An East Coast Road Trip to Washington DC

I was about half way through a self-planned 5 week US road trip. Starting in Florida with a few days in Miami followed by a trip to Walt Disney World, we had since visited Savannah GA, South Carolina state, Atlanta GA, Nashville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, both in Tennessee, before heading into North Carolina to drive Blue Ridge Parkway and Virginia to visit Shenandoah National Park.

Going to the zoo

After a long day cruising along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah, we were now heading east to Washington DC for 2 nights in the capital city. It would not be my first visit to DC. It had actually been the second US city I’d ever visited after a few trips to New York in my early days of travelling. That time, I had spent 5 days there fitting in as much sight seeing as possible and I had returned for a 2-night visit as part of my coast to coast Southern States tour with Trek America, filling in some of the gaps by visiting a few museums and monuments that I’d not made it to before.

This time, it was more of a ‘revisiting a favourite city’ type trip where we hoped to return to some city highlights and explore a bit further.

Leaving Shenandoah late afternoon meant we arrived in DC just as the main brunt of rush hour traffic started to ease but it was still busy and navigating our way from the interstate into Arlington where our motel was located, was a pretty nerve-wracking experience! As night was falling, we settled into our room and went for a pizza dinner at a local restaurant before calling it a night.

At the National Museum of American History

The next morning, we were up early to walk to Rosslyn metro station, catching the subway across the Potomac into Washington DC and along to the first stop of the day, Washington Zoo. I had visited the zoo here before on my first trip to the city but my travel buddy hadn’t and wanted to see one of the pandas having never seen one in the flesh before. As one of the Smithsonian-run attractions in the city, entrance to the zoo is free meaning we didn’t feel like we had to spend a lot of time there getting our money’s worth. The plan was to get there, find a panda and leave!

Of course, we ended up staying there a bit longer than planned as we got distracted by some of the other animals on our way to the panda enclosure and then by the gift store after. We also spent a lot more time than planned watching the pandas as they played with plastic crates in their indoor areas or just lolled around looking cute!

Back in the centre of the city by the Mall, we walked to the White House to take photos and then to the National Monument. Normally, we would have applied for the free tickets to go up to the viewing platform at the top but on this visit, the monument was closed for repairs.

Two new Junior Ranger badges to add to the collection!

Instead, we walked along the Mall towards some of the many museums. Across my visits to the city, I have visited many of the Smithsonian Museums including the Air and Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Natural History Museum but my favourite is the National Museum of American History with its popular culture displays which, in the past, have included the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz film and various muppet characters.

While I was disappointed to find the Ruby Slippers weren’t currently on display, we still found plenty to keep us interested for a while.

Next, we walked back to the White House Visitor Centre which contains exhibits about, and artefacts from, the White House itself. Here, we requested Junior Ranger booklets from one of the park rangers and spent some time exploring and filling our booklets in before returning our booklets to earn not just one, but two Junior Ranger badges!!

On a segway adventure

We had booked a segway tour of the monuments for the evening so, realising it was getting late, we decided to head in the direction of the meeting point for our tour and to look for somewhere nearby to have dinner. We caught the subway up towards the Dupont Circle area. Struggling to really find any suitable restaurants, we settled for a gourmet burger diner. Finding ourselves ahead of schedule, we then walked down to the Lincoln Memorial.

We assumed we would pass this again later as part of our tour but thought it would be good to take photos while it was daylight as it would be dark by the time we returned.

Back at the White House

We then returned to the segway company headquarters in time to check in for our evening tour. After checking in and filling out the various forms, we had a quick practise session on our segways. We had both ridden segways previously on a visit to Portland, Oregon and then in the city of Minneapolis on previous trips and this time, we felt like old pros settling into it straight away.

The Capitol Building

The tour was good fun and a really great way of seeing some of the city’s many monuments and memorials in a relatively short time. As I’d found out on previous visits to the city, from the National Monument the Lincoln Memorial – or in the other direction to the Capitol Building – is a LOT further than it looks but whizzing along on our segways, we were there in no time!

We began the tour with a stop at the White House for photos outside just as the sun started to set then continued along the mall past some of the museums and monuments and along to the Capitol Building.

Above, back at the Lincoln Memorial, and below, some of the sights on our segway tour

Heading back to the National Monument, we then passed the World War II Memorial before finishing off back at the Lincoln Memorial. While we had been to most of the places we stopped at before, it was nice to see the buildings, monuments and memorials all lit up at night and our guide had plenty of interesting facts and stories to keep us entertained along the way.

Our tour over, we walked back to the nearest subway station to catch the metro back across to Virginia state and walked back to our motel.

The next morning, after checking out of our motel, we drove the short distance to Arlington National Cemetery, paying our respects at the many military graves there as well as visiting the grave of President John F. Kennedy and watching the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Then, after our short but busy visit to the city, it was time to say goodbye as we began our drive into Maryland to visit the city of Baltimore.

Mount Rainier National Park

Taking a one day tour to Mount Rainier National Park from Seattle.

Washington state is home to a number of National Parks and while on a 5 night city break in Seattle, we were hoping to get to see some of them. Trouble was, at this point, we had never driven in the USA and didn’t feel confident to hire a rental and take self-guided trip to these places and public transport wasn’t an option. So instead, we booked ourselves on a group tour offered by the company Tours of Seattle* to Mount Rainier National Park.

Arriving at Mount Rainier National Park

Having already taken a small group tour to Olympic National Park a few days earlier, we knew the drill as we waited outside our airport hotel for our transport for the day to arrive. Today’s minibus was more like a minicoach, much bigger than the one we had travelled to Olympic National Park on meaning a bigger tour group too but not too many with numbers hovering around the 20-25 mark. Our guide was fantastic and kept the day running smoothly while still offering the group various options on where we could go and what we could do.

No sign of the mountain peak – stopping at a viewpoint on the way up

Our first stop of the day was for 10 minutes at a supermarket for anyone that wanted to grab lunch or snacks for the day and then we were on our way to the park.

Looking for Mount Rainier

Unfortunately, this morning, the weather was not on our side and our guide explained that on cloudy or overcast days, Mount Rainier itself often became hidden from sight. But she said the weather was supposed to clear a bit later so there was a chance we would get a glimpse of the mountain then.

We entered the park at the Paradise entrance station and began to make our way up a steep, winding road through the park. Our guide pulled over on request at a couple of viewing points so we could get out, take photos and take in the scenery and talked to us about the park and its history as we continued on again.

The Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center in Paradise
The closest we came to seeing the peak of Mount Rainier it peaks out behind a cloud!

Eventually, we came to the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center where we were to have our lunch and be set free to explore for a while. We spent some time looking at the exhibits in the visitor center before setting off on a circular hike on the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls. While the sun had now come out, Mount Rainier was still shielded from our view behind a large low cloud gathered around it but the views across the park from the trail were still really pretty.

Narada Falls

As we drove back down, we pulled over at a few more view points then stopped to see Narada Falls. The sun was hitting the cascading water at the right angle to create a beautiful rainbow glistening above the falls!

A rainbow!
Longmire Suspension Bridge

Disappointed that the weather hadn’t clearer enough for us to see the elusive mountain yet, our guide said she had one more place she could take us from where the mountain was sometimes visible even on days when it wasn’t visible from the visitor center. We were told that stopping there would mean a bit less time at our last stop if the day but as we all wanted to maximise our chances of seeing the mountain, we agreed to give it a try.

So we were taken to Longmire Bridge, a suspension bridge over the Nisqually River. Disappointingly, Mount Rainier still wasn’t visible to us but it was a really picturesque spot to stop off at anyway!

Tall trees in the ancient forest

The last stop of the day was in the park’s lowlands at one of the ancient old growth forests where we spent some time walking through the Douglas firs, cedars and hemlocks then it was back to Seattle where we were dropped off back at our airport hotel.

A walk in the ancient old growth forest

Although we’d not been lucky enough to see Mount Rainier itself, we had had a fun day at the park and having seen the highlights, are planning on returning on a self-guided tour on our next visit to the area!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Mount Rainier National Park:

You can read about the rest of my trip to Seattle here and my day trip to another Washington state National Park from Seattle, Olympic National Park, here.

*Although we were guests of Tour of Seattle on this trip, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Visiting Olympic National Park

A day trip from Seattle to this stunning National Park

The National Parks of America are my favourite places to visit there so while on a 5 night city break to Seattle, we really wanted to fit in a visit to Washington states’ highly recommended Olympic National Park. Having never driven in the US at this point, we didn’t feel confident hiring a car and finding our own way there so instead we looked up day trips leaving from Seattle. We’d taken these types of tours before such as to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas so expected them to be plentiful but instead when we came to booking a trip, we struggled to find any operating. Eventually, we paid more than we would have liked to take a tour with Evergreen Escapes.

Bainbridge Island Ferry

On the ferry to Bainbridge Island

On the day of our tour, we were instructed to meet bright and early at a central hotel in Seattle. Right on time, our guide picked us up and we boarded a small minibus with 2 other groups, a family and a couple. From the hotel, we were driven the short distance to the waterfront where we boarded a car ferry to Bainbridge Island. Once on the ferry we were given a meeting point to wait at but could go and wander around the boat, buy snacks from the onboard cafe or go out on the deck. It was a chilly morning but we braved it outside for a while enjoying the views of the Seattle skyline.

Leaving Seattle in the distance

Back on the minibus, we continued our journey to Olympic National Park, briefly stopping once just outside of the city of Port Angeles for a comfort break.

Hurricane Ridge

The Olympic Mountains shrouded in cloud

Our first stop in the park would be at Hurricane Ridge. The minibus drove up the steep, winding road into the park and we were greeted at the top with beautiful views of the Olympic mountains ahead of us, pretty as a picture. From the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, the breathtaking views became clearer – snow capped mountains under the blue sky with the lush green forest below.

View from Hurricane Ridge

We had free time to look around the Visitor Center and take in the epic surrounding scenery before reconvening for an included mid-morning snack of tea and scones. We then took a short group hike around the area before reluctantly re-boarding the minibus and beginning our descent back down the long winding road. On the way down we made a couple if stops to take photos at various viewpoints, each time, the scenery taking our breath away.

In search of a waterfall

Stopping at a view point on the way down from Hurricane Ridge

From Hurricane Ridge, we continued west towards a waterfall stop but our guide got lost on the way (it was his first day leading a tour by himself!) and with time drifting by, the plan to stop there had to be abandoned for now. We were told we might have time on the way back. Instead we carried on to a stop at Lake Crescent. Our guide told us we’d be having our included picnic lunch here and gave us some free time to walk down to the lake while he set up.

Time for lunch

Ready for lunch

With the sun shining, the crystal clear waters of the lake against the backdrop of the lush green forest looked stunning. After walking along the lake edge, we made our way back to the minibus to find a picnic table had been set up with table cloths, place mats, plates and cutlery all laid out for us! Meat was barbecuing on a grill and there was plenty of salad and bread to help ourselves to. We all sat around the table for our forest feast and discussed the plans for the afternoon.

Lake Crescent

The Lodge on the bank of Lake Crescent

After lunch, we took a hike through the forest down to Lake Crescent Lodge, our guide talking to us about all the different trees and plants we were seeing. Once at the lodge we had more free time which we spent looking inside the lodge and walking at the lake edge. Meanwhile, our guide had gone to fetch the minibus and bring it closer ready to pick us up.

Back to Seattle

We were still hopeful we could fit in the waterfall stop we had missed earlier but due to a rush hour traffic alert, we instead had to continue on so we could make our ferry back to Seattle.

Seattle bound on the ferry

It had been a fun day and Olympic National Park was just as beautiful as we’d hoped. We’d only had chance to see a small part of the extensive park so having since conquered our fear of driving in the US, we are planning on taking a self-guided trip there on our next trip state-side so we can spend a bit more time at the places we visited before and make it to the parts we have yet to see!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Olympic National Park here:

Southern BLT 18 -20: 2 days in Washington D.C.

My first Trek America Experience Part 7

After a fun evening in Nashville, it was a struggle all round to get up the next day and we departed for our stop in Wytheville, Virginia later than planned. Luckily, today was a bit of a nothing day and our overnight was just a middle-of-nowhere break up the journey kind of stop. Wytheville was notable for only two things – my first ever visit to a Cracker Barrel (we were all very excited at finding somewhere with proper vegetables on the menu along with potato options other than fries!) and our guide forgetting to tell us that the clocks went forward in the US that night meaning more tired faces and even some missed alarms the next morning after unexpectedly losing an hour!

On the road again

We were down to the final 2 nights of our tour now and we were disappointed to find that these would be spent in a hostel, even more disappointed when our guide told us to expect rooms similar to the Austin hostel’s large communal dorms setup. Luckily, us 4 girls ended up in a 6-bed female dorm which would have been fine except for the over-powering stench of trainers/feet belonging to one of the mystery women also in the room with us. Hostel life! Not something from this trip I’d miss!!

National Monument, Washington DC
The Washington Monument

As usual, we’d be spending very little time at our accommodation anyway and after dropping our bags, it was straight out for a monument tour given by our Trek tour guide. I’d been to Washington DC a few years before and it’s one of my favourite US cities as there’s so much to do. We walked down to the White House and took photos outside then walked down past the Washington Monument towards the Potomac River Basin, taking photos of the Jefferson Memorial across the river as the sun started to set.

Sunset in Washington DC
The sun setting over a frozen Potomac and the Jefferson Memorial

From here, we walked back and along the National Mall in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial passing other monuments such as the World War Memorial along the way. Something I remembered from my last visit was how things look nearer than they are in the city when in fact, it had been a very long walk to reach the Lincoln Memorial and was then a very long walk back! We were all very ready for our group meal at a city steak house that night.

The National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

We were up early the next morning so that we could go and queue at the Washington Monument to try and get 11 of their on-the-day tickets for the entire group to go up the Monument. We were front of the queue and got the tickets without problem, all for the same late morning timeband so with a few hours to kill, we decided to explore some of the many museums along the National Mall. Another great thing about Washington DC is that most of the attractions are completely free! So our tickets up to the observation deck of the Washington Monument hadn’t cost us a penny and it was nothing to visit any of the Smithsonian group museums!

We began at the National Museum of Air and Space, a museum I hadn’t visited on my last trip to the city. The museum was excellent with displays on space travel, the moon landing and a history of air travel and we could have easily spent a lot longer there than a couple of hours but had to leave to make our Washington Monument timeband.

I had been up the Washington Monument on my previous visit to the city but as that was the height of summer and this was the middle of winter, this time the views were quite different with the National Mall recovering from heavy snow fall over the last few days.

The Museum of the History of America

After spending some time taking in the views from the observation deck, the group split up to do different things. We went to get some lunch before continuing to visit the many museums on offer.

The Ruby Slipper on display at the Museum of the History of America, Washington DC
A pair of the ruby slippers

Next up was the Museum of the History of America, a museum which had been closed for refurbishment on my last visit but, being pop culture related, was one I really wanted to visit. It didn’t disappoint and we saw some really amazing things on display including one of the pairs of Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz film, some of the original Muppet and Sesame Street puppets, items belonging to previous Presidents of the United States and dresses worn by the First Ladies. Highlight of the visit was seeing the first flag of the United States which we viewed from behind a big glass screen while the American National Anthem played in the background.

The gun that shot Abraham Lincoln

Taking a break from the museums lining the National Mall, next we wandered up to Ford Theatre, another place that had been closed on my last visit to DC. The theatre is famous for being the place where President Lincoln was shot and killed and after seeing into the theatre and the balcony where he had sat that night, we explored the museum beneath the theatre telling the story of events and containing artefacts including the gun that was used.

A diamond at the Natural History Museum

My last museum of the day was the Smithsonian Natural History Museum back down on the National Mall. While smaller than a lot of other Natural History Museums I have visited in New York, Chicago and, of course, in London, this museum was still worth a look around, the highlight being the World’s largest diamond on display!

Despite it being the last official night of our Trek America tour, the group did not eat together this evening with some of the group opting to book a fancier restaurant for the last night while the rest of us went to a local Chinese before walking back down the the National Mall. There, a few of us decided to go ice skating outside the National History Museum and we followed this with concretes at Shake Shack for dessert! Then it was back to the hostel one last time.

Ice rink at the Natural History Museum

I left Washington the next morning feeling that we’d made the most of our free day in the city and pleased that I’d got to see lots of things I’d missed out on on my last visit but I also felt that there was still much more to see and made a mental note to return for a longer visit at some point in the future.

Watch my Trek America adventures in Washington DC here:

Going It Alone My first solo travel adventure

Day 1-4: LA, San Diego and Vegas

Day 5-7: Grand Canyon and Monument Valley

Day 8-10: New Mexico Day 10-12: Texas

Day 12-14: New Orleans Day 15-17: Memphis and Nashville