Getting Around Washington State

  • Anacortes Ferry Terminal and Long Ramp to Walkway
    Anacortes Ferry Terminal and Long Ramp...
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  • Ferry Queue Area for Auto Traffic
    Ferry Queue Area for Auto Traffic
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  • Kenmore Air Plane after Landing at Friday Harbor
    Kenmore Air Plane after Landing at...
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Most Viewed Transportation in Washington State

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    Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

    by traveldave Updated Jun 11, 2013

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    Located 13 miles (21 kilometers) south of downtown Seattle, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is the main international airport in the Pacific Northwest. There are direct flights to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as all major American cities.

    Airlines serving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: Air Canada, Air Canada Express, Air France, AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Asiana Airways, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, EVA Air, Frontier Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Horizon Air, Icelandair, jetBlue Airways, Korean Air, Lufthansa German Airlines, Midwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, United Express, US Airways, and Virgin America.

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    Bolt Bus: Portland -> Seattle -> Vancouver BC

    by glabah Updated Jan 17, 2013

    The good news is that it is now possible to travel between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC direct at a price that is much less than Amtrak Cascades. The bad news is there is a reason it is much less expensive.

    BoltBus has been operating in the northeast USA for a number of years, and in May of 2012 decided to start competing with Amtrak in the northwest. Unlike Amtrak Cascades, they offer a non-stop trip between each of these cities. This may mean less disturbance during your trip if for some reason you can't sleep through the train stopping briefly.

    The primary advantage of BoltBus, however, is that it is very cheap. The lowest fare is $1, as advertised on their "Bolt for a Buck" advertising campaign. Prices tend to be in the $13 to $14 range, and rarely seem to exceed $19. If buying through the web site, there is a "handling fee" charged for the service.

    The secondary advantage of their service, and the primary reason why I found myself availing myself of their services was that they have a range of travel choices that are not available on Amtrak. In my particular case, I wanted to go from Seattle to Portland after taking a trip from Friday Harbor to Seattle on the Victoria Clipper. I didn't want to spend a pile of money on a hotel room close to downtown Seattle. The boat arrival in Seattle is 7:15 pm, so Amtrak's latest departure of 5:30 wouldn't work. BoltBus had a southbound departure at 8:30 which worked quite well.

    They seem to know their market well, and from what I have seen this means there are rarely any empty seats.

    They have WiFi, but I can't verify its availability as I found the seat too crowded to do much such activity in.

    They have at-seat electrical outlets, which are somewhat better located than any of the equipment currently in use on Amtrak in our region: the are located on the back of the seat in front of you, between the seats, so that each person can easily reach them. Amtrak can't put them there due to the need to rotate the seats.

    Oh, the SEATS! They don't recline on the particular BoltBus I was on as they were very compressed together. They also had very hard seat cushions. They look nice and soft, but they are nowhere near as comfortable as is available on Amtrak coach seats. My rear end hurt after about an hour, and it is a 3.25 hour trip! However, I did survive it OK, but I certainly suggest bringing your own pillows and otherwise be prepared to make yourself comfortable. I've been told this is actually not the normal state of affairs for BoltBus and that normally they are reasonably comfortable. It is possible that what I rode had not been rebuilt to their standards yet, but was instead hurried into service due to the level of demand.

    Boarding and arrival procedures are right on the city streets. In Seattle this isn't too bad as it happens at King and 5th, which has a lot of public shelters due to its location as a primary transit location. It is also not too far from King Street Station or the International District light rail and bus tunnel station. Portland isn't as generous in its location.

    At least, in theory it is under shelter at 5th and King, but that isn't exactly my experience. Upon arrival at the supposed location of this bus stop, I found that in fact there was no bus there, and there were no people waiting for the bus there. Instead, I found the buses were at 4th and King, on the complete opposite side of the station. But wait! Those buses both said Vancouver BC? So, back over to 5th and King I went. Eventually a bus did appear there, but it said Vancouver. I asked the driver about this, and he said to go back over to 4th and King, where I would find a bus for Portland. Halfway around the block, the bus to Portland passed my going to 5th and King. So, I went back over the other way. Finally, we boarded a bus! As it turns out, the driver had forgotten to change the sign to read Portland. They were positioned where they were, and in fact managed to board a few passengers on 4th, because there was a vehicle blocking the location they were supposed to board on 5th. They were able to send one of the passengers out to find the driver and move it, so that they could board where they needed to.

    This, of course, is one of the hazards of having an operation with no station or terminal, and very minimalist staffing and infrastructure. However, it does move people at a very cheap price.

    We left Seattle 10 minutes late, and arrived 20 minutes early, or a nice average speed of about 60 mph, thanks to the evening departure and all the Seattle traffic being stuck in parking lots for a Mariners game.

    I can't say that I would never take BoltBus again. The flexibility in travel time is really nice, but at the same time some travel comfort is really nice on a longer trip, especially considering the lack of space available to move on the bus. So, for now, I plan to stick to using Amtrak Cascades for most of my travel needs in the Cascades corridor.

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    Alternative Route from Seattle to Vancouver, BC

    by rmdw Written Jul 9, 2012

    The standard way to drive from Seattle up north to Vancouver, BC is via I-5. It's definitely an efficient way to go but if you'd like a less-used, more scenic route, I'd highly recommend Highway 9, which runs parallel to I-5, about 5 miles east of it. Here's a map of the route: http://goo.gl/maps/zkvF

    Along the way up are several highlights, including these:
    - Woodinville wine region: http://www.gotastewine.com/woodinville-wineries.php
    - Lake Stevens
    - Lake Whatcom

    If you don't stop, this route will take you about 15 - 30 minutes longer than going straight up I-5. But there are oodles of interesting vistas along the way, so do stop if you have the time!

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    Amtrak Cascades Part II (please see Part I first)

    by glabah Updated Apr 11, 2012

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    Please Note: The first part of this tip is located in my
    Amtrak Cascades tip, which is where you should start reading about the basics of this train service.

    Scenery You May See on the Amtrak Cascades Trains:

    Most of the line between Portland and Seattle is a double track main line, and thus at any moment your chance to view scenery may be interrupted by another train (as shown in photo 3 of this tip).

    If you do get a chance to request a certain seat (on the Cascades trains, you do this when you show the conductor your ticket while you are still in the station, before you board the train), the best side of the train to sit on is the west side of the train. (the "Water Side" of the train is what some of the conductors call this side). This side gets the Willamette River between Canby and Oregon City, the Columbia River between Vancouver, WA and Kelso, a wonderful view of Puget Sound for about 20 minutes as the train runs between Olympia and Tacoma, and again as the train runs north of Seattle. (See the 3rd Photo from train going under the bridge in my
    Amtrak Cascades tip)

    On the east side of the train, in clear weather you will sometimes get to see the Cascade Mountains, including Mount Rainier in several different places. One of those is above the newly built industrial wasteland south of Auburn (see photo 4 of my
    Amtrak Cascades tip). You will also be able to see the mountain from several places further south, including south of Tacoma. However, in order to see the mountain, it needs to be clear weather between the train and the mountain. The more than 100 miles distance to the mountain gives a lot of distance for weather interference. Photo 2 on this tip was taken near Olympia, on a clear day in August of 2009.

    Unfortunately, a considerable part of the trip north of Tacoma is really awful in terms of traveling through old industrial areas, suburban sprawl, and other really ugly areas. There are a number of farm fields to the southeast of Tacoma along the Puyallup River which the train runs beside before heading back north. In October several of these fields are covered with orange pumpkins, with various other small crops are grown in some of the other fields. Unfortunately, even this bit of respite from the concrete jungle is being replaced by suburban sprawl as time goes on.

    Even so, the industrial area does provide a little bit of interest. Just south of Seattle you will pass very close to one of the Boeing plants. This is on the west side of the train, and may be hidden by freight cars, but even in those cases even a little bit of the plant is usually visible in spots.

    You will get some scenery on both sides of the train between Nisqually Junction and Olympia, and even a little south of the Olympia station. Here, there are some surviving forests and a few lakes. Some forest land through this area provides a brief view of Mount Rainier. However, much of the farm land is being turned into suburban development and soon much of this will be typical concrete wasteland as well.

    Between Winlock and Castle Rock (the train doesn't stop in either) the line starts to run beside the Cowlitz River, with some reasonably scenic sections.

    South of Kelso there is some scenery along the Columbia River on the west side of the train, and there are places where you can see parts of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge - again on the west side of the train. Between Kelso and Woodland the line parallels Interstate 5, and thus the east side of the train gets to look at freeway traffic for this short segment, but at least it is one of the more scenic sections of Interstate 5.

    Much of the line around Vancouver and Portland is pretty unattractive industrial and suburban sprawl, though there are a spot or two where you get a view of Vancouver Lake on the west side of the train. The crossings of the Willamette River and Columbia River provide a decent view up and down the river, but much of the river edges near the bridges are highly developed commercial and industrial land.

    Much of the rest of the route has a random intermix of suburban sprawl, farmland, rural industries, small towns, and various other places that are not bad, but certainly not exceptionally special either.

    However, almost all of it is better than what you see from Interstate 5.

    My Amtrak Cascades Scenery Travelogue has a bit more information and photos.

    The Bistro Car:

    The "bistro" car has a number of items on the menu, but they do tend to be somewhat expensive relative to the price you pay. Generally the price for what you get is better than many of the paid airline meals offered in coach, however. I would suggest NOT going for the burgers, but instead suggest the pasta or other package offerings, due to the limited offerings of toppings I was able to find for the burgers. Don't get me wrong: the food is OK, but this isn't a full blown dining car that you would find on longer distance trains. If you want the better service and food, the Coast Starlight operates once a day over this route as well and it has a full lounge and full dining car.

    You can also bring your own food and drinks and eat them at your seat, but for various reasons it is not possible to bring your own alcoholic drinks.

    While you are in the bistro car take a look up at the ceiling of the car. Notice it has a map of the Pacific Northwest, with the cities at light dots on it. (see photo 2 of my Amtrak Cascades tip)

    Boarding and Stations:

    From downtown Seattle, King Street Station is on the south side of town. See my King Street Station Tip at
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f4a23/

    If you are connecting to Amtrak in Seattle from the Sea-Tac airport, you have several options: King County Metro bus route 156 or a taxi from the airport eastward a short distance to the Tukwila train station. Or, if time isn't a major issue, you can take SoundTransit's transit train (called LINK) from the airport to downtown Seattle and transfer at King Street Station (approx. three block walk between stations). Tukwila is not a staffed station, and has no checked luggage service or the ability to print Amtrak tickets from a ticket machine. You will want to make sure you have a reservation made ahead of time and have followed the instructions on how to board at a non-staffed station. Another option from the Sea-Tac Airport is to take SoundTransit bus route 574 from the airport south to Tacoma, which is a fully staffed Amtrak station with luggage check.

    Portland is a full service station, just like King Street, with luggage check for all trains and various other services.

    Vancouver, Washington is the only other significant station in the state of Washington on the Cascades service that has the full range of station services, including checked luggage for all trains and a reasonably staffed ticket counter. All of the other stations may or may not be staffed for all train departures, or may be completely non-staffed, or may not have checked luggage available for some or any trains.

    The WiFi Service

    In January of 2011, WiFi service was announced on the Cascades trains. The service had been available to First Class (Sleeping Car) passengers for a while before this, but now everyone has reasonably equal access to WiFi on the trains.

    There are a few dead spots along the route, where the train does not receive a signal in order to maintain contact to the rest of the world's data stream. The Point Defiance Tunnel is one of the places where the connection fades away. I have been able to get web sites to load on the east end of the tunnel, but there appears to be a bit of a dead spot on the east end, extending about 0.5 mile (1 km) away from the tunnel entrance. There are a few other places where there appear to be dead spots.

    Also, capacity of the wireless connection is a bit limited, and therefore if the system detects file downloads or video or other large bandwidth hogging uses the capacity will be cut back to that connection. If other passengers do try to use a bandwidth hogging web site or other type of connection, you will notice a bit of a slow down for a period of time. Eventually, the capacity is cut back to that user and it recovers.

    For some More Photos, Virtual Tourist Tips and Information See:

    My Amtrak Cascades Tip - the first part of the tip. The tip you are reading is leftover information from the 10,000 character limit on VirtualTourist tips.

    King Street Station
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f4a23/

    Kelso Station
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f26d3/

    Centralia Train Station

    Portland Union Station

    Along Commencement Bay in Tacoma (not the best scenery, but better than some)
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/b4e8a/#TL

    Along Puget Sound in Tacoma (the most scenic part of the Portland to Seattle trip)
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/b4e8b/#TL

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    Amtrak Long Distance Trains in Washington & Oregon

    by glabah Written Feb 14, 2012

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    I have already written quite a lot about Amtrak service in Washington through my series of tips about Amtrak Cascades service.

    However, Washington (mostly) and Oregon are also visited once per day by Amtrak long distance trains. These two trains are the Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight.

    Ticketing on Amtrak long distance trains can be a pain due to shortages of seats - meaning that the price increases very quickly as the train sells out. This is usually not a problem in January and February on the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder, but can be during many other times of the year. See my How to Work with Amtrak tip. Some stations in Oregon and Washington are fully staffed stations with luggage check facilities, while others are completely unstaffed, and still others are only staffed by a city volunteer or an Amtrak employee during very limited hours. Major stations have "QuikTrak" machines, where you scan your barcode from your online reservation and have a ticket printed. Most smaller stations lack this type of facility.

    The Coast Starlight, despite the name, does not operate along the coast in Oregon or Washington. No major cities were ever built on the coast of Oregon or Washington, and so the main line from north to south is about 100 miles from the coast. It operates along Puget Sound, along the Columbia River north of Portland, through the Willamette Valley, and then climbs the Cascades Mountains to Klamath Falls, and heads south into California from there.

    The Coast Starlight typically includes several sleeping cars, a dining car, a sightseer lounge car, and several coaches. In the winter months the train can be quite short, but in the summer months it usually gets much longer.

    The Empire Builder operates from Portland and Seattle to Spokane. Here, around midnight, the two train sections are subjected to switching in and out of cars, and become one train eastward to Chicago. Coming west, the same practice is followed, with the trains being separated in Spokane into Portland and Seattle sections. The Portland section of the train gets one sleeper, a sightseer lounge car with a snack bar, and a coach or two. The rest of the sleepers and coaches, plus the dining car, wind up on the section of the train that goes from Spokane to Seattle.

    The equipment used on both trains is almost always Superliner equipment from the 1980s (though sometimes other equipment does show up even now, as temporary equipment assignments due to shortages of Superliners). Its usually reasonably comfortable, and there is somewhat more seat space provided in the coach seats over the Amtrak Cascades trains. There are two levels to these cars, however, and the cars have a single very narrow staircase connecting the upper level with the lower level. The restrooms (plus, usually, one "dressing room" plus luggage racks) are on the lower level. People who are physically unable to climb the stairs are able to sit on the lower level. However, the connection between cars is on the upper level. Thus, if you are unable to climb the stairs you will be unable to get from the coach or sleeper to the dining car or the lounge car. Those who can not climb the stairs have to ask their car attendant to go get things for them from these cars if they require them. It is not usually easy to find the car attendant because they are kept busy with the majority of the passengers, which are upstairs.

    Another small problem with the Superliner equipment: the upper level of the cars can rock quite a bit due to being at a higher point above the track. Therefore, if you are prone to motion sickness it will be a good idea to come prepared. Some sections of track are really good and don't bounce the cars much, but many other sections will cause quite a bit of rocking.

    Coach seats usually include two 120 volt electrical outlets per pair of seats, rather than a single outlet per pair of seats as found on the Amtrak Cascades trains. The seats usually have a bit more space than the Cascades trains as well, so that when sleeping it is possible to stretch out to nearly a lying position. Photo 2 doesn't really show the amount of space very well, but it is noticeable when you sit in the seats how much space they have!

    Sleeper accommodations include several different types of bedrooms, from "family size" rooms to standard rooms to "roomette" type rooms. Only certain types of rooms have private bathrooms, and even fewer types have private showers.

    The sightseer lounge car with a snack bar on the lower level has quite good windows, and this is where people who are on cell phones or desiring to talk loudly to eachother are supposed to hang out. However, for reasons known only to themselves, people have become accustomed to the airline method of travel in which passengers are highly encouraged to stay in their seats. Therefore, it sometimes takes quite some time for people to discover the lounge car, depending on the number of people on the train and their penchant for exploring.

    During the rebuilding of the cars several years ago (and remember some of these cars are over 30 years old!) the swivel seats in the lounge cars were removed, and replaced with less space consuming fixed tables (see photo 3) and rows of seats facing outward (see photo 4). So, be prepared for some interior changes in the lounge cars if you haven't been in them for a while.

    Menus for the dining car and the snack bar are usually in the seat pocket. Meals are included with any sleeping car accommodation, but are an extra price in the coaches. Meals are taken by reservation before the meal, as the dining car attendant comes through the train.

    During the next few years, if you are able to do so, I highly suggest taking the time to watch the scenery from the lounge car of the Coast Starlight between Tacoma and Olympia. This very scenic section of track is covered in one of my Amtrak Cascades tips, and within a few years will be replaced by a new passenger route through Lakewood (which is faster but a horribly ugly route surrounded by concrete).

    Scenery on the Empire Builder is best covered in the summer months, when there is a lot of daylight to work with. The Portland to Spokane section leaves Portland in the afternoon, and during the summer months the Columbia River Gorge scenery is quite good. During the depths of winter it is covered just as it is getting dark.

    The same goes for the Seattle to Spokane section: the train goes through the Cascade Mountains, as well as running along Puget Sound between Ballard and Everett. There's some pretty good stuff here, but it is covered in the dark during the winter months, due to the scheduling.

    As they travel long distances over several days, and a number of problems can happen during the trip (collisions with autos at crossings or running over people wandering on the tracks is fairly common, but delays due to freight train traffic is very common as well), trains arriving from outside Oregon and Washington are very often late. You can check the train status by using the web site or the 1-800 number.

    For links to tips about individual stations I have written about, plus a description of scenery you may see between Seattle and Portland, and some links to some travelogues with photos of the scenery between those two cities, see my Amtrak Cascades scenery and overflow tip as the stations served by the Coast Starlight and Amtrak Cascades are mostly the same.

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    Interstate 5, Kelso to Vancouver, Washington

    by glabah Updated Feb 1, 2012

    Due to the 10,000 character limit of VirtualTourst tips, I have moved the Kelso / Longview section of my Interstate 5, from Seattle south tip into this tip.

    For some basic information about what is near Interstate 5 north of Kelso / Longivew, please see my Interstate 5, South of Seattle tip.

    Kelso and Longview, Washington to Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon:

    For those headed to the Oregon coast, you can cross the river here in Longview to highway 30 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River and head west to Astoria. Highway 30 can also be taken south to Portland. It is slower but more off the beaten path than I-5.

    Certain attractions in the Volcanic Monument can only be accessed from highway 503 east out of Woodland or various other routes. As with the monument further north, these are well off the freeway and you really should leave at least a day to get up there, view or do the activity (hike, lava tube explore, etc.) and come back if you want to really enjoy your time.

    South of Kelso is Kalama. Minor attractions here include a decent sized park and huge totem poles near the river. There are a few downtown restaurants close to the freeway, none of which are large chains.

    Paradise Point State Park was so named because it was a very quiet and wonderful out of the way place. In the 1950s it was decided to route I-5 through the park, making it one of the loudest state parks in the state - and far cry from Paradise.

    La Center has a small bird watching area next to the river and a small casino downtown. A big new casino near the freeway is planned.

    Ridgefield has a national wildlife refuge and Native American longhouseas well as several small art galleries, and a few other minor attractions. El Rancho Viejo is probably one of the best deals you will find when it comes to quantity of food for the price along this section of I-5.

    Just south of Ridgefield, there is a major events center. Formerly it was the Clark County Fairgrounds but is now the SleepCountry Theatre. Major events here cause traffic tanges all the way to Vancouver, Portland and Kalama.

    Vancouver has Fort Vancouver National Historic Site that has a modern replica on the site of the old Hudson's Bay Company fort that got the Pacific Northwest economically connected to the rest of the world.

    The bridge over the Columbia River on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver is actually a drawbridge, and when it opens there can be huge traffic tangles. I-205 avoids this, but also avoids downtown Portland and Vancouver.

    The scenery through here is part of the Columbia River valley (not the Columbia Gorge which has better scenery), and is the best of anywhere along the Portland to Seattle route of Interstate 5. It isn't extremely spectacular, and is similar to what you see along the river between Kelso and Astoria, but it is at least rolling hills with trees.

    Amtrak Cascades

    If you are just trying to get from the Seattle area to the Portland area, and have no interest in stopping at any of the locations between the two, it is possible to use the Amtrak Cascades service. The route is a bit more scenic than Interstate 5, mostly due to the approximately 20 minutes the train spends running along Puget Sound. This route is due to end in a few years time as an old branch line is being rebuilt into a new main line - which will be far less scenic.

    Taking the train also avoids the horrific traffic tangles that frequently happen between Seattle and Olympia, and north of Vancouver.

    Amtrak Cascades service has stations in Seattle (King Street Station) and Tukwila (close to the Sea-Tac airport).

    For more information, see my Amtrak Cascades tip:
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f0d97/ as well as my Alternatives to Interstate 5 Tip

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    From Seattle Southward Part II: Interstate 5 Route

    by glabah Updated Nov 28, 2011

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    This is a continuation of my Seattle and Southward tip, designed to help those headed southward from Seattle. This tip focuses on Interstate 5 only. For various alternatives going to the coast, please see my Seattle and Southward tip .

    Seattle to Olympia

    For those wanting the fastest, most direct route from Seattle southward, I-5 is usually the answer, but keep in mind that for the nearly 70 miles between Seattle and Olympia I-5 is an urban freeway and traffic may be very slow or nearly stopped. There are few parallel alternative routes, and that is reflected in the traffic congestion along this highway - even though the traffic is terrible, people don't take the alternative routes because there aren't many good ones. This isn't just confined to commuter times either: some of the worst traffic I have ever been stuck in on this route was Saturday evenings.

    People ask about the scenery. There are several instances where small forests are near the highway and provide a visual respite from the mostly urban corridor around I-5. Mostly its a concrete wasteland.

    There are a number of casinos and tourist trap type facilites between Olympia and Seattle. For example, "Wild Waves" and "Enchanted Village" amusement park near Federal Way.

    In terms of items I find of interest, there are a few museums in Tacoma, as well as some nice parks. See my Tacoma page for more information.

    South of Tacoma the biggest attraction is Mount Rainier National Park. However, this is well off the Interstate. If you don't have a day to spend there I would suggest not doing it. Not taking adequate time will lead only to regrets. The park takes several days to really see everything (and most people don't stop to see everything).

    If you are interested in bird watching, there is Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge just north of Olympia.

    A Note About Approaching Olympia

    When you get to Olympia, you will notice signs for Highway 101, and for highway 8 to Aberdeen on the coast. THESE ARE TWO DIFFERENT ROADS because highway 101 goes north out of Olympia along the west edge of Puget Sound. If your goal is to go from Seattle to Olympia to Aberdeen and highway 101 south to Astoria and continue along the coast into Oregon, you want highway 8. Highway 101 will get you to Aberdeen too, but it requires about two days to do so as from Olympia it makes a huge upside down U around the entire Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. The coast and scenery through there are wonderful but it will add a lot of time to your trip.

    See my Alternatives to I-5 tip for more about routing to the coast.

    Olympia itself has a number of attractions including some good parks, urban trails, a good farmer's market during the season, and historic buildings including the old capitol building.

    I-5, Olympia to Kelso

    Between Olympia and Kelso the scenery is OK. It isn't spectacular, but it is at least somewhat less of a suburban tangle than north of Olympia. There are several local state parks that are well marked, but mostly these are of local interest only.

    South of Olympia you will find Mima Mounds, which is a unique geological feature somewhat off the highway but close enough to not require a huge detour. It is also right next to a shooting club, so the noise is horrific on most days.

    There is a fairly large casino and water park at Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound south of Olympia.

    The biggest attraction on this section of I-5 is the road from the Castle Rock area east to Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. 5 miles east of the freeway is Seaquest State Park which has the Washington State Volcano center and has an introduction to the mountain, the eruption and the geology of the region. If you come through here in the summer, you will be able to drive all the way to the Johnson Ridge observatory, but the road is closed when it is snowed in. The trip all the way up and back to I-5 is about half a day if you actually spend some time at the various observation points and other points of interest. My suggestion, however, would be to allow for a full day for the entire trip plus the various view points and visitor's centers. The center at Seaquest is only 5 miles from I-5, so you can visit that without any problems if all you want to see is some Mount Saint Helens material. There are dozens of things up there to see and do, so I can't cover all that here. It is a great place to visit, but pretty much the only major attraction through this section of Interstate 5.

    Two other state parks reasonably close to I-5 are:

    Millersylvania State Park just south of Olympia

    Lewis and Clark State Park near Winlock and Napavine

    Chehalis and Centralia are the "twin cities" of western Washington. Centralia has a small downtown with a few surviving historic buildings, and there is a tourist railroad in Chehalis. Olympic Club is a historic hotel and drinking establishment in Centralia. Chehalis also has a Veteran's Museum near the tourist railroad, and the local historical museum.

    Rainbow Falls State Park is accessible by going west out of Centralia, but fairly far off I-5. Also, the waterfall isn't extremely spectacular. It is a nice place to get away from the freeway traffic for a while.

    Kelso and Longview
    have minor attractions that are likely only of interest if you need to get out and walk for a bit during your drive. Kelso has a walkway along the river for a short distance, and Longview has a pretty nice city park with a trail around a lake.

    Kelso south to Vancouver, WA and Portland

    Due to the 10,000 character limit for a VirtualTourist Tip, I have moved the Kelso and Longview to Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon section of this tip to a separate tip. Please see my Kelso / Longview to Vancouver, WA tip.

    For those headed to the Oregon coast, you can cross the river here in Longview to highway 30 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River and head west to Astoria. Highway 30 can also be taken south to Portland. It is slower but more off the beaten path than I-5.

    Certain attractions in the Volcanic Monument can only be accessed from highway 503 east out of Woodland or various other routes. As with the monument further north, these are well off the freeway and you really should leave at least a day to get up there, view or do the activity (hike, lava tube explore, etc.) and come back if you want to really enjoy your time.

    Ridgefield has a national wildlife refuge and Native American longhouseas well as several small art galleries, and a few other minor attractions. El Rancho Viejo is probably one of the best deals you will find when it comes to quantity of food for the price along this section of I-5.

    Just south of Ridgefield, there is a major events center. Formerly it was the Clark County Fairgrounds but is now the SleepCountry Theatre. Major events here cause traffic tanges all the way to Vancouver, Portland and Kalama.

    The bridge over the Columbia River on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver is actually a drawbridge, and when it opens there can be huge traffic tangles. I-205 avoids this, but also avoids downtown Portland and Vancouver.

    The scenery through here is part of the Columbia River valley (not the Columbia Gorge which has much better scenery), and is the best of anywhere along the Portland to Seattle route of Interstate 5. It isn't extremely spectacular, and is similar to what you see along the river between Kelso and Astoria, but it is at least rolling hills with trees.

    Amtrak Cascades

    If you are just trying to get from the Seattle area to the Portland area, and have no interest in stopping at any of the locations between the two, it is possible to use the Amtrak Cascades service. The route is a bit more scenic than Interstate 5, mostly due to the approximately 20 minutes the train spends running along Puget Sound. This route is due to end in a few years time as an old branch line is being rebuilt into a new main line - which will be far less scenic.

    Taking the train also avoids the horrific traffic tangles that frequently happen between Seattle and Olympia, and north of Vancouver.

    Amtrak Cascades service has stations in Seattle (King Street Station) and Tukwila (close to the Sea-Tac airport).

    For more information, see my Amtrak Cascades tip:
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f0d97/ as well as my Alternatives to Interstate 5 Tip

    Related to:
    • Trains
    • Road Trip

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    Amtrak Cascades

    by glabah Updated Oct 25, 2011

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    In an effort to try to provide better intercity transportation in the State of Washington, Washington Department of Transportation started funding improvements in intercity passenger train service around 1995. While officially the transportation corridor extends from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia, the majority of the improvements have been to railroad lines in the State of Washington, and the state continues to provide inspiration as to what might happen in Oregon and BC if they ever get their act together when it comes to improvements to passenger railroad service.

    Due to the space limitations of a VirtualTourist Tip, this is divided into to tips, of which this is the first section. Amtrak Cascades Overflow tip is the section section of the tip.

    The equipment used is Talgo low profile trains, similar to what has been running on many high speed passenger services in Spain for over 40 years now, and is starting to see more expansion throughout Europe. The trains are equipped with a tilting mechanism that can allow the trains to go somewhat faster through tight curves than the standard equipment used on the main lines in this area.

    Coach Seating: Each pair of seats has a single 120 volt standard USA style power outlet for powering laptops, CD players, DVD players, or any number of other portable (or even not so portable devices). (a typical coach seat is shown in photo 1 of this tip). As of late January of 2011, even coach seats have access to WiFi service. Accessing it requires agreement to the "Terms and Conditions". These include the wireless connection to the train does not have enough capacity for videos and other bandwidth hungry internet applications, and any users of such service may have it interrupted. Also, while I used the WiFi service during one entire trip, I didn't do any web queries while in the Point Defiance Tunnel. My suspicion is that the wireless connection to the train may not work very well in the tunnel. It seemed to work quite well everywhere else, but then I also obeyed the rules and didn't try to do any video feeds or other high bandwidth nonsense.

    I have not yet used the "Business Class" seating. The current price (mid-2011) is a $16 fee above the coach seat price between Seattle and Portland. You get a car attendant, while in regular coach there is no attendant on the Cascades trains. There is a newspaper and non-alcoholic drinks provided in "Business Class". Supposedly there is a bit more space, but upon an accidental wandering into the "Business Class" area didn't notice any significant difference. I have been told by those who do frequently use the "Business Class" seating is that the primary advantage is that keeps people away from the cell phone yaps and generally other loud passengers.

    First class service (full sleeping compartment) is only available on the Coast Starlight between Seattle and Los Angeles, which doesn't stop in a few of the places the Cascades service does, takes longer, and is frequently late due to the number of interferances it frequently has to deal with over the long distance it operates. First class passengers are allowed to use the Metropolitan Lounge at Portland Union Station, but as of this writing no other station in the northwest has this type of facility. Planning is in the works, however.

    A brief metion of the Bistro car is located in the Amtrak Cascades Overflow tip.

    While checked luggage service is available in major cities, it isn't available in smaller station stops, so be sure to verify that you are able to get your luggage before checking luggage to stations that don't have luggage services. Each car on the Talgo trains has a luggage section (see photo 5 of this tip) in one end so that quite a number of large carry-on items may be stored there for the trip. Between Seattle and Portland the stations that have no checked luggage service at all are Kelso and Tukwila. Centralia only has checked luggage service during the station operating hours, which means the last several trains are not served by checked luggage service.

    Bicycles have special procedures on the Talgos. It is not necessary to purchase a special box as it is on many of the standard trains. However, please be sure to read the bicycle carrying policies thoroughly. Basically, you give the bike to the baggage car attendant while you walk past the door to the baggage before heading to your coach doorway.

    At minor intermediate stops, the train only stops very briefly, so be ready to board as the train comes into the station. Sometimes only a minute or so is allowed.

    Ticket prices increase as the train sells out. If your ticket seems too much try changing some of the travel days if your schedule allows. For example, a simple coach seat from Portland to Seattle is $31 at the standard fare. If you travel on a peak travel day on the most popular train, this ticket goes up to $39 on Fridays on some trains. During the peak tourist season, the same seat on a peak train may cost $57 or more - almost twice what you could have paid if you have the option for moving your schedule around a bit. Fridays, Saturday mornings and Sundays tend to have the popular trains because of people making weekend vacations in other cities along the line. If you can move your travel time to other days you will find the tickets are usually less. Bying the tickets as early as possible avoids the price spike as the trains fill up.

    Don't expect to show up at the station and be able to get a cheap last minute ticket. It might happen, but more likely the train will get sold out - the service is quite popular and increases in ridership about 8% to 10% a year have been happening - but there is no funding available to operate more trains. Efforts are in place to make more trains operate and there is hope for the future.

    AAA members and other individuals are offered discounts. On the web site you have to select the discount scale before you purchase the tickets.

    For Portland to Seattle trips, seat assignments are random and happen on the day of travel. You must stay together as a group as your seat assignments are given, as the cards with seat assignments are handed out as your line boards the train. Try to request a seat on the west side of the train as that side is somewhat more scenic. There is no guarantee that they will be able to do this, but asking usually doesn't hurt too badly. Scenery is discussed more in my Amtrak Cascades Overflow tip.

    Seats are not assigned for some of the less popular trains, such as certain runs between Portland and Eugene. It is also not assigned if you get on at certain minor stations.

    In keeping with railroad tradition in the USA for the past 100 years or so, the ticket that has your seat assignment on it is put in a card holder above your seat. This indicates that the seat is taken, should someone board at an intermediate stop with less services, and need a somewhere to sit. This also helps the conductor collect tickets without waking sleeping passengers.

    Boarding and Stations:

    From downtown Seattle, King Street Station is on the south side of town. See my King Street Station Tip at
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f4a23/

    If you are connecting to Amtrak in Seattle from the Sea-Tac airport, you have several options: King County Metro bus route 156 or a taxi from the airport eastward a short distance to the Tukwila train station. You can take SoundTransit's transit train (called LINK) from the airport to downtown Seattle and transfer at King Street Station (approx. three block walk between stations). Tukwila is not a staffed station, and has no checked luggage service or the ability to print Amtrak tickets from a ticket machine. You will want to make sure you have a reservation made ahead of time and have followed the instructions on how to board at a non-staffed station. Another option from the Sea-Tac Airport is to take SoundTransit bus route 574 from the airport south to Tacoma, which is a fully staffed Amtrak station with luggage check. This also avoids having to backtrack into Seattle if you are heading south.

    Portland is a full service station, just like King Street, with luggage check for all trains and various other services.

    Vancouver, Washington is the only other significant station in the state of Washington on the Cascades service that has the full range of station services, including checked luggage for all trains and a reasonably staffed ticket counter. All of the other stations may or may not be staffed for all train departures, or may be completely non-staffed, or may not have checked luggage available for some or any trains.

    For More Station Information, Please See:

    King Street Station
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f4a23/

    Kelso Station
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f26d3/

    Centralia Train Station

    Portland Union Station

    Some more photos of the train and route are located at:

    My Amtrak Cascades Overflow tip

    Along Commencement Bay in Tacoma (not the best scenery, but better than some)
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/b4e8a/#TL

    Along Puget Sound in Tacoma (the most scenic part of the Portland to Seattle trip)
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/b4e8b/#TL

    Related to:
    • Trains
    • Budget Travel

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    WESTPORT FERRY

    by mtncorg Written Oct 20, 2011

    The “Wahkiakum” has been running across the main channel of the Columbia River between Puget Island and Westport, Oregon since 1962 making its ten minute crossing every hour. It is the last of many car ferries that used to run across the river between Oregon and Washington. The boat has a nine car capacity – get here early on weekends or you’ll have to wait for the next hour’s ride. The ferry connects on the Washington side to a road – State Route 409 - which bissects Puget Island and runs up to Cathlamet across the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge. Many local workers use the ferry to commute to work at the Wauna mill on the Oregon side just downriver from Westport. The ferry is the only way across for cars between the Astoria-Megler bridge and the Lewis & Clark bridge between Longview, Washington and Rainier, Oregon.

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    From Seattle Southward: The Drives or Train

    by glabah Updated Oct 13, 2010

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    A number of people have written to the Oregon and Washington VirtualTourist Travel Forums over the years about driving routes going south of Seattle, what is there to see along Interstate 5, what to do along the coast, the "best" route, and so on. This is an attempt to answer some of these questions and provide some points for further research. Here are the basic coastal routes that are alternatives to Interstate 5, and you can decide for yourself what is "best" or not.

    Parts of your trip may be done on Interstate 5, and parts on the coast. Therefore, you should also reference my Interstate 5 South of Seattle Tip at
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/205594/

    General Notes:

    If you are after "best" in terms of scenery, the best route is the long, upside down U made by highway 101 around the Olympic Peninsula. Allow several days!

    Highway 101 and a number of the local highways are only improved in places. For example, much of highway 101 north of Shelton to about Quilcene, and most of the way down the coast from Port Angeles onward is almost the same as it was when built in the 1930s, with a few nods to larger vehicles with bridges built in the 1950s. It is narrow, winding, has lots of tight curves, and few opportunities exist to pass slower vehicles. Just be patient and enjoy the trip. You don't drive through this part of the northwest if you are in a big rush to get somewhere - because you can't and won't get there in a big rush.

    A Note About Approaching Olympia

    When you get to Olympia, you will notice signs for Highway 101, and for highway 8 out to Aberdeen on the coast. THESE ARE TWO DIFFERENT ROADS because highway 101 goes north out of Olympia along the west edge of Puget Sound. If your goal is to go from Seattle to Olympia to Aberdeen, then take highway 8 west out of Olympia to Aberdeen, 101 south to Astoria and continue along the coast into Oregon and California, you want highway 8. Following Highway 101 only will get you to Aberdeen too, but it requires about two days to do so, as from Olympia it makes a huge upside down U around the entire Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. The coast and scenery through there are wonderful, but it will add a lot of time to your trip.

    Unless you have some severe desire to visit the home town of Curt Cobain, Aberdeen isn't a must-see. It is somewhat inland, and therefore the coastal beaches that some people seem to expect to be here really are not here - they are further west. If you want to go directly south on highway 101, take highway 107 out of Montensano. This is a cut-off to get further south quicker. However, highway 101 doesn't go along the coast through here. Highway 105 makes a large long loop along the coast, and visits a few small beach state parks. Due to several large bays through here, that is the story of highway 101 along the coast of Washington south of Queets: much of it isn't actually along the coast, and to get the best of the scenery you need to make some loop detours further west.

    At Long Beach this changes: Highway 101 takes the long detour to the coast, and local roads can be used to avoid the long detour westward.

    Bremerton Ferry Route to the Coast

    From downtown Seattle, it is possible to take the Seattle - Bremerton ferry and continue southwest on Highway 3, then west on local roads to Aberdeen, and south along the coast on highway 101. Keep in mind that highway 101 doesn't run directly along the coast for much of its route south of Aberdeen, and to get to coastal state parks and other scenic locations you will need to head further west. This gives you better scenery than Interstate 5, and gets you over to the scenic parts of Washington faster than taking I-5, as the good scenery starts soon after leaving Bremerton. As opposed to the Seattle - Olympia - Aberdeen route, this only adds about an hour or two to the trip, assuming the best of traffic on Interstate 5 (and it is seldom at its best).

    From Bremerton, follow the signs to Shelton, where highway 3 joins 101, then soon after getting south of Shelton, take highway 108 going west, where it eventually joins highway 8 headed west to Aberdeen.

    Unless you have some severe desire to visit the home town of Curt Cobain, there really isn't much to Aberdeen. It is somewhat inland, and therefore the coastal beaches that some people seem to expect to be here really are not here - they are further west. It is a fairly small coastal town, so you may find things of interest there, but for the most part you can find similar small town coastal environments further south. If you want to go directly south on highway 101, take highway 107 out of Montensano. This is a cut-off to get further south quicker, without going through Aberdeen. However, highway 101 doesn't go along the coast through here - that is highway 105 that makes a large long loop along the coast, and visits a few small beach state parks. Due to several large bays through here, that is the story of highway 101 along the coast of Washington: much of it isn't actually along the coast, and to get the best of the scenery you need to make some loop detours further west.

    Yes, you hit 101 twice: Shelton and south of Aberdeen. This is because of the very large upside down U shape that highway 101 makes around the Olympic Peninsula. Getting to the coast using this route hits two pieces of the tips of that upside down U.

    This route also hits only a few small cities, rather than the intense urban development between Seattle and Olympia. There are a number of small, local state parks, a few rural resorts, and on a clear day some good views of the Olympic Mountains (especially from the ferry). Small communities like Long Beach are through here that are somewhat off the beaten path for tourist towns, and may be worth a stop. A small piece of Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge is directly next to highway 101, and includes a short wildlife art trail.

    Depending on how you hit the ferry schedule, figure about 2 hours added to the Interstate 5 and highway 30 route between Seattle and Astoria to do it this way, but the trade off is less city driving and much better scenery.

    See also my Bremerton Ferry Tip

    Kelso and Longivew to Astoria or Long Beach

    The fastest way between Kelso and the coast is on highway 30 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Some people have planned to go south all the way to Portland before heading to Astoria. Unless you need to go to Portland you are better off crossing the river at Longview and heading west on highway 30. Highway 4 on the Washington side will get you out to the coast as well, but it is a slower route than highway 30 on the Oregon side. Gong south to Portland and then back north will add two hours to your travel time - assuming no major traffic problems crossing the river into Portland.

    Along The Coast

    Long Beach - so named as there are those that claim it is the longest beach in the world. Included in this area is a drive all the way up the Long Beach Peninsula to Leadbetter Point.

    North of there along highway 101 you will find Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and a short artistic trail.

    There are a number of small state parks, each of which are fairly scenic. None of these are "must not miss" attractions, but each of them is scenic in their own way. The best I can do is tell you to stop when you feel like it or see something interesting.

    In my opinion, the only true "must-see" along the coast is the coastal section of Olympic National Park, but that is north of the direct Seattle to coast routes.

    Amtrak Cascades

    If you are just trying to get from the Seattle area to the Portland area, without the goal of driving the coast, or if you want to drive to the coast from the Portland area and are wanting to (for example) arrive at Seattle and drive to Portland before starting your coastal trip, it is possible to use the Amtrak Cascades service. The route is a bit more scenic than Interstate 5, mostly due to the approximately 20 minutes the train spends running along Puget Sound. This route is due to end in a few years time as an old branch line is being rebuilt into a new main line - so take this trip at least once before it is not possible to do so any more.

    Taking the train also avoids the traffic mess that can be frustrating south of Seattle. The railroad line also has congestion problems, but they are somewhat easier to tolerate (put your feet up, and sleep for a while, or go get another beer from the Bistro car) and have been improving as time goes on and more track capacity is added.

    Amtrak Cascades service has station stops just south of downtown Seattle (King Street Station) and Tukwila (close to the Sea-Tac airport), Tacoma, Centralia, Kelso, and Vancouver, and other locations that don't fall into the "South of Seattle" area covered by this tip.

    For more information, see my Amtrak Cascades tip:
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/1f0d97/

    Olympic Peninsula Route

    To really see the scenery, and take the longest route and slowest route, it is also possible to make a loop around the entire Olympic Peninsula. From downtown Seattle take the Bainbridge Island ferry and follow the signs north and west to Port Angeles, and continue on highway 101 all the way around the peninsula on highway 101. This gives you the most scenery, but it is a slow route, and if you really want to stop and see things it could take you two days or more, depending on how often you stop for things. Most people want a week or more to explore all the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park has to offer.

    Related to:
    • Beaches
    • Trains
    • Road Trip

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    ferries are a part of life in Washington State

    by richiecdisc Updated Nov 20, 2009

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Some might say that having to use ferries to get from point A to B makes Washington State a hassle but
    despite some added cost what it ultimately does is make travel more scenic and relaxing. Sure, you have to cue up and wait for departures but once the ferry gets going, you're on deck enjoying what is essentially a short cruise.

    The system is fairly elaborate but there is a lot of water in this gorgeous state, especially surrounding Seattle so pick the appropriate route and enjoy. Their website has a route map along with fares but these seem to be time contingent. We paid $21 for the Kingston-Edmonds ferry on our way to the Olympic Peninsula but it was only $14 on the return. There may be a discount for round trip but we were unsure how we would return. We paid $70 from Anacortes to Sydney in British Colombia which passes through the San Juan Island where you can also stop if you have time. Departures are fairly frequent though obviously more so in summer so it's best to consult their website for the current times. Trip times vary with distances but we found them to be too short if anything. It's quite an enjoyable way to get from one place to the next.

    Driving around Washington State is generally a joy once you get out of the Seattle area which really is not as bad as locals make it out to be but then again, I wasn't driving during rush hour all that much. Sample distances are: Seattle to Olympic National Park-85 miles or 2.5 hours. Seattle to Mount Rainier National Park-100 miles or 2.5 hours. Seattle to Portland-175 miles or 2.5 hours. Seattle to Vancouver-140 miles or 2.5 hours.

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    Transportation to the Peninsula

    by Anthropologist Written Mar 22, 2008

    If you are visiting Seattle and want to take a few days to see the sights on the Peninsula, there are two main choices. You can rent a car in Seattle and drive, it takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes from SeaTac to Port Angeles. The other option is to book a flight on Kenmore Air. It flies to several locations on the Pudget Sound for reasonable prices. The overall price is the same as renting a car, but you do get a bird's eye view of the Sound that can be specatacular on a clear day, and even on a cloudy day the view is still up close and unique.

    Related to:
    • Jungle and Rain Forest
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    Washington State Ferries

    by Sunshine64 Written Aug 29, 2006

    One of the most facinating modes of transportation around Western Washington is the magnificant Washington State Ferry System. There are many islands you can reach only by boat, and the ferry also offers a "short-cut" to areas you must "drive around" to get to. You can also take the ferry to Canada.

    Anacortes is one of the main ferry terminals, and is where these pictures were taken.

    Ferries typically transport both car and walk/bike on passengers.

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    Back Roads: Rock Island Road

    by Jonathan_C Updated Jun 30, 2005

    Each year when we return home from our annual Escape from Seattle in eastern Washington we try to take a different route through Grant and Douglas counties. The scenery here is as open and empty as any you'll find -- quite the contrast with the dense urban neighborhood we live in. One of our favorite drives is up and over Badger Mountain. This adds about 90 minutes to the drive home but it's the part of the trip that I love the most.

    From Highway 2 turn south at Waterville or the tiny farming hamlet of Douglas. Have your navigator assist with the directions and head up Badger Mountain on Tichenal Canyon Rd. Once atop the mountain, head south on Rock Island (a.k.a. Sheehan) Rd. and enjoy the scenery: wheat fields, views into the ravine created by Rock Island Creek and across the Columbia to the snow capped Cascades. This road will dump you out on highway 28 from where you can either head north to Wenatchee to pick up 2 again or south to Qunicy and I-90.

    Notes:
    Make sure you have a road atlas from Benchmark Maps before taking this side trip. (Warning: The last mile of this all-weather (gravel) road descends some hair-raising switch-backs to get you down to the Columbia. This is only recommended for those used to mountain back roads. Otherwise just retrace your steps toward Waterville.)

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    Back Roads: Old Vantage Highway

    by Jonathan_C Updated Jun 30, 2005

    If you want to get over the Cascades between Pugetopolis and eastern Washington you'll most likely take I-90. This is certainly the fastest route, but you should give yourself an extra half an hour to get off the highway and take a trip back in time.

    Heading east from Seattle, take exit 106 through Ellensburg. You'll be traveling on old 97 past the edge of town and will see scenes reminiscent of Route 66 through the midwest. After passing the University you'll saunter out the east end of town through ranches and hay farms and eventually head down Schnebly Coulee toward Gingko Petrified Forest State Park. This section is all sage brush and open air and it's rare to meet another car -- a true 'blue highway' that is infinitely more pleasant than the crowds on I-90.

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