The Best National Parks in Washington

March 10, 2023

national parks in Washington

Washington is home to a stunning variety of national parks. With glaciated mountains, lush forests, and picturesque destinations, this Northwestern state is a gem that travelers will never forget.

A trip to Washington also gives you the chance to explore the history of this place. From ice ages to ancestral Native Americans to the first occupation of European settlers, there’s so much to learn about this state.

Mount Rainier

Washington’s tallest mountain is a state icon and an active volcano that attracts climbers, campers, day-hikers, skiers, snowshoers, scientists, and tourists to its slopes, meadows, lookouts, and trails.

The park is home to a variety of habitats and life zones, including forests, wetlands, alpine tundra, and the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous United States with 26 named glaciers. More than 2 million people visit the park each year to hike among wildflowers, summit the highest peak in the state, and ski or snowboard in winter.

For thousands of years, Native Americans came to the mountains to hunt, gather, and conduct spiritual and ceremonial activities. Their descendants still maintain a deep connection to the land.

North Cascades

As one of the most pristine parks in the country, North Cascades National Park has some of the best hiking trails and is home to glaciers, alpine lakes and old-growth forests. It is also a great place to go fishing as well, with lakes such as Gorge and Diablo providing ample opportunities for trout and salmon fishermen.

Aside from the rugged mountain peaks, North Cascades is also home to several rivers that continually shape the landscape and provide crucial habitat for a variety of species. The Chilliwack River drains the park’s northern portion to join the Fraser River in British Columbia, while the Skagit River is the largest watershed draining into Puget Sound.

The National Park is home to many rare animals such as grizzly bears and gray wolves, and has an abundance of birds. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor adventures such as backpacking and rock climbing. It is also one of the least visited National Parks and is therefore a fantastic destination for those looking for peace and quiet in a beautiful wilderness setting.

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens is one of the most popular national parks in Washington. It is near the Oregon border and is about 1 hour north of Portland and 2 hours south of Seattle.

The last major eruption of Mount Saint Helens was on May 18, 1980. The eruption destroyed a large part of the ecosystem and landscape. It created the largest landslide on record and killed 57 people.

It also caused 520 million tons of ash to be expelled into the atmosphere, darkening the skies and impacting communities across the country. The volcano's destruction was so devastating that the US government declared it a National Monument in 1982.

The monument was established to protect and preserve the natural resources of Mount St. Helens and to allow the environment to recover from its destructive past. The monument covers 110,000 acres and is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. A National Forest Day Pass (or $30 for an annual pass) is required to enter the area.

Cape Disappointment

Located just outside the town of Ilwaco, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, Cape Disappointment State Park is a stunning coastal treasure. It's home to wild beaches, sea-smashed cliffs, the remains of Fort Canby and 8 miles of forested hiking trails that take in its two towering lighthouses.

The name "Cape Disappointment" was given to the park by English Captain John Meares in 1788, who failed to locate the mouth of the Columbia River. But Meares wasn't the first Euro-American to find this basalt landmark.

Visitors can hike four scenic trails through coastal forests and headlands, bike along paved roads, or stroll two sandy beaches. For a history lesson, visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

Camping is also available at the park, where you can choose from 137 standard campsites, 60 full hookup sites, 18 RV spots with water and electricity only and 5 primitive sites. There are also 14 furnished and heated yurts and 3 cabins.


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