Most visitors to Washington State will never look beyond Seattle. This is a serious loss because this surprisingly vast state is home to some of the most stunning natural beauty in America, ranging from arid wine country to snow capped mountains to, yes, even rainforests. It’s also home to many charming and quirky small towns. Here are a few amazing and diverse weekend getaways in Washington to help you discover more of the great state.
San Juan Islands
Between the Puget Sound and Vancouver Island lie nearly 700 serene forested islands. The area is a playground for Orca whales and bald eagles, and is the perfect back-to-nature escape from the city. Four of the islands are reachable by public ferry: Orcas, San Juan, Lopez and Shaw Island. The closest, and largest island, Orcas Island, can be reached in less than two hours from Seattle by car. Even the larger islands are quiet and remote with only a few small towns, the biggest of which is Friday Harbor. Rent a cabin or stay in a guesthouse and spend your time here hiking, kayaking and whale watching. If you have the budget for it, a seaplane ride over the islands is a truly amazing splurge.
Olympic National Park
The most surprising jewel in Olympic National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the Hoh Rainforest. Most people associate rainforests with areas closer to the equator, but Hoh is proof that temperate rainforests can exist anywhere with the right conditions. The forest is a deep, dark and green cathedral of enormous 500-year-old giant fir, spruce and cedar trees while a canopy of moss blocks out most of the sun. There are many other sites worth exploring in the park, which is about 30 miles from the nearest town of Forks (of Twilight fame). The park is filled with beautiful beaches, hiking trails and of course the staggering Olympic Mountain Range.
Leavenworth is a resort town in the Northern Cascades. That alone wouldn’t make it notable, but one thing does: the entire town is modeled after a Bavarian village. There are traditional brewpubs, a nutcracker museum and the Cascades in the background lend to the alpine atmosphere. The result is a little kitschy but the town still manages to be quite charming. Leavenworth is beautiful anytime of year. During the winter months, Christmas lights illuminate the snow-coated buildings. During the summer months Leavenworth hosts many festivals, and there is golfing, hiking and river rafting. The biggest event of the year however is Oktoberfest, a 3-week long celebration in October that truly emphasizes the town’s German character.
The Yakima Valley is one of Washington’s biggest wine regions and one of the state’s breadbaskets, producing the largest variety of produce in the Pacific Northwest. Yakima has more than 800 wineries and grows more than 70% of the nation’s hops. At any given time of year, something in the region is growing, blooming or brewing. Visitors can base themselves in Yakima city, Ellensburg or historic Union Gap and explore the many wineries and other attractions in the area. Try following the Spirits and Hops Trail to familiarize yourself with the many different wines, beers and spirits that are brewed and distilled in the area. There are also a wealth of gourmet farm to table restaurants that take advantage of the area’s natural bounty.
Walla Walla, Washington is far more than just a funny name. This city was once a key player in the westward expansion, a gold rush hub, and at one point almost became the capital of Washington State. Nowadays it’s mostly known as a college town, a historical relic and the hub of the Walla Walla Valley wine region. The town is just a 1-hour flight from Seattle but feels like an entire world away. Take some time to check out the famous Fort Walla Walla, but know that the biggest draw here is wine. Over 50 wineries in the valley have tasting rooms and many can be sampled in town as well. The town also has a huge variety of festivals and events throughout the year and a thriving local music scene.
What are your favorite weekend getaways in Washington state?