Mossy rainforests, glacial lakes, wildflower-dotted meadows, snowcapped mountains, vineyard-dotted valleys, quaint coastal towns: Washington state exudes an intoxicating magic, particularly during its glorious, fleeting summer. As we enter the latter half of summer, many Evergreen State places are peaking. Summer is far from over.
Northwest lifers may sometimes forget to explore beyond the favorite spots they visit again and again. Trade in your tried-and-true Rainier hikes and Lake Chelan trips, or find new fun in familiar locations this August and September. From the San Juans to the Methow Valley, here are four potential Washington road trip destinations to inspire the rest of your summer.
Getting to the Methow is half the journey. On the spectacular North Cascades Highway, green meadows give way to evergreen forests, cliffs overlooking aquamarine lakes and corridors of soaring mountains covered in snow. Stop to admire the views and perhaps swim in Diablo Lake, or hike along one of the dozens of trails directly off the highway like Heather-Maple Loop Pass and Blue Lake. Stretch your legs and refuel with food and drinks at The Mazama Store, famed for its baguettes and focaccia. Mazama is renowned for rock climbing, with routes for both novice and experienced climbers. Beginners can book a full-day lesson with North Cascades Mountain Guides ($200-$425).
As you leave Mazama, descend into valleys of rolling hills dotted with evergreen forests against a backdrop of snowy peaks. The Methow Valley is rich in Indigenous heritage and endemic flora and fauna. Tiny towns brim with artisan culture and history, and offer a blend of homey bakeries and experimental eateries inspired by regional foraging. Tap into the stories behind Winthrop’s historical Wild West buildings — complete with a saloon and an emporium — at Shafer Historical Museum. Beer aficionados should check out Old Schoolhouse Brewery, home to some of the best brews this side of the mountains. Wine lovers can head to Lost River Winery just outside town.
Twisp is the cultural center of the Methow Valley. Learn about the abundant geological and Indigenous history at the Methow Valley Interpretive Center. At TwispWorks, explore galleries and workshops of artists and craftspeople interspersed across shady grounds. Most days of the week, you can grab a bite from Fork, a food truck serving up hearty portions of Vietnamese fusion dishes. Catch live music on weekends at Twisp River Tap House, on the rushing water. Farmers markets are in full swing throughout the rest of summer, where you can peruse the regional bounties: colorful dahlias, juicy nectarines and peaches, pottery, soaps, artisanal products and more.
August is a fantastic time to explore the wilder side of the Methow, as the region will finally be snow-free. Paddle along deserted lakes, hike through the valleys and learn about the native wildlife, from the gray wolf to blue lazuli bunting birds. Book a horseback ride or join a guided nature walk from Sun Mountain Lodge, arguably the best spot to stay in the region. Horseback rides run $70 for adults and $55 for children for a 90-minute ride. Equidistant from Winthrop and Twisp and enveloped by the nature of the Methow, Sun Mountain Lodge runs approximately $350-$450 per night. This picturesque property is currently being updated to a more contemporary style while preserving its mountain feel. For a stellar backcountry experience, head up to Hart’s Pass for hiking and camping on Washington’s highest road.
Mount Baker Highway
With its roads traversing staggering mountain passes, alpine lakes and carved canyons, Washington was made for road trips. This summer, try the dramatic Mount Baker Highway (aka Mount Baker Scenic Byway), where waterfalls, immense trees and snow-draped vistas accompany each mile of the drive.
You can make this a day trip on the highway, taking in the beauty of the road with a few pit stops. If you have the time, though, travel the 58-mile stretch of road slowly to absorb some of the Pacific Northwest’s most arresting nature. The road starts in Bellingham, about 90 minutes from Seattle, and curves along the Nooksack River, through logging towns, past cascading falls and old-growth forests, and ends at the base of massive, volcanic Mount Baker.
Your first stop is the North Fork of the Nooksack River, where bald eagles hunt schools of salmon. While winter months are best for viewing this spectacle, bald eagles frequent the river year-round; look in the morning on cloudy days. Continue on, passing through the tiny enclaves of Deming and Glacier. Here, you can stop for a bite to eat. Wake’n’Bakery has a delicious selection of pastries, sandwiches and coffee.
At Nooksack Falls, follow a short trail to a rocky viewpoint over the majestic Cascades. Pencil in another break along the way for a short hike to Picture Lake, a glimmering lake surrounded by summer wildflowers with Mount Shuksan in the background. From Picture Lake, you’re only a few miles from the end of the scenic byway and fantastic viewpoints, as well as the well-trod Artist Ridge, another short hike with rewarding views of Baker, Shuksan and Goat Mountain.
If you’re an avid hiker and looking to experience the wilderness around Mount Baker in greater depth, stay in the area and explore. Sumas Mountain Lodge offers cozy, cabin-style rooms ranging from $89-$139 per night about halfway along the route, or you can search for private cabins and homes in the region. Yellow Aster Butte is a great 7.5-mile loop through wildflower meadows that will start turning fiery shades of autumn next month. Chain Lakes Loop is a slightly shorter hike through meadows that will be bursting with blueberry bushes come late summer and has multiple alpine lakes along the route.
The San Juan Islands feel a world away from mainland Washington. On your next visit, expand your horizons beyond Orcas and San Juan and head to the less-frequented Lopez Island, the easternmost island of the San Juan archipelago. The quietest of the isles, Lopez Island demands only that you slow down and relax. The island is the first stop on the ferry to the San Juan Islands — about 45 minutes from Anacortes — and makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
Late summer is an idyllic time on Lopez. Think expansive sandy beaches, quiet turquoise seas and seasonal farm stands. The island is plentiful in trails and coastal walks. Hike through forest and wildflower meadows to Point Colville, the southeastern edge of Lopez, for cliffs and stunning views over the Salish Sea.
For a slightly longer loop, hike Iceberg Point and scramble over twisted trees to rocky viewpoints over the Olympic Peninsula and potential orca sightings. Head to the sandy beaches of Odlin County Park or to Watmough Bay, where you’ll find brilliant turquoise water enclosed by rocky cliffs, views of snowcapped Mount Baker on clear days, and, if you’re lucky, some seals. Bring a picnic with you, find a secluded spot on the beach, and soak up a late summer sunset.
To explore Lopez more intimately, rent a bike and pedal across the rolling hills and many flat stretches. Drink in coastal views, stopping to rest at beaches, then head inland for farmland and marshes. Explore small island businesses and farm stands rooted in nature, from Whispers of Nature to Midnight’s Farm (which offers lodging).
Once you’ve explored Lopez on land, experience it from the water. Choose among a range of kayaking experiences, offering stop-off points, views of the Olympics and potential orca sightings. Edenwild has both bike and kayak rentals. Daily bike and half-day kayak rentals are $29.99 per person. Edenwild Boutique Inn is also a fantastic lodging option, offering cozy accommodation with outstanding amenities for $150-$220 per night.
A trip to Lopez isn’t complete without exploring its eclectic, homegrown experiences. Take a journey back in time at the Lopez Island History Museum in Lopez Village, where you can learn about the coastal tribes that once inhabited the lands prior to Scandinavian settlers who arrived in the mid-19th century. The museum, free to kids and $2 for adults, is open Wednesday-Sunday.
For food, Ursa Minor is a Lopez destination, boasting an elevated gastronomic experience heavily influenced by locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. From halibut and trout to squid and prawns, seafood plays a starring role at this fine-dining establishment, open for dinner Friday-Sunday. Barn Owl Bakery is the best stop for fresh-baked delicacies, offering craft goods baked with heritage grains grown on the island. For wood-fired pizza and live music on Tuesdays and Fridays, stop by Vita’s Wildly Delicious. Wine enthusiasts may want to visit Lopez Island Vineyards, situated on the northwest end of the island, which grows some of its own grapes right on Lopez.
This picturesque harbor town encompasses the very best of the Pacific Northwest. The charming downtown blends historical buildings, family-run establishments and an ever-evolving gastronomic scene with uninhibited access to the Puget Sound and crystal-clear views of Rainier. And Gig Harbor is only an hour’s drive from Seattle, which makes it the perfect last-minute day trip. While you can visit Gig Harbor year-round, the warm weather and extended daylight of late summer allow you to linger outside and enjoy the beauty of this fishing village turned maritime town.
Gig Harbor is naturally abundant in beaches, on a peninsula surrounded by coastline. The long, rocky stretch of Narrows Beach offers perfect views of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and is ideal for skipping rocks. Take a walk along the forest trails of Kopachuck State Park before reaching the rocky shoreline along Henderson Bay. Or head to Fox Island, surrounded by beaches abundant in tidal pools filled with small marine creatures. Fox Island has a small, unpretentious pub called Zog’s, worth a stop if you’re in the mood for a local pint.
While downtown, pay a visit to the Harbor History Museum, which highlights the town’s Nordic and Croatian settlers. Take a walk along the harbor and admire the docked sailboats and yachts. Wander through boutiques and art galleries or rent a kayak or paddleboard and experience the views of Gig Harbor from the marina. Lee’s SUP and Kayak Rentals rents both kayaks and paddleboards ($20/two hours). Every Thursday afternoon during the summer, the downtown area hosts a farmers market. Patterson’s Market is another worthy summer stop, for the freshest of Washington state’s seasonal bounties.
Some of Gig Harbor’s best food and drink hubs let you soak up views at the same time. Susanne’s provides outstanding baked goods, from coconut cream cake to carrot spice muffins. Tides Tavern is a classic for lunch or happy hour, particularly if you can snag a seat on the deck. Enjoy coastal pub fare featuring a seasonal rotation of dishes heavy on the seafood while watching boats pass by. Head next door to Gig Harbor Brewing’s new location, with a deck overlooking the water and a seasonal selection of ales and lagers. For a more refined experience, Brix 25 is also in the harbor, featuring an impressive, elegant PNW-inspired menu with mussels, halibut, Alaskan king crab and more.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the admission price at the Lopez Island History Museum. Entry is free to children but costs $2 for adults.