Head to our state's notable capital for an easy and educational family day trip.
1. Olympia and Tumwater
A snappy 60-mile drive from Seattle, our state’s notable capital of Olympia makes for an easy and educational family day trip. The city is best known for the Capitol campus and dome-capped Legislative Building, a great first stop in town. Start with the free hourly public tour; then, venture outside to explore the public monuments and art, or head to one of the city’s awesome museums.
The Hands On Children’s Museum is a must for the younger set, while older kids will love exploring vintage aircraft at the Olympic Flight Museum or learning all about water at the interactive (and free!) WET Science Center.
Wander the historic downtown and grab a bite at the funky King Solomon’s Reef diner, followed by a retro-style float at Grandpa’s Soda Fountain and Ice Cream Parlor. Then, head south to Tumwater Falls Park 10 minutes away, and take in the pretty waterfalls, footbridges, totem poles and a unique ship-themed playground. Or drive 10 miles east to the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, which features trails, local bird and animal species, and a neat nature exploration and learning activity area just for kids.
Go farther: About 65 miles from Seattle, you’ll find Mount Rainier National Park. Here, you can marvel at the state’s highest peak in all of its magnificence and the surrounding wilderness.
2. Port Townsend
The Olympic Peninsula is known for its incredible national park, but if April is still a bit too chilly for camping and hiking, try the quaint town of Port Townsend. It’s about a two-hour drive and a ferry ride away, and makes for a lovely home base for exploring the area.
A great place to start: Take a guided walking tour of the town’s pretty Victorian homes, followed by a walk through the charming downtown (be sure to stop by Whistle Stop Toys). Grab a frozen treat at the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, Elevated Ice Cream Co. and Candy Shop, and learn about sea creatures at the Northwest Maritime Center.
If you visit on a weekend between April and December, don’t miss the farmers’ market (and its annual goat parade). Finally, make a stop at Fort Worden State Park, a turn-of-the-century army base that is now prime grounds for beachcombing, hiking and awe-inspiring views of the Cascades. Be sure to visit the Marine Science Center on the pier at Fort Worden for a hands-on encounter with local sea life.
Go farther: With some advance planning and cooperative weather, Olympic National Park, with its incredible range of ecosystems, coastlines and rain forests, is on everyone’s list of favorites. The cabin lodging fills up quickly, so book as early as you can!
3. Winthrop and Methow Valley
Ready to take off on a longer-distance adventure? Dig into our region’s gold-mining history on a trip through the Methow Valley on your way to the kitschy-fun town of Winthrop.
Set along the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), Winthrop features Old West buildings and a cowboy country vibe that make it a popular visitor destination. Stroll the wooden boardwalks, shop for unique souvenirs and refuel at a retro saloon.
For an even more authentic — if spooky — look at the past, take a trek through the surrounding area’s former gold-rush towns and abandoned mines. An hour to the west of Winthrop is Barron, with intact structures and machinery remaining from its former prospecting glory. Eastward, Ruby, Montana Mine and Conconully (still populated) offer glimpses of the past; Nighthawk and Molson (which also has an open-air history museum) are a couple of hours north by car.
The valley is also known for outdoor pursuits, from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing to fishing and mountain biking. Winthrop accommodations are plentiful: Wolf Creek Cabins and the Wolfridge Resort are two family faves. April can still be snowy in these parts of the country, so monitor road conditions before heading out.
Go farther: An extra three hours’ drive will take you over the Canadian border and into the Okanagan Valley, strewn with cute resort towns, family-friendly wineries and stunning scenery.