Seattle and Tacoma are both well-positioned for day trips with the Olympic National Park, the Cascades, and other cities galore all located within a couple hours by car. And while it’s not tough at all to find all kinds of day trip ideas, we’re here to help you find some trips your kids will love too.
Read on for 10 of our favorites!
Mt. Rainier National Park
Whether you’re a couple, a group of friends, or a family, everyone loves a visit to Mt. Rainier. The national park is just an hour from many parts of Tacoma, and 1.5 hours from Seattle, making it easy to get to. Once you’re within the park, you can simply drive around and enjoy the views (of which there are plenty), find a trail to explore (trailheads are plentiful and you’ll spot signs as you drive the main roads through the park, but the old growth forest around Ohanapecosh is always a great spot for families), visit the wildflowers at Paradise in the Spring, find a waterfall…the options are many.
There are several Washington coastal towns with great beaches to choose from, but Ocean Shores wins for ease of access. It’s the closest beach town to both Seattle and Tacoma at 2 hours from Tacoma, and just under 3 from Seattle. Many go to stay overnight or for a weekend, but a trip to the ocean also is a fun way to spend a day. Leave in the morning, pack a cooler with a picnic lunch, and bring along all the buckets and shovels and kites you’ve got. Spend a day on the sand and you can be back home by bedtime.
Hurricane Ridge is located at the northern end of the Olympic National Park. From Tacoma, the drive involves a jaunt over the Narrows Bridge and takes about 2.5 hours. From Seattle, take the Bainbridge Island ferry and the journey tops out at about 3 hours. So this trip involves a bit more driving for a day, but if you’re up for the journey, the alpine scenery is your reward. This is the perfect destination for hiking families.
Not far from Hurricane Ridge (and doable in combination, if you’re ambitious) is the Olympic Game Farm. For 30 years, this unique animal attraction served as the home to animals in Disney films. In the 1970s, the park opened to the public for drive-through tours, which is what it continues to do today. The park is home to more than 200 animals, including yak, llamas, elk, zebras, deer, raccoons, and more. Buy some wheat bread at the entrance and you can feed animals that approach your car as you make your way through the park. Animals come right up to your windows and you will get slobbered on! Guaranteed laughs, but bring along lots of wipes to clean up afterward.
A ferry ride away from Seattle, Bainbridge Island is a quiet destination with a small downtown core where you can explore the shops or grab a bite to eat. The island is home to places worth visiting like the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, if you want to add some history into your day trip, and the amazing Bloedel Reserve, one of the most beautiful manicured gardens anywhere. The island has many parks to explore, too. Fay Bainbridge Park is one of these parks and worth a visit if you have young children. With a shoreline, small but mighty playground surrounded by a sandpit, picnic shelters and tables, and peaceful views of the water, you can’t go wrong.
Washington’s capital city of Olympia is a place to enjoy a bit of everything. An easy jaunt down I-5 from Tacoma (30-40 minutes) and Seattle (1.5 hours), Olympia’s Capitol Campus has the state Capitol where you can go on tours, or explore the campus on foot and view the many memorials there. Capitol Lake is adjacent to the campus and you can follow a trail down to the lake and walk along its shore. Olympia has one of the best farmers markets anywhere, too. Located downtown, the market is open on weekends throughout the year and has food stands, fresh produce, local vendors, and live entertainment. Olympia is also a great place to find a hike with Millersylvania State Park, Tolmie State Park, and tons of city and county parks too.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is everything great about the Northwest. Within the confines of the park, which spans most of the Olympic Peninsula, you’ll find beaches, rain forests, places to hike, places to go fishing, hot springs, and more. Don’t miss beautiful Ruby Beach or Lake Cushman if you aren’t sure where to start, or read our complete guide to the Olympic National Park to get an overview.
The tour of Boeing’s factory in Everett, just a half hour north of Seattle, is unlike any other tour you’ll ever go on. For one, the factory is the largest building by volume in the world. Airplanes are literally built here and several planes are generally in progress at once – all indoors. The tour includes a museum as well as looking down on the factory floor to see how planes are put together. Tours feature a lot of walking as the building is large, and children must be at least four feet tall to go on the tour (you aren’t allowed to lift your kids to see over balconies for safety reasons so they need to be tall enough to look over balcony edges themselves).
The Bavarian town of Leavenworth is an adorable town tucked into the Cascade mountains. At 2 hours from Seattle and closer to 3 from Tacoma, Leavenworth is a fun weekend away, but not bad for a day trip either. The downtown is fun to explore with shops and restaurants, many of which carry the Bavarian theme. Buy a cuckoo clock or a nutcracker and dine on giant pretzels and schnitzel to your heart’s content. If you love the outdoors, Leavenworth has got it all. There are several white water rafting companies that operate out of the area, as well as tubing tours where you can float gently down the Wenatchee River. Nearby hiking trails abound, but you can also get a great dose of nature right next to downtown Leavenworth on the trails at Waterfront Park, Blackbird Island, and Enchantment Park (all connected via trails).
Washington state has more than 200 awesome state parks, many of which make great day trips. However, if you’re looking for possibly the greatest state park of them all and want to go big or go home, Deception Pass is the place. This park is Washington’s most popular state park for its stellar scenery, cliffs, high-up bridges, hiking trails, beaches, and more. In short, you can’t go wrong with some time at Deception Pass.