Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Hit the Trails at Mount Rainier National Park
With over 260 miles of hiking trails winding through alpine meadows and old-growth forests, Mount Rainier National Park is a hiker's paradise. Getting out on the trails allows you to experience the beauty and grandeur of this iconic Pacific Northwest volcano up close.
One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Skyline Trail, a 5.5-mile loop that delivers stunning views of the Nisqually Glacier and the surrounding Tatoosh Range. The trail gains about 1,600 feet in elevation as it climbs through flower-filled meadows to an overlook at Panorama Point. From here, Rainier dominates the horizon, while the glacier spreads out below you. The hike has a few steep sections but nothing too challenging.
For a more demanding trek, tackle the Wonderland Trail, which circumnavigates the entire mountain. This 93-mile route takes you through all the major life zones of the park, from deep old-growth forests to barren moonscapes at the timberline. You'll traverse boulder fields, waterfalls, and mountain passes along the way. Due to its length, most people tackle the Wonderland over multiple days, camping at the designated backcountry sites along the route.
Or take on the Skyscraper Mountain Loop, rated one of the toughest day hikes in the park. You'll climb over 4,000 feet in just 6.5 miles as you make your way up the flank of 6,522-foot Skyscraper Mountain. Alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, and breathtaking ridges reward those who brave the relentless uphill.
What else is in this post?
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Hit the Trails at Mount Rainier National Park
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Marvel at Waterfalls Along the Columbia River Gorge
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Explore the San Juan Islands by Ferry
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - See Snow-Capped Mountains in North Cascades National Park
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Kayak and Camp on Whidbey Island
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Go Wine Tasting in Woodinville
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Wander Through Alpine Lakes Wilderness
- Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Birdwatch at Skagit Wildlife Area
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Marvel at Waterfalls Along the Columbia River Gorge
Cascade after cascade, the Columbia River Gorge comes alive with the mesmerizing sight and sound of waterfalls. Over 100 thunderous falls dot the Oregon and Washington sides of the gorge, making it a dream destination for waterfall lovers. The sheer diversity amazes, with tumbling cascades, wispy horsetails, and mighty torrents all on display.
One of the most popular and accessible falls is Multnomah Falls, a jaw-dropping, two-tiered cascade that towers 620 feet over the gorge. The Benson Bridge allows you to stand at eye-level with the upper tier, getting soaked in its mist. Or take the paved trail to the top and feel dwarfed looking down the precipice. The deafening roar reverberates off the columnar basalt cliffs, making it a truly multi-sensory experience.
Further east along Historic Columbia River Highway, you'll find nearly a dozen falls in quick succession, each with its own character. Latourell Falls looks like it's flowing straight out of the mossy cliffside, spreading its waters wide as it tumbles 249 feet into a fern-fringed pool below. Nearby Bridal Veil Falls jets out of an overhanging ledge, its flow bifurcating around a protruding cliff. The wispy horsetail shape certainly evokes images of a bridal veil.
Don't miss iconic Wahkeena Falls, which carries such force it elicits a thundering boom you can feel in your core. Or delicate Fairy Falls, fluttering down a sheer rock face draped in lush ferns and moss. Plan to spend hours pulling off at roadside viewpoints and hiking short trails to marvel at these gorgeous specimens.
For more solitude, head to the Washington side of the gorge to explore falls along the Stevenson area. Majestic Cape Horn features a horseshoe-shaped cascade pouring down a sheer cliff into the river below. Nearby is dainty Cabin Creek Falls, flowing like a delicate streamer down a fern-covered rock face.
Or take the moderately strenuous 2-mile hike to Para Falls, which plunges through a notch in the cliffside. Unlike many Columbia Gorge cataracts, you can walk right up to the plunge pool of Para Falls and feel its power up close.
One of the most unique falls is easily Oneonta Gorge. Located outside Cascade Locks, the narrow slot canyon funnels the Oneonta Creek through a tight passageway, forming creek-wide falls and logjams. Be prepared to wade waist-deep through the crisp, clear waters, scrambling over logs and rocks in this magical, fairy tale-like setting.
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Explore the San Juan Islands by Ferry
Sometimes you just need to ditch the freeways, the concrete jungle, and the urban grind to rejuvenate your spirit. Thankfully, the soothing emerald isles of the San Juans are just a Washington State ferry ride away. Leave the car behind in Anacortes or Bellingham and hop aboard for a relaxing voyage across the Salish Sea. This island archipelago feels worlds away yet is still so accessible.
Once ashore, explore the varied personalities of the islands almost completely car-free. From the quintessential seaside village of Friday Harbor to the tranquil lavender farm-dotted hills of San Juan Island, from the forested nooks and crannies of Orcas Island to the lighthouse perched cliffsides of Shaw Island, each isle has its own quirks that make it special. Link them together with scheduled inter-island ferries for the ultimate island-hopping adventure.
Of course, the biggest draw is the abundance of outdoor recreation each island offers. Whale watch from Lime Kiln Point State Park as orcas ply Haro Strait. Hike through forests of towering firs and cedars to secluded coves on Orcas. Forage for oysters along Cabbage Island’s beaches before an impromptu beachside barbecue. And with hundreds of miles of scenic roads and trails, cycling is perhaps the ultimate way to explore these laid-back isles.
Pedal along the thinly populated backroads and rolling hills of Lopez Island, stopping to browse galleries or grab a bite at the town deli in Lopez Village. Tackle the thrilling switchbacks up to the 360-degree views at Mount Constitution on Orcas Island – the San Juans’ highest peak. Meander along wildlife-rich country lanes through wetland pockets on Shaw Island.
Glide along the protected inland waterways threading through the islands by kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Paddle through sea arches and sea caves around Sucia Island, watching for seals hauled out on rocky islets along the way. Get an aquatic perspective of secluded Deer Harbor on Orcas Island. Say hello to shorebirds in the marshy shallows of Blind Bay on Shaw Island.
Or simply find a grassy bluff or pebbly beach, soak in the panoramic vistas, and relax. Sip lavender lemonade at a Friday Harbor cafe while watching seaplanes take off and land. Stroll the historic hillside cottages of Roche Harbor village on San Juan Island. Spread out a picnic blanket along South Beach on Orcas while blue herons and eagles soar overhead.
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - See Snow-Capped Mountains in North Cascades National Park
With over 700,000 acres of rugged peaks and deep valleys, North Cascades National Park delivers alpine splendor reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. Getting into the high country allows you to experience the magic of this little-explored wilderness firsthand.
One of the most jaw-dropping spots is Cascade Pass. The moderately strenuous 3.7-mile hike climbs through subalpine meadows exploding with wildflowers in summer. Waterfalls tumble down the valley walls as you gain elevation. Then the pass suddenly comes into view, with the impressive Johannesburg Mountain dominating the scene at 9,200 feet. Its massive snow-capped peak will take your breath away.
For a more leisurely option, drive the breathtaking North Cascades Highway. This National Scenic Byway winds through the heart of the park, with nonstop vistas of craggy, glaciated peaks. Stop at overlooks like Washington Pass to stand dwarfed by the towering Liberty Bell and Early Winter Spires, decked out in their winter coats even in late summer. The easy 0.5-mile hike to Blue Lake Overlook rewards you with a perfect mirror-like reflection of the surrounding mountains in Sapphire Lake's waters.
Or take on the challenge of climbing to Cascade Pass. It's a strenuous 9-mile roundtrip hike with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but hitting the pass is worth every ounce of effort. As you climb up the valley, jagged Johannesburg Mountain keeps growing bigger. Other snowy crags like Magic Mountain come into view, until you're completely surrounded by an amphitheater of rocky white-capped peaks. Words can't do justice to the exhilaration you'll feel.
For true mountaineering adventures, attempt an ascent of one of the park's iconic peaks. Mount Shuksan's iconic saw-toothed ridgelines lure climbers up its challenging route to the 9,131-foot summit. Alternatively, climb the Cascade crest to the top of 8,815-foot Eldorado Peak, grabbing onto iron rungs driven into the rock face for the final Class 3 scramble. Only experienced climbers should attempt these technical summits.
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Kayak and Camp on Whidbey Island
With its protected coves, coastal bluffs, and abundant marine wildlife, Whidbey Island is a sea kayaker's paradise. Paddling allows you to access the natural wonders of this Puget Sound island in an intimate way. Glide through glassy lagoons, scan the shorelines for soaring eagles, and fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping your beach campsite.
One stellar kayaking spot is Dugualla Bay along the island's northwest coast. As you paddle the shallow, mostly sheltered bay, keep your eyes peeled for great blue herons, harbor seals, and seabirds. Bookend your expedition with shoreline hikes on Dugualla Bay’s two state parks—Dugualla and Fort Ebey—which offer expansive Strait of Juan de Fuca views from their coastal bluffs.
The protected waters of Possession Sound on the island’s eastern side also make for a leisurely paddle. Launch from South Whidbey State Park and trace the wooded shoreline of this scenic cove, where curious seals may pop their heads up to greet you. Stop for lunch at a quiet beach before heading back.
For a dose of history, paddle out from Fort Casey State Park to explore the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and keeper’s quarters on nearby Point Wilson. Built in 1903, the lighthouse complex still stands strong. Time your visit for low tide when you can land and poke around the property, now an Interpretive Center.
To extend your kayaking into a camping overnighter, reserve a primitive site through Washington State Parks. The Cama Beach, South Whidbey, and Fort Ebey park campgrounds all offer drive- or paddle-up sites. Snag a bayfront campsite and enjoy sunset views, stargazing, and beachcombing right from your home base.
Whidbey Island Kayaking Company leads guided tours and rentals out of scenic Fort Ebey if you need some route pointers or lack your own kayak. Otherwise, excited-to-help from the put-in by owner Tom ranks as second to none and they sweep you back if the currents or winds become a bit too much.
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Go Wine Tasting in Woodinville
Woodinville has exploded onto the wine scene in recent years, becoming a can’t miss destination for oenophiles and foodies alike. Located just 30 minutes northeast of Seattle, over 130 wineries now call this once sleepy farm town home. The area provides the perfect terroir for growing wine grapes, and Woodinville’s wine country now ranks as a destination in its own right.
The laid-back Wine Walk makes for an ideal introduction to the Woodinville wine region. Stroll between 15 member wineries along a 2-mile paved route through the heart of the tourist district. No car or reservations needed - simply pay one fee ($20, cash only) and you get a logo glass and a map to guide you between tasting rooms.
Start your walk at Hollywood Schoolhouse, housed in a charming 1916 schoolhouse offering wines by Mark Ryan, Ross Andrew, and Double Canyon. The digestive Palisades Cafe bakery next door is the perfect first stop to grab picnic provisions before your walk.
Continue on to browse the modern architecture of JM Cellars and soak in lake views as you sip wine at Purple Cafe. Don’t miss award-winning DeLille Cellars, whose exceptional Bordeaux blends consistently earn top scores. Their sleek tasting room feels like an art gallery meets wine cellar.
Grab a wood-fired pizza from The Commons to recharge halfway through your tastings at Novelty Hill-Januik, known for big reds. Wrap up your walk at Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s oldest winery. Their expansive property includes picnic grounds and hosts summer concerts.
Beyond the walk, numerous other acclaimed wineries await. Charles Smith Wines massive new complex channels a chic industrial vibe with funky artwork and a 30-foot wine bottle tower. Book the Willamette Kitchen x Canlis Winemaker Dinner at Matthews Winery for a multi-course meal with paired wines hosted by the winemakers. Heavy Equipment Winery merges its love of wine and heavy machinery, with a tasting room built around excavators and bulldozers.
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Wander Through Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Blanketed in old-growth forests and dotted with crystalline alpine lakes, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness serves up quintessential Pacific Northwest scenery just a short drive from Seattle. Encompassing over 390,000 acres between Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass, this sprawling wilderness area delivers endless opportunities for hikers, backpackers, and nature lovers to immerse themselves in untouched beauty.
One of the most popular day hikes is the 8-mile West Fork Foss Lakes Trail, which follows a glacial valley up to a chain of shimmering tarns. Towering old-growth firs and cedars line the path as it parallels the rushing West Fork Foss River. Stop frequently just to stare up at the impossibly tall trees surrounding you. After 4 miles, the valley opens up, treating you to views of the jagged Sawtooth Ridge as you skirt the edges of sparking Foss Lakes. Dip a toe in for an invigorating chilled refreshment on a sunny summer day.
For backpacking, the Snow Lakes Trail showcases the alpine splendor of the wilderness, leading past no less than seven glistening lakes cradled below rocky crags. Begin at the trailhead just outside the Alpine Inn in the quaint mountain town of Skykomish. The path switchbacks uphill through moss-draped avalanche slopes before arriving at a junction - go left to descend to the lower lakes or right to climb up to Upper Snow Lake, set beautifully below mighty 9,505-foot Mount Formidable. Find a lakeside campsite and spend the evening stargazing from your mountain sanctum.
If time is limited, drive the scenic Mountain Loop Highway, which bisects the wilderness area. Stop at viewpoints like Snow Lake Overlook to marvel at glacier-carved granite peaks rising sharply from ice-blue waters below. Signs mark trailheads leading into the backcountry's hiking routes and lakeside campsites just steps off the road.
Or better yet, book a guided hiking tour with a local outfitter like Alpine Ascents International. Their expert guides handle all the complicated logistics while introducing you to wondrous corners of the wilderness most people never get to experience. You can relax and enjoy the views while learning about the area’s ecology and geology from passionate insiders. It's the ultimate hassle-free wilderness adventure.
Escape the City: 8 Epic Day Trips From Seattle for Nature Lovers - Birdwatch at Skagit Wildlife Area
For birding enthusiasts, the Skagit Wildlife Area is a prime spot to glimpse winged wonders of the Pacific Flyway. Over 250 bird species make use of this rich 20,000-acre wetland complex along the Skagit River Delta, one of the most extensive intact estuaries on Puget Sound. The area’s freshwater marshes, tidal mudflats, sloughs, and agricultural fields provide critical habitats that draw diverse waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds.
Prime time to visit is October through March, when snow geese arrive by the tens of thousands to overwinter and bald eagles flock in to feed on salmon runs. But year-round you’ll find flocks of ducks, swans, herons, hawks, falcons, and owls.
Start your visit at the Wylie Slough rest area off I-5. Grab a free interpretive brochure then follow the 1.4-mile nature loop along this rich tidal marsh. Scan for great blue herons stalking the shallows and listen for the rattling calls of belted kingfishers. Out on the mudflats, you may spot streaked sandpipers foraging at low tide.
Then head up Brown Road towards the Headquarters Unit. Stop atop the Brown Road Dike overlooking this 2,600-acre freshwater wetland complex. It’s easy to see why birders call this the “Skagit Mecca.” thousands of snow geese arrive starting October, mingling with canvasbacks, northern pintails, and trumpeter swans. The browsing geese keep paths mowed through the vegetation, allowing you to approach for close views.
For forest birds, take the Headquarters Loop nature trail through woods lined with alder and maple. Watch for chestnut-backed chickadees flitting through the branches and listen for the tapping of pileated woodpeckers.
At the end of March, the Bald Eagle Natural Area south of Rockport hosts the Skagit Eagle Festival. Time your visit for the peak of bald eagle season as thousands arrive to feast on spawning salmon. Join interpretive walks led by naturalists and bring binoculars and telephoto lenses to spy eagles from platforms overlooking the Skagit River and farmlands. You’ll leave amazed by the sheer concentration of these majestic raptors.