the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers. The city bills itself as the apple capital of the world, although today China’s production dwarfs that of the U.S. Still, Wenatchee produces more than half of the U.S. apple crop each year–more than any other state in the Union. To get to Wenatchee, head east on I-90 over beautiful Snoqualmie Pass. Or, take the Northern route on US-2 through Steven’s Pass. Once you arrive in Wenatchee, you’ll find: climbing, hiking, biking, river rafting, hydroelectric dams, world-class golfing, sports teams, art galleries, museums, the Ice Age Flood Trail, and outdoor concerts (or catch a shuttle to an event at the Gorge amphitheater). Budget-friendly motels are easy to find with rooms as low as $60 a night and there are plenty of camping choices in the area. It can be a great weekend getaway, especially if the weather in Seattle has been gray and cloudy.
Lake Chelan, about 180 miles northeast of Seattle is a crystal clear, glacier-fed lake in central Washington State. The 50-mile-long lake reaches a depth of 1,486 feet and is one of the clearest lakes in the United States. Camping is available at Lake Chelan State Park. There are many other affordable summer vacation lodging choices including campsites, cabins, and RV parks, to resorts and rental condos. The town of Chelan has plenty to keep the entire family happy, including a water park, go-carts, and more. There are eight golf courses in the Chelan Valley and many more nearby. A little farther north in the town of Manson, adults will enjoy vineyards and wineries along with plenty of shops and restaurants. Or head north to the town of Stehekin—the only way to get there is by boat, plane, or horseback, there are no roads. It’s an out-of-the-way vacation spot especially appealing to Washington State wildlife and hiking enthusiasts, some arriving via the Pacific Crest Trail.
Grand Coulee Dam is located about 100 miles northeast of Wenatchee in north-central Washington State. Whether a stopover or summer vacation destination, many find the Grand Coulee Dam to be an interesting and worthwhile stop. The massive dam rises 350 feet above the river and stretches nearly one mile across. Woody Guthrie traveled around the Columbia Basin and wrote a collection of 17 songs, released as “The Columbia River Collection”, including “Roll on Columbia”, “Grand Coulee Dam”, and “Roll On Columbia, Roll On” sung to the tune of “Goodnight Irene” and later adopted as the state folksong of Washington. As a vacation spot, there are plenty of things to do–read more on our page about the Grand Coulee Dam recreation area.
Yakima, known as the “Heart of Central Washington” is located in the south-central part of the state, about 140 miles southeast of Seattle. You can head there on a day trip, a weekend getaway, or make it your home base for exploring more of Washington State over summer vacation. Yakima is an excellent spot for history-buffs with several museums and a self-guided walking tour through historic Yakima. There are also vineyards, craft breweries, cherry-picking, and festivals throughout the summer. It’s a relaxing great vacation spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take advantage of these Yakima Valley maps and Yakima Valley walking trails. Plenty of motel options are available as well as historic Bed & Breakfasts.
Moses Lake is located about 70 miles southeast of Wenatchee and 100 miles northeast of Yakima, off I-90. Here you’ll find the one-of-a-kind Mud Flats and Sand Dunes–perfect for an off-road adventure. If you’re not looking for something so rough-and-tumble, there are plenty of other options. Check out the Museum and Art Center, the Farmer’s Market, or any of the areas many parks. There’s also the Surf n’ Slide Water Park. Camping, as well as dozens of motels, make this an easy stay for one or several nights.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is 80-miles long following the Columbia River Canyon. It sits on the Washington-Oregon border and is the largest natural scenic area in the United States. We suggest exploring the section from Camas, WA to Wishram, WA, which begins about 200 miles south of Seattle. You can return the same route, or cross the Columbia River at Biggs Junction or Dallesport and return along the Oregon side of the river. Lewis and Clark visited this area, taking in the stunning waterfalls along the rushing river. This area is popular for the geologic formations and Native American history. Take in some fine dining and wine, hike or bike, fish, get on (or in) the water, or enjoy a scenic drive. You will want lots of time to linger here. To get the most out of it, stay at least one night. Campgrounds in Oregon State Parks and Washington State Parks are available. If you don’t like to camp, check out other lodging options throughout the area.
Wildfire Information for Washington State
When traveling during summer check on Washington State wildfire information. The best way to get up-to-date information on wildfires is to follow the #WaWILDFIRE hashtag on Twitter. Local emergency management offices, such as sheriff departments or local fire districts, order and communicate evacuations when needed and other emergency activities. If you find yourself in a wildfire emergency, always follow the directions of public safety personnel.
DNR provides information about wildfires that are notable, due to location or size. Review the WA DNR Fire Danger and Outdoor Burning Map to view the risk and restrictions in your planned area of travel. Visit the Ready, Set, Go! (RSG) Program for information about wildfire safety and what you can do before a fire strikes to be prepared.
Getaways & day trips on our calendar
Visit our website for more ideas for getaways & day trips (greaterseattleonthecheap.com).
Thursday, January 18, 2024
Friday, January 19, 2024
Saturday, January 20, 2024
Sunday, January 21, 2024