The National Parks in Washington & Why You Should Visit 

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Interested in visiting the national parks in Washington? 

This state has some of the best parks in the country due to its diverse terrains and habitats. In some parks, you can experience the coastline, forests, and mountains all on the same day. 

The three national parks in Washington that are most visited include Olympic National Park, Mount Ranier National Park, and North Cascades National Park. All three have different things to offer. If you have the time, pay a visit to each one. 

Unsure about what to do when you visit? This guide has all the top activities, restaurants, and places to stay to make your trip planning much easier. 

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Visits to the US National Parks 

The US has 63 national parks spread all across the country. If you plan to visit most of the parks or you are doing a tour around the United States, I recommend purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass

It’s only $80 and can be purchased at hiking stores like REI. It will definitely save you money rather than paying all the entrance fees to the parks separately! 

Washington National Parks 

While there are great cityscapes to see in Washington, visiting the national parks should be on your to-do list. If you’re visiting this beautiful state when there is milder weather, the parks are perfect for hiking, kayaking, and camping. 

To see the best national parks in Washington, make sure to visit Olympic, Rainier, and North Cascades. 

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Olympic National Park 

Olympic National Park is by far one of the best parks in The United States. It’s definitely for adventure seekers with its steep hiking trails and rugged wilderness. Cell service is pretty spotty in the park, so you can truly have a vacation away from the hustle and bustle of life. 

Since the park is extremely spread out, it’s best to make sure you have a full tank of gas before entering. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen and lots of bottled water, as the park doesn’t sell them.  

national parks in washington, olympic national park, lake cresent

Top Things To Do in Olympic National Park

Whether you’re visiting the park for a few days or a few weeks, here are the best things to do! 

Ozette Lake 

Ozette Lake is the best place to go within the park if you want to see the coastline and the forests all in one place. They have a great campsite, and the lake is open during warmer weather for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. 

If you’re lucky, you can even spot a whale or two! The forests also have a few short hiking trails to check out when you’re not in the water. 

canoes on the shore of lake crescent, tree lined mountains in the distance, lake crescent washington

Go Star Gazing 

Head to Hurricane Ridge at night to see some of the most breathtaking skies in the country. The stars are most visible on clear nights. Try to go when there is no fog and little rainfall from the day prior. 

If you’re there in July or August, you can even see the Milky Way. 

Kalaloch Beach 

Since Olympic is home to about 73 miles of coastline, spending a day at the beach should be on your bucket list. Most people head to Kalaloch Beach to see the Kalaloch Tree of Life. 

It’s a giant Sitka Spruce tree growing on the side of a cliff. Because of its position, you can walk underneath the tree around the roots. 

Marymere Falls Trail 

For one of the best hikes in the park ending at a stunning waterfall, head to Marymere Falls. The trail is only one mile long with a little incline, making it a perfect hike for families. 

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Olympic Discovery Trail 

If you’re a biker, head to the Olympic Discovery Trail. About a third of the trail is paved. If you’re a confident biker, you can bike more of the trail along the mud and tree roots. 

The trail offers some of the best views of the coastline and the mountain. The entire trail is 135 miles from La Push to Port Townsend. 

How to Get Around Olympic 

Olympic National Park is over 1 million acres. It can take hours to get from one point of the park to the other for activities. Definitely rent a car to get around the park easier and to save yourself time. 

How Much Time to Spend in Olympic 

Aim to spend three days or more in Olympic National Park. There are enough activities to do for weeks! Three days should be enough for most travelers who want to hike, spend time in the water, and camp for a few nights. 

shorelines in olympic national park, beach area, national parks in washington

Where to Stay in Olympic 

Budget—Ozette Lake Campground: A great place for remote camping for those that don’t need all the modern amenities. You can camp right along the lake with stunning sunrise and sunset views. You also have quick access to all the trails nearby. 

Mid-range—Halibut Hole Cabin: This is a perfect option for those that prefer glamping (still being in the wilderness but in more of a cabin setup compared to tents). It has one small bedroom and bath as well as a kitchen and living room. It’s 25 minutes from Port Angeles. 

Luxury—Lake Crescent Lodge: This lodge is perfect for hikers as it’s close to Marymere Falls and Mount Storm King. It’s right on the shores of Lake Crescent, Washington, and is only 17 miles from Port Angeles. They have suites and rooms as well as a restaurant on-site. 

If you want to stay near the park and prefer a hotel, here are some great nearby options.

Where to Eat in Olympic 

Lake Crescent Lodge Dining Room: Located right in Port Angeles, this restaurant makes you feel right at home. It’s decorated more like a rustic home, with fireplaces and paintings everywhere. They serve brunch, lunch, and dinner. Reservations are required when coming for dinner. 

The Salmon House Restaurant is located in the Rain Forest Resort Village. If you love seafood, this is one of the places to eat. While they are most famous for their slow-cooked salmon, the menu also features salads, pasta, steak, and chicken. 

Blackberry Cafe is a small place, but the food portions are huge, and the service is unmatched. They specialize in amazing breakfast foods. Try the homemade biscuits and gravy or one of the many omelets. 

rocky cliffs in olympic national park, national parks in washington

Mount Rainier National Park 

Mount Rainier is one of the most visited national parks near Seattle. The mountain stands 14,410 feet above sea level. It has many different terrains for all seasons, including meadows, lakes, and mountains. 

The park is over 350 square miles with the famous Wonderland Trail, where backpackers come from all over the world to explore over 93 miles of the park. There are many activities in the park, with hiking being the most popular. 

Seattle to Mt. Rainier National Park is about a 1.5-hour drive, so it makes an easy day trip or longer. 

sunset over mt rainier and nearby lake, seattle to mount rainier national park, mount rainier national

Things to Do in Rainier

Paradise 

This is one of the most visited places in the park. If you’re here in the spring, you can see this part of Mt. Rainier covered in beautiful wildflowers. 

Some of the best hiking trails are nearby, including Alta Vista Trail and Nisqually Vista Trail. 

colorful flowers, snow on mount rainier in the distance, snow on the ground, national parks in washington

Myrtle Falls 

Getting to the falls is just a short walk on a paved trail. It’s a great place to go with small children since the walk is easy. You can walk down the small staircase to see the best views of the falls, followed by crossing the small bridge to see Edith Creek. 

Patriarch’s Trail 

This 1.5-mile walking trail is the most popular one in the park for tree lovers. Along the path, you can see some of the country’s oldest trees, including Douglas Firs, Western Hemlocks, and Western Red Cedars. 

Sunrise Point 

For some of the most spectacular views of Mt. Rainier, head to Sunrise Point. You can drive along the road that climbs up the mountain and then park the car at the overlook. There are several overlooks along the path, but Sunrise Point is the best. 

Climb to the Top of Mount Rainier

If you want some adventure and to do some training hikes before heading to Washington, you can summit Mount Rainier. It takes about 2 to 3 days, and you will need to go with a guide or tour company to climb the mountain. 

snow capped mountain, green lake, tall evergreen trees, national parks in washington

How to Get Around Rainier 

Rainier National Park doesn’t have shuttle buses or other public ways of getting around. The easiest way to get around the park is to rent a car and drive yourself. 

How Much Time to Spend in Rainier 

To see all the best places in Rainier, try to spend at least three days in the park. If you want to do some extra hiking or you’re planning to climb Mt. Rainier, you should aim to spend 5 to 7 days in the park. 

Where to Stay in Rainier 

Budget—Paradise Village Hotel: This place has plenty of different options, from single rooms to full cabins. It’s just 5 miles from the entrance of the park. They have Wi-Fi, minifridges, and TVs in every room. The cabins have heated bathroom floors and Bluetooth sound systems. 

Mid-range—Copper Creek Inn: Just 2.4 miles from the entrance to the park, this inn has fully equipped cabins to keep you and your friends comfortable. Most cabins have private hot tubs, patios, and fireplaces. There is also Wi-Fi. 

Luxury—Alta Crystal Resort: This rustic lodge is right in the middle of the mountains, with stunning views. The cabins have cable TV, stone fireplaces, and kitchenettes. On the grounds, you can find an on-site grocery store, barbecue grills, and a heated outdoor pool. 

evergreen trees, red and orange grass, small walking trail

Where to Eat in Rainier 

Copper Creek Inn also has a restaurant on-site for all guests in the park, not just people that are staying at the inn. The restaurant has breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most of the things on the menu are typical American dishes, including steak, chicken, soups, and salads. They’re also famous for their blackberry pie. 

Mt. Railroad Dining Company is a little outside the park, but it’s worth the drive. It’s an old train that has been turned into a restaurant. They are most known for their burgers. They also have great patty melts and monte Cristos. 

Alpine Inn Restaurant has a great outdoor eating area. They have umbrellas in the summer to shade you from the sun and heaters in the winter to make sure you’re warm. They serve American comfort food, including mashed potatoes, chicken, biscuits, and many vegetable side dishes. 

North Cascades National Park 

North Cascades is a national park joined with two national recreation areas, including Ross Lake and Lake Chelan. It’s located on the northwestern border of Washington and is over two million acres. 

It’s home to many great hiking trails, including Maple Pass Loop and Washington Pass Overlook. The park is much more remote than other places. There is only one road going through the park called Highway 20. If you don’t want to drive, you’ll need to take a ferry into the park. 

river in the north cascades mountains, north cascades washington, seattle to north cascades national park

Things to Do in North Cascades 

Sterling Munro Trail 

You can head to the North Cascades Visitor Center for this trail. It’s a super short hike across a boardwalk. In the end, you can see Picket Range. It’s one of the best up-close views of the mountains. 

Diablo Lake Vista Point 

Diablo Lake is a must-see. The milky green color of the lake comes from the glaciers melting and grinding against the rocks of the mountain. You can park at the overlook, as it’s right off Highway 20. 

diablo lake, green lake, tall tree lined mountains towering over the lake, hurricande ridge, maple pass loop

Stehekin 

On the north side of Lake Chelan, you’ll find Stehekin. It’s a beautiful remote place for camping. Many backpackers also head here either at the beginning or end of their journey. Stehekin can only be reached on foot or by ferry since there are no roads. 

Hike the Trails

There are numerous trails throughout the park, and here are some of the best ones for the most scenic views:

  • Maple Pass Loop: 7.2 miles through wildflower fields and dense forests. You can also see a stunning alpine lake with 360-degree views of the mountain range. 
  • Thunder Knob: 3.6 miles with the best views of Diablo Lake. It’s an easy hike making it perfect for families. 
  • Thornton Lake: 10.4 miles and one of the most difficult hikes in the park. It starts off easy, but the portion right before you get to the lake is super steep and rugged. 
  • Desolation Peak: 9.4 miles and is also a pretty challenging hike. It’s located on Ross Lake with beautiful views of the mountains. 

How to Get Around North Cascades 

You can take a ferry or a shuttle bus to North Cascades National Park. The ferry doesn’t usually operate in the colder months. 

Once inside the park, the best way to get around is to drive. Renting a car allows you to get to all the best places, including the ones that are very remote. 

You can use taxi services from the lodges to different parts of the park, but taxis usually end up being more expensive than renting a car. 

yellow flowers in front of cascades national park, north cascades mountains

How Much Time to Spend in North Cascades

Try to spend at least two days in North Cascades so you can hike and see the beautiful scenery. There are always more things to do if you want to stay longer. Seattle to North Cascades National Park is also a nice day trip if you only have one day to spend in the park. 

Where to Stay in North Cascades

Budget—North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin: Stay here for amazing views of Lake Chelan. It’s pretty remote and only accessible by boat or foot. You can book a cabin or a single room. It’s perfect for adventure seekers and backpackers because of the remote location. 

Mid-range—Sun Mountain Lodge: This lodge has all the amenities you need, plus a few extras, including a hot tub, restaurant, bar, and fireside lounge. It has stunning views of the mountains, especially from the outdoor heated pool and the patios from the cabins. 

Luxury—For something a little different, stay at this house rental. It’s in Glacier but has quick access to many of the overlooks and trailheads in the park. It’s a cabin on stilts in the forest with great views of the mountains. It has everything you need, including a fireplace and hot tub. 

Where to Eat in North Cascades 

Sun Mountain Lodge Dining Room is on a beautiful hill overlooking Methow Valley. Their most famous dishes include duck with mushrooms, chicken curry soup, and pork chops. They also have a wine cellar with over 5,000 different bottles. 

Stehekin Pastry Company has all your favorite homemade pastries. They also make excellent coffee and have a small breakfast menu. If you go for lunch, you can choose from a variety of different sandwiches and soups. They also bake fresh pies with fruits from local orchards. 

Stehekin Valley Ranch has some of the best dinners in the area. They have everything from steaks to ribs to burgers to soups. They also have a large dessert buffet with freshly baked pies and other goodies. 

sunrise over north cascades mountains, national parks in wa

When to Visit the National Parks in Washington 

The best time to visit the National Parks in Washington for mild weather is mid-July through September. As snowfall increases, the parks begin to close down certain roads and destinations in the park. 

Even if you don’t mind colder weather, you can miss out on some of the best things to do when visiting in the snowy months. 

The summer months and early autumn also see less rainfall, so you can enjoy your hikes and camping while staying dry. It’s the most crowded time, but it’s worth it for the good weather.

The National Parks in Washington Are Waiting For You!

Visiting the national parks in Washington is an experience you will never forget. From mountains to valleys to lakes, the parks have stunning terrains perfect for hiking and photos. 

Many of the parks are just a few hours from Seattle or less, making them great day trips or weekend getaways. 

Have you visited any of these national parks in Washington? Which one was your favorite? 

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