Mount Baker and lighthouse in Port Townsend, Washington

8 Most Scenic Road Trips to take in Washington

The scenic and stunning beauty of the West Coast State of Washington is amongst the most alluring in the entire United States. And though its major cities like Seattle and Olympia continue to attract much deserved attention, there are many wonderful road trips to take in the “Evergreen State” outside of the cities that truly define what wonderous nature is all about. So pack your bags, fill up the gas tank, and take in these beautiful an scenic trips that will make a trip to Washington State a most memorable one.

Mount Baker Highway

Reflection Lake Mount Shuksan, with a view of the Mount Baker Highway
Reflections of Mount Shuksan in a lake, view along the Mount Baker Highway

Spanning nearly 60 miles and officially known as State Route 542, the Mount Baker Highway is the northernmost highway in Washington State. Offering glimpses of the Canadian Rockies, this beautifully scenic road trip begins in the city of Bellingham and leads all the way to the Artist Point hiking area. Here stunning 360 degree views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan are offered, while forested areas and other glacial views fill out the landscape along the way. Meanwhile make sure to stop at such places like the town of Glacier where great local cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops add an extra dose of charm to this wonderful scenic excursion.

Chuckanut Drive

Landscape View of Beach Along Chuckanut Drive in Bellingham Washington
Landscape View of Beach Along Chuckanut Drive in Bellingham Washington

State Route 11, better known as Chuckanut Drive, is a wonderful 22 mile journey connecting the towns of Burlington and Bellingham. With great views of Mount Baker and the Pacific Ocean, along the way a number of great rest stops make this a delightful route to explore. Pull over for lunch at splendid spots over the Samish Bay and towards the San Juan Islands, stop at Larabee State Park and its assortment of nature trails, or take in the sights of the Oyster Dome promontory for some of the best coastal views in the State. And of course once arrived in either Burlington or Bellingham, plenty of great shops, restaurants, and museums await ready to add even more allure to an already scenic trip.

Chinook Pass Scenic Byway

State Route 410 Chinook Scenic Byway passes the Greenwater General Store surrounded by Douglas fir forests
State Route 410 Chinook Scenic Byway passes the Greenwater General Store surrounded by Douglas fir forests, via Conor P. Fitzgerald /

The Chinook Pass Scenic Byway (or Washington State Route 410) was first completed in 1967 and spans a length of some 108 miles. Crossin the counties of Yakima, Pierce and King, this panoramic drive takes visitors close to Mount Rainier and the beautiful alpine Tipsoo Lake. Along the way one can stop and explore at such natural landmarks like the Wenatchee National Forest, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount Baker National Forest, and numerous rivers and passes. Though optimal drives and visits to these places is between May and November, exploring this most gorgeous scenic byway is indeed a treat throughout the year.

North Cascades Highway

North cascades highway, State Route 20, Washington
North cascades highway, State Route 20, Washington

Completed in 1964, State Route 20 or the North Cascades Highway is Washington’s longest such stretch of road spanning nearly 440 miles. Beginning in the Western part of the State at Discovery Bay and reaching the town of Newport in the State’s Eastern corner, the highway passes through the North Cascades National Park and has been called the most beautiful mountain highway in the Pacific Northwest. Amongst the other stops of note along the way include Diablo Lake, Mazama Valley, and the curved Washington Pass and its stunning views of Liberty Bell Mountain. Indeed for truly perfect postcard vistas, travelling along the North Cascades Highway is surely one of the most breathtaking road trips of its kind not in Washington State, but in the United States.

Olympic National Park Loop

Cascade Falls, Quinault Loop Trail, Quinault lake and rain forest, Olympic National Park, Washington
Cascade Falls, Quinault Loop Trail, Quinault lake and rain forest, Olympic National Park, Washington

Also known as the Olympic Peninsula Loop, this exquisitely scenic drive offers some of the very best of Washington’s unique geographic beauty. A part of the Olympic National Park (that itself spans some 922,000 acres), driving along this route gives motorists everything from glacier peaks, to rainforests, and of course the immense waves of the ocean. Stop at such points the spectacular Hoh Rainforest and the stunning Cape Flattery, where a sighting or two of whales is always an unforgettable experience. Meanwhile catching the sunset, going hiking, kayaking, or simply marvelling at all the lush surroundings makes time in in the Park and driving along the Loop truly one of the most extraordinary things to do in the great State of Washington.

Mountain Loop Highway

North Cascades National Park Complex - Washington Overlook
North Cascades National Park Complex - Washington Overlook

In operation since 1941, the Mountain Loop Highway (also known as Forest Route 20) runs a distance of some 52 miles and follows the course of the Stillaguamish River. With its exceptional views of White Chuck Mountain and Whitehorse Mountain, driving through this stretch of road is never short on amazing vistas. Stop at small towns like Darrington, pass by Glacier Peak, and head up Barlow Pass, along the way visitors will love the opportunities for hiking and wildlife watching. Indeed the options available for outdoor lovers are endless when travelling on the Mountain Loop Highway, whose vistas and scenery truly mirror a piece of paradise.

Columbia Gorge Highway

Highway near the Columbia River Gorge, via
Highway near the Columbia River Gorge, via Columbia River Gorge (

Also known as the Historic Columbia River Highway, this beautifully scenic route divides Washington from the State of Oregon. Spanning a distance of some 74 miles, the highway was completed between 1913 and 1922 and includes such wonderful natural landmarks like the Hood River and Multnomah Falls. Other points of interest include the town of White Salmon and its assortment of beautiful hiking and biking trails and river side fun, the Bonneville Dam, and the picturesque Columbia Hills. Indeed for great access to the natural splendors of both Washington and Oregon, this historic highway never disappoints and is an ideal place to drive for the whole family.

Yakima River Canyon

Amazing landscape - big blue river among hills. Yakima Canyon road, Washington
Amazing landscape - big blue river among hills. Yakima Canyon road, Washington

Washington State Route 821, also known as the Yakima River Canyon Byway, was constructed in 1973 and runs for just over 25 miles. Traversing the Yakima Canyon and following along the Yakima River, this Eastern Washington drive is full of desert hills, basalt cliffs, and of course winding river vistas. Stop at such sites like the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center and the Umtanum Creek Recreation Area for great opportunities for hiking, camping and even fruit picking particularly apples. And of course even just driving through this beauty filled landscape is treat enough, with a great snapshot and memories never far away.

Washington State has always been renowned for its splendid natural beauty and for anyone who finds themselves in the “Evergreen State”, the chance to explore some of this nature is always an attractive proposal. With these truly wondrous and scenic highways and road trips, the stunning brilliance of Washington’s landscape can be appreciated first hand. From the historic Columbia Gorge Highway to the lengthy and diverse North Cascades Highway, lovers of nature and the open road will surely embrace Washington State’s scenic byways perfect for travellers of all ages and backgrounds.


More in Places