Entering the Pacific Northwest’s famed natural beauty is an easy side trip from Seattle. Drive an hour outside of the city and you can find yourself anywhere from the top of a roaring waterfall to the base of an imposing mountain.
With a rental car, full tank of gas and some sturdy shoes, there are plenty of opportunities to see everything the region has to offer.
East: Snoqualmie Falls
Visitors can always hear Snoqualmie Falls (www.snoqualmiefalls.com) before they see it. The rushing water of an imposing, 270-foot waterfall dominates the senses and is just 30 minutes east of downtown Seattle. An observation deck directly above the waterfalls, open from dawn until dusk, gives visitors an eagle-eye view of the natural wonder.
When you are there, stop by the Salish Lodge (www.salishlodge.com). Perched at the top of Snoqualmie Falls, the full-service hotel offers quintessentially Northwestern dining and spa experiences. Indulge in local scents with the Salish Lodge Spa's Rosemary and Mint Body Scrub or their Northwest Coffee Exfoliation. Wrap up the trip with a drink at the Lodge's Dining Room. The hotel's restaurant is particularly well known for its wine list, which Wine Spectator has given a "Best Award of Excellence" for 21 straight years now and currently features more than 900 selections to choose from (the number varies seasonally).
South: Mount Rainier
The imposing mountain that looms in the background of the Seattle skyline is even more impressive close up: 14,411 feet from base to summit, it is the highest mountain in Washington. Mount Rainier is also an active volcano - although there has been no activity since the 1850s and geologists say there is no imminent threat of eruption.
The best time to visit Mount Rainier State Park (www.nps.gov/mora) is in the summer, when wildflowers bloom and driving conditions are clear. Drive 19 miles from the Nisqually entrance and you are in Paradise - literally. The Paradise area of the park, famed for its views and wide-ranging wildflower meadows, offers a variety of hikes. It is also prime real estate for winter activities like snowshoeing and tubing, receiving an average 680 inches of snow each year.
At 6,400 feet, the Sunrise Area of Mount Rainier is the highest point accessible by vehicle. Near the Carbon River entrance to the park, Sunrise offers some of the most sweeping views of Mount Rainier's peak and of Emmon's Glacier, which, at 4.3 square miles, has the largest surface area of any glacier in the contiguous United States.
West: Bainbridge Island
Half of the fun of visiting Bainbridge Island is the trip there: a 30-minute ferry ride across Elliot Bay offers stunning views of the looming Cascade Mountains and nearby San Juan Islands, not to mention the Seattle skyline. Visitors to Bainbridge can either bring a car on the ferry or rent a bike at the dock from Classic Cycles Bike Barn (www.classiccyclesus.com), for an eco-friendly way to take a spin around the island.
From the ferry drop off, it is a quarter mile to Bainbridge Island's downtown, which has become known for its vibrant arts community. Chief among the artistic venues is the storied Bainbridge Island Arts & Crafts (www.bacart.org). Founded in 1948 by a group of local artists, the BAC now sells the work of 300 local and regional artists who regularly give talks, artist demos and art history lectures for free in the gallery.
To sleep outdoors, bike or drive to the Fay Bainbridge State Park (www.parks.wa.gov) on the island's northern tip. The 17-acre park features a sweeping beach, picnic areas, campgrounds and, on Seattle's rare sunny days, stunning views of Mount Rainier and Mount Baker.
North: Chuckanut Drive
For a scenic alternative to I-5's dull, interstate views, seasoned Seattelites know to take Exit 231 off of I-5 to Chuckanut Drive: a 21-mile stretch of seaside state roads that winds through gorgeous farmland landscapes and some of Washington State's quaintest small towns. The hardest part of the drive may be deciding where to stop. The remote Larrabee State Park (www.parks.wa.gov), offers eight miles of hiking trails around its two fresh water lakes, coves and tidelands. More serious hikers will love the Oyster Dome Trail at Blanchard Mountain, a 6.5 mile trek to the mountain's 2,025-ft high peak. It ends with sweeping views of the San Juan Islands.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Fay Bainbridge State Park contains two volcanoes. It does not.