Road Trip in Washington
The Evergreen State is a fitting moniker for Washington, not just because it's a venerable emerald wonderland of towering conifers, but because there are perpetually things to do, places to go, and people to see.
The best way to fit in everything Washington has to offer is by jumping behind the wheel and journeying through the Pac-Northwest's most iconic state. Just remember, there are specific rules of the road in WA you'll need to be wary of, and certain major thoroughfares that may be helpful to keep in mind on your travels.
WA Traffic Laws
Aside from knowing where you'll likely drive in Washington, you should be prepared for how to drive while you're there. A good first step is to run through the WA Driver's Handbook before you hit the road.
The state has a number of specific road rules its drivers must follow. Check out our guide to safety laws in Washington for more information on, among other topics:
- Child seat and seatbelt laws.
- Motorcycle helmet requirements.
- Using cell phones while driving.
Major Washington Roadways
Don't be fooled by the images of pristine Washington waterways filled with slow-moving ferries: the state packs in plenty of roadways—and faster-moving automobiles.
The biggest interstates will take you to some of Washington's most popular destinations, but a large section of the state is still too heavily forested to support a major highway, so you'll have to rely on a series of county and local roads to visit more of the out-of-the-way areas. Here are a few roads to know before getting behind the wheel, broken up into interstates (I) and U.S. routes (US):
- The state's only major north-south thoroughfare bookends its journey with a pair of Vancouvers: crossing over the Oregon border near Vancouver, WA in the south before snaking up the western side of the state and offering passage to Canada's version of the city.
- In between, Washington's busiest highway services the cities of Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia, and can also lead you to a number of lakes and campsites, along with the road to Mount Vernon.
- Interstate 82 begins at the southeastern edge of the Washington border, near Kennewick, WA, before traveling northwest toward Seattle, where the highway ends.
- Originally intended to connect the state's inland cities to its waterways in the west, the interstate services a number of smaller communities along its run and can connect you to county and local roads for more remote travels.
- For those with especially specific bucket lists, the highway also crosses over North America's longest concrete arch bridge in North America.
- Washington's longest highway runs east-west, crossing from Idaho into WA near Liberty Lake before terminating in the west in Seattle.
- Along the way, you can choose to to take exits leading to the city of Spokane, or stick to the scenic highway to get to the Cascade Mountains, as well as a number of other lakes and waterways (the freeway crosses directly over many of them) and nature preserves, like Tiger Mountain State Forest.
- One of the longest state highways in Washington, Route 2 follows some of the most popular wagon trails forged by the frontier men and women of the 1800s, running east to west through the middle of the state.
- As it enters WA from Idaho, the interstate crosses over the Priest River, and includes exits leading you toward Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, ID before traveling through a number of smaller communities and eventually terminating in Seattle.
- Route 12 travels east to west from Clarkston to Pomeroy, Walla Walla, Pasco, Mt. Rainier National Park, and Aberdeen, and crosses into Idaho.
- The famed “Coast Highway" that begins in California continues heading south to north along the Pacific through Washington from McGowan to Nemah, Aberdeen, and Beaver, before turning east then south to ring Olympic National Park through Snug Harbor, Blyn, Brinnon, and Skokomish. The 101 also links to Oregon.
- Route 395 runs south to north from Sagemoor to Spokane, Clayton, Chewelah, Kettle Falls, before continuing into Oregon all the way to Canada.
Washington Road Trip Pit Stops
The Pacific Northwest prides itself on keeping its nature abundant, its communities inclusive, and its activities as unique as possible. Washington State doesn't fail the region in any of these areas.
Below are just some of the things WA has to offer, from the truly quirky to the quietly beautiful.
The state's largest metropolis is fittingly nicknamed the Emerald City, but if Dorothy and Toto had come to Seattle, they might not have been in such a rush to get home.
- Filled with now-famous tourist destinations such as the Space Needle, Pike's Place Market, the large folk art golem known as the Fremont Troll, and the stickiest wall in the nation—covered with thousands of pieces of chewed gum—Seattle is also home to less well-known attractions like the Walker Rock Garden, as well as a number of universities, museums, and the city's sports teams, not to mention its influential music scene.
- There is also a cadre of rotating niche businesses which will sell you, among other oddities, the opportunity to view a collection of “bad art," items that are rumored to be haunted, space travel supplies, and beer—under a circus big top.
- If the city seems like too much to take in, just remember: it's the home of the original Starbucks. So caffeinate and enjoy!
An inlet of the Pacific Ocean, this body of water trickles as far south as Olympia, surrounds the western edge of Seattle and stretches northward to the Canadian border. You'll likely have to abandon your car for this one—or find a way to bring it with you on a ferry.
- The sound is spotted with a number of small islands—the most prominent of which being the San Juan Island chain—which are accessible by boat and not only offer stunning views but some of the freshest shellfish in the country.
- The Olympic Peninsula creates the Sound's western edge and is home to Olympic National Park, a dazzling piece of land which spans high mountain tops and pristine Pacific Coast beaches.
- Sailing enthusiasts can also take their boats for a spin around the waters, as long as they don't mind sharing it with the abundant marine life, including seals and Orca whales.
- Sitting on the western side of Puget Sound is the town of Port Angeles. Although it still stands today, its residents in the early 1900s weren't as certain of their community's future. They worried that flooding would destroy it, so in a fit of engineering ingenuity, the town people created an underground version of the city.
- Many of the buildings have since been destroyed, but enough of the subterranean city has survived that curious tourists can tour the network of tunnels and underground structures where Port Angeles residents once thought they would be forced to live.
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Mount Rainier/Cascade Mountains
A stunning string of snowcapped peaks, the Cascade Range is actually part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped group of mountains spanning a number of countries and continents that were produced through a series of earthquakes and volcanic activity.
The entire range is perfect for more serious mountain climbers, but the peaks also offer easier pathways for less experienced explorers, and plenty of places to hike, bike, or just enjoy nature. Some sights to take in include:
- The Ape Cave
- The same geologic violence responsible for the Cascades helped create one of Washington's most unique destinations: the Ape Cave.
- Located in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, near Mt. St. Helens, the cave is actually the longest continuous lava tube in the continental United States Hikers can explore the interior of the mysterious black-rock cavern as well as enjoy other nearby trails.
- Mt. Rainier
- The crown jewel of the Cascades is its highest peak, Mount Rainier, which can be seen from Seattle, despite standing nearly 100 miles away.
- Big Four Ice Caves
- Also nestled in the Cascades is this group of snowy burrows, which lie at the foot of Big Four Mountain. The ice caves are actually part of the lowest-elevation glacier in the continental United States.
- Access to the caves is relatively easy, and the hike there can be completed by outdoor experts and beginners alike.
Other Fun Destinations
- Tree Graveyard
- Found at the mouth of the Quillayute River on Rialto Beach in Forks, WA, the landscape is scattered with haphazard piles of bleached out, curling trunks and branches. Perfect for anyone who prefers their beauty with a side of macabre.
- Mima Mounds
- A meandering and mysterious group of domelike dirt mounds in Olympia, whose true origin remains unknown.
- Thornewood Castle
- Located in Lakewood, close to Tacoma, the beautiful estate—which doubles as a bed and breakfast—is a big draw for ghost hunters hoping to catch a glimpse of the rumored undead residents. Cementing its eerie place in history, the house was used as a set for the Steven King movie, Rose Red.
- Jimi Hendrix Memorial
- The final resting place of the world's greatest guitar player is located in Renton, Washington, and often attracts admirers from across the world.
- Olympic Hot Springs
- A natural spa complete with several well-heated ponds and smaller bodies of water, the springs are located in Olympic National Park.