The Top Ten Parks of Washington State
Rugged coastlines where mighty waves from the Pacific dance with sea stacks, ancient rainforests where moss-laden giants reach toward the heavens, and snow-capped peaks that whisper tales of the past and the glorious potential of the future. Welcome to the evergreen wonderland of Washington State, where the Pacific Northwest’s natural magnificence is on full display.
Washington boasts a thrilling array of national and state parks, and each is like an open book divulging the history of the state and the natural world. From the jagged coastline of Olympic National Park to the colossal peaks of North Cascades National Park, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy and explore.
In this blog post, we’re taking a close look at the top 10 national and state parks that make Washington a beloved destination for nature enthusiasts and photographers, showcasing the unique experiences and ecological marvels that make this corner of the earth truly special.
Mt Rainier National Park
One of the sparkling jewels in Washington’s crown, Mt. Rainier National Park beckons visitors to explore a world of pure wonder. At a towering 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier dominates the landscape, its snow-clad peak offering a year-round spectacle. This unmarred wilderness is idyllic for hikers, and the park itself offers an extensive network of trails that meander through lush meadows and dense forests brimming with wildlife.
This pristine wilderness, established as the nation's fifth national park in 1899, offers visitors a diverse range of natural beauty, from lush old-growth forests and alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers to crystal-clear lakes and glaciers. The park is not only a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with its extensive hiking trails and world-class mountaineering opportunities, but it is also a place of historical significance, as it played a pivotal role in the early exploration of the American West.
Native American tribes, such as the Nisqually and Puyallup, have long revered the mountain, while pioneers and naturalists have been drawn to its grandeur for centuries. Visitors can expect breathtaking vistas, from alpine glaciers to wildflower-strewn slopes. The park is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, providing numerous opportunities to spot deer, marmots, black bears, and many more native critters.
With its dramatic landscapes and rich biodiversity, Mt. Rainier National Park is a spectacular ode to the Pacific Northwest’s untamed beauty.
Olympic National Park
Home of the Hoh Rainforest, one of the wettest places in the continental U.S., Olympic National Park is a one-of-a-kind marvel. Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has it all: snow-capped mountains, temperate rainforests, and wildflower-filled meadows. If you’re the type of adventurer who craves diversity, this might be the place for you.
Located in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, the park is a true ecological treasure, encompassing rugged coastlines, lush temperate rainforests, and towering glaciated peaks. Established as a national monument in 1909 and later designated a national park in 1938, Olympic has a rich history of conservation and preservation.
Park visitors can check out tidal pools, hike through beautiful, old-growth forests, and soak in relaxing hot springs. And with approximately one million acres to explore, it’s practically impossible to see it all in just one trip. Olympic National Park is a great place for nature lovers, photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts to experience one of Earth’s most incredible landscapes.
North Cascades National Park
Colloquially known in some circles as the “American Alps”, North Cascades National Park is a breathtaking slice of wilderness. With its jagged peaks, pristine alpine lakes, and hundreds of glaciers, this park is a paradise for those seeking adventure, solitude, and remarkable views.
Established in 1968, it is a relatively young addition to the National Park System, yet it is a testament to the enduring value of preserving pristine natural landscapes. The park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a playground of jagged peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine alpine lakes.
North Cascades National Park is renowned for its extensive network of hiking trails and exceptional backcountry experiences, making it a hiker's paradise. With its glacier-covered mountains and dense forests, North Cascades also serves as a critical refuge for wildlife, including grizzly bears, gray wolves, and bald eagles.
If you’re seeking old-growth forests and backcountry trails with views of some of the most dramatic landscapes in the Pacific Northwest, North Cascades National Park is the park for you.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
If you’ve ever wanted to stand inside a Bob Ross painting, this is one of your best opportunities! Nestled within the Cascade Range, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest spans over 1.7 million acres of Pacific Northwest wilderness, offering an expansive playground for outdoor enthusiasts all year round.
Established in 1897, it boasts a rich history as one of the oldest national forests in the United States. This remarkable expanse of protected land offers a wealth of natural wonders, including towering old-growth forests, alpine meadows adorned with wildflowers, and pristine lakes reflecting the snow-capped peaks of the North Cascades and the mighty Mount Baker.
The Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest's historical significance is deeply entwined with the conservation movement and the establishment of the national forest system, which aimed to protect these magnificent landscapes from overexploitation and ensure their enduring natural beauty.
Today, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest remains a testament to the legacy of early conservationists and the ongoing commitment to preserving the pristine wilderness of the Pacific Northwest for generations to come.
Lake Wenatchee State Park
Nestled in the picturesque Cascade Range of Washington State, Lake Wenatchee State Park is a scenic haven of natural beauty and outdoor recreation. Established in the 1970s, the park has a relatively recent history, but it has quickly become a beloved destination for both locals and tourists.
During the winter months, Lake Wenatchee is known for its amazing ice fishing; anglers come from far and wide to drill holes in the lake’s surface for a chance to catch trout and salmon. For the other three seasons, visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities: swimming, boating, hiking, and more.
Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventure or a tranquil escape into nature, Lake Wenatchee State Park is a sparkling oasis that promises unforgettable moments. Adding a few extra days to your trip to include the historic town of Leavenworth will take you along the Wenatchee River as it winds through Tumwater Canyon, a fifteen mile trip through one of the most beautiful waterways in Washington State.
Palouse Falls State Park
Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Washington, Palouse Falls State Park is a testament to the power of water and the surprises nature holds even in the most unexpected places. At its heart lies Palouse Falls, a plunging cascade that carves through the craggy Palouse Canyon, resulting in an awe-inspiring 200-foot drop into the crystal-clear water below.
Established as a state park in 1951, the park offers a striking contrast to the surrounding agricultural landscape, featuring the stunning Palouse Falls, a breathtaking cascade plunging into a deep, chiseled canyon. This iconic waterfall is not only a testament to the power of nature but also a significant part of the region's geological history, shaped by the cataclysmic Missoula Floods during the last ice age.
What makes Palouse Falls extraordinary is its striking contrast to the surrounding arid landscape of the Palouse region. It’s also a well-loved spot for picnicking and birding, so consider bringing along a picnic basket and your best binoculars.
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park, situated in the northwest corner of Washington State, is a natural wonderland of rugged coastlines, lush forests, and stunning vistas. Established in 1923, it's one of the state's oldest and most beloved parks. The park takes its name from the iconic Deception Pass, a narrow, turbulent waterway that separates Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island.
This dynamic and picturesque landscape is not only a haven for outdoor enthusiasts who come to hike, camp, and admire the stunning views but also holds historical significance. The park's history is intertwined with that of the area's indigenous peoples, who have lived along these shores for thousands of years. European explorers and settlers later navigated these waters, and today, Deception Pass State Park stands as a testament to the enduring importance of preserving the region's natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Beachcombing along rugged shorelines and hiking scenic trails through majestic old-growth forests – this park offers an array of outdoor activities. Oftentimes, visitors find themselves attracted to the dramatic landscapes but enchanted by the peaceful ambiance. It’s where land and sea come together in a visceral symphony of natural splendor.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Located on the idyllic shores of Washington’s San Juan Island, Lime Kiln Point State Park is a bona fide coastal gem. Renowned as a prime whale-watching destination, visitors have a chance to witness orcas, breaching humpback whales, and other marine wildlife from the rocky shoreline.
Established as a state park in 1984, it boasts a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century. The park is named after the historic lime kilns that once operated on the site, producing quicklime used in construction and agriculture. Today, it is a beloved destination for visitors seeking breathtaking views, whale watching, and a chance to explore the park's network of trails and lighthouses.
Lime Kiln State Park is renowned as one of the best places to observe orca whales from land, and its iconic lighthouse, built in 1919, adds to the park's historical charm. Nestled within the serene beauty of the Salish Sea, the park continues to offer a unique blend of natural wonders and cultural heritage for all who visit.
Gingko Petrified Forest State Park
Along the Columbia River that runs through Washington State, Gingko Petrified Forest State Park stands as a time capsule of Earth’s ancient past. This park’s remarkable collection of petrified wood, fossils, and geological wonders dates back to over 15 million years ago. It’s also home to some of the largest petrified logs anywhere on the planet.
Established in the 1930s, it was one of Washington's first state parks. The park is renowned for its stunning and extensive petrified wood deposits, which date back millions of years, offering a unique glimpse into prehistoric flora and ecosystems. The park's namesake, the ginkgo tree, is one of the species whose remains have been beautifully preserved as petrified wood.
Over the years, it has become a popular destination for those intrigued by paleontology, geology, and the natural history of the area. Visitors can explore the park's interpretive center and numerous hiking trails that wind through a semi-desert landscape, allowing them to witness the ancient trees turned to stone. Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park offers a remarkable window into the past and a valuable historical and educational experience for all who venture into its otherworldly terrain.
Visitors can hike winding trails through a surreal landscape adorned with massive, stone-like logs, remnants of prehistoric trees turned to stone by natural processes. This unique blend of geological marvels and paleontological treasures makes Gingko Petrified Forest State Park one of the most captivating locations on our list.
Cape Disappointment State Park
Despite its name, this park is anything except disappointing. Last but certainly not least on our list, Cape Disappointment State Park boasts dramatic coastal cliffs, incredible beaches, and lush forests with endless opportunities for outdoor exploration.
Established in 1942, the park's name may be misleading, as it is anything but disappointing. It boasts rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, lush forests, and stunning panoramic views. The park's historical significance is deeply rooted in its role as a navigational landmark, with the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, built in 1856, guiding ships and explorers along the treacherous Columbia River Bar. Additionally, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped at the cape during their historic journey in 1805.
Today, visitors can explore the park's hiking trails, visit the historic lighthouse, and appreciate the convergence of natural beauty and maritime history. Cape Disappointment State Park is a treasure trove of both natural wonders and the rich historical tapestry of the Pacific Northwest.
Go Explore Washington!
The diversity and beauty of Washington State is undeniable. For nature photographers, it is a playground full of endless possibilities. For explorers and nature lovers, you can visit iconic locations with visitors from around the world or get lost on trails where you will never see a single soul. I have lived in the Pacific Northwest my entire life and while I have been blessed to travel the natural world creating art, to me, there's truly no place like home.