On this road trip, you’ll explore downtown Seattle, hike a mountain right outside of the city (Mount Si) and visit two National Parks (Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park). Here are all the details from our Pacific Northwest Road Trip itinerary below.
FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in early May
Day 1: Fly into Seattle, Explore the Seattle Waterfront
Fly into Seattle
Depending what time you arrive in Seattle, you may have more or less time to explore. See 5 Ways to Save on Flights to get the best deals flying into Seattle.
We took this evening to explore some shops down by the Seattle Waterfront and see the iconic ferris wheel and boardwalk views. We had a delicious dinner full of seafood from Ivar’s Fish Market. This restaurant is located right along the waterfront and recommend trying it for a classic Seattle seafood dining experience.
Where to Stay
We stayed at The Loyal Inn in downtown Seattle. This hotel is nothing fancy but the location and price were right. We were able to walk everywhere we visited from here and parking was included with our stay (big money saver).
Day 2: Explore Seattle
Morning Run to the Waterfront
This morning, go for a run or walk on the Elliot Bay trail at Myrtle Edwards Park along the waterfront. This path will give you pretty views of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and the Seattle Skyline.
Pike’s Place Market
Next, head to the well known Pike’s Place Market. This colorful market is really fun to see in-person with its flying fish, plentiful fresh fruit and beautiful fresh flowers. There are plenty of different places where you can get a meal here as well. This market reminds us of the Mercat de la Boqueria in Spain (see…coming soon Barcelona, Spain, Quick Guide).
Down an alleyway next to Pike’s Place is your next stop, the instagram famous Gum Wall. This is literally a wall of chewed gum, built piece by piece and continuing to grow each day, it makes for a very colorful and unique display. Add to the wall if you’d like!
Not far from Pike’s Place and the Gum Wall is the first original Starbucks. This tiny shop is neat to see since it is where the mega brand got its start. Try to go here earlier rather than later if you plan to order something as this location tends to be a pretty crowded touristy spot.
Hello Robin Ice Cream Sandwiches
If you eat dessert at one place in Seattle, eat it at Hello Robin. We loved this place. This shop specializes in homemade cookies that you can order alone or as an icecream sandwich with homemade local ice cream in the middle of two homemade cookies of your choice. So delicious! We visited the location in the cute Capitol Hill neighborhood. There are tons of restaurants in this area too if you want to get some dinner before dessert. Consider trying Momiji for some sushi!
Day 3: Hike Mount Si
Hike Mount Si
This 8 mile round trip hike with approximately 3,200 feet of elevation gain certainly is a challenge. Hiking Mount Si will be an experience that you do not soon forget though. The moss covered trees at the bottom of the trail starkly contrast the pine covered forest at the top. On this hike, it went from feeling like a very humid rainforest at the bottom, to being a cold rain in the middle and then to snowing at the top.
Typically, when you reach the summit of Mount Si, you are afforded expansive views over the Snoqualmie valley. However, on the day we visited, it was quite foggy and cloudy so we did not get those views but the snow covered mountain top was still very picturesque. We enjoyed this hike and felt very accomplished after doing it. This trail is located driving only 45 minutes east from Seattle, making it a popular hike. However, we only saw about 10 other people on the trail on our weekday hike in May.
On your drive back to Seattle, stop off to see the massive Snoqualmie Falls. It was pouring rain when we arrived here so we did not spend too much time at the falls but boy is it ever giant!
Day 4: Mount Rainier National Park, Drive to Olympia
Mount Rainier National Park
After resting up from your Mount Si hike, drive towards Mount Rainier National Park which is about 2.5 hours from Seattle. On this drive, you might be afforded some views of Mount Rainier on a clear day, like we were. We spent only part of a day exploring Mount Rainier National Park. Part of a day is certainly not enough time to see all the park has to offer but we enjoyed hiking two of the trails and driving through the park. Like every other National Park we have visited, the views are truly stunning everywhere you look.
Trail of the Shadows
This trail is a relatively flat 0.7 Mile loop that takes you through a pretty meadow, peaceful forested area and past a replica of an early homestead cabin. This trail leads into the Rampart Ridge Trail (info below) and is located across road from National Park Inn at Longmire. If you are really short on time, the hike will give you picturesque Mount Rainier views (on a clear day) and a quick taste of what the park has to offer.
Rampart Ridge Trail
If you have a little more time and are inclined to hike some elevation, definitely hike the Rampart Ridge Trail. This hike is approximately 4.6 miles round trip with 1,336 feet of elevation gain. On this hike, you are rewarded with even better Mount Rainier and valley views. We hiked this trail in early May and at times, we had trouble finding the path with how much snow there was still on the ground. However, this made for more of an adventure! The trailhead for this hike is on the Trail of Shadows, located across the road from the National Park Inn at Longmire.
Drive the Park
Throughout the park, you will see all sorts of varying views. Some are very snowy and others are not snowy at all. Drive through Mount Rainier National Park and get as close to Paradise Inn as time allows and contingent on the road being open. On this road, you will get astounding views of the park, especially if there is a lot of snow. At certain spots when we were driving it on, the snow was over 16 feet high on both sides!
Tip: Make sure to check road conditions before going to Mount Rainier National Park and know if you need snow tires or not. Also, make sure the park/roads are open (when planning the timeframe of your trip and then again the day of your trip). They often close roads with heavy snow. We visited in early May and the roads had just opened.
Drive to/Stay in Olympia
After visiting Mount Rainier National Park, we started our drive to the capital city of Olympia, Washington. Olympia is the perfect city to stay in-between visiting Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park as it is roughly equidistant from both.
Olympia is the capital of the state of Washington and very much so reminded us of Madison, Wisconsin. It is a young, active, earthy and eclectic city.
Where to Eat in Olympia
We loved eating at several mom & pop restaurants near the capitol. Some of our favorites included:
- New Moon Cafe: Great for Breakfast or Brunch
- The Lemongrass Restaurant: Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese. The food was so delicious, we ate here twice.
- South Bay Dickerson’s BBQ: Tasty BBQ in a fun atmosphere
Where to Stay in Olympia
We set-up home base for 2 nights in Olympia at Governor Hotel Red Lion Inn. The hotel rooms here were quite nice for the price and this hotel is located less than a block from the main drag in Olympia. Again, parking was included with our stay here. See How to Book Accommodations on a Budget for more tips on booking a hotel on a budget.
Day 5: Olympic National Park, Drive back to Olympia
This day, after breakfast, (consider eating at New Moon Cafe) start your drive towards Olympic National Park. As we were only visiting this park for one day, we chose just one part to visit, Quinault Lake/Rainforest. This area of Olympic National Park is about 2 hours from Olympia.
Quinault Rainforest, Olympic National Park
The drive from Olympia to the Quinault Rainforest was very pretty with lots of large, mature trees. Once we arrived at the Quinault Rainforest, we were in awe of its beauty. We were in the northwest corner of America yet we were in a temperate rainforest. Certainly not an experience you get everyday! Here, we hiked through the rainforest and then looped back parallel to the lake. The lake here was beautiful as well.
Tip: Spend more time at Olympic National Park
If time allows, add on a day or two and consider staying at the rustic and secluded Lake Quinault Lodge. We stopped in at this lodge while hiking, and it was very cozy. Further, if you can add on even more time, consider spending a week or two exploring even more of Olympic National Park (it is nearly a million acres!). This park is made up of very different ecosystems including temperate rainforests, snow-capped mountains and miles of coastline. We only had time to explore one of the temperate rainforests but hope to visit again in the future.
Day 6: Drive from Olympia back to Seattle to Fly Home
On your last morning, take some time to walk around the pretty trail around Capitol Lake. This trail at Capitol Lake was located directly behind our hotel.
Finally, head back to Seattle, about 1 hour from Olympia, to catch your flight home. Depending on how much time you have you could spend some more time in Olympia or Seattle.
Have you taken a road trip from Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park or Olympic National Park? Have you hiked Mount Si? We hope this guide helps you plan your road trip to the Pacific Northwest. Anything you’d add to our Pacific Northwest Road Trip? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
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