Tucked into the north-west, Washington is one of the most majestic of the 50 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, Seattle, is an ideal starting point for a road trip, filled with attractions which will entertain children of all ages.
Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle, boasts an observation deck at 520 ft and 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 $11.50) 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 kids are a little older, the adjacent Museum of Pop Culture Seattle (mopop.org; adults $31; children, five to 17, $22) 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 rock out on drum kits in noise-proofed rooms or try their hand at becoming DJs, spinning records on state-of-the-art turntables.
STAY: The Westin Seattle is a big, modern affair in the heart of Downtown, with a large indoor pool and family-sized rooms starting from $210.
Leave Seattle via the waterfront and the ferry (wsdot.wa.gov/ferries; standard car and driver $14) 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 northwest to catch the sunset at Lake Crescent – a stunning blue body of water on the north edge of Olympic National Park. 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 has family-sized rooms for $110 – 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 northwestern point in the continental 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 offers roomy accommodation on the lip of the Pacific. Two-bedroom suites start at $91.
Distance in the day: 150 miles
Go south on the 101 to Quinault Rainforest, a densely tree-filled pocket of Olympic National Park where tree giants – red cedars, spruce, firs – reach high up into the heavens. This is a perfect location for an easy hike. Or, if you prefer something quieter, you can spend the afternoon relaxing on the bank of Lake Quinault admiring the glimmering forest in its reflection.
STAY: Lake Quinault Lodge hovers by the water. It has an indoor swimming pool, kayaks to hire if you’re feeling energetic and family rooms starting from $107.
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 is set on the Pacific. It boasts a pool, free breakfast and family-sized rooms starting from $114.
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 $9) 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 is one of several bike paths which converge in the city and follows a 21-mile route along an abandoned railway line.
STAY: The Red Lion Hotel in Olympia, on the west side of Capitol Lake, boasts vista views and has family-sized rooms starting from $90.
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