One of the ways the Pacific Northwest shows its charm is through its diversity. From 14,000-foot snow-capped volcanoes to harbor towns and from U-Pick blueberry farms to world-class artisans, this Tacoma to Mt. Rainier and Olympic national parks road trip showcases the diversity that makes this area of the country sing.
Road Trip Map
Start: Tacoma, Wash.
While Seattle to the north gets all the attention, Tacoma, its southern sister, is the perfect place to start a road trip.
Tacoma’s glass-blowing scene is hard to beat, drawing its roots from the city’s industrial foundations. The Tacoma Art Museum and Museum of Glass, located next door to each other, are the place to start. The two museums are connected by the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian overpass that consists of more than 2,000 works by renowned glass-artist Dale Chihuly. It’s stunning both during the day when the sunlight streams through the rainbow of glass and after dark when the bridge is lit.
To really immerse yourself in glass art, book a stay at the Hotel Murano. Each floor of this boutique hotel has a world-famous art installation, and docents are available to give tours. If you’re feeling creative, book a glass-blowing experience with Area 253 Glassblowing. Classes range from 30 minutes to two days and can accommodate kids ages 8 and up.
Trash-removal king Harold LeMay single-handedly turned Tacoma into a pilgrimage for classic cars. Check out LeMay – America’s Car Museum to tour the four-level hangar featuring over 350-classic cars and rotating exhibits. Or, head to the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount in Spanaway to see LeMay’s private collection. More than 500 cars are on rotating display.
For a truly luxe experience, head to Lobster Shop to close out your day in Tacoma. This seafood restaurant sits on the shores of Puget Sound so the view both inside and on the patio are stunning. Sip on a featured cocktail like a lavender lemon drop before indulging in the best of the sea from crab to king salmon to calamari and, of course, lobster.
It’s time to hit the road!
Rent an RV with Outdoorsy
Do this road trip in an RV to stay close to nature. Or check out Destination Delivery: have an RV delivered directly to a campground or parking site to camp in style without having to get behind the wheel. www.outdoorsy.com/rv-rental/washington/olympic-national-park
Make sure to read our tips on navigating Olympic National Park with an RV.
On your way to Mt. Rainier National Park, make sure to stop in Enumclaw. Besides picture-perfect views of the mountain on a clear day, this area of the state is known for its produce, especially blueberries.
Make sure you have some cash with you to hit up one of the many produce stands along the way for blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, apples and more based on the season. Or, if you’re feeling industrious, stop by a U-Pick farm and load up on berries for your trip. Rusty Plow in Enumclaw has almost 5,000 blueberry plants to pick from and at $2.75/lb, you’ll feel like a bear in a berry patch.
Mt. Rainier National Park
Despite the plethora of snow-capped peaks you’ll see as you drive through the Pacific Northwest, Mt. Rainier is the only mountain in the area taller than 14,000 feet. Its glacier capped dome stands at a proud 14,410 feet and looms more than 8,000-feet above the highest road in the park. To stand underneath it is a moving experience.
Take the White River Entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park and start in the Sunrise area of the park, the highest point you can get via road. You’ll be gazing at the mountain with a 360-degree view of the surrounding valleys at 6,400-feet above sea level. As the name suggests, sunrise is absolutely stunning in this area of the park.
Head south on Hwy. 123 and find yourself in a breathtaking old-growth forest. Stop at Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, a 1.3-mile loop, to experience this incredible ecosystem. You’ll hike past thousand-year-old Douglas firs and red cedars and cross a river on a suspension bridge.
No trip to Mt. Rainier National Park is complete without a stop at the Paradise Inn. This iconic lodge was built in 1919 and offers stunning views of the mountain, a restaurant and a gift shop. This area of the park is famous for its wildflowers. Summer is the prime time to visit. Hike one of the many trails in the area that winds through the meadows to see carpets of wildflowers unfurl in the peak’s foreground.
On your way west to Olympia, you’ll pass through the tiny town of Elbe, population 29. Next door to the nation’s second oldest church, you’ll find the Mt. Rainier Railroad Depot. Climb aboard for a 14-mile journey to the Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum in Mineral. The highlight is crossing the glacial fed Upper Nisqually River. Passengers have an hour and 45-minutes to explore the museum with exhibits on steam locomotives and the history of logging. Keep an eye out for special event trains like the holiday Polar Express and the Hard Cider Express.
Just outside the town of Eatonville, you’ll find the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. If you didn’t catch a glimpse of the Pacific Northwest’s abundant wildlife in the park, this is the place to experience them. Board a tram to explore the 435-acre free-roaming area, home to wandering moose, bison, mountain goats, Roosevelt elk, caribou and more. Then, stroll the paved trails through the forest to see large predators like bears, wolves and cougars in enclosures mimicking their natural habitat.
Get up-close and personal with the sea life of Puget Sound at the Puget Sound Estuarium’s Pier Peer nights. A biologist-led excursion at the Boston Harbor Marina uses underwater flashlights to attract sea creatures. Advanced registration is necessary at www.sseacenter.org/pier-peer/. Can’t make it to any of the dates? Stop by the Estuarium to learn all about the sound’s underwater inhabitants.
If looking at sea creatures makes you hungry, head to Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar. Chelsea Farms pioneered the tide-tumbling method for growing oysters and their bar, located in Olympia, serves up their bivalves along with other tasty dishes. For an inventive take on the traditional bite, order the fried oysters with salsa seca, or the baked oysters with black garlic apple butter.
If eating the sea creatures you just learned about at the Estuarium is too much to handle, head to the San Francisco Street Bakery for your gluten fix. This Olympia staple serves up mouthwatering apple puffs and pear and blueberry frangipanes.
Gig Harbor on Puget Sound
Gig Harbor is the perfect place to basecamp for this road trip. Centrally located just northwest of Tacoma, the charming town of Gig Harbor is a destination in and of itself, and a convenient location for exploring Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and Seattle. You’ll find incredible local dining, galleries, motorized and non-motorized boat rentals and tours and plenty of coastal charm. Simply hop on the seasonal Gig Harbor trolley from the resort to explore town. Traveling with an RV? You’ll find shady RV sites under the pines at Gig Harbor RV Resort.
Olympic National Park Staircase Area and Hoodsport
A tiny burb along the shore of Hood Canal, Hoodsport is the place to fuel up and grab a bite to eat before heading to Olympic National Park’s Staircase area. Grab a coffee on the way to the park and some local Olympic Mountain Ice Cream on the way back out at Hoodsport Coffee Co. Lake Cushman, a 4,000-acre reservoir with picnic areas and a narrow gravel road skirting its steep banks, sits just 30 minutes outside of Hoodsport. Book a paddle tour or rent a kayak from Blue Horizons Paddlesports to explore the lake.
After the lake, the road becomes paved and enters Olympic National Park with a campground, ranger station and trailheads being your first stops. For a leisurely day hike, take the 2.1-mile Staircase Rapids Loop Trail that follows the North Fork Skokomish River through old-growth forests and crosses a beautiful suspension bridge, before taking you back to the Staircase Ranger Station.
Make your way back to Hoodsport and head north to eat hyper-local at Hamma Hamma Oyster Saloon. On the shores of Hood Canal, where Washington’s best oysters grow, you’ll see signs on the side of the highway marketing oysters, clams and crab. Pull over.
Hamma Hamma farms their bivalves (shelled creatures like oysters and clams) right there in the canal. Peruse the farm store for seafood and local products to take home, or take a seat at the Oyster Saloon. Open air, the oyster saloon is about as close to your food as you can get. The menu is subject to change based on what’s in season, but one thing’s for sure: there will be oysters. Order them cooked in butter sauce, baked with pimento cheese or raw on the half shell. Local beer and wine is also served. On summer weekends, you’ll find live music in the afternoons and in the winter, you can hear sea lions as you watch the tide roll off the oyster beds.
Port Angeles and Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge
Follow the water as you head north, and then west, to the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles, Wash. It’s home to one of the deepest harbors in the world.
Grab a cup of coffee at Bada NW on 1st street. This cozy coffee shop is reminiscent of a log cabin and the pastries – both sweet and savory – are to die for. Hop on the Olympic Discovery Trail at any point along the water and stroll as far as your heart desires – to the east, the trail goes all the way to Port Townsend, and to the west, all the way to La Push. Be sure to climb the harbor tower for views of the docks and boats arriving and departing. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Canada.
Port Angeles also serves as the gateway to Olympic National Park with a visitor center just outside the park entrance. Grab a picnic lunch from Country Aire Natural Foods in town and head up to Hurricane Ridge for the day. It’s a mere 17-mile drive from town to this area of the park, which offers beautiful wildflower hikes during the summer as well as peaceful snowshoe and ski trails in winter.
After a full day of exploring, we know what you’re in the mood for. Something fast and something greasy. Head to Frugal’s in Port Angeles, a shiny chrome burger drive-thru that locals swear is better than In-N-Out. See for yourself. Pro-tip, order fry sauce on your burger and don’t skip the milkshake.
Olympic National Park Lakes, Waterfalls and Hot Springs
From Port Angeles, head west on Hwy. 101 for your third taste of Olympic National Park’s beauty.
Take the turnoff for Lake Crescent Lodge to explore one of the park’s most beautiful lakes. Strikingly clear due to the lack of nitrogen in the water, this crescent-shaped lake is extremely deep – 624 feet at its depths. In the evenings, the sun paints the water gold. In the mornings, mist hovers over the water. Surrounded by temperate rainforests, it’s a little slice of paradise.
Book a room or a cabin at the charming Lake Crescent Lodge to experience all of the lake’s many angles. Make sure to order a drink at the bar and enjoy the lodge’s sun room, or Adirondack chairs, right on the lake’s shore. To really get a taste for the lake’s beauty, rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard at the lodge. Rentals fill up quickly when the weather’s nice, so for the most solitude, get there when they open at 7 a.m. Paddle along the shoreline and look deep into the blue green water. You might even spot a nearly century-old car wreck.
Continue heading west on Hwy. 101 to the turn off for Sol Duc Valley. Start your tour of the Valley with a hike to Sol Duc Falls. This beautiful hike takes you 1.6 miles roundtrip through a temperate rainforest to an overlook where you can watch the beautiful falls tumble 50 feet into the slot canyon below. In the autumn rainy season and early spring runoff these falls can be spectacular as they boom beneath your feet.
After exploring, head to the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort to soak in natural mineral pools ranging from 50-degrees to 104-degrees. The resort also offers a restaurant, gift shop and lodging options.
Turn back heading east on Hwy. 101 to Port Ludlow, a farm-to-table paradise. The small town sits on the bustling Puget Sound, but also has its own calm Ludlow Bay where boats are limited to 5 mph. Stay at the serene inn with waterfront restaurant, marina and golf course, The Resort at Port Ludlow.