Washington is another state that boasts plentiful national parks to see and experience. In this Washington State national parks list, you will get an overview guide of everything it has to offer the outdoor adventurer. From glaciated mountains in Olympic national park to the explosive Mount Saints Helens, there is plenty to see here.
Olympic National Park
Out of all the national parks in Washington, this is the one to visit. If you are only visiting this beautiful state once, then this is the park to see. Located on the Olympic peninsula, Olympic national park is composed of coastline, temperate rain forest, alpine areas, and a drier east side.
Mount Olympus National Monument was created on March 2, 1909, by President Theodore Roosevelt. It was expanded into the full park you see today by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. In Olympic National Park, you can experience rain forest, wonderful beaches, old growth forest, and sparkling rivers, making it a spectacular place to explore.
Unlike anywhere else in the US, this place receives more rainfall than any place else except for Hawaii, making it a very wet place perfect for lichen and moss. In the Hoh Rain Forest, you can find the Hall of Mosses trail, a short one-mile trail but do not let its briefness deceive you. It contains greenery as impressive as the giant trees you will find around it.
The top site to see here is Hurricane ridge. It is a bit of climb. But while on top of the summit, you will be treated to a complete semi circle full of glaciated mountains, a true wonder to behold. You will be awestruck by this marvel of nature.
Mount Rainier National Park
The roof of Washington towering at over 4,000 meters, Mount Rainier is visible from the Southeast of Seattle at 54 miles away. Most of the time though, it is obscured by rain and fog.
The best place to see it is from the Sunrise lodge in the northeast section of the park. Every year, over 11,000 people attempt to summit the mountain with a 50% success rate. Most expeditions last two days and come with an elevation gain of 2,700 meters.
If you are backpacker who wants to experience the full mountain, then the 93-mile Wonderland trail will be your best bet. It offers soaring views of the mountain from all sides, giving a holistic experience of the park. It takes two weeks, but there are options for day hikes and shorter trips.
For day trips, the best trail is the Skyline trail. At five miles long, this trail features an elevation change of 1,400 feet with a final descent into Paradise Valley and Myrtle falls. On a clear day, you can see Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helens, making it a spectacular trail to hike.
North Cascades National Park
Only 3 hours outside of Seattle, North Cascades National Park is home to gray wolves, lynx, wolverines, and grizzly bears, offering its visitors a true wilderness experience.
It is perfect for mountaineers and backpackers who travel through the North and South Picket ranges, offering Mount Redoubt and Mount Triumph as wonderful challenges. If you are thinking about attempting the world-famous Pacific Crest trail, then there is an entry point in this park.
Fortunately, this park has easier options for those who do not want to get so involved. From highway 20, you can be treated to the splendor of the Cascades Mountain Range. You only need a car to experience it.
If you are looking for a wonderful hike to experience the park, then the Cascade Pass trail will be your best option. It features plenty of switch backs for the average trail goer. Be sure to bring plenty of deet or netting to deter flies because they are prevalent in this park.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
In 1897, newspaper headlines read “Gold! Gold! Gold!”, sparking what is known today as the Klondike Gold Rush. While the gold rush did take place in Alaska, Seattle played a critical role in the event. The museum includes two floors of exhibits to learn about the history of the world’s last gold rush.
You can watch three different videos 20-25 minute videos on the adventures of the miners. In Seattle square, you can partake in a walking tour to explore the rich history of the city. It features 16 different places and events that shaped the city of Seattle.
You will learn about the challenges that miners faced and what the event did for Seattle.
Mount Saint Helens National Monument
On May 18, 1980, Mount Saint Helens exploded, changing how millions of Americans viewed the Cascades Mountain range. It was the deadliest volcanic eruption in US history, killing 57 people, destroying roads and homes, and bulldozing hundreds of acres of forest.
The monument was created in 1982, so the surrounding area could recover from the blast. It is an active site for scientists who monitor the nearby rivers and streams. The best view of the mountain can be found from the Windy Ridge Viewpoint and the Johnston Ridge observatory, providing a wonderful place to learn about its history.
If you are an ambitious hiker, then you can climb up the mountain to look down into the summit caldera, but it does require a permit and an application months in advance. For backpackers, the 28 mile Loowit trail encircles the mountain, giving them a complete view of the mountain and the recovery process.
If you are looking to see what lies underneath, then there the underground Ape Cave, a network of subterranean lava tubes. The upper and lower tubes are linked together by a 2.6 mile trail. Be sure to bring a flashlight and warm clothes because it can get quite dark and chilly down below.
San Juan Islands National Monument
Created in 2013, this park is a pocket of wonderful biodiversity. It ranges from barren rock to lush rain forest, including many species of bird, black tailed deer, mink, river otters, and much more.
The animals to see here though are the orca whales. They are best seen from mid April to October when they hunt seals. Many companies offer whale watching tours throughout the year. You can see lone whales, pods of orca, and dolphins too.
If you are looking for a spot to look at them, then Lime Kiln State Park offers a wonderful vantage point. Another option for the more adventurous is to hike up Mount Constitution in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. You will get bird’s eye view of the island. On a clear day, it is well worth your time.
While here, you can go kayaking, fishing, and crabbing between the different islands, making it a wonderful place to visit.
Nez Perce National Historical Park
Located across Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon and containing 38 unique sites, the Nez Perce National Historical Park is quite a historical place to visit. It contains many petroglyphs that are evident of the long occupation here of the Nez Perce.
On the Washington side, you can visit Buffalo Eddy, located in Southeastern Washington. It contains a 2,000 foot basalt canyon. It is thought that Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce was born in a cave located on the Eastern bank of Joseph creek.
The best vantage point is the Joseph Canyon viewpoint. It is located off of highway 3.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
The Grand Coulee Dam created a 130-mile lake in 1941. Named after FDR, the lake offers boating, kayaking, fishing, camping, hunting, and visiting Fort Spokane and St. Paul’s Mission. Each camp site has a fire ring, picnic table, and parking space, perfect for the whole family. If you are camping during the Winter, be sure to bring your own water because water access is restricted as a result of the weather.
If you are looking to learn more, then you can travel to the Fort Spokane Visitor Center and Museum. While there, you can learn about natural history and the Missoula floods. It includes exhibits on Indian boarding school, Indian hospital periods, and daily life in the military. Just remember though that the museum and visitor center is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
In a previous article, I talked about this park in Oregon, but the dynamic duo also ventured into Washington. You can hike, paddle, and learn about the history of this pair of explorers in this park.
Fort programs include real firings of flintlock guns, quill pen writings, candle making, flint and steel fire starting, and hides and furs, making it a wonderful trip for the whole family. It is a great learning experience. You can feel what it was like to live in that day and age.
The best trail to hike is the Fort to Sea Trail, featuring a gentle climb from the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center to Clatsop ridge. On a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean. Once on top, you descend through deep forest and wooded pasture dotted with clear lakes.
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
The gateway to Puget sound, Ebey’s Landing is a stunning landscape with rich farmland and a promising seaport. For the Pacific northwest’s earliest settlers, it proved to be quite the lure. Located in Coupeville, Washington, this place is wonderful to hike and bike through.
It features a lovely beach and lavendar wind farm. Here, you can also see the admirality head lighthouse. There are over 30 miles of trails to hike. If you like to picnic, fly kites, history, and slowing down, then Ebey’s landing is for you.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
In 3 hours from Seattle, you can find an alpine landscape. Lake Chelan lies here. It is one of the nation’s deepest lakes at a depth of 1,500 feet. You can go boating, camping, and fishing. You can find over 300 glaciers throughout the area, reducing the temperature of the area. If you watch them closely, you can see them move.
It is a part of the North Cascades National park, encompassing a vast swath of area as discussed earlier in the article. Dive into the crystal clear water of the lake to experience the full lake.
Throughout Washington, there are plenty of national parks to see, providing splendor and majesty to its visitors. If you are looking for a place to go backpacking, camping, hiking, hunting, kayaking, or adventuring outdoors, then this is the state for you.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, please do comment below and share this article. Thank you for reading and I hope you make it a great day!