Our Washington State Road Trip

Everything You Need to Plan Your Perfect Washington State Road Trip Itinerary

view of Mt Baker at sunset during a Washington State road trip in August

The Ultimate Washington State Road Trip

And What You Need to Know to Craft an Unforgettable Washington State Road Trip Itinerary

Looking to plan the most memorable Washington State road trip possible? You’ve picked one of the most magical places in the entire US. From the sparkling waters of Puget Sound to the jagged peaks of the North Cascades, Washington is hands-down one of our favorite states to explore.

After taking several of our own road trips in Washington State, we’re here to save you the stress of planning and crafting your own itinerary. We’ll share our top must-see spots and experiences in the evergreen state, so you can use our experiences as a base for your itinerary.

We’ll also include a recommended route for your road trip, where to eat on your journey, what to do, and what lodging to stay at along the way.

One note worth mentioning: we are not including Olympic National Park in this Washington State road trip itinerary. While beautiful and absolutely worth visiting, Olympic National Park warrants its own trip because there’s just so much to see there.

We’ve designed this Washington State road trip itinerary as a two week long adventure. And if you plan on adding Olympic to your list, we recommend giving yourself at least its own week on top of that.

So without further ado, let’s dive into our tips to planning the best Washington state road trip.

view of Mt Baker on a misty sunset evening at Artist Point on a Washington State road trip itinerary

Disclosure: We’ve included lodging and gear recommendations for your Washington State road trip itinerary in this article.If you choose to purchase gear or book lodging through our links, we may earn a commission, at no cost to you. 

Shopping through our links helps support this small business and is greatly appreciated. This content is crafted with love, with links to retailers we personally use and trust for our own adventures.

How Many Days Do You Need?

Plan for at Least 2 Weeks in Your Washington State Road Trip Itinerary

Dedicating only one week to your Washington State road trip allows you to barely scratch the surface, especially with how spread out some of these places are. 

Simply going from Mount Rainier National Park to North Cascades National Park requires several hours of driving.

For the full immersive experience, where you can spend time in both the cities, mountains, and small towns along the way, a two-week minimum is needed. And if you can swing it, three weeks is even better.

1. Seattle

Washington State Road Trip Stop #1

unique view of the Seattle skyline from a day spent by the water on a Washington State road trip

Things to do in Seattle During Your Washington State Road Trip

We’re going to assume most people planning a Washington state road trip will be flying in through Seattle, so the state capitol will be our first stop. Catch a flight in, pick up a rental car, and you’re off to the races!

How much time should you spend in Seattle? It really depends on how much you want to prioritize time in the city versus time spent exploring the outdoors.

Seattle is a worthy destination on its own and it would be easy to spend an entire trip in and around the greater Seattle area. 

Restaurants represent international cuisines from around the globe. There are professional teams representing the city in most major sports. And there are tons of coffee roasters (some of the best coffee in the country, if you ask us), museums, and local shops that can keep you occupied for days. 

If you enjoy a good craft beer, wine, or cider, it’s also worth spending some time in Seattle. The city is perhaps best-known for its microbreweries among these, but has a thriving cider subculture. 

And given Seattle’s proximity to Washington’s wine country, there are many wineries both within and near the city. 

These are some of our favorite Seattle spots that we’d recommend visiting during your Washington State road trip. Personally, we recommend dedicating around 2 days minimum in Seattle to enjoy the incredible coffee, good food, and sights.

Pike Place Market

Yes, it is a tourist spot. Yes, we know it’s busy. But what would a trip to Seattle be without seeing Pike Place Market? If you’ve never been to Seattle before, we definitely recommend adding Pike Place Market to your Washington State road trip itinerary. 

This iconic market along the bay has vendors offering everything from fresh seafood and flowers, to local craftspeople and comic books. Spend an hour or an afternoon during your Washington State road trip just exploring the bouquet of sights, scents, and sounds the market has to serve up.

The "Original Starbucks" on Pike

Just across from Pike Place Market sits the “Original Starbucks”, situated at 1912 Pike. This location has been operating since 1976 and inspires many tourists to visit and enjoy a taste of coffee history.  

If you decide to check it out, be prepared for a long line. But we think it’s worth the wait.

KEXP + Cafe Vita

To fans of Alternative & Independent music, Seattle public radio station KEXP is a tastemaker in the space. The listener-supported station broadcasts live from Seattle and hosts many live artist performances annually. 

In the building, you’ll also find a new coffeeshop: Cafe Vita, that has taken the home of espresso machine manufacturer La Marzocco’s cafe that used to be in the same spot. 

Gorgeous espresso machines and other coffee-related paraphernalia from La Marzocco history sit on display, and the cafe hosts a rotating-monthly cast of coffee roasters. 

The visiting roaster operates the cafe and puts its menu and experience on display, so there will always be something new to try.

REI Seattle Flagship Store

Need to pick up any last-minute items before heading to one of the national parks on your Washington State road trip? Look no further than REI’s Seattle flagship location.

Not just a massive retail location to walk around and browse, this location allows adventure-minded shoppers to test out gear on an at-location climbing wall and bike path.

Le Caviste

We love Le Caviste and how cozy and intimate it feels. It’s the perfect wine bar stop if you want to squeeze in a date night while visiting Seattle.

Enjoy a delicious glass of French wine and a cheese board while watching people make their way across town through the huge windows framing this spot. It’s such a relaxing way to end an adventure-filled night during your Washington State road trip.

Humble Pie Pizza

Wine bar not your vibe? Feeling incredible pizza instead? Humble Pie is one of our favorite pizza spots in Seattle.

Grab a seat on their gorgeous patio. Hang out with the chickens in the coop nearby. Enjoy half-off bottles of wine on Wednesdays. And eat the most delicious pizza you’ve ever had. You won’t regret it.

Salt & Straw

Calling all sweet tooths! Salt & Straw is a must-visit if you’re craving incredible ice cream. We always make sure to stop by whenever we’re in Seattle.

There are rotating flavors every month, but the classics are excellent as well. One of our personal favorites was a combo of the honey lavender ice cream with the arbequina olive oil ice cream. Such a unique and delicious mix.

Seattle Japanese Garden

We visited this spot during a fall Washington State road trip (it’s actually where we got engaged!) and it was truly a breathtaking sight. Fiery reds, oranges, and yellows lit up the 3.5 acre sanctuary inside the city with picture-perfect flares.

Kurt Cobain's Seattle Home

Nirvana fans, this stop on the Washington State road trip is for you. Kurt Cobain’s Seattle home is certainly worth a quick drive by. As a Nirvana fan myself, I made sure to pair this stop with a drive to Aberdeen to see Kurt’s childhood home and hometown, as well (be aware, there’s a couple of hours of driving between Aberdeen and Seattle).

If you do visit, though, please be respectful to the people currently residing in the home. Don’t be creepy! No one wants creepy people in front of their house.

Where to Stay in Seattle

The Best Seattle Lodging for Your Washington State Road Trip

Palihotel Seattle is located on Pine Street, super close to both Pike Place Market and Salt & Straw. It’s quite possibly one of the prettiest hotels in the city, with a sort of historic 1920’s-esque charm, where modern design meets the past. It’s definitely a unique experience to add to your Washington State road trip itinerary.

If you prefer more of an Airbnb-like vibe, this condo vacation rental has a stunning view of the Seattle skyline and the interior is clean, modern, and fun.

This gorgeous lodge isn’t quite in Seattle (it’s actually located on Vashon island), but it’s such a distinct experience, we couldn’t help but share! There are a whole bunch of luxurious modern cabins on-site, which gives you a bit more privacy than you’d have with a traditional hotel.

2. Snoqualmie Pass

Washington State Road Trip Stop #2

mountains reflecting in Gold Creek Pond during a stop along Snoqualmie Pass on a Washington Road trip itinerary

Things to do on Snoqualmie Pass During Your Washington State Road Trip

Snoqualmie Pass serves as the major connection between eastern and western Washington, and it’s a gorgeously scenic stretch of highway. Less than 60 miles from Seattle, the pass navigates through the Cascade mountain range. Along the way, there’s a wide array of opportunities for outdoor adventuring and recreation, both in summer and winter.

Lots of incredible places along Snoqualmie Pass are a quick day trip from Seattle, so we won’t recommend any lodging in this section. To keep things simple, we recommend just using your Seattle road trip accommodations as your jumping off point for adventures up Snoqualmie Pass.

Gold Creek Pond

Gold Creek Pond is an easy 1-mile trail that the Washington Trails Association bills as both ADA-accessible and stroller-friendly. Once a gravel pit, government agencies have worked to reclaim the area, resulting in a beautiful pond with an impressive mountain backdrop.

Hike in the summer or snowshoe in the winter, whatever time of year you choose to visit you won’t be disappointed. This can be a popular spot, so we personally recommend visiting on a weekday if you can. 

We personally love this little lake for summertime picnics. It’s the perfect little lunchtime stop during your Washington State road trip, especially if you’re driving in from eastern Washington.

Skiing and Snowboarding

In the colder months Snoqualmie Pass can become a winter wonderland, and skiers take to the slopes and enjoy the powder.And while this specific Washington State road trip itinerary is really focused on summertime, we definitely think this winter adventure is worth mentioning.

If you’re into downhill skiing or snowboarding, check out several slopes in the area: Alpental (for more advanced skiers) and Summit West (for those looking to learn to ski and snowboard) are just the start. For those who enjoy an experience catered towards cross-country skiing or snowshoers a little more, take a look at Summit Nordic Center

It’s also common to take skis to snow-covered hiking trails in the winters, and it comes with the added bonus of not having to deal with the same extent of crowds and lift lines that you see at the ski resorts.

Rattlesnake Lake

If you’re interested in a chill, fun day at the lake while on your Washington State road trip, Rattlesnake Lake might be your destination. Take the day and relax on the tree stump studded shores with a picnic, cool off in the water, or explore the miles of hiking and biking trails this recreation area has to offer. 

Just note: this is an extremely popular spot. If your goal is to get away from people during your Washington State road trip, this is not the location to add to your itinerary. The shoreline can get pretty busy in the summer months.

Franklin Falls

Calling all waterfall enthusiasts! Franklin Falls is a beautiful waterfall along I-90 and close to the top of the pass. A viewpoint is accessible via an easy 2-mile (one-way) trail, from which a 70-foot waterfall (the lowest of 3 drops in Franklin Falls) is visible. 

If you catch the falls during the right time of winter, you might even see the falls in a frozen state, with layers of cascading water suspended against the cliff walls.Talk about a breathtaking addition to any Washington State road trip.

3. Bellingham

Washington State Road Trip Stop #3

view of Bellingham Bay on a moody overcast day on a Washington State road trip

Things to do in Bellingham During Your Washington State Road Trip

Bellingham is our hub and access point to some of the best mountain locations in the North Cascades, and a must-see on your Washington State road trip. If we’re being honest, it might just be one of our all-time favorite towns in Washington. 

The town of Bellingham has some of our absolute favorite restaurants and coffee shops in all of Washington. And the city itself is also only an hour or two from some of the best mountain spots in the state.

In this section, we’ll include our favorite things to do in Bellingham proper, but with about an hour and a half drive, you can get to our absolute favorite location in all of Washington (which we’ve included as Washington State road trip stop #4, up next!).

Aslan Brewing Co

If you’re planning your Washington State road trip itinerary around arriving to Bellingham in the afternoon or evening, we highly recommend making Aslan Brewing Co one of your first stops in town.

Good beer, incredible ciders on tap, and a relaxed atmosphere (with great outdoor seating for nice days) make this one of our favorite spots in Bellingham. 

And their bowls are seriously to die for (the Hawaiian bowl is our personal fave, with the Southwest bowl coming in a close second). 

Makeworth Market

Need a caffeine fix during your Washington State road trip? Makeworth Market is probably our favorite coffee shop in all of Bellingham, and definitely worth swinging by. Plan on spending some time in the shop itself. It’s gorgeous!

They have an awesome lofted area on the second floor where you can look down on the shop or out onto the streets of Bellingham. It’s the perfect perch for rainy and sunny days alike. 

And in addition to coffee, they also have super solid brunch options and ciders on tap.

Camber Coffee

Camber Coffee is also an incredible coffee shop in Bellingham (and right across the road from Backcountry Essentials, which we’ll talk about next!). The design of this store is absolutely breathtaking, and their food and coffee are delicious.

We especially love how they have so many seating options, from a window bar to booths to high top tables (perfect for cozying up on colder days!). It’s such a beautiful spot to sit out and plan the last-minute details and adventures for your Washington State road trip.

Backcountry Essentials

Backcountry Essentials is a local, independently owned outdoors gear shop in Bellingham. If you’re in need for some last-minute outdoors gear, this is the perfect spot to go.

Downstairs, they have new gear, and upstairs they have used gear at a discounted price. And they also have the option for gear rentals, too, so if you’re planning on camping during your Washington State road trip and didn’t want to fly with all your camping essentials, you can swing by their shop instead.

Black Sheep

If you want the best tacos in Bellingham at a bar with delicious drinks, Black Sheep is the place to go (please note, you have to be 21 or older to enter). The flavors in their food are seriously next level.

Our personal favorites are their chicken tinga tacos and their chimichangas. Seriously so delicious.

Walk the Marina at Zuanich Point Park

This is a great spot to admire the views of Bellingham Bay. There are benches and tables where you can sit and enjoy some takeout, watching the sun set while container ships and sailboats boats make their way across the water.

If you’re bringing kids along on your Washington State road trip, this is a great place to bring them! 

Have Brunch at ANMLY

Get ready for the best breakfast burritos you’ve ever laid eyes on. The coffee’s great too (as are the acai bowls), don’t get us wrong. But these burritos…you’ll probably find yourself here every morning if you’re not careful.

Fiery salsa, creamy avocados, and a zesty chipotle aioli tag teamed to make these breakfast burritos game-changing. 

Hit up ANMLY for brunch before you head out to your next stop on your Washington State road trip. Or grab a burrito to-go before hitting the trails for the day. You won’t be disappointed.

Mallard Ice Cream

We stopped by Mallard for a sweet treat on an especially hot day during our Washington State road trip and loved their unique collection of flavors. Such a perfect way to cool off, especially if you’re planning your Washington State road trip in the summer months.

Our favorite rotating ice cream flavors were the pistachio and cardamom! So so so good.

Where to Stay in Bellingham

The Best Bellingham Lodging for Your Washington State Road Trip

For a pretty and modern hotel with a clean look and no extra frills, the Heliotrope Hotel in Bellingham is a great pick. It is recently renovated and feels fresh and colorful.

If you want a waterfront hotel with some of the best views of Bellingham Bay, Hotel Bellwether is the go-to.

4. Mount Baker Highway

Washington State Road Trip Stop #4

maroon alpenglow and delicate puffy clouds surrounding Mt Shuksan at sunset near Artist Point on Mt Baker Highway during a Washington State road trip itinerary

Things to do Along Mount Baker Highway During Your Washington State Road Trip

Mount Baker Highway (aka Washington 542) is quite possibly one of our favorite stretches of mountain road, and what we’d consider to be the most scenic highway in Washington State. It’s a place you could easily spend days exploring, choc-full of rich green forests and incredible snow covered mountain peaks. In fact, if you can, we recommend spending at least 3 days exploring this area during your Washington State road trip. It’s too good to miss.

In the winter, you can go skiing at the Mt Baker Ski Area. In summer, be prepared for epic mountain peaks and wildflowers (and incredible views of both Mt Shuksan and Mt Baker). And in fall, expect the alpine to change to the most gorgeous fall colors you’ve ever seen.

This section of highway is but one part of the Mt Baker National Forest, but is home to both incredible high alpine hikes and richly dense forests (or as we personally like to call the forests in the PNW: enchanted forests).

The top of the pass is around 1.5 hrs from Bellingham, so you can easily stay in town. Alternatively, the town of Deming has some vacation rentals that’ll get you a bit closer (more on that later). There’s also some lodging in the tiny towns (like Maple Falls and Glacier) on the way up, but that’s way more limited.

When it comes to planning the ultimate Washington State road trip, Mount Baker Highway is a must-do. It’s our favorite part of the entire state, and a total can’t miss. We’ll include a few of our favorite hikes and stops along the way below!

Artist Point

expansive view of Artist Point after a rainstorm on a Washington State road trip itinerary

At the tippity top of Mt Baker Highway, you’ll come across Artist Point, hands-down our favorite spot for expansive mountain vistas and epic views of both Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan on clear days.

The parking lot at Artist Point actually breaks off into several different trails, including the Chain Lakes Loop Trail and Table Mountain. 

While the views at the parking lot are gorgeous, we highly recommend hitting the trails to really immerse yourself in this stunning area. If you’re only going to add one location to your Washington State road trip itinerary, make it this one.

On a clear evening, you can watch the alpenglow gleaming off Shuksan. Or, as is common in this area, especially given its high elevation, you can actually end up above the clouds (or in the middle of them!).

We totally encourage embracing the wild weather as it comes…you’re sure to see a wide range of it during your Washington State road trip, and it’s one of the most incredible parts of visiting this area. 

Some days, you can only see 5 feet ahead of you, because you’re inside a cloud. And maybe just an hour later, you’re witnessing the most insane sunset with Mount Baker in full view.

One thing to note: driving up to Artist Point is seasonal, as the final couples miles of road typically open in July and close depending on snow conditions (but you’re usually looking at late September or in October). If you want to visit Artist Point during your Washington State road trip, we highly recommend mid-August for stunning wildflower blooms. 

Bagley Lakes + Chain Lakes Loop

beautiful stone bridge at Bagley Lakes along Mt Baker Highway in Washington State after a rainy afternoon storm had passed

Bagley Lakes Loop and Chain Lakes Loop are two absolutely stunning trails located along Mt Baker Highway. To hike either, you’ll want to park at the lot by the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, and you’ll be able to access both from there. 

You can also get on Chain Lakes Loop from Artist Point, too, but we recommend starting at the Bagley Lakes trailhead instead.

Bagley Lakes is a 2.2 mile loop trail with 259 feet of elevation gain. It’s a nice easy-to-moderate hike (depending on how acclimated you are to hiking at elevation) with huge payoffs. There are two lakes you’ll see, and a gorgeous little stone arch bridge that crosses over the creek.

Chain Lakes Loop is a bit more strenuous, at 7.1 miles and 1886 ft of elevation gain. It actually shares a portion of the Bagley Lakes Loop trail, but then goes past and above the upper lake and actually heads up towards Artist Point. 

If you’re looking for lighter hikes to incorporate into your Washington State road trip, Bagley Lakes is a good one (as is Picture Lake, which we’ll talk about next…more of a stroll and less of a hike, but still very pretty!). If you want something more difficult, definitely go for Chain Lakes Loop. 100% worth it.

Picture Lake (ADA Accessible)

view of Mt Shuksan at ADA accessible Picture Lake in the mid afternoon during a summertime Washington State road trip

Picture Lake is a paved ADA accessible walking path with virtually no elevation gain. The whole path is less than half a mile, and has a couple little dock-like lookouts where you can stop and admire Mt Shuksan in the background.

In summer, gorgeous collections of wildflowers dot the sides of the path. And in fall, you can catch glimpses of fiery red alpine shrubbery. This is a great trail to add to your Washington State road trip if you’re traveling with kids or anyone who does not want to hike very far. The views are absolutely stunning, and you don’t have to go far at all to see them.

Important Note About Mount Baker Highway

As is common at high elevations, you can expect seasonal road closures on your Washington State road trip. And the road to Artist Point is no exception. The ~3 mile stretch up to the point typically opens in July and remains open until the first substantial snow (which can be expected either in September or October).

That said, 2021 was an interesting one for this road, as a chunk of the road that was built in the 1930’s was damaged from erosion. The road was closed off and eventually re-opened in the second half of August.

While the road closes for the season, WSDOT will be assessing the damage further, but if you plan on visiting Artist Point summer of 2022, definitely check in on road conditions as necessary.

If you’re unable to drive to the top, there is a trail that can get you up to Artist Point from Heather Meadows. It’s 2.9 miles and 853 ft of elevation gain, but 100% worth it to explore this area on your Washington State road trip.

Where to Stay in Deming, Washington

The Best Mt Baker Highway Lodging for Your Washington State Road Trip

Deming is a small town about 25 minutes east of Bellingham on the way up to Artist Point. There are a few cabin vacation rentals you can stay at up there that’ll get you closer to the trails, including this pet friendly cabin that sleeps 4 and this modern cabin that sleeps 6.

5. North Cascades National Park

Washington State Road Trip Stop #5

view of the sun coming through the clouds and shining on turquoise waters from a pull-off on the road in North Cascades National Park during a Washington State road trip itinerary

Things to do in North Cascades National Park During Your Washington State Road Trip

Our next stop on this Washington State road trip is North Cascades National Park, which is a misleading less-than-20 miles from Artist Point, as the crow flies. The drive, however? A solid 109-mile afternoon trip! It’s definitely worth the trek, though.

North Cascades Scenic Highway (Washington SR 20) takes you through winding mountain roads, past roaring rivers, and in lush forests to get to and through the national park.

The Cascades are among the youngest mountains on earth, and are actually still forming (of course, on a geologic timeline). Because of their young age, the North Cascades feature a particularly rugged texture. Glacially blue waters turbulently roil through valleys surrounded by jagged peaks all around.

While there are many hiking trails throughout the park, most of the hikes here are longer in length. If you’re able to spend time on a backcountry trip during your Washington State road trip, the North Cascades can be a hiker’s paradise. If you’re interested in short hikes only, there are fewer options, but you can still have a great time.

Diablo Lake

view of the sun coming through the clouds and shining on Diablo Lake during a Washington State road trip

Chances are, if you’ve googled North Cascades National Park, you’ve probably run across lots of photos of Diablo Lake. It’s well-known for its stunning jewel-like turquoise water. 

Diablo Lake Overlook will be one of the most accessible views in the park. This roadside overlook has expansive views of the lake, surrounded by towering craggy peaks, making it an epic pit-stop on any summertime Washington State road trip.

Diablo Lake was human-made while building Diablo Dam, which is one source providing power to the city of Seattle. If you catch the lake on a clear day, the afternoon sun reflects off the glacial sediment in the water, and you can clearly see the breathtaking turquoise water.

Rainy Lake (typically ADA accessible*) + Maple Pass Loop

peaceful view of Rainy Lake on a quiet and smoky day in the mountains outside of North Cascades National Park in Washington

Just outside the park’s borders is the Rainy Lake Trail. This easy one-mile (each way) trail winds through a dense forest and ends at Rainy Lake, nestled up against the side of a mountain ridge. The waters are exceptionally clear, and throughout the hike you’re surrounded by the scent of fresh mountain forests. 

*While billed as wheelchair accessible, we thought it was worth mentioning that during our Washington State road trip in August 2021, a large tree had fallen over the trail, close to the lake and had not yet been cleared. We had to scramble over the tree, making it inaccessible temporarily for wheelchairs. So it might be worth checking recent reviews before going to see if there are any status updates on if it’s been cleared.

Seasonal Road Closures in North Cascades National Park

While we recommend visiting North Cascades National Park in the summer, late spring, or early fall, if you do visit in the winter please come prepared. These are dangerous mountain roads, and you may run into black ice, weather patterns, and freezing temperatures.

We highly recommend coming prepared with emergency gear, extra layers & blankets, and food. Be sure your car has at least winter tirestire chains, or is all-wheel drive – and preferably some combination thereof. Take it slow and be extremely careful.

Part of the road through the park completely closes annually for the winter season. North Cascades Scenic Highway closes from Diablo in the central part of the park all the way westward to Mazama. This will render Rainy Lake inaccessible if you’re coming from the west.

Where to Stay Near North Cascades NP

The Best North Cascades Lodging for Your Washington State Road Trip

The town of Sedro-Woolley is located right off i5, and is under an hour and a half drive to Diablo Lake. If you’re planning on entering North Cascades National Park from the west (as you would if you were following our Washington State road trip itinerary and coming from Bellingham), Sedro-Woolley will be one of the towns on your route.

To get in even closer, there is the coziest little cabin in Marblemount, which is one of the closest towns to the west entrance of North Cascades National Park.

6. Mt Rainier National Park

Washington State Road Trip Stop #6

view of Mt Rainier with early alpenglow at sunset on a Washington State road trip in July

Things to do in Mt Rainier National Park During Your Washington State Road Trip

Mount Rainier National Park is simply a must-see on any Washington State road trip. From volcanoes to glaciers to wildflowers to ancient forests, there’s an enormous amount of beauty to take in. 

There’s also something to offer everybody in each season, from hardcore mountaineering to gentle family hikes. There are a handful of park sections, each with a distinct character and different things to see and do.

Personally our favorite season in the park is the summertime, specifically late July and the first half of August, for the stunning wildflower blooms. If you can plan your Washington State road trip in this window, we’d highly recommend you do so. We’ll include some can’t-miss hikes below, but this is by no means a comprehensive list! Rainier is huge!

The best way to navigate a Washington State road trip through Rainier is to split your trip up, based on the different sections of the park, so that’s how we’ll break down this guide (we’ll go in a clockwise loop, starting at the most frequently used park entrance). We’ll include trail info in there as well!

Paradise

Situated in the southern/central area of the park, Paradise hosts Mount Rainier’s primary visitors center. Accessible throughout the year, there are expansive fields of wildflowers in the summer and snowshoeing/cross-country skiing in the winter.

There are plentiful panoramic views including scenes of glaciers, mountains, and meadows. For two scenic drives with pull-offs and great views, look into Inspiration Point and Paradise Valley Road. For the most direct access to Paradise, use the Nisqually Entrance, which is the park’s main entrance, on Washington SR 706 (“The Road to Paradise”).

Longmire

Continuing around the park clockwise, Longmire is also most-directly accessed from the Nisqually Entrance. Just beyond the entrance, Longmire is in the southwest corner of the park and is also open throughout the year.

Before the national park was established, there was a resort in this area, and the original park headquarters was here. Though the headquarters later moved, the original headquarters building now hosts a museum.

Nearby is also the Wilderness Information Center for permits as well as a hotel & gift shop operated year-round. This is a common area for camping and offers an array of hikes at various levels of difficulty.

Carbon River + Mowich

Carbon River & Mowich are in the northwestern corner of Mount Rainier National Park. Directly accessible via the Carbon River and Mowich entrance stations, this is a quieter area of the park, so bookmark this one if you want to get away from the crowds during your Washington State road trip.

Mowich features the deepest lake in the park (Mowich Lake) in a glacial basin and meadows of wildflowers. Carbon River is a temperate rainforest-like climate with good hiking and camping options. 

Note that after 2006 flooding, Carbon River is not accessible via vehicle inside the park, and is only accessible to pedestrians and bikers.

Sunrise

In the northeast corner of the park, Sunrise is the highest point that vehicles can travel to in the park: stretching up to 6,400 feet. Access the Sunrise area directly using the White River entrance station.

With 360-degree views of Mount Rainier, other volcanoes, and valleys and meadows, there are tons of hiking trail systems, including family-friendly hikes. Needless to say, this part of the park is a must-add to any Washington State road trip.

Naches Peak Loop (one of our personal favorite hikes for summertime wildflowers!) is an easy trail that will offer hikers one of the best views of Mount Rainier in the entire park. Naches Peak Loop starts (and ends) at the glacially-carved Tipsoo Lake, which is one of our top summer wildflower-viewing spots in the park.

For a more difficult hike, consider Fremont Lookout Trail, leading up to an old fire lookout tower. This spot is a treat during sunrise and sunset.

Ohanapecosh

Completing our circle of the park, Ohanapecosh is in the southeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park. If you’re planning your Washington State road trip in winter, just be aware the Ohanapecosh entrance station, which is the direct access point to this part, is closed.

This area is an old growth forest, thick with large Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars, and offers great camping and kid-friendly hiking. Grove of the Patriarchs is a ~1-mile loop featuring massive trees around a thousand years old! 

Note that at time of writing, Grove of the Patriarchs is temporarily closed until further notice due to flooding having washed out a suspension bridge.

Where to Stay Near Mt Rainier NP

The Best Mt Rainier Lodging for Your Washington State Road Trip

If you’re looking for a place to stay near Mount Rainier National Park on your Washington State road trip, we’d recommend either Ashford or Packwood.

Ashford is just a few miles from Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually Entrance, and offers year-round lodging options for great access into the park and the surrounding areas.

From campsites to cabins to inns, there are great lodging options in Ashford for everybody. That said, it is a small town so there are limited reservations and we’d recommend booking pretty far in advance. We’re personally obsessed with this sweet hotel with the most adorable cabins!

Packwood is a little further from the park but offers a closer stay to the Sunrise area of the park. Being a larger town than Ashford, Packwood does offer more lodging options, including this cozy rustic log cabin with a hot tub and this retro a-frame cabin that sleeps four.

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If you love Washington State for its incredible mountain views and plentiful outdoors adventures, we have a feeling you’ll love our home state of Colorado. The Rockies are home to some of the best adventures in the US. We’ve crafted the perfect Colorado road trip itinerary, from the perspective of local adventurers.

We’ve also written the ultimate guide to the best mountain towns the Rockies have to offer. And if you want to see Colorado’s most popular national park, you’ll love our guide to all-things Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hey there, PNW traveler! Sheena and Ed here.

We’re outdoors enthusiasts and advocates (and also adventure photographers). And we basically live for the sound of dirt beneath our hiking boots.

Sheena is a Colorado-based elopement photographer who believes in being the go-to adventure wedding resource for the couples she works with. Ed is the enabler of all epic hiking and camping adventures.

Together, we craft epic travel and adventure guides for people looking to explore the great outdoors.

Sheena Shahangian Photography LLC

Empowering You To Have Your Adventure Elopement, Your Way

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