“Emerald City,” as Seattle is known, earns its nickname from the lush, evergreen forests that surround the cultural capital of the Northwest. While the city offers a number of popular sites for visitors to enjoy, from the Space Needle to Pike Place Market, the stunning nature at every turn on one of several day trips from Seattle is what sets it apart from other American destinations.
Nature lovers will delight in the wonders of the Northwest including hills, lakes, rivers, sounds, mountain ranges, rocky coastlines, and roads that wind their way through seemingly endless forests. A drive from Seattle will also take you through vineyards, waterfront towns, and former logging outposts, with plenty to do and see along the way.
The area's most famous landmark and enduring sight from Seattle, the snow-capped Mount Rainier, entices road hikers as the perfect getaway from the city. For one of the most scenic routes, start in the country town of Enumclaw, which also serves as the gateway to a number of state and national parks.
Head east on the Chinook Scenic Byway (Highway 410), where the plateau's dotted horse and dairy farms—formed from ancient volcanic mudflats—give way to dense forests of tall and gradual fir and rising in height. The road parallels closely with the White River as you enter the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and then Mount Rainier National Park, leaving all signs of civilization in the rearview mirror.
You will soon travel through the Cayos Pass and into the Stevens Valley, along the back of Mount Rainier. It's a rugged area of the park, with plenty of stops, and offers great views of the surrounding mountains, deep rocky valleys and picturesque waterfalls. Park your car at one of the many roadside stops for a short scenic walk. After reaching the aptly named paradise, the path begins to straighten as you descend slowly, heading west and north back toward the city.
For another excellent drive, look west from Seattle and you'll find a jumble of islands and the vast and rugged wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula. The 3,600-square-mile land mass consists of several state and national parks, the most prominent of which is Olympic National Park. Then north and west to the coastal city of Port Angeles, which was a former logging center. One option is to stay along the coast on the Juan de Fuca Strait Highway (Highway 112), navigating through jagged cliffs and cedar forests, with views of Vancouver Island across the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Otherwise, turn south and circle through the million-acre Olympic National Park on the Olympic Highway (Highway 101). You'll pass through old-growth rainforests with great views of lakes and mountain streams, and rugged, ice-capped peaks, with a chance to stop along the way and relax in the natural hot springs.
Another scenic day trip option east of Seattle begins on Stevens Pass (Highway 2) and meanders to the central section of the Cascade Range and Woods Towering pine, spruce, fir and cedar. The route follows the South Fork Skykomish River as you pass through mountain villages, with many scenic spots that make great stops, including a half-mile trail to Boundaries Falls.
You'll pass near Lake Wenatchee as you cruise through Tumwater Canyon along the Wenatchee River, eventually arriving at the Bavarian town of Leavenworth in the shadows of the east side of the Cascade. The festive tourist town features the Nutcracker Museum and restaurants serving steak and sausage, with a range of events offered throughout the year.
With stunning scenery and plenty of local culture, a road trip across the Pacific Northwest is sure to be amazing. Before connecting Seattle to your GPS, take a minute to review your car insurance and make sure you have the coverage you need.