In addition to being the birthplace of Starbucks coffee and the iconic Space Needle, Washington is one of the most exciting states for outdoor lovers and adventurers to explore.

Scattered with lush evergreen forests and impressive snow-capped mountains, Washington is known as ‘The Evergreen State’ for a good reason.

Aside from its lush reputation, the state is also home to an incredible variety of high plains, coastal landscapes, and plenty of islands, rivers, and lakes.

The region is surrounded by either mountains or ocean on all sides, including the Olympic Mountains, the Coast Range, The Cascade Range, and the Rocky Mountains. It’s also home to the Puget Sound Lowlands, and Columbia Plateau, each offering a unique landscape home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna.

Of course, this nature-abundant region is dotted with national parks, state parks, and national monuments, each offering tons of opportunities for outdoor adventure and appreciation.

Nature lovers rejoice – visiting one of the top national parks in Washington is a unique way to experience what most would say is the state’s biggest asset – its dynamic natural landscape.

In this article, I’ll run through eleven of the most exciting, famous, and even some remote national parks on the register, how to access them, and where to stay when you visit.

Hoh rain forest in olympic national park washington
Time for some nature

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What are National Parks?

Like all American national parks, Washington’s parks are managed and maintained by the National Park Service. A governmental agency tasked with preserving the most valuable, diverse, and beautiful natural landscapes in the country. 

This department manages America’s natural spaces, wildlife, and recreational/educational areas in national parks. In this sense, the National Park Service manages every park map you receive, street signs you make use of, and the visitor’s office you visit.

As mentioned, Washington packs a real punch regarding diverse landscapes. Reaching from the North Pacific coastline and the Olympic Range in the west to the Cascade Range in the east, the state experiences vastly different climates from one region to another.

With the east capturing the most rain and moisture, this part of the state is most popular with winter sports enthusiasts. Across the state in Central Washington, rainy days are few and far between, and the terrain is almost plains-like. 

Washington has three national parks as well as several historic sites and protected areas, including a whooping 124 state parks. Offering varying terrains suited for family visits to advanced mountaineers, every type of traveler will benefit from visiting a national park in Washington.

National Parks in Washington

Take a look at these most popular and lesser-known national and state parks in the Evergreen state. Now, let’s plan your next adventure in Washington

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park in Washington
What a stunner
  • Size: 3733 sq mi
  • Location: In the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, near Port Angeles
  • Entrance Fee: $15 per person or $30 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

Olympic National Park is easily one of the most diverse and accessible parks in the country. It encompasses just about every landscape that exists in the state. 

It stretches thousands of square miles across lowland forests, tall mountain ranges, icy alpine lakes, and temperate rainforests. Oh, and it also has a 50-mile section of wild coastline.

Aside from its biological diversity, the park offers everything from extreme cliffs only accessible by advanced mountaineers to mellow hikes suitable for a family day out. 

It’s also just a short drive from Seattle. This makes it perfect for a day trip or weekend adventure to escape the city. Whether you’re looking to summit the park’s highest peak or lounge about with a book in a meadow carpeted by wildflowers, this park has the terrain for the job.

One of the most popular sites is Hurricane Ridge, an incredible viewpoint overlooking the Olympic Mountains. Hoh Rain Forest is an overgrown mossy wonderland known for its deafening silence, elk population, and all-around serene atmosphere. 

Rialto Beach is another famous location in the park, offering the perfect example of the rugged Washington coastline. Don’t miss a stroll through the Enchanted Valley, the Sol Duc Hot Springs, and Marymere Falls while you’re there. 

The best time to visit this national park in Washington is in summer when all the trails are open. Of course, crowds are heavier at this time, but it’s worth dealing with to experience the wildflowers blooming across the park.

Where to Stay near Olympic National Park:

Located right on the lakefront in Port Angeles, this serene three-bedroom cabin offers complete privacy from the outdoor world. 

Designed by a famous interior designer, the home blends traditional cabin characteristics with a modern aesthetic. Ideal for all seasons, the property has a BBQ deck, dining space, and a cozy indoor fireplace.

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park Washington
This view is 100% worth the effort
  • Size: 777 sq mi
  • Location: In the North Cascades region of the state, near Newhalem
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person or $20 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

This National Park is a mountainous wonderland that is the main attraction of the extensive Cascade Range that covers much of the state. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘Alps of the Americas’.

It’s best loved by backpackers, although it’s not super easy to access. There also aren’t so many park amenities, so you can have a truly wild and remote camping experience in the US.

Maple Pass Trail is a steep ascend but one of the best in the park. It leads up from the valley into the mountains through the wildflower blossoms and lush forests. Diablo Lake is an exquisite alpine lake worth visiting at any time of the year, but mostly in summer, when its water shimmers a bright turquoise color. 

Home to grizzly bears, wolverines, grey wolves, and lynx, this northern park offers an exceptional wilderness experience for wildlife lovers. The iconic Pacific Crest Trail, which extends from Canada to Mexico, crosses through a section of the park.

If hiking or backpacking isn’t for you, the scenic Highway 20 trails through the park and is ranked as one of Washington’s most beautiful road trips.

The best time to visit this national park in Washington is in the fall. The larch trees paint the landscape a bright yellow. Or, visit in summer when wildflowers scatter the valley.

Where to Stay near North Cascades National Park:

Surrounded by lush forests in Marblemount, this cozy cabin has warm wooden interiors with a contemporary feel. The cabin features panoramic glass windows that invite the outdoors into the indoor living space and is the last stop before reaching the isolated North Cascades National Park.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park Washington
  • Size: 956 sq mi
  • Location: In the Cascades region, close to Ashford
  • Entrance Fee: $30 per person, or $55 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

If you were to close your eyes and picture the most idyllic national park possible, you might dream up a landscape similar to Mount Rainier National Park.

The park surrounds the majestic Mount Rainier, an eternally snow-capped active volcanic peak reaching over 14000 feet above sea level.

This destination ranks high among hikers’ favorites, with summiting this peak often considered the pinnacle of their dreams. Yet, beyond this iconic ascent, a wealth of accessible adventures beckons to be discovered by beginners.

The surrounding park is dotted with kaleidoscope-colored meadows, peaceful forests, glistening lakes, and rushing rivers, beautiful throughout all four seasons.

In fact, the park includes over 250 miles worth of hiking trails. Some lead to majestic grassy valleys and others trail toward alpine lakes. 

During the winter, many of these hiking trails transition into cross-country ski trails. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail encircling the mountain provides backpackers with a two-week journey to explore diverse landscapes.

Of course, there are tons of shorter trips within this trail. The Skyline Trail takes you up towards the mountain for incredible views of the lower-level glaciers. The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail follows a breathtaking path to a viewpoint overlooking the peak of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

Where to Stay near Mount Rainier National Park:

This A-Frame cabin should grace the pages of an interior magazine. Located in the Ashford woods, guests can soak in the hot tub and warm up around the fire pit after exploring the national park.

The interior is rustic yet comfortable. There are modern cabin interiors and enough space for a family or group of six guests.

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Other Parks in Washington

Not found the park for you? Or are you just interested in learning more? Either way, here are a bunch of extra parks in Washington for you to check out.

Wallace Falls State Park

Wallace Falls State Park Washington
  • Size: 7 sq mi
  • Location: In the North Cascades region, close to Gold Bar
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person, or $30 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

Wallace Falls State Park, nestled along the Wallace River, is a compact yet inviting public recreation spot. The park’s main features are its three waterfalls and rushing rivers and streams.

The main waterfall, Wallace Falls, is no doubt the highlight of the park. It falls over three sections and can be seen from the Skykomish Valley.

Another popular waterfall, Upper Wallace Falls, is so large it can’t be viewed fully from top to bottom. The waterfall falls 73 meters across five separate tiers, tumbling into crystal-clear rock pools below.

The park boasts twelve miles of hiking trails and five miles of biking trails, making it an epic bucket list adventure. Many of these routes transition into snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails during winter.

The Wallace and Jay Lakes are accessible via the Greg Call Trail and are the perfect spots for a cool-down dip after a hike. The national park in Washington also offers a rock climbing wall that attracts climbers from across the state.

Where to Stay near Wallace Falls State Park:

Rays of sunlight shine through the double-height glass walls in this A-frame cabin, which features modern interiors blending mid-century furnishings with traditional cabin wooden accents. The spacious cabin has two bedrooms, an open-concept living space, and a patio with a hot tub and BBQ.

Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State Park Washington
Bring your camera for this one
  • Size: 6 sq mi
  • Location: In the Puget Sound and Island region, near Oak Harbor
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person, or $30 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

Just an hour north of Seattle, this park is a bustling destination for those seeking respite from city life.

Mostly Puget Sound, the park features an iconic bridge offering breathtaking views of Skagit Bay and the Salish Sea. From this bridge, you can marble at the breathtaking views of Skagit Bay and the Salish Sea in the distance. 

For a family-friendly adventure, you can choose from various easy-to-moderate trails, including the Sand Dunes Interpretive Trail. If you’re after a more challenging adventure, the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail passes through the park and is worth exploring.

Deception Pass State Park is also popular with backpackers, with plenty of scenic campsites to set up your remote home-away-from-home. 

Where to Stay near Deception Pass State Park:

This luxurious contemporary cabin is just about as close as you can get to the Deception Pass State Park. On the west side of Whidbey Island, the cabin boasts incredible coastal views paired with modern amenities and exclusive beach access. 

After a day of adventure through the park, enjoy a relaxing soak in the hot tub or a cozy evening around the fire pit.

Flaming Geyser State Park

Flaming Geyser State Park Washington
Looks fishy…
  • Size: 480 acres
  • Location: Around the Puget Sound and Islands, near Auburn
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person, or $30 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

Flaming Geyser State Park in Washington hosts a rare natural methane geyser amid lush rainforest and rushing rivers. Miners in the early 20th century discovered a 26 ft high natural methane geyser while digging a test well. 

Almost a century later, the methane is still burning, yet the flame rises only a few inches above the ground. The Bubbling Geyser, a hot boiling mud patch, shows this geographic wonder in all its glory.

Yet, the park’s true beauty lies in the Green River, meandering three miles through its mossy forest landscape.

This river is popular with kayakers, white-water rafters, and tubers, who float down the rushing river for an adrenaline rush of note. Note: This is dependent on the time of year and water level.

The river is also home to wild Chinook, the largest species of Pacific salmon. Salmon watchers flock to the Salmon Interpretive Trail to learn about the unique life cycle of these migrating fish. Stash your travel fishing rod into your hiking backpack and go catch yourself one!

Where to Stay near Flaming Geyser State Park:

Although located in the heart of Auburn, this storybook cabin features cozy interiors with wooden accents and rustic furnishings.

The central living area is overflowing with natural light, Guests can also enjoy a sunny terrace and shared garden, which is perfect for reading or bird watching in the summer months.

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San Juan Islands National Monument

San Juan Islands National Monument
  • Size: 55.4 sq mi (San Juan Island)
  • Location: In the Puget Sound and Island region, close to Friday Harbor and San Juan Island
  • Entrance Fee: Free (some islands within the monument have private fees)

The San Juan Islands are one of the most exciting attractions in Washington State. Comprising over 400 islands dotted across the Strait of Georgia, Haro Strait, and Strait of Juan De Fuca, the island region was dedicated as a national monument in 2013. 

While the park’s ‘official’ status is pretty fresh, the entire coastal region plays a significant part in the state’s wildlife and marine biodiversity.

Some islands are covered in the thick rainforest, while others are blanketed with harsh rocky terrain. If you’re a big hiker, a trek to the top of Mount Constitution will reward you with unrivaled views of the islands below.

One of the best things to do in this national park in Washington is to explore the area with your own watercraft. Launching a jet ski or speedboat will expose you to the islands’ wonders and the waters they sit in.

While wildlife varies across the islands (including deer, mink, and numerous coastal birds), the highlight is the marine life. Orcas pass through the islands from May to October, preying on the abundant seal population. Grey, minke, and humpback whales also frequent the islands year-round.

Where to Stay near San Juan Islands National Monument:

Overlooking the ocean in Friday Harbor, this gorgeous home has three bedrooms and a massive yard with private beach access. It even includes a mooring spot for a boat. 

The privacy of the home makes it ideal for a relaxing island getaway. Of course, it comes equipped with a modern kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances.

Palouse Falls State Park

Palouse Falls State Park Washington
Drone heaven
  • Size: 105 acres
  • Location: In Southeast Washington, near Walla Walla
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person, or $30 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

With waterfalls at the center of this park’s attraction, you’ll have every reason to chase waterfalls in Palouse Falls State Park. Named after the thundering waterfall that tumbles 200 feet into a deep canyon gorge, this park is well worth the four-hour drive from Seattle.

Visiting the waterfall is most tourists’ first port-of-call, where you can gaze through a thick white veil of water falling in front of basalt rock carved into a gorge over thirteen thousand years. It’s one of the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age Floors’ path, earning it a reputation as a natural wonder.

With scenic beauty that is a dream come true for photographers or artists, this national park in Washington is also popular with hikers.

There is only one official trail here, which starts at the central parking lot, winds along the canyon edge, and ends at the waterfall overlook.

There is also a comfortable camping spot in the park, great for those who wish to extend their day trip into an overnight adventure. Camping spaces are first-come, first-serve and offer exquisite views of the park.

Where to Stay near Palouse Falls State Park:

Nestled between the trees in the wine county of Walla Walla, this gorgeous mid-century style cabin boasts incredible privacy from the nearby town. 

Tastefully decorated with unique contemporary pieces, the home has three bedrooms, a central living area, and three outdoor decks. Cork floors, cedar finishes, and a high ceiling give it all the best characteristics of a traditional cabin.

Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
  • Size: 172 sq mi
  • Location: In Southwest Washington near Castle Rock and Cougar
  • Entrance Fee: $5 per person, or $10 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument is as much a recreational area as it is a tribute to those who lost their lives to the deadly volcanic eruption in 1980. The mountain used to be one of the highest peaks in the state before the catastrophic eruption leveled it down by over 1300 feet. 

With scars from the eruption still visible, the park was established two years after the eruption in 1982 to help the surrounding land rebuild itself into what it once was.

While it has taken time for visitors to embrace the beauty of the park and its mountain since the event, today, the area is brimming with natural beauty in a rejuvenating cycle that can only be attributed to Mother Nature. 

Many visit the park to experience the magnitude of the volcanic mountain and surrounding park, as well as the incredible biodiversity in the area. To name a few, the park is home to elk, mountain goats, deer, cougars, and bobcats.

One of the best things to do in this national park in Washington is going beneath the surface into Ape Cave. While you might have to tackle your fears of small closed spaces, this cave is an incredible network of underground lava tubes that link through 2.6 miles of caves.

Above ground, the Windy Ridge hiking trail winds along the famous peak, boasting extensive park views from the top. Ambitious hikers can trek to the volcano’s edge to look down into the caldera summit, which still shows signs of volcanic activity. The Johnston Ridge Observatory offers another impressive view of the volcano.

Where to Stay near Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument:

Enjoy the natural beauty and serenity of the great outdoors at this incredible cabin in Cougar. Near Yale Lake and the iconic Mount Saint Helens Park, this two-bedroom cabin offers everything you need for an adventurous vacation. 

Guests can enjoy a BBQ in the yard and are even able to bring dogs along to this pet-friendly property.

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Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
Where you belong…
  • Size: 3.16 sq mi
  • Location: In Southwest Washington, near the town of Ilwaco, Oceanview, and Long Beach
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person, or $30 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

With a name like Cape Disappointment, this gorgeous coastal region could not be further from a disappointment. It was named after a captain’s unsuccessful sailing expedition who hoped to discover and explore the Columbia River outlet in 1788.

The park hugs the edge of a rugged peninsula on the Pacific coastline, where edgy cliffs tumble into the rough seas.

Great for a day trip from Astoria or other surrounding towns, the park is a protected area that includes two quaint lighthouses known as North Head and Cape Disappointment, of which the latter is the oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast.

The best time to visit this national park in Washington is between December and March when Pacific Grey Whales migrate past the peninsula from the Arctic to Mexico.

Plenty of paths and trails trickle down the coastline, as well as a large campground of RV parking spots and tent space, where you can fall asleep to the sound of the rough Pacific waves crashing into the cliffs below.

The park also marks the end of the road for two explorers who planned to travel between St Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific. Head to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center for an account of this incredible historical journey.

Where to Stay near Cape Disappointment State Park:

With exquisite views of the Ilwaco harbor, this luxurious vacation rental is one of the most exquisite properties near Cape Disappointment State Park

The waterfront home has two bedrooms and an enchanting central living space, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass walls and double-height ceilings offering unrivaled panoramic views of the area.

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park

Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park
  • Size: 6.3 sq mi
  • Location: In North Central Washington, just outside Coulee City
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person, or $30 per vehicle (for a seven-day pass)

Created by floods that swept through the region at the end of the last Ice Age (around 15 thousand years ago), Sun Lakes-Dry Falls are the scars of the great floods that today exist as a series of lakes and cliffs. 

One of the most significant attractions left by the floods was a three-and-a-half-mile-long cliff that reached 120 meters into the sky. This cliff was once a waterfall four times bigger than the iconic Niagara Falls. 

While this former waterfall is no longer, the park is still home to a range of lakes, which are a haven for swimming, boating, and adventuring in what is otherwise a relatively dry desert-like landscape. Boats can be rented during summer, and the park features over 150 campsites.

For a true adventure through history, follow the five-mile round-trip journey to Umatilla Rock. What would have been an island surrounded by raging rivers and waterfalls is now one of the best viewpoints in this national park in Washington.

Where to Stay near Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park:

A short drive from Coulee City in Waterville, this unreal remote cabin is well worth the journey. Set on the mountainside overlooking the park, you can experience the park’s beauty without even leaving the property. 

Sip a cup of tea in the bathtub while admiring the view through floor-to-ceiling glass walls before cooking up a storm in the impressive modern kitchen. 

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Final Thoughts on National Parks in Washington

Washington is a natural haven of possibilities located on the USA-Canada border in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to its varied climate from region to region, the state offers exquisite landscapes and terrain ranging from lush evergreen forests to tranquil rainforests, lowlands, and dramatic mountain peaks. 

Whether you’re an advanced mountaineer looking to summit your next challenging peak or are searching for the perfect national park to teach your children to appreciate nature, there is a national park in Washington for every type of adventurer.

As cliche, as it might sound, I would put Mount Rainier National Park at the top of my list.

This magical, eternally snowy peak sits surrounded by lush green hills and pine trees, offering hikes suitable for novices to professionals. No matter the season you visit, this gorgeous park offers something at every stage of the year.

usa yosemite national park sign of bear warnings - wildlife danger United States of America.
Stay safe out there, folks.
Photo: @joemiddlehurst
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