— Seattle: 3-Day National Parks Loop —

Olympic NP - Clouds Rolling Over Mtns

The view from Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

Olympic NP - Sea Arch

The sea stacks and natural arches of the Washington coastline are more prominent at low tide

Bleached trees on the Washington coast

Bleached trees on the Washington coast

Three starfish on the Washington coast

Three starfish at low tide on the Washington coast

Washington coast at dusk

The Washington coast is particularly gorgeous nearing sunset

Clouds in valley below Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Clouds in valley below Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park being obscured by the clouds below Hurricane Ridge

Olympic National Park being obscured by the clouds below Hurricane Ridge

A mule deer in the surreal landscape of Hurricane Ridge in late July

A mule deer in the surreal landscape at Hurricane Ridge of Olympic National Park in late July

A mule deer amongst the meadow flowers

A mule deer amongst the meadow flowers

Giant ferns and moss covered trees fill the rain forests in Olympic National Park

Giant ferns and moss covered trees fill the rain forests in Olympic National Park

Lots of star fish hanging on the rocks at low tide

Lots of star fish and sea anemones hanging on the rocks at low tide

Moss covered rocks in Olympic National Park

Moss covered rocks in Olympic National Park

Moss covered trees in the Olympic National Park rainforest

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

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

A sea of clouds covering much of Olympic National Park

Sea stacks off the Washington coast

Sea stacks off the Washington coast

The Washington coastline is home to lots of seagulls

The Washington coastline is home to lots of seagulls

A natural arch off the Washington coast

A natural arch off the Washington coast

There's a sea of white flowers at Rainier National Park in late July

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.

Mt. Rainier National Park is full of wildflowers in late July.

The infamous Mt. Rainier in the distance

The infamous Mt. Rainier in the distance

Glaciers abound on Mt. Rainier

Glaciers abound on Mt. Rainier

At 14,___ feet Mt. Rainier dominates the landscape

Mt. Rainier is covered in dangerous glaciers indicated by the blue glacial ice

At 14,___ feet Mt. Rainier dominates the landscape

At 14,410 feet Mt. Rainier dominates the landscape

There are lots of alpine lakes to be explored in Mt. Rainier National Park

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 a volcano.

When covered in snow it's hard to believe Mt. Rainier is an active volcano.

Mt. Rainier can be seen in alpine lake reflections

Mt. Rainier looks majestic in alpine lake reflections throughout the park

Mt. Rainier National Park is filled meadows and meandering streams

Mt. Rainier National Park is filled meadows and meandering streams

Seattle 3-Day National Parks Loop

Loop Overview:

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 —

Day 1:

Start off your day with a cup of coffee at the original Starbucks near the famous Pike Place Fish Market. Peruse the market and try some cheese at the Beecher's Handmade Cheese shop. Jump back in the car and head to the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden of Glass. Then take the ferry across Puget Sound from Edmonds to Kingston. (You can buy tickets in advance here.)
 
Once on land again, take the 101 to Port Angeles and follow signs to take you to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. Pay your entrance fee, grab a map, and drive on up to Hurricane Ridge. (Note: Hurricane Ridge is only open Friday through Sunday in the winter due to ungodly amounts of snow.) Gape at the spectacular views, take as many selfies as humanly possible, and then head back down the mountain.
 
Check into your hotel in Port Angeles, explore the quaint town, and get rested up for Day 2.

 

Lodging: Lodging is available in Port Angeles—hotels, B&Bs, AirBnB, etc. If you don't mind driving a little farther, you can stay at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, Lake Crescent Lodge, or Log Cabin Resort.
Camping: We recommend the campground on the road up to Hurricane Ridge.  Everything is green and lush and you're tucked into the giant trees.
Food: Seattle's food is amazing, so definitely treat yourself before you hit the road.  For dinner, there are several good restaurants in Port Angeles, just check Yelp.

Day 2:

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.

 
Drive a little further south on Route 101 to your hotel for the night. 

 

Lodging: Lodging is available in Hoquiam or Aberdeen.
Camping: There are several camping options at Washington state parks in the area.  Pacific Beach State Park and Ocean City State Park are, as their names suggest, along the ocean and west of Hoquiam.  Ocean Beach looks like the better choice of the two because it's wooded and you'll have some privacy.  Lake Sylvia State Park is just east of Aberdeen and looks like pleasant, civilized camping.  We haven't stayed at any of these campgrounds, so check online to see which one matches your preferred style of camping.
Food: Hoquiam and Aberdeen both have several restaurants to choose from. We would recommend eating at one of the fresh seafood restaurants, but there are other types of cuisine available as well.
Mt. Rainier National Park alpine lake

Day 3:

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.

Head to the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, pay your fee and pick up a map. Drive around the scenic mountain, but stop and get out of the car whenever there's parking. The fields of wildflowers at the base of the mountain are incredible in late July or early August.

 

If it's late spring or summer, be sure to look really closely at the snow-covered portions of the mountain—it's very common on good weather days to see a line of people trekking up the south side trying to summit.  At 14,410 feet Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington state and the most prominent in the lower 48 states. It may look like an easy hike to the uninitiated, but it claims the lives of experienced mountaineers most every year.
Be sure to stop at the Sunrise Visitor Center as you head north on Route 123.  The view is stunning from there.  Once you've had your fill, head north on Route 410 back to Seattle.  The road is winding but scenic as you pass through some National Forest lands.  Stop at Enumclaw for an early dinner if you feel like it, or hold out for some Seattle dining before flying home.

 

Lodging: If you're not flying out until morning, spend a night in Seattle.  Otherwise, have a safe flight home!
Camping: If you're not flying out until morning, there's some great camping in the National Forest along Route 410.  It's just happens to be a long way from the airport.
Food:  Grab some lunch before getting to the Mt. Rainier National Park.  Food choices are extremely limited after that for several hours only at the two visitor centers.  Enumclaw is a good place to get some early dinner on your way back to Seattle and your flight home.

Heather's Trip Tips:

1) Go to Seattle in late July or early August for fairy tale-like conditions up on Hurricane Ridge. It doesn't get more breathtaking!
2) Try to be hiking along the beach around low tide. If you do you'll get to see lots of starfish and sea anemones gripping along the bottom of exposed rock outcroppings.

3) If it's wintertime and the roads on the east side of Mt. Rainier are closed, you can't do the complete loop around it, but you can still make it a few miles past the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center before having to backtrack back out of the western side of the park. If this is what you're having to do, take the time to stop at either the Pioneer Farm Museum & Ohop Indian Village (if you're into that type of thing), the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, the LeMay America's Car Museum, LeMay Museum of Marymount (more antique cars), or the Museum of Glass and its breathtaking Chihuly Bridge of Glass on your way back to Seattle.  Or you could just spend more time in Seattle before your flight out and see anything you missed.

Tim's Wisdom:

 

Don't be a lazy ass, get out of the damn car and hike around!

— Recommended Trip Variations —

Add Mount St. Helens

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.

Learn More

Add Tacoma Museums

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.

Learn More

Add More Coastline Travel

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.

Learn More