15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington State

The natural world seems larger than life in Washington State, where giant conifers drip with lush green mosses in the Hoh Rain Forest, and volcanoes sit quietly (Mount Rainier and Mount Baker) or show the devastating effects of an eruption (Mount St. Helens). Seattle is the state's largest and trendiest city - its museums, attractions, and technology companies never being far from the historic waterfront. The state capital, Olympia, centers on an impressive legislative building but is otherwise evergreen and sleepy.

Washington State national parks range from the often-visited Olympic National Park to the seldom-toured North Cascades National Park. And throughout the Pacific Northwest state, communities large and small tempt with beaches, island getaways, and lakes suited to pleasure boating.

1 Olympic National Park and the Hoh Rain Forest

Olympic National Park and the Hoh Rain Forest
Olympic National Park and the Hoh Rain Forest
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From ocean beaches to mountaintops, Olympic National Park overflows with incomparable scenery. The park covers most of the Olympic Peninsula, and roads only circle the park with a scenic drive on US 101, never cutting through the park's mountainous heart. Dozens of beaches, over-sized trees in the Hoh Rain Forest, lakes, the Sol Duc Hot Springs, waterfalls, and wildflowers at Hurricane Ridge near Port Angeles all list among the many reasons to visit this natural glory.

Address: 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles

2 Seattle Center

Seattle Center
Seattle Center
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Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Seattle Space Needle and Monorail have continued to lure tourists with attractions, a park setting, sports venues, and restaurants. Among the newer sightseeing options are the colorful glass artworks at Chihuly Garden and Glass and the hands-on musical exhibits at the Experience Music Project. An architecturally interesting public building, the Seattle Central Library, is also worth a visit for its angular steel-and-glass design.

3 Future of Flight

Large cargo carrier plane
Large cargo carrier plane
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Even those who aren't plane buffs will likely be impressed by the world's largest building - the Boeing factory located north of Seattle in Everett. Detailed tours through the facility happen daily under the attraction name Future of Flight. Indeed, the Seattle area is a destination for plane-spotters with the Museum of Flight in Seattle and busy SeaTac International Airport.

Address: 8415 Paine Field Blvd, Everett

4 San Juan Islands

San Juan Islands
San Juan Islands
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Dotting Puget Sound, various islands range from small rural getaways to thriving artistic hubs. The San Juan Islands are the best known of Washington's many islands, with the four largest being readily accessible by ferry. Each has a mix of galleries, seafood restaurants, and parks, including San Juan Island National Historic Park where British and American troops became embroiled in the Pig War border dispute. Puget Sound is also orca whale territory, and visitors may see the elegant mammals while on a ferry, from shore, or during a whale watching tour.

5 Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
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Mount Rainier (14,410 feet) is one of a geologically recent chain of volcanoes in the Cascade Mountains. Also known as Mount Tacoma, the volcanic massif is often shrouded in cloud for days on end. But on clear days, it's a landmark visible from many miles away, including from Seattle and Olympia.

Located south of Seattle, Mount Rainier lies at the center of its namesake national park. The Road to Paradise is open, weather permitting, year-round, allowing visitors to reach high elevations for hiking in summer and snowshoeing in winter. A scenic drive winds through the dense forests, taking in waterfalls and views of the Cascade Mountains volcano. Other attractions are within easy distance of the park, including Northwest Trek wildlife park in Eatonville and the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad in the little town of Elbe.

Address: 39000 E SR 706, Ashford

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/mora/

6 Tacoma Museums

Tacoma Museums
Tacoma Museums
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Located between Seattle and Olympia, Tacoma is one of Washington's larger cities. Once industrial in feel, the city has developed a variety of exceptional museums and cultural venues, especially those highlighting the beauty of art glass. The Museum of Glass features exquisite, translucent pieces, while the Bridge of Glass (a walkway decorated with glass sculptures) allows visitors to reach the nearby Washington State History Museum. For differing interests, there's the shiny appeal of LeMay - America's Car Museum, which exhibits heritage automobiles from its world-class collection.

7 Seattle Downtown

Seattle Downtown
Seattle Downtown
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It's a large, densely packed city, but downtown Seattle reveals its more relaxed side at the waterfront. There, piers and parks rim the shoreline. Pike Place Market is the standard draw for tourists, but the historic buildings and venerable institutions add diversity. Visitors will likely wish to catch an underground tour near Pioneer Square, or a performance at Benaroya Hall. And back on the waterfront, a sea-level exploration takes you from the Olympic Sculpture Park in the north to the Seattle Aquarium and ferry terminal further south.

8 Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
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When Mount St. Helens explosively erupted on May 18th 1980, it reduced the peak by 1,300 feet and leveled much in the surrounding area. A cloud of ash rose 13 miles into the air, almost 150 square miles of forest were destroyed, houses were overwhelmed by masses of water and mud, and 57 people lost their lives. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument has since been set aside for both research and recreational purposes. Climbing and hiking opportunities are available, and it is even possible to climb Mount St. Helens, though permits are required. Visitor centers along Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504) provide insight into the disaster, including Johnston Ridge Observatory where it is possible to look into the crater on a clear day.

Address: 24000 Spirit Lake Highway

9 Washington State Capitol Building

Washington State Capitol Building
Washington State Capitol Building
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At the south end of Puget Sound, Olympia is a fairly quiet state capital. A grand white dome features as the center of town, rising 287 feet above the tree-lined streets. It is the tallest masonry dome in North America, a fanciful hat to an ornate Washington State Capitol Building that was opened in 1928 having cost more than seven million dollars. Free, guided public tours give the highlights of the building, including the five-ton Tiffany chandelier and permanent sculptures.

Address: 416 Sid Snyder Ave SW, Olympia

10 Port Angeles

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
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The town of Port Angeles lies along the northern shores of the Olympic Peninsula, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The region is known for the huge number of things to do outdoors, such as hiking, biking, golfing, boating, kayaking, fishing, birding, and more. It's also an access point to Olympic National Park via the road to Hurricane Ridge. At this high alpine recreation area, hiking trails fan out from the visitor center leading to wildflower meadows in spring.

Back at sea level in Port Angeles, the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center features changing Northwest exhibits in the semi-circular hilltop gallery. On the extensive grounds, visitors will find a museum without walls featuring more than 100 sculptures along rustic trails. The local Clallam County Museum introduces the area through historical exhibits. Port Angeles is also where ferries depart for Victoria, Canada.

11 Spokane

Japanese Gardens, Manito Park
Japanese Gardens, Manito Park
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East of the Cascade Mountains, much of Washington State is less populated farmland. The weather is sunnier on this side of the mountains, but the tourist draws are also fewer and farther between. Spokane lies on the border with Idaho, and this major Washington city is a hub of attractions (parks especially) and amenities. A variety of gardens, including the Nishinomiya Japanese Garden, attract visitors to Spokane's Manito Park. The flowerbeds are particularly vibrant during summer. Spokane's venue for the 1974 World's Fair, Riverfront Park, now boasts a Ferris wheel, a hand-carved carousel made in 1909, and other amusement rides. And for the adventurous, there is skiing on Mount Spokane.

12 Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Wildflowers on the slopes of Mount Baker
Wildflowers on the slopes of Mount Baker
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The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest runs along the slopes of the Cascade Mountains, with North Cascades National Park to the south and the Canadian border to the north. The wide range of recreational opportunities include the numerous hiking trails, forest cabin rentals, a winter ski hill, and climbing. On the Mount Baker Highway (SR 542), the town of Glacier is the closest base camp to the peak. The very small town does offer limited tourist amenities, such as restaurants and lodging.

13 Leavenworth

Leavenworth
Leavenworth
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The town of Leavenworth proudly calls itself the Bavarian Village, celebrating its heritage throughout the year. It's common to see local residents wearing lederhosen or blowing a morning serenade on an alphorn. The entire town is decorated in an adapted German architectural style, down to the Gothic scripts on the signposts. There are a number of annual festivals, including a holiday lights celebration in December. Ski hills, hiking trails, and rivers in the surrounding area also provide outdoor recreation. To the east, the Wenatchee Valley is famed for its apples and hosts the annual Washington State Apple Blossom Festival.

14 Bellingham

Skagit Valley tulips
Skagit Valley tulips
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It's a departure point for Mount Baker, but the university city of Bellingham is also a draw in its own right. For a quick introduction to this corner of the Pacific Northwest, stroll through Fairhaven Historic District and duck into local art galleries or catch some sun on a restaurant patio. Out of downtown, Western Washington University has amassed an excellent Outdoor Sculpture Collection, its campus dotted with works small and large. Another outdoor attraction is Whatcom Falls Park, with its four sets of falls and numerous walking trails. In the surrounding area, visitors can take scenic drives through the mass fields of Skagit Valley tulips in spring, or follow the twisting, narrow route of Chuckanut Drive year-round.

15 North Cascades National Park

Mountains in North Cascades National Park
Mountains in North Cascades National Park
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The North Cascades are one of the most unspoiled tracts of country in the United States. Anglers, walkers, and nature lovers are all well catered for in the national park, which shares a border with British Columbia, Canada. A drive through the park on WA 20 is rewarded with some fantastic views. Anyone wanting to experience highlights like Ross Lake at close quarters, however, must don their walking boots.

The highway (WA 20) bisects North Cascades National Park, providing a scenic route that is one of the best in the state, if not the country. The tree-lined drive starts out near the tiny, outdoor-minded town of Marblemount. From there, it winds up through the old electric company town of Newhalem, passes gushing waterfalls like Gorge Creek Falls, and threads by dams and the teal reservoirs of Diablo Lake and Ross Lake. Many roadside overlooks allow visitors to admire the natural beauty as well as human-made attractions like the immense, electricity-producing dams.

Tourists can stop at Washington Pass (5,477 ft) to photograph the jagged peaks of Liberty Bell Mountain (7,740 feet) and Early Winter Spires (7,807 feet), among others. Note that the latter section of the drive is seasonally closed due to weather, generally from mid-November to April.

At the southern tip of North Cascades National Park, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is home to one of the deepest lakes in the United States.

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