20 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington State
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The natural world seems larger than life in the state of Washington. Sleeping volcanoes like Mount Rainier rise above the horizon, and time seems to stand still in the lush green landscapes of the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula. The San Juan Islands and Puget Sound offer Pacific Northwest paradises to escape into, and charming cities like Leavenworth, Bellingham, and Port Angeles each offer a unique set of attractions. For the real city appeal, though, Seattle is the major cultural hub of the region, enabling many memorable day trips and weekend getaways.
Washington attracts millions of tourists each year, and those looking for true adventure can trek across the entire state via the Pacific Crest Trail, or explore the massive environments found in Washington's three acclaimed national parks. Fun things to do and exciting places to visit are found in every direction in Washington, including the more arid eastern side of the state in cities like Spokane. One trip to Washington will never be enough, and with each visit it's easy to discover more of what makes the Evergreen State one of the best to visit in the nation. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Washington State.
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1. Olympic National Park
From ocean beaches to glaciered 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. Iconic coastal areas like Ruby and Rialto Beach define the rugged western edge of the park, only a short drive away from the over-sized trees and abundant foliage found in the Hoh Rain Forest. Other popular attractions at the park include the snowy peaks of Hurricane Ridge and the welcoming waters of Sol Duc Hot Springs.
The hiking trails at Olympic National Park traverse many different landscapes, including a Hall of Mosses and the family-friendly Marymere Falls. An absolute must-do hike for all ages, the Hoh River Trail explores the rain forest and river corridor with a flat path for 13 miles before ascending to the lateral moraine of Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus.
For excellent places to spend the night, the campgrounds at Olympic National Park put visitors close to the awe-inspiring scenery presented by this wild western region of Washington.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Olympic National Park
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2. Seattle Center
Of all the top-rated attractions in Seattle, the Space Needle within the Seattle Center is perhaps the most iconic. Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Seattle Center's 74-acre campus contains many popular places to visit, including the Space Needle, Monorail, parklands, museums, and restaurants. Among the newer sightseeing options are the colorful glass artworks at Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Frank O. Gehry designed Museum of Pop Culture.
Other fun things to do at the Seattle Center include a plethora of art installations, various theater and stage accommodations, and multiple garden and fountain settings.
Official site: http://www.seattlecenter.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Seattle: Best Areas & Hotels
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3. San Juan Islands
North of Puget Sound, 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.
Popular destinations within the San Juan Islands include Friday Harbor, Eastsound, and Moran State Park, where visitors will find one of the best campgrounds in Washington. Favorite things to do on the San Juan Islands include sea kayaking, whale watching, and dining on local fare.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on San Juan Island
4. Mount Rainier National Park Editor's Pick
An iconic Washington landmark seen from miles in every direction, Mount Rainier is the tallest peak in the state (14,410 feet). Located south of Seattle, Mount Rainier lies at the center of its namesake national park. Two areas of particularly stunning interest include the Sunrise and Paradise regions of the 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.
Alongside the around-the-mountain Wonderland Trail, other hiking trails at Mount Rainier National Park tour mountain meadows, massive waterfalls, and groves of ancient forests. Four auto-campgrounds comprise some of the best campgrounds at Rainier, as well as several popular spots in the national forests surrounding the park.
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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mount Rainier National Park
5. Seattle Downtown
It's a large, densely packed city, but downtown Seattle reveals its more relaxed side at the waterfront. Here, 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 farther south. The waterfront is also a popular spot to depart on some of the best day trips from Seattle.
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After the town of Leavenworth experienced the bust after a boom in the logging industry, city leaders rallied the town and decided to change their image. Today, the town of Leavenworth proudly recognizes itself as a Bavarian Village, and it's common to see residents wearing lederhosen or blowing a morning serenade on an alphorn. There are several annual festivals, including a holiday lights celebration in December.
Outdoor recreation is also a main tourist draw to Leavenworth with iconic destinations like the Icicle Gorge and Alpine Lakes Wilderness nearby, home to one of the best hiking trails in Washington state. To the east, the Wenatchee Valley is famed for its apples and hosts the annual Washington State Apple Blossom Festival.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Leavenworth
7. North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades are one of the most unspoiled tracts of country in the United States. Anglers, walkers, and nature lovers are all catered for in the national park, which shares a border with British Columbia, Canada. A drive through the park on the North Cascades Scenic Byway is rewarded with some fantastic views. Some of the many highlights of this drive include the Washington Pass Overlook, the aquamarine waters of Ross Lake, and the western-inspired town of Winthrop in the Methow Valley.
Many of the hiking opportunities in the North Cascades are steep, though some of the best hikes in the area also incorporate family-friendly treks with stunning mountain views. The North Cascades Institute within the park offers educational opportunities and overnight visits. Bordering the southern edge of the national park, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is home to one of the deepest lakes in the country and provides a stunning backdrop for the mountain town of Stehekin (only accessible by foot, boat, or seaplane).
Accommodation: Where to Stay in North Cascades National Park
8. Puget Sound
On the western border of the state, separating the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle, Puget Sound is a watery region filled with inlets, islands, and unique worlds to discover. Some of the things to do in Puget Sound include sea kayaking, whale watching, and visiting the vibrant communities that define the islands. An extensive ferry system accesses the different destinations in Puget Sound, allowing for easy day trips and island hopping.
Whidbey Island, the largest in the sound, is home to the friendly towns of Oak Harbor and Coupeville, and exciting outdoor attractions like Deception Pass State Park. One of the best hiking trails near Seattle can be found on Whidbey Island at Ebey's Landing, and those traveling on the Bluff Trail can expect quite the view. For a look into the native cultures that once inhabited the region, Tillicum Village on Blake Island Marine State Park delivers, with authentic salmon feasts and cultural celebrations.
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9. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
When Mount St. Helens explosively erupted on May 18th, 1980, it reduced the peak by 1,300 feet and leveled much of the surrounding area. A cloud of ash rose 13 miles into the air. Almost 150 square miles of forest was destroyed, houses were overwhelmed by masses of water and mud, and 57 people lost their lives. The landscape of Mount St. Helens today is still rebounding from the massive event, and visitors are encouraged to learn more about the geological processes still underway at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Set aside for both research and recreation purposes, all the best hiking trails at Mount St. Helens provide interpretive information and a first-hand look at the destruction. It is even possible to climb Mount St. Helens, though permits are required. Visitor centers along Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504) provide further insight into the disaster, including Johnston Ridge Observatory, where it is possible to peer into the crater on a clear day.
Official site: http://www.fs.usda.gov/mountsthelens
10. Deception Pass State Park
Spanning Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands in Puget Sound, the Deception Pass Bridge is an iconic landmark of the region and civic achievement dating back to the Civilian Conservation Corps. On both sides of this scenic bridge, Deception Pass State Park easily ranks high as one of the best state parks in Washington (and most visited). Activities like tidepooling, hiking and boating are some of the most popular activities at the park, and a large campground facilitates multiple days of adventure. For those interested in passing under the bridge with a boat, knowing the tides will be the key to success.
Address: 41229 State Route 20, Oak Harbor, Washington
Official site: https://parks.state.wa.us/497/Deception-Pass
11. Port Angeles
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, including nearby areas like 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. One of the best small towns to visit in Washington state, Port Angeles is also home to many great hotels, eateries, and a waterfront downtown district. Port Angeles is also where ferries depart for Victoria, Canada.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Port Angeles
Eastern Washington is notably different than the west side of the state. The weather is considerably sunnier, farmland dots much of the landscape, and the population is less dense in much of the region, besides in the major cultural hub of Spokane. Near the Idaho border, some of the top attractions of Spokane include a variety of gardens, parks, and museums. 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Spokane
North of Seattle and a great access point for Mount Baker, the city of Bellingham has many top attractions worth exploring. 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 among its academic offerings, and its campus is dotted with works small and large.
Another popular 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bellingham
14. Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
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 numerous hiking trails, forest cabin rentals, alpine climbing, and one of the best ski resorts in Washington state. 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.
15. Sol Duc Hot Springs
Within the heart of Olympic National Park and an hour drive from Port Angeles, is Sol Duc. Operated by a concessionaire, the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort features rooms, cabins, and suites adjacent to the Sol Duc River and lush surroundings. Those staying within the resort have free access to the mineral pools and spas, and anyone interested in checking out the rejuvenating water can pay a day-use fee. The resort also operates a nearby campground for pitching a tent or parking an RV.
16. Pacific Crest Trail
Spanning the entire length of the United States from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) traverses some of its biggest landscapes as it travels through Washington. Beginning at the sea-level Columbia River Gorge, the PCT heads north to hit such iconic landscapes as the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Snoqualmie Pass, and the mountain town of Stehekin before arriving at the Canadian border. You don't have to be a long distance hiker to enjoy any part of the PCT — some of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail span Washington, Oregon, and California.
17. Museum of Glass, Tacoma
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. Perhaps the most notable, The Museum of Glass features exquisite, translucent pieces by world-renowned artist and Tacoma-native Dave Chihuly. Nearby, a walkway decorated with glass sculptures known as the Bridge of Glass allows visitors to reach the nearby Washington State History Museum. For automobile interests, there's the shiny appeal of LeMay — America's Car Museum, which exhibits heritage vehicles from its world-class collection.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tacoma
18. Washington State Capitol Building
Set against the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia is a fairly quiet state capital. The grand white dome of the Washington State Capitol building rises 287 feet above the tree-lined streets and center of town. Free, guided public tours give the highlights of the building, including the five-ton Tiffany chandelier and permanent sculptures. Other top attractions of Olympia surrounding the Capitol building include The Olympia Farmers Market, the Hands On Children's Museum, and the nearby Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Address: 416 Sid Snyder Ave SW, Olympia
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Olympia
In southern Washington near the Columbia River Gorge, Vancouver is a city filled with history and cultural appeal. Some of the attractions of Vancouver include Esther Short Park and Playground, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, and a summer farmers market filled with live music. History and natural appeal runs deep in Vancouver, and places like the Waterfront Renaissance Trail and Officer's Row add even more unique things to do. With easy access to the vibrant city of Portland, Oregon across the Columbia River, Vancouver is a popular jumping-off point for exploring the City of Roses.
20. Future of Flight, Everett
Even those who aren't plane buffs will likely be impressed by this jet assembly plant tour at the Boeing Factory, located north of Seattle in Everett. Detailed tours through the facility happen daily under the attraction name Future of Flight. These popular tours take members of the public through the assembly process of some of Boeing's biggest planes and throughout the working environment of the world's biggest building (by volume). Those interested in taking the tour are advised to book their spot ahead of time.
Address: 8415 Paine Field Boulevard, Mukilteo
Official site: http://www.futureofflight.org/