Washington State climate
Washington has two main climates west and east of the Cascades. The west is typically mild and wet, the east cool and dry. Seattle temperatures generally range from just above zero degrees (Celsius) in January to the high-teens in July; Spokane from just below zero in January to the low 20s in July.Most precipitation falls October through March. The western side of the Olympic Peninsula receives up to 400 centimetres of precipitation annually, and the western slopes of the Cascades over 500 centimetres of snow. Eastern Washington averages about 15 centimetres of precipitation, with more closer to the Rocky Mountains.
When to fly to Washington State
Summer is Washington’s high season, with July and August the busiest months. Seattle hosts outdoor festivals mid-May to Labour Day, the San Juan Islands are mobbed, and the parks are filled. Tourism peaks again in winter with snow-sport enthusiasts so book Washington flights and accommodations ahead of time.
October to April is the rainy season. Hotel rates are lower and cheap flights to Washington are commonly found, but Seattle’s performing arts are in full season.
September weekdays are great times to visit: the weather is still pleasant and crowds are smaller. In fall and winter, the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula tends to be dry.
Spring is the favourite time for whitewater rafters catching the winter runoff. Savvy travellers will book Washington flights and accommodations in advance for springtime travel.
Getting around Washington State
With several regional airports, Washington flights are easy and discount fares are available. There is train service north and south of Seattle and bus service to Spokane and beyond. Washington has the most extensive ferry service in the country, and it includes transport to the San Juan Islands, Bainbridge Island, Whidbey Island, Vashon Island and Kitsap Peninsula. A car or RV is a great way to see the state and the only way to get to some of the more remote locations. Make sure to fill the gas tank first—Washington is a large state, and gas stations are few and far between in some areas.
Seattle is fun to explore on foot and is well served by the Metro system. The Downtown Ride Free Area has free bus service from 6am to 7pm. To travel across the sound, choose from ferries, speedboats, water taxis and jet catamarans. Seattle is a difficult city for driving, with bad traffic congestion, one-way streets, and scarce and expensive parking.
Hiking is the best mode of transport in Olympic National Park. A great state for hiking, Washington’s popular trails include the Pacific Crest Trail, Hoh River Trail, and Wonderland Trail.
Washington State insider information
- The small town of Starbuck in Columbia County is not the home of Starbucks, the global coffee company. That’s Pike Place, a downtown Seattle market. Other “liquid” attractions are microbreweries Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville (there are tours) and Yakima Brewing and Malting Co.
- Leavenworth is a Bavarian village in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. In the 1960s, the town decided to go Bavarian to stave off an economic meltdown. Stores were remodeled and festivals launched including the Autumn Leaf Festival, the Christmas Lighting and the Maifest. Enjoy the Germanic fare such as wiener schnitzel and sauerbraten or pick up a cuckoo clock.
- Tatoosh Island, about a half mile off Cape Flattery (the most north-westerly point in the continental US) on the Olympic Peninsula is part of the Makah Indian Reservation. The island is home to lots and lots of birds, but no humans. Tatoosh lighthouse looks over the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
- Olympic National Park has glacier-capped mountains, almost 97 kilometres of wild Pacific coast and old-growth rain forest. The star of the park is Mount Olympus which stands at 2,427 metres. There are three national parks in Washington State: Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park.
- The four main San Juan Islands – served by Washington State Ferries – are Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw, although hundreds of islands and islets make up the archipelago. San Juan boasts the Whale Museum and there are the ruins of the British and American forts in San Juan Island National Historic Park.
- Snoqualmie Falls is famous to fans of 1990s’ super series Twin Peaks. The falls rush down 82 metres. Near the top of the falls is the Salish Lodge, which also featured in the show.