Car Rental in Washington
Cheapest Car Rental Rates
Most Popular Car Rental Deals
Why rent a car in Washington?
Washington is the very most northwestern state in the contiguous United States (the lower 48). It is sometimes confused with the capital of the country, Washington, D.C., which is located almost 2,500 miles (4,000km) to the east. The state is very popular amongst tourists and travelers, having the most modern of cities, lush, green wilderness, and everything in between.
Seattle, though not the capital, is the state's economic and cultural hub. As one of America’s major cities, it sees more than 40 million tourists a year. While almost all of these tourists visit well-known sites such as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, many also venture outside of the city to see the stunning natural beauty the state has to offer.
Though a rental car is not needed in downtown Seattle, to see the many other places the state has to offer, a rental car is essential. There is limited transportation to no public transportation to the national parks and scenic parts of the state. And even when there is public transportation, the schedules make for a major inconvenience. Any wise traveler will certainly rent a car and see Mt. Rainier, driver around the Olympic Peninsula and take a trip through the Columbia River Gorge.
One-way Car Rentals in Washington
Here are the most popular one-way rental options for pickup in Washington and drop off in another country:
- From Washington to California - 80 offers from $92.86 per day
- From Washington to Utah - 12 offers from $97.56 per day
- From Washington to Canada - 21 offers from $70.77 per day
- From Washington to Oregon - 12 offers from $97.56 per day
- From Washington to New York - 13 offers from $97.56 per day
Top ways to enter Washington
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), or Sea-Tac as you might hear it called, is the largest airport in the state and in the Pacific Northwest. The airport has many international connections. If coming from Europe, you may be better served with a connection on the east coast, though. The airport also has connections with almost every major domestic airport. It is by far the most popular way to reach the state of Washington. Rental cars can be picked up at the airport with all major companies located in the Rental Car Facility which can be reached via a shuttle 24 hours a day.
Some may enter via Portland International Airport (PDX) which is just across the border in Oregon and the nearest major airport to much of southwest Washington. It is also an alternative to Sea-Tac being less than a three-hour drive from Seattle. Renters should have no problem renting a car at the airport and then taking it to Washington (unless it is a luxury car or van). One-way rentals are also possible, for example dropping the car off at Seatac or vice-versa. All rental car providers located on-airport are located on the lower level of the Short-Term Garage. Others, such as Thrifty and Alamo, require a shuttle to reach. To reach the shuttle, find the center island outside of Baggage Claim.
Many travelers may also include Washington as part of a larger trip that perhaps is based on the province of British Columbia and thus will arrive at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). It takes about two and a half hours to drive from the airport to Seattle, though this may be longer if immigration and customs are busy. In most cases, you are allowed to take a car rented in Vancouver to Washington, though you will likely be charged an extra daily fee. This works well for those planning to travel in Canada and take a small trip to Washington at the same time. If your primary destination is Washington, it is better to fly into Seatac or take a train or bus and pick up a rental car in Washington (thus avoiding the daily fee that can add up on longer trips).
For those seeking to explore the eastern part of the state, Spokane International Airport (GEG) is the best gateway. Most of its flights arrive from Portland, Seattle, Boise, or Denver, a connection that makes sense as Spokane is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. You can also reach the airport from other major cities on the West Coast. Rental cars are available with all companies located in the Ground Transportation Center.
Some travelers may arrive in or depart from Seattle via Amtrak at King Street Station. Amtrak has three routes that either pass through or end in Seattle:
The Coastal Starlight connects Seattle to Los Angeles with stops in San Jose Emeryville (on the other side of the bay from San Francisco), Sacramento, and Portland.
The Amtrak Cascades line is a faster, more luxurious line that will remind many of the trains of Europe. It passes through Seattle on its way from Vancouver to Portland, Oregon and vice-versa though it only runs the entire route once a day. It runs sections of the route once a day, also.
Finally, the Empire Builder Amtrak’s flagship cross-country train. It departs Chicago on its way to Spokane where it splits with part terminating in Portland and the other part in Seattle. The train passes through dramatic scenery including passing right through the heart of Glacier National Park in Montana, The westbound train passes through Glacier in the evening while the eastbound passes through in the morning. Therefore, especially in winter, travelers should prefer the eastbound route if only traveling one-way. If you need to drop off a rental car downtown in order to take the train, this is, in most cases, possible.
If you arrive or depart by train at King Street Station, you can conveniently pick up or drop off a rental car at the rental companies' downtown offices which are located roughly a mile north of the station and can be reached with a quick taxi (or Uber) ride or the Link (Seattle’s light rail network).
Washington is also easily reached from the surrounding states via various interstates. Generally (but not always) you can take a rental car from one of the surrounding states to Washington. The two main routes that serve Washington are I-5 and I-90. I-5 brings drivers from California and Oregon in the south through Seattle. It also connects Seattle to the border with Canada. I-90 starts all the way across the country and ends in Seattle passing through 12 states, including bordering Idaho, before reaching Washington. Finally, I-84 connects the state with central Oregon, southern Idaho and Salt Lake City in Utah.
Another popular route travelers use to get to Washington is via a ferry from Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The journey takes 2 hours and 45 minutes and the ferry arrives at Pier 69 in downtown Seattle. As with arriving by train, rental cars can be picked up at the downtown offices of car rental companies which can be reached with a short taxi ride. If wanting to make the reverse trip, be sure to ask the rental company (the local office is likely to have better information with regard to this) if you can take the car on the ferry. Though there are usually no problems with crossing the border, the ferry itself may be a problem for the company.
Top cities and places to visit
- Seattle - The largest city in both Washington and the Pacific Northwest is certainly bound to be on every traveler’s itinerary. Though the city has extremely famous attractions such as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, it has much more to offer just outside the city limits. Be sure to venture outside of downtown to other neighborhoods to experience all that Seattle has to offer.
- Olympia - The capital of the state of Washington is located on the southwestern part of the Puget Sound. It is about an hour’s drive along I-5 south of Seattle. While the city has a different feel than Seattle and Tacoma, it is quite small without a lot of interest to tourists. Instead, it serves as a great stopover on the way to Olympic National Park. Visitors can spend a few hours seeing the state’s Capitol and the Bigelow House Museum, the city's oldest home that is still standing.
- Mt. Rainier - At 14,410 ft. (4,392m), Mt Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington and the Cascades. It can be seen from many places in Seattle during clear weather and is within perfect distance to be a day trip from the city. Summiting the mountain is very popular during the summer months, though it is a long, strenuous climb and is not for the inexperienced as it requires climbing on glaciers (you must have the knowledge or a guide with knowledge of glaciers). The park has much more to offer to those that don’t plan on climbing the mountain including many hiking trails, camping in developed campgrounds and the backcountry.
- Olympia National Park - Covering a large part of the Olympic Peninsula across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Olympic National Park is a very popular destination for those visiting the Pacific Northwest. It is even designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Almost all of the part is a wilderness area. Thus, no roads penetrate into the center of it, requiring visitors to hike in. The road encircling the park is worth the drive and described below. Don’t forget that the coast is also part of the park and should not be missed.
- Mount. St. Helens - This active volcano is most famous for its 1980 eruption which killed 57 people. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument protects the volcano. The volcano is a popular destination for climbers, particular beginners as it is not a technical mountain. The climb is still steep and strenuous though. Permits are required to be obtained online in advance from April to October. Be prepared for the standard route to be incredibly crowded during the summer months. From November through March, you can register for the permit at the trailhead, though be prepared with snowshoes and perhaps crampons.
- North Cascades National Park - One of the lesser-known national parks, North Cascades National Park deserves to be any travelers itinerary. It is within a distance short enough to make it a possible day trip from Seattle. State Route 20 is the only road that passes through the park where it is known as the North Cascades Highway (though it is, understandably, closed in winter). The park is almost entirely a wilderness area, so to see more than what you can see from the road, you’ll have to go for a hike. The park has many trails from light, short hikes to multi-day backpacking journeys.
- Spokane - The hub of what is known as the “Inland Northwest,” Spokane is on the opposite side of the state from Seattle. It takes roughly four and a half hours to drive from one city to the other. There are many reasons to make the trip. The Riverside Park that sits at the center of the city is beautiful with waterfalls and the American Pavillion from the 1974 Expo. You can find many historic buildings and a few museums, too. The real fun begins just outside of the town though with whitewater rafting on the Spokane River.
- Bellingham - The last city before you reach Canada, Bellingham is a cozy small city with a nicely developed downtown where visitors can find many options for dining, going out at night, or catching a concert or play. Its various museums are also worth visiting. Its main draw, as you will see over and over when it comes to cities in Washington, is the nearby outdoor opportunities such as skiing on Mt. Baker or enjoying Bellingham Bay.
- Everett - Just 28 miles north of Seattle, Everett is now the northern limit of the Seattle Metro Area. It is famous as the location of one of Boeing’s main factories. It is here, in the largest building in the world by volume, that the Boeing 747, 767, 777, and 787 are made. The facility hosts tours through the Future of Flight Aviation Center in the northwest corner of Paine Field. On the tour, visitors get to see the production floor and whatever planes are currently being assembled on it. There is also a museum, though the Museum of Flight in Seattle is perhaps more thorough. The reason to come here is for the factory tour.
Driver's license requirements
The minimum age for renting a car in Washington, as in most other states, is 21. An underage driver surcharge is charged by almost all car rental companies for those between the ages of 21 and 24. Drivers in this age category are also often restricted from renting luxury cars and larger vans.
If you are traveling from abroad and your driving license from your country of residence is in the Latin script, it is recommended, but not required, to have an International Driver’s Permit. If your driving license is not in the Latin script (for example, Russian, Japanese, or Arabic) then you must have an International Driving Permit or another certified translation of your license. Keep in mind that you must present your actual driving license in addition to the IDP and have it with you at all times.
Almost all car rental companies allow their cars to be taken from Washington to both the surrounding states and Canada. Some, like Sixt, only allow their cars to be taken in the surrounding geographical region (Arizona, British Columbia (Canada), California, Nevada, Oregon). Others allow their vehicles to be taken to any state or Canadian province.
The general exceptions to this are renters that are Canadian residents and those that rent large vans. In these cases, renters can not take vehicles to Canada.
There is a lack of bridges across the Puget Sound. There are multiple reasons for this. The sound is shallow near the shore but very deep in the middle with a large dropoff which would require any bridge to be a suspension bridge and would prohibit any tunnel. The distance is also large, making any potential bridge one of the largest of its kind in the world. Finally, there are not that many people that live on the west side of the sound. The city developed north and south rather than across the sound because of this. This means that ferries are an essential mode of transport for many. In many other places, rental companies do not allow their cars to be taken on ferries. Washington is different, though. Some rental companies will allow their cars to be taken on the ferries, especially since the ferries are considered a part of the state highway system. You should still ask beforehand, though.
There are only a few toll roads in the state of Washington. Given that not many from out of state know about them and the payment system is confusing if in a rental car, many renters find them to be a headache after it is too late. Your best option for dealing with these toll roads is to avoid them altogether.
The road that gives renters the most trouble is the bridge across Lake Washington as part of State Route 520. Most don’t realize that this is a toll road until it is too late. There is also confusion on paying the toll, as it is all electronic. In other states, you can register online to pay the toll in a rental car. In Washington, however, most of the rental companies will have registered the car already which will prohibit you from doing such. This will force you to pay for their toll program (usually a daily fee) or get hit with a hefty administrative fee for billing the tolls to your credit card. Of course, the road is not necessary, you can go south to I-90 or north around the lake and avoid the toll altogether.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is unique. First, it only requires a toll payment if traveling in the east direction (i.e., toward Seattle). It also has physical toll booths at which you can pay with cash or by credit card. The current rate as of February 2023 is $5.50.
Beginning in the fall of 2019, the State Route 99 tunnel underneath downtown will also be tolled in the same manner as the SR520 bridge. Renters will have the same problem with paying the toll. This section of road can likewise be easily avoided. If you plan on using it, though, it is best to ask your rental supplier about their toll program.
Finally, I-405- east of Seattle and State Route 167 southeast of Seattle have Express and High Occupancy Toll Lanes that can be used by those traveling alone with the payment of a toll. This requires a toll pass, though, and is generally not available to renters. Those with more than one person in the car may use the HOT lanes on SR167 without any type of toll pass or payment. The Express Lanes on I-405, however, require a toll pass. If unsure about all of this, just simply avoid the lanes altogether.
Most popular types of rental car
The most popular class of car in Washington is the Economy class of which the Toyota Yaris and Chevy Spark are good examples. With the state being popular with those traveling with families or planning longer road trips (as opposed to just city driving), it is no surprise that Intermediate, such as the Hyundai Elantra, and Full Size, such as the Toyota Camry, are also popular.
Top driving routes
Columbia River Gorge - The Columbia River serves as the border between Oregon and Washington for much of its course. During part of that, it forms a gorge. One of the nation’s first scenic driving routes went along the river through the gorge on the Oregonian side. While the road still exists, I-84, built later, took away some of the scenic parts. On the other hand, the road on the Washingtonian side of the river is a nice scenic byway still and is known as Evergreen Highway. It begins outside east of Vancouver (in southern Washington, not the one in Canada) and ends at I-82 near Plymouth. The route passes through the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Beacon Rock State Park lies to the north of the road. The route also passes the Bonneville Dam and the Bridge of the Gods.
Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway - Beginning not far from the end of the Columbia River Gorge Byway, the Coulee Corridor passes through a corridor of, well, coulees, dry canyons forged by glacial drainage. If continuing from the Columbia River Gorge, head north on I-82 until you reach US 395 (exit 113). Head north on 395 through Pasco until you reach State Route 17, which will become the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway near Othello. In addition to the coulees, the corridor is also one of the largest places for migrating birds. There are a lot of things to do on the road, including three state parks. The road is 150 miles long and takes about 3.5 hours to drive, though you’ll probably want to plan for it to take most of the day to see everything.
Pend Oreille Valley Scenic Byway -This road stretches from Newport, along the border with Idaho, north through the Pend Oreille Valley to Tiger. The road is part of the much longer Selkirk Loop that passes through Idaho and the Candian province of British Columbia in addition to western Washington. The Colville National Forest lies on both sides of the road along with the Pend Oreille River on the east side. This means there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities along the route, including camping and fishing. In Tiger, don’t forget to stop at the small Tiger Museum for a piece of some local history.
Olympic Peninsula - A very popular drive for tourists is to make a loop around the Olympic Peninsula on the other side of Puget Sound from Seattle. At the heart of the peninsula lies Olympic National Park. No roads penetrate far into the park, though. For that, you’ll have to get out and hike. But even if you’re not interested in hiking, driving the US 101 loop is still worthwhile. The road circles around and then passes through the northwestern corner of the national park. It also goes along the coast at one point which is also part of the park. Travelers can also take a nice detour to the most northwestern point of the peninsula. At Aberdeen, Olympic highway continues back towards Olympia and Seattle as US 12 while US 101 continues south, crosses the Columbia River and then hugs the Oregonian coast, which can make a nice continuation of your driving (though plan to make the trip in a few days, not one).
Sherman Pass Scenic Byway - Sherman Pass lies at 5575 ft. (1700m) in the Kettle River Range in northeastern Washington. It is the highest pass that is open year-round in the state of Washington. The Sherman Pass Scenic Byway (SR 20, so can be combined with the Pend Oreille Valley Scenic Byway) goes over the pass on its route from Republic to Kettle Falls. In addition to enjoying the scenery along the route, there are also hiking trails which would let you experience being in nature.
Car Rental Prices
- Convertibles - from $72 per day
- Large cars - from $41 per day
- Medium cars - from $41 per day
- Vans - from $57 per day
- Premium cars - from $45 per day
- Small cars - from $41 per day
- SUVs - from $49 per day
Top 5 Most Popular Locations in Washington
Car Rental at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from $40.75 per day
Car Rental in Seattle (Downtown) from $51.56 per day
Car Rental at Bellingham International Airport from $40.89 per day
Car Rental at Tri-Cities Airport from $59.70 per day
Car Rental at Spokane International Airport from $51.56 per day
Map of Car Rental Locations
What is the cheapest month to rent a car in Washington?
This information can help you identify the low season. But these are only average numbers. How much your car rental will cost will depend on the type of vehicle you rent, how long you’ll rent it for, and how far ahead you book. Simply enter your dates in the form at the top of the page to see the exact prices.
What’s the average rental length in Washington?
What's the most popular month to rent a car in Washington?
Car Rental Information
|Car rental locations||8|
|Popular suppliers||Thrifty, SIXT, Alamo, FOX, National|
|Popular car categories||SUVs, Large cars, Medium cars, Vans|
|Lowest price||$41 per day|
Most Popular Car Models of Rental Suppliers
|Thrifty||Mazda 3||5||3||Large cars|
|Thrifty||Ford Focus||3||2||Medium cars|
|Thrifty||Ford Focus||2||2||Medium cars|
|Thrifty||Chevrolet Malibu||4||2||Large cars|
|SIXT||Jeep Grand Cherokee||4||2||SUVs|
|SIXT||Nissan Versa||4||0||Medium cars|
|SIXT||Toyota Camry||4||2||Large cars|
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