When it comes time to plan trips, it can be difficult to come up with epic family vacation ideas with teens. I have one destination that’s a for sure win with teens, but not every vacation can be epic. However, I would argue that a good old fashioned U.S. road trip in the Pacific Northwest can really fit the bill. An adventure from Seattle to Olympic National Park not only pairs city with the outdoors, but you can also make this trip very friendly on the budget.
Adventures in Seattle with teens
Use this as a quick travel guide to Seattle. Plan at least two full days to explore and experience all of the coolest things to do in Seattle with your teens. Like any big city, you may not see it all in one trip, but you can get a great feel. This classic West coast U.S. city should be on every family’s bucket list for travel.
Getting to Seattle
Traveling to Seattle is not complicated at all. You can fly into Sea-Tac International Airport and rent a car with ease. If you don’t think you will need a car while visiting downtown Seattle, wait to rent a car from inside the city. Public transport is plentiful. We found driving in Seattle to be pretty easy to navigate, but did have to pay overnight parking fees at our hotel.
Staying in Seattle
Every major hotel chain and their subsidiaries have lodging in Seattle. Choices abound and you are best off selecting a hotel that is centrally located to how you want to spend your days. Or, like we did, choose to stay at your favorite chain where you have loyalty and/or status. We had an incredible experience at the Hyatt Regency, perfect for families who may need two rooms. Another family friendly option is the Embassy Suites located at Pioneer Square. You can find everything from budget options to luxury stays.
What to do in Seattle
I’m not kidding when I say that you will need to make a Seattle bucket list before you visit. There are so many things to do, places to see, and restaurants to try. Below is a list of ideas that should work for teens and families together. I’ve included a few unique things to do in Seattle that make this vacation with teens one to remember forever. Don’t underestimate the things to do in Seattle at night. Teens love to stay up later and explore cities after dark for extra fun!
- Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks: Get there early and enjoy selecting breakfast from the food stands and gawk at the incredible fresh flowers.
- Space Needle: Buy your tickets ahead of time to skip the line. The history and the views are worth a one-time visit.
- Seattle Underground Tour or Beneath the Streets tour: This is a popular group tour that gives the history of how Seattle developed into the city that it is. It keeps the teens engaged with humor, too!
- Seattle Great Wheel: Lines can get long, but the views are incredible. Try to choose a day without much fog or cloud cover if possible.
- Do a Savor Seattle Food Tour: through Pike Place Market
- Museum of Pop Culture: If you are a GenX parent, this will be a lot of fun to take your teens and teach them some 80’s and 90’s pop culture.
- Take in a pro sports game at T-mobile Park or CenturyLink Field: This can eat a big chunk of your time, but teens love to experience a city through pro sports!
- Kerry Park: for amazing city views perfect for sunrise or sunset.
- Do a Seattle waterfront cruise: awesome late in the day OR do a Seattle Locks Cruise that takes you to Lake Union to see the floating home community.
- Rent scooters: through an app on your phone you can pick up a scooter just about anywhere in downtown Seattle, but for a great experience, scoot around the pro sports complex when there is no game planned. It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground and have fun while doing it.
- Don’t miss the Museum of Flight outside of the downtown area. Extremely well done with tons of aircraft including outstanding space exhibits.
Pair Seattle with a trip to Olympic National Park
Seattle Olympic National Park Day Trip
If you are running short on time, but want to make sure you get in some Seattle outdoor activities, you must visit Olympic National Park. You can drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park, which takes about 2.5 hours. For efficiency on a Seattle day trip is to use the ferries to Olympic National Park. Use the Washington State ferry site for schedules and pricing. For a day trip, you will most likely use the entrance to Olympic National Park closest to Port Angeles. Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle and can be purchased in advance online. Of course, you may also use your America the Beautiful annual pass.
Give yourself a full, long day (as much daylight as possible) to get a good day trip experience. Pack lots of water and snacks so stopping for meals doesn’t take up too much time. Check out my super day trip packing list for some extra tips. It’s worth it even just for a day. If you’re struggling to get your teens to cooperate with outdoors time, I’ve got a few tips for that. Mine typically start with pushback and end the day happy and feeling accomplished.
There is no best time to visit Olympic National Park, as there are things to enjoy about each season. However, you will have the most options for access during late spring to late fall months (April-November). If you only have one day to explore, my suggestion is to do some day hiking near Hurricane Ridge. Some of the best views in Olympic National Park are from the Hurricane Hill trail.
Road Trip Olympic National Park
If you have time, a multi-day trip to Olympic National Park is ideal. It is huge and the entrances to Olympic National Park are spread out. You will need to plan your visit based on places to stay due to the remoteness of many locations. There is a variety of lodging in Olympic National Park that includes home/cabin rentals and hotels. Camping and RV camping in Olympic National Park is also very popular. There is a lot of driving time if you want to see most areas of the park. I suggest planning your route in a loop. Either start from Seattle and head southwest toward the Washington state capital Olympia to drive clockwise around the Olympic peninsula or head across on the ferry to start from Port Angeles to drive counter-clockwise.
How long you stay in one location will depend on what your interests are. You know how much your family can handle with drive times, so consider how much you want to explore and what you are willing to drive. Some personal family favorite areas include the Hoh Rainforest, Ruby Beach, Lake Crescent, and Hurricane Ridge. Each of those locations will give you a completely different vibe and will showcase the diversity of the Olympic peninsula. I regret we didn’t get the chance to explore the Sol Duc valley, but will include it when visiting Olympic National Park next time.
A word to parents of teens and tweens. There is very little cell signal in these areas. We typically allow our kids to scroll a bit while driving, but that simply is not an option. We did this road trip with another family and had the teens switch up cars so they could have conversation and play games with peers. If that is not an option, consider an audiobook and car games to keep them occupied. They won’t miss the screens when they are out and about adventuring outdoors even if they do complain in the beginning.
Best activities in Olympic National Park
Like most parks, you can find what makes your family happy. Activities in Olympic National Park range from quiet walks to fishing to cliff jumping to multi-day backpacking. Don’t miss the easy fun with big impact like taking a walk through the Hoh Rainforest amongst the massive trees or alongside the Hoh River. You could spend hours exploring the tide pools, driftwood stacks and skipping rocks at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park.
For the best hiking trails, check out different terrain from each entrance. Lovers Lane (6 mile loop) and Sol Duc Falls (1 mile) from the Sol Duc entrance are both in old growth forest. Hurricane Hill from Hurricane Ridge is a challenge and gives views with the range on one side and the water on the other. Use the Spruce Railroad Trail up at Lake Crescent to get to Devil’s Punchbowl for an afternoon of cliff jumping and swimming. The views there are out of this world!
If backpacking in Olympic National Park interests you, consider the Elwah River Trail, which is a moderate lengthy trail at lower elevation. It takes you down low to an incredible watershed and is full of quiet and solitude. If you plan to backpack and do multi-day hiking treks, some of the most popular are the Hoh River Trail and Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park. Both are at lower elevations and rated moderate and get you away from any crowds that may develop in the summer months.
Getting on the Water in Olympic National Park
Fishing in Olympic National Park can be a great joy for anglers. The park provides some of the most extensive runs of wild salmon, trout and char in the Pacific Northwest. Make sure to read and review all fishing regulations inside the park and remember that much of the Pacific coastal water areas are a part of of the park.
Kayaking and canoeing are favorite activities while inside the park. With the wide selection of rivers and lakes you are bound to find a spot to enjoy. Motorized boats require a Washington state license. We also saw people sailing on Quinault Lake, which is not technically part of the park, where we stayed over one night.
Places to Stay in Olympic National Park
Use your activities to choose where to base yourself in the park. Although you will inevitably do a lot of driving, you can find places to stay near Olympic National Park. If you begin your road trip from the Southern side of the park, you could stay in Olympia or Aberdeen, but you’ll have a morning before officially getting in to the park.
We stayed overnight in the Lake Quinault area where there are several lodges, motels, and vacation rentals. This is a good starting point to see Ruby Beach and Hoh Rainforest. If you plan ahead and aren’t traveling with 9 people as we were, I highly suggest Kaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park for proximity, amenities, and incredible views. The park offers two other lodging options at Sol Duc and Lake Crescent, which also require planning a year ahead.
Many people prefer camping in Olympic National Park. There are campsites on the coast near Kaloch and Ruby Beach, which fill quickly in the summer months. Keep in mind that some campgrounds are park operated and some are not. Many accept reservations, but some do not. And, of course, if you plan to camp in the backcountry, you will need a permit from the park before doing so.
Why Seattle to Olympic National Park is a great destination for families with teens
Vacationing with teens can be tricky. You need plenty of activities for teens, but you also need to make sure there is down time planned in. The best vacations for teens have a good balance. Pairing a big city with a National Park gives you the best bang in my opinion. Spend a few days on your trip to Seattle doing the city stuff, then head out into the wilderness. Teens need to get fresh air and they can discover the best hikes in Olympic National Park. If you only have a long weekend, make the park a day trip, but if you have a week or longer definitely make it a road trip.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to pack too much in. Remember that travel with teens is more about the memories created than it is about checking everything off the list. In our years of travel we have realized that we do best if we start with the more rustic outdoor section of our trip first. Our teens are good with being off the grid, but want to reconnect with friends after a few days. And, we try to have our last night or two in the city at a more upscale hotel. It’s those little things that make travel for teens totally worthwhile. One last tip for a family vacation with teens: do it with another family! For more tips on adventuring with your teens see this post. Happy adventuring!