13 Stunning Scenic Drives in Washington State to Inspire Wanderlust

scenic drives in Washington State bridge
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Is there anything more exhilarating than waking up on the weekend, fueled by wanderlust and ready to head out on a scenic drive through Washington’s stunning landscapes? We have so many amazing routes to explore in this state, so there are always plenty of scenic drives in Washington to go on, whether you’re craving a short outing or a day-long adventure.

While you all know I love exploring the state on longer trips through Seattle road trips, Seattle weekend getaways, and Vancouver weekend trips, sometimes I feel like getting out on a shorter excursion. I’ve done dozens of scenic Washington drives all over the state over the years, so I narrowed it down to my favorite ones to inspire you to go on your next drive.

This article will help you prepare to go out for a drive as well as give you a list of the best scenic drives in Washington based on my personal experiences with them, so grab your coffee and notepad and let’s get into planning your next drive!

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.

13 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 few, which would be ideal over two days. 

1. Alki Beach – West Seattle Scenic Drive

seattle in the summer west seattle

Distance: 5 miles

Even though Seattle is primarily an urban area, there are beautiful routes to go in the city and its suburbs. One such route is along West Seattle’s gorgeous Alki Beach, which is the best short scenic drive in Seattle.

You can begin your trip to the Alki Point Lighthouse via the West Seattle Bridge. You can see the Seattle cityscape, Elliott Bay, and the Olympic Mountains in the distance from Alki Beach Park, which is located along Alki Avenue SW.

You can stop along the way at popular eateries like Marination Ma Kai or Cactus (my personal favorite) for a delicious lunch or treat yourself to a cup of coffee at Tully’s Coffee or Ampersand Cafe.

Alternatively, you can simply park and take a leisurely stroll along the sandy beach, soaking in the stunning surroundings. I love West Seattle because it’s one of the rare sandy beaches we have in the area, so take advantage of this during the warmer months.

2. Washington Park Arboretum – Washington Boulevard 

washington park arboretum

Distance: 11 miles

If you’re looking for a scenic drive 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. The Arboretum is overflowing with natural beauty, from oak and maple trees to azaleas and rhododendrons.

My favorite times to visit the Arboretum are Seattle in the fall, when you’ll see stunning red, orange, and fall foliage, as well as spring in Seattle, when the cherry blossoms bloom (there are tons of things to do in the spring in Washington).

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 one day.

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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 when you’re looking for scenic drives from Seattle. 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 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 fun 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

seattle day trip bellingham

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 off Chuckanut Drive 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  

granite falls

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.

If you’re a hiker like me, you’re going to love this area with how many hikes there are. From easy Washington hikes to waterfall hikes in Washington, you’ll be sure to find something.

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 Interstate-5 through Everett and back to Seattle from Arlington on one of the most scenic drives in Washington.

7. San Juan Island – Anacortes Ferry

san juan island lighthouse

Distance: 208 miles

Where to Stay: Discovery Inn

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 (leave time to check out things to do near Anacortes first). 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. Or you can decide to extend your trip and go on a road trip to Vancouver Island in Canada.

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. I’ve been here in every season, and there really isn’t a bad time of year to go.

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. 

While they used to hold a famous Washington Oktoberfest in the fall here, it’s now been moved to Wenatchee, so you can use Leavenworth for your base and visit the festival for a day. For a magical time to drive there, check out all the Leavenworth Christmas activities (just make sure to have an 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

Where to Stay: Oxford Suites Yakima

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 in itself) 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.

Looking for another impressive mountain? Here’s how to climb Mt. St. Helens.

10. Olympic Peninsula Loop – Highway 20

Distance: 349 miles

Where to Stay: Red Lion Hotel Port Angeles Harbor

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 is 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 Port Townsend, a quaint coastal town offering fun activities like hiking, kayaking, and sailing. While I’ve gone on many day trips from Seattle to Olympic National Park, it’s best if you have a few days to spare.

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. Pacific Coast Scenic Byway – Highway 101

Distance: 363 miles

Where to Stay: Adrift Hotel

The Pacific Coast Scenic Highway, or State Route 101, is an awe-inspiring journey along Washington’s rugged coastline, featuring unparalleled ocean views, charming coastal towns, and natural beauty. This iconic route is a must for any traveler looking to experience the best scenic drives in Washington.

From Olympia, head west towards Aberdeen and then follow the Pacific Coast Scenic Highway as it meanders along the coastline. You’ll pass through enchanting towns such as Ocean Shores (and you’ll find no shortage of what to do in Ocean Shores), Long Beach, and Raymond, each offering unique attractions and opportunities for exploration.

You’ll then head north on the Olympic Peninsula, where you won’t want to miss out on the chance to marvel at the dramatic cliffs and sea stacks at Ruby Beach or take a leisurely stroll on the sandy shores of Kalaloch Beach. Further north, the mystical beauty of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park is a must-see experience that will leave you spellbound.

As you make your way back to Olympia, consider taking a detour to explore the captivating charm of Port Townsend or the bustling waterfront in Port Angeles. The Pacific Coast Scenic Highway is one of the most unforgettable scenic drives in Washington and one of my personal favorites.

12. Mount Rainier National Park – White Pass Scenic Byway

Distance: 394 miles

Where to Stay: Mountain Meadows Inn

A day trip to Mount Rainier National Park is one of those classic Washington State scenic drives, thanks to the scenic byway en route. I go here multiple times a year during the summer and never get sick of these views. 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. I love this drive so much and highly recommend putting it on your Washington bucket list.

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. It’s also a beautiful weekend trip from Portland, Oregon to go on, or even a long day trip from Portland.

13. Steptoe Butte State Park – Palouse Scenic Byway

steptoe butte state park

Distance: 614 miles

Where to Stay: The Davenport Grand, Autograph Collection

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!

6 thoughts on “13 Stunning Scenic Drives in Washington State to Inspire Wanderlust

  1. Pamela Look says:

    I love to hike love the outdoors
    It helps me with my FIBROMYALGIA
    Hiking keeps me moving and with this debilitating crap movement is so important

  2. Mark W Cuthrell says:

    Hi Marissa. We are coming to Seattle for a cruise and then spending 4 days touring Washington Oregon area. We want to visit Mt. Rainier and Crater Lake in Oregon from Seattle. We are flying back from Eugene. What routes do you suggest we take to see those places and other places along the way you think we should visit? Thanks for any guidance you can provide. Thanks, Mark and Paula and Kathy and Jim.

  3. Marissa says:

    Hi Mark, I would start with Mount Rainier, then Mount St. Helens the next day. These will both be full days. From there, you can head down to the Vancouver (WA) area and go east to see parts of the Columbia River Gorge area – there are many beautiful areas along there. If you haven’t been to Portland before, you could stop there before going to Eugene; otherwise, I recommend stopping in Astoria. This will be a full itinerary but you’ll see a ton.

  4. Betsy says:

    Hello Marissa – we are planning a trip to Portland OR to visit our son (we live in Maine). From Portland we are going to Seattle for a few days and then are looking for a suggestion for a route to follow (with a one night stayover) from Seattle down to the Columbia River (spending first night down there in Goldendale to go to observatory) where we will be spending a few days before flying out of Portland. My son mentioned going up to Leavenworth though I do not know how thrilled my husband will be about the German theme. I was thinking of going down the Mt Rainer route and then down to Yakima for the night but not sure what is there or if that is too much on one day 0 I would like to see Rainer and do a few easier hikes and waterfalls. Just cannot decide on this portion of the trip – HELP

  5. Marissa Pedersen says:

    Hi Betsy, what time of year will this be? That greatly determines if you’re able to go to Rainier to Yakima, as the main route is closed half the year due to snow. If it’s past May, you may be okay to visit the Paradise section and then take 410 to Yakima.

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