Advice? Ask A Local!

Scenic Washington State | Best Road Trips in Washington State | Local Travel Advice

Planning a visit to Washington but need a little help planning the best route and things to do? Never fear, our staff of local experts (like Marcus pictured here in his 1962 Nash Metropolitan) have traveled nearly every back road in the state can either help you from personal experience of point you in the direction of someone who can.


Q. Marcus,
My wife and I are planning a trip to visit your great area for the first time. We bought a home in Poulsbo so we will eventually be regulars but have been told we must make the trip to see the islands. My question is what would you suggest the best way and route to take. We are planning on arriving on a Friday morning but can also make the trip during the week. We would like to start the adventure from Poulsbo. We are looking at the month of June so please let me know what you recommend. Transportation and hotel accommodations would be helpful. We want to spend 2 nights and see as much as possible.
Thank You

A. Hi Joe,
Let me start by saying Poulsbo is a great little town… you’ll enjoy the strong sense of community there. Regarding a visit to the “Islands” I need to clarify a couple of points. The “Drive off the Mainland” campaign you attached is for two islands, Whidbey and Camano that both have plenty of things to see and do. If these are the islands you’re interested in visiting, the best route from Poulsbo would be to cross the Hood Canal Bridge and drive north on US-101 to Port Townsend… a very neat historic Victorian seaport community. (The entire downtown is on the National Historic Registry.) Take the ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville to reach Whidbey Island. CLICK HERE for a link to their website which includes accommodation and transportation information.

The “islands” your friends told you to see could also be the San Juan Islands. From Poulsbo, go to Port Townsend to catch the ferry to Whidbey Island. From there follow WA-20 across the stunning Deception Pass bridge and follow the signs to Anacortes where you can catch a Washington State Ferry to the San Juans. While many of the islands have some tourist appeal, I’d recommend San Juan Island to get the most bang for your short stay buck. CLICK HERE for a link to their website which includes accommodation and transportation information.

Let me know if you need any more specific information.

Thanks for the inquiry and welcome to Washington!

Marcus, this is what I needed. Yes, he did mention the San Juan Islands as well. I want to see it all. So I can take the car on the ferry to both Whidbey, Camano, and San Juan? Man, I can't wait to start our Washington adventure. We are both from the Southside of Chicago and currently in Kansas City Missouri. I am so sick and tired of the mid-west. Again, I really appreciate this information.
PS – You are correct. Port Townsend is really a neat town. We won’t be that far form Poulsbo. We will spend many a Saturday afternoon in Port Townsend.

Q. Hello,
I am in the midst of planning a trip to you for the fall of 2018. I would like some advice on length of stay at certain points. I am looking at 3 days in Seattle; 2-3 days on the Cascade Loop; 4 days in the Olympia Peninsula; 1 day on the Columbia River Gorge; 1 day at Mt. St Helen's; 1 day at Mt. Ranier; 1 day back at Seattle airport & then return home to MI.

Does this make sense or do you have other suggestions?
Thanks, Bill

A. Yes…. your plan is feasible in terms of timeline but I might make a couple of recommendations. The trip up to Mount St. Helens’ Johnston Ridge Observatory is one way in and one way out; about a full day of driving including stops at the visitor center and observatory at the top. This is a great trip and hanging out in downtown Longview has a lot of benefits. However, if time is an issue, one way to maximize it would be to connect Rainier, St. Helens and the Gorge on a big loop of sorts.If you have a Washington State map, you can trace this plan.

From Seattle, head south to Tacoma and catch WA-7 south to Elbe where it intersects with WA-706. Go east on WA-706 to Paradise (the absolute “must” place to stand at the base of Mount Rainier); then follow the road south that takes you past Reflection Lake to Ohanepecosh State Park. (Be sure to stop when you see the signs and take the short hike to see the Grove of the Patriarchs—a stand of massive old growth forest). From Ohanepecosh, go south on WA-103 to US-12 then go west toward Packwood. This might be a good place to spend the night. From Packwood, continue west to Randle and take WA-131 south toward the Windy Ridge Observatory. This is a really excellent view of Mount St. Helens, Spirit Lake and a standing dead forest.

From here, continue south on a forest service road (paved, good condition) and follow the signs to Trout Lake, White Salmon and Bingen. Bingen is on the banks of the Columbia so you can turn east or west on WA-14.  I’d turn east as far as Maryhill Museum and a replica of Stonehenge and a visit to Maryhill Winery; swing into Columbia Hills State Park to see a bunch of native petroglyphs that were rescued from inundation by the John Day Dam—some can be seen from the parking lot but others require a reservation and guided tour with a park ranger. From there, backtrack to Stevenson to spend the night… check out the Skamania Lodge for lodging.
There is a great Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center in Stevenson to visit; a recommended stop.  If you take the guided tour, one of the petroglyphs you’ll see at Columbia Hills is the basis for their logo (She Who Watches). I think the hike to the top of Beacon Rock is worth the time (a little over an hour). The trail is a series of switchbacks to the very top; not extremely difficult but it is not super easy either depending on what kind of shape you’re in; the view of the river from the top is stunning.

From there, continue west to Vancouver( Fort Vancouver is a pretty neat Hudson’s Bay fur trading post with reenactors who are “stuck in time” and can explain the workings of the fort back in its heyday.) From Vancouver, you can gead north on I-5 back to Seattle or better yet, follow the Lewis & Clark trail through Longview and on to the Pacific Coast at Long Beach to begin your exploration up the Olympic Peninsula.

I’m pretty jealous… your itinerary includes a lot of my favorite road trips. Let me know how it goes and if you have any specific questions about any of the other legs, don’t hesitate to ask.

Thanks for the inquiry,