Last week, I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time. My friend Shelby and I have made a pact now that that we’re graduated and going to live in different cities, with her getting married, and me looking at years of school ahead… we are going to schedule at least one trip a year to make sure we see each other and get out to see the world.
Last summer, it was Washington, DC to visit our mutual friend Claire, and this summer it was Washington state – a state neither of us had been before. This time around, Shelby was a far better planner than I was. With finals, MCAT studying, and coaching, I didn’t have much time for planning so right now, I’m going to shout out Shelby for A) planning the majority of the trip, and B) trekking the streets of Seattle to find green juice with me AND C) doing very challenging hikes with me. You’re an amazing friend.
So back to this trip. We chose Washington because neither of us had been to the PNW and we’re always down to explore. We spent two days in the mountains and a day in the city. While the amount of time we were gone wasn’t what I like to call sufficient enough to get the full feels of this incredible place, the experience is ALWAYS worthwhile. Here is what we did get to do!
Shelby and I are still under the rental car age of 25 years old, but my parents gifted us with a rental car for our shared graduation present. This was the only way we were able to get up into the mountains directly from the airport. Thank you, Mom & Dad.
After landing in Sea-Tac, we found our rental car and drove the straight drive up to Mount Rainier National Park, where our Vrbo (similar to AirBnB) was located. In fact, it was located just outside of Ashford, WA about 10 miles from the park entrance. Our cabin was a small A-frame with a lofted bedroom and a cozy feel. It depends on the days of the week you rent, but it’s about $100 a night on average. Our place was PERFECT for us. We had easy access to the park, and it was a beautiful, safe cabin tucked away in the woods.
If you are in the area and need a place to stay when visiting Mt Rainier, I highly recommend our Vrbo spot. Find it here! Whoever invented app-based travel, you’re a genius, my friend.
After we settled in, Shelby and I realized we would be without cell service for the next 48 hours. I wanted to share my adventures so badly, but I think that “unplugging” was really good for me at the time. We got to be up in the mountains experiencing life away from the hustle & bustle, and just enjoy the fresh and clean air up in the mountains. It was so quiet where we stayed; the only sounds we heard were cars driving in and out of the park.
… the start of the hiking days! We drove up into Mount Rainier after examining the map and taking to the park rangers about which hikes we should give a shot in the still-early season. Many of the hikes we’d looked at prior to traveling weren’t open due to snow remaining in the park. On our way up to Paradise, we “stopped by” Narada Falls (which really was a trek through the snow), to view the beautiful falls. The viewpoint gets you close enough to the falls that you feel a good mist. The path to get there was treacherous, but totally worth it.
We then headed to the visitor’s center where we talked to the knowledgeable park rangers and decided on exploring the park and heading up to Paradise, where one can expect to find a great view of Mount Rainier itself. It’s absolutely beautiful and worth the loopy drive up there.
On our way back down from Paradise and the epic view of Mount Rainier, we had planned on hiking the Wonderland trail. Instead, on the way back down the twisty road that beautifully displays Christine Falls, I noticed a bridge above the falls I hadn’t before. We checked out the map and decided that we’d make the 1.9 mile hike up to both Christine Falls, and further down, Comet Falls. Why not?
The hike was beautiful. Not far into the trail, we found the bridge over Christine Falls, visible from the road I had previously seen. This made for a scenic view and perspective for just how high up we were. The bridge was a little creaky and my odd fear of heights-over-water combination actually did just fine. The view was worth it. We kept going past the bridge for the remainder of the hike but only about .2 miles from Comet Falls, we decided to turn around. As mentioned previously, we visited at a time early in the season, so there was snow remaining and that was exactly the case. After reaching this point, to our dismay, we made a decision to turn around. The drop off was too steep and the snow may have just been too slippery to take that risk. I was sad to leave after coming so far, but safety is always my main concern when out in nature (especially without cell service). I recommend this hike if you’re adventurous and enjoy chasing waterfalls. 😉 It wasn’t the most difficult hike I’ve done so far, but that’s not to say it was easy. I also recommend doing this hike in the middle of the summer/fall if you want to make it the full way without concern for falling off a drop-off with snow present.
This day was topped off with dinner and local wine (which I wish I could get around here).
The second day of hiking. This day, Shelby and I decided on the ___ trail. Everything was going fine until we looked up and realized just how much elevation we would be gaining. This was due to an accidental wrong turn made by the both of us; we didn’t chose to go the wrong way, we simply unintentionally chose the more challenging route. Little known fact, Midwesterners have an even harder time with physical activity when it involves a difference in elevation (the ground is pretty flipping flat here), so this was exceptionally difficult for us and took quite a few breaks to get through it.
We hiked this roughly 4 mile hike “backwards” and I enjoyed every second of it. When we were *finally* close to where we thought the top was, we were watching out for the lookout so graciously promised on the map.
There were several people around the back corner near the top, and what appeared to be deviance from the trail, but according to my Apple Watch, we had more distance to go before we had reached the lookout. I knew those people were not where they were supposed to be. The view from the lookout was worth every foot of elevation gain (a little more than 1300 feet) !!! After finally reaching the sign that pointed to “lookout,” Shelby and I downed water, apples, and some good-sized handfuls of Dot’s pretzels at the top with a gorgeous view.
After finishing this exceptionally challenging hike, we decided we needed food in the near future, before the notorious “hanger” would strike for either one of us. With a bit of a drive to the next city to grab something, we decided on checking out the National Park Inn on the way out of the park. To my pleasant surprise, there were tons of fresh options, local fish dishes, and vegan options. I naturally gravitate towards plant-based foods, so I went for a dish that had a whole grain tortilla base layered with mashed cauliflower, arugla, roasted chickpeas, and roasted cauliflower. I’m not sure if how hungry I was made this one of my favorite things I’ve eaten of if it truly was, but damn that was good. I think I’ll be making my own version. 🙂
After making it out of the park and enjoying the views for the last time, we made the drive back to Seattle to return the rental car. We took the light rail from the airport to the neighborhood where my Shelby’s family lives and got to begin our look into the beautiful city.
Our first and final day IN Seattle. Knowing we’d only have one day, we decided to prioritize the things we really wanted to see while we were there. We saw the Space Needle from a distance – the entire skyline is gorgeous – but we didn’t feel a compulsory need to go up into it. In fact, I think Shelby perceived my fear of heights to be a determining factor 😉 And let’s be real here, this day was pretty focused on finding the food.
In the neighborhood we were staying in, we came across a plethora of good restaurants, shops, and parks. We began our day going toward Pike Place Market and checked out the area. It was a great experience – the fish-tossing, the smell of *very* fresh fish itself, and all the other ornate items being sold at the market. Shelby and I walked around to find some form of food and we decided on Honest Biscuits. They featured locally sourced ingredients and plant-based options. Seriously, so good. Everyone loves biscuits, but they’ve even better when the ingredients are more wholesome.
Shelby and I each got a breakfast sandwich where we could pick the done-ness of our eggs, and choices of meat, and cheese. Other potential contenders were the biscuits and gravy made from lentils. If I find myself in Seattle again, I will be heading back here.
After cruising through the market for the majority of the day, Shelby and I went back to the neighborhood we were staying in – where the Brooks headquarters are located, along with several new restaurants! I got a perfectly portioned and priced poke bowl with tons of toppings, protein, and choice of rice. I can’t remember the name (so sorry) but I don’t think you can make it to the Pacific Northwest without getting Poke or at least some form of seafood. 🙂
Shelby and I were then on a quest for dessert. And much to my surprise, Shelby chose a plant-based cafe, Flying Apron. It was adorable and the food and coffee was amazing. You know when espresso is so rich that you don’t even need milk because the flavor is just that good? That’s what this coffee was like. And the vanilla birthday cake (which just happens to be my favorite)… that was some of the best cake I’ve had.
Then, there was dinner. And I was full. We went to a local Mexican fusion restaurant where I was happy with chips & guac and a watermelon margarita. When you’re on vacation, you have to try everything.
We spent the last night on the patio enjoying the fresh air and shortly after, packed our bags for our early flight. Though our trip was extremely short, I am so grateful to be able to travel. Being in new places is such a refreshing experience regardless of where you go. The crisp mountain air does not hurt, either. And with that, PNW, you will see more of me in the future.
Thanks for reading!