A Washington Spring Break Road Trip
Last year, my boys and I drove up to the Seattle depot for a four-day Spring Break road trip looping through central Washington that involved rock-hounding, snow, waterfalls, and even culminating in some indoor swimming. While Spring is normally too early for tent-camping in Washington—and in fact, many of the campgrounds in the area are closed through May—we were hopeful that between the insulation provided by the van and a few extra sleeping bags that we’d have a warm and fun trip.
The Night Before Our Spring Break Road Trip
Since we drove up from Portland (about 3 hours away), we spent the night before pick-up at Dash Point State Park, a nice, tree-filled state campground only 12 miles from the Seattle campervan rental location. The day-use area across the road has an incredible beach right on the Puget Sound and would be great as either the first or last night of any Seattle-based trip.
Day 1: Traveling From Seattle To Ellensburg, WA
After waking up cold and tired (we tried a car-camping experiment and failed), we headed toward the depot and were pleasantly surprised to find our campervan ready early. The boys were especially impressed with the rooftop tent, and after a helpful orientation, we officially started our adventure.
For those wanting to head through Seattle, it is an amazing city filled with parks, museums, a great zoo, and lots of places to eat good food. Pike Place Market is normally a must-see, but with our camping-themed trip, we decided to hit two spots we hadn’t tried before:
* Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. A free, fun, national park located in the old Cadillac Hotel, definitely worth an hour or two to explore. Street parking is available in the area.
* REI Seattle. Considered their “flagship” store, in addition to being able to stock up on any last-minute items we may have forgotten, this particular REI has an “REI Ranger Station” through a partnership with the National Park Service, Washington State Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service. A great place to grab free maps and pamphlets on the area, purchase a parking pass, find out road and park conditions, and even ask about route and camping suggestions from the experts.
Heading east from Seattle on I-90 we made a full day of stops, hikes, and good food including:
* Snoqualmie Falls (aka, the lodge and waterfall from the TV show Twin Peaks). A pleasant .5-mile hike down to the bottom of the waterfall offers nice views, though if you’re in a rush there’s plenty to see from the top as well. There’s also a nice gift shop with small snacks and coffee as well as clean bathrooms. The Salish Lodge is operated separately and has more fine-dining options. Tip: Parking across the street is free.
* Denney Creek. Just off I-90 is a series of hikes leaving from the Denny Creek area. We opted for a very short but scenic walk around the water, but there are other trails leading to waterfalls that are up to 6 miles round-trip. NW Forest Pass required.
* Roslyn, Washington, home of Dr. Joel Fleischman’s office in Northern Exposure and the „World Famous“ brick saloon, the oldest saloon in Washington State and site of a 23-foot-long continuously flowing spittoon, one of only five in the country still operational. The fish & chips were delicious.
Day 2: Driving From Ellensburg To Vantage, WA
* The Rock’n’Tomahawk Ranch just outside of Ellensburg, WA is one of the few places in the world where you can find the Ellensburg blue agate. Call ahead a couple of days to set up an orientation and Bernice (one of the lovely owners) will show you what to look for and where to go. Tip: Park at the office and walk, instead of trying to drive onto the dirt roads of the ranch.
* Ginko Petrified Forest. This was one of our favorite stops of the trip: a cute, informative state park and visitor center with great views of the Columbia River and several hikes that wind through the petrified logs. Tip: Look for the Petroglyphs on the lower side of the center.
* Ginko Gem Shop. An old-school, family-run rock shop with quirky dinosaurs outside and tons of rock souvenirs inside. Plenty of options from $2 rock “eggs“ to $1000 slabs of petrified wood.
* Wanapum State Park Campground. The best campground of the whole trip, it’s only a couple miles from the Ginkgo Petrified Forest and has large spaces, clean bathrooms, and amazing views of the Columbia River.
Day 3: Driving From Vantage To Bothell, WA
After packing up and heading out from the Wanapum Recreational area, we turned back west to complete our loop with another very full day. Stops included:
*Wenatchee Confluence State Park. Plenty of grass, geese, playgrounds, and bike paths at this state park with both a campground and a day-use area. It’s in a strange location next to an industrial park but was a great stop-off for a picnic lunch with a view of the water.
*Leavenworth, WA. Definitely worth a stop if you’re anywhere near here. Back in the 1960s, a group of businesspeople decided to try to resurrect this struggling logging town by modeling all the buildings off of a Bavarian village. More than 50 years later, swing by here for German/Bavarian food, a visit to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, or to stroll through its cute downtown.
* Stevens Pass Nordic Snow Park. If you come early enough in the season, you may catch the last bits of snow at this small “snow park” (really just a slope next to a parking lot). My boys were unimpressed, but what would probably be more fun is renting gear and snowboarding/skiing at the Stevens Pass Washington Ski Resort for a day on the slopes.
* Anderson School. The grand finale of our whole trip was a few hours spent in the 90-degree Olympic-sized swimming pool at the McMenamins Anderson School in Bothell, WA. A perfect place to grab good pub food, take a shower in their showrooms, then enjoy a lovely soak after a weekend of camping.
The Morning of The Last Day Of Our Spring Break Road Trip
After a night spent in the parking lot of the Snoqualmie Casino (free, clean and safe) we made one last stop before turning in our van:
*Sammamish Lake Park was a pleasant surprise and one we’d definitely visit again next time. An amazing playground complete with a zipline, paved pathways and walks around the lake, and a beautiful lake-front beach make for a popular and fun place to stretch your legs and have a picnic.
Rent A Campervan Plan A Spring Break Road Trip
After an extra-long weekend in “our” campervan, we’re all sold on the warmth, ease, and portability of both the vans and the rooftop tent, and I’m already getting pestered about when our next trip will be (especially with a new Portland Rental location that opened up).
There’s no way I’d try regular tents or car-camping again in the Washington Spring, but I’d rent a campervan van and the bedding again in a heartbeat.