Whether you live in Seattle or are just visiting, there are trips for every type of traveler and adventurer. The city certainly has enough to keep anybody busy for a lifetime, but venture to the four corners of Washington State to find unique gems you won’t want to miss. From volcanos, to lush green rainforest, ocean experiences to coulees and canyons—you’ll find it all within a few hours of Seattle.
Travel North and Kayak with the Orcas
One experience that you’ll talk about for years to come is a sea kayaking adventure from San Juan Island. Considered one of the top sea kayaking destinations in the world, the area abounds in majestic views of mountains and rugged coastline. But the highlight for most people is experiencing marine life and wildlife firsthand. Paddling in the natural serenity of the Salish Sea, there’s no better way to get up close and personal with porpoises, seals, sea lions, eagles and the mighty Orca whale.
Enjoy this trip with a pod of friends, family and anyone who likes an adventure. Make sure to try one of the many guided kayak tours to truly experience all the area has to offer. Rent single kayaks or doubles so that kids as young as six can go along for the ride. You can even book a private kayak tour.
There are many trip lengths, so choose the one that’s right for you. The 3-hour and 5-hour kayak tours are the most popular, but consider an overnight trip for a special treat. During March to October peak season, it’s said that you’ll see whales on 90% of the tours.
There are a lot of companies to choose from. Here are a few to start with:
How to get there: Catch the ferry at Anacortes to Friday Harbor. From Seattle, it’s a 3 hour trip including the drive and ferry, but you’ll want to plan for ferry wait times.
Head South and Go Spelunking
It’s impossible to be in western Washington and not come across a volcanic vista.
Mount St. Helens is the area's most infamous volcano, after erupting in 1980 and scaring the pants off Pacific Northwesterners far and wide. For now, the volcanos are generally quiet, but about 2,000 years ago, it was a different story. Ape Cave just south of Mount St. Helens, formed about 2,000 years ago from lava streaming down the south side of the volcano, Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube in North America, but you won't find any primates here. The cave was named for a Boy Scout troop called the Mount St. Helens Apes who explored the cave in the early 1950's.
Travel to Ape Cave between April and November and remember to pack your flashlights and a jacket to keep the chill off. The cave is dark and remains at a constant 42 degrees. For a real challenge, scramble 1.5 miles into and through the Upper Ape Cave. An easier, more steady trek is through the Lower Ape Cave which is 1.5 miles roundtrip. If you want to try before you buy, check out this wonderful little video about the Ape Cave that aired on PBS.
Before you go, make sure to check cave opening hours and all rules and restrictions.
How to get there: Ape Cave is south of Mt. St. Helens and about a 3 hour drive from Seattle.
Go Back East and Go Back in Time
For many, the north central part of Washington is the most overlooked part of the state. With a bounty of mountains and water in Seattle and Spokane, why go anywhere else? But, this part of the state has some secret geological treasures that should not be missed.
At the Stonerose Interpretive Center in a tiny town called Republic, Washington you can indulge your inner paleontologist by hunting for 50-million year old plant, insect and fish fossils. No experience is necessary, and you don’t even need to bring any tools. It’s a minimal fee to dig and Stonerose is open to people of all ages, so it’s the perfect trip for your posse of friends or multi-generational family. You’ll get an informative overview at the visitor center, then the site is right in town, so there’s no need to hike or climb. The best part? Stonerose is so rich in fossils that everyone is guaranteed to find something, and, you can keep your three favorite finds. If you come across something really extraordinary, the scientists at the Center hold onto it for further study, so your discovery could actually contribute to science.
Getting to and from Stonerose is half the fun. Driving through the mountains and stunning gorges you’ll see another geologic wonder—Dry Falls next to Grand Coulee. True to its name, these Dry Falls may no longer cascade water, but they were once four times the size of Niagara Falls. Although not as old as the fossils in Republic, these ancient falls were carved by Ice Age floods more than 13,000 years ago.
How to get there: Stonerose is about 5.5 hours from Seattle. To see Dry Falls on the way, hop up 155 from either Highway 2 or I-90.
Go West to the Wettest Place in the Lower 48 States
Many people are astounded to learn that there is a rainforest in the lower 48 of the United States. And, the beauty and lush greenery of the Hoh rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula is something that must be experienced firsthand.
The Hoh is best seen on-foot, and there are hikes of all lengths and difficulties. You’ll find short jaunts through the .8 mile Hall of Mosses to the 17.4 miles Hoh River Trail. All take you through old growth forest, bathed in a lush ethereal greenery. The trails are soft and quiet and shouldn’t be missed.
For a mix of scenery, try the 9-mile Ozette Triangle Loop which starts at the Cape Alava Trailhead. Walk the first three miles over a boardwalk through the rainforest. Suddenly the muffled softness is broken by the roar of the ocean as you come to the shores of the Pacific. Trek another three miles along the beach itself, then loop back through the rainforest. It’s a spectacularly rewarding hike.
How to get there: Hop a ferry across Elliott Bay to Bainbridge Island then drive another 90 miles. Or, take the long way around by driving Highway 16 to Highway 101 for a 2.5 hour road trip.
Tell us where your favorite spot is in Washington State!