Colorful tulips on a flower field in Washington State

23 Washington State Travel Tips to Know in 2023 (By a Local)

Read these Washington State travel tips before you visit to avoid any surprises!

I’ve called the Evergreen state home for over a decade and learned some of these tips the hard way, but you don’t have to. I’ve gathered my best Washington travel tips to help every kind of visitor.

Whether you want to hike, enjoy Washington wines, go on small-town excursions, or try any of the other fun activities in Washington these tips are for you. 

Here are 23 things to know before visiting Washington State.

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23 Travel Tips for Washington State

#1 – Don’t Expect All of the Evergreen State to Be Green

Colorful sky over the Palouse Valley during sunset
This isn’t the image most people have in their mind when they think of Washington, but it’s what one one half of the state looks like

Washington is nicknamed the Evergreen State, but its landscape is much more diverse than most visitors realize. Go east of the Cascade Mountains or to the southeast part of the state and you’ll find desert-like landscapes! 

Places like the Palouse region, Yakima Valley, and central Washington are dryer and less green than western Washington. You’ll find coulees, canyons, buttes, and farmland perfect for growing grapes, hops, and other produce in the eastern part of the state. 

#2 – Pack Differently for Eastern vs. Western Washington

Western and eastern Washington have different climates, so pack accordingly to ensure your comfort on your visit. For the most part, the west is wetter and milder in temperature while the east is drier with more extreme heat and cold.

You’ll want to pack some good rain gear if you’re visiting Seattle in winter. However, winter visits to Spokane necessitate a warm coat and snow boots. Hiking west of the Cascade Mountains in the summertime is a pleasant experience. But pack tons of water, plenty of sunscreen, and protective clothing for a summertime hike out east. 

#3 – But Always Pack Layers

The author, Chelsea Booker with he husband and in-laws during a winter hike in Washington State
Me, my husband, and my in-laws were happy to have layers on this hike which ended in a wintery wonderland

Want packing advice that applies to any part of the state? Bring layers. Layering your clothing will prevent you from overheating or getting too cold in both cities and towns or up in the mountains. 

Bring gloves, scarves, and hats if you’re prone to cold. Three layering pieces I find are best to have in the Pacific Northwest are a warm fleece, a light jacket (preferably with a hood), and a cozy vest.

#4 – Go to the National Parks

Scenic view of the Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State
The beautiful Mount Rainier National Park

Washington State is lucky enough to have three national parks, which are all incredible in their own way. 

Admire mountains, meadows, and waterfalls at Mount Rainier National Park. Explore mossy rainforests and coastal beaches at the Olympic National Park. Hike and camp among the jagged mountain peaks and turquoise waters of the North Cascades National Park. The latter even came in 2nd on our list of best national parks in the United States!

Whether or not you’re an avid hiker, make an effort to visit Washington’s national parks. This state is known for its nature and these parks prove why.

#5 – Go Beyond The Big Cities

The author, Chelsea Booker feeding an alpaca at Alpaca Farm on Vashon Island
The Alpaca Farm on Vashon Island makes it one of my favorite small towns to visit

While the cities are great, Washington State’s many small towns are just as appealing and offer a more well-rounded picture of what life is like in the Evergreen state. 

Visit laidback and artsy Langley or go further east to the Wild West-style town of Winthrop. Leavenworth is probably the most popular small town in the state. And all the tiny towns on the Long Beach Peninsula are perfect for relaxing getaways. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience all the small-town charm the state has to offer. 

#6 – Bring the Right Rain Gear

The author, Chelsea Booker with her friend during the  rainy day race
Me and my friend thoroughly drenched after a rainy day race in December… glad I had my rain jacket though!

If you’re visiting western Washington anytime in fall through spring, you’ll need to be prepared for the rain. Bring a good rain jacket and a nice pair of waterproof boots or shoes (I learned this the hard way after moving here from California!). 

For outdoor excursions, bring hiking boots you don’t mind getting muddy. While Washington doesn’t usually get the intense downpours that make an umbrella a necessity, it’s a good idea to have a small one on hand just in case. 

#7 – Rent a Car to See the Best Stuff

The author, Chelsea Booker posing for a photo at the Larrabee State Park in Bellingham
This excursion to Larrabee State Park in Bellingham was made easy with a car

If you’re staying in one of the major cities like Seattle, you probably won’t have a difficult time getting around the city. But you’ll want a car to explore the national parks, and remote towns, or go on epic road trips to amazing places around the state.

Discover Cars is a great website to book a car rental. The booking experience is seamless, the interface is user-friendly, and the prices are great for budgeters. In addition, if you need to cancel, you’ll be fully refunded via booking credit or on your card if you cancel at least 48 hours in advance. 

#8 – Check the Washington Trails Association Website Before Hiking

The author's friend during their hike near their campground at Bumping Lake
On a hike with friends near our campground at Bumping Lake

I always check the trail guides and trip reports on Washington Trails Association before I go on a hike in Washington. This state-wide non-profit is a wonderful, free online resource. In addition to maintaining the trails, the WTA makes detailed guides for nearly every trail in the state. 

These guides detail what to expect on the trail, and cover difficulty levels and directions. Updated trail reports left by community members can also help you plan for unexpected or atypical trail conditions. You’ll be prepared for things like downed trees, annoying bugs, snow, and more.

📚Related Reading: For some of my favorite hikes in the state, check out my guide to the 17 Best Hikes near Seattle!

#9 – Visit between April and October

The author, Chelsea Booker posing for a photo at the Seattle’s Kubota Gardens
Me in Seattle’s Kubota Gardens in early June

In general, the best time to visit Washington is between mid April through October. This applies to all parts of the state. 

Appreciate blooming flowers, gushing waterfalls, and more daylight in spring and early summer. Summers are great for hiking and camping, attending festivals, and getting out on the water.

September and October’s cooler temps, gorgeous fall foliage, and quieter crowds make them some of the most relaxed times to visit. These are the best months to come if you want a fun but less touristy time to explore the state.

#10 – Book Campsites Early

The author's tent on their campsite near Lake Wenatchee
Our campsite near Lake Wenatchee

Camping is one of the most popular things to do in Washington state. That said, you’ll have to be smart about booking campsites, especially if you’re camping between the high season of June through August. 

I suggest making camping reservations at least three months in advance to guarantee you get the spots at the campgrounds you want. You may want to book even earlier if you’re eyeing popular campsites like Kalaloch in the Olympic National Park or Cougar Rock Campground in Mount Rainier National Park. This is particularly true for weekend camping.

👉 Read Next: 33 Fun Facts About Washington

#11 – Visit the Waterfalls

View of the flowing water at the Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls, one of the most famous Washington waterfalls

Washington has over 3,000 named waterfalls, the most of any state in the country. They’re one of the state’s best natural wonders, and I highly recommend seeking them out on a visit.

Many of the best Washington waterfalls don’t require long hikes and are accessible to people of all ages and abilities. 

Check out the most iconic and widely recognized waterfall, Snoqualmie Falls. Or visit Palouse Falls, Washington’s state waterfall. Mount Rainier National Park also boasts some of the best waterfalls, including Myrtle Falls, Spray Falls, and Narada Falls.

#12 – Know the Laws Regarding Weed

Weed has been legal in Washington state since 2012. You can find dispensaries all over the state if you’re interested in purchasing and partaking. 

However, make sure you know the laws regarding marijuana. You must be 21+ to buy and use weed and you cannot smoke it in public. You should bring cash with you to buy it from dispensaries, although most have ATMs inside that you can use if you forget.

# 13 – Get Great Coffee (It’s Everywhere)

A cup of purple ube latte served in Hood Famous
A pretty purple ube latte from one of Seattle’s best coffee shops, Hood Famous

Most people consider Seattle the coffee city because there are so many incredible coffee shops in Washington’s biggest city. However, you’ll find great coffee in cities and towns all over the state. 

Visit local coffee shops in places like Olympia or Bellingham, or take a chance on the smaller coffee stands you see on the way to hiking trails. Make sure to venture beyond Starbucks because there are tons of fantastic local roasters in the state. 

One sip, and you’ll understand why everyone is so obsessed with this drink. As a bonus, the beans make a great souvenir to take home.

#14 – Don’t Skip Out On the Fresh Seafood Either

Different kinds of fish available at the Pike Place Fish Co.
One of the most popular places to get fresh fish in Pike Place Market

Seafood in Washington State is phenomenal, especially if you’re close to the water. Sample salmon, oysters, Dungeness crab, geoduck, and octopus. Washington seafood is guaranteed to be some of the freshest you’ll try.

Some of the best spots for seafood in Washington State are in various cities and towns on Puget Sound. Go to Whidbey Island, Olympia, and the San Juan Islands to find some delicious choices. Don’t skip the Hood Canal, either. It’s one of the best places to harvest oysters.

📚 Related Reading: Are you a big foodie? If so, bookmark my article on the must-try Seattle foods so you know just what to order when taking a food tour through Emerald City!

#15 – Use Sunscreen Even When It’s Cloudy

Dark sky over the chairs and tables at the downtown Seattle waterfront
A cloudy day on the downtown Seattle waterfront

Don’t let the gray and cloudy Washington days trick you. Even when the sun isn’t a bright beacon in the sky, UV rays can still penetrate the clouds. This can lead to some nasty burns. Make sure you still apply sunscreen as you usually would when exploring the wild and hanging around outdoors. Especially if you burn easily!

#16 – Visit Walla Walla If You Love Wine

Clear blue sky over a vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington
Vineyards in Walla Walla, WA

Washington wine is some of the best in the country! And luckily for wine lovers, Washington has quite a few fantastic places to sample the best varieties. Visit Walla Walla wine country for the best Washington wine experience.

This large city in southeast Washington is one of the best places to visit in Washington state. It has tons of tasting rooms, and there are surrounding vineyards where you can also take a tour. If you’re looking for great wine (and reds in particular), Walla Walla will keep you busy.

👉 Bonus Tip: Walla Walla is the best spot for wine, but the city is a bit out of the way. If you want some good wine, but you’re unable to commit to staying in that area, plan a day trip to Woodinville, Washington instead. This is another Washington city known for its great wine-tasting rooms.

#17 – Bring Your Hiking Boots to the Coastal Beaches

The author, Chelsea Booker on their Washington coast backpacking trip
I was grateful for good hiking boots on this Washington coast backpacking trip which had a steep overland!

If you want to explore the wild beaches on the Washington coast, make sure you bring some hiking boots. Washington does have some sandy beaches, particularly in the Long Beach Peninsula. But the ones around the Olympic Peninsula are more pebbly and rocky.

For backpacking or hiking around the beaches of the Olympic National Park, hiking boots are essential. Coastal hikes can include crossing rocky headlands or traversing slippery seaweed-covered rocks. And when you’re hiking over large piles of driftwood on pebbly beaches, you’ll be happy you have some sturdy footing.

#18 – Know How to Handle a Bear Encounter

A black bear wandering at the Mount Rainier  during autumn season
A black bear at Mount Rainier

When you’re on hiking trails in national parks, forests, and up in the mountains, be prepared for possible wildlife encounters. A bear encounter is one particular encounter that may unsettle some people. 

There are few grizzly bears in Washington, but there are many black bears. The chances of an encounter are low. However, if you do encounter one, remember to stay calm, don’t run, and try not to startle it. Check out the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s guide to preventing conflict with black bears for more info.

#19 – Plan Ahead When Visiting the San Juan Islands

The author, Chelsea Booker sitting on a tree trunk near a beach in San Juan Islands
Me waiting outside the car on the beach near the ferry terminal when visiting the San Juan Islands for the first time

The San Juan Islands are a prime spot for whale watching, romantic weekend getaways, and hiking and biking. However, they’re hardly a secret. If you want to visit San Juan Island, Orcas Island, or Lopez Island, book your lodging and make a ferry reservation ahead of time. This is especially important for summer visits. Waiting until the last minute can lead to frustrating delays and way fewer hotel options.

#20 – Travel by Train if You’ve Got the Time

If you have time for an extended trip through Washington State, I recommend exploring some of it via train. The Amtrak Cascades train runs from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver British Columbia. It has stops in twelve different Washington cities along the way.

Check out Olympia, Seattle, and Bellingham, three of the best cities in Washington, if you go on this peaceful and scenic train ride.

📚 Related Reading: 28 Best Things to Do in Olympia, WA

#21 – Find the Flowers

Colorful tulips on a flower field in Washington State
The Tulip Festival is absolutely breathtaking!

Some of the prettiest events to occur in Washington state are the official (and unofficial) flower festivals. 

The most well-known of these is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in spring. However, you should also check out the cherry blossoms in early spring. The University of Washington campus in Seattle is the most well-known place to see these. You can also go on a walk through various Seattle neighborhoods and you’ll find even more. 

If wildflowers are your thing, don’t miss the meadows of Mount Rainier and around the Columbia River Gorge in late spring through summer.

#22 – Decide Which Part of the Olympic National Park You Want to Visit

The author, Chelsea Booker with her husband crossing a bridge at the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park
The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park is always it!

The Olympic National Park is Washington State’s most unique national park. This national park has mountains, rainforests, and coastal beaches. It encompasses almost the entirety of the Olympic Peninsula, so it’s impossible to experience everything it has to offer in a single day.

Before visiting, decide which part of the park you want to explore most. Go camping and relax in hot springs in the rainforest or hike up Hurricane Ridge or to Marymere Falls. Alternatively, you can take a road trip along Highway 101 to stop at beaches with stunning Pacific Ocean views.

#23 – Go to Pike Place Market (It’s Actually Worth It)

The author, Chelsea Booker pointing at the Pike Place Market signage
Yep, even after living here for over a decade I still love Pike Place Market

Out of all the tourist attractions in Washington, Pike Place Market is perhaps the most well-known. Although certain attractions can lose their charm because of how overrun they can be, this one retains it. 

If you only do one “big tourist thing” while visiting Washington, I suggest making it Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. The market is nearly always buzzing with activity, so it can be overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. To figure out how to approach this attraction to have the best experience take a peek at my Pike Place Market guide before your visit.

🌲 Coming to Seattle?: Make sure you read up on my Seattle travel tips before you visit to get the most out of your trip!

FAQs about Travel to Washington State 

What do I need to know before going to Washington State?

Before traveling to Washington State, decide which part of the state you want to visit. There are some differences in climate and culture between western and eastern Washington. You’ll want to research accordingly. 

You should also have a good idea of what cities, towns, and areas you want to visit in Washington state. The state is larger than most people realize and you can’t visit places like the North Cascades National Park, Walla Walla, and Seattle all on the same day.

Before going to Washington State, figure out what gear you’ll need for hikes and recreation, especially if you want to explore the outdoors.

What is the best way to explore Washington State?

The best way to explore Washington State is by car. Renting a car will make it easier to get to small towns, through big cities, and around Washington’s three national parks. 

What month is the best to visit Washington State?

The best month to visit Washington State is September. You can expect relatively warm temperatures in both western and eastern Washington in September. In general, by this month the crowds have died down, but warm-season activities are still open. If you visit Washington in late September, you also have a chance to see the state come awash with pretty fall colors. 


These tips should make visiting Washington State much easier, whether it’s your first trip or your fifth. Leave a comment below to let me know which of the Washington State travel tips was most helpful or if you have any other tips to share!

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