With some of the most dramatic scenery in the Pacific Northwest, national parks offer one of the best places to enjoy the outdoors. Most of the top national parks in Washington State are a few hours from the Seattle area and visitors can find temperate rainforests and mountaintop wildflowers. While exploring, travelers can learn about the volcanic Cascade Mountains along with the rich history of the region. Here are the top National Parks in Washington.
Top National Parks in Washington
Olympic National Park
Located across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Olympic National Part protects 900,000 acres of wilderness. As a year-round outdoor destination, it features hidden trails meandering through temperate rain forests, rugged coasts dotted with tide pools and mountaintop meadows. It is one of the Top National Parks in Washington.
Olympic National Park offers three distinct ecosystems to explore. For this reason, the United Nations designated Olympic National Park a biosphere reserve in 1976 and later proclaimed it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
A British Captain gave Mount Olympus its name in the 1700s though Native Americans, like the Quinault and the Hoh, lived and hunted on the peninsula for a millennia before. Theodore Roosevelt protected the Olympic Peninsula as a national monument in 1909. After a visit in 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the monument a national park in 1938.
Top Areas to Explore in Olympic National Park
Hoh Rain Forest
Lake Quinault and Quinault Rain Forest
Kalaloch and Ruby Beaches Tide Pools
Sol Duc Hot Springs
Where to Stay at Lake Quinault
Located in the Lake Quinault National Forest and along the shore of Lake Quinault, find a quaint lodge with lots of outdoor activities.
Located northwest of Seattle, two hours away, it is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per vehicle.
Olympic National Parks is not a drive-through park, since roads don’t bisect the park. U.S. Route 101 wraps around the Olympic Peninsula and park roads dead-end at ranger stations or visitor centers.
Mount Rainier National Park
Rising 14,410 feet about the ocean, Mount Rainier can be seen from Seattle on a clear day, only a couple hours away. With its cone-shaped peak, it’s an active volcano and one of the most glaciated peaks in the continuous U.S. Additionally it spawns five rivers. It is one of the Top National Parks in Washington.
What to see in Mount Rainier
Paradise area and Paradise Inn
Longmire area and National Park Inn
Carbon and Mowich areas
Located southeast of Seattle, use State Routes 706, 123 and 165. Open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, though Mount Rainier has seasonal closures due to snow. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $30 per vehicle.
North Cascades National Park
Explore the rugged wilderness with over 300 glaciers from Ross Lake on the Canadian border to Central Washington’s Lake Chelan. At 500,000 acres, it’s divided into three NPS units and most is designated a wilderness. It is one of the Top National Parks in Washington.
Places to explore in North Cascades
North Cascades Visitor Center
Ross Lake National Recreation Area
Stehekim Valley and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
Located 3 hours northeast from Seattle, visitors should use State Route 20. Open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, though North Cascades has seasonal closures for less accessible parts of the park. Free to enter.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Much like Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens was a recreational playground for Washington. Then one quiet Sunday morning in 1980, the snowcapped mountain vaporized and a mudslide decimated its forest for a generation.
In 1792 British explorer Captain George Vancouver officially named Mount St. Helens by after Baron St. Helens, an ambassador. Though the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Yakama Nation’s name translates into the smoker, suggesting a history of volcanic activity.
To experience Mount St. Helens, visitors should head to the Johnston Ridge Observatory’s visitor center and watch one of its dramatic films. If a ranger program is available, attend it.
The easiest trail in the area, the Eruption Trail is a .5-mile trail from the Visitor Center. It offers views of the lava dome and crater along with a pumice plain and landslide deposit. If time permits, stop at the Loowit Viewpoint, just west of the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
Located 52 miles east of Castle Rock, Washington, along State Route 504 (Spirit Lake Highway). Open 7 days a week from mid-May until the end of October, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase an adult admission for $8 per person, kids 15 and under enter for free.
San Juan Island National Historical Park
San Juan Island National Historical Park celebrates the peaceful arbitration between the United States and Great Britain. In 1871, they settled the ownership of San Juan Island with the help of Germany.
With two separate locations on opposite sides of San Juan Island, visitores can explore the American Camp and the English Camp. Visitors learn all about the land dispute of 1859 that a hungry pig started.
The American Camp Visitor Center is located at 4668 Cattle Point Road on the southern peninsula. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m during the summer. It offers maps and Junior Ranger booklets.
The English Camp Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer. It’s at 3905 W. Valley Rd.
San Juan Island National Historical Park’s grounds are open 365 days a year from dawn until 11 p.m. Free to enter.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Seattle
In 1897, word of the Alakan Gold Rush reached Seattle. Soon after Seattle became the Gateway to the Gold Fields.
Prospectors were required to have a ton of provisions, like clothing, food and tents. Most got their gear in Seattle before heading north on a ship to Skagway.
Located at 319 2nd Ave. Seattle. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. No admission
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail is a 4,900 mile-long trail and spans 16 states. Starting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, through Omaha, Nebraska, and it continues along the Columbia River to Astoria to retrace the route of the explorers.
The Lewis and Clark National and State Parks is a collection of national and state park sites dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In Washington, the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored Cape Disappointment.
Cape Disappointment State Park features a Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center inside its park. The park offers hiking along with camping.
Located at 244 Robert Gray Way. Open from dawn to dusk.
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
Located on Whidby Island in Puget Sound, this reserve encompasses three Washington State Parks, the town of Coupeville along with privately owned land. It’s a free NPS site.
During your visit, check out the Jacob and Sara Ebey House, originally built in 1856. Open Thursday to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
Or visit Ft. Ebey or Ft. Casey, Washington State Park sites. Each require a Washington Discover Pass, the Washington State Park day pass.
Get to Whidby Island on the Washington State Ferries from Mukilteo or Port Townsend. Or take Washington State Route 20.
Fort Vancouver Natural Historic Site
The fur industry was important in the area during the 1800s. Fort Vancouvers sits along the shores of the Columbia River and explains its role in history.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour and walk through several reconstructed buildings to learn more about the Hudson Bay Company, its blankets and the fur trade. The Fort Vancouver Natural Historic Site features a reconstructed Hudson Bay Company fort along with costumed interpreters during the summer season.
Visitors can walk through cultural demonstrations like the blacksmith shop, carpentry shop or the bake shop. Fort Vancouver Natural Historic Site features a large garden planted with seasonal vegetables.
Located at 1501 E. Evergreen Blvd. in Vancouver, Washington. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer (4 p.m. for the rest of the year). Adult admission for the Hudson Bay Company fort is $10 per person.
Oregon Trail National Historical Trail
For 2,000 miles and through six states, emigrants used this trail to travel to the west during the 1800s. Learn more about the perils and journey at Fort Vancouver NHS.
Nez Perce National Historical Park
Learn about the Nez Perce people in a historical park that includes sites in four states—Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Washington’s site is the Buffalo Edy, 18 miles south of Asotin. See petroglyphs on the rock walls along the Snake River.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
Along on the Columbia River, find a 130-mile long lake created by Coulee Dam. Used for recreation, also find camping, hiking along with historical buildings to tour.
Located at 1008 Crest Dr., Coulee Dam. Open 24-hours a day. No fee to enter though there’s a boat launch fee.
Manhattan Project National Historical Park
With sites in Tennessee, New Mexico and Washington, learn about the development of the world’s first atomic bomb.
At the Hanford Site in Washington, learn about the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor. Constructed in 1943, the site operated intermittently until 1968.
The Department of Energy conducts seasonal tours (April to November). The facility was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008.
Located at 2000 Logston Blvd. in Richland, WA. Summer hours are from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday. Free for the guided tour though advance registration is required.
Minidoka National Historic Site
During World War II, an executive order imprisoned over 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps across the West Coast. The Minidoka National Historic Site is in Idaho though Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is in Washington.
The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial honors the people removed from their homes after Pearl Harbor.
Located at 4192 Eagle Harbor Dr. Open from dawn to dusk and free to enter.
Whitman Mission National Historic Site
Learn more about the attack on the Whitman Mission in 1847 where 14 people died.
Located at 328 Whitman Mission Road, Walla Walla. Visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Free to enter.