Washington State has two National Parks and one National Forest including North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Forest. This itinerary takes you to two out of the three and showcases some of the amazing and breathtaking scenery Washington State has to offer. The road trip begins in Seattle and ends in Portland, it will take a total of 4 days to complete and includes approximately 550 miles of driving. I took this trip in late November so it was a little rainy and cold. If you choose to go around this time be sure to pack a waterproof jacket, I personally recommend investing in a North Face jacket, the one I have is fleece lined, waterproof and warm.
Day 1: Bellingham
Bellingham is a 2 hour, 103 mile drive from the Seattle International airport and is located close to the Canadian border. The city is the northernmost city in the United States and is acclaimed for its easy access to outdoor activities.
For those who like to take the scenic route, a trip along Chuckanut Drive is a must. Chuckanut Drive was the first scenic highway in Washington State and is carved out of the forest and Chuckanut sandstone cliffs. Every bend in the road, which is 200 feet above sea level provides amazing views of the bays, San Juan Islands and the mountains to the West.
If you want to take it easy and enjoy some delicious food with an outstanding view of the bay then lunch at “The Oyster Bar” is a must. The Oyster Bar is known for its food, spectacular views and award winning wine list.
For dinner grab a drink and something to eat at Skylarks Hidden Café, they have a full bar and great clam chowder.
If you are looking for a place to stay in Bellingham look no further than the Fair Haven Village Inn located in the center of the Historic Fairhaven District of Bellingham. The hotels location and friendly staff are a huge positive and it was recently inducted into the trip advisor hall of fame for receiving 5 consecutive annual Certificates of Excellence.
Day 2 Fragrance Lake & North Cascades National Park
Fragrance Lake is one of the more popular trails in this area and is part of Larrabee State Park. The hike is a 1.9 mile round trip and is quite steep so be prepared to work those legs. After the first mile of steady uphill hiking through the forest you will come across a spur which leads to an unexpected viewpoint of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands, well worth a look. As the name suggests you will come across Fragrance Lake which has rich smells of pine, bark and soil. There is a ½ mile loop trail along the shore of the lake that will provide you with wonderful viewpoints of the lake.
North Cascades National Park Highway
The entrance to North Cascades National Park is a 1.5 hour, 70 mile drive from Bellingham. The park features rugged mountain peaks and protects portions of the North Cascades range. The best way to see the majority of the park is to drive on the North Cascades Highway which snakes its way through the entire park. As a warning they do close some of the higher passes during the winter season.
The overlooks above Ross and Diablo Lakes make excellent vantage points. You will notice that each of the lakes are different colors, Ross is a teal color and Diablo is jade. The color is caused by finely ground rock dust which is suspended in the water.
From November to January, if you are lucky you may spot a Bald Eagle as they flock to North Cascades National Park to feed on spawning salmon. You can often spot them perched in the tall trees or along the banks of the Skagit River.
Day 3: Olympic National Forest
Olympic National Forest is a 6 hour, 220 mile drive from North Cascades National Park. The forest incorporates the diverse landscape of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula from lush rain forests, canyons, high mountain ridges and lakes. This varied and picturesque forest reaches the mid elevations of the Olympic Mountains. Whether you are hiking or interested in a leisurely stroll, there's no better way to experience the park than on foot.
Some of my favorite hikes include:
Lake Quinault Hiking
There are more than 15 trails to choose from in this area, each offering a unique perspective on this diverse ecosystem.
Falls Creek Loop
The Falls Creek Loop is a 1.6 mile loop that is located directly across the road from the Lake Quinault Lodge. If you like rushing streams, and water falls this is the trail for you as it winds through the forest it crosses both Falls and Cascade Creeks.
Trail of the Giants
The Trail of the Giants is a 2.5 mile loop which offers amazing views of the large Douglas Fir Trees that inhabit the area. You will be rewarded with solitude on this hike, perfect for enjoying the scenery and being at one with nature.
Irely Lake Trail
Irely Lake is reached by a 1.1 mile hike of moderate difficulty. If you happen to be there in November or December be sure to keep your eyes on the stream as you may spot a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. If you are feeling particularly fit the trail continues for another 6 miles to Three Lakes, be sure to take water with you on this adventure!
World’s Largest Spruce Tree Trail
If you are looking for an easy hike this 1/3 mile trail is perfect for any level. The trail will take you to the World’s Largest Spruce Tree, as determined by the American Forestry Association. The tree is more than 1000 years old and is one of 6 record breaking trees location the Quinault Valley.
If you’re looking for accommodation in the Olympic National Forest you needn’t look any further than Lake Quinault Lodge. The historic lodge was originally built in 1926 and welcomes guests with a charm of a time gone by. Whether you want to curl up by the fire place, swim in the lake or venture into the rainforest there is something for everyone. You are limited with dining options in the park but I would recommend dinner in the historic Roosevelt Dining room at the lodge.
Day 4: Olympic National Forrest & Portland
Portland airport is a 3.5 hour, 164 mile drive from Olympic National Park. If I was going to do this trip again I would fly out of Seattle as its much closer.
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