A Late Fall Weekend Road Trip Through Washington
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Traveling while working full-time jobs means you take advantage of every opportunity to get out and explore. We love the long, multi-week vacations as much as anyone, but without question our sweet spots are weekend getaways. These help keep us fresh and make the travel bug subside a bit while we await the next big adventure. Perhaps even more so, road trips seem to have become our speciality over the past five years that Julie and I have been together.
In mid-November, we booked a flight to Seattle in order to take advantage of a buy-one-get-one-free voucher giveaway that we were awarded at a Giants game in September. One of the great things about Julie’s teaching career is that she gets all of the bank holidays off, so we decided that a four-day weekend adventure was in order over Veteran’s Day.
As we began planning for our trip to Washington, we were excited to eat our way through Seattle, but we also hoped that the weather would allow us to visit a couple of the state’s National Parks. With the date drawing near, we knew that one of our top destinations, Mt. Rainer was not going to be possible due to snow, but conditions looked good for Olympic and North Cascades National Parks. Knowing that it is important to be prepared for anything, we packed for cold, and snowy, weather conditions; bringing along our trusty microspikes and plenty of extra layers.
Day One – North Cascades National Park
On Thursday evening, we picked up our rental car from Sixt by the airport and drove to our hotel, which was just outside Seattle. The next morning, we hit the road early to visit North Cascades National Park. From the Seattle area, the drive to North Cascades takes about two hours, depending on traffic. On a Friday, we encountered some rush hour traffic passing by downtown, but afterwards the drive was smooth sailing. Heading north on the 5 freeway, we passed by countless trees showing off their finest fall colors, connecting to the 530 East and the 20 East.
Despite only being early-mid November, the Visitor’s Center was already closed for the season. We were definitely bummed to not be able to grab a passport stamp, but will most certainly be back again for a summer hiking trip.
Continuing along the 20 East, we stopped at the Gorge Lake and Diablo Lake Overlook for photos. After driving on the 20 for a bit longer, we decided it was best to turn around and start heading back. To finish off our day of adventure, we enjoyed burgers and brews at the Diamond Knot Brewpub.
Day Two: Seattle
Having spent much of the previous day in the car, we decided to stretch our legs a bit and explore Seattle. We started the crisp and rainy morning off by visiting the flagship REI store in the Cascade neighborhood of downtown. Julie and I love REI, and always enter the store remarking on how we want to buy everything in it. The flagship store probably took that desire up several notches as it is the largest, and easily the coolest, REI we have ever visited. As we endeavor more and more to get outside, hike, and explore, it is tough to not be filled with inspiration during our visit.
We left REI with our wallets still fully intact, though slightly sad we didn’t purchase any new goodies, and then made our way to Pike Place Market. Julie and I often hesitate when it comes to visiting heavily touristed destinations, as they are generally overcrowded and tough to navigate, but the destinations are usually worth the visit. Also, depending on how we feel that day, we can typically overcome the high crowds, provided there is some good food to be found! Walking through the market, we stopped to enjoy some local jam from Johnson Berry Farm. We’re both suckers for blackberry jam, and decided to pick up one of their delicious varieties to bring home with us.
For lunch, we were craving clam chowder, so we waited in about a 45-minute line to partake in the famous Pike Place Chowder. Definitely be sure to grab a bread bowl when you visit as we did!
What lunch would be complete without a little dessert? We sampled donuts from Top Pot and Daily Dozen Doughnuts. A slight nod would have to be given to Top Pot in terms of taste, but the warm donut from Daily Dozen was also delicious.
With out stomachs full, we decided to walk off our lunch a bit, and headed to Gas Works Park. Previously an old gas plant discontinued in 1956, the converted park is easily the most interesting and unique we have visited. It’s amazing to see how the city repurposed the former gas plant into a vibrant park and popular destination. In addition to the park, there are some fantastic views to be found of the Seattle skyline. While we were exploring the park, we watched a number of small, single engine seaplanes, departing and landing.
Our next stop of the day was to the nearby Fremont Brewing where we stopped in to enjoy a sampler of their local beers. The brewery has an urban beer garden, and plenty of communal seating to enjoy a pint or two on a cold day. From the brewery, it’s a short walk uphill to another tourist hotspot: the Fremont Troll. The troll is an interesting art sculpture and incredibly popular with kids who were climbing all over the troll when we visited.
As the sun began to set, we made a quick stop at Kerry Park for incredible Seattle skyline views. We capped off our day in Seattle with some unexpectedly delicious Mexican food we had both been craving.
Day Three: Olympic National Park
Sunday morning we woke up early and hit the road headed for our eight National Park of the year, Olympic. The drive from our hotel in Federal Way was just over two hours northwest to the town of Port Angeles. During our visit, the park’s Visitor Center was temporarily relocated to a trailer nearby for renovations, but we were happy to get our passport stamp there.
After a quick lunch in town, we were on the road to our first stop: Madison Falls. The 60 foot falls are located in the Elwha Valley region of the park and just a short walk from the trailhead. We spent a short while admiring the falls and enjoying the solitude before we were ready to move on.
With only a few hours of daylight remaining, we debated either a visit to the coast or the rainforest. Despite being a two hour drive, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Hoh Rainforest. We arrived at the Hall of Mosses trailhead with the last remaining light of the day and a steady stream of rain coming down. The trail was wet, slippery, and dark, but it was nice to have the rainforest all to ourselves. Back at the car, we made the nearly four hour drive back to our hotel and called it a day.
Day Four: Snoqualmie Falls and Heading Home
On our last day in Washington, we headed over to Snoqualmie to visit the famous falls. Snoqualmie Falls have an impressive 268 foot drop which make it one of the most popular destinations in Washington, and for good reason. It’s been well documented that we are suckers for waterfalls and will almost always go out of our way to see them when we travel. There are two viewpoints for the falls, the first and easiest is the upper falls view which is just a short walk from the parking lot.
Another viewpoint can be accessed from the upper falls via a short hike to the bottom, or a short drive to a separate parking lot at the bottom makes for another easy walk. The view from the lower falls is equally impressive and had us itching to get even closer, however, the wooden walkway ends with a locked door and a no trespassing sign. Despite this though, we saw a couple of lawbreakers down near the foot of the falls, eventually climbing back over the fence. Later, this inspired Julie’s post on the ethics of photography and getting “the shot” which can be read here.
Before returning our rental car, we drove through the Snoqualmie Pass to enjoy a bit of time in the snowy mountains. We stopped for lunch at the Black Duck Cask and Bottle in Issaquah and then headed to the airport. It was hard to believe that our four days in Washington had already come to an end. Our fall getaway had served as a great overview and our minds quickly filled with bookmarked adventures for the next visit. Julie and I look forward to exploring Washington again in summer and heading back to the national parks for some hiking!
Have you been to Washington? What were you favorite places to visit?