Today, the weather is rainy and gray, and just a touch depressing. Needless to say, I’m dreaming of sunnier days ahead. We are definitely a ‘play outside in all the weather’ kind of families, but there is something special about adventuring and enjoying nature during those sweet summer months. You know the days I’m talking about; the light is warm and easy up until 10 o’clock at night, berries squish and stick to your fingers, wildflowers bloom, and there is grilled food and fresh garden vegetables to eat with friends and families on a daily basis! Ah, doesn’t that make you wish summer were here now!? But, I suppose with all things, there are seasons and cycles of life for very good reasons, and living in the cozy lull of January has its own unique joys as well.
Since it’s definitely a good idea to get a head start on making campground and cabin reservations, I spent most of my Sunday afternoon while the kids were napping planning our summer fun. We are a traveling and adventuring family; hiking and camping, constantly exploring this glorious piece of earth we get to call home. I know it can be tricky to hit the road with young children. Gone are the days of throwing a pair of clean underwear in a bag and driving wherever inspiration takes you. The packing lists alone can sometimes undo me when planning longer road trips with the kids.
Let me remind you, it is always worth it. Get out, go, plan for what you can, let go of what you can’t…and just enjoy your family and having experiences together. Keep a positive attitude and go with the flow!
Some people are more comfortable staying in hotels or cabins, some in tents or yurts. Some people don’t like taking babies and young kids anywhere far from home, some of us are all about it. In any event, if you’re looking for some great local road trips this summer (that you really need and want at least a weekend for), and a little inspiration, here’s where I think you should start dreaming. Depending on where in Washington state you live, they are all within a day’s drive (get that road trip playlist started now!)
| San Juan Islands |
There isn’t a single thing NOT to love about the San Juans. The ferry ride into the islands alone is worth the trip. Craggy coasts, islands thick with trees and kind people, ferries, food, and summer fun. We took our kids last summer to Orcas Island (read about that here), and it definitely left a special place in our hearts. Each island offers something unique, but every single one is guaranteed to have spectacular scenery around every corner. Whale watching, hiking, local eatery, good coffee, and camping. What’s not to love?
The Where: San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez are the most popular destinations, with each offering something special. San Juan Island is the main ‘hub’ and where you will find more restaurants and shopping, Lopez is mostly popular with campers, and Orcas is a great mix of the two, offering both two nice resorts and a couple of fabulous campgrounds.
The How: Drive to Anacortes, (stop at the Mt.Vernon Skagit Valley Food Co-Op along the way), and then be sure to stop at Gere-A-Deli in Anacortes and fuel up with a delicious sandwich. You can definitely tell that food is one of my love languages. If you’re traveling in the summer, you must book your ferry reservations in advance for most of the passages.
The What: Whale watching, camping, hiking, beach combing.
| Methow Valley: Winthrop |
If you want a glorious and breathtaking road trip experience, head into the mountains via Hwy 20 over the North Cascade Highway. It’s 95 miles of evergreens, waterfalls, snow-topped peaks, and craggy rocks. Every turn is jaw-dropping, with lakes so green there aren’t the words to describe them. I can say that even after making this drive hundreds of times it impresses me and reminds why I love this state so much. The highway is only open during late spring to early fall because of heavy snowfall, so put this on your summer itinerary! If you live on the peninsula, definitely start your journey in Kingston and take the ferry across to Edmonds, and head north from there. Be sure to stop and get homemade, organic ice cream at the Cascadian Farm in Concrete. Your next stop should be the Diablo Lake Overlook, it’s a great place to let the kids out of the car, take some fantastic photos, and use the bathroom. Continue your way into the valley, admiring the changing vegetation and farmland scattered with livestock. There are quite a few great small towns in the Methow Valley, but Winthrop is the main hub. This town is rich in history and takes you back to the old West, with storefronts resembling just as they were years ago, wooden sidewalks and even an old saloon.
The Where: Nestled in the valley in Okanogan county, this area is teeming with recreational activities year-round! No matter which way you drive in, you’ll be amazed. In the ‘town’ there are a couple of hotels, as well as cabin rentals along the river. Sun Mountain Lodge is about 20 minutes outside of town and offers a restaurant, pool, and variety of activities for guests.
The How: I guess I got carried away up above! Head over in the summer and drive the North Cascade Highway!
The What: Hot air ballooning, horseback riding, biking, hiking, river rafting (or conversely if you go in the winter there is snowmobiling, skiing, sleigh rides, ice skating).
| Northern Coastal Beaches: Kalaloch, Ruby Beach, Second Beach |
I don’t think you’ve really experienced what our state has to offer until you’ve ventured over to the high coast. Sitting on the edge of the forest and Olympic mountains, in sharp contrast to the pounding coastline riddled with jagged rocks…it’s just a breathtaking piece of earth. Spend a couple of days exploring the area!
The Where: If you read the Twilight Book Series then you are probably familiar with the town of Forks and La Push, both worth at least cruising through for the fun werewolf/vampire treaty lines. La Push has a few great beaches, and ‘Second Beach’ is an easy mile hike down to the coast (you can also camp on the beaches here, but make sure you have a permit and a bear canister!). Make your way south to Ruby Beach (definitely worth an afternoon itself), and stay in Kalaloch, another great beach with a resort offering cabins, lodging, and food. And since you’re so close, don’t miss out on Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest!
The How: If you’re coming from the Seattle area or East of the state, hop on a ferry and cross over to Bainbridge Island and head North to Port Angeles (a big area that’s great for food and potty breaks). If you have the time or an extra day, swooping up into Port Townsend along the way is also fun. Before you hit Port Angeles you can also drive up to Hurricane Ridge, where the mountainous views will blow your mind! Wild deer roam freely up here, wildflowers bloom, and short hiking trails circle the visitor center. But back to your main destination; from Port Angeles keep heading East out to the coast! You will also get to drive along the edge of beautiful Lake Crescent!
The What: Nature. Everywhere. Soak it up. Walk the beaches (check tide tables), go on short hikes with the kids, relax, unwind, be thankful you get to live here (and then take photos and tag them #nwhealthymama so we can see!)
| Westport and Grayland |
A popular area for fishing and surfing, and not too far of a drive out of the city are the major draws for these coastal towns. Get some fresh seafood right off the dock, play on the beach, or go whale watching if it’s the right season!
The Where: You can’t get closer to the raging Pacific Ocean than this! There are a few campgrounds (some with yurts), hotels, and cabin rentals. There is one grocery store in town, a couple of coffee stands, and few places to eat. The ‘docks’ is a small area where you can watch boats come and go, eat salt water taffy, and listen to the seals bark.
The How: When you make the drive out to the coast here, skip the I-5 corridor completely (if you can) and skip around the scenic route through Shelton. Part of making the destination is the journey after all.
The What: If you’re a newbie surfer, leave it to the experienced, and instead bring a wet suit and boogie board (also for rent at the surf shop in town). Please, please, please be aware or rip currents and know what to do in an emergency. Watch for rolling logs and be smart. The ocean is powerful. You can drive your vehicle on the beaches South of Westport, but again, be smart. I’ve seen one too many tourist get stuck in the sand here (thankfully locals with big trucks often pull people out). There are quite a few charter fishing offices taking people out on trips. You can simply sit and watch the sunset. There’s nothing better than watching our glowing orange sun dip below the Pacific.
| Vashon Island |
I admit, I have a thing for islands and ferries. Vashon Island is only accessible by boat, and is such a fun day trip if you can’t make an entire weekend work. Vashon is a relaxed, feel-good, peace and love vibes kind of place.
The Where: Nestled deep in the Puget Sound, with fantastic views of Mt.Rainier and water as far as the eye can see! The main part of town has eclectic restaurants, a book shop, coffee, and a really fun farmers market on the weekend.
The How: From West Seattle, get on the ferry at the Fauntleroy Terminal and get off when the boat stops at Vashon on its way to Southworth. Easy peasy!
The What: Drive around the island and visit the lighthouse, grab some coffee, and soak in this little culture that feels years away from the busy hub bub of Tacoma and Seattle. A few years ago (before kids) my husband and I packed a picnic and found an empty beach where we laid and watched sailboats.
| Hood Canal // Olympic National Park |
Last but not least, be sure to include the Hood Canal, Lake Cushman, and the southern part of the National Park on your summer road trip list. Give yourself a few glorious days to savor this special area.
The Where: On the West side of the Hood Canal lies little towns dotted along the pristine blue water, sitting in the shadow of the mountains.
The How: Drive North up the 101 (stop in Hoodsport for a burger and ice cream), and head East on 119 out to Lake Cushman and the Staircase Ranger Station. You can camp out here, or just drive out for a few hours to explore some of the glorious hiking trails (be aware no dogs are allowed in the park). One of our favorite trails follows the Skokomish River here and it’s a great one for kids!
The What: After you’ve done some hiking , eaten your weight in burgers, stopped at the Hoodsport Winery, and admired the beaches along the canal, head south into Union to Alderbrook Resort. Here you can fill up on clam chowder, soak in a hot tub while the kids swim in the pool, and rent kayaks the next day to explore the calm waters of the canal.
What are your summer road trip plans? Tell us your favorite places to visit below!