Tucked into the north-west of mainland America, Washington is one of the most mysterious of the 50 US states. This is thanks in part to the Olympic Peninsula – and to Olympic National Park, which spreads across it in a haze of mountains, glaciers, rainforest and beaches. And yet, while remote in appearance, this wilderness zone is easily reached, with Seattle pitched on its doorstep. Washington’s biggest city is an ideal start-point for a road trip – filled with attractions which will entertain children of all ages.
Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle (spaceneedle.com; adults £11.50; children, four to 12, £7), boasts an observation deck at 520ft – which offers epic views of the city and region, with the high peaks of the Cascade Range to the east and the rough slopes of the Olympic Mountains visible to the west. Down at the tower’s feet, Seattle Children’s Museum (thechildrensmuseum.org; general entry £5.30) beckons to young visitors with a mixture of exhibits – including Fort Adventure (where children can build their own clubhouses) and Imagination Studio (where they can paint and create sculptures out of clay). If your brood are a little older, the adjacent EMP Seattle (empmuseum.org; adults £14; children, five to 17, £10) celebrates the many musical legends to have emerged from the city, with sections on the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. Most intriguing, though, is the Sound Lab, where guests can bash at drum kits in noise-proofed rooms, or try their hands at becoming DJs, spinning records on state-of-the-art turntables.
STAY: The Westin Seattle (westinseattle.com) is a big, modern affair in the heart of Downtown, with a large indoor pool and family-sized rooms costing from £160.
Leave Seattle via the waterfront and the ferry (wsdot.wa.gov/ferries;standard car and driver £11, adults £5; children, six to 18, £2.50) to Bainbridge Island. Flit north-west on the 305, 3 and 104. Have cameras ready on the latter for the Hood Canal Bridge, a 1.5-mile floating span which takes you onto the Olympic Peninsula and connects you with Route 101 – the main highway in this portion of the state. Follow it north and west to catch the sunset at Lake Crescent – a brilliantly blue body of water on the north edge of Olympic National Park (Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.). Then retrace your steps to Port Angeles – the key town on the northern edge of the peninsula, which has great views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
STAY: The Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles (olympiclodge.com) has family-sized rooms for £84 – and, if the evening is warm enough, an enticing outdoor pool.
Distance in the day: 126 miles.
Head west on the 101, turning north onto the 113 at Sappho, then west onto the 112 – and drive until you reach Cape Flattery, the most north- westerly point in the main 48 US states. The vast Canadian outcrop of Vancouver Island should be visible across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Return to the 101 where vampire fans should continue on to Forks – the small logging town which has enjoyed global fame in recent years as the setting for both the Twilight books and movies.End the day by taking the 110 to La Push, a settlement on the Quileute Native American reservation that also featured in the vampire saga. Here, the ocean hits the shore in fury.
STAY: Quileute Oceanside Resort (quileuteoceanside.com) offers roomy accommodation on the lip of the Pacific. Two-bedroom suites start at £70.
Distance in the day: 150 miles.
Go south on the 101 to Quinault Rainforest (quinaultrainforest.com), a densely tree-filled pocket of Olympic National Park where arboreal giants – red cedars, spruce, firs – rear high up into the heavens. This is a lovely location for a gentle hike. Or, if you prefer something quieter, you can spend the afternoon relaxing on the bank of Lake Quinault – as it shows the forest its reflection.
STAY: Lake Quinault Lodge (visitlakequinault.com) hovers by the water. It has an indoor swimming pool, kayaks to hire if you’re feeling energetic and family rooms costing from £82.
Distance in the day: 83 miles.
Continue south on the 101 as far as Hoquiam, before rolling west on the 109 to Ocean Shores. This is a classic seaside town with a lengthy beach, perfect for family fun.
STAY: The Best Western Lighthouse Suites Inn (bestwestern.com) is set on the Pacific. It boasts a pool, free breakfast and family-sized rooms costing from £87.
Distance in the day: 46 miles.
A short 90-minute drive east on the 8 will bring you to Olympia. Framed by the waters of Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet, the state capital of Washington is a pretty prospect – where the Hands On Children’s Museum (hocm.org; general entry £7) comes with eight themed galleries, and plenty of climbing and painting, for children aged up to 11. For more active pursuits, the Chehalis Western Trail (traillink.com) is one of several cycle paths which converge in the city and follows a 21-mile route along an abandoned railway line.
STAY: The Red Lion Hotel in Olympia (redlion.com/olympia), on the west side of Capitol Lake, dispenses fine vistas and has family-sized rooms costing from £69.
Distance in the day: 75 miles.
Pick up Interstate 5 for the final leg of the journey back into Seattle and to catch your flight home.
Distance in the day:61 miles.
10-day car hire with Hertz starts from £212. Seattle Tacoma Airport pickup and return. hertz.co.uk