Many Washingtonians, yours truly included, have done the Seattle to Spokane drive a dozen times or more. While the Emerald City is undoubtedly the state’s crowning jewel, there is also a variety of things to do between Seattle and Spokane, the state’s second-largest city, making this road trip one that never gets old. Here are some tips for an awesome cross-Washington adventure itinerary.
Planning a Seattle to Spokane Road Trip
If you are from Washington state or have traveled through, you’ll be familiar with the disparity in road conditions. It’s no secret west side roads are, generally, much better-maintained. The caveat is the west side, mainly the greater Seattle area, is much more densely populated, so try to avoid entering King County during rush hour.
Weather conditions, and therefore driving conditions, can also vary dramatically based on the season and what part of the state you are in. Don’t be too surprised to find snow in Spokane, clear skies near Yakima, and heavy rain in the mountain pass, for instance, if traveling in winter (“winter” for Spokanites meaning October through March).
It is also important to check the Department of Transportation website for road closures due to construction, rock blasting (especially on the mountain passes), or snow and ice (again, especially when going through the Cascades).
Also, be aware that, in the past few years, Central Washington, in particular, has been subjected to massive wildfires, usually in the late summer. These may also cause road closures and make it dangerous, if not impossible, to pass through certain areas.
It’s not all bad news though! Far from it, in fact. Along the route, you will find plenty of rest areas, gas stations, and natural areas to take a hike or even camp. There are also several places to eat between Seattle and Spokane, from small-town fruit stands selling fresh local produce to fast food joints, coffee stands, and classic roadside diners.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com to find a great deal across many major companies. Alternatively, check out Outdoorsy if you prefer to rent an RV or campervan if you’re taking a longer trip such from Seattle to Glacier National Park or from Seattle to Yellowstone.
How Far is Spokane from Seattle?
The distance from Seattle to Spokane is around 279 miles (approximately 449 kilometres) and typically takes around four-and-a-half hours, with no stops.
There are a few routes you can take on your Seattle to Spokane road trip, depending on what you want to see and do, and how fast you want to get to your final destination.
Many people take the straightforward route: Interstate 90 the entire way. This spans 279 miles and, without stopping, your Seattle to Spokane drive time would be about four-and-a-half hours. Doing so, you’ll pass through desert, farmlands, and, of course, the mountains.
Another option is to take Highway 2, which is a bit further north than I-90 and takes you through some more mountain scenery, as well as the small town of Leavenworth, mentioned below. This will take around six hours.
Highway 20, even further north than Highway 2, is another option for beautiful mountain scenery and forests. For this route, you will take Interstate 5 north to Burlington, then get onto the highway. This will take longer and is not advisable in winter as mountain road closures are likely.
A fourth option is to go South. You can take either I-90 or Highway 410 to Yakima, then Highway 182 East to Walla Walla, followed by Highway 261 North to I-90, where you’ll continue east to Spokane. This route would take about seven-and-a-half hours with no stops.
Best Seattle to Spokane Drive Stops
Less than an hour after leaving Seattle, you’ll enter some of Washington’s most stunning wilderness as you make your way into the Cascades. Just before Snoqualmie Pass, you’ll hit the small town of the same name, home to one of the region’s most stunning natural attractions. Snoqualmie Falls is a 268-foot waterfall that, depending on rainfall, can either present as one tremendous, raging stream, or two side-by-side cascades.
From the parking lot, it’s just a short walk to the observation deck. There is also a park that’s an ideal spot for a picnic (weather permitting), or you can grab a bite at the Salish Lodge (the Great Northern on Twin Peaks; more on that in a moment).
If you want to get a different vantage point and a better look at the surrounding scenery, hike one of the moderate-difficulty trails heading from the parking area. For more outdoor adventuring, keep going about 30 minutes east on I-90 and you’ll reach the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area, where you can ski, snowboard, or hike.
Seattle may be the birthplace of Starbuck’s, but those in search of a damn fine cup of coffee know to stop in North Bend. One of the main filming locations for David Lynch’s cult classic TV drama Twin Peaks, along with Snoqualmie and Fall City, North Bend is, much like the show depicted it, a small logging town surrounded by misty mountains and a sea of trees.
You probably won’t encounter an ongoing murder/missing person investigation or anyone carrying out a conversation with their pet log, but that’s probably fine, right? Obviously, the town’s main draw is Twede’s Café, where you can’t not try the cherry pie (it’s good, don’t worry).
Mt Rainier National Park
Mt. Rainier is the symbol of Washington state, and for good reason. At 14, 411 feet the dormant volcano is the highest peak in the Cascade Range, which spans 260 miles from Canada to Oregon.
Located about 59 miles south of Seattle, Mt. Rainier is a sight to behold any time of year. In spring and summer, you will find its crystal-clear alpine lakes surrounded by seas of colorful wildflowers, and in winter, the mountain is adorned in a cloak of sparkling snow.
No visit to Washington would be complete without a stop at Mt. Rainier National Park and, if you have the time, it’s definitely worth incorporating in a Seattle to Spokane drive. Depending on the season, you can hike, bike, climb, fish, and find a broad array of wild flora and fauna, not to mention incredible photo opportunities.
Those who have been to Germany or Austria may not feel they’ve been transported across continents upon entering Leavenworth, but the town, modeled after a Bavarian Village, is undoubtedly charming regardless.
Front Street, the main drag, is lined with lovely Alpine-style buildings including restaurants and bars serving Bavarian and German fare (including beer), quaint shops, and a Nutcracker Museum. The town is worth a stop any time of year, but it is really magical at Christmastime when the streets are adorned with all variety of beautiful décor.
If that’s not enough of a draw, there’s also a reindeer farm nearby that’s open to tours. As of writing, tours are by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead if you want to get up close and personal with Rudolf and friends.
Cle Elum, which means “swift water” in the language of the Kittitas tribe, is a quaint historic town in the heart of the Cascades.
Spend some time at the lake of the same name, fishing, swimming, or drinking in the tranquil scenery while enjoying a regional wine or beer, or a fresh-brewed coffee. Take a hike on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, stop by the South Cle Elum Depot railway museum, or stroll through the South Cle Elum Rail Yard Historic District.
If you’re hungry, stop at Smokey’s Bar-B-Que for house-smoked down-home eats. The Carpenter House Museum, a 1914 mansion, is another attraction that offers a glimpse into the town’s past, from the perspective of the town’s first successful (and very wealthy) banker.
On the other side of the Cascades is the region usually referred to as Eastern Washington, even though there is still quite a bit of land to cross before you hit Spokane County. Whether you want to call it Central or Eastern Washington, once you pass the mountains, it’s an entirely different landscape and, largely, a different culture too.
The tiny town of Thorp is a beacon of the East side’s agrarian landscape and society, in which farmers grow a vast variety of crops from wheat and alfalfa to cherries and apples. Here, you will find the town’s massive family-owned roadside shop, Thorp Fruit and Antiques, which sells some of the state’s best produce, along with antiques and souvenirs.
Gingko Petrified Forest
The Pacific Northwest is known for its lush, dense evergreen forests, many of which you’ll pass on a Seattle to Spokane drive. But this woodland is one of a kind. Surrounded by sage-covered desert, with few living trees in sight, the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park and Wanapum Recreation Area is a forest of fossils, forged by time and the forces of nature.
According to the Washington State Parks website, the Gingko Petrified Forest, with its petrified gingko and other tree varieties, as well as ancient petroglyphs, is one of the most diverse fossil forests in North America. If you didn’t know fossil forests were even a thing, that’s all the more reason to visit!
Stop by the Interpretive Center to learn how Ice Age floods created the cliffs and petrified woods, then head to the Gingko Gem Shop to take home some colorful gems or petrified wood.
This town’s founders either had a sense of humor or wanted to make certain no one forgot the state’s namesake, the nation’s first president. The tiny town was home to just 501 residents at the time of the 2010 census, but the Gorge Amphitheatre attracts thousands of visitors every year (pandemic notwithstanding).
Formerly known as the Champs de Brionne Music Theatre, the Gorge is a 20,000-seat venue overlooking the Columbia River Basin that has hosted some of the world’s most famous acts. While there are several concerts throughout the year, by far the most popular is the Memorial Day weekend Sasquatch Music Festival, to which thousands of (mostly younger) people make the pilgrimage every spring for three days of camping and music.
Wild Horse Monument
Even if there’s not a show on, George may be worth visiting for a glimpse at the “Wild Horse Monument” (real name Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies). Chewelah sculptor David Govedare started it in 1989 with the intent to debut it at the state’s centennial celebration.
His initial concept was a bit different than the finished product. He had envisioned sculpting a depiction of Grandfather, symbol of the Great Spirit of Native American culture, tipping a woven basket from which a pack of 18 wild horses dashed forth. Funds were insufficient, however, and the project was cut with just 15 horses.
Nonetheless, it’s a nod to the region’s indigenous peoples and the real wild horses that once roamed free here. You can see the monument from the freeway or pull off at the exit and take a short hike up to get a closer look.
When you think of wine country, you probably think of the Bay Area, including Napa Valley or Sonoma, California. But in the past few years, Washington state has become a top contender.
Once a predominantly wheat-farming region, the Walla Walla Valley now produces more than 100 types of wine. Unlike most wine-producing regions, the valley, like the state generally, features a range of soil types and microclimates, making it viable for an array of varietals. our one of the local wineries and sip your libations with a view of the rolling wheat fields and Blue Mountains.
Note: This is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of George and the I-90 freeway, so if you’re not into wine, it probably isn’t worthwhile.
Where to Stay on the Seattle to Spokane Drive
If you’re searching for a perfect place to stay on the Seattle to Spokane drive, then making a stop near to Mt Rainier National Park is an excellent option. Though it isn’t quite halfway through the drive, it’s an excellent place to stop for a night or two in order to explore the area further. If you’re wondering where to stay, check out these suggestions.
Mountain Meadows Inn – Situated in Ashford, a town close to the entrance of the national park, this Inn is a wonderful place to rest your head. They have a number of great rooms to choose from, a helpful staff and a gorgeous location to ensure that you have an excellent stay. Click here to see their availability
Alexander’s Lodge – If you want to be within walking distance of the park entrance, then this lodge is a fantastic choice for you. Also located in the town of Ashford, this hotel has a range of rooms on offer and they also have a restaurant on site to ensure that you won’t go hungry! Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If a hotel or inn isn’t your style and you’d rather have your own place instead, there are countless private holiday rentals to choose from. There are lots of unique places to stay near the national park, such as this cosy cabin in the woods. Click here to browse private rentals near Mt Rainier
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to see more options near Mount Rainier!
The Historic Davenport – If you’re looking for some luxury in Spokane, then this hotel is the right choice for you! Located in the city centre, this luxe hotel has every amenity imaginable and has a range of plush rooms to choose from to ensure that your stay is a wonderful one. Click here to see their availability
Montvale Hotel – If you’re looking for something a bit smaller, then this boutique hotel in central Spokane is a great choice for you! They have a number of chic and comfortable rooms available and a restaurant and bar on site. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’d rather find your own place rather than stay in a hotel, then a private apartment or home rental is the perfect choice for you! There are lots of great places in Spokane, like this comfortable central cottage that you’re sure to find something that suits your fancy. Click here to browse private rentals in Spokane
Spokane, and the rest of Washington, for that matter, may not make headlines or pop up in social media feeds as frequently as Seattle. But, as you can see, there are plenty of places to see and things to do between Seattle and Spokane.
With a variety of landscapes, from mountains blanketed in wildflowers to valleys of golden grains and dramatic coastlines to vast deserts, a rich history as one of the Wild West’s last frontiers, and a diverse populace from lumberjacks and sailors to techies and vintners, the state clearly has a little something for everyone.
Are you planning a Seattle to Spokane drive? Have any questions about the route? Let us know in the comments!