Islands, forests, mountains, and more: 5 easy weekend getaways from Seattle
There is a reason Seattle is called “The Emerald City.” Sure, it has plenty of parkland within the city limits, but it’s also surrounded by sweeping Pacific coastlines, evergreen forests, and rugged mountains. This means that city dwellers have endless opportunities to escape the urban streets and head out into the wilderness. From rafting trips to wine tours and even canopy tree climbing, these are some amazing weekend getaways from Seattle that you won’t soon forget.
1. Get Off the Grid in North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades National Park is a vast network of densely forested valleys and more than 400 miles of trails that wind their way through old growth trees and up steep switchbacks into alpine territory. Scattered throughout the mountains are pristine lakes, more than 300 glaciers, and a huge variety of plant and animal life, including Columbia black-tailed deer and black bears. The trails here range from easy strolls to demanding treks that will push you to your limits. Most people visit between April and October when the weather is warmer, but keep in mind that some of the higher trails often have snow until August.
Outdoorsy types will find a ton to do in the park, including hiking, kayaking, and rafting trips. For incredible views, make the 5.2-mile trek up to Hannegan Peak. The trail starts off easy and then gets progressively steeper, but it’s worth the climb when you get to the top and gaze out over the sprawling Cascade range, Mount Baker, and the Silesia and Chilliwack Valleys. For those looking for a wet and wild adventure, the Skagit and Stehekin Rivers have awesome white water rapids that are perfect for rafting and kayaking. For a more serene experience, head to the Watson Lakes or Lake Dorothy for calm waters and views of granite cliffs.
2. See the City From a Different Angle on Peaceful Bainbridge Island
Just a 45-minute ferry ride from Seattle lies Bainbridge Island, a hilly island with a charming seaside town, beautiful parks, and two golf courses. Start your day with some artisan pastries and fresh fruit at the Farmer’s Market, and then head to the Bloedel Reserve to wander through the pine and maple trees, chill out at the Japanese zen garden, and watch wild ducks, geese, and frogs in the marshy lakes. You can also visit the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum to learn more about the island and its history. Take a lunch break at the Harbour Public House, a local favorite for burgers and fish and chips.
Bikers will love exploring the rolling hills of Bainbridge Island, especially the 53-mile route around the shoreline, which offers fantastic views of downtown Seattle, Puget Sound, and the Cascade Mountains. Stop by Rolling Bay Cafe for a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich along your route, and be sure to check out the Rolling Bay Winery. It's among the Seattle Met’s “Top 22 Tasting Rooms in Washington." You can also get a bird’s-eye view of the island and surrounding coastlines on a Canopy Tree Climbing Adventure with AdventureTerra. They will strap you in, teach you how to ascend and rappel, and take you 200 feet up in the treetops for an experience that will have your 7-year-old self giving you a huge high-five.
3. Enjoy Water Sports and Wine on Whidbey Island
Located just 30 miles north of Seattle, Whidbey Island is the largest island of the Puget Sound group. You won’t find any tall buildings here, but rather a mix of charming island communities, beaches, and campgrounds. You will probably want to spend most of your days outside exploring the giant redwoods in Deception Pass State Park, riding the waves on a kiteboard at low tide at Double Bluff Beach, and paddling past sea lions and seals on a kayaking trip. The island also hosts festivals and fairs year-round, such as the Choochokam Arts Festival and Whidbey Island Highland Games. If you happen to be there when one is taking place, join in to see a bit of the local color and flair.
The island is also known for its award-winning wineries. The Whidbey Island Winery is one of the most famous. They produce about 3,500 cases a year using grapes from select vineyards across Washington. Try their estate grown Island White NV, Madeleine Angevine 2014, or Cabernet Franc with black cherry and creamy blueberry flavors. Blooms Winery and Tasting Room in Bayview is another good bet. Their Blooms Blush and Syrah Rose wine are to die for. While you're enjoying your favorite vintage, peruse local artists’ paintings, sculpture, and jewelry in their tasting room.
4. Discover Old World Charm in Leavenworth
The Bavarian vibe is at an all-time high in Leavenworth, a whimsical alpine village located two hours north of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain range. As soon as you arrive you will be welcomed with Old World hospitality and charmed by the small wine shops, art galleries, and beer gardens. Many Seattle city dwellers come here for winter holidays to ski or snowboard at nearby Steven’s Pass. However, the town offers year-round fun with great hiking and biking trails, and a slew of Bavarian-themed events and attractions like the handcrafted maypole in the center of town, a glockenspiel that plays music every 15 minutes, and outdoor beer wagons and gardens serving dishes like Wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut.
Foodies will definitely want to check out artisan spots around town like the Icicle Brewing Company, Leavenworth’s original craft brewery and family-friendly tasting room. Take a tour on Saturday or Sunday to learn about the beer-making process, or pop by anytime to try their fresh ales and lagers made with water from the Icicle River. Visit Cascade Cheese to sample their renowned handcrafted cheeses made using traditional methods from the Swiss and French Alps. The area is also an up-and-coming wine region with plenty of wineries and tasting rooms nearby. Head to Icicle Ridge Winery to sample award-winning wines in a 5,000-square-foot log home. Insider’s Tip: Try the Blondes Gewurztraminer and Chocolate Cherry Passion dessert wine. Both are out of this world.
5. Escape to Rural Island Paradise on Vashon Island
Situated between Seattle and Tacoma, Vashon Island (aka the “Heart of the Sound”) is a patchwork of fertile farms, sandy beaches, and forest trails. The island can be reached via a 20-minute ferry ride from the Fauntleroy terminal, but it seems like another world. You may see bumper stickers here proclaiming, “Keep Vashon Weird,” which gives you a pretty good idea of the quirky nature of the place and people. Keep an eye out for the Vashon Roadside Athletic Clubs, a bunch of really old exercise equipment lined up by the road in random spots.
Vashon Island is a haven for fresh food with plenty of produce stands lining the roads, U-pick strawberry and blueberry farms, and cozy cafes. Get your morning started right with an aromatic brew from Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, enjoy a leisurely lunch at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe, and end your day with some seafood and pasta at the Hardware Store, located in a historic building. Once you’ve filled yourself with great fare, take a trip to Point Robinson Park to stroll along driftwood-lined beaches and watch birds frolic in the marshes. You can even stay overnight at the lighthouse in two renovated keepers' quarters originally constructed in 1919.