Some of us here at The Seattle School play outside a lot…a whole lot. When there is swell (and we have money for gas), some of us like to surf. When the snow has melted in the mountains, some might even go for long-distance backpacking trips. And, as the cold, dark nights of winter reign, a few of us might grab snowshoes and warm winter camping gear for some snow camping.
An absolutely amazing fact about living in Seattle is that you can drive three hours in any direction and be in completely different environments with so many possible activities. If you’re living in the Seattle area during your years of graduate school, we encourage you to take time to play and rest outside. And if you’re studying in one of the low-residency degree programs, consider finding a few hours or a few days to enjoy some of the wonders around the Seattle area when you’re in town for residency. Even if you don’t have multiple days to explore and seek out solitude, you can still head 30-45 minutes out of town and be on a trail or by the water. Below are a few of our favorite places for adventures and activities in the greater Seattle area, including the approximate drive time and direction from Seattle.
Incredibly, there are three national parks within three hours of downtown Seattle. North Cascades National Park (2.25 hours NE) offers a craggy, mountainous region with a multitude of hidden high mountain lakes and stunning valleys.
Olympic National Park (3 hours W, NW) is host to some of the most eco-diverse land in the state, so you’ve got multiple options for what kind of environment you’d like to spend time in. Over half of the coastline of Washington State is inside the park boundary, offering tide pools, beach exploration, and great surfing. To the southwest is the Hoh rainforest, with old-growth forests covered in mosses in nearly every shade of green, and which sees over 140 inches of rain per year. It’s also home to the quietest place in the United States, so if you need a place to escape the noise of the city, look no farther! The north end of the park gives you access to Hurricane Ridge, a popular place in the winter to cross-country ski, snowshoe, or go sledding.
And then there is the jewel, Mt. Rainier National Park (2 hours S). On days when the clouds have dispersed, Seattle has an absolutely imposing and awe-inspiring view of the mountain that can almost make it seem like she is watching over the city. In the summer, you can day hike or overnight hike on the Wonderland trail that circumnavigates the mountain and spans 93 miles. In the winter, you can visit the popular sledding and snowshoeing area of Paradise.
If snow sports are your thing, there are three ski resorts within one or two hours. If you’re from somewhere like Colorado, know we use the term “resort” loosely—more accurately they might be called “ski areas.” Snow in the PNW is notoriously wet and heavy, but we ski it anyway! Snoqualmie Pass is the closest resort to Seattle, but this also means it is the most crowded. Crystal is the next nearest resort. You can also ride the gondola year-round and get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier. Steven’s Pass and Mt. Baker are a couple more local favorites, though they do require a little bit more of a drive.
If cross-country skiing or snowshoeing piques your interest, each of these resorts offer ski and shoe rentals, or you can rent in the city and drive out to any of the national parks or local trails.
Seattle is surrounded by the Salish Sea, also known as the Puget Sound. It’s a great place for flat-water kayaking or paddleboarding, but it is not ideal for surfing. The most accessible surf breaks in Washington state are three hours away in the small communities of West Port and Ocean Shores. You can rent equipment (5mm wetsuit, gloves, booties, and board) at one of the surf shops in town and then drive five minutes down the road to the beach. In the summer months, the beach can be a great place to relax with a good book. The water temperature rarely rises above 60 degrees, but some brave souls can still be seen swimming in the Sound each summer!
We also thought we’d highlight Seattle’s park system, which is by far one of the greatest attributes of the city. No matter what neighborhood you live in, you will be in walking distance to a great park space! Each park has different amenities to offer, so take the time to figure which park will be your go-to for different activities. Below we’ve listed some of our favorite spots by category. We know you will find your own favorites, and hope you can savor all the time you get to spend in them.
- Kerry Park
- Discovery Park
- Gas Works
- Golden Gardens
- Olympic Sculpture Park
- Seward Park
- Alki Beach
- Parson’s Gardens
Best for Picnics and Lawn Games
Best for Sunny Days on the Water
Parks with options for swimming, paddle boarding/canoeing, getting sun, etc.
Best for Exercise
Parks with hiking trails, running/walking paths, bike lanes, etc.
For those of you who are not local to Seattle, let us and your fellow incoming students know of some of your favorite spots in your town on the 2022 Facebook cohort page!