After spending a rainy few weeks in Oregon, I was ready for sunshine ☀️. We drove up to Washington and I hoped for sunny skies in this gorgeous Pacific Northwest State. Luckily, Washington did not disappoint and we had beautiful weather for most of our travels there! Along the way, we got to see the three Washington National Parks and the wonderful city of Seattle.
I truly fell in love with Washington 💕 and all of the natural beauty in this state. As we drove, my eyes were glued to the windows taking in all of the views around us. It was so amazing that I have already started planning a return trip to see many of the things that we missed this first time around. Read below to find out how we spent a couple weeks exploring Washington in the van 🚐!
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Table of Contents
Washington National Parks Van Life
North Cascades National Park
Dylan and I drove a few hours from Seattle to see the stunning alpine lakes and mountains in North Cascades National Park NP #38. Because we visited in late June many of the trails and viewpoints were still closed due to snow on the ground. However, we were able to snag the last campground ⛺️ in the park for the weekend and we made the most of it!
On Saturday, we drove to the Blue Lakes trailhead area, but parking was closed from snow. So, we pulled off on the side of the road. This hike is supposed to be a moderate 4 mile hike, but it was one of the hardest experiences of my life 🥵. Multiple feet of snow ❄️ covered the trail, Dylan had to use GPS the entire time, I was still having trouble breathing from COVID, and I had extreme back cramps. Every step felt like it took me immense effort. I’m sure Dylan did not enjoy my complaints.
Despite my complaining, we eventually made it to the beautiful Blue Lake 🎉. The lake was frozen over, but it was still stunning. I want to return in the warmer months when the lake is clear and you can see the bright blue waters. We stopped for a few minutes, made a couple friends, and walked back down the snow covered trail with them. After the treacherous trek, we stopped at Washington Pass before returning back to our campsite for a lazy night.
Cutthroat Lake & Thunder Knob
The next morning, we woke up early to get on the trails. First, we went to Cutthroat Lake, which is technically in the National Forest adjacent to the park. I was feeling much better and the hike was very enjoyable. We crossed over streams, walked through the woods, and finally made our way to another clear mountain lake 💦. This one was free from ice and it was wonderful to see.
Then, we continued back towards the popular Diablo Lake area to go on the Thunder Knob trail. Again, this was a very pleasant hike through the woods that climbed up the mountain. At the end of the trail, we came to a ✨ stunning lookout ✨ over the magnificent Diablo Lake. It was a great spot to sit and take it all in. We went back down and put our feet in the ice cold waters of the turquoise lake before heading back to Seattle.
Even though we love spending time in the parks, we both really enjoyed the city of Seattle. We spent a few days seeing some of our loved ones and eating delicious food 🍝. Also, our best friend, Dana, flew in to visit us and the three of us stayed in the van together for an entire week! I thought it was going to be chaotic, but we kept the van fairly clean and we had a wonderful time being reunited.
Seattle was experiencing a heat wave 🔥, so we thought what better way to beat the heat then go on a hike near a lake? The Rattlesnake Lake area is an incredibly popular spot for groups to enjoy in the summertime.
We started by completing the Rattlesnake Ledge trail that climbs 2 miles straight up the mountain 🏔. It’s like a natural stairmaster. Despite how miserable I felt on Saturday, we completed this hike in record time. We were practically running up the mountain and we didn’t take a single break. Once we got to the peak, we stopped to enjoy the views of the aqua waters below and fantasized about jumping in.
Luckily, we were able to make our fantasy a reality. We quickly made our way down the mountain, grabbed our swimsuits, and headed directly for the lake. Although it was a little cold, it felt so good to plunge into the waters 🤿.
That night, we drove to visit my future sister-in-law’s parents. We stayed in their driveway, went to a delicious Thai meal with her dad, and did a load of laundry. Honestly, it was the perfect day 💫 and I couldn’t have been happier.
We quickly picked Dana from the airport after work one night and then we went to explore Seattle 🏙 and some of the Washington National Parks with her. First, we spent a couple of days working during the day and visiting some of the touristy spots after work.
Our first touristy stop was Pike Place Market, which is a huge food market by Lake Washington. This market is famous for this one fish stand where they sling the fish 🐠 around and throw them to each other. It’s entertaining to watch a large fish travel through the air from one worker to another. We got a lot of delicious food but the star of the show was the famous clam chowder from Pike Place Chowder.
Later that week, we enjoyed a few meals with various friends and family. First, we went back to Pikes Place to go to the brewery on the water with friends. Then, we got seafood with a view at Chinooks. Finally, we got a delicious Indian meal downtown. Our stomachs did not suffer in Seattle 😋.
Mount Rainier National Park
As soon as you enter the park and get your first view of Mount Rainier NP #39 🗻, you will be completely awe-struck 😮. This mountain is so incredible and so tall that it’s hard to fathom. However, in June this park is also still very snow covered, which makes for an exciting adventure! We spent a couple of days playing in the snow and admiring the austere mountain. This was probably my favorite of the Washington parks.
On our first day in Rainer, we drove directly to the Paradise area. This is the most popular section of the park and it draws visitors from all over to see the mountain up close. We took the Alta Vista trail from the visitor center, which was completely covered in slushy snow ⛄️. It was such a bizarre feeling to wear tank tops and walk on the snow.
This trail had 360 degree views at the end featuring, Rainier, the Tatoosh Mountains and Mount Saint Helens. Dylan, Dana and I started playing around in the snow with the crazy views behind us. We had a fake snowball fight and then we glissaded (butt sled) 🛷 down the trail. It was so fun to let out our inner children.
Then, we quickly stopped at Narada Falls before we drove down to a lower elevation to go on a less snowy hike. We took the Carter Falls trail that went over the river and through the woods (name that tune) to get to the falls. Honestly, I thought that Carter Falls was a little underwhelming, but I loved the shot of the river raging with Mt. Rainier in the background.
Rampart Ridge to Wonderland Trail
We stayed in the woods and woke up early to get into the park for one last hike. The rangers suggested that we do the Rampart Ridge to Wonderland Trail, so we took their advice. Parking was crowded at Longmire, but luckily we were able to get a spot 🚗.
The first two miles were a series of switchbacks that climbed up the mountain for 1300 feet and boy was it tiring, But, at the top we saw amazing views of the Tatoosh Mountains. We walked further to some of my favorite views that we got the whole weekend of Mount Rainier with wildflowers in the foreground 🌸. It was a great way to end our trip before heading back to Seattle.
Olympic National Park
After a quick night in Seattle, we drove through downpouring rain 🌧 to get to Olympic National Park NP #40. I had so many plans for amazing hikes and things to see, but in typical PNW fashion it was raining hard the entire time we were there. We decided to make the best of it and focus on the things that we could see.
Over a couple of days we went to see Sol Duc Falls, Marymere Falls, Rialto Beach, and the mossy Hoh Rainforest. All of these sights were beautiful, but I want to go back so I can do some of the more mountainous hikes. Luckily, we were with our best friend and we found an amazing secluded campsite in the woods 🌳, so we still had an amazing time!
We left Olympic and went back to Seattle on the 4th of July where we celebrated by eating a delicious Korean meal and then watching Top Gun. Sadly, it was our last night with Dana, but it was an incredible week of hanging in the van together.
After a few days in the Seattle area, we started to drive East to make our way back towards the East Coast. We stopped a couple hours away from Seattle in the adorable town of Leavenworth 😊. This town is a Bavarian style town with buildings that look like they came right from the mountains of Europe. Mountains surround the city and add to its European style.
We only had a day here, but I completely fell in love with it. Dylan and I spent the day working in the Bavarian style Starbucks and then we walked around the town to shop and hang out 🛍. Many of the shops have Christmas themed decor and sell nutcrackers. There is even a Reindeer farm, but it was closed when we were there.
Of course, we had to stop in Munchen Haus for a stein of beer 🍻, brats, and pretzels for the full effect. They were delicious and filled us up for the night. I plan on going back to this adorable area to spend more time in town, hike the Colchuck Lake Trail and hopefully backpack to the Enchantments!
We fell in love with the Washington National Parks and the incredible beauty of this state. I have never left somewhere that I immediately wanted to return, but this is one of those places. I cannot wait to see more of Washington one day. For now, we are heading East 👋🏻!
Places We Stayed
- Lone Fir Campground
- Snoqualmie River Street Parking (47.52663,-121.82165)
- Family friend’s driveway
- Madrona Park (47.61320,-122.28130)
- Street Parking Seattle
- Pull off in forest by Rainier (46.77405,-122.09811)
- Forest near Olympic National Park (47.88288,-124.55561)
Let me know if you enjoyed this van chronicles in the comments!
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