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Hidden Gems and Secret Spots in Washington State You’ll Love

Last Updated on 27th January 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

Washington State is a stunning west coast State which is best-known for its wide open landscapes, lush green forests (over half the state is covered in forests), and for its volcanic mountains. Popular among adventure and outdoor enthusiasts, the state also has a number of hidden gems and off the beaten path adventures worth discovering. Here’s your guide to the best secret spots in Washington State to fall in love with.

seattle view
Seattle/ canadastock/ Shutterstock

Hidden gems and secret spots in Washington State

Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour

Contributed by Megan of Bobo and Chichi

One of the coolest hidden gems in Washington State can be found on one of the incredible islands in Puget Sound not too far from Seattle on Whidbey Island, one of the best places for an action-packed day trip or preferably a few day getaway.

Learn all about mushroom foraging in the Pacific Northwest with a knowledgeable guide on this hands on experience. Travis Furlac, the owner of Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tours creates one of a kind experiences for inquisitive visitors to Whidbey Island.

During your tour you’ll first learn the basics of mushroom foraging and mushrooms you can find and identify in the Pacific Northwest including a take home booklet so you can study up post tour.

After your educational introduction you’ll head off on a forest walk to forage. One of the best parts of this tour is that you’ll most likely be walking through one of the old-growth forests that can be found on Whidbey Island. And like most forests in the Pacific Northwest, expect lush forests with just about every shade of green you can imagine.

Along your walk you’ll identify mushrooms with your new knowledge and even get to forage a few to take home with you. Travis gives tips on how to prepare if  foraging is completely new to you too.

What’s extra special about this experience is that no two tours are the same including the locations you’ll forage. The tours are 3-hours long and are typically held in the fall. There are options for private tours and group tours too.

Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour

The Fremont Troll, Seattle

By Lindsey Puls of Have Clothes, Will Travel

In Seattle, under the Aurora Bridge, there lives a troll. No, this isn’t just a legend either! You can visit The Fremont Troll, who is 18 feet tall and can be seen crushing a Volkswagen Beetle in his hand. It’s a must for any Washington State itinerary!

He came to call this area under the bridge his home when the city of Seattle asked the Fremont Arts Council to hold an art competition to revamp the area under the bridge in 1989.

At the time, it was becoming a haven for drug dealers. A team led, by sculptor Steve Badanes, won the competition and are the artists who created “The Fremont Troll.” 

Now, you can visit the troll and get a photo next to him or perched atop his hand. Be sure to visit while there is plenty of daylight to get the best photos of the troll. 

He is located in the quirky Fremont Neighborhood, which is home to the controversial Lenin statue, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and many delicious and quirky restaurants and shops. It’s worth your time to walk and explore the Fremont Neighborhood while you are here!

Parking will be on the street in a residential neighborhood, if you come during a busy time, you may have to park a couple of streets over from the troll and walk – so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.

fremont troll

Steptoe Butte

By Theresa of The Local Tourist

Steptoe Butte State Park is a unique destination in eastern Washington that offers some of the best views in the region.

The park’s namesake is a 3,612-foot tall quartzite island that rises high above the rolling hills of the Palouse. At 400 million years old, the promontory is made of some of the oldest rock in the Pacific Northwest and was once the border of the original North American continent.

The butte was named after Colonel Edward Steptoe, who led a military expedition through the area in 1858. In the late 1880s, James S. “Cashup” Davis decided it would be a great spot for a hotel.

The remote location made it too difficult to access, however, and the hotel sat abandoned after Davis died in 1896. In 1911, it burned down from a fire started by a wayward cigarette.

Today, a spiral road leads to an overlook at the top of this National Natural Landmark, offering visitors a panoramic view. Wayside exhibits detail the story of the state park’s founding, the landscape that surrounds it, and the butte’s geological importance.

steptoe butte

Lyla’s Café

By Tabitha of Travel Compositions

If you are driving the Mountain Loop Hwy exploring the North Cascades or day hiking the Lime Kiln Trail, you’ll likely be stopping in Granite Falls. While this small town doesn’t have much to offer, it would be remiss of you to pass up on Lyla’s Cafe.

Locals know Lyla’s as the old Hanky Pies, which they still bake from scratch and sell almost 20 flavors to order here.

But what puts Lyla’s Cafe on the map are their coffee flights. That’s right. You can order mini cups of coffee from their rotating monthly flavors for a coffee experience you would expect to find in the metropolitan of Seattle.

For about $15 you will get four 5oz flavored lattes or mochas of your choice served on a flight board. Each mug is fashioned to look like a full-sized drink with whipped cream topping, chocolate drizzle, a maraschino cherry garnish, or whatever ornamentation the drink calls for. 

Not only does Lyla’s make attractive coffee flights, they also create dazzling energy drink flights. So in the same manner you can order a row of fruity, neon colored drinks served on a flight board, perfect for a summer time refreshment.

To keep you satiated, you can order breakfast all day or lunch after 11am. Try some of their unusual menu items like a grilled PB&J or an apple compote and bacon sandwich.

Who would have thought that quiet Granite Falls has a unique hidden gem worthy of a small road trip or detour?!

lylas cafe

Chuckanut Drive, Bellingham

By Hannah of That Adventurer Blog

Bellingham is a small town in northern Washington, about 30 minutes away from the Canadian border. It’s full of cool cafes and bookshops and has several breweries and plenty of opportunities for adventure.

One of the best things to do in Bellingham, and a hidden gem of Washington, is to drive the Chuckanut Drive scenic route.

The Chuckanut Drive scenic route extends 22 miles south of the historic Fairview District of Belington and is Washington State’s original scenic route. It was completed in 1896 and features a gorgeous coastline, wild, rugged beaches, restaurants and hiking and mountain biking trails.

To experience it, take exit 231 on the I-5 in Burlington and then make your way back up north towards the town of Bellingham.

Along the way, be sure to stop off at the antique store, Bonnar’s Trading Post, which is full of unique items both little and large. Items found here include old electronics and tools to old fitness books and videos.

Another top place to stop on the Chuckanut Scenic Drive is Larrabee State Park which was the first designated State Park in Washington. The park is on the ocean side of Chuckanut Mountain and is known for its amazing views of Samish Bay and the San Juan islands. Here you can go boating, paddling, fishing for shellfish or just relax and enjoy the views.

Be sure to time your lunch with a stop-off at Taylor Shellfish Farms. This restaurant and shop have been sustainably farming shellfish since the 1890s. Nowadays, you can enjoy a variety of different oysters freshly shucked for you, or have a seafood feast cooked on the grills at your table right on the oceanfront.

Top tip: Arrive before 12 pm on a sunny weekend to get a table as they fill up quickly!

bellingham washington

Salmon Cascades in Olympic National Park

By James Ian of Parks Collecting

A cool place to visit in Washington is Salmon Cascades in Olympic National Park.   

The Sol Duc River runs from the Olympic mountains down through the Sol Duc Valley into the Pacific Ocean. Salmon are born in the upper reaches of the Sol Duc River, just below the beautiful Sol Duc Falls. The young salmon swim down the river and spend most of their lives in the Pacific Ocean.

However, they return to the same spawning grounds just below Sol Duc Falls to lay eggs, and then immediately after, they die there, providing essential nutrients that form an essential part of the healthy river system. 

To get from the Pacific Ocean to their spawning grounds, they need to jump UP several waterfalls. Seeing them jump several feet up a series of gushing waterfalls is an incredible experience. You can see this as the aptly named Salmon Cascades, located about five miles up Sol Duc Road from the entrance to Olympic National Park. 

There are two opportunities to witness this event each year.  You can see Chinook and Coho salmon in September and October and cutthroat trout and steelhead trout from late March to May.  

There is a viewing platform where you can safely see the show.  However, if it is dry and the rocks aren’t slippery, you can also climb down the rocks nearby for even better views from below.

There, you can also see large calm pools that serve as ‘staging grounds’ where schools of fish hang out as they gather energy for the big push up the series of waterfalls.  

A tip for visiting: The cascades are a very short walk from the parking lot. However, the parking lot is very small – there are only nine spaces. So, it is best to get there early in the morning to secure a spot. 

Salmon Cascades in Olympic National Park

The Tree of Life of Washington

By Jess of Uprooted Traveler

The Tree of Life in Washington is one of the most unique trees, certainly within the state and arguably, in the world!

Located on Kalaloch Beach along the coastline of Olympic National Park, this sitka spruce is found along a craggy cliffside. A small stream has flowed under the tree’s roots and out to the Pacific Ocean, which, over the course of decades, has completely eroded the sandy ground underneath the tree.

Now, the tree is seemingly “suspended” in air, with just a few root tendrils clinging on to each side of the parted bluff. 

What’s even more impressive is that the sitka spruce is actually the largest species of spruce tree on the planet, making the fact that the teeny roots are supporting the trees gargantuan weight that much more impressive. Plus, despite the fact that the majority of the tree’s roots are suspended in air, its needles are seemingly evergreen.

The space that has eroded away underneath the tree is actually big enough for you to stand in, so you can gaze up through the massive root system to the tree above.

Please be sure to be a courteous visitor and not pull, stand on, or otherwise try to topple the tree, so that other visitors can enjoy it before its root system is totally eroded and unearthed. 

Olympic National Park’s footprint is enormous (1,442 square miles!), so one of the best things about the tree is its proximity to other points of interest in the park, like Ruby Beach or the Hoh Rainforest.

While you’re exploring the eastern side of Olympic, consider staying in the small city of Forks, which, having famously been the setting of the teen vampire romance, Twilight, is certainly quirky in its own right!

tree of life washington

Ape Cave

By Kassidy of The Thinking Helper

Because of all of the volcanic activity in the Pacific Northwest, there is certainly no shortage of caves and lava tubes. And found right in southern Washington, in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, is Ape Cave.

Ape Cave is a lava tube that’s over 2 miles long, and it certainly one of the most unique caves that you’ll be able to explore in Washington.

It’s found just south of Mount St. Helens, and was formed nearly 2,000 years ago from lava flow off of the nearby volcanoes. It’s the third longest lava tube in the North American continent.

Today, visitors to the area are able to explore the two sections to the cave, one of which is easy and suitable for beginners, and the other being difficult.

The lower cave is best for beginner hikers and families, as it’s pretty flat and easy to navigate. In fact, it’s one of the best beginner-friendly trails in Washington. It’s just ¾ of a mile one-way, then you’ll return back the way you came.

As for the upper cave, you’ll need to traverse over a few rock walls as well as watch your step on the uneven ground. This path comes out on the other side of the cave, where you will walk above ground to the trailhead.

No matter whether you choose to complete the easy or difficult section, you’ll need a headlamp or lantern, because it’s pitch black in the cave. 

Ape Cave also holds a consistent temperature of around 40 degrees F year-round, so you’re going to want to dress warmly!

Overall, Ape Cave is a unique and beautiful place to see during a visit to Washington and is unlike anywhere else that you might visit.

ape cave

Digging your Own Quartz Crystals in the Cascade Mountains

By Lynli of Wander Big

For travelers seeking to explore Washington’s mountain trails while discovering quirky hidden gems, Hansen Creek trail delivers. Far more than a typical hiking trail, Hansen Creek meanders through one of the richest known deposits of quartz crystals in the Cascade Mountains.

Visitors to this amateur-friendly hiking trail will find, about 1 mile from the trail head, an incredible adventure: the trail and surrounding hillside are covered with easy-to-unearth quartz and amethyst crystals.

Weather and seasonality play some role in the availability, but for those who bring a spade, digging a few inches below the earth will almost certainly reveal crystals.

After snow melts in spring, it’s possible to find a trail littered with gems simply sitting on the surface. Visitors in the dry season, however, should anticipate packing a spade and a tool to sift dirt with, to get in on the fun. 

Sequim Lavender Festival

By Anh Le of Luxury under Budget

The Sequim Lavender Festival is an annual event that takes place in Sequim, Washington, typically hosted in the third week of July. The festival is held during the peak of lavender season and celebrates the area’s lavender farms, which are some of the largest in the Pacific Northwest.

Visitors to the festival can expect to find a variety of activities, including tours of local lavender farms, demonstrations on how to use and grow lavender, a farmers market featuring locally-grown lavender products, and live music and entertainment.

One unique activity that visitors can participate in is cutting their own lavender stems. Staff will be available to assist visitors in selecting the best stems, and then wrap them into a bouquet for $5 to $10.

It’s an opportunity to get a freshly cut lavender bouquet directly from the farm. Visitors can also indulge in delicious lavender ice cream, a unique treat that perfectly captures the festival’s theme.

The festival is a great opportunity to learn about the history and cultivation of lavender, as well as sample the many ways it can be used, from culinary to medicinal to crafting and beauty.

It also offers unique souvenir and gifts for the visitors. The festival draws thousands of visitors every year, and it is highly recommended to go early to avoid traffic and ensure the best selection of events and activities. 

If you’re up for more adventure, after the festival, you can drive to Port Townsend, which is about a 45-minute drive, and take a short ferry to Fort Casey. The ferry ride offers beautiful views and after another 1.5 hour drive, you can reach Bellingham, where you can take a ferry to Ketchikan, Alaska.

The ferry trip offers an opportunity to see the breathtaking landscapes of the Pacific Northwest and the sights of Alaska.

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