As temperatures warm and the COVID-19 pandemic curves continue to flatten, visitors are planning adventures to Washington State in order to shake-off their widespread cabin fever like never before. While many visitor destinations like Bellevue are reopening and attractions prepare to welcome visitors with added safety precautions, rest assured there is so much more beyond the constraints of six-feet-apart spacing to explore. The outdoors certainly haven’t limited their hours, and innovation has allowed for many small businesses to shift in order to safely serve you.
Protecting ourselves doesn’t have to mean staying in place — with Bellevue as your base, make some plans, hop in the car, and get out there! With these five socially-distanced epic road trips, you don’t need to put yourself and your loved ones at risk in order to explore Bellevue area’s natural beauty, hyperlocal dining, and distinctive charm.
But before packing up the car and kids for your next adventure, make sure to take the recommended precautions to avoid exposing yourself and others. Bring essentials like face coverings and hand sanitizer everywhere you go, check the hours and rules for any business you intend stopping at ahead of time, and remember that leave no trace protocols still hold in the middle of a pandemic. Physical distancing doesn’t need to put a damper on being a weekend warrior — so travel safely! To learn more about traveling and enjoying the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, check out the Recreate Responsibly initiative.
Mount Rainier Loop
Distance from Bellevue: ~70 miles
Roundtrip distance and suggested time: 140 to 200 miles, 4 to 8 Hours
Mt. Rainier — Washington’s prized peak. You can climb up it, swim on it, hike down it… AND drive around it. Take 169 to Enumclaw, stopping by Naches Bar & Grill in Greenwater for a bit (or perhaps undertaking the hike to Skookum Falls) before climbing to Sunrise — Rainier’s wildflower-covered visitor center. Once the snow melts the road to Sunrise opens, allowing visitors to check out the center, hop on a nearby trail, munch at the snack bar, or simply bask in the Emmons Glacier’s glory. When you’ve had your fill, continue on to the Crystal Mountain Resort to go sky-high in the Mount Rainier Gondola — no skiing necessary. You will then traverse the meandering Chinook and White Passes, stopping at the Sun Top lookout for another superior view of the mountain and Tipsoo Lake for a jaw-dropping outlook of the aquatic kind. As you wave goodbye, the mountain getting increasingly smaller in the rearview mirror, look forward to the Boulder Cave Trail near the city of Naches. (If you bring a light, and stay especially quiet, you may spot the bats enjoying their midday slumber!) Before heading back to Bellevue, there are plenty of regional side trips to lengthen your visit. Mt. Adams and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest are about 40 miles to the South, and the mystical Kachess Lake sits to the north outside of Cle Elum. Ready to trade your hiking boots for a wine glass? The Yakima Valley has over 17,000 acres of vineyards to tickle your tastebuds.
Skookum Falls: Want to hike your way to Skookum Falls? You may have to work for it. Monitor trail conditions for the 7.8-mile hike along Skookum Flats on the WTA website.
Chinook Pass: An eastern entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, the Chinook Pass route swerves between towering ridges and gorgeous lookout points. For detailed directions and updates, visit the Department of Transportation’s website.
Suntop Lookout: A brief 2.1-mile jaunt (or, if the road is open, a simple drive up) to Suntop Lookout is more than worth the burned calories. Learn more about the surrounding trail system on the WTA’s website.
Boulder Cave Trail: Home to the Pacific western big-eared bat, this former CCC site is a great stop for animal lovers and families. Check openings and recommendations for bat-viewing on the WTA’s website.
Sunrise: The second most-visited destination on Rainier, Sunrise makes every visitor feel like the true King of the Hill with (almost) unobstructed views of the surrounding valleys and volcanoes. Stay updated with road openings and trail conditions on the National Park Service’s website.
Tipsoo Lake: Carved by glaciers, snap a postcard-ready picture of the rugged (and hopefully flower-covered) landscape surrounding this mini lake on Rainier’s eastern face. Learn more about Tipsoo Lake and the surrounding hikes on the National Park Service’s website.
WHERE TO EAT
Naches Bar & Grill: Snatch a grab N go bloody mary or mimosa from Naches Bar & Grill — or “the Chez” if you’re a local — and some pizza for a quick and easy hunger-deterrent. Hours and menu information on Naches Bar & Grill’s Facebook page.
Sunrise - Snack Bar: Hot dogs and soft serve? Sounds like summer. Mount Rainier lodge openings can be found at mtrainierguestservices.com.
The Summit House: If greasy spoons aren’t quite your style, check out the Summit House Restaurant! Truffle fries, wagyu beef sliders, and chevre-coated salads are among this alpine joint’s dishes. For more information, visit Crystal Mountain Resort’s website.
Mt. Adams & Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Encompassing a swath of 1,312,000 acres, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of the oldest protected reserves in the country. (Yeah, it may take a while to explore all of this one.) Stay updated at fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot.
Yakima Wine Country: Cabernet Sauvignon connoisseurs and Albarino aficionados can BOTH agree that the Yakima Valley is a wine-lovers dream. Explore the vineyards and wineries at wineyakimavalley.org/vineyards/.
Kachess Lake: Camping in the summer, snowshoeing in the winter — Kachess Lake is a gem year-round. Check trail conditions and access options on the WTA’s website.