12 Best State & National Parks in Washington

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 10, 2020

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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 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, check out our list of the best state and national parks in Washington.

1. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Standing 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the most iconic peak in the state of Washington. And the national park surrounding this active volcano is one of the most scenic in the nation. In spring, summer, fall, and winter, you can find visitors exploring the subalpine meadows, alpine lakes, and rugged peak in Mount Rainier National Park.

The park encompasses over 350 square miles, including 260 miles of hiking trails. The mountain itself features 25 glaciers. With so much space to explore, the biggest question for your trip next is, where to begin?

Hiking is 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. The diversity of hiking trails caters to every level of experience.

The Skyline Loop Trail in Paradise is popular for its impressive views. Wildflowers bloom in every direction on the Naches Peak Loop near the White River Entrance on the east side of the park. The world-famous Wonderland Trail is an extremely popular 93-mile backpacking trail that encircles the entire base of Mount Rainier.

Bicycling is popular on the park roads. September and October are some of the best months to ride when the roads are less busy. No mountain biking is allowed in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Mount Rainier offers plenty of spots to pitch a tent. Four designated campgrounds are available. 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. Accommodations outside of the park, like the Copper Creek Inn, offer more modern accommodations close to park entrance gates.

Address: 39000 State Route 706 E, Ashford, Washington

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm

2. Olympic National Park

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park
Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park protects nearly a million acres of wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington. 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. This diversity of ecosystems in the park lends to a wide range of things to do.

The park's many rivers, lakes, and wild coast lend to fishing and boating opportunities throughout the year. For land lovers, Olympic National Park offers enough backpacking and hiking trails to keep your feet moving forward for a lifetime.

Hurricane Ridge is one of the most accessible mountain areas within the park. It can also 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 is in the tidepools brimming with exotic sea creatures.

For larger adventures, Mount Olympus is primed for experienced mountaineers. This glaciated peak is accessible on the 17.4-mile Hoh River Trail, which can be done on an overnight backpacking trip. Backpacking in Olympic National Park, in general, embodies a kid-in-a-candy-shop mentality with the variety of routes to explore.

It's always important to plan for the weather in Olympic National Park. With such a diversity of regions, climates can vary drastically from one spot to the other. The best time to visit Olympic National Park is typically July through August when things warm up after a wet spring.

A few of the best campgrounds in Olympic National Park include the Kalaloch Campground on the coast and the Heart O' the Hills Campground near Hurricane Ridge. The national park operates over a dozen campgrounds within park boundaries.

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

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm

3. North Cascades National Park

Beautiful view of Diablo Lake, North Cascades National Park
Beautiful view of Diablo Lake, North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park and the two adjoining National Recreation Areas, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan, make up the North Cascades National Park Complex. These public spaces 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.

The rugged nature of North Cascades National Park 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. The other route includes catching the Lady of the Lake Ferry across Lake Chelan and entering from the scenic village of Stehekin. Both modes of travel astound with Cascade peaks and vibrant Northwest hues of green and blue.

For those traveling on Highway 20, a must-see stop is the Diablo Lake Overlook. Other scenic stops on Highway 20 include Lake Shannon and the western town of Winthrop in the Methow Valley. In addition to roadside attractions on 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. This nature facility offers hands-on and overnight facilitation for cultural and ecological learning opportunities in the North Cascades National Park.

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

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm

4. Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park

With more than two million visitors a year, Deception Pass State Park is Washington's most popular state park. 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 is attributed to the workings of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), who in the 1930s built most of the park's infrastructure. Today, visitors learn about the history of the CCC at 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 that really draw a crowd throughout the year. The park contains rugged shoreline, as well as stunning 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 tide pools at Rosario Beach.

Hiking is found in abundance in the old-growth forests of Deception Pass State Park. Spectacular hiking trails like the Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail and portions of the Pacific Northwest National 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.

Three different campsites are available at Deception Pass State Park, and each offers 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.

For more adventurous outings, a primitive cabin is available on the nearby Ben Ure Island within Deception Pass State Park. This castaway cabin is only accessible by non-motorized water transportation.

Address: 41229 WA-20, Oak Harbor, Washington

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/497/Deception-Pass

5. Lake Wenatchee State Park Editor's Pick

Lake Wenatchee State Park
Lake Wenatchee State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Only 12 miles away from the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee State Park is a popular destination for Washington residents and 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 groomed cross-country ski trails, the summer months lure the most visitors. Swimming and boating are popular on the lake, and boat rentals are available at the park. Bicycling, hiking, and horseback riding are popular inland activities at Lake Wenatchee.

To make your visit an overnight one, Lake Wenatchee State Park offers more than 150 tent sites within two different campgrounds. The state park also features more than 40 spots to park and plug in an RV or motor home. Winter camping is also available for those who like to brave the cold.

Address: 21588 SR 207, Leavenworth, Washington

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/535/Lake-Wenatchee

6. Palouse Falls State Park

Palouse Falls State Park
Palouse Falls State Park

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, many visitors travel here for the chance to surround themselves with nature.

Palouse Falls State Park features tent-only camping sites. A hiking trail makes its way through the area and is lined with interpretive markers explaining the rich geological and cultural history of the falls. Palouse Falls isn't necessarily the 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

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/559/Palouse-Falls

7. Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park

Commonly referred to as "Whale Watch Park," Lime Kiln Point State Park offers plenty of orca-spotting opportunities from May to September. There is still plenty to do at this majestic seaside park throughout the rest of the year. Located on the west side of San Juan Island, Lime Kiln Point is regarded as one of the best places to spot whales in the world.

While exploring this 36-acre, day-use state park, admiring the craggy coastline it encompasses, it's hard to miss the historic lighthouse overlooking the shore. The Lime Kiln Point Interpretive Center at the park offers interpretive information about the different wildlife you're bound to see during your visit to this amazing state park.

Address: 1567 Westside Road, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/540/Lime-Kiln-Point

8. Gingko Petrified Forest State Park

Gingko Petrified Forest State Park
Gingko Petrified Forest State Park

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. The area is also a National Natural Landmark.

Visitors to the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park witness the amazing collection of petrified wood throughout the park and within the Interpretive Center. The entire park also offers excellent views of the surrounding Columbia River. The Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail provides a 1.25-mile hike lined with undisturbed petrified logs in their natural setting.

Camping is available near Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. All 50 full hookup sites at the adjoining Wanapum Recreation Area have been known to fill up during the nearby Gorge Amphitheater concert season throughout the summer and shoulder months of the year. Campsites are located near access points to Wanapum Lake.

Address: 4511 Huntzinger Road, Vantage, Washington

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/288/Ginkgo-Petrified-Forest

9. Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment is a great place to explore the Washington coast and the significant cultural history of the area. The 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.

Visitors will find an abundance of hiking trails at Cape Disappointment, all leading to plenty of whale-watching opportunities. While you are here, it's well worth stopping by the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Perched atop a 200-foot cliff, the interpretive center showcases the U.S. Corps of Discovery and their incredible voyage to the nearby Pacific Ocean.

Address: WA-100, Ilwaco, Washington

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/486/Cape-Disappointment

10. Birch Bay State Park

Birch Bay State Park
Birch Bay State Park

Twenty 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 also offers plenty of seashore to explore along Birch Bay and expansive views of the Cascade Mountains and the Canadian Gulf Islands.

Visitors enjoy the abundant 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 that facilitate tents and RVs. Standard camping amenities, including restrooms, showers, and a trailer dump station are also available.

Address: 5105 Helweg Road, Blaine, Washington

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/170/Birch-Bay

11. Manchester State Park

Manchester State Park
Manchester State Park

Manchester State Park is across Puget Sound from Seattle, on the Kitsap Peninsula. This scenic state park was originally constructed as a fort to protect Puget Sound and the 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.

A popular thing to do here includes walking along the shoreline that comprises the eastern border of the park. This part of the park has excellent views of Rich Passage and the surrounding Puget Sound, including nearby Bainbridge Island. Whether it's a weekend des tination 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

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/542/Manchester

12. Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park
Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park

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. It is also a testament to 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. In present times, it provides tourists with plenty of sightseeing opportunities and things to do. Boating on the remaining lakes and tributaries left behind by the glacial movements is a popular thing to do.

Hiking the well-maintained 15 miles of trails in the park is also a fun thing to do. The Visitor Center at the park features informative exhibits about the history and creation of Sun Lakes-Dry Falls. The park also features the Sun Lakes Park Resort where comfortable rooms offer a space to spend the night.

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

Official site: http://parks.state.wa.us/298/Sun-Lakes-Dry-Falls

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