Moon Washington


By Matthew Lombardi

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Discover Washington with Moon Travel Guides!

Whether you’re headed to top of the Space Needle or Mount Rainier, explore the unique culture and rugged wilderness of the Evergreen State with Moon Washington.

  • Strategic itineraries that can adapted for your budget and timeline, including day trips from Seattle, excursions to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juan Islands, and a two-week tour of the entire state
  • Curated advice for outdoor adventurers, foodies, culture and history buffs, and more
  • Can’t-miss experiences and unique activities: Kayak across glacier-carved lakes, or explore the sub-alpine forests and high-country meadows of Mount Rainier National Park. Spot wild black bears and spotted owls, or head out to sea to witness migrating gray whales. Wander the pebble-strewn beaches of the Pacific Coast, get to know the charms of Tacoma and Bellevue, and explore the history of aeronautics at the Museum of Flight. Savor Seattle’s vibrant culinary, music, and arts scenes, grab a world-renowned cup o’ joe, or taste your way through Washington wine country
  • Expert insight from Seattle local Matthew Lombardi
  • Honest advice on when to go, how to get around, and where to stay, from secluded forest cabins to historic hotels and coastal B&Bs
  • Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
  • Focused coverage of Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula and the Coast, the San Juan Islands and North Puget Sound, the North Cascades, Mount Rainier and the South Cascades, the Columbia River Gorge and Wine Country, and Eastern Washington
  • Thorough background information on the culture, landscape, climate, and wildlife, plus handy recommendations for international visitors, traveling with kids, LGBTQ+ travelers, and travelers with disabilities
With Moon Washington’s practical tips, myriad activities, and local know-how, you can plan your trip your way.

Spending more time in the city? Try Moon Seattle. Hitting the road? Check out Moon Pacific Northwest Road Trip.


Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

Indian carving, Seattle

DISCOVER Washington

Planning Your Trip

The Best of Washington



Olympic Peninsula Road Trip


Wine and Waterfalls: Columbia River Gorge and Wine Country

Seattle skyline.

Tucked away in the upper left corner of the map, Washington exists on the fringes of the United States. That remoteness is a key to the unique character of the place—you sense it in the landscape, the climate, and the people.

The fascination starts with the terrain. Consider the view from the observation deck of the Space Needle—Seattle’s signature landmark, its sci-fi answer to the Eiffel Tower. Looking west you see Puget Sound, plied by massive cargo ships and ferries, and beyond it the peaks of the Olympic Mountains, glistening like a mirage on the horizon. To the north, skirting the Sound, are hilly residential neighborhoods and little Lake Union, bustling with pleasure boats and seaplanes. To the east you make out larger Lake Washington, a cluster of satellite towns on its far shore, and, on a clear day, a glimpse of the Cascade mountain range. Pivot south to take in downtown’s office towers, which seem diminutive against the backdrop of mighty, ominous Mount Rainier, arguably the most impressive peak in North America.

Point Defiance Park Rose Garden, Tacoma

Skagit Valley in berry season

What you see in that 360-degree panorama is the essence of Washington, and it can be summed up in two words: mountains and water. The state has other worthy allures—charming towns, exceptional food and wine, some world-class cultural institutions—but you haven’t made the most of your visit unless you’ve been up on a mountainside (whether by car, bike, or foot) and out on the water (whether by ferry, kayak, or whale-watching cruise).

Ilwaco waterfront

Of course, the water is bound to find you whether you like it or not. Washington is notoriously damp, and in the western part of the state that reputation is well earned. The Olympic Peninsula is truly the rainiest place in the United States, and for three seasons out of four the Puget Sound area is frequently drizzly and overcast. (In contrast, large swaths of less-traveled eastern Washington are desert dry.)

There are two ways to contend with the rain. You can embrace it like a local—bring your waterproof shoes and hat and go about your business. It often sprinkles but rarely pours; and after all, it’s the rain that makes the Olympic Peninsula a mossy, otherworldly wonder, with some of the tallest and oldest trees on the planet. Or you can come in summer, when the clouds disappear, the temperatures remain mild, and the place feels a lot like Eden.

North Cascades National Park

Cascades trail in fall.


Planning Your Trip

Where to Go

Washington’s single major metropolis has a uniquely Pacific Northwest take on city life. In the thriving urban core, historic Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market overlook the waters of Puget Sound, and the Space Needle offers panoramas of the city. Surrounding the city center is a cluster of laid-back residential neighborhoods that are studded with cultural attractions and an exceptional collection of urban parks. The city also boasts some of the country’s best restaurants, from hip new ventures helmed by celebrity chefs to old-school seafood joints.

Space Needle observation deck

Olympic Peninsula and the Coast

Wet, lush, and wild, the Olympic Peninsula contains rain forests that are home to some of the largest trees on Earth; a rugged, misty coastline; and, at its heart, a mountain range accessible only on foot. Most of that territory is preserved as giant Olympic National Park, circled by U.S. 101. Naturally, you’ll find excellent hiking here. To the south the coast flattens out into long, sandy beaches dotted by fishing villages and family-focused resort communities. The water is too cold for all but the most intrepid swimmers; visitors content themselves with beachcombing, kite flying, and digging for clams.

San Juan Islands and North Puget Sound

The San Juan Islands archipelago is an idyllic summer getaway that seems to live in another time, where generations of vacationers have gone to unplug and relax. Each of the major islands has its own character. You can go boating in classic yacht-club style, kayak out of a hippie commune, climb a mountain, and bike through miles of rolling pasture. The most famous residents are the orca pods that inhabit the surrounding waters. Whidbey Island provides a similar experience closer to Seattle. In the North Puget Sound area, Skagit Valley is studded with tulips, and the outdoorsy city of Bellingham is the gateway to the North Cascades.

Haro Strait, west of San Juan Island, is populated by orca pods.

North Cascades

For hardcore mountaineers, the North Cascades are Washington’s destination of choice. The jagged peaks are one of the wildest places in the Lower 48. You can get a taste of the scenery on the beautiful North Cascades Highway, but spending more time here requires some effort—the best way to experience North Cascades National Park is on a multiday backpack trip. More accessible destinations in the region include the resort area of Lake Chelan and the themed towns of Leavenworth and Winthrop.

Mount Rainier and the South Cascades

The highlights of the South Cascades are two iconic peaks. Mount Rainier, the undisputed king of the Cascades, is arguably the most impressive mountain in the contiguous United States, with a glacier-crowned peak that towers over the surrounding country and is visible over a 100-mile radius. Mount St. Helens, which experienced a massive eruption in 1980, is a testament to nature’s wrath and nature’s resilience. I-90 stretches east from Seattle and offers a hiking trail at virtually every exit.

Columbia River Gorge and Wine Country

Washington’s great river cuts through a steep, gorgeous gorge on the Oregon border that at its west end is blanketed with lush greenery and dozens of waterfalls, and 50 miles to the east has the parched desert beauty of New Mexico. Across the river, Hood River, Oregon, is a mecca for kiteboarding and windsurfing. To the east is the epicenter of Washington’s burgeoning wine industry. Visit vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms in the Yakima Valley and more polished Walla Walla.

Eastern Washington

East of the Cascades, Washington flips the common stereotypes about the state on their head. The landscape is flat, dry desert, but irrigation from the Columbia has turned it into fertile farmland. Gargantuan Grand Coulee Dam is the region’s top tourist attraction. Near the Idaho border, Spokane, Washington’s second-largest city, feels more a part of the Rockies than the Pacific Northwest. The stunning natural Gorge Amphitheatre serves as a performance venue that draws national headliners.

When to Go

Summer is prime time for Washington. From mid-June to September the days are long and clear, with temperatures in the most alluring destinations seldom climbing above the mid-80s. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you’ve stumbled onto Eden. Summer is also the time when all of nature seems to be open for business. Mountain passes and high-altitude hiking trails have lost their last spring snow. The sunny, mild days are great for kayaking. Up in the San Juans the orca pods are out in full force.

Spring brings blooming flowers to the Skagit Valley, north of Seattle—especially notable during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in April. The mild weather of spring and fall is also well suited for visiting the Columbia River Gorge area on the Oregon border and the warmer regions that make up wine country, from the Yakima Valley to Walla Walla. Wineries in both areas have coordinated spring release and fall first-crush festivals.

Come winter the Cascades have numerous downhill runs. They won’t be mistaken for the Rockies, but Snoqualmie Pass is an easy day trip from Seattle, Mount Baker is a snowboarding haven, and Crystal Mountain has the most developed facilities, as well as spectacular views of Mount Rainier. Washington’s cross-country skiing has a world-class reputation, particularly on Mount Rainier and in the Methow Valley east of the Cascades.

The cultural attractions of Seattle make the city a destination for all seasons.

The Best of Washington

This itinerary takes you to Washington’s best-known and most distinctive destinations: a towering peak, an ancient rain forest, a windswept coastline, a turquoise lake, a whale-friendly archipelago, and one of America’s most appealing cities. Because so much of your time is spent outdoors, this trip is best suited for travel between June and September, during the long and glorious days of the Pacific Northwest summer. It’s doable in May and October as well. In those months you get less sunshine and more rain, but you’ll have fewer crowds to contend with.

You can pick any region of this itinerary for a shorter, more focused trip. There are suggestions here for overnight lodging, but, with the exception of Seattle, you can also camp for most of this trip. Washington boasts abundant campgrounds, some of them in spectacular locations.


Depending on the logistics of your arrival, you may simply want to touch down in Seattle, have a good meal, and rest up. If you have time, head to the impressive Museum of Flight to the south of the central city on your way into town from Sea-Tac airport.


Seattle is a big, dynamic city with enough historical and cultural attractions to keep you busy for a month. Today, get the classic sightseeing experience by visiting Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, and Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle.

Pike Place Market


Get outside the tourist track to explore Seattle a little further. The city is a collection of colorful neighborhoods. If you only have time for one, make it Capitol Hill, which has fabulous restaurants, hopping nightlife, stately old mansions, and beautiful Volunteer Park, which is home to the exceptional Seattle Asian Art Museum. A little further afield, Ballard is also a great dining destination, as well as the site of Chittenden Locks, a feat of ambitious early-20th-century engineering that remains the crucial link in Seattle’s system of waterways.

Mount Rainier and the South Cascades

From Seattle a two-hour drive will get you to the White River entrance at the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park. A pretty, winding road climbs to the Sunrise area, a hub of park activity and the highest point on the mountain accessible by car. Get your bearings at the visitors center, have lunch at the cafeteria, and then head out for a couple of hours of alpine hiking.

Paradise area, Mount Rainier National Park

In the late afternoon drive to the Crystal Mountain ski resort, where you’ll be spending the night. Take the gondola up to Summit House for dinner. It’s a pricey trip and the food is nothing special, but the spectacular view makes it all worthwhile: in one panorama you take in Mounts Adams and St. Helens to the south and Baker to the north, with majestic Rainier front and center.


Head back into the park and make the drive around to the other side of the mountain, stopping along the way for a short hike on the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, which is like a museum of old-growth trees. The road west from there is another gorgeous drive, eventually climbing to the Paradise area, where there’s an impressive visitors center and a classic cedar lodge. After Sunrise and Crystal Mountain, this will be your third picture-book view of the mountaintop, each strikingly different from the others. It’s also the starting point for numerous trails; spend the afternoon and early evening hiking. If you want to take it easy, sign up for a ranger-led nature walk.

Have dinner at the Paradise Inn. You can bed down there, or at the inn near the Nisqually entrance in the southwest corner of the park, or at one of the hotels just outside the entrance in the town of Ashford. No matter where you stay, you’ll need a reservation.


Leaving Mount Rainier National Park from the Nisqually entrance, head west and then south on I-5 to the turnoff for Mount St. Helens—a 2.5-hour drive in total. As you approach the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the base of the volcano it’s hard not to be awed by the extent of the devastation caused by the eruption of St. Helens in 1980. The observatory is a first-class facility for viewing St. Helens and learning about the causes and consequences of the blast. Trails take you closer, and there are daily ranger-led walks.

Orcas Island

Olympic Peninsula

Say goodbye to Rainier in your rearview mirror as you head west toward the Olympic Peninsula. Stop for lunch in the state capital, Olympia, at about the midpoint of a three-hour drive to Lake Quinault, located at the southern end of Olympic National Park. Here you’ll experience the lush, primordial forest that Washington is famous for. The rain forest surrounding the lake is home to some of the tallest trees in the world, several of which are easily accessible on short roadside trails.

You’re now in the rainiest region of the contiguous United States, averaging 150 inches a year, but the precipitation is seasonal—if you’re here in summer you stand a good chance of getting a dry day. If it is showering, though, you can still get a great look around from the comfort of your car on the Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive. For your overnight stay you have the option of a national park lodge on the lake or one of several modest hotels in the area.


Start the day by getting a taste of Washington’s rugged Pacific coast. It’s a 45-minute drive to Ruby Beach, a classic example of the misty, pebble-strewn coastline, studded with haystacks (giant rock formations). You won’t need your swim trunks, but you’ll want your camera to capture the ethereal beauty.

From here U.S. 101 heads back inland and turns north; after a 75-minute drive you reach glacier-carved Lake Crescent, arguably the most beautiful lake in the state. You can stop along the way for lunch in Forks, the town made famous by the Twilight novels, but the sooner you get to the lake the more time you’ll have for an afternoon spent floating on its tranquil, turquoise-green waters. (Kayaks and canoes are available for rent.) There’s yet another national park lodge here where you can stay, or you can get a jump on the next day’s driving by heading east another half an hour to Port Angeles, where there are more lodging options.


In the morning head up to the only part of the Olympic Mountains that’s accessible by car, Hurricane Ridge, an hour’s drive from Lake Crescent or 35 minutes from Port Angeles. The trails here are a different kind of mountain experience from Mount Rainier. Fields filled with wildflowers give you vast vistas; you have a view to the north of the Strait of Juan de Fuca glimmering 5,000 feet below, and to the south of the neighboring Olympic peaks.

Come back down to sea level on the 90-minute drive to the charming town of Port Townsend at the northeast corner of the peninsula. There are lots of good dining options here, but if you want an earlier lunch you can stop at Sequim along the way. From Port Townsend take the 35-minute ferry ride to Keystone Landing on Whidbey Island. (You can reserve a place on the ferry.) You’ll be in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, which includes, 10 minutes from the ferry dock, the old fishing town of Coupeville, where you’ll spend the night. Spend the evening strolling the quaint streets that make up the town, and if you’re up for a short hike head to the bluffs above Parego Lagoon, where you get a gorgeous view of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Ebey’s Landing, Whidbey Island

English Camp, San Juan Island


For a longer itinerary for the Olympic Peninsula, see click here.

San Juan Islands

Drive north over the picturesque bridge at Deception Pass to the town of Anacortes, a 45-minute trip, and catch the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The 75-minute cruise through the archipelago is a beautiful way to get into the San Juans state of mind. You can reserve a place on the ferry online, and in summer it’s essential to do so. You also need to arrange lodging well ahead of time. There are lots of options—waterfront campsites, B&Bs, motels, fishing lodges, old-school resorts—but they all book up in summer.


On Sale
Apr 24, 2018
Page Count
480 pages
Moon Travel

Matthew Lombardi

About the Author

Seattle resident Matthew Lombardi has spent the last decade and a half writing and editing travel guides. He has covered his home turf in the Pacific Northwest, other parts of the western United States-particularly California, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado-and more far-flung destinations, including Puerto Rico, Ireland, and especially Italy, where his work has taken him from the foot of Vesuvius to the peaks of the Dolomites.

Anywhere with gorgeous landscapes, good food, and engaging local culture is on his radar. He’s found all three in abundance in Washington, from the imposing bluffs of the Columbia River, where the parched landscape yields world-class wines, to the coastline of Neah Bay, where you can eat succulent smoked salmon and take a spirit-lifting hike to the far northwest corner of the United States.

Before turning to travel writing Matthew was an editor with Random House and Universal Press Syndicate. He’s gently edited some old masters, including science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke, conservative icon William F. Buckley, and passionate movie critic Roger Ebert. He was born and raised in Kansas City and holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the City University of New York.

Learn more about this author