There is so much to see and many adventures to be had on this Washington road trip from Mount Rainier to North Cascades to Olympic National Parks. We love the Pacific Northwest and have had a ton of great adventures exploring this part of Washington over the past 7 years of full time RV living with our 5 kids.
Can’t Miss Things In Mount Rainier, North Cascades, & Olympic National Park
My top favorites of this Mount Rainier to North Cascades to Olympic National Parks road trip that you don’t want to miss are:
- Hiking to Panorama Point from Paradise Visitor in Mount Rainier National Park and Mount Fremont on the Sunrise side of the park
- Snap a pic of Liberty Bell from Washington Pass viewpoint, hiking Maple Pass just east of North Cascades National Park, and views of Ross Lake
- Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, camping a Kalaloch, and hiking out to Second Beach in La Push
Planning Your Mount Rainier to North Cascades to Olympic National Parks Road Trip
Best Time For A Mount Rainier to North Cascades to Olympic National Park Road Trip
July and August are the best months for this Mount Rainier to North Cascades to Olympic National Park road trip because they are the driest and warmest months. Plus, this is the best time to see wildflowers in the Sunrise are of Mount Rainier National Park.
Mount Rainier is open year round, you can only drive from the southwest entrance to Paradise. While this would still provide you with incredible views of this 14,000 foot volcano, you wouldn’t be able to hike in the winter and even in the spring you’d need ice spikes or crampons.
Due to the temperate rainforest of northwest Washington’s Olympic peninsula, you can technically visit Olympic National Park year round, with the exception of Hurricane Ridge Road which is closed in the winter. It’s good to note though that Olympic National Park is huge with varying topography so expect a wide variety of conditions even in summer.
North Cascades is also open year round, however, the road from Colonial Creek campground heading east is closed from mid-to-late November and generally re-opens in April or early May, which means you’d miss seeing some of the most beautiful parts of the area.
Average Highs & Lows in Mount Rainier, North Cascades & Olympic National Parks
- Average high & lows in North Cascades NP
- Average high & lows in Mount Rainier NP
- Average high & lows in Olympic NP
Common Questions About A Washington Road Trip
It’s a little over 200 miles from Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier to North Cascades Visitor Center if you go the most direct way via Seattle. Although, I recommend the scenic route (see blog below).
It’s a little under 200 miles from Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier to Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles.
Mount Rainier has more to do and see in our opinion, however, the area around outside of North Cascades National Park (particularly the east side) is prettier, less crowded, and has a lot to do and explore.
I would personally prioritize Mount Rainier, then Olympic, then if you have the time, add in North Cascades. However, I also really love the towns of Leavenworth, Chelan, and Winthrop (which are east of North Cascades) and if you do this section of road trip, you may as well add in North Cascades.
Seattle or Tacoma are easier to find flights and rental cars but Everett or Bellingham are smaller airports, which I prefer because they are easier and less crowded.
I personally wouldn’t want to drive my 42-foot 5th wheel through these National Parks. I would look for a campgrounds on the west side of Mount Rainier & North Cascades so that I wouldn’t have to drive over the passes by these two national parks. Driving through Olympic is much easier with a big rig, but it would also be easy to base camp in Port Angeles and do day trips.
Other Stops To Consider
- Leavenworth (Hike The Enchantments)
- Lake Chelan
- Mount Baker
- Snoqualmie Falls
Tips For Visiting Mount Rainier National Park
Of the three parks, Mount Rainier is my favorite. From the mid-summer wildflowers and waterfalls to the green meadows and alpine lakes, Mount Rainier is sure to be a place you love too.
It’s a much smaller park that you can drive almost all the way around in the summer. But because it’s close to Seattle, it’s also the most crowded.
Starting from the west, you’ll want to stop at Longmire, stop by the visitor center to learn about the area, and do the easy Trail of the Shadows hike before heading up the beautiful windy road to Paradise.
Related Blog: 11 Tips for Planning Your Mount Rainier Trip
If you loop this road trip or drive out to Sunrise, you may want to add in Crystal Mountain ski resort and ride the gondola to the top.
Best Hikes in Mount Rainier
- Panorama Point via Skyline Trail
- Mt Fremont Overlook
- Pinnacle Peak
Related Blog: Best Hikes in Mount Rainer
Where to Stay or Camp in Mount Rainier
2 of the 3 developed campgrounds in Mt. Rainier offer reservations. I love staying at Cougar Rock but if you have a big RV, you may want to camp down near Ashford. I also love how beautiful and way less crowded it is on the Sunrise side of the park. You can camp at White River Campground or there are a lot of national forest campgrounds on the northeast side of Mount Rainier.
If camping isn’t your thing, I highly recommend staying at Paradise Inn for the best views of Mount Rainier and to get to experience it in the twilight hours when it’s much less crowded.
Related Blog: Best Campgrounds in Mount Rainier
4 Amazing Stops Between Mount Rainier & North Cascades National Park
You could keep this park of your Washington National Parks road trip shorter and take the I-5 from Mount Rainier to North Cascades. Instead, I think it’s worth the extra time to leave Mount Rainier eastbound and explore parts of the Cascade Lakes highway, Leavenworth, Lake Chelan, Winthrop, and especially the National Forest area just east of North Cascades.
If you have a surplus of time, you could also add in Snoqualmie Falls and one of the epic hikes I’ve been dying to do near Cle Elem- Tuck and Robin Lakes or Marmot Lake and Jade Lake.
Watch our YouTube video of us trying to do these hikes too early in the season.
The Bavarian town of Leavenworth is an outdoor enthusiasts playground due to the abundance of rock climbing, biking, mountain biking, paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, and that’s just in the summer!
Bring river tubes and ask at the local mountain shops where to get in and out sign up for a guided float with Leavenworth Outdoor Center, located next to Der Hinterhof.
For amazing views and epic adventures, be sure to head up Icicle River Road which is filled with endless hiking, camping, and rock climbing. We love all the cheap forest camping and there is even a spot that RVers can free camp at.
After a day of adventure, head to Icicle Creek Brewery for great beer, good llanjager (smoked beef sticks), and good vibes. I love that Leavenworth is full of artisan food shops. Head to Cured for great salami, cheese, sausage, and more. Pick up some coffee at J5. If you’re lucky and are visiting on a Thursday, stop by the fabulous, local farmers market at Little Lion Park.
If you’re brave, hike the famous Enchantments a strenuous 19 mile day hike (unless you can get the elusive backpacking permits). While it is extremely strenuous, the views you get up here are worth every step. Even though this was one of the hardest day hikes we’ve ever done, it is also one of absolute best hikes we’ve ever done. For a shorter hike, check out Colchuck Lake.
The warm water of Lake Chelan in summer draws boating enthusiasts galore. And even if you don’t have a boat, Lake Chelan is perfect for inner tube floating or swimming. We loved playing at the Old Swimming Hole in Manson where you can swim out to the wooden pillars and jump into the lake.
Be sure to drive a bit north out of town to Blueberry Hills Farm where you’ll find blueberries, waffles, sandwiches, and pies galore.
On the northern end of Lake Chelan lies Stehekin, which is part of the North Cascades National Park. Getting here can be a bit of a challenge though as it requires 4wd or you can take a boat or plane. But if you do make it out this far, there are so many incredible hikes and backpacking trips you can do and the camping is epic!
Related: 10 Unforgettable USA Road Trip Itineraries
The town of Winthrop has been restored to the look and feel like the “old west” and is a good place to stop and eat at one of the great bakeries, breweries, or restaurants. It’s also a wonderful destination if you are looking for adventurous things to do in Northern Washington like hiking, mountain biking, or inner-tubing.
The RV Parking lot just Northwest of town is where we saw a lot of people getting in to float down the river. Since we did not get a chance to experience it ourselves you’ll have to ask one of the local shops about where people usually get out.
I enjoyed this area of northern Washington more than North Cascades NP itself. There are a ton of trails for hiking and mountain biking as well as a lot of free or cheap camping.
Mountain bikers will love to take on the challenge of Cutthroat Pass and feel the burn in your legs and take in the beauty at the top of the Pass where the trail meets the PCT. Hikers will love exploring Maple Pass, Blue Lake, or Black Peak. If you Trad climb, don’t miss the opportunity to summit Liberty Bell.
Tips For Visiting North Cascades National Park
With over 300 glaciers and countless snowfields, the North Cascades has more glaciers than anywhere in the U.S. outside of Alaska (it has even more glaciers than Glacier National Park!) The challenging part is getting to them though since many of the most epic hikes are only accessible with 4wd.
North Cascades also does not have a main attraction like Rainier does, although the views of Diablo Lake and Ross Lake are gorgeous. It does however have some spectacular scenery and rugged snow-capped peaks.
Between the hundreds of miles of hiking trails; power boating, kayaking, and canoeing on Lake Ross; bouldering and sport climbing in Skagit Gorge; mountain biking in Methow Valley; and road biking on North Cascades Highway, squeezing in everything you want to do will be the biggest challenge here. North Cascades is actually home to
North Cascades Highway runs from west to east and is a very scenic drive, similar to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, but the road is a little better and wider. North Cascades also does not have as much development or major towns nearby so you’ll want to stock up ahead of time.
Related: Grand Teton to Glacier National Parks Road Trip
Best Hikes in North Cascades
- Thunder Knob
- Goat Lake
- Cascade Pass & Sahalie Trail
- Maple Pass
- See top 35 on All Trails
Tip: If you detour to visit Mount Baker, check out these rad hikes: Blanca Lake, Heybrook Lookout, Heybrook Ridge, Gothic Basin, or Ptarmigan Ridge
Where to Stay or Camp in North Cascades
We loved camping under the massive trees at Colonial Creek Campground. There are several other campgrounds just off the main road, and then trails heading further away from the main road to more remote back country areas. We’ve also camped in the national forest area east of Washington Pass and enjoyed those areas a lot.
Related Blog: Best Campgrounds in Washington
If you don’t camp, you’ll want to look for a hotel in the closest towns of either Mount Vernon, to the west, or Winthrop, to the east.
Amazing Stop Between North Cascades & Olympic National Park
San Juan Islands & Deception Pass
I’d highly recommend you visit San Juan island because we got to see killer whales. It was very exciting, however, the orcas swim by on their schedule so it’s definitely something that requires some patience.
Drive just west of Anacortes to Washington Park where you can take the ferry to the San Juan islands. Public transportation is very easy on the islands so you can just leave your car on the Mainland.
Tip: Orcas are on San Juan Island, not Orca Island. The lighthouse has a lot of information on the pods that live in the area. If you go, bring binoculars to help see the whales better.
If you have time, stay an extra night at the nice campground at Washington Park, on the west end of Fidalgo Island. The campground works as easy base camp to leave your vehicle so you can go explore the San Juan Islands for an entire day. The campground also has a great 2-mile biking/running trail through forested hills and sits next to a beautiful beach full of driftwood and views of the San Juan Islands.
After seeing the San Juans, head down to Deception Pass, which is only a 15 minute drive south of Anacortes, and explore Washington’s most popular State Park.
Here you can hike, bike, fish, and explore or you can even stay at the popular campground. Due to the nature of Deception Pass, which is made up of two islands connected by a bridge, there is camping spread out on both sides with a total of 172 tent sites, 134 partial-hookup. Even though there are a lot of sites, being Washington’s most popular state park makes it book up fast. Make camping reservations early to get a spot.
For the occasional climber that may be reading this: Mount Erie has some incredibly scenic climbing and we loved being able to overlook the ocean while enjoying Top-Rope routes.
Detour North: If you have time, you may want to detour north towards Bellingham & Mount Baker before heading down to Anacortes. Bellingham & nearby Fairhaven have great hiking and MTB trails and are some of our favorite towns to eat our way through. Check out the farmer’s market, eat at one of the many food trucks, and grab a pint at Aslan Brewery. Mount Baker has numerous trails for all levels of hikers that will take you to incredible alpine lakes.
Tips For Visiting Olympic National Park
If you want to see a massive diversity in ecosystems, Olympic National Park should be on the top of your list of places to visit.
From beaches to temperate rain forests to subalpine mountains, you’ll be amazed at how many different climate types and ecosystems there are to visit at Olympic NP. The only downside is that you need time to really explore all that Olympic has to offer.
Since Olympic National Park is so large and spread out, visiting it just by car will only allow you to see the edges of the park.
Olympic National Park consists of nearly a million acres spread out over four different regions and is made up of several very different ecosystems. The first one you will come to on this road trip is Hurricane Ridge, which is just a few miles south of Port Angeles.
Tip: You might want to hang out a few days in Port Townsend. You’ll love its small town charm incredible artisan, bright storefronts, and its passion for music. In fact, it hosts an annual Olympic Music Festival in July and August and the weeklong Jazz Port Townsend in July.
Here you’ll find gorgeous wildflowers in the peak of summer, great hikes and epic backpacking trails and that take you to subalpine lakes and valleys, and a visitor center to learn more about the biodiversity of the park.
The next area, Lake Crescent, was a good stopping point for us to have a picnic and hike the popular trail through old growth forest to Marymere Falls. Being less than one mile each way, it was a nice leg stretcher. If you want something more challenging, the Spruce Railroad trail is a popular route. If you feel brave (& hot after hiking), jump off the dock and swim in the cold lake.
Other things to explore include the hot springs, Neah Bay, and Lake Ozette, or drive Obstruction Point Road, which is fine for 2wd but no RVs or trailers.
There is a campground nearby at Fairholme, which is a good option because Second Beach can get crowded. The third area is right next to Forks and La Push, which is an Indian reservation popularized by the book/movie Twilight. The coastline here is a unique combination of fauna and beach. We loved the forested trails and haystack beaches that were great for tide pooling.
A popular thing to do here is to camp overnight at Second Beach. It’s a short 0.7-mile hike in from the parking lot. Make sure to get a wilderness camping permit, pack plenty of potable water, a bear canister, and to choose a spot above where high tide will rise to.
The lush rainforest in the next three areas of Olympic National Park feel as if you’ve entered another planet.
First, stop at Hoh Rainforest and see how incredible this temperate rain forest is. With 12-14 feet of rain a year, you will see elk grazing through a dense understory of mosses and ferns that cover the forest floor. I think the epiphytes draping off the branches of maple trees like tendrils makes this area so unique. There are two easy hikes from the visitor center, Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Nature Trail, that were very educational for the kids (and me).
Second, spend your days combing the beaches and searching for sea life in the tide pools at Kalaloch. While enjoying these pristine beaches, keep an eye out for marine wildlife such as dolphins, whales, otters, and seals that live in this protected environment.
Last, stop by the Quinault area and drive the scenic loop or hike one of the many hikes in the area. We enjoyed the Kestner Homestead and Maple Glade loop. Keep an eye out for the many elk that are protected here.
Best Hikes in Olympic NP
- 2nd Beach
- Mount Storm King
- Hurricane Ridge
- Ruby Beach
- Hole in the Wall from Rialto Beach
- Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail
- Hoh Rain Forest Hall of Mosses
- 7 Lakes Basin
- See all the popular trail on AllTrails
Where to Stay or Camp in Olympic
Most campgrounds at Olympic NP are first-come first-served. Kalaloch has places to stay and nice beaches. It can be good for families. The kids loved camping at Kalaloch beach. It’s a beautiful campground that sits on miles of rugged coastline, has tidepools with purple sea urchins, and a ton of marine wildlife. Plus, the ranger presentation there was outstanding!
8 Day Washington Road Trip Itinerary
- Day 1: Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise Side)
- Day 2: Mount Rainier National Park (Sunrise Side)
- Day 3: Leavenworth
- Day 4: Lake Chelan & Winthrop
- Day 5: North Cascades
- Day 6: Olympic National Park (Hurricane Ridge to Forks)
- Day 7: Olympic National Park (Hoh to Quinault)
We hope this helps you plan the perfect Mount Rainier to North Cascades to Olympic National Parks Road Trip! If you have any questions, leave us a comment and be sure to join our email list for more travel inspiration.
Related Blogs & Resources:
- 11 Can’t Miss Things to Do in Mount Rainier
- Guide to Camping in Mount Rainier
- Best Hikes in Mount Rainier
- Road Trip Pack List
- How to Plan a Successful Road Trip
- The Ultimate Road Trip Playlist
- 50 Essential RV Gadgets
- Tips for Your First Rv Trip
- Best Hikes in the Pacific Northwest
- Best Family Friendly Hikes on the West Coast
- 10 Unforgettable USA Road Trip Itineraries