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Washington (state)

Often referred to by its full title, Washington State, to distinguish it from Washington, D.C., Washington offers rugged coastline, deserts, forests, mountains, volcanoes, and hundreds of coastal islands to explore. The Cascade Mountains bisect the state, with the damp forested coastal areas to the west, and pineforests, deserts and irrigated farmland of the Columbia River Plateau to the east.


Columbia River Plateau

located on the pacific northwesteastern side of the Cascades; this region features canyons, deserts and steppes set in hillside valleys. Cities included within this region are Kennewick, Walla Walla, and Yakima.

North Cascades

beautiful mountains and fresh water lakes, outdoor activities galore, national parks (North Cascades National Park) and secluded getaways await travelers to the North Cascades region. Cities included within this region are Bellingham, Leavenworth, and Wenatchee.

Olympic Peninsula

on the west coast, with rain forests against a spine of dramatic mountains


Spokane, Cheney, Pullman

Puget Sound

with Seattle, the state’s largest city; King County, filled with the Seattle metropolitan area, Tacoma, Olympia (capital), and the islands and waters between Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula

Northeast Washington
San Juan Islands

a scattering of forested islands in the serene waters adjacent to British Columbia. Ferries, private boats, kayaks, and orca (whales) criss-cross the waters, while float planes and bald eagles soar overhead

Pacific Northwestwest Washington


There are many cities in Washington; these are some of the more popular.

  • Olympia — State capital located within the fast growing Pacific Northwest Sound area.
  • Bellevue — Seattle’s suburban cousin across Lake Washington, a commercial center with a growing downtown area.
  • Bellingham — Home of Western Washington University. Near the Canadian border and Vancouver, B.C.

  • Seattle — Largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Home of the world famous coffee chain, Starbucks.
  • Spokane — The heart of Eastern Washington, unofficial capital of the Inland Empire.
  • Tacoma — Port city with several good museums downtown.
  • Vancouver — Just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Not to be confused with the Canadian city.
  • Walla Walla — Small eastern city in the heart of Washington’s blooming wine country.
  • Yakima — Located in the Yakima Valley, the major agricultural and wine region of the state.

Other destinations

  • Klondike Gold Rush – Seattle Unit National Historical Park – Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park preserves the story of the 1897-98 stampede to the Yukon gold fields and Seattle’s role in this event
  • Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail – Between May 1804 and September 1806, 32 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains of the Midwest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery.
  • Mount Rainier National Park – 14,410 feet volcano. Contains more snow and ice than all other Cascade range volcanos combined
  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument – At 8:32 Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted and life in the area was altered for better and for worse
  • Nez Perce National Historical Park – consists of 38 sites to the east of Lewiston; most in Idaho, but some in Washington.
  • North Cascades National Park – Home to 50% of all glaciers in the lower 48 states
  • Olympic National Park – Temperate rain forest, rugged Olympic Mountains and wild coastline
  • San Juan Island National Historical Park – here in 1859 the United States and Great Britain nearly went to war over a dead pig Itineraries
  • The North Cascade Loop


  • The legal driving age in Washington is 15 on a learners permit, if enrolled in “Behind the wheel driver training” otherwise it’s 15 and 6 months. 16 on a restricted license, and 17 with perfect driving record for the first year, otherwise it’s 18. For the first year, no driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless with a licensed driver age 25 or older. Traffic violations in the state are severe.
  • Drive on the right side of the road! Oncoming traffic comes from the left and you must cross oncoming traffic when turning left. An international drivers license will usually allow you to drive legally for a few months.
  • The drinking and purchasing age of alcoholic beverages in Washington is 21 years old.
  • In November 2012, Washington state became one of just two states to pass by initiative the legal sale and possession of marijuana for both medical and non-medical use with Initiative 502. Although marijuana is still illegal under U.S. Federal law, persons 21 and older in Washington state will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form, 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form, or any combination of all three, and to legally consume marijuana and marijuana-infused products. It should be noted that the law specifically designates that use of marijuana must take place in a private setting. Public marijuana use is not allowed. Do not bring cannabis into any Indian reservation that has deemed it illegal, and Federal enclaves as Federal law will be heavilly enforced
  • You must be 18 years of age to legally smoke. Understand that it is ILLEGAL in Washington state to smoke in a workplace, restaurant, bar, bowling alley, non-tribal casino, and (technically, though everyone does it) bus stop. Smoking is also banned within 25 feet (8 meters) of a door or window that can open or a ventilation intake.
  • While Washington is often portrayed (as well as Seattle) as an extremely rainy place, the climate of Washington is actually very diverse. The part of the state east of the Cascades is quite dry and arid. In the Puget Sound area, it rains some, but not as much as many other major cities. Here especially, the weather can change very fast. The west coast of the Olympic peninsula is the rainiest part of the state.
  • As of July 1, 2011, a Discover Pass is required for all private vehicles entering a state park. (There are some exceptions for camping, fishing, and hunting, which have their own fees, plus a few annual “State Parks free days.”) A daily pass is available for those staying only a day or two; otherwise it’s valid for one year (no upgrades) for two vehicles. (If needed, you can fill in the second license plate number later.) Dealers, such as sporting goods stores, and online sales add a surcharge. As most state parks have no manned entry booth, there’s been confusion over whether it’s allowed to enter without a pass, then purchase one at the ranger station or visitors center. Only do so during daily business hours, going promptly from the main entrance without any recreational stops in between. Calling the park ahead of time, and inquiring about the pass is a good idea if you don’t already have one. Some smaller state parks, and even larger ones at off-peak times are completely unattended, requiring the pass be purchased elsewhere in advance.


Most people in Washington speak English with a Pacific Northwest accent. This accent is considered very similar to general American. Washingtonians generally have little to no problem understanding different accents of the English language.

Washington is the thirteenth most populated state, but by comparison has the fourth highest Asian population. You may be able to find a Japanese or Chinese speaker, especially in the Seattle area. There is also a large Hispanic population. In some small towns east of the Cascades more than 50% of households speak Spanish at home.

Get in

By Plane

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, (IATA: SEA), called “SeaTac” by locals, connects Seattle to all regions of the world, with especially frequent transpacific routes. Competition is heavy on busy San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwestern California routes. Non-stops to the following countries: Canada, China, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Pacific Northwest Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Taiwan, and the UK. Transfers are required from the Caribbean and Central and Pacific Northwest America.

Spokane International Airport, (IATA: GEG). Most flights go to Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Boise, Oakland (across from San Francisco), Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and Minneapolis. Seasonal flights to Chicago.

Portland International Airport, (IATA: PDX) is just one mile across the state line in Oregon from Vancouver. For Pacific Northwestwest Washington (i.e. anything pacific northwest of Chehalis along I-5 exit 77) this is the (next) nearest major airport. One daily non-stop from Tokyo, Amsterdam, Calgary and Guadalajara. Plans are underway to include additional flights to Los Cabos, Germany and Iceland with additional airlines.

Vancouver International Airport (IATA: YVR) is in Canada 27 miles (44 km) from the border in Blaine/Surrey which is the border crossing to the USA from Canada. You will need the proper travel documents to (re)enter Canada and the U.S. to cross the border. For U.S. residents, going through customs twice probably isn’t worth it unless you also want to visit Vancouver so the next nearest American airport is in Bellingham (see below). For Canadians wanting to go to the San Juan Islands it may be the best choice. There are also direct international flights to/from Europe, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, and Asia. For travel across Canada the total airfare may come out cheaper for one to cross into the United States by Greyhound or by another bus line, fly across the North American continent and go back up into Canada on another bus, then fly across Canada as Air Canada has a near monopoly on domestic travel. For, example to get from Toronto to Vancouver one may take a bus from Toronto to Buffalo, fly across the United States to Seattle and continue on another bus to Vancouver.

Bellingham International Airport (IATA: BLI) is a regional airport about 90 miles north of Seattle and 60 miles pacific northwest of Vancouver, Canada. Allegiant and Alaska Airlines have jet service to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Mesa (near Phoenix), San Diego, Honolulu and Palm Springs (seasonal). There are many shorter flights (mostly to Seattle) with turboprop aircraft.

Tri-Cities Airport (IATA: PSC) is a commercial airport located 2 miles northwest of the city of Pasco and is the third largest commercial air terminal in the State of Washington. Flights go to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Mesa (near Phoenix), Salt Lake City, Denver, and Minneapolis (seasonal).

Commuter Airports
Horizon Air (which links to Alaska Air) has flights to five small cites in or near Washington State with infrequent daily service to Seattle-Tacoma.

Lewiston , Idaho (next to Clarkston, Washington) (IATA: LWS) Seattle-Tacoma

Pullman (IATA: PUW) Seattle-Tacoma

Walla Walla (IATA: ALW) Seattle-Tacoma, or Portland via Eastern Oregon Regional Airport (IATA:PDT) in nearby Pendleton

Wenatchee (IATA: EAT) Seattle-Tacoma, Portland (1 stop)

Yakima (IATA: YKM) Seattle-Tacoma, Portland

By train

Amtrak offers several ways to enter and travel throughout Washington by train:

The Empire Builder runs between Chicago and Spokane, Washington, where it then splits, with half of the train continuing to Seattle, and the other half to Portland.
The Coast Starlight. Regarded by many as America’s most scenic train ride, the Coast Starlight runs between Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, stopping at many Washington towns including Seattle, Tacoma, Lacey/Olympia, Centralia, Kelso/Longview & Vancouver, WA.
Amtrak Cascades. The Cascades is a special service that operates between Seattle and Portland 4 times (6 times beginning in fall 2017) round trip daily. Twice daily from Seattle to Vancouver, BC and from Portland to Eugene using special high-speed Talgo rolling stock. Washington stops include Bellingham, Mt Vernon, Everett, Edmonds, Seattle, Tukwila, Tacoma, Lacey/Olympia, Centralia, Kelso/Longview & Vancouver, WA. Additional service to Eugene & Vancouver are on the Thruway Motorcoach buses.
For more information, see Amtrak’s website, Wikitravel’s article Rail travel in the United States, or the Wikipedia pages on each of this train services.

By car

From British Columbia
Interstate 5 and the Peace Arch crossing is the main land port-of-entry to Washington from Canada. However this is only one of five land crossing points between the Lower Mainland region of BC and the Northwest Cascades region of Washington. See the Get in — by car section of Northwest Cascades region article for details.

From Oregon
Interstate 5 (and Interstate 205) provide access from the greater Portland area. Interstate 82 / US 395 provides access from eastern Oregon to the tri-cities area of Eastern Washington. For a more scenic entry, try taking US Route 101 along the Washington and Oregon coast, but be aware for the numerous speed traps in the small cities.

From Idaho
Interstate 90 is the main route in via Coeur D’Alene, but US 2 provides access to the northern parts of Idaho and Washington.

By bus

Greyhound has a number of bus stations throughout the state in metropolitan areas as well as the smaller micropolitan areas by way of the main interstate highways (5, 82 & 90). Passengers transfer buses in Missoula, MT; Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City or Sacramento to get to where they’re going.

Get around

To explore most of Washington (outside of main cities), you will generally need a car because there is very little public transportation, especially to more remote locations.

By plane

Most people get around the state by private automobile or buses but flying is still available if you’re in a hurry to get there. Intrastate service is only offered by Alaska Airlines (Seattle, Portland and various destinations in the state) and Delta (Seattle, Portland & Spokane).

By car

Washington’s road network is well-maintained and cars are the quickest way to travel around the state. The main freeways are I-5, running along the west side of Washington through many of Western Washington’s population centers. I-90, running east of Seattle to Ellensburg and Spokane, and I-82, which starts at I-90 near Ellensburg and heads pacific northwesteast through Yakima and Kennewick. Other US highways and WA state routes access all parts of the state. Rental-car agencies can be found in the larger cities.

All of the state’s major east-west highways cross over the Cascade Mountains, which are subject to closure, delays, and studded tire or chain requirements in wintertime. In severe weather, it may be better to use I-84 just across the border in Oregon. This route goes through the relatively low elevation of the Columbia River Basin. On rare occasion, I-84 may also have weather-related problems where it passes north of Mount Hood. A 20-mile detour on Washington State Hwy 14 is available between I-84 Exit #44 Bridge of the Gods, and Exit #64 Hood River Bridge. Both have a small toll.

In urban areas (especially in Seattle) getting around by bus is fine but for most places, especially in small towns and in rural areas having driving is a must as (local) bus services are limited.

By bus
  • Greyhound, travels primarily along Interstate 5, 82 & 90 and along US Hwy 395 between Pasco & Ritzville. Along I-5 buses go between Seattle & Portland via Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia, and Kelso and between Seattle & Vancouver via Everett, Mt Vernon & Bellingham. Along I-90 buses go from Seattle to Missoula, MT (via Ellensburg, Moses Lake, Spokane, etc) and pacific northwesteast to Stanfield, OR (via Ellensburg, Yakima, Sunnyside & Pasco along I-82. Along US 395 buses go from Pasco up to Ritzville & over to Spokane along I-90. Passengers typically transfer buses in Seattle, Portland, Spokane, Sacramento, Missoula, Pasco , Stanfield and Vancouver to continue to other cities.
  • Bellair Airporter, goes from SeaTac Airport up to Lynden and Blaine via Stanwood, Marysville, Mt Vernon,Burlington and Bellingham on one route and over to Yakima via North Bend, Cle Elum and Ellensburg on another route. From Burlington they have a third route going across to Anacortes and the San Juan ferry terminal.
  • BoltBus,. Direct service from Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver, BC. Buses stop at 5th Ave S and S King St next to the International District/Chinatown transit station. Fares $1-20.
  • Northwestern Trailways, goes from Spokane to Seattle, Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Coeur d’Alene, Boise, Pullman & Lewiston on multiple routes as well as operating the ‘Travel Washington – Apple Line’ bus between Ellensburg and Omak along US 97.
  • Travel Washington Intercity Bus Program. … offers options for statewide travel, connecting towns and rural communities with major transportation hubs and urban centers in areas not served by Greyhound Lines. They are the Dungeness Line (operated by Olympic Bus Lines) between Seattle, Port Townsend, Sequim, and Port Angeles; the Apple Line (operated by NW Trailways) between Ellensburg, Wenatchee, and Omak along US Hwy 97; the Grape Line between Pasco and Walla Walla [3]; and the Gold Line [4] between Spokane, Chewelah, Colville, & Kettle Falls along US Hwy 395 in the northeastern part. Latter two are operated by Bellair Charters
  • People for People,. People For People is a non-profit group that provides limited rural transit service in Yakima, Lincoln, Adams, and Grant counties.
  • Quick Shuttle,. Runs between the airport in Seatac Airport to Vancouver via downtown Seattle, Tulalip & Bellingham.
  • Washington Dept. of Transportation Transit List’ provides a list of urban and rural public transportation providers throughout the state. In some parts of the state such as the Olympic Peninsula, the Northwest, and Pacific Northwest Sound using these public buses are the only thing available to get around without a car.
By ferry

Washington State Ferries is the largest in the country. It has routes across Puget Sound and to Bainbridge, Vashon, Whidbey and the San Juan Islands. Inland, the state also offers some free ferries across the Columbia River. There are also some county-run ferries to smaller destinations such as to Anderson Island and Guemes Island.

Many ferry destinations are not islands without a bridge, but peninsulas where going by land would involve a very long detour. The most extreme example of this is the Port Townsend — Keystone route on State Hwy 20. Only five and a half miles via the ferry, becomes a whopping 217 miles (354 km) traveling by car!

By train

Getting around by train on Amtrak is likely to be quite a hassle, especially with infrequent departures, slow travel times, inconvenient schedules and limited routes. For those who still wish to take trains to get around Washington, these are the main routes:

  • The Empire Builder runs between Chicago and Spokane, Washington, where it then splits, with half of the train continuing to Seattle, and the other half to Portland.
  • The Coast Starlight. Regarded by many as America’s most scenic train ride, the Coast Starlight runs between Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, stopping at many Washington towns including Seattle, Tacoma, Lacey/Olympia, Centralia, Kelso/Longview & Vancouver, WA.
  • Amtrak Cascades. The Cascades is a special service that operates between Seattle and Portland 4x daily. Twice daily from Seattle to Vancouver, BC and from Portland to Eugene using special high-speed Talgo rolling stock. Washington stops include Bellingham, Mt Vernon, Everett, Edmonds, Seattle, Tukwila, Tacoma, Lacey/Olympia, Centralia, Kelso/Longview & Vancouver, WA. Additional service to Eugene & Vancouver are on the Thruway Motorcoach buses.
  • Sound Transit Sounder runs commuter trains between Everett-Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma-Lakewood on two separate routes.


Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens


  • Visit the San Juan Islands, famous for sailing, fishing, sea kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, bicycling and fine vistas and sunsets.
  • Go killer whale watching in Bellingham Bay, Haro Strait, and Lime Kiln State Park
  • Go bird-watching and see some of the 400+ species of birds with a local birding guide who knows all the best locations.
  • Go fishing for Salmon,Trout, Albacore Tuna, or Bottomfish while visiting Washington both fresh water and Saltwater opportunities available. Washington State offers some of the best fishing in the United States. There are several types of fishing opportunities available in both Saltwater and Freshwater. Salmon and Steelhead are among the most popular fish to pursue and there are several guides to help travelers enjoy the thrill of catching trophy size fish.”
  • Go hiking in the Ape Caves
  • Go skiing at Mount Baker
  • Go rock climbing at Frenchman Coulee
  • Tour wineries in Washington’s wine country
  • Pick farm-fresh produce at Yakima Valley farms and in Whatcom and Skagit Counties


Washington state is a great place for seafood, with salmon in particular being a specialty.


As with almost everywhere else in the U.S., the legal drinking and purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 21. And as with most states, Washington uses loopholes in the federal law to allow underage drinking. Underage drinking of alcohol is allowed on private non-alcohol selling premises with parental consent. Underage drinking is allowed for religious purposes. Anyone under the age of 21 shall not be prosecuted for underage drinking if the underage drinker is succumbed to alcohol poisoning and is in need of medical assistance, but for obvious safety reasons this method is not recommended.

Specialty Coffee

Specialty Coffee
High qualitey Arabica coffee beans roasted with greater emphasis on taste and freshness, brewed with dripped water or “espresso” steam) arguably has its birthplace here. Starbucks and Tully’s are apparent brands that most associate specialty coffee with Seattle. However, many small local companies are the ones that have paved the way (and continue to do so) in pioneering the specialty coffee industry. When you visit Seattle, be sure to check out these renowned coffee roasters (in no particular order):

Cafe Allegro (Seattle’s original espresso bar, tucked away in an alley in the U-District), Espresso Vivace, Caffe Vita, Zoka Coffee, Victrola Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, Caffe Appassionato, Caffe Umbria, Caffe Fiore, Fonte Coffee, Pura Vida, Vashon Island Coffee, Lighthouse Coffee, Caffe D’Arte, Tony’s Coffee/Caffe Ladro, Top Pot Donuts & Coffee, Batdorf & Bronson, Mukilteo Coffee, Moka Joe Coffee, Pioneer Coffee

Wine and Microbrew Beers

Washington is also the home to well-crafted local wines and “microbrewery” beers.


The western part of the state tend to be more tolerant to the LGBT group than the eastern part which is more conservative.

Washington has a large Asian population that is concentrated mostly in the western part of the state. Some understanding of the corresponding customs and culture may serve you well in these areas. Also, do not assume that no one around you speaks English (chances are they do, so watch what you say).

Do not litter along the freeways or highways. The fines for littering can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the scenario. It is an offense that the state takes VERY seriously. If you are caught in the act you will know what the state means by the “Litter and It Will Hurt” signs which frequently decorate its roadways.

Stay healthy


Like many western states, Washington State has had cases of hantaviral pulmonary syndrome, 41 confirmed cases in the state since 1993. Realistically, however, hantavirus is of very little concern to the traveler; but sensible precautions should be applied. Do NOT venture in a wild animal’s den or handle any dead animals; particularly rodents, as rodents seem to be the primary vector of the illness. There is no cure for the disease, treatment mainly consists of supportive therapies. The main defense against the virus is prevention.

For more information on prevention and transmission, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on hantaviruses.

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