Eastern Washington, a little less than five hours east of Seattle, 50 miles south of Spokane
Why You Should See It: What surely would be Alice in Wonderland’s favorite agricultural area were she to see it, the Palouse is famous for its multicolored, undulating hills of wheat, grain and barley crops, which change colors with the seasons.
Don't Miss: Time your trip to experience sunset from the top at Steptoe Butte State Park (near Colfax; parks.state.wa.us), where, at 3,612 feet, you’ll find the highest point in the area and views of rolling, many-hued farmland as far as the eye can see.
Nearby: Palouse Falls, in a state park of the same name (south of Ritzville, off State Route 261; parks.state.wa.us), happens to be the state’s official waterfall, dropping 186 feet into a huge basalt punch-bowl canyon. The handicapped-accessible overlook across from the falls makes it easy for anyone to get a great view, but hikers can explore further on a few extended walks nearby.
Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, about a four-hour drive north of Seattle
Why You Should See It: This ridge is the gateway to some of the greatest hikes and climbs in the Lower 48. It’s also accessible by car, being the terminus of State Route 542 (aka Mount Baker Highway). Nestled between Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, this spot is the starting point for some of the best hiking and backpacking in the country.
Don't Miss: Keep your eyes trained on the night sky from the Artist Point parking lot, which is sure to be populated with other stargazers on particularly clear nights. There’s no better spot in the state for watching the Perseid meteor shower, when as many as 200 shooting stars dart through the night sky hourly during the shower’s peak over the second week of August.
Nearby: Nooksack Falls, 43 miles east of Bellingham off State Route 542, is a requisite stop on any drive up to Artist Point, even if you’ve already seen the wild cliff-jumping cascade of water. The fenced viewpoint across the falls shows a peaceful pooling North Fork of the Nooksack River before the coursing water takes a right-angle plunge over an unassuming rock shelf and falls 88 feet below into a deep and rocky river canyon.
North end of Whidbey Island, about two and a quarter hours from Seattle
Why You Should See It: After all those hours of idling in bottleneck traffic in and around bustling Seattle, Deception Pass—a narrow, deep saltwater passage where Skagit Bay empties into the Salish Sea between Fidalgo and Whidbey islands—is just the kind of bottleneck you need. You can’t help but feel small (in a good way) staring out at the cliffs and sea (and the 177-foot suspension bridge) from the beach at Deception Pass.
Don’t Miss: On the Whidbey Island side, follow the Pacific Northwest Trail from the Deception Pass parking lot around to Macs Cove, scrambling on cliffs and skipping beach rocks all along the way. Impress your travel companions with a dunk in the frigid ocean water of Deception Pass and then warm up and rinse off by jumping into adjacent freshwater Cranberry Lake.
Nearby: There’s no better way to cap off a visit to Deception Pass than with an order of salmon and chips from Seabolt’s at Deception Pass, a casual eatery run by a family that’s famous for shipping its alder-smoked salmon fillets to discerning restaurants and chefs all over the world. If you haven’t yet had enough adventure, you can also stoke your inner primate on a half-day, rope-supported “canopy climb” with Adventure Terra through the tall trees along the Deception Pass shoreline.
Just off U.S. Highway 101 on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula and about four and a half hours from Seattle
Why You Should See It: It may as well be the playground of the gods, with sea stacks and offshore islands topping out at dozens of feet high, some with arches eroded out of them, allowing foamy surf and brave running children to pass through. Meanwhile, old-growth driftwood adorns the shoreline, most of it bleached and chipped from its time out at sea. The Olympic coastline is an amazing example of the natural beauty of erosion. Best of all, anyone can hike the short path from the parking lot to get up close and personal with this edge of the earth.
Don’t Miss: Don those wellies or crocs and explore low tide. Ochre sea stars, squirting clams and tentacled green anemones make it worth your while to venture deep into the shallows at the bases of Ruby Beach’s sea stacks and cliffs. Look for sea otters bobbing offshore, seals swimming in the shallows, and bald eagles and ospreys circling overhead. And while you’re there, you may as well stay for a sunset over the roiling gray-green Pacific.
Nearby: Second and Third beaches are less crowded and every bit as beautiful, although each requires a short hike, and parking can be hard to find given the limited number of spots at their respective trailheads. One advantage these beaches have over Ruby is that you can camp overnight on the sand with a permit from the National Park Service.
Snoqualmie, about a 50-minute drive east of Seattle
Why You Should See It: Some consider this dazzling waterfall the gateway to western Washington, given its easy access right off I-90. It’s no doubt a sight to behold, rain or shine, as the Snoqualmie River plunges over a wide ledge just below the stately Salish Lodge and plunges 268 feet into a large, misty punch-bowl gorge below.
Don’t Miss: Hit The Attic upstairs at Salish Lodge for a craft cocktail, microbrew or some comfort food (pizzas, sandwiches) to enjoy while you sit back and take in the view.
Nearby: Ride bikes on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, a 29-mile crushed-rock, double-track “rail trail” that passes through some of the tallest, proudest stands of second-growth forest in the west and crosses over gorges on impossibly high rail trestles—don’t look down!