The 17 Best Day Trips from Seattle, WA

05/25/2022 | by Andy | Local Area Guide

With so many great things to do in Seattle, it can be easy to forget the amazing day trips possible from the city. While in town, we recommend you get out of the city limits for at least one day to see the beautiful Pacific Northwest scenery up close and personal. Knowing you can come right back to the comfort of your Seattle vacation home rental for a good night’s rest makes the extra trips even more worth it, too.

From incredible natural beauty to small towns full of charm, these mini getaways are a great addition to any trip to Seattle or work as their own vacation for Seattle locals like us. Many of these Seattle day trips don’t require a day tour and are something you can quickly and easily plan on your own, for the others, we’ve recommended our favorite tour providers so you can travel in good hands.

As Seattle locals, we’ve put together this travel guide with our favorite 17-day trips from Seattle that we know you’ll love, too.

Bainbridge Island

Photo by Curland

For a quick and easy city break, visit nearby Bainbridge Island. Especially great on a clear day, take the ferry from Downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island. The ferries leave frequently, as this is a commuting route for some. The ferry ride takes 35 minutes and will afford you glorious views of Puget Sound, the stadiums, Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle, the Magnolia neighborhood, the Olympic and Cascade Mountain Ranges, and more.

If you just plan to visit the town of Winslow, you will not need a car. Once at Bainbridge, follow your feet to the quaint main street, which is packed with restaurants and shops. Meander to the waterfront to see the marine activity.

If you opt to take your car, you need to be prepared to queue, and lines on summer weekends can be long. Reservations are not accepted, but you can pay in advance on the website for the ferry. You’ll also find the ferry schedule on their website.

Walk-ons pay only on the outbound from Seattle ($8.35 for adults and $1 extra for a bicycle) – the return is included in the fare. Cars pay in both directions (though not for their passengers on the Seattle-bound segment).

Golden Gardens Park

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While you won’t mistake this for Hawaii or the Caribbean, there are a few decent beaches in Seattle that are lovely on a hot summer day.

Golden Gardens is a sandy beach featuring views of the Olympic Mountains while you swim in the Puget Sound. It tends to get crowded on beautiful days so don’t expect a secluded beach. The drive is about 25 minutes from Madison Valley and 20 minutes from Queen Anne, without traffic. Parking may require patience but is worth the wait for the views and refreshing water.

Address: 8498 Seaview Pl NW, Seattle, WA 98117, USA
Phone: +1 206-684-4075

Madison Park Beach

Photo by Cornall

Another great beach to visit, this time on Lake Washington, is Madison Park Beach. Madison Park Beach is located at the end of Madison Street, about 1.5 miles from most of our Madison Valley vacation rentals. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there is a lifeguard on duty and a floating dock with diving boards. The water in the lake is much warmer than the Sound, so this is a better option if you really want to swim.

Address: 1900 43rd Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
Phone: +1 206-684-7796

Nearby Casinos

Photo by Creatives

If you wanted a gambling vacation, you could do better than greater Seattle. That said, Snoqualmie Casino has all the usual table games and slots and is a short drive away, only 30 miles east of Seattle on I-90. While you won’t confuse this for Vegas, they also have some decent restaurants and the occasional interesting headliner in their entertainment venue.

Other gaming options include Tulalip Casino , an hour north of Seattle (near the Seattle Premium Outlets) and Emerald Queen Casino, an hour south (in Tacoma). Also about an hour south is the Muckleshoot Casino.

Mount Rainier National Park

Photo by Wanderlust

If your ambitions allow for a daylong expedition, consider visiting Mt. Rainier. Despite how close it looks, Mt. Rainier is about a 2-hour drive from Seattle. While it isn’t around the corner, it is certainly feasible as a one day roundtrip getaway.

The two main visitors’ centers are the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center (formerly called Paradise) and the Sunrise Visitor Center. It is possible to visit both in one day (we did), but you might want to read about each before you go and prioritize the one that better suits your interests in case you run out of time – or energy.

There are a variety of hiking trails at both spots, ranging from easy strolls to challenging day hikes.

Saltwater State Park

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Located 30 minutes south of Seattle, this is an 88-acre park along Puget Sound. It offers beautiful viewpoints, a playground, a rustic beach, and a nice escape from the city.

It’s a perfect spot for a picnic, beach combing, or just relaxing while watching the tide roll in. You will need a Discover Pass ($11.50 per vehicle), which you can purchase online or at a machine at the park entrance.

Address: 25205 8th Pl S, Des Moines, WA 98198, USA
Phone: +1 253-661-4956

Seaplane Flightseeing Tour

Photo by Jones Photo

Several companies offer 20-minute “flightseeing” tours of Seattle, taking off (and later gently splashing back down) from Lake Union. The feeling of flight to and from the water is spectacular, and the views are breathtaking. Both vendors shown here price within a few dollars of $100 per person.

We recommend the guided tours by:

Whidbey Island

Photo by Lowe Photography

Located a bit north of Seattle, you can visit Whidbey Island for a day-long road trip. Or find a B&B and spend a night (or several) and explore more of the island, including numerous beaches.

If going for a day, we recommend making your way north on I-5 and starting your journey at Deception Pass. Deception Pass is Washington’s most visited state park and includes three lakes and both freshwater and saltwater shorelines.

You’ll pass over the 180-foot high Deception Pass Bridge as you make your way onto Whidbey Island. From there, head south to Coupeville, an attractive waterfront town with nice stores and galleries. You can then continue to meander south and you will return to Seattle via the Clinton – Mukilteo ferry.

Note that in the summer, ferry waits can be long, so plan accordingly. Visit the ferry website for schedules and wait times. Reservations are not available on this route.

Hood Canal

Photo by Pharr

Located between the Olympic National Park and Puget Sound, Hood Canal is about a 2-hour drive from Seattle. While it’s possible to visit in a day trip, outdoor enthusiasts will certainly wish they had more time in this PNW gem. We recommend spending a few days here hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, and more.

Lake Chelan

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About 3 hours/180 miles east of Seattle, this is the state’s largest lake. The area is known for its wineries, wine tastings, and apple orchards, as well as numerous outdoor activities from hiking to biking to cross country skiing.

It’s very dry in that part of the state, so the scenery is quite different from what you see around green Seattle. On your way, stop in Leavenworth to see a little piece of Bavaria in Washington. Since it’s a bit far away for a day trip, a weekend getaway to Lake Chelan would be preferrable.


Photo by Mayorov

Speaking of Leavenworth, this quaint town 2 hours and 15 minutes east of Seattle has a Bavarian theme that somehow manages not to be hokey. It makes for a fine day or overnight trip from Seattle, and a good stopping point in route to Chelan. They host a variety of special events throughout the year, including Oktoberfest and holiday lights.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Photo by’ Miles

Mount Saint Helens is located about 50 miles off I-5 at Exit 49 (115 miles south of Seattle). Although we have not been ourselves, it is a worthwhile detour on the way to Portland if you have the time. The volcano is accessed via WA-504 East (Spirit Lake Highway), a slow and sometimes windy road.

There are a few visitors’ centers along the way to consider. The furthest one (at milepost 52) is the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which is operated by the U.S. Forest Service and is open from May through October. It takes about an hour to get there from I-5. About 9 miles before that, you will reach the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center, which is open from November through April. In the winter, be sure to check weather conditions in advance as snowy and icy conditions are possible and there are limited services available. The Learning Center’s website has helpful information to plan your visit.

If you have limited time, just a few miles off I-5, you’ll find the Washington State Park’s visitor center. It’s 30 miles from the mountain, but has several displays, as well as a movie that shows twice an hour. Do note that from November through February, the center is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Port Townsend

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Port Townsend is a quaint town located at the start of the Olympic Peninsula and Hoh Rainforest – about 2 ½ hours from Seattle. You can spend a nice day or two enjoying beaches, lighthouses, farmers’ markets, and a quaint Main Street.

Portland, Oregon

Photo by Pavone

About 175 miles south of Seattle, we find the drive between these two cities to be fairly boring. The trip ranges from 3 hours to more than 5 hours, depending on traffic. If you want to make a day of the drive, plan a visit to Mount Saint Helens.

If you don’t want to drive, you can take the Amtrak Cascades Train. The trip is just under four hours and there are about five trains daily. Amtrak declares the Cascades Train, of which Seattle to Portland is a part, one of its four most scenic routes. Several bus lines also offer service between the two cities and flights are fairly inexpensive and very quick.

San Juan Islands

Photo by Wieland Shields

The San Juan Islands is an archipelago of 172 islands located northeast of Seattle. Of these, four are served by ferries and are popular destinations for locals and visitors alike. They are:

  • Orcas Island
  • Lopez Island
  • San Juan Island
  • Shaw Island

Visitors can hike, camp, stroll through small towns and villages, and go whale watching. The Washington State ferry now allows reservations on San Juan ferries, which makes getting there much easier and more predictable, but advance planning is still necessary in the summer if you plan to take your car.

If you will be in Friday Harbor, we highly recommend a whale watch with Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours. It is pricey but worthwhile (as long as you are lucky enough to see the whales) and we had a fantastic experience several years ago.

Getting to the San Juan Islands via car and ferry takes about 3 ½ hours.

You can also travel with Kenmore Air via floatplane from Lake Union! The views are spectacular and it’s a quick flight. Andy recommends arriving early and asking to sit in the copilot seat! There are also once-daily departures from Downtown Seattle to Friday Harbor on the Victoria Clipper.

For information about getting to the San Juan Islands, check these websites:

Vancouver, Canada

Photo by Heinl

Getting to Vancouver from Seattle takes about a 2.5 hour drive, without traffic. The time required will be highly variable based on the time spent at the border crossing. Remember to bring passports for every traveler. As with Portland, you can also go via Amtrak, plane, or bus if you prefer not to drive.

Looking for places to stop on your drive to or from Vancouver? Check out this article about annual events like the Tulip Festival.

Victoria, Canada

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Charming Victoria is accessible by the Victoria Clipper, a high speed passenger ferry, from Downtown Seattle. The crossing time is just under three hours. The boats are scheduled in such a way that you can do this as a daytrip, but we recommend spending a night or two there. Fares are significantly discounted with 2-day and 7-day advanced purchase; they range from $109-$140, depending on the season. Children (ages 1-11) pay half the adult fare.

The boats can sell out, particularly during the summer and the winter holidays, so plan in advance if possible. The ride is usually smooth, but can of course vary with weather. They offer sea sickness pills onboard and on the day we went, they significantly altered the route to avoid rough seas.

If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, Kenmore Air offers floatplane service with daily departures from Lake Union and the Victoria Inner Harbor. The trip is about 45 minutes and one-way fares start around $150. Alaska and Delta also have regular service from SeaTac. Don’t forget your passports!

Enjoying All That Seattle Has to Offer

While most visitors coming to PNW only focus on spending time in Seattle, we certainly believe that the best vacation here possible combines a mixture of city exploration with some nature sprinkled in.

These 17 day trips are sure to please everyone in your group, and luckily for you, there’s even more where that came from. From the North Cascades National Park and Indigenous communities willing to showcase their culture and history, there’s plenty to do in the Seattle area than you might have initially thought.