Hidden among the massive pines and hemlocks that dominate the northwest coast of the U.S., sometimes shrouded by mist and a seemingly never-ending rain cloud, lies the city of Seattle, Washington. Seattle has much to offer for any walk of life. It is known best for its flourishing music scene, being home to grunge music in the ’90s and the “Seattle Sound,” and having its fair share of sports franchises, such as the (ex) Sonics, the Seahawks, and the Sounders.
Table of contents: ()
Being in the Pacific Northwest, while this city does possess growing metropolitan and tech districts, it is also less than an hour away from some of the most beautiful natural views and unique landscapes. It is two hours away from the Canadian border and right up on the coastline; thus, it offers an incredible variety of experiences for any kind of nature lover. Here is a consummated list of just a little of nature in Seattle and the amazing experiences Seattle offers to its nature-loving visitors.
Looming in the distance of Seattle, with its giant white peak levitating over the skyline, lies Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier is obviously impossible to ignore; at around 14,000 feet, it is one of only 96 “Fourteeners” that are so elusive for mountain summiters. Many visitors come to Seattle just to summit Washington state’s only Fourteener, which is also an active volcano.
Rainier, a stratovolcano, is one of the more dangerous active volcanoes in the world. Therefore, summiters are warned of the dangers of the active volcano and often plan their trip around a seismic eruption timeline updated by the State of Washington.
Those choosing simply to visit the Puyallup River valley and the Rainier overlook are in for a treat. Many trails wrap around the base of Rainier and its surrounding forest and rivers. Often, hikers will come and stay the weekend, camping overnight while hiking the trails. If you’re planning a visit and want to get the photo op, we recommend you hike the Skyline Trail. Cutting off from the park entryway, this trail curves 20 miles all around Rainier. The scenic overlook, however, lies only 2 or 3 miles up the trail. It offers an incredible view of Rainier and many hikers are also able to see Oregon’s fourteener, Mount Hood, in the distance.
Mount Rainier also has a small museum at the park lodge that gives visitors an idea of the mountain’s history. Much of Washington’s Native American history is evident in this mountain, once called “Takhoma” by its surrounding tribes. Later on, John Muir, the famous trapper and forester, helped make Rainier a National Park that would later bring hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe.
Bainbridge Island is arguably the most popular tourist island in the Puget Sound. Like all other Seattle Islands or the San Juan Islands, it is only accessible by ferry. Once you take the ferry to the island, there is much to do and see; many tourists will rent bikes or take guided tours along the island. It is known for its magnificent views and rustic, beautiful buildings. The best hiking trails are found in the 240-acre Grand Forest of Bainbridge, with ancient evergreens and swampy wetlands. For those looking for water activities, there are also kayaks and speedboats able to rent on the waterfront, as well as scuba gear to see the natural ocean life in the sound.
When you’re exhausted from all the exploring, make a stop at Bainbridge’s museum of art. It is free to enter and is a unique museum experience in that it focuses on sustainability and local artists. Much of what you see in Bainbridge’s art museum is curated and contributed by Seattle artists; thus, it allows you to see the art from the eyes of the residents.
Whale Watching in the Sound
Many different animals are found in and around the Puget Sound, such as clams, dolphins, and sea lions. But nothing is quite as awesome an experience as watching the whales. Taking out from the Puget Sound into the Salish sea, this tour is usually a half-day affair. Many of the boats leave early in the morning, and some provide lunch on the tour, so make sure you are early risers, but it is all worth it to see these amazing creatures.
Orcas and humpback whales are the most common whales to see on your tour, but if you go in the Spring, and you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the massive gray whale. These boats will travel within the Salish Sea and often do feedings to attract the whales. Often, if you’re on the ferry traveling island to island, you might also catch glimpses of whales and dolphins. If you’re not on a boat, you can often spot these whales from the land. Alki Beach and Golden Gardens beach are two great locations to try to spot whales. If you’re not in Seattle but still want to try to see whales, Washington State has 46 designated whale-watching spots across the state.
Afterward, if you’re interested in learning more about the whale’s habitat, the University of Washington campus museum allows you to learn more about the habitat of whales in the area and how their ecosystems function. The Whale Museum and the Seattle Aquarium also offer interesting information about the whales.
Pollution and Climate change, unfortunately, have changed the way these whales live and dramatically influenced their chances of survival in the sound; if the pollution continues, it’s likely that these whales will migrate away from the sound altogether. Orcas, especially, have been hit hard by pollution. The food source of infants is decreasing, and the health of the orcas is a governmental concern. If you loved seeing these amazing creatures on your whale watch, consider donating to Washington State’s department of Ecology.
STP Bike Trip
Seattle is a three-hour drive from Portland, and the scenic route carves a wedge into the beautiful wooded landscape over the Columbia River. However, some choose to take the 206-mile road by bike. The Seattle to Portland Bike Trip happens once a year in the summer and is considered the most popular bike trip in the Pacific Northwest, hosted by Kaiser Permanente and Alaska Airlines. Riders need to register quickly; there are only 8,000 spots available for the ride. If you do happen to get a spot, it is an incredible ride.
The route starts in Seattle and from Seattle to Portland has several free rest stops, providing free food, restrooms, and shade. The tour offers PSV (Primary Support Vehicles) for any potential injuries or health issues, so riders can feel assured that their safety is protected. The ride will take around 1 day for the fastest of riders, and for the slower riders, will usually require an overnight stay. Lodging is available throughout the small towns along the route, in Chehalis and Lexington WA, and St. Helens, OR.
This trek has been an event since 1970, when two brothers, Mike and Rick Quam, advocated for the development of more biking trails in Washington. Eventually, these two brothers were able to form Cascade Cycling Club and organize the STP and RVSP rides, with the STP ride becoming the main event that Cascade would host every year. Visit the website cascade.org to learn more about the ride each year and to sign up. Spots go fast!
Contrary to popular belief, “rain” isn’t the only season in Washington. Seattle, although it is rainy most of the year, experiences the hot and colds of the year like any other state. Stevens Pass becomes home to any Washingtonian seeking to get a taste of all things winter sports.
Nestled at the top of the Snoqualmie Forest, off of eastbound Highway 2, lies Steven’s Pass, the pride of Washington’s winter sports community. Skiers and Snowboarders alike are frequenters at this beautiful resort. The annual snowfall is 460 inches a year, so it’s no wonder that people come from all over to enjoy the 1,125 acres of skiable terrain offered at Stevens Pass.
Tickets are sold individually and as season passes. Season passes range from $429-999 depending on the package, allowing you to ski or snowboard all season long. Stevens Pass is at an elevation of 4,062 feet, so there’s never a doubt there will be plenty of fresh powder to ski. In the summer, the snow melts away, uncovering a boundless vista where residents enjoy mountain biking and hiking.
North Cascades State Park
There are only two places in the United States where the water radiates a crystal blue color; Havasupai Falls in Arizona and North Cascades State Park in Washington. North Cascades is known for its incredible bright blue water, as well as its amazing vistas. The Blue Lake Hike, giving you access to the beautiful water, is only 5 miles to the overlook and an easy hike for all the family. North Cascades is less than three hours from Seattle, right up next to the Canadian Border. It also offers boating, fishing, hiking, and camping. Take a weekend trip up to the Cascades, and if you can, hop across the border and enjoy some of the Canadian side.
Sailing in the Sound
If you’ve never been sailing, you’re in for a treat. If you’ve never experienced it in the Puget Sound, you haven’t really been sailing. Washington’s slice of the Pacific is very far north, so while the beaches are beautiful, it’s quite limited in beach activities it offers. It’s simply too cold for surfing and wading. In spite of this, native Seattleites hold a deep appreciation for their unique coastal climate, and sailing is a perfect way to enjoy this.
Many local companies offer sailing tours, but it’s possible to rent a sailboat of your own if you’re experienced and traverse around Seattle’s many islands and inlets manning your own craft. As far as routes, ask locals for the best spots. They’ll likely tell you to sail down to Maury Island to see the fish in the Marine Reserve, or if you’ve got lots of time, sail up to Port Madison on the north side of Bainbridge Island to catch a wonderful view of the sunset and Mount Rainier behind the Seattle Skyline; with the famed Space Needle jutting up in the air seemingly putting a cherry on top of the picturesque wooded city.
If you’re in a crunch for time, and you want to sail but have other plans you’re trying to squeeze in, consider booking one of the local sailing tours. These typically run anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, but you can relax and enjoy the view without worrying about captaining the boat. Many sailing tours also report whale and dolphin sightings. Typically, these tours only run around $20-40 a person, depending on age, so it’s an experience the whole family can enjoy.
Why the Emerald City?
Seattle is a city rich in history, with the original settlers being several Native American tribes. Later on, colonizers like George Vancouver and the Lewis and Clark expedition turned Washington into mining towns and Seattle into its Port City, allowing travel from San Francisco, San Diego, and even parts of Asia. Though, it’s most well known for its nature-friendly environment. Many make the pilgrimage to Seattle to support sustainability and green ecology and enjoy the outdoors on a consistent basis. Seattle will have no shortage of hikers, bikers, and all-around nature lovers to enjoy these places with.
While the city of Seattle is a unique place of its own, we’ve chosen to focus on the things that would appeal to nature lovers in this article. Seattle is definitely an adventurer city, and the Pacific Northwest, in general, is loaded with activities for outdoor enthusiasts. Visit Seattle any time of year, and you’re bound to find something you enjoy.