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Seattle/Olympic Peninsula/North Cascades

Hello all,

I recently booked a trip to Rick Steves' neck of the woods: Seattle!

I know a good chunk of you are also from the area (and many others have visited) so I'm hoping for help with the nitty-gritty of my itinerary.

The main frame of my trip is already set:

August 19: Arrive in Seattle, stay two nights
August 20: Seattle
August 21: rent car, drive to Marblemount and stay for three nights
August 22: North Cascades
August 23: North Cascades
August 24: return to Seattle for another three nights
August 25: Seattle
August 26: Seattle
August 27: rent car, drive to Olympic Peninsula to stay at Lake Crescent Lodge for four nights
August 28: Olympic
August 29: Olympic
August 30: Olympic
August 31: Return to Seattle, flight for home leaves at 10 p.m.

My lodging at the national parks is already set, but I'm curious about itineraries to explore the parks themselves. Does anyone has any pointers on how to best explore these massive parks given their respective time-frames?

Also, I'm planning on staying at two different places in Seattle. The first stop (two nights) will be in a more "touristy" area, maybe Pike Place, Belltown or Capitol Hill.

However, I'm trying to find a more "local" place for the second stop (three nights). I was thinking maybe Ballard, but am open to other options. I would need it to be easily accessible by public transportation, with good restaurants, bars and live music nearby.

Any help would be appreciated!

Posted by
524 posts

A place that’s a little off the beaten path on the Olympic Peninsula (but not in the Park) is Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point on the contiguous US. It’s actually part of an Indian reservation. You can take an easy hike out to the point. The scenery is beautiful.

There’s a very small town that you drive through to get to the trailhead. We ate lunch at a non-descript cafe there.

My teenage sons and I did this hike years ago and had the place to ourselves. They had just finished the trail/boardwalk at that time, so it wasn’t very well known. It might be busier now, but I never see it mentioned, so it’s probably still a quiet place.

Here’s a couple links:

We also took a hike in the Hoh Rain Forest led by a park ranger. He was very knowledgeable and personable. I learned a lot more than if I just wandered through on my own.

Posted by
4637 posts

I can see you did your homework. I would just add for Seattle: Go to the University of Washington campus - very beautiful. Chateau St.Michelle winery. It's in French style. You can go for a free excursion and some basic tasting, If you want to taste more you pay. Short drive from Seattle are Snoqualmie Falls, quite higher than Niagara. Don't skip Tillicum village. It is an Indian village on the island. Obviously you will get there by Argosy boat. Indians will perform dances and sing songs and they will cook a good Northwest salmon for you. There is so much more to see and enjoy in Seattle and I simply don't want to write so much, go to the Visitor Center which is located in Washington State Convention Center. Olympics National Park: go and see Hurricane Ridge. Not too difficult hike is from Lake Ozette to Cape Alava (3 miles, then on the beach (3 miles) then back to Lake Ozette (3 miles) so all together 9 miles. If you are not a hiker, stop at Kalaloch Lodge and see and walk on the beaches there. North Cascades National Park: If you like strenuous hikes once you are in Marblemount drive 23 miles to the end of Cascade Road and there you can see fantastic scenery already from the trailhead. And this is still nothing comparing when you hike toward Cascade Pass and then if you continue toward Sahalee Glacier on Sahalee Arm, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Well, I already did some hikes in Carpathians, the Alps, even Himalaya. IMHO none of them matches Sahalee Arm hike with scenery. The second day I bet you will take it easy and mostly rest and the third day you can do Hidden Lake Lookout. After several miles you turn left from Cascade road and drive toward the trailhead. Very scenic hike. I consider it the second most scenic hike in the state of Washington. If you are not a hiker (I would think that would be unfortunate). Drive on North Cascade road (Highway 20) beyond Marblemount to Winthrop (the town is in the theme of the Wild West. Next day drive to Chelan town and take a boat toward the end of the same name lake (55 mIles). The town of Stehekin is not connected by roads to the outside world. You can get there only by a boat, plane or by a long hike (not a day hike). There you can stay overnight. And then you drive from the town of Chelan to Leavenworth. You will think you are in Bavaria. And then you drive across the Stevens Pass back to Seattle. And there is another National Park in the state of Washington: Mt.Rainier N.P. The mountain is a dormant volcano. 4392 meters or 14410 ft. If you would still have time it is worth visiting too.

Posted by
2651 posts

Ballard is a great choice. I love Ballard - it's my current favorite Seattle neighborhood. It feels like Seattle from 50 years ago - low-rise buildings, great stores and restaurants, very walkable. Ballard has an awesome Sunday market, if you're there on a Sunday. Make sure you get some Salt and Straw ice cream while you're there - best ice cream I've ever eaten.

Posted by
194 posts

August 21: rent car, drive to Marblemount and stay for three nights

As you know, unless you're camping, there's no lodging within North Cascades NP itself. So Marblemount is nice as far as it goes, but it's pretty unremarkable compared to some alternatives along Highway 20. Since you'll already be spending a decent amount of time west of the Cascades, consider basing the North Cascades portion of your adventure in the Methow Valley (Mazama or Winthrop). It's on the drier, warmer east side of the mountains, and the scenery is much more wide open and dramatic than the heavily forested western slopes around Marblemount. The town of Winthrop has a old-time western vibe, and lots of character.

You will travel through Marblemount both on your way up to the NP and on your way back, so to the extent you did have specific things you wanted to do/see in that area, you could still do that. But what you'll really want to do is spend as much time as you can in North Cascade NP itself, preferably above 4,000 ft., where all the cool scenery is. All of that is a closer daily drive back and forth with more to do and see along the way if you base yourself in the Methow Valley.

Some amazing hikes just off the road on both sides of Highway 20 include Blue Lake, Cutthroat Lake and Rainy Pass. And there are some gorgeous drives and places to explore within the Methow Valley itself that will be unique compared to what you'll experience on the west side.

The drive to and from Seattle and Olympic NP involves a ferry crossing each way (unless you really want to take the long way around and add about 2-3 hours each way to your drive, which I wouldn't suggest). So make sure you factor ferry wait times into your plans, as they tend to get busy in the summer, unless you go very early in the morning or very late in the evening.

And Ballard, as already mentioned, is pretty cool, and has lots to offer as an alternative base to the usual Pike Place/Capitol Hill/Belltown locations.

Posted by
255 posts

Although it is not especially cheap, I'd recommend getting from Seattle to the ONP by taking the ferry across Puget Sound (about 1 hour on the water). See On a clear day the views from the water are fantastic and you might even see whales. I did not see anyone mention the Hoh Rainforest in the ONP - a temperate zone rainforest which is rather unusual. Although I love the boat ride from Chelan to Stehekin & back, it does take most of the day and is far from Marblemount. You might instead consider one of the Skagit Tours run by Seattle City Light ( which gives you a great view of the N Cascades on a shorter (albeit manmade) lake that is much closer to Marbelmount.

Posted by
5697 posts

Not outdoorsy, but -- in Seattle consider seeing the Chihouly museum of gigantic blown glass artworks, near the Space Needle area.

Posted by
1118 posts

OK, I'm local, and I just got thru taking in all the tourist stuff with visiting family over the holidays. Here's my $0.02 worth:

For "in city" hotels I usually recommend the W or the Sheraton. The W because it's on the monorail line and gets you around without having to use a taxi/Uber, and the Sheraton because it's an easy walk to Pike St Market and/or the convention center. But my favorite is the Arctic Club, which is close to both Pioneer Square and the International District.

For a more "local" place it depends. I'm not really sold on Ballard, in my opinion Magnolia's nicer, but that's pretty close in. Fremont would be my choice also if placed up to Ballard, but that's because it's a much more walk-able neighborhood. I'll suggest West Seattle, because it's more small town, distinct from downtown both culturally and physically, and because if you can get a place facing Elliot Bay the views can be amazing as the city lights up. Plus you have an excuse to use the water taxi across the bay. Another choice would be a place around Green Lake, but NOT on 99.

I've never stayed in Marblemount, but I used to run away on weekends just up the road to Lake Diablo and get a cabin there. We'd play on the lake, and hike locally. There are a lot of turnouts on the road going up there, and you can park in one and walk down to the river and all over the canyon. It's great for quiet, undisturbed picnicking.

In the Olympics you'll find everyone hikes Hurricane Ridge. It's more like a city sidewalk for traffic. Nice easy hike though.

I'll let you in on a secret: drive an hour west to La Push. Then take the road to Second Beach and hike that out to the water. Fantastic! and if you really want to stretch the legs and be alone, go a couple more miles down the trail to Third Beach. Picture postcard scenery. Take food and water, and a rain jacket!

Other than just hiking around, I recommend you take an afternoon and visit Port Townsend. Google it.

In town stuff to do? I'll recommend the following:

Pike St Market/the waterfront/Pioneer Square - You can easily do all these in a day, and that encompasses the Art Museum, the Aquarium, etc. They are all in walking distance of each other. You cannot do it all, but leave some for next time.

The Space Needle/The Museum of Pop Culture/The Glass Gardens - This is another day in itself, and more if you throw in the Pacific Science Center. It can take a couple hours to get up to the top of the Space Needle due to lines, and summer is peak tourist season. The Museums also are time issued tickets, so you can only enter within the 1/2 hour segment you choose.

You're going to miss the best weekend open markets (Fremont & Edmonds) because they are Saturdays only, but Fremont is worth walking around. If you add in the Burke (at UW) or kayaking Lake Union that's a full day.

If you like old airplanes you have choices, and if you like old cars you have more. Boeing's Museum of Flight, The FHC Museum at Paine Field, the LeMay Car Museum in Tacoma, and the LeMay family collection just down the road in Parkland. (LeMay liked his cars.)

If you like Asian Food I suggest the International District (KauKau BBQ is a favorite of mine), and you can easy lose track of time at the Pinball Museum just down the block.

If the weather's good take a lunch and go sit at one of the tables at Daybreak Star, odds are you'd be the only one there. And you have a fantastic view up the Sound to Mt Adams and can watch the sailboat races. Often can see/hear sea lions too. There are a number of good hikes in that park, the most popular being down to the lighthouse.

Don't forget: In August the sun is up at 0500 and it gets dark around 2200. It's the dry/warm time of year but it can rain. A light rain jacket and hat are normal accessories, everyone wears shorts, and nobody carries an umbrella.

Posted by
162 posts

Thank you all for the helpful guidance! A couple of followup questions:

  • How sufficient is public transportation from Ballard/Fremont/West Seattle to Downtown and around the rest of the city?
  • How long does it usually take to board the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island to get to Olympic National Park. The ferry terminal is literally right Downtown, so I assume there is lots of traffic.
  • Any need to keep a car while in Seattle to see worthwhile sights, like to visit the Museum of Flight, Alki Beach, etc.?
Posted by
1118 posts

I can't help on the in town public trans, because I've never used any. I have used Lyft and Uber, and they are all over. But usually I just park near where I'm going and walk.

Note - Seattle is built on hills, and so is most of the area. Grades can run up to 14%. Wear shoes with traction soles or be prepared to pay the price. Also be able to do some serious walking.

I rarely take the Bainbridge ferry, but one of the guys I work with does often as he lives out past Gig Harbor and his daughter is at UW. Walk on, it's pretty easy to get on the ferry you want; they leave every hour and it takes about that long to make the trip. But the ferry dock is under construction, and so they're using the smaller boats. Not sure how long that's going to last, but the wait in summer can easy be 1-2 boats deep. (If I had to wait for more than 2 hours I'd just drive south to Tacoma and over from there.)

The Museum of flight is south of the Dome, about 15-30 minutes from the city center. Straight down 4th and turn on Marginal Way. Parking is free. Alki Beach is 30-40 minutes from downtown depending. During rush hour it can be more. Parking can suck. But it's one of the few sandy beaches around so it's popular. I'm really not sure why this is a tourist destination, but it is. My niece (who lives in Colorado and has never been here) had it on her "list". In the rain at Christmas it wasn't impressive.

Seattle parking is crazy expensive, and in many cases you can be limited on how long you can stay. Do not, unless you want to chance towing or a $245 ticket, fail to pay for parking. They don't joke. If I'm staying in town (which I do for certain events so as not to fight traffic and because I do partake of alcohol) I usually just leave the car in the hotel lot ($25-60/day) and use Uber for the close stuff. But I'd drive to either Boeing or Alki.

I'm not current on the music venues, but there's so much good food in the area it's hard to go wrong. Serious Pie or Biscuit Bitch are go to's for breakfast. I usually just hit the basics around Pike. Anthony's is the local higher end seafood place, but they have another place over in the commercial marina at Magnolia called Chinook's that has the same menu but cheaper prices. Salty's at Alki is good but expensive, Pegasus Pizza is a better choice over there. Matts Chili Dogs just up from Boeing has been there forever. Taneda on Capitol Hill for Sushi. Walrus and Carpenter in Ballard for Oysters. In Fremont just go into PCC (a co-op) and hit the deli section. San Fernando on Rainier for Peruvian. Bakery Nouveau for pastry. There's just so many good places...

Posted by
11497 posts
Posted by
255 posts

Nathan B - in response to your followup questions, I offer these thoughts:

"sufficiency" of public transportation is in the eye of the beholder. IMO as an occasional user, one can get to most attractions in & around the city on transit if one has time to endure milk runs and can do a little bit of walking. I'd suggest you study this website: It will give you info on how often buses run between Ballard and Downtown for example, etc. Note near the bottom of that web page that there are many other "transit agencies" in the metro area that may have some overlap with Metro, example: Sound Transit runs the LINK light rail service and some long haul buses. The various agencies are not consolidated and you must look at each one separately. There is a trip planning tab that may help. I just checked and I see the #56 bus still gets you from downtown to the Alki area in about 30 mins. Bus 124 goes from downtown to Museum of Flight in about 35 mins.

The WA State Ferries website is very helpful for getting out to the ONP. Of course the ferry traffic is always busier at commute times and on weekdays, but I suspect you will be going against the major flows. I agree with joe32f's idea of getting the ferry from Edmonds, instead of Seattle. Edmond is a cute town, it's a lot easier to navigate than Seattle and it gives you an excuse to stop by RS' place.

Best wishes

Posted by
8634 posts

I live on the Olympic Peninsula and am a frequent ferry rider. Late August is prime tourist season and the ferries will be busy. Your wait will be less if you go early morning. Bainbridge ferry has amazing views of the Seattle skyline. Edmonds ferry won’t have all the ferry terminal construction you would have to deal with downtown. The Rick Steves travel center is about 5 blocks from the ferry terminal in Edmonds.

I usually arrive 45 minutes prior to scheduled departure in summer. I change that to an hour if mid-day or I really need to make a specific ferry.

I would encourage you to check out which is set up by a trip advisor destination expert for ONP. Lots of good info. there.

Posted by
1321 posts

The Zoo in Seattle is pretty cool. I prefer Fremont to Ballard and Green Lake to Fremont. Having worked in Wallingford and visiting each for lunch regularly. I lived in West Seattle - a block of Alki - and although I loved it - I wouldn't spend time there on vacation. Better places to spend your time.

Seattle has pretty crummy public transportation in my opinion...nothing like Portland :(.

The Mediterranean Inn is pretty fun and in a neat neighbor. We stay there sometimes when we now visit Seattle.

Posted by
4637 posts

People are mentioning Fremont neighborhood. Go there and see the statue of Lenin. I think it's the only statue of Lenin in the whole United States.

Posted by
1118 posts

And it's ironic that it's right across the street from Google...

Posted by
7050 posts

I went to Seattle about 2 years ago and stayed in the Queen Anne neighborhood at the MarQueen Hotel (I would recommend it - I was able to get a very good price for it when everything else was crazy expensive - I think I used though and just rolled the dice and got very lucky). Having a car in Seattle (proper) is not worth it - overnight parking is too steep and public transport is excellent. I had a bus station right outside and hopped on the D bus to Ballard. Seattle has an awesome BRT (bus rapid transit system) and the buses come literally every 10 minutes or so ( I totally disagree that it's "pretty crummy" (quite opposite, it's expanding like crazy) and I've used the one in Portland as well, so I can compare the two.

I think too many people forget that buses are public transit and can be a very good way to get around, it's not just metro and light rail. Seattle has a very solid system, that's why ridership has grown very quickly unlike other parts of the country. I came in by ferry from Victoria, BC and left via SEATAC. It was easy to get to SEATAC from Seattle (Queen Anne neighborhood) without a car.

Posted by
162 posts

Thank you all for the helpful advice.

I do plan on using Seattle's public transportation quite a bit, though I walk around Pittsburgh now (which also has poor rail service, major bodies of water and many hills) with no problems.

I'm sure I'll be back to pick your minds again before August.

Posted by
106 posts

Thank you all for the helpful guidance! A couple of followup questions:

How sufficient is public transportation from Ballard/Fremont/West Seattle to Downtown and around the rest of the city?
How long does it usually take to board the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island to get to Olympic National Park. The ferry terminal is literally right Downtown, so I assume there is lots of traffic.
Any need to keep a car while in Seattle to see worthwhile sights, like to visit the Museum of Flight, Alki Beach, etc.?


I live in Seattle, and get by largely by bus. Yes it takes a bit more time, but parking can be a pain. If I'm out late and feel the need, I get a Lyft.

1) For what you have in mind, public transportation works well. From Downtown to Ballard the D Line, from Downtown to West Seattle the C Line. There are other many other buses as well. There are many phone apps available. I'm not a fan of the Metro app, but for general information, you may want it. I use a local app "One Bus Away". It incorporates the all the transit in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties (Metro, Community Transit, Sound Transit, and Pierce Transit) which is pretty much everything you'll need.

2) To get to the Peninsula, you probably will want to take the ferry from Edmonds. Many others have given you the links, so I won't. The drive around is lovely, but be prepared for delays and check the roads around Lake Crescent. They are fairly narrow and windy, and there are often delays in the summer when repairs are being made. Hopefully nothing will slide into the lake this year.

3) Really no need to keep a car for the time you are in Seattle proper. The 124 bus to the Museum of Flight leaves dwontown every 15 minutes. To get to Alki, you can take the Metro water taxi. Make sure to go to Marination Ma Kai for some Hawaiian-Korean food. It is conveniently located right by the water taxi dock.

That's all fro now. I'll try to get back ere with some other suggestions soon.