A great Seattle weekend trip: from whale watching San Juan islands to the best hikes in Olympic National Park

On the pockmarked inlet of Puget Sound lies Seattle; cultural powerhouse of the Pacific Northwest, capital of Washington State and gateway to the most incredible island getaways. Whether you want to whale-watch in the shallows around the San Juan islands or hike rainforests within Olympic National Park, Seattle weekend getaways will surely exceed your expectations. Roll down your window while passing through downtown to find epic Mount Rainier vistas underscoring a futuristic coastal city where big tech meets maritime adventure. Those looking to dip into Seattle weekend getaways should look no further than Mr Hudson’s best weekend itinerary.

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Anacortes | Photo: Rajiv Perera

Gay Seattle

Open-minded and progressive with a packed LGBTQ+ event schedule throughout the year, Seattle is a gay man’s paradise. Take your pick from any of the city’s distinct neighbourhoods, choosing to mingle with artsy types in Fremont, sample hip fusion food in Ballard or discover the upcoming South Lake Union before everyone else. Ultimately though, the epicentre of gay Seattle lies on Capitol Hill. The mix of bars, cafes, restaurants and stores here are either queer-run or queer-friendly, creating community in a part of the city that celebrates non-conformity and diversity. As well as being known among the gay community for its grassroots movements and as the home of Seattle Pride, Capitol Hill truly lucks out for its proximity to fresh air and open space, with incredible views over Lake Union and Portage Bay. Suss out Seattle in more detail with a browse through our full Seattle travel guide.

Photo: Chase Fade

Seattle | Photo: Ben Dutton

Getting to San Juan from Seattle

With such pretty views over Puget Sound, the journey from Seattle to San Juan islands is one to be savoured. It’s just two hours’ drive from the city to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, with an optional detour to see the state-famous Deception Pass Bridge just off Interstate Highway 5 North. Once in Anacortes, opt to board your car or just walk on, stopping at Lopez, Orcas and Shaw islands before arriving in San Juan.

A nice alternative without the drive is to take the Friday Harbor ferry which departs from downtown Seattle over the summer months. Ferry from Seattle to Friday Harbor in just over one hour, enjoying views over Pacific waters and the San Juan archipelago. If you’re riding the San Juan island ferry from April to October, reserve your spot in advance!

Photo: Yan L

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Wherever you stay, the San Juan Islands have plenty of outdoor activities to keep your travel gang amused, spanning as many as 172 islands and reefs

San Juan Islands

Understated and environmentally friendly, these special Seattle islands known as ‘the San Juans’ are well worth the boat ride. Ever-popular among couples and families is San Juan Island which is easily navigated on foot and tourist-friendly. Fill your time with sailing and whale-watching adventures, stopping for wine tasting and fresh seafood feasts within walking distance of cosy accommodations. When the weather is just right, consider biking around the island and posing within the island’s lavender fields and meadows.

Wherever you stay, the San Juan Islands Seattle have plenty of outdoor activities to keep your travel gang amused, spanning as many as 172 islands and reefs. Unconventional travellers might opt to stay on the lesser populated (yet still easily accessible) Orcas, Lopez and Shaw Islands. All host beachside accommodations and their own individual character with a shared emphasis on the slow life. Try Lopez Village for cutesy cafes and restaurants, saving Orcas Island’s Moran State Park for hiking day trips with the added option of wilderness camping on any one of the state parks belonging to Orca or Shaw Island.

San Juan’s whales are one of the region’s biggest attractions, with several pods of Orca whales living in the surrounding waterways. Set out on a full-day whale-watching tour from nearby Friday Harbor any time of year, learning about the fascinating whale research being done locally while tracking whale families from a respectful distance. Several whale-watching tour providers offer tours from Friday Harbor but look for credentials such as membership to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) for your best bet of catching sight of these majestic creatures. For a smooth trip, book in advance and get first pick of the best packages!

Photo: Blanche Peulot

Photo: Taylor Harding

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Verdant and humid throughout the years, Hoh Rain Forest is a must-see for its heady spectrum of emerald canopies hung with club moss and spruce needles

Olympic National Park

After shamelessly showing off our beach bodies on San Juan, we travel next to the Olympic Peninsula, home of the sprawling Olympic National Park. The park is split into four basic regions: central alpine areas, outlying Pacific coastline, temperate rainforest to the west and drier forests to the east. With such diverse territory, it’s not so surprising that the park nurtures three separate ecosystems, each split between sub-alpine forest and wildflower meadow, temperate forest and Pacific shore. The sheer scale of Olympic National Park can be daunting so let us present a few of the highlights…

Once you’ve donned your walking boots and packed your anorak, your first stop might be Hoh Rain Forest where the rain only dies down from July to September. Verdant and humid throughout the year, Hoh Rain Forest is a must-see for its heady spectrum of emerald canopies hung with club moss and spruce needles. If time is short, walk the Hall of Mosses Trail beside the Olympic National Park Visitor Centre or, with a full day (and optional overnight stay – with permit), tackle the 17.4 Hoh River Trail which shows Hoh in all its green glory. More jungle vibes await within Quinault Rain Forest, home of some of the world’s largest trees, including a 1,000 year old Sitka spruce measuring 191 feet tall. Venture off on a trail through moss-covered forest before ending the day back on the Rain Forest Loop Drive to search for Roosevelt Elk. Also in the “Valley of the Giants” is the lynchpin of Lake Quinault, the base for many Olympic National Park lodging and camping spots. Try kayaking and canoeing on the water, or simply soak up total serenity along the water’s edge.

Photo: Ali Kazal

Hoh Rainforest | Photo: Joshua Earle

To get a little perspective on the park at large, a top choice is to climb up to Hurricane Ridge, 17 miles south of Port Angeles. Although in winter the ridge lives up to its windy name, in summer the spot offers spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains and the Olympic Peninsula coastline. After seeing the beaches from afar, we must see one up-close, venturing to the southern end of the park’s 73-mile coastline for the best pick. Within the marine and wildlife sanctuary, in particular, find rugged beauties such as Kalaloch Beach, Beach 1-4 and Ruby Beach. Energetic souls may want to hike the coastline while keeping an eye out for bald eagles and gulls, but a windy beach day is also a fine choice, finished off with a stay at Kalaloch Lodge which sits atop a coastal bluff and boasts views for days. If your trip takes place closer to the western forests, try Rialto Beach for equally rugged beach days, complete with holey rock formations and camping opportunities.

Two more watery excursions can be had at Sol Duc Falls and Lake Crescent. The glacier-made Lake Crescent lies in the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains offering water-sports and day activities within stunning environs. As well as rare trout, the lake also surprises its visitors with some of the best Olympic National Park hikes nearby, such as the one cutting through ancient forests to Marymere Falls. Alternatively, take a one-mile hike to the more exclusive Sol Duc Falls, bypassing a canyon by bridge on the way before being rewarded with an up-close view of white water sheets crashing onto a black rock rift. Tend to your sore muscles afterwards with a dip in the Olympic Hot Springs, just a stone’s throw from Sol Duc. And, to be safe on all of your adventures, always keep track of weather alerts on the official NPS website.

Olympic National Park | Photo: Jachan Devol

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Anacortes | Photo: Hannah Cenusa

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