A campsite by a lake at twilight with a vehicle and rooftop tent. Chairs and a table are set up near the vehicle, and string lights are hung between trees.

Budget-Friendly Vacation Ideas in Washington State

If you live in Washington and want to enjoy a break without breaking the bank, consider taking a summer vacation a little closer to home. Here are some ideas to help you save while exploring your own backyard.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager
Updated Jun 10, 2024 in: Budgeting

Read time: 11 minutes

While scrolling through Instagram pictures of tropical resorts, luxury lake homes and international excursions, you might think everyone is taking high-dollar vacations this summer. Even though inflation has slowed, it's continuing to squeeze budgets, and the cost of travel remains well above pre-pandemic levels.

But an estimated 40% of Americans plan to travel more in 2024, according to Forbes.

As if the travel FOMO (fear of missing out) wasn't bad enough, the prospect of spending thousands of dollars on a summertime getaway can be even more frustrating if you're trying to save money and pay off debt.

The good news is, if you live in Washington, you're surrounded by great opportunities to explore and have fun. Here are some ideas to help you control costs in four main vacation spending categories: entertainment and activities, food, lodging and transportation.

Entertainment and Activities

One way to control costs on your vacation is by being selective about your entertainment choices. Here are some ideas.

Go Hiking

Enjoy trails ranging from easy to expert in Washington's diverse geography. The cost for trail access is typically tied to parking and park entrance fees. Some trails in backcountry and wilderness areas require permits (some of which have fees), and access may be limited through a permit lottery. Check the requirements before you get to the trailhead. If you're new to hiking, learn how to stay safe before you go.

Three women smiling and posing for a selfie at the peak of Oyster Dome trail, capturing a mountain and bay-water view.
Washington offers thousands of hiking trails for any activity, skill level or season.

Visit Snoqualmie Falls

If you like waterfalls, this stop is for you. Plus, it's free and viewing areas are ADA accessible. According to the Snoqualmie website the falls are more than twice as tall as Niagara Falls and the second-most visited natural landmark in Washington after Mount Rainier. After you visit the falls, you can head into town for local ice cream at Snoqualmie Ice Cream, or local beer at Snoqualmie Falls Brewery.

A woman and two teen girls pose for a picture with Snoqualmie Falls in the background.
A visit to Snoqualmie Falls is free. You can choose an easy stroll to the top viewpoint, or, if you have more energy, take the trail to the bottom and back.

Play at the Beach

With more than 3,000 miles of outer coastline, Washington provides lots of opportunities to play at the beach. You could try surfing at Westport, exploring tide pools at Rialto Beach or clamming at Illahee State Park. (Clamming requires a license from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and you'll need to check the health status of beaches with the Washington Department of Health.)

A young girl holding up a pink and white stripped towel as it flies in the air while standing on a sandy beach. She is wearing a dark blue hat, light blue shirt and rainbow-colored shorts. In the background are a few houses and blue skies.
Enjoy beaches along the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, lakes and rivers across Washington

Visit a Lighthouse

With so much coastline, Washington also is a lighthouse fan's dream with 30 lighthouse sites. One example: View the Cape Flattery Lighthouse from the rugged northwestern-most point of the lower 48 states. Be sure to stop at the Makah Indian Reservation to buy a recreation permit before you go.

A scenic view of Browns Point Lighthouse with a close-up of a tree. The scenery is surrounded by green grass, the Puget Sound water and blue sky.
Lighthouses dot Washington's shorelines. Some still have active lenses and you can go inside some for tours.

Go for a Scenic Drive

If you're looking for a great view and have gas money as part of your vacation budget, Washington has some spectacular options. Here are a few favorites:

  • Mount Baker Highway, or Highway 542, winds east from Bellingham through Whatcom County, ending at an elevation of 5,140 at Artist Point, with stunning views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. If you're coming from the south, consider taking Chuckanut Drive to Bellingham.
  • Olympic Peninsula Loop on U.S. Highway 101 is a 300-mile route around the perimeter of Olympic National Park. Drive the whole loop or pick sections to see rainforests, Pacific Ocean beaches and lakes. Highway 101 is also the road to Forks, made famous by the "Twilight" movie series.
  • Highway 14 along the Columbia River Gorge is the Washington counterpart to the popular I-84 route on the Oregon side of the gorge. You'll be treated to views of the Columbia River and Mount Hood, see the top windsurfing spots in the world, and you can visit a Stonehenge replica, built as a World War I memorial, at Maryhill.
  • A Stonehenge monument standing in a field, surrounded by dry grass and blue sky.
    A Stonehenge replica, built as a World War I memorial, is one of the scenic stops along Highway 14.
    A Scenic view of Mt. Rainer, snow-covered, and surrounded by lush green trees.
    Take a drive to Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park for breathtaking views.

    Tour a Bunker

    During World War II, military forts were built along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to defend Puget Sound. You can visit many of these sites, whether you're interested in learning some history, or you like the spooky factor of walking around old bunkers.

    Many locations require a Discover Pass or other paid parking permit. Here are some of the bunkers you can visit:

    • Camp Hayden in Port Angeles.
    • Fort Worden in Port Townsend.
    • Fort Casey on Whidbey Island.
    • Fort Ebey on Whidbey Island.
    • Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island.
    • Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island.


    Whether you stay in a hotel, camp in a tent or crash with friends, meals can be one of the most expensive parts of any travel plan. Here are some ideas to control food costs:

    Make Your Own Meals

    If you pack your groceries (or buy them when you get to your destination) and limit yourself to one restaurant meal per day, you can reduce your food expenses and treat yourself to some truly delicious dining experiences.

    Pack Your Meal as Part of the Fun

    Pack your meals to make eating part of your outdoor experience. Whether you're hiking, road-tripping, beachcombing or visiting a park, plan to enjoy your surroundings while you take in a meal. Bonus: You don't have to take a break from your activity to go find a restaurant.

    Prepare Local Food

    The diversity of Washington's geography supports a wide variety of food. Here are a few suggestions for places to pick up local food that you can take back to your kitchen and prepare:

    A man on a small boat, with a lake in the background, holding a crab. He is wearing a Sasquatch t-shirt, a blue life vest and is smiling,
    Crabbing in the Puget Sound makes the perfect meal for seafood lovers. Licenses are required for this activity. 
    A skillet filled with crab sits on a wooden table, showcasing a crab meal with wine and two chairs in the background.
    Visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website before setting out on your crabbing adventure.  


    Lodging can be another big chunk of vacation expenses. Hotel prices have increased 15% since before the pandemic, according to NerdWallet, but actual prices vary widely depending on where you stay and when you stay there.

    Staying with friends and family can be fun — and economical. If you take your friends out for a meal or two to repay their kindness, you'll still spend less than the cost of a hotel stay.

    But what if you don't know anyone who lives in your vacation destination or just prefer not to stay with friends? Here are a few money-saving options.

    Go Camping

    Washington is home to beautiful camping options, offering an array of mountain, rainforest, desert, beach, lake and river locations.

    If you're a new camper and starting from scratch, getting geared up can be an investment. You'll want to build savings goals into your budget for purchases like a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove and cooler. But once you have your setup, you'll have plenty of options for low-cost accommodations

    An aerial view of a Lake Kachess in Washington, nestled among tall trees. The water is a bright green color. In the background are hills, clouds and blueish gray skies.
    Camping is a low-cost lodging option that gives you a chance to connect with nature and unplug.

    Here are some examples:

    • Washington State Parks campsites cost $12 for a primitive campsite, up to $50 for a full-utility campsite.
    • National Parks campsites costs vary by park and by campsite. Olympic National Park, for example, costs $15 to $24 for a campground spot. Some National Parks also have entrance fees. For example, Olympic National Park charges $30 for a standard non-commercial vehicle entrance fee with up to 15 passengers.
    • Washington Department of Natural Resources manages 80 campgrounds in the state. Campsites are free, but they are first come, first served, and you do need to have a Discover Pass.
    • If you're not quite ready for tent camping, you can spend a little more for a "glamping" experience in a yurt or cabin, but be aware: Some cabin rentals can rival the cost of a hotel stay.

    Sort by Hotel Price

    If you don't already have your heart set on a destination and you just want to get away for a few days, consider choosing your vacation spot based on the price of lodging.

    Go to a hotel or vacation rental website, enter your vacation dates and sort by price. For example, a search on Booking.com for three-star accommodations in Washington, for four nights in July, flexible dates and two adults, returned 1,128 properties. The lowest price was $254 for four nights at a hotel in Yakima, including breakfast — so maybe a winery tour is in your future.


    Transportation costs — including flights, rental cars, gas and ride services — can add up. 

    Airfare alone averages $305 for U.S. domestic flights, $947 for flights to Europe and $1,519 for flights to Asia, according to Hopper, so you're already cutting out a big chunk of your vacation expenses by finding fun and relaxation closer to home.

    Here are some transportation suggestions to get you to your local vacation spot and enjoy the sights once you've reached your destination.

    Take Local Public Transit

    Many Washington cities and counties offer bus services and other types of public transportation.

    King County Metro is the largest local public transportation agency in the region, serving Seattle and all the surrounding cities and unincorporated areas of King County. An adult single-ride fare is $2.75 and a regional day pass is $8.

    You can even take the bus to popular hikes along I-90 near North Bend using Metro's Trailhead Direct service. No gas or parking money required.

    Other fun and affordable public transit options include Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar and Seattle Center Monorail and Sound Transit's Link light rail.

    Ride the Ferry

    In addition to being a great option for getting you to and from a destination, ferries are an affordable option for just getting out on the water and enjoying the view. 

    A passenger ferry sailing nearing Bainbridge Island in Washington.  The ferry is white with green accent colors. In the background are trees, homes and the shoreline, capturing gray skies.
    Riding a ferry can be an affordable way to get your vacation destination or just get out on the water.

    Washington State Ferries are a division of the Washington State Department of Transportation and an extension of the state highway system. Ferry routes (PDF) connect passengers to locations throughout the Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

    Prices vary, but as an example, from Seattle, an adult can walk on the ferry to Bainbridge Island for less than $10. The ride back to the city is free. If you decide to drive on the ferry with an adult passenger and two kids under the age of 18, you'll pay less than $60. That's a pretty good deal, considering you aren't paying for airfare.

    If you're planning to travel to Port Townsend or the San Juan Islands, you can save yourself a long wait during busy travel times by making a reservation.

    Find Activity-Based Transportation

    If your vacation involves a specific activity, like hiking, mountain biking, wine tastings or brewery tours, check if shuttle services are available.

    Here are three examples:

    A scenic vineyard with rolling hills and blue sky in the background. In the distance are two houses.
    Enjoy a wine tour and explore vineyards in Washington.
    A group of six people smiling and holding wine glasses while posing for a photo. There are wine barrels in the background.
    While on vacation, sip and learn the history of popular Washington wines. 


    Figuring out where to go and what to do can be overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

    The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized financial, tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation when making financial, legal, tax, investment, or any other business and professional decisions that affect you and/or your business.

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    Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

    Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
    BECU Community Content Manager

    Katie writes for BECU about personal finance and social justice topics. Her career spans reporting for newspapers and communicating on behalf of government agencies and private businesses. Learn about Katie's career and education on LinkedIn.