My oldest graduated from high school this past spring. I think it might be a fading trend across the US, but our school system did not encourage or organize any sort of senior trip. Because traveling has become such an important part of our lives, I proposed a mother-son trip to his destination of choice.
He chose Washington.
I have long wished to explore the national parks in Washington so this was a welcome decision! It proved to be one that I was a bit ill-prepared for, but we made it work. Here's the rundown...
First task... choosing a place to stay. If you Google "where should I stay in Seattle," you will be convinced that no place in safe in this crime-ridden area of the country. I am honestly SO SURPRISED by these reviews. We loved every minute of wandering the city and found an almost Utopia-like environment that left us longing for more time there! I wouldn't hesitate to stay in any of the major neighborhoods in and around the city. They were each charming in their own way.
We rented a super cool Airbnb near Pigeon Point on the other side of the bay, directly across from Downtown Seattle. It was an ideal location to set up home base. We had easy access to great coffee (highly recommend the Caffe Generra from Uptown Espresso!), groceries (Trader Joe's is always a treat), and the interstate!
Because we had big plans, I rented a small hybrid SUV through Turo. I wound up driving 700 miles over the course of 5 days! I was so grateful to have a reliable car at my disposal.
BTW, gas is currently more than $5.50 per gallon (!!!) so driving a hybrid was a blessing that I wouldn't have understood otherwise.
We spent our first day and a half in the city. We hit all of the touristy hot spots, but our favorite was the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. It was soul satisfying. I can't imagine the task of keeping all of the outdoor glass installations clean, but someone does it!! I noticed!
Tip: Before buying attraction tickets, be sure to check out Groupon or buy a City Pass. We saved a lot of money that way.
We also ventured outside of the city to see the beautiful Snoqualmie Falls. It was a great little hike to the base of the falls. We made our way on down to the river and spent time on the water, recharging our batteries and taking it all in.
On Day 3, we headed east to Mount Ranier National Park. We took our time getting out that morning, but thought we would still be earlier than the crowds. We were wrong! It's a 2-hour drive from Seattle; however, a bad car wreck (not us) put us behind another hour and a half. It was nearly noon by the time we arrived to the park entrance.
And now we arrive in this story at my first moment of "I should have known better..."
I was blindly following the GPS to the park visitors' center, which took us the LONGEST way around the park. We pulled up to a ranger's station in a campground and said, "this can't be right." Oh dear goodness, it wasn't. I had researched the trek prior to our visit and knew which entrance I wanted to navigate to, but once I turned on GPS, I just allowed myself to trust it. Dumb mistake.
When planning your visit, it's best to enter through the Nisqually entrance. Use the address: 39000 State Route 706 E, Ashford, WA 98304.
I will say, we enjoyed the journey and made a few stops along the way. So it wasn't a total loss of time.
Once we were back on track, we had the best day hiking in and around and up, up, up to the volcano. We saw marmots, silly chipmunks, snakes, and strange birds that I didn't recognize. We waded in glacial lakes and walked through alpine-like meadows. Mount Ranier is so environmentally diverse! It was incredible.
The High Skyline trail was VERY steep, but worth every bit of energy. Truly a magical experience for us both.
On Day 4, we headed to Olympic National Park, the next stop on my "I should have known better" train. We took the ferry across from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. It was so easy - and quick! We enjoyed the comfortable boat ride and drove right off to begin our journey to the park.
I believe, without traffic, this leg of the trip should have taken about an hour and a half, but we met a lot of road construction that really slowed us down. All-in-all, it took us about two and a half hours to get to the visitors' center. We did not make it in time to see Hurricane Ridge. We missed out on exploring in and around Mount Olympus, but that will be a must-do on a return trip.
When researching the park, I diligently made a list of all of the sights we wanted to see, including making note of the best order to see them in. We were trying to maximize our visit. However, I didn't realize how spread out the park actually was. When I saw that it was a 3-hour drive FROM THE VISITORS' CENTER to Ruby Beach, I was taken by surprise. That's a longggggg drive.
But we did it! It was a VERY long day of driving, but we saw a massive diversity of landscapes along the way, including Sol Duc Valley, Crescent Lake, and the Hoh Rainforest. We ended the day watching the sunset on Ruby Beach. I could not have imagined a more perfect ending to this adventure.
After that, it was a 3-hour drive back to the house. On winding country roads. In the dark. Whew.
If I had to make a list of highlights, it would include the following:
- Favorite Meal: Seattle Fish Company
- Best Tourist Attraction: Chihuly, followed by MoPop
- Favorite Hike: The trails around the Hoh Rainforest - we dodged yellow jackets the whole time, but it was so much fun. And the woods were incredible.
- Most Memorable Moment: Watching the sun set across the Pacific Ocean
And, of course, all of the special memories created with my son. He was appropriately moody for a teenager, but I think he will treasure the adventure.
I'm already preparing an itinerary for a return trip. There is so much to see and enjoy! Please share your recommendations in the comments.