Tourists and locals alike love taking scenic drives to enjoy the amazing views of Washington. The problem is, with all of the wonderful options, it can be hard to know where to start.
This guide will highlight some of the most beautiful routes in the Evergreen State, from winding mountain roads to coastal highways, the Pacific Northwest is abundant in natural beauty.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing drive through winding mountain roads, or a heart-pounding journey along the rugged coast, here are some of the best scenic drives in the state of Washington.
Best Scenic Drives in Washington
North Cascades Scenic Highway (Highway 20)
- Distance: 132 miles
- Time Needed: 3 hours to full day (return)
The North Cascades Scenic Highway takes you through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the state. Enjoy towering peaks, pristine old-growth forests, and cascading waterfalls.
The highway typically opens in late May or early June, depending on the snowfall. During the winter months, it’s closed due to heavy snowfalls and avalanche danger. However, if you’re willing to brave the elements, you can still access the highway via snowmobile or cross-country skiing.
There are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the views along Highway 20, with numerous pull-offs and hiking trails. Take a hike in one of the country’s least visited national parks, the North Cascades National Park, go whitewater rafting on the Methow River, or stop and check out Diablo Dam.
Outdoor enthusiasts will be hard-pressed not to call in sick for work in order to indulge in some of the best camping and fishing in the state.
Along the way, you can also find several small towns with charming cafes and shops. Winthrop is a particularly popular stop, with its western-themed main street straight out of a movie set.
Stevens Pass Greenway Scenic Byway (Highway 2)
- Distance: 240 miles (return)
- Time needed: 6 hours to 2-3 days
This scenic byway takes you through the Cascade Mountains, following the old Milwaukee Road railway route. The Stevens Pass Greenway Scenic Byway (also known as Highway 2) is a beautiful drive any time of year, but it’s especially stunning in the fall when the leaves are changing color.
From Seattle, the byway winds its way along the Skykomish River, past waterfalls and towering peaks, before descending into the valley below.
There are plenty of things to do along the way, including hiking, biking, fishing, and picnicking. Stop by Al Borlin Park to splash in the Skykomish River and watch bald eagles in their natural habitat. Don’t miss Wallace Falls State Park to see one of the largest waterfalls on the byway.
Continue your drive, and you’ll eventually reach the small town of Index, where you can grab a bite to eat or immerse yourself in a white-knuckle whitewater rafting adventure.
The route includes a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, so keep your eyes peeled for hikers as you enjoy the scenery.
Beautiful thrpughot Spring and Summer, our favorite time for this drive is autumn to catch the simply spectacular fall foiliage display.
Olympic Peninsula Loop (Highway 101)
- Distance: 349 miles (+ side trips)
- Time needed: 12 hours to 7 days
The Olympic Peninsula Loop takes you through some of the most diverse scenery in Washington, from rain forests to sandy beaches to rocky coastline. The loop is over 300 miles long, so it’s best to break it up into sections and take your time enjoying all there is to see.
The loop can be driven in either direction, but clockwise is generally considered to be more scenic.
Some highlights of the loop include the temperate rainforest of the Hoh River Valley, where you can hike among towering trees and listen to the sound of cascading waterfalls.
Fans of the popular Twilight series will want to include a stop in Forks, the real-life town that served as the setting for the books and movies. Enjoy a (refreshing!) swim in Lake Crescent’s pristine waters after a hike up Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park for breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys below.
As you make your way along the peninsula’s rugged coastline, keep an eye out for wildlife such as bald eagles, seals, whales, and even orcas. Stop at one of the many state parks or beaches for a picnic lunch with a view.
We share a complete itinerary for road tripping the Olympic Peninsula in 5 days here.
Palouse Scenic Byway (Highway 195)
- Distance: 126 miles
- Time needed: 3 hours to full day
This scenic byway takes you through some of Washington’s most beautiful farmland, with rolling hills and fields of grain as far as the eye can see.
The Palouse Scenic Byway is a great place to take a drive any time of year, but it’s especially stunning in the spring when the fields are blanketed with wildflowers.
The byway winds its way through small towns and countryside, giving you a chance to explore at your own pace. Stop in at one of the small-town cafes for a bite to eat, browse the local shops or sample a glass from Palouse Winery.
Take a detour off the beaten path and explore one of the many hiking trails or fishing spots. If you’re feeling adventurous, Palouse Falls State Park has 94 acres of hiking and birdwatching. Steptoe Butte State Park isanother worthy stop for exceptional views.
San Juan Islands Scenic Byway
- Distance: 36 miles (+Ferry)
- Time needed: 1 day
This scenic byway will take you through Washington’s San Juan Islands, a beautiful archipelago in the Salish Sea. It’s a great way to see the islands and get a sense of their unique character.
The byway is about 36 miles long and is separated into three segments. The route takes you through Washington State Ferries, San Juan Island, and Orcas Island.
Orcas Island is home to Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juans. From the summit, you’ll get incredible sweeping views of the islands, the mountains, and the sea. Moran State Park has five swimmable lakes and over 30 miles of hiking trails, perfect for a day of exploring.
Don’t forget to spend some time in Eastsound, the island’s main town. There are restaurants, shops, galleries, and more to explore. Be sure to check out the farmers market on Saturdays!
San Juan Island is the smallest of the three islands, but it’s home to the British and American Camps, two areas that were occupied during the Pig War in 1859. The camps are now part of San Juan Island National Historical Park and offer hiking trails, beachcombing, and picnicking opportunities.
You can also take a whale-watching tour or go kayaking in search of orcas.
If you have some extra time, Lopez Island is known for its quaint small-town charm and definitely worth a visit. Hike up Mt. Bakken for incredible views of the island and beyond, bike around Lopez Village for a leisurely way to see the sights, or kayak out to Shark Reef for an up-close look at the local wildlife.
Fishing is also a popular pastime on Lopez Island, so make sure to try your hand at catching some dinner.
Whidbey Island Scenic Isle Way
- Distance: 165 miles (+ ferry)
- Time needed: full day
This scenic route takes you around Washington’s Whidbey Island, a beautiful island with plenty of things to see and do. The drive is about 50 miles long and can be done in either direction.
Highlights of the drive include Deception Pass Bridge and State Park, where you can explore the dramatic cliffs and coastline, and Ebeys Landing National Historical Reserve, a great place for hiking, biking, and picnicking.
Be sure to stop in the charming town of Langley for lunch or to browse the shops. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a kayak around Double Bluff Beach for a chance to see some orcas.
Whidbey Island is well-known for its excellent seafood. However, visitors really come for the mussels from Penn Cove near Coupeville. The mussels are some of the best in the world and can be found at many of the island’s restaurants.
White Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 12)
- Distance: 394 miles (return)
- Time needed: Full day
The White Pass Scenic Byway is one of the most beautiful drives in Washington State and takes you through the heart of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Highlights include Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams.
Beginning in the town of Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park, the byway climbs nearly 3,000 feet in just 20 miles before reaching the summit at White Pass. Along the way, visitors are treated to spectacular views of Mt. Rainier, old-growth forests, alpine meadows, and mountain streams.
There are plenty of opportunities to stop and explore along the way. Hike through old-growth forests, go berry picking in the summer months, or enjoy a picnic lunch with a view. In the winter, the byway is popular for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Be sure to take some time to explore the towns of Packwood and Randle, where you’ll find restaurants, shops, and friendly locals.
North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass (Interstate 90)
- Distance: 25 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours to full day
North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass takes you through some of the most beautiful countryside in the state, from the rolling hills of the Snoqualmie Valley to the towering peaks of the Cascade Range.
The route is unique because of its diverse scenery, from forests to mountains to rivers, and along the way, you’ll pass by countless waterfalls, lakes, meadows, and glaciers. And if that’s not enough to take your breath away, the views of Mount Rainier and Mount Si will definitely do the trick.
There are also many places to stop and things to do along the way. For example, you can stop at the North Bend Visitor Center to learn about the history of the area or take a hike in the forests. Or pop into the tiny town of Roslyn, famous as the filming location for 90s comedy/drama Northern Exposure (yes, it was filmed in Washington, not Alaska!)
You can also visit the Snoqualmie Falls Visitor Center to see one of the most popular attractions in Washington. Along the way, you’ll also have the opportunity to see some of the state’s amazing wildlife, including eagles, deer, and elk.
So there you have it, just a few of the many beautiful scenic drives that Washington has to offer. Have you driven any of these routes? What are your favorite scenic drives in Washington State? Let us know in the comments below.
Extra Road Tripping Tips for Washington State
- Always keep an eye on weather and traffic conditions. Weekends especially you can catch a lot of congestion coming out of Seattle as many day and weekend trippers have the same road trip ambitions! We recommend you check your journey on the WSDOT website before you set off.
- Check out this list of day trip ideas from Seattle you can combine with our scenic driving route suggestions (but try and travel mid-week if you can!)
- Learn more about road tripping all the national parks on the West Coast, from North Cascades through to California’s mighty Yosemite and Kings Canyon
- It’s the Pacific Northwest. Pack a raincoat! And a hat & sunscreen!
- Never forget an important road trip item again. You can grab a printable road trip essentials checklist over here.
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