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12 Best State & National Parks in Washington

Mar 13, 2017

With terrain ranging from temperate rain forests to high-desert plains, Washington is one of the most adventure-endowed states in the nation. In its many state and national parks, you'll find plenty of opportunities to explore natural features like glaciated mountains, active volcanoes, accessible hot springs, alpine lakes, and an abundance of wildlife. Whether you're looking for a little adventure, or maybe a multi-day excursion, even just a view to remember for years to come, there is more to see and do in Washington's state and national parks than you can cover in a lifetime.

1 Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
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Standing at more than 14,000 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is one of the most iconic peaks in the entire state of Washington, and the national park encompassing this active volcano is one of the most scenic in the nation. In spring, summer, fall, and winter, you can find tourists and full-time travelers exploring the subalpine meadows, alpine lakes, and rugged peak in Mount Rainier National Park. The biggest question for your next trip to this amazing outdoor playground could be: Where to begin?

While bicycling is popular on the park roads, particularly during September and October when the roads are less busy, there are no designated biking trails off the roads, making hiking the best way to explore the natural areas of the park. With six different hiking regions, including the aptly-named Paradise Area, the number of day hikes available in Mount Rainier is seemingly endless, and trails cater to every level of experience. The Skyline Loop Trail is popular for its impressive views, and the Bench and Snow Lakes Trail offers just a sampling of the many wildflower hikes found in Rainier. For overnight hikers, the Wonderland Trail is an extremely popular and permitted 93-mile backpacking trail that encircles the entire base of Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier offers plenty of spots to pitch a tent, with four designated campgrounds available, though these camping spots can often be filled completely in the busy summer months. For a less primitive overnight experience, visitors have a wide range of lodging options such as the historic Paradise Inn within the park or accommodations like the Copper Creek Inn just outside the park entrance, providing all the amenities you need to enjoy Mount Rainier throughout the year. No matter where you stay or what you end up doing on your next visit to Rainier, you'll see for yourself why this peak is surrounded by special wilderness areas that create lifelong memories.

Address: 39000 State Route 706 E, Ashford, Washington

2 Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park
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Protecting nearly a million acres of wilderness within the Olympic Peninsula, you'll find plenty of things to explore, experience, and see at Olympic National Park. Perhaps best known for its large regions of temperate rainforest, including the popular Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park also contains glaciated mountains and wild coastline waiting to be explored, adding a high degree of diversity to the ecosystems encompassed by the park, as well as the possible adventures. Olympic National Park was officially designated in 1937 by president Franklin Roosevelt, though the region's history spans much further back in time with the native tribes that still occupy the area, and to this day Olympic National Park is a year-round adventure destination and a wondrous example of wilderness preservation.

With an abundance of rivers, lakes, and wild coast, fishing and boating opportunities can be found throughout the year. For land lovers, Olympic National Park offers enough day hikes and overnight backpacking trips to keep you busy for a lifetime. Hurricane Ridge is one of the most accessible mountain areas within the park, and can be the most popular, but with an extensive trail system stemming throughout the area, it's not difficult to find your own private spot to explore. Same goes for the coastline of Olympic National Park. While places like Rialto and Ruby Beach are popular, chances are the most life you'll see while exploring these scenic beaches is in the tidepools brimming with exotic sea creatures.

For larger adventures, Mount Olympus is primed for experienced mountaineers, and backpacking in Olympic National Park offers some of the best backcountry experiences you'll find in the nation. Whatever you do here, it's always important to plan for the weather. With such a diversity of regions found within the park boundaries, climates can vary drastically from one spot to the other. While there are plenty of campgrounds to choose from, Olympic National Park also offers four lodges within the park boundaries, including the scenic and stimulating Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.

Address: 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles, Washington

3 North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park
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North Cascades National Park and the two adjoining National Recreation Areas, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan, make up the North Cascades National Park Complex and cover more than two million acres of rugged mountain scenery on the northern border of Western Washington. Over 90 percent of the North Cascades National Park Complex is designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness, which protects a vast amount of the forest from the surrounding logging and mining industry and makes many of the scenic vistas and attractions a little harder to access. The hard work of multi-day hiking or ferry-boat riding into North Cascades National Park is worth the effort, however, and within its boundaries lies some of the most dramatic mountain scenery many will ever see in their lifetime.

North Cascades National Park can be accessed in two ways: either driving along highway 20, which is better known as the North Cascades Scenic Byway, or catching the Lady of the Lake Ferry across Lake Chelan and entering from the scenic village of Stehekin. Both modes of travel astound with the sights, sounds, and immersive experience of a region defined by towering Cascade peaks and vibrant Northwest hues of green and blue. While you're in Stehekin, a small community only accessible by plane or boat, stop by the Stehekin Pastry Company for fresh-baked goodies made from scratch.

In addition to the many scenic stops found along Highway 20, North Cascades National Park Complex also offers more than 400 miles of hiking trails, including the last section and northern terminus of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. For a family-friendly hike, the paved quarter-mile Washington Pass Overlook Trail provides amazing views of Liberty Bell Mountain not far from the highway, and the popular, 7.2-mile Maple Pass Loop provides different challenges and views throughout the year, including golden larch trees in the fall and blossoming wildflowers in the summer. For all your educational needs in the North Cascades, it's worth checking out the North Cascades Institute near Ross Lake, which offers hands-on and overnight facilitation for many cultural and ecological learning opportunities in the North Cascades National Park Complex.

Address: 810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, Washington

4 Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park
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With more than two million visitors a year, Deception Pass State Park is Washington's most popular state park and rivals its nearby national park neighbors. Stretched between the northern tip of Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island and connected by an iconic high bridge over the Deception Pass waterway, Deception Pass State Park offers numerous outlets to explore the surrounding Puget Sound area. Much of the amenities and access to Deception Pass State Park can be contributed to the workings of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), who in the 1930s built most of the park's infrastructure. Today, visitors can learn about the history of the CCC through the Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center in the Bowman Area of the park.

While the history of the park and the CCC is interesting, it's the wide range of recreational activities and scenery that really draws a crowd throughout the year. The park spans the Puget Sound shoreline as well as Pacific Northwest inland landscapes. Fishing is popular at Cranberry Lake, and boat ramps are available at Cornet Bay. Many tourists have also been known to spend hours exploring the tidepools at Rosario Beach. Hiking is found in abundance at Deception Pass State Park, with old-growth forest surrounding the area and scenic trails like the Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail or portions of the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail. Be sure to keep your eyes out for the abundant wildlife that shares the area, including orcas in the water and seabirds in the air.

For overnight accommodation at Deception Pass State Park, three different campgrounds are available, each offering tent sites and electrical hookups. Cranberry Lake Campgrounds usually has the most availability. If you prefer to spend your nights indoors, the Cornet Bay Retreat Center offers 16 cabins available to rent, plus a main lodge and recreation hall perfect for large group accommodations. For more adventurous outings, a primitive cabin is available on the nearby Ben Ure Island within Deception Pass State Park and is only accessible by non-motorised water transportation.

Address: 41229 WA-20, Oak Harbor, Washington

5 Editor's Pick Lake Wenatchee State Park

Lake Wenatchee State Park
Lake Wenatchee State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane
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Only 12 miles away from the Bavarian-themed, tourist-heavy town of Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee State Park is a popular destination for Washington residents and traveling tourists alike. It's not just the scenic views of Lake Wenatchee and the impressive Dirtyface Peak overlooking the waters that draws a crowd, but also the wide access to recreational activities. While the winter months cater to skiers with Lake Wenatchee's groomed cross-country ski trails, the summer months lure the most visitors. Swimming and boating are popular on the lake, especially with boat rentals available at the park, and biking, hiking, and horseback riding are popular away from the shore. To make your visit an overnight one, Lake Wenatchee State Park offers more than 150 tent sites within two different campgrounds, and more than 40 spots to park and plug in your RV or motor home.

Address: 21588 SR 207, Leavenworth, Washington

6 Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment State Park
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A great place to explore the wild side of Washington and the significant cultural history of the area, Cape Disappointment State Park is named after an unsuccessful voyage of Captain James Meares to find the Columbia River. This is one State Park in Washington that doesn't live up to its name. The park features two scenic lighthouses, including the photogenic North Head Lighthouse overlooking 27 miles of ocean beach, and tourists can find an abundance of hiking trails, all leading to plenty of whale-watching opportunities. While you are here, it's well worth stopping by the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, atop a 200-foot cliff, to learn about the U.S. Corps of Volunteers for Northwest Discovery and their incredible voyage to the nearby Pacific Ocean.

Address: WA-100, Ilwaco, Washington

7 Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park
Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park
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Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, in the high-desert landscapes of Eastern Washington, is a geological wonder waiting to be explored. Today, Sun Lakes-Dry Falls stands as a skeleton of one of the biggest waterfalls in geological history and is a testament towards the impressive acts of nature that formed much of the scenery in Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. More than 3.5 miles wide, with a 400-foot drop, Dry Falls would have dwarfed Niagara Falls in its prime, and in present times, it provides tourists with plenty of sightseeing opportunities and things to do. Whether it's boating in the remaining lakes and tributaries left behind by the glacial movements, or hiking the well-maintained trails, perhaps even staying overnight at the accommodating Sun Lakes Park Resort, the options are endless in this Eastern Washington desert oasis.

Address: 34875 Park Lake Road NE, Coulee City, Washington

8 Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park
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Commonly referred to as "Whale Watch Park," Lime Kiln Point State Park offers plenty of orca-spotting opportunities from May to September, but throughout the year you can find plenty to do at this majestic seaside state park. Located on the west side of San Juan Island, Lime Kiln Point is a worthy destination on your San Juan Island itinerary. While you're exploring this 36-acre day-use park, admiring the craggy coastline it encompasses, it's hard to miss the scenic lighthouse overlooking the shore or the Lime Kiln Point Interpretive Center. This resource-heavy attraction can help you learn about the different wildlife you're bound to see during your visit to this amazing state park.

Address: 1567 Westside Road, Friday Harbor, Washington

9 Gingko Petrified Forest State Park

Gingko Petrified Forest State Park
Gingko Petrified Forest State Park
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On the shores of the Wanapum Reservoir along the Columbia River, this unique Eastern Washington State Park contains one of the most diverse collections of petrified wood found anywhere in the nation. The discovery of this petrified forest led to the creation of the state park in the 1930s, and the area is also a National Natural Landmark. Visitors to the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park can witness the amazing collection throughout the park and within the Interpretive Center, which also offers views of the surrounding Columbia River. Camping is available at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, with 50 full hookup sites at the adjoining Wanapum Recreation Area, all of which have been known to fill up during the Gorge Amphitheater concert season during the summer and shoulder months of the year.

Address: 4511 Huntzinger Road, Vantage, Washington

10 Birch Bay State Park

Birch Bay State Park
Birch Bay State Park
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Only 20 miles north of Bellingham and just a few miles south of the Canadian Border, Birch Bay State Park is a relatively small state park in Washington at 194 acres but it is a premier spot to harvest hard-shell clams. The park offers plenty of seashore to explore along Birch Bay and expansive views of the Cascade Mountains and the Canadian Gulf Islands. Many visitors use the abundant covered and uncovered benches found in the park for a scenic picnic by the seashore. Camping is also available at Birch Bay State Park, with more than 140 sites and standard camping amenities, including restrooms, showers, and a trailer dump station.

Address: 5105 Helweg Road, Blaine, Washington

11 Manchester State Park

Manchester State Park
Manchester State Park
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Across the Puget Sound from Seattle, on the Kitsap Peninsula, Manchester State Park was originally constructed as a fort to protect the Puget Sound and nearby Bremerton Naval Shipyard in the early 1900s. Evidence of this defensive history can still be found in Manchester State Park (once known as Fort Middle Point), particularly in the abandoned torpedo warehouse that now serves as a covered picnic shelter. Popular things to do here include walking along the winding shoreline that comprises the eastern border of the park, which has clear views of Rich Passage and the surrounding Puget Sound, including nearby Bainbridge Island. Whether it's a weekend destination or stopover on your Puget Sound adventure itinerary, Manchester State Park offers a glimpse into the natural world of Washington and the history that surrounds it.

Address: 7767 E Hilldale Road, Port Orchard, Washington

12 Palouse Falls State Park

Palouse Falls State Park
Palouse Falls State Park
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In the southeast corner of Washington, Palouse Falls State Park is named after its iconic main attraction, the 198-foot Palouse Falls waterfall. While this scenic waterfall, often described as the best in the state, is the main attraction in the park, complete with interpretive markers explaining the rich geological and cultural history of the falls, many visitors travel here for the chance to surround themselves with nature. Featuring tent-only camping sites, Palouse Falls isn't necessarily t.he most popular state park in Washington, and for that reason it's a great place to find some harmony and have some personal time in the high-desert landscapes of Southeastern Washington.

Address: Palouse Falls Road, LaCrosse, Washington

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