11 Easy Road Trips to Take This Fall

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With all the road tripping families have been doing over the past year and a half, it’s no wonder our kids can crush the miles. Autumn is the best time to sneak in a quick family getaway weekend, when the hot spots are less crowded, the mountain passes are still open and the days are still warm. Check out these kid-approved fall getaways that are an easy drive from Seattle and will help the whole family unwind, decompress and recharge before winter arrives.

photo: Natalie Compagno

Tacoma

Just a short freeway jaunt away, Tacoma is another state of mind. It’s a sister to Seattle where everything is just a little easier and a little more relaxed. But this small(er) town still has big plans, starting with the new arrivals at Point Ruston and Point Defiance.

Tacoma welcomes the new Silver Cloud Hotel at Point Ruston Waterfront! The new property is elegant and welcoming, in the heart of the family-fun zone, and vacation starts as soon as you arrive. Don bathing suits and hit the fifth-floor pool and hot tub or just enjoy the well-appointed rooms and views. Stroll into Point Ruston via the waterfront walking path to catch the latest film at Century Theatres, grab a scoop of ice cream at Ice Cream Social, or bite into a locally sourced burger at Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar. You’re never too young for art–take your artists-to-be on the ART at Point Ruston sculpture walk with curated, changing art. Rent kid’s wheels at Wheel Fun Rentals or a variety of “roadsters” for all ages and cruise around the Waterwalk, then climb and play on the Ferry Big Toy and swing set at Promenade Park.

There’s more! Point Defiance Aquarium has a new star–Gertie the octopus. Don’t miss a chance to make a new friend there and see old buddies at the zoo. And on the way out of town, don’t miss the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. It entertains and educates and is always pay-as-you-will admission.

Mukilteo

When planning family road trips, Mukilteo may not come to mind—but it should. The area has so much to offer and is easy to navigate, allowing for fun excursions while cutting road time and maximizing relaxation. Get sandwiches to go from Red Cup Café and fly kites on the beach. Set up home base at the Mukilteo Silver Cloud, the big tables next to the lobby are perfect for playing games while overlooking the Sound. Hungry campers will be pleased to recognize Ivar’s next door, with views to match the chowder. For another local’s hot spot hit up Diamond Knot in the center of town. The ice cream is wait-worthy, and the “cook your own steak” on a hot granite rock is fun for budding chefs.

Trek into Snohomish County, aka Seattle’s North Country. The Outback Kangaroo Farm will send the kiddos into paroxysms of delight. The family-run rescue ranch is passionate about animal welfare, and their humorous approach makes the kangaroos accessible for even the littlest tinies. After working up a sweat with the joeys and alpacas, cruise into quaint downtown Arlington to Glory Bucha. You’ll appreciate the charming owner and healthy brews, the kids will love the sweet fizzy concoctions and can do a taste flight just like the grown-ups. For adult beverages with food for kiddos and room to roam  make Elemental Cider a destination. It's a casual, festive place with wood fire pizza, plus gluten-free options. Yum!

Whidbey Island

Did you know Coupeville was the setting for the movie Practical Magic because of its New England-esque atmosphere? Visitors feel transported back in time to a gentler place when they settle into Whidbey Island for a fall vacation. Make the newly renovated Captain Whidbey your group’s HQ–a combination of rustic chic and summer camp fun. The cabins have fireplaces and views of Penn Cove, while the Lagoon Rooms come replete with day beds for wee ones. The dining room and bar serve scrumptious concoctions and the property has plenty of nooks and crannies for reading or playing games.

Whidbey has something for everyone. Adventurers can fly through the air at Canopy Tours Northwest or scale a tree for a birds eye view of the Deception Pass Bridge with AdventureTerra. Calling all wranglers! Private or group horse rides are available at Pacific Northwest Riding Academy. Hikers love Possession Sound Preserve, Beach View Farm Easement that takes walkers by a working farm and wetlands, while art enthusiasts will enjoy the Price Sculpture Forest. Foodies grab supplies at 3 Sisters Market for picnics at Dugualla State Park, or for a true culinary experience spend a divine meal and more at Ciao Food & Wine. The pizza is other-worldly (order an extra pie for later, trust us), and their gourmet goods to-go are all imported from Italy. Delizioso! Don’t forget dessert, both Coupeville and Langley have sweet treats: Little Red Hen Bakery serves cookies and Sweet Mona’s satisfies the chocoholics in the group.

photo: Greg Freitas

Leavenworth

Ready for bursts of color and non-stop photo ops? Highway 2 to Leavenworth is a leaf-peeping paradise. The fall foliage on this drive must be seen to be believed—golden, burnt orange and fuchsia explosions of color blanketing the landscape hundreds of feet above the highway. The road is speckled with small Washington towns worth savoring, from eclectic Sultan to snow-crazy Gold Bar to so tiny-but-so-cute Skykomish. Even after the leaves fall, this drive is part of the experience.

Just two hours northeast of Seattle, Leavenworth is all about family fun. Everyone will enjoy nearby hikeseating bratwurst and visiting the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. Stay at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort (think: cozy accommodations, farm-to-table cuisine, onsite Aspen Leaf Day Spa and an amazing rock pool) or Enzian Inn, with its terrific indoor pool. The town itself is on a mission to make the entire faux-Bavarian village more family-friendly. Grab a stein or two while the kiddos ride horses, take carriage rides, putt-putt golf, hit the bike or skate park and more. Don't forget the lederhosen!

Long Beach Peninsula

Filled with mystery, magic and majestic seascapes, the Long Beach Peninsula makes for a wonderful fall road trip to explore the southwest tip of Washington. Hands-on activities abound so roll up your sleeves and get the kiddos involved. Dig for razor clams by day or lantern light (a license is required). Cranberry harvest runs through late October and the U-Pick Cranberries at Cranguyma Farms is the perfect way to be a part of the season. Take a bike ride or meander on the Discovery Trail and enjoy the fresh air as well as the sculptures and markers along the way.

Long Beach has manageable museums for the little ones. The World Kite Museum and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center are faves. Head to Cape Disappointment State Park—contrary to its name it won’t disappoint! The views and lighthouses are legendary. After watching waves crash and birds soar, you will need somewhere to rest. Stay at Adrift Hotel for a right-on-the-beach experience. The property has a sauna, a covered pool and a distillery onsite, plus it's dog friendly too. The Boardwalk Cottages are a cozy option just down the road. At The Helm is perfect for the sophisticated crew, and history lovers should try the Shelbourne Hotel—the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state.

La Conner

Not just for the Tulip Festival anymore, La Conner is a “tiny town with big charm.” Bursting with popular exploration adventures, the Skagit Valley is a fabulous place to enjoy the autumn season. It gets crowded so be prepared; fall and winter bring feathered visitors such as the beautiful Trumpeter Swan and Snow Geese. Swinomish Channel teems with seals, bald eagles, great blue herons and otters. Kids will love the family farms that surround the region, and the pumpkin patches are always a hit for picking out that perfect gourd for carving or painting. Stop by Christianson's Nursery to see llamas, goats, birds, rabbits and more and don’t forget to scoop up some plants and gifts to take home.

The town has lots to enjoy. Stroll and savor handmade chocolates, scones, fudge and coffee from the specialty stores on First Street, or wine taste with your pooch at the many dog-friendly establishments. The Museum of Northwest Art is a tiny but mighty museum, and the self-guided Walking Tour of La Conner’s Sculpture Exhibit is another artistic highlight. If the fam gets restless head to the La Conner Swinomish Skateboard Park. Stay at La Conner Country Inn, conveniently located in downtown La Conner with complimentary breakfast and cozy gas fireplaces in the guest rooms.

Copalis Beach

If your family needs serious bonding time, take your road trip straight to Copalis Beach and check into Iron Springs Resort. Copalis Beach is all the fun your family will need—tide pools, tag games and long beach strolls. Iron Springs cabins are like a second home your family shares, time-tested and comforting, a place you don’t want to leave. The kitchens come loaded with all the accoutrements you need to make vacay meals a breeze. Don’t forget to pick up the signature cinnamon buns at the Iron Springs General Store and anything else your group needs for hunkering down at the resort. The resort welcomes dogs with tennis balls and treats—so bring your four-legged friends.

It’s razor clam digging season! Contact the friendly staff to help obtain the required license and essentials. They will also help with bivalve-digging tips and clam cleaning tutorials. We think your kids will also love kite flying (it's a year-round sport in Ocean Shores), hiking trails that beckon nearby or just holing up with puzzles, books and games for cabin amusement. You won’t want to leave, but if you feel like a night out, reserve a table at just up the road at Ocean Crest for exquisite cuisine that matches the view. Holiday pictures, check!

Olympic Peninsula

Did you know that the Olympic National Park is one of the top five most visited national parks in the country? That’s why visiting in fall is the best way to escape the crowds but still enjoy the splendor of the region. The rugged beach and rainforest are unique Washington attributes-experience the magnificence of the Hoh RainforestHurricane Ridge and the "sea stacks" at Rialto Beach. The kids can splish-splash at Sol Duc Hot Springs (open through Oct. 31, 2021) and hunt for hidden treasures on the Olympic Peninsula GeoTour. There are 30 geocaches hidden around the Highway 101 Scenic Byway Loop.

Bike rides along the Olympic Discovery Trail make for relaxing family leg-stretchers, and short day hikes abound. In Port Angeles, explore the new Dream Playground where the tinies can get the squirms out! Foodie families will savor the Olympic Culinary Loop, discovering locally grown, fresh caught and foraged food that inspires local chefs to create delicious Olympic Coast Cuisine. Handcrafted wines, microbrews, spirits and artisanal ciders reward patient parents for their hard work. Stay at Lake Quinault Lodge, Lake Crescent Lodge or Kalaloch Lodge. These impressive rustic gems are signature experiences on their own.

Hood Canal

Whether you approach via ferry or I-5, Hood Canal is one of Washington’s most spectacular waterscapes. Tucked away near the tiny town of Union, kid-friendly Alderbrook is Hood Canal’s swankiest resort. Kids will love roasting s'mores by the campfire, beach combing and playing lawn games near the cottages. The entire fam will love the 85-degree salt water pool with hot tub. In addition to rooms, the resort offers spacious cottages perfect for families who are looking to spread out and take advantage of full kitchens. Fungi foraging season is near full swing, and guests can meander the trails and bring home a bounty of delectable mushrooms from the edible landscape. Guided walks take place every Friday with Alderbrook’s resident naturalist. Groups of 10 or larger can also book a private dinner with nature walk at the Gathering Grove.

Or embrace your inner forest ranger and check into Robin Hood Village Resort. If the fairytale setting looks like it was designed by Hollywood, it’s because it was. The rustic resort blends perfectly with the neighboring woods—request the cabins with private Coleman hot tubs. Outdoorsy types will find themselves blissfully at home. City dwellers can drive two miles along the water to Union City Market, a hipster mercantile/café/event space/marina that would fit seamlessly in Ballard. 

Lake Chelan

Need some sunshine this fall? Lake Chelan boasts 300 days of sun, an array of outdoor activities and over 30 wineries hugging the shores of the iconic, sapphire waters of Washington’s largest lake. For real seclusion, hop on the Lady Express to Stehekin (pop. 75) at the northern end of Lake Chelan. Stehekin is inaccessible by car, has no cell phone reception, no ATM, and no connecting roads. Hello, together time!

Closer to town stay somewhere new, like Harmony Meadows Tennis Resort, a world-class destination tennis resort or The Lookout, a vacation village perched above the lake. Families can also lay heads at old fave Wapato Point, a 116-acre waterfront property. Then get ready for an “Oh My Gosh” list of adrenaline-filled (and some calmer) outdoor diversions. Take flight on a scenic ride with Lake Chelan Helicopters or make the leap with Sky Dive Chelan for a stunning view of the terrain. Get into the vines (and the nectar therein) with the guided Chelan Electric Bikes tour through the local wine country.

After so much exercise there will be tummys to feed. Eat at Blueberry Hills—a small, family owned and operated U-pick berry farm and restaurant with the best breakfast blintzes on the planet. For evening entertainment, don’t miss Chelan’s Ruby Theatre, a Main Street American classic. The state’s oldest continuously operating theatre, the Ruby has been screening first-run films since 1914.

Hood River

On the banks of the mighty Columbia River, Mount Hood beams down on visitors to Hood River, Oregon. The scenery makes it a choice autumn destination and kids love Multnomah Falls, the Bridge of the Gods and Lost Lake. Visit Dry Creek Falls by the Pacific Crest Trail, a rushing waterfall that, despite its name, is never dry. There are farms and picnic spots galore. Meander along Hood River Fruit Loop, a 35-mile pastoral drive through the valley’s orchards, forests and farmlands. The region provides great photo ops, as well as fruits and wine, lavender and alpacas and family activities.

Two notable farms are Packer Orchards Farm Place for local fruits and vegetables with plenty of parking and picnicking, and Draper Girls Country Farm with a year-round, self-serve fruit stand, u-pick cherries, apples and pears in season, and farm-raised lamb, pork and beef for purchase. Ready for sport? Sign the fam up for the Locks Approach Disc Golf Course–it’s free and open to all ages and abilities. Or check out Oregon E-bikes for e-bike rentals so your group can keep cruisin’ with ease. Stay at Skamania Lodge, the “wow” factor is hard to beat. Luxury treehouses plus resort, zip lining, an indoor pool and outdoor hot tub make everyone in the family say, “best trip ever!” Or for something a little out of the box, travel about 40 minutes north to Mt. Adams Getaway.

—Natalie Compagno, Kristina Moy, Sara Billups & Allison Ellis

Feature image: iStock

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