Just because Washington was discovered later by Europeans doesn’t mean that you have to wait just as long to explore it! Majestic mountains and lush green landscapes await you in here. A haven for wildlife and artists alike, there is something for everyone. While Seattle is the epitome of modernity, some time away from the traffic and city noises and get to know the beauty that rural Washington has to offer.
Check out our list of the 15 best small towns to visit in Washington!
1. Ellensburg, Washington
Located in Kittitas County, just east of the Cascade Range off of Interstate 90, Ellensburg is a central Washington destination. With a historic downtown that dates back to the late 19th century, Ellensburg came in second to Olympia in a bid for the state capital. Nowadays, it’s a perfect trip for art and history lovers.
Fortunate enough to have a drier climate than that of western Washington, come to Ellensburg to relax and get some sunshine. Spend some time downtown or at the Clymer Museum and Gallery if you’re an art lover. Central Washington University also offers the Sarah Spurgeon Gallery in their Department of Art, and every first Friday evening of the month, the town hosts the First Friday Art Walk. Even if art isn’t your passion, this is a can’t-miss event, with live music, art, wine to enjoy alongside the community of Ellensburg.
2. Friday Harbor, Washington
A charming island destination, Friday Harbor is located on San Juan Island. Originally claimed by Hudson’s Bay Company, San Juan played a key role in the shipping around the Puget Sound and exported locally grown produce. That prosperity has carried over today and keeps Friday Harbor a busy, popular location overflowing with welcoming lavender and California poppies.
Come to Friday Harbor if you’re an marine enthusiast; it houses the world famous marine biology facility: Friday Harbor Laboratories. Sail the harbor after you’ve explored the picturesque downtown area. Activities abound for all ages: shopping, bird watching, whale watching, or hiking to name a few. Put your feet up at Harrison House and enjoy three course meals from locally sourced ingredients, and most importantly: relax at this island paradise.
3. La Conner, Washington
Nestled in Skagit County, Washington, La Conner is a popular vacation destination for locals and out of state tourists alike. Located along the Swinomish channel, La Conner is a historic district per the National Register of Historic Places. Come here to relax and soak in the majestic view of the mountains, or for their annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival!
Stroll across the Rainbow Bridge to Fidalgo Island to stretch your legs, or stop in at the Museum of Northwest Art. Continuing in this artistic theme, La Conner hosts the Arts Alive! Show in early November, a showcase of local artists’ work. An interesting fact: wild turkeys were known as the official town bird up until 2010 when they were deemed a public nuisance! Out with the turkeys, in with more visitors. Now you can have a meal in peace along many of the channel-front restaurants, or visit a few of the local wineries.
4. Leavenworth, Washington
Located in Chelan County, Leavenworth awaits your visit. The entire architectural design for the town center is modeled after Bavarian villages. Originally a timber community, Leavenworth underwent a facelift in the 1960s to revitalize the local economy and adopted the aforementioned Bavarian village design to entice more visitors.
The Bavarian theme has proven to be quite popular, and the town has seen an influx in visitors since then. Bring your camera and enjoy a few days here in Bavaria without having to take such a long trip back to Germany. There are plenty of parks and nature for the outdoorsy person: Waterfront Park, Front Street Park and Icicle gorge to name a few. Why not go zip-lining at the Adventure Park and unwind afterwards at the Icicle Brewing Company? Leavenworth is sure to tempt you to stay a little longer!
5. Port Townsend, Washington
A haven for both outdoorsmen and history buffs, Port Townsend, with its prime location at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula and many Victorian buildings, is the only incorporated community in Jefferson County. A well-known seaport in the late 19th century, it remains a good place for sailing enthusiasts.
Walk along the waterfront and check out the Public Library before venturing out on a boat. Don’t forget to attend the Port Townsend Wooden Boat festival, the Kinetic Skulpture Race, or the annual blues and jazz festivals for the music lovers. There are weekly boating races for the adventurous ones, or many walks and hikes outside the town for those who prefer dry land. Go to the Farmers Market and grab something for the day, or spend a few days relaxing at the Manresa Castle hotel.
6. Poulsbo, Washington
Nicknamed “Viking Town” or “Little Norway”, Poulsbo draws its name from a small town in Norway: “Paul’s town”. Thus named by one of the Norwegian settlers who founded it, Poulsbo has been established on Liberty Bay since the 1880s. In the 1970s, the King of Norway, Olav, actually visited this town to commemorate the 150 years of Norwegian communities in the United States! In fact, up until WWII and the founding of some military residential units, many people used Norwegian as their primary language in Poulsbo. When the population tripled in WWII, English took over as the dominant language.
Nowadays, people come to Poulsbo for the nature and marine biology. Visit the Poulsbo Marine Biology Science Center, or go for a hike in Kitsap Memorial State Park. You can even see some alpacas at the Sawdust Hill Alpaca Farm! Remember to take a rest and have a drink at Valholl Brewery at the end of the day or satisfy your sweet tooth at Boehm’s chocolate!
7. Prosser, Washington
Located along the Yakima River, Prosser was inhabited by Native Americans long before any Europeans arrived, and was called “Tap Tut” – otherwise know as “rapids”. In the 1880s, the Northern Pacific Railroad ran many trains through the area, but more recently, wineries have been opening there instead due to the location of Prosser on the river.
A perfect destination for those wine experts or wine lovers, come to Prosser to tour the vineyards and sample the local wines. Various annual tastings are held that celebrate wine, such as: Thanksgiving in Wine Country, Spring Barrel Tastings, Red Wine and Chocolate, or, the Sweet Retreat – a pairing of sweet wines and food. Relax and have a few glasses, and rest up at one of the local accommodations, such as the Inn at Desert Wind Winery.
8. Republic, Washington
Located in Ferry County, Republic was founded by gold prospectors in the 19th century. What began as the “Great Republic Claim” was later turned into a town and renamed “Republic”. Despite the gold rush long having passed us by, mining continues to be an important part of the economy here, as gold is still mined from the hills surrounding Republic!
Travel back to the Gold Rush era and spend a few days in town. Enjoy the slower pace of life and relax. Or, if you are interested in ancient history as well, check out the Stonerose Interpretive Center and Fossil site, famous for the Eocene fossils found in a nearby lakebed. End the evening with a stroll down the shops and restaurants on Clark Street before retiring for the night. Who knows, you might get lucky and strike gold there!
9. Winthrop, Washington
Originally a Native American settlement, Winthrop is another community that grew thanks to the gold rush in the Pacific Northwest. Located along the Methow and Twisp rivers, Winthrop began renovations to remake itself in the 1970s to attract more tourists. It, like other towns in the area, adopted a theme, in this case, the “Old West”.
Winthrop is also a popular destination for outdoor lovers, and has great cross-country skiing opportunities, rock climbing, or hiking. After visiting the Old West style downtown, you can continue to live in the moment and go horseback riding. Head out to the North Cascades National Park to reconnect with nature or take some excellent photographs.
10. Forks, Washington
For those Twilight fans, Forks will ring a bell as the place Bella called home through the book series. However, there have never been any confirmation of actual vampires living in the area, of course. While the films were not shot in Forks, the town offers tours to places that resemble locations in the book, and La Push is a short drive down the road.
Aside from Twilight fans, Forks is a main attraction for fisherman in search of steelhead. It also boasts many fine beaches and beautiful scenery. Spend a few days getting to know the scenic downtown area and head out to discover the beautiful nature that surrounds the town. Take a trip to La Push, the Native American reservation, and go whale watching or hiking.
11. Sequim, Washington
Sequim, located near the base of the Olympic Mountains along the Dungeness River. Nicknamed “Sunny Sequim” because of the relatively low amount of rainfall per year, Sequim is a popular destination for people leaving the Puget Sound, and California. Not only that, but Sequim is a luxury destination; it is known for Dungeness crab and for cultivating a large amount of lavender (surpassed only by France!).
Pay a visit to Sequim for the lavender and yummy crab, as well as the amount of diverse trees: maple, alder, and cottonwood to name a few. It is also home to many Roosevelt elk and diverse wildlife. Don’t forget about July, when they hold Lavender Weekend. Stay a few days at the George Washington Inn and take a hike out to the Dungeness Lighthouse at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.
12. Darrington, Washington
A town in Snohomish County, Darrington is located in the Stillaguamish Valley and originally established during the gold rush. A road was established along the Sakit River and Darrington sprang up to serve as the halfway point. Later, timber became a major factory in the local economy.
Aside from the historic old part of town, Darrington is a natural paradise. Many options await the avid tourist: hiking, fishing, rafting, rock climbing to name a few. If you’re tired and want to relax, the first distillery that opened in Darrington in 2014 is called Whiskey Ridge Brewing Company. Take some time away from your busy life and spend a few days enjoying the nature around Darrington.
13. Kettle Falls, Washington
Named for the nearby Kettle Falls, this town is located in Stevens County, Washington. Kettle Falls is on the Columbia River, and was an important fishing site for Native Americans. Surrounded by mountains and 40 miles from the Canadian border, this town is ideal for fun and outdoor activities.
Check out Lake Roosevelt, or stay at the Kettle Falls Inn. Take some time to fish in the surrounding areas or go for a hike, or take a kayak out on the lake. If you prefer to camp instead of stay in town, the national park around Lake Roosevelt has some excellent options. Have a barbecue at Happy Dell Park and kick back or tour the China Bend Winery while you’re here.
14. Twisp, Washington
Located along and named after the Twisp River, Twisp is a small town whose name is originally an Okanagan word meaning “wasp”. The town is pleasant and relaxed though, and is not overrun by wasps, so we can still recommend it for a visit. Locals call it “the heart of the Methow Valley” as Twisp is the largest community in the region and yet still retains its rural charms.
Head out into the valley to hike or go fishing, and remember to bring your camera – you won’t want to forget these views! Stop it at the organic market on your way back into town at Methow Valley Farmers Market, or have a cool drink at Mick and Mike’s Red Cedar Bar. While not a five star retreat, Twisp offers a peaceful rural retreat and time away from daily life stress.
15. Glacier, Washington
Glacier is the closest community to Mt. Baker in the Cascade Volcanoes and is fortunate enough to offer breathtaking views of Mt Shuksan, one of the most popularly photographed mountains. This proximity to nature draws in tourists and supports many bustling businesses including artsy coffee shops and restaurants.
Glacier is also a popular skiing and snowboarding destination, as well as home to many other outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. Whether winter or summer is your preferred season, you should visit for a few days to enjoy the fresh mountain air and take in the scenery, whether you venture out into it or just snap a few pictures.