— Seattle: 3-Day National Parks Loop —
The view from Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.
The sea stacks and natural arches of the Washington coastline are more prominent at low tide
Bleached trees on the Washington coast
Three starfish at low tide on the Washington coast
The Washington coast is particularly gorgeous nearing sunset
Clouds in valley below Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park being obscured by the clouds below Hurricane Ridge
A mule deer in the surreal landscape at Hurricane Ridge of Olympic National Park in late July
A mule deer amongst the meadow flowers
Giant ferns and moss covered trees fill the rain forests in Olympic National Park
Lots of star fish and sea anemones hanging on the rocks at low tide
Moss covered rocks in Olympic National Park
Moss covered trees in the Olympic National Park rainforest
Late July or early August are the perfect mix of snow and flowers at Olympic National Park
A sea of clouds covering much of Olympic National Park
Sea stacks off the Washington coast
The Washington coastline is home to lots of seagulls
A natural arch off the Washington coast
There's a sea of white flowers at Rainier National Park in late July
Mt. Rainier National Park is full of wildflowers in late July.
The infamous Mt. Rainier in the distance
Glaciers abound on Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier is covered in dangerous glaciers indicated by the blue glacial ice
At 14,410 feet Mt. Rainier dominates the landscape
There are lots of gorgeous alpine lakes to be explored in Mt. Rainier National Park
When covered in snow it's hard to believe Mt. Rainier is an active volcano.
Mt. Rainier looks majestic in alpine lake reflections throughout the park
Mt. Rainier National Park is filled meadows and meandering streams
600 miles, 3 days, 14 hours of driving (includes ferry) Best Time to Go: spring - fall
Day 1: Arrive in Seattle, see fish market area, go up in the iconic Space Needle, visit the Chihuly Garden of Glass, take a ferry ride across Puget Sound, & see breathtaking Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. Stay in or near Port Angeles.
Day 2: See moss covered Olympic National Park rain forest and craggy shoreline. Stay in Hoquiam or Aberdeen.
Day 3: 3 hour drive to Mt. Rainier National Park, scenic vistas, long winding drive back to Seattle, visit the Space Needle and then catch a red-eye flight home.
— Trip Details by Day —
Jump back in the car and head west on Route 101 and stop at Marymere Falls roughly 20 miles out of town if you want to stretch your legs on a relatively short hike. Drive around to the western part of the park and eat a quick lunch in Forks, Washington. Then drive about 31 miles south and turn onto the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center road. Be amazed by the moss on every surface and ferns as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. (Ok, maybe I exaggerate slightly.) Be sure to take the Hall of Mosses walk from the Visitor Center. Keep a lookout for the banana slugs—yes, that is a real thing—they're the biggest, grossest yellow-colored slugs you've ever seen!
Then head south on Route 101 to the third completely different ecosystem—the amazing rocky coastline! There are numerous beaches to choose from. Some of the beaches are covered in bleached old-growth driftwood trees as big as 8 feet in diameter! Check out the tidal pools when the tide is low to see lots of starfish and sea anemones. And be sure to take photos of the outcroppings of rock (sea stacks) at sunset.
Jump in the car for a 2-1/2 hour drive towards Ashford, Washington, near the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. (Note: Part of the main road around Rainier National Park is closed in winter.) Be sure to stop and grab an early lunch somewhere before you get to the park. Food is limited in and around the park.
— Recommended Trip Variations —
Spend an extra day and explore both sides of Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. In case you're not familiar with this piece of history, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens occurred the morning of May 18, 1980 and killed 57 people. It was the largest and most destructive eruption in US history. The western side has 2 visitor centers that explain the event and impacts. Trust us, it's more interesting than it sounds. The remote eastern side of the National Monument has better views of the blown out side and the devastation of the eruption—a lake filled with debris & trees knocked down during the blast that has resulted in it being 200 feet higher than it used to be, denuded mountainsides, and a car literally flattened by the blast. Sometimes you can still see steam rising off this active volcano.
Spend an extra day and night and explore Tacoma, Washington which is located just south of Seattle and at the bottom of the Puget Sound. Don't miss the LeMayAmerica's Car Museum with its 350 car gallery, the LeMay Museum at Marymount for even more antique cars, and the Museum of Glass and its breathtaking Chihuly Glass Bridge.
The 3-day trip above only has you driving about 20 miles along the Washington coastline. It's a travesty to only see that much of the coastline, so why not add one more day to your trip and head south out of Aberdeen on Routes 105 and 101. Then head east on route 4 along the Columbia River. These scenic byways are littered with state parks, museums, and National Wildlife Refuges like the World Kite Museum, Lewis and Clark National Historic Point, Willapa Seaport Museum, and the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.
Once you make it to Longview, Washington along the Columbia River it's an easy 2-hour-long straight shot up Interstate 5 to the Seattle airport. Coincidentally, both Mt. St. Helens and Tacoma, Washington are along the way. That means you can combine the 3-day trip with all these trip variations for a fantastic week-long trip which would also give you a little extra time to explore more of what Seattle has to offer.