There’s nothing more I love on the weekend than waking up and picking out one of many scenic drives in Washington to go on. You can find somewhere beautiful to go throughout the year as well as a variety of short and long trips.
While I have a post on Seattle road trips to go on as well as Seattle weekend getaways, sometimes you might want something shorter than that. That’s why I created this list of some of the best scenic drives in Washington State so you’ll have plenty to choose from next time you feel like getting on the road.
In this article, I’ll give you several tips on preparing for Washington scenic drives and a list of 12 of the best drives in Washington State.
How to Prepare for a Washington Scenic Drive
Here are a few tips to make your scenic drive in Washington State a bit easier!
What to Know for Scenic Drives Near Seattle
I love going out on a random weekend to go for drives near Seattle, but the traffic is horrible at times. Keep the following in mind:
- Check WSDOT’s site first – This online map provides live traffic updates so you can see if you need to take alternate routes before you even get on the road.
- Use Waze for directions – I’ve been obsessed with the traffic app Waze since it first came out years ago and it’s usually all I use for Seattle drives. There’s nothing worse than following GPS and missing a turn, only for it to take forever to reroute you. Waze is the quickest app I’ve used for redirecting your route as well as always offering you the fastest way.
- Leave early or late during weekends – There’s always something going on in Seattle, whether it’s an event downtown or everyone wanting to get out. I find that it’s busiest on the freeways from about noon to dinner time, so I recommend that you avoid driving during this time if possible.
Need help planning out your road trip? I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to see exactly how long it’ll take from one point to the next and find new places to add to my itinerary!
What to Pack for Scenic Drives in Washington
Having the right gear for a longer Washington scenic drive always makes it easier. Here are a few items I recommend having in addition to checking out my road trips essential post:
- Polarized sunglasses – There’s nothing worse than a harsh glare when you’re driving, so make sure to stock up on quality sunglasses to reduce that.
- Water bottle – I always bring a few water bottles with me during Washington road trips so I’ll stay hydrated and it’s one less thing to buy.
- Small backpack – Being able to stop and get out during a drive is one of the best parts, so keep a backpack with you that you can wear while you explore.
- Cooler – Having a small cooler with you makes it easy to have snacks all day long and keep drinks cold as well.
12 Scenic Drives in Washington State to Explore
You can see the distance of each Washington State road trip below, which should help you plan accordingly. The distances outlined under each road trip are from Seattle to your destination and back. You can make an excellent day trip out of any of the road trips in this post – except for the last two, which would be ideal over two days.
1. Magnolia Viewpoint – Magnolia Boulevard
Distance: 10 miles
When it comes to scenic drives near Seattle, Magnolia Boulevard is an excellent option if you want to stay close to Seattle. It’s also a fantastic activity if you’re looking for things to do in Seattle with kids. From the car, you’ll see Elliot Bay in all its glory, and you may even spot a couple of ferry boats on the water.
Along the way, stop over at Magnolia Park for a picnic on the grass. It has a beautiful view of the water as well as playgrounds, lawns, and picnic tables. You can also walk down to the edge of the park and onto the pebblestone beach where the park meets the water.
The real gem is Magnolia Viewpoint on the Magnolia Bluff. Sitting 300 feet above Elliott Bay, this lookout spot will astound you with views of the sound.
This micro-road trip may be short, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the scenery. If you time your travel back carefully, you can be on the road when the sun dips behind the water, which looks remarkable from Magnolia Boulevard.
2. Washington Park Arboretum – Washington Boulevard
Distance: 11 miles
If you’re looking for the best scenic drives near Seattle, this short trip may be the one for you. Home to countless stunning plants, the Washington Park Arboretum is an oasis on the shores of Lake Washington. From oak and maple trees to azaleas and rhododendrons, the Arboretum is overflowing with natural beauty.
Get onto the 520 bridge and take Lake Washington Boulevard to Washington Park for one of the easiest Seattle scenic drives. The road winds through overhanging trees for 8 miles, offering beautiful views of the Cascade Mountains in the distance and the waters of Lake Washington.
You can take the same route back to downtown Seattle. Don’t worry; the Lake Washington shores never get old, and this route is worth seeing twice in a day.
Looking for the ultimate Seattle travel guide written by a local that tells you all the best places to go and what to see? My new ebook is now live, so click here to buy your copy!
3. North Cascades National Park – North Cascades Highway
Distance: 164 miles
North Cascades Highway or State Route 20 boasts incredible meadows, sweeping vistas, and an abundance of photo opportunities for your travel journal. The road seems to stretch endlessly across Washington, but for this North Cascades day trip, you’ll see only a piece of the highway.
From Seattle, drive north through Everett and towards the town of Sedro-Wooley, where the North Cascades Highway begins. Follow the road to North Cascades National Park, and you’ll enjoy a remarkable 55-minute drive replete with farmlands and wide-open wilderness.
You can enjoy one of many North Cascades National Park hikes or visit lookout points like the Gorge Lake Overlook for impeccable panoramic views during one of the best scenic drives in Washington.
When you’re ready to go back to Seattle, you can take the same road home to see that magnificent Washington scenic byway one more time. When it comes to Washington road trips, this route should be high on your bucket list.
4. Whidbey Island – Whidbey Scenic Isle Way
Distance: 165 miles
Whidbey Island’s got it all when you’re looking for scenic drives near Seattle, from whale-watching and hiking to fantastic seafood. From Seattle, drive north towards the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal and take the scenic 15-minute ferry ride across the water.
You can explore the island via the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way, a gorgeous national byway that stretches the length of the Whidbey Island. The route will take you into the town of Coupeville, where there’s plenty to do and see when visiting Whidbey Island for a day.
Visit the Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville while you’re in town. It’s a delightful convergence of nature and outdoor art. You can also stop in Fort Ebey State Park for a picnic under the trees when looking for things to do on Whidbey Island.
From Coupeville, get back on the road and keep driving north across the island until you reach the iconic Deception Pass Bridge. You can cross it to get onto Fidalgo Island, then head east towards Burlington. From there, it’s a relaxed one-hour trip south on the I-5 back to Seattle, so enjoy your time during one of the more beautiful Washington scenic drives.
If you feel like visiting another island, you can always head south and drive through Camano, where you’ll find plenty of things to do on Camano Island.
5. Bellingham – Chuckanut Drive
Distance: 170 miles
Chuckanut Drive, or Highway 11, is one of the best drives in Washington in my opinion because I went to college up here and drove this several dozen times (so I’m biased!).
This stretch boasts spectacular views of the Chuckanut Mountains, the San Juan Islands, and Samish Bay. You can enjoy the stunning scenery from the car as you traverse the highway or stop at some of the cool spots along the way.
Check out the Oyster Dome hiking trail near Burlington for your first stop during one of the best drives near Seattle. You can expect exceptional panoramic views of Samish Bay from the hike’s summit.
Pull over at Larrabee State Park near Bellingham, and you’ll see postcard-perfect snapshots of the San Juan Islands. On the way back to Seattle, stop over in Skagit Valley to rest and refuel.
If you’re traveling in April, be sure to check out the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which is held annually from April 1 – April 30. The tulip and daffodil fields, stretching as far as the eye can see, are bound to take your breath away.
6. Granite Falls – Mountain Loop Highway
Distance: 173 miles
Mountain Loop Highway is an iconic Washington road trip route you have to see for yourself. Head to Snohomish County on Highway 92, and you’ll reach the town of Granite Falls, where the byway begins, within the hour.
From Granite Falls, follow the brilliant Mountain Loop Highway around the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and north towards Darrington, where the byway ends. Expect epic views of the nearby mountain ranges as you emerge through the tree-lined road. Some of the most beautiful views of Washington’s north country are found on this Washington State scenic drive.
You can stop in Verlot just after Granite Falls to relax and stretch your legs. There is a camping spot next to the Stillaguamish River where you can take photos and eat some road trip snacks before getting back on the byway.
Once the byway ends in the town of Darrington, you can drive west on Highway 530 to get to the city of Arlington. Pull over for a quick cup of coffee for an energy boost for the last leg of your road trip.
From Arlington, it’s a quick 50-minute drive south on the Interstate-5 through Everett and back to Seattle from Arlington.
7. San Juan Island – Anacortes Ferry
Distance: 208 miles
Another scenic destination in Washington, San Juan Island is filled with parks, lookout points, and water sports to keep you entertained. Drive from Seattle to Anacortes to catch the ferry to the island. It’s a pleasant trip over the water, which takes just over an hour on this road trip in Washington State.
Once on the island, you’ll want to check out all the things to do in the area, such as whale watching. This seaport town runs at a slower pace than life in the big city, and you’ll be instantly charmed by the small community vibe there.
Check out the Afterglow Vista (formerly the McMillan Memorial Mausoleum), an enchanting structure if you’re at all inclined towards obscure architecture. After following the forest trail through the woods, you’ll find a huge limestone table encircled by six Roman columns. This intriguing spot in Friday Harbour looks like it comes straight out of a storybook.
You can also check out the San Juan Island National Historical Park. You can stroll along the beach, explore the park’s many hiking trails, or picnic on the grass.
When you’re ready to go back to Seattle, you can take the same ferry back to Anacortes, then drive south through Everett.
8. Leavenworth – Highway 2
Distance: 238 miles
One of the most popular Washington scenic byways, this route offers a lovely drive any time of year. However, Highway 2 is particularly scenic in fall, when the trees lining the road are bright with autumnal colors.
There are plenty of fun Leavenworth activities to indulge in while you’re there. This cute town has wine-tasting stores, a reindeer farm, and charming riverside views. Visit Waterfront Park for a relaxing stroll along the Wenatchee River. For a magical time to drive there, visit during winter in Leavenworth (just make sure to have all-wheel drive or chains for the pass just in case it snows hard).
You can take Highway 2 to get back to Seattle and hit Wallace Falls State Park en route. Head to Wallace Falls Trail for one of the best waterfall hikes near Seattle.
You’ll cross wooden bridges over babbling streams in the forest, and you’ll get to see the immaculate Wallace River. Wallace Falls drops down over 250 feet! You won’t want to miss this iconic Washington destination.
9. Yakima – Interstate 90 & Chinook Scenic Byway
Distance: 290 miles
This picturesque Washington road trip will take you on I-90. You’ll cross the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge for beautiful views of Lake Washington. Then, drive through Snoqualmie Pass (another scenic drive in Washington state) on your way to Yakima on one of the most driven Washington State scenic byways.
Once in Yakima, visit some fantastic local breweries and wineries and pick up some drinkable souvenirs to bring back home. You can also go whitewater rafting in Yakima or check out the farmers’ market for delicious local fare.
To get back to Seattle, take the Chinook Scenic Byway (Highway 410) around Mount Rainier National Park and north through Buckley. Expect a fantastic view of Mount Rainier, not to mention dense forests, river canyons, and valleys on this beautiful byway.
10. Olympic Peninsula Loop – Highway 20
Distance: 349 miles
The epic and popular Olympic Peninsula Loop will take you through stunning rainforests, alpine highlands, and past beautiful lakeshores. The route is famous for its hiking trails, camping spots, and natural beauty and one of the most scenic road trips in Washington State.
You can start the morning exploring Edmonds and then take the Edmonds ferry to Kingston with your car and start your road trip from there, traveling south and then west along the coast of the Salish Sea.
It’s going to take you about 12 hours to make the loop trip from Seattle and back, but you may have some time for stops along the way if you leave early in the morning. You can stop to rest and explore in Port Townsend, a quaint coastal town offering fun activities like hiking, kayaking, and sailing.
Check out Ruby Beach on the west coast before you head east back to Seattle. You’ll see incredible sea stacks and the beautiful shoreline. You may even be able to do a short Olympic National Park hike before you head back home.
Lake Crescent is also a must-see on this road trip, as it’s one of the most well-known deep lakes in Washington.
11. Mount Rainier National Park – White Pass Scenic Byway
Distance: 394 miles
A day trip to Mount Rainier National Park is one of those classic Washington State scenic drives thanks to the scenic byway en route. From Seattle, travel south through Tacoma on your way to Mary’s Corner, which marks the beginning of the White Pass Scenic Byway.
You can stop at the Capitol State Forest for snacks under the trees. There are also numerous hiking trails for you to explore if you’d like to stretch your legs before reaching Mary’s Corner.
When you get onto the byway, you’ll see striking views of forests, meadows, and rivers. There is also the view of the majestic mountain pass, White Pass, with a 4,500-foot elevation gain.
Halfway through the byway, turn onto Morton Road to get to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, where you’ll have your pick of outdoor activities.
When heading back to Seattle, you can go back down Morton Road, then east along the rest of the byway you missed on your way to the park. From there, it’s another pretty drive east to Yakima and southwest through Snoqualmie Pass to get back to Seattle.
12. Steptoe Butte State Park – Palouse Scenic Byway
Distance: 614 miles
The Palouse Scenic Byway runs south on Highway 195 from Spokane through Colfax and is a fun drive to put on a road trip around the Pacific Northwest. You can take Snoqualmie Pass to get to Spokane and stop at the Columbia River on your way there. The view of the river running through the mountain range is simply breathtaking.
You can stop again in Spokane and stretch your legs at Riverfront Park or meander through town and pick up some souvenirs.
Now it’s time to drive the Palouse Scenic Byway, where you’ll see rolling hills and farmlands stretching as far as the eye can see. Be sure to stop at Steptoe Butte State Park before you head home. With a summit of over 3,000 feet, you can imagine the awe-inspiring view of the farmlands from this lookout spot.
From Steptoe, travel west on Highway 90 to get back to Seattle through Snoqualmie Pass. You’ll pass through the quaint towns of Othello and Ellensburg on your way back to town.
Now the hardest part is picking which one of these scenic drives in Washington to go on first!