Best National Parks Washington State

Best National Parks Washington State Has to Offer

You’re here because you’re ready to explore the best national parks Washington State has to offer.   

Whether you’re planning your next trip or looking for inspiration, you’ve come to the right place.

Washington State is a treasure trove of natural beauty.   

From the towering peaks of the Cascade Range to the dense, misty rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula, and the rugged Pacific coastline.

This state offers a diverse array of landscapes.  

At the heart of this natural wonderland are three spectacular national parks:  

Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades.  

Mount Rainier National Park is home to the iconic Mount Rainier, a majestic, snow-capped volcano surrounded by wildflower meadows and ancient forests.  

Olympic National Park boasts a unique combination of rugged coastline, temperate rainforests, and glaciated mountains, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts.  

North Cascades National Park, often called the “American Alps,” offers some of the most rugged and remote wilderness in the contiguous United States, with stunning mountain scenery and pristine lakes.  

In this ultimate guide to the best national parks in Washington State, you’ll discover everything you need to know about these incredible national parks.  

We’ll cover the best times to visit, how to get there, must-see attractions, and top activities.  

Plus, I’ll share tips on where to stay, whether you’re looking for a cozy lodge or a remote campsite. 

Table of Contents hide

Best National Parks Washington State Overview 

Washington State is home to some of the most breathtaking and diverse natural landscapes in the United States.  

This quick overview will give you a glimpse of what makes each of the state’s three national parks unique and worthy of your travel adventures. 

Best National Parks Washington State - Mount Rainier National Park

1. Mount Rainier National Park 

Mount Rainier National Park is dominated by the majestic Mount Rainier, a 14,411-foot active stratovolcano.  

One of its most famous features is the Paradise area, known for its spectacular summer wildflower displays.  

Trails like the Skyline Trail offer panoramic views of the mountain and the surrounding valleys.  

The Sunrise area, which sits at 6,400 feet, is the highest point in the park.

Accessible by car and provides stunning views of Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier, and the surrounding peaks. 

Key Spots: Key spots within the park include Paradise, Sunrise, and Longmire.

Paradise is located on the south side of the mountain, while Sunrise is on the northeast side. 

Best National Parks Washington State - Olympic National Park

2. Olympic National Park 

Olympic National Park is a marvel of ecological diversity, encompassing several distinct ecosystems within its boundaries.  

The Hoh Rainforest, one of the park’s most iconic areas, is a temperate rainforest that receives over 140 inches of rain annually.  

The park’s coastline features dramatic landscapes such as the sea stacks and tide pools at Rialto Beach and the scenic vistas at Ruby Beach.  

Hurricane Ridge offers accessible high mountain terrain with incredible views and hiking opportunities. 

Key Spots: Major areas include the Hoh Rainforest, located in the western part of the park, Hurricane Ridge near Port Angeles, and coastal areas like Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach. 

Best National Parks Washington State - North Cascades National Park

3. North Cascades National Park 

Known as the “American Alps,” North Cascades National Park is characterized by its rugged, remote wilderness and stunning alpine scenery.  

The park contains more than 300 glaciers, the most of any U.S. park outside Alaska.  

Highlights include Cascade Pass, which provides a breathtaking view of jagged peaks and verdant valleys, and Ross Lake, which is perfect for kayaking, canoeing, and camping.  

The park is a haven for those seeking solitude and adventure in a less-visited, wild setting. 

Key Spots: Notable spots include Cascade Pass, located in the southwestern part of the park, and Ross Lake, which stretches north from the Ross Lake National Recreation Area up to the Canadian border. 

Mount Rainier National Park Guide

Mount Rainier National Park Guide

Mount Rainier National Park is a gem in the Pacific Northwest, offering a stunning array of landscapes and natural features.  

The park, located about 60 miles southeast of Seattle, covers over 369 square miles of diverse terrain.  

Its centerpiece is Mount Rainier, a colossal active stratovolcano that rises to an elevation of 14,411 feet, making it the highest peak in the Cascade Range. 

The landscape of Mount Rainier National Park is defined by its dramatic elevation changes.

Ranging from dense old-growth forests in the lower regions to alpine meadows and glaciers at higher altitudes.  

The park is home to 26 named glaciers.

Including the massive Emmons Glacier, which is the largest glacier by area in the contiguous United States. 

Major Features: 

Mount Rainier: The volcano itself is a dominant feature, visible from many miles away on clear days.

Its snow-covered peak and surrounding glaciers are iconic symbols of the Pacific Northwest. 

Paradise: Situated on the south slope of Mount Rainier at 5,400 feet.

Paradise is renowned for its stunning wildflower meadows that bloom in late July and August.

Trails like the Skyline Trail provide access to breathtaking views and the opportunity to see diverse flora and fauna. 

Sunrise: At 6,400 feet, Sunrise is the highest point in the park that can be reached by vehicle.

This area offers incredible views of Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier, and the surrounding valleys.

It’s a fantastic starting point for several high-altitude hikes. 

Longmire: Located in the southwest corner of the park, Longmire is home to the park’s visitor center and the historic National Park Inn.

It’s an excellent base for exploring the lower-elevation trails and learning about the park’s history. 

Mount Rainier’s status as an active volcano adds an element of awe and intrigue to the park.  

The mountain last erupted in the late 19th century, and although it is currently dormant.

It remains a closely monitored volcanic peak due to the potential for future activity.  

The presence of glaciers, volcanic rock formations, and frequent geological monitoring stations serves as a constant reminder of the mountain’s powerful natural forces. 

The Best Time to Visit Mount Rainier National Park 

Understanding the best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park depends on what activities you want to do and what natural spectacles you want to witness.  

Each season offers distinct experiences, so let’s dive into what you can expect throughout the year. 

Spring (March to May)

Spring is a transitional season in Mount Rainier National Park.  

Snow begins to melt in the lower elevations, filling rivers and waterfalls to their fullest.  

Many higher trails are still snow-covered, making some areas less accessible.  

Early wildflowers start to bloom in the lower valleys, providing a preview of the vibrant displays to come in summer.  

Notable spots for waterfall viewing include Christine Falls and Narada Falls, which are particularly spectacular during this time due to the high water flow. 

Summer (June to August) 

Summer is the most popular time to visit Mount Rainier.  

Trails are generally snow-free by mid-July, and the weather is warm and pleasant.  

Higher elevations can still be cool, making it a perfect time for hiking.  

The meadows at Paradise and Sunrise are in full bloom from late July to early August.

It showcases a stunning array of wildflowers such as lupines, paintbrushes, and avalanche lilies.  

This season offers the best conditions for day hikes like the Skyline Trail and the Wonderland Trail.

Which provide breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and its glaciers.  

To experience the wildflower bloom at its peak and enjoy optimal hiking conditions, plan your visit from mid-July to late August. 

Arriving early in the day helps avoid the crowds. 

Fall (September to November) 

Fall brings cooler temperatures and fewer crowds to Mount Rainier.  

By October, higher elevations begin to see snowfall, and many facilities start to close for the season.  

Fall foliage is particularly beautiful in the lower valleys, where maple and alder trees turn vibrant shades of yellow and orange.  

Wildlife, including elk and black bears, is more active as they prepare for winter.  

September is the ideal month to visit for a combination of fewer crowds and stunning fall colors. 

Trails like the Grove of the Patriarchs and Naches Peak Loop offer excellent autumn scenery. 

Winter (December to February) 

Winter transforms Mount Rainier National Park into a snowy wonderland.  

Heavy snowfall is common, especially at higher elevations, and many roads and facilities close. This is the best time for snow activities.  

Paradise is the hub for winter sports, offering snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding.

The lower visitor center at Longmire remains open year-round and provides access to winter trails.  

For the best snow activities, plan your visit between December and February.  

Always check the park’s website for current road and weather conditions, as heavy snow can lead to temporary closures. 

Recommendations for the Best Times to Visit 

Hiking: Late June to early September is ideal for hiking when trails are mostly free of snow and the weather is mild.

The Wonderland Trail and Skyline Trail offer some of the best experiences during this period. 

Wildflower Viewing: Mid-July to early August is the prime time for wildflower blooms, especially in the Paradise and Sunrise areas. 

Snow Activities: December to February is perfect for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other winter sports, with Paradise being the primary location for winter recreation. 

How Many Days to Spend at Mount Rainier National Park 

Determining how many days to spend at Mount Rainier National Park depends on your interests and the type of experience you want.  

Whether you have a single day or an extended period, this guide will help you make the most of your visit.  

Here are suggested itineraries for 1-day, 2-day, and multi-day visits, along with key sights and activities to prioritize based on the length of your stay. 

Paradise area

Paradise area.

1-Day Visit 

If you have just one day to explore Mount Rainier National Park, focus on the highlights to get a taste of its beauty and diversity.  

Start your day early at the Paradise area.  

Here, you can visit the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center to learn about the park’s geology and history.  

Then, take a short hike on the Skyline Trail for stunning views of Mount Rainier and its glaciers.  

Afterward, drive to the Nisqually Vista Loop for an easier trail with breathtaking vistas.

Finish your day with a visit to Christine Falls and Narada Falls on your way out of the park. 

Christine Falls

Christine Falls

2-Day Visit 

With two days in the park, you can explore more of its varied landscapes. 

On the first day, follow the 1-day itinerary, but allow more time to hike and explore the Paradise area.  

Spend the night at the historic Paradise Inn or a nearby campground.  

On the second day, head to the Sunrise area, the highest point in the park accessible by car.  

Enjoy panoramic views from the Sunrise Point Overlook and take a hike on the Sourdough Ridge Trail for an elevated perspective of the park.  

If time permits, visit the Grove of the Patriarchs, a scenic old-growth forest walk along the Ohanapecosh River. 

Multi-Day Visit 

A multi-day visit allows you to fully immerse yourself in the diverse environments of Mount Rainier National Park.  

Over three or more days, you can follow the 1-day and 2-day itineraries and add additional activities.  

Spend a day hiking the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile loop around Mount Rainier that offers some of the park’s most remote and stunning scenery.  

Explore the less-visited Carbon River area, where you can hike through lush rainforests and see the Carbon Glacier.

The largest glacier by volume in the contiguous United States.  

Consider backcountry camping for a more immersive experience.

That allows you to witness the park’s beauty at sunrise and sunset without the crowds. 

Key Sights and Activities Based on Length of Stay 

1-Day Visit: Focus on Paradise area hikes, such as the Skyline Trail, and visit waterfalls like Christine Falls and Narada Falls. 

2-Day Visit: Add the Sunrise area, including the Sourdough Ridge Trail, Sunrise Point Overlook, and the Grove of the Patriarchs. 

Multi-Day Visit: Include sections of the Wonderland Trail, and the Carbon River area, and consider backcountry camping for a more in-depth experience. 

Mount Rainier National Park road

Getting to Mount Rainier National Park 

Reaching Mount Rainier National Park is an adventure in itself, offering scenic drives through the Pacific Northwest’s lush forests and rolling landscapes.  

Whether you’re starting your journey from a nearby city or traveling from farther away, there are several routes and transportation options to consider.  

Here’s a detailed guide to help you navigate your way to this majestic national park.

Overview of Access Routes and Transportation Options 

Mount Rainier National Park is accessible from multiple directions, with four main entrances:

Nisqually (southwest), Carbon River (northwest), White River/Sunrise (northeast), and Stevens Canyon (southeast).  

The Nisqually entrance is the most popular and provides direct access to the Paradise area, which is a hub for many of the park’s activities and sights.  

Most visitors travel by car, as public transportation options to the park are limited.  

However, for those who prefer not to drive, there are shuttle services and tours available from major cities like Seattle and Portland. 

Getting to Mount Rainier National Park From Seattle 

Seattle is the closest major city to Mount Rainier National Park, making it a convenient starting point for your adventure.  

Here’s how to get there: 

By Car: The drive from Seattle to the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park is approximately 90 miles and takes about 2 hours.

Take Interstate 5 (I-5) south to State Route 7 (SR 7) in Tacoma.  

Follow SR 7 to Elbe, then take SR 706 directly to the park entrance.

Along the way, you’ll pass through charming small towns and scenic countryside, perfect for a quick pit stop. 

Getting to Mount Rainier National Park From Portland 

Portland, Oregon, is another common starting point for visitors heading to Mount Rainier.  

Here’s how to make the trip: 

By Car: The drive from Portland to the Nisqually entrance is approximately 140 miles and takes about 2.5 to 3 hours.  

Head north on Interstate 5 (I-5) into Washington.

Take exit 68 for US-12 East towards Morton/Yakima.

Follow US-12 East to Morton, then take SR 7 north to Elbe, and finally SR 706 to the park entrance. 

Getting to Mount Rainier National Park From Out of Town 

For those traveling from other regions or states, here are some tips to help you reach Mount Rainier National Park: 

By Air: The closest major airport is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), located about 80 miles from the park.  

Portland International Airport (PDX) is another option, approximately 140 miles away.

From either airport, you can rent a car and follow the driving directions provided above. 

By Train or Bus: Amtrak services are available to both Seattle and Tacoma.

From there, you can rent a car or use shuttle services that operate to the park. 

Greyhound and other bus services also connect to nearby cities, but direct public transport to the park itself is limited. 

By Tour or Shuttle: Several tour companies offer day trips and multi-day excursions to Mount Rainier from Seattle and Portland.

These tours can be a hassle-free way to visit the park if you prefer not to drive. 

What to Do and See at Mount Rainier National Park 

Mount Rainier National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty and outdoor adventures, offering a diverse range of activities and sights that cater to all types of explorers.  

Whether you’re captivated by serene alpine meadows, enchanted by old-growth forests, or eager to conquer challenging trails, there’s something here for everyone.  

Let’s delve into the key areas of the park and explore the best things to do and see, ensuring you make the most of your visit to this magnificent landscape. 

Highlights of Key Areas Within the Park 

Mount Rainier National Park is divided into several distinct areas, each with its own unique attractions and experiences.  

The two most popular regions are Paradise and Sunrise, both offering a wealth of activities that highlight the park’s diverse ecosystems and stunning vistas. 

Things to Do at Paradise 

Paradise is one of the most visited and visually stunning areas of Mount Rainier National Park.

Located on the south side of the mountain, Paradise is renowned for its breathtaking wildflower meadows, iconic views, and a variety of hiking trails suitable for all levels. 

Paradise Jackson Visitor Center: Start your adventure at the visitor center, where you can gather information about trails, current conditions, and ranger-led programs.

The exhibits provide an excellent introduction to the park’s geology, ecology, and history. 

Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail: This is the crown jewel of Paradise hikes. The 5.5-mile loop trail offers spectacular views of Mount Rainier, cascading waterfalls, and the Tatoosh Range.

During the summer, the trail is adorned with vibrant wildflowers like lupines and Indian paintbrush. 

Myrtle Falls: A short, family-friendly hike from the visitor center leads to Myrtle Falls, where Edith Creek tumbles over a picturesque drop with Mount Rainier as a dramatic backdrop.

It’s a perfect spot for photos. 

Winter Activities: In the winter, Paradise transforms into a snowy playground.

Activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding.

The visitor center provides rentals and offers ranger-guided snowshoe walks. 

Things to Do at Sunrise 

Sunrise, located on the northeastern side of Mount Rainier, is the highest point in the park accessible by car, standing at an elevation of 6,400 feet.

It offers some of the best panoramic views of Mount Rainier and its surrounding glaciers. 

Sunrise Visitor Center

Sunrise Visitor Center

Sunrise Visitor Center: Begin your visit at the Sunrise Visitor Center to learn about the area’s natural history and pick up maps and guides.

The center also has a gift shop and snack bar. 

Sourdough Ridge Trail: This moderate hike offers incredible views of Mount Rainier, Emmons Glacier, and the surrounding valleys.

The trail runs along a ridge, providing an unobstructed view of the landscape below. 

Frozen Lake and Mount Fremont Lookout: For those seeking a more challenging hike, the 5.6-mile round trip to Mount Fremont Lookout passes Frozen Lake and ends at a historic fire lookout with sweeping views.

This trail is ideal for spotting wildlife such as mountain goats and marmots. 

Subalpine Meadows: Like Paradise, Sunrise is famous for its wildflower meadows, which burst into bloom in mid-summer.

The colorful display of lupines, asters, and daisies against the backdrop of Mount Rainier is a sight to behold. 

Sunrise Campground: For an extended stay, consider camping at Sunrise Campground.

With basic facilities and easy access to trailheads, it’s a great base for exploring the area. 

Both Paradise and Sunrise showcase the breathtaking beauty and diverse ecosystems of Mount Rainier National Park.  

By exploring these areas, you’ll experience the full range of what the park has to offer, from lush meadows and tranquil lakes to rugged trails and awe-inspiring mountain vistas. 

Where to Stay at Mount Rainier National Park 

Choosing the right place to stay is crucial for maximizing your experience at Mount Rainier National Park.  

Whether you prefer the rustic charm of campgrounds, the comfort of historic lodges, or the convenience of nearby towns, there are plenty of options to suit your needs.  

Here’s an overview of the accommodation options available both inside the park and in the surrounding areas, along with some recommendations to help you plan your stay. 

Overview of Accommodation Options Inside and Near the Park 

Mount Rainier National Park offers a variety of accommodation types, from campgrounds nestled in serene forests to lodges with breathtaking mountain views.  

Staying inside the park provides easy access to trails and scenic spots, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in the natural beauty.  

Alternatively, the nearby towns offer additional amenities and lodging options for those who prefer a bit more comfort or need a base for exploring other parts of the region. 

Inside the Park 

Staying inside Mount Rainier National Park means you’re never far from its stunning landscapes and outdoor activities.

Here are some of the top options: 

Paradise Inn: Located in the Paradise area, this historic lodge offers a unique and charming stay with comfortable rooms and a dining room serving hearty meals.

It’s perfect for those who want to wake up with views of Mount Rainier and have quick access to popular trails. 

National Park Inn

National Park Inn: Situated in Longmire, this cozy inn provides a more laid-back atmosphere with fewer crowds.

It has a small number of rooms, a restaurant, and a general store. Longmire is a great starting point for exploring the southwest part of the park. 

Cougar Rock Campground: Near Paradise, this campground offers 173 sites suitable for tents and RVs.

It has basic amenities like flush toilets, potable water, and fire grates. 

Ohanapecosh Campground: Located in the southeastern part of the park, this campground is set in an old-growth forest along the Ohanapecosh River.

It has 188 sites and is close to the Grove of the Patriarchs and Silver Falls. 

White River Campground: Near the Sunrise area, this campground offers 112 sites and stunning views of Mount Rainier.

It’s an excellent base for those planning to hike in the Sunrise area. 

Nearby Towns 

For those who prefer more modern conveniences or plan to explore beyond the park, staying in a nearby town is a great option. 

Here are some recommendations: 

Ashford: Just outside the Nisqually entrance, Ashford offers a range of accommodations from cozy cabins to bed and breakfasts.

It’s a convenient location for accessing the Paradise area. 

Copper Creek Inn: Known for its rustic charm and on-site restaurant, this inn provides a comfortable stay with options for both rooms and cabins. 

Alexander’s Lodge: This historic lodge features quaint rooms and a peaceful setting near the park entrance. 

Enumclaw: A bit farther from the park, Enumclaw offers more extensive amenities, including hotels, motels, and restaurants.

It’s a good base for those entering through the White River entrance. 

GuestHouse Enumclaw: A budget-friendly option with comfortable rooms and modern amenities, located close to shops and dining. 

Packwood: Near the Stevens Canyon entrance, Packwood offers a variety of lodgings and easy access to the southeastern parts of the park. 

Cowlitz River Lodge: Provides spacious rooms and a complimentary breakfast, ideal for families and groups. 

Packwood Lodge: Offers both rooms and cabins, with easy access to both Mount Rainier and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. 


For a Historical Experience: Stay at Paradise Inn or National Park Inn inside the park for a classic, immersive experience with easy access to popular trails and stunning views. 

For Campers: Choose Cougar Rock or Ohanapecosh Campgrounds for a scenic, nature-filled camping experience within the park. 

And For Comfort and Convenience: Consider lodging in Ashford for proximity to the park, or Enumclaw and Packwood for more amenities and dining options. 

Olympic National Park Guide

Olympic National Park Guide

Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the United States.  

Encompassing nearly a million acres, the park features three distinct ecosystems: majestic mountains, rugged coastline, and temperate rainforest.  

This wide variety of landscapes offers visitors a multitude of adventures and experiences, making it a prime destination for solo travelers seeking solitude and natural beauty.

A Quick Geography Overview of Olympic National Park 

Olympic National Park is situated in the northwest corner of Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula.

The park’s geography is a mosaic of different ecosystems, each offering unique attractions and outdoor activities. 

The heart of the park is dominated by the Olympic Mountains, with Mount Olympus being the highest peak at 7,980 feet.

This rugged range features glaciated peaks, alpine meadows, and dramatic ridges.  

The mountains are a haven for hikers and climbers, offering challenging trails and stunning vistas.  

One of the most accessible mountain areas in the park is Hurricane Ridge, which offers panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains and is a popular spot for hiking, wildlife viewing, and winter sports. 

The park also protects over 70 miles of wild Pacific coastline, which includes pristine beaches, sea stacks, tide pools, and dramatic headlands. 

Notable spots include Rialto Beach, known for its striking sea stacks and driftwood, and Shi Shi Beach, famous for its picturesque Point of Arches.  

Along the park’s southwestern coast, Kalaloch and Ruby Beach are renowned for their beautiful sandy beaches and tide pools teeming with marine life. 

Kalaloch Lodge provides convenient access and accommodations for visitors. 

Perhaps the most famous of the park’s temperate rainforests is the Hoh Rainforest, which receives over 140 inches of rainfall annually, creating a lush, green paradise.  

Visitors can explore trails like the Hall of Mosses, which showcases the dense vegetation and moss-draped trees. 

Another temperate rainforest, the Quinault Rainforest, offers a quieter, less-crowded experience with old-growth forests, sparkling lakes, and scenic drives.  

The Quinault Rainforest Loop Drive is a must-do, providing access to several trailheads and stunning viewpoints.

The Best Time to Visit Olympic National Park 

Olympic National Park is a year-round destination, but each season offers its own unique highlights and experiences.  

Understanding what each season brings can help you plan the perfect visit, whether you’re interested in hiking, wildlife viewing, or enjoying the park’s stunning beaches. 

Spring (March to May) 

Spring is a time of renewal in Olympic National Park.

The snow begins to melt, feeding the rivers and waterfalls, and the wildflowers start to bloom across the meadows and forest floors.  

This season is ideal for experiencing the park’s rainforests, such as the Hoh and Quinault, where the lush greenery is particularly vibrant.

Trails at lower elevations become accessible as the snow recedes, although higher-elevation areas like Hurricane Ridge may still have snow. 

Summer (June to September) 

Summer is the most popular time to visit the park, thanks to the warm, sunny weather and fully accessible trails.

The temperature ranges from the 50s to the 70s Fahrenheit, making it perfect for hiking, camping, and beach activities.  

The alpine meadows burst into colorful displays of wildflowers, and the entire park, including the high-elevation areas, is open for exploration.  

Key spots like Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Falls, and the beaches along the coast are particularly enjoyable during this time.

Fall (October to November) 

Fall brings a quieter, more contemplative atmosphere to the park.

The summer crowds diminish, and the foliage transforms into brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow.  

This is an excellent time for hiking and photography, with cooler temperatures and crisp, clear air.  

The rainforests are especially enchanting as the fall rains enhance their lushness.

Coastal areas and lower-elevation trails remain accessible, though some higher-elevation roads and facilities may begin to close as winter approaches. 

Winter (December to February) 

Winter in Olympic National Park is characterized by a serene, snow-covered landscape, particularly in the higher elevations.  

Hurricane Ridge becomes a hub for winter sports, offering opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. 

The rainforests take on a mystical quality with frequent rain and mist, creating a peaceful, almost otherworldly experience. 

Coastal areas, while cooler, remain accessible and provide dramatic, stormy seascapes that are perfect for photography and solitude. 

Recommendations for the Best Times to Visit 

Hiking: For the best hiking conditions, visit during the summer months of June to September.

This period offers the most reliable weather, fully accessible trails, and spectacular wildflower displays.

Early fall (September) is also great for hiking, with fewer crowds and beautiful foliage. 

Wildlife Viewing: Spring and fall are the best times for wildlife viewing.

In spring, animals are more active as they emerge from winter, and you can spot elk, deer, and a variety of birds.

Fall is prime for observing salmon runs in the park’s rivers and streams, as well as seeing Roosevelt elk during the rutting season. 

Beach Activities: The summer months are ideal for beach activities along the park’s rugged coastline.

Warm weather and longer days make it perfect for exploring tide pools, hiking coastal trails, and enjoying scenic beaches like Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach.

However, winter can also be a unique time to visit the coast for those interested in experiencing the dramatic beauty of winter storms. 

How Many Days to Spend in Olympic National Park 

Planning the perfect trip to Olympic National Park depends on how much time you have.

Whether you can spare just a day or plan to immerse yourself in the park for a week, there’s an itinerary that will help you make the most of your visit.  

Here’s a guide to suggested itineraries and key sights to prioritize based on the length of your stay. 

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge

1-Day Visit 

If you only have one day, focus on the highlights that showcase the park’s diversity.

Start your day at Hurricane Ridge, enjoying the panoramic mountain views and taking a short hike, such as the Hurricane Hill Trail.  

Then head to the Hoh Rainforest, approximately a two-hour drive from Hurricane Ridge, and walk the Hall of Mosses Trail to experience the lush, green environment.  

End your day with a visit to Rialto Beach on the park’s western coast, exploring the tide pools and taking a walk to the iconic Hole-in-the-Wall rock formation. 

2-Day Visit 

With two days, you can explore a bit more deeply.  

On the first day, begin at Hurricane Ridge, taking more time to explore the trails.  

Visit Lake Crescent in the afternoon, a glacially carved lake with stunning blue waters, and hike to Marymere Falls.

Head towards the coast and stay overnight in the Forks area to position yourself for the next day.  

On the second day, spend the morning in the Hoh Rainforest, taking longer hikes like the Spruce Nature Trail.  

In the afternoon, explore the beaches, visiting Rialto Beach and nearby First Beach or Second Beach.

Drive back towards Port Angeles in the evening, or continue to your next destination. 

Multi-Day Visit (3+ Days) 

For a more comprehensive experience, a multi-day visit allows you to fully immerse in the park’s varied landscapes.  

On the first day, start with Hurricane Ridge, but take some of the longer trails like the Klahhane Ridge Trail.

Spend time exploring Lake Crescent in depth, including a possible kayak excursion, and stay overnight in the Forks area.  

Dedicate the second morning to the Hoh Rainforest, hiking deeper into the forest on the Hoh River Trail.

Visit the coastal beaches in the afternoon, explore Rialto Beach and the nearby La Push beaches, and continue south to Kalaloch for the night.  

On the third day, explore Kalaloch and Ruby Beach, enjoying the serene coastal environment and tide pools.  

Head to the Quinault Rainforest in the afternoon, taking a scenic drive on the Quinault Rainforest Loop and hiking the short trails, staying in the Quinault area, possibly at the historic Lake Quinault Lodge.  

Additional days can be spent in the rainforests or coastal areas, exploring less-visited areas like the Bogachiel Rainforest or taking longer hikes in the Sol Duc Valley, including a visit to the Sol Duc Hot Springs.

Key Sights and Activities to Prioritize 

Hurricane Ridge: Panoramic mountain views and accessible alpine hikes.  

Lake Crescent: Crystal-clear waters, hiking to Marymere Falls, kayaking. 

Hoh Rainforest: Lush, moss-draped forests, Hall of Mosses, and Spruce Nature Trail.  

Rialto Beach: Stunning sea stacks, tide pools, and the Hole-in-the-Wall.  

Kalaloch and Ruby Beach: Dramatic coastal scenery and tide pools.  

Quinault Rainforest: Old-growth forests, scenic drives, and tranquil hiking trails. 

Hoh Rainforest wildlife

Getting to Olympic National Park 

Reaching Olympic National Park is an adventure in itself, with several routes and transportation options that cater to different starting points.

Whether you’re coming from a major city like Seattle or traveling from out of state, getting to this diverse park is straightforward with a bit of planning.  

Here’s a detailed look at how to access Olympic National Park from various locations. 

Overview of Access Routes and Transportation Options 

Olympic National Park is accessible by car, ferry, and public transportation. The park is located on the Olympic Peninsula, which is northwest of Seattle.  

Major entry points include Port Angeles, which is a key hub for visitors, and several smaller towns around the peninsula that provide access to different sections of the park.  

Public transportation options include buses and ferries, though having a car offers the most flexibility for exploring the park. 

Getting to Olympic National Park From Seattle 

Traveling from Seattle to Olympic National Park involves a combination of driving and, in some cases, taking a ferry.

The most direct route is to drive to the park, but using the ferry system can offer a scenic and enjoyable alternative. 

By Car: From Seattle, take Interstate 5 (I-5) south to Tacoma. From Tacoma, take Highway 16 west, which turns into Highway 3 north.  

Follow Highway 3 to Highway 104, crossing the Hood Canal Bridge.  

Continue on Highway 104 to US-101 north, which will take you to various park entrances depending on which section of the park you’re visiting first.  

The drive typically takes about 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on traffic and your exact destination within the park. 

By Ferry and Car: An alternative route involves taking the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island or Edmonds to Kingston.  

After the ferry ride, follow signs to Highway 104 and continue as described above.  

This route offers stunning views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.  

Plan for additional time for the ferry crossing and potential wait times. 

Getting to Olympic National Park From Out of Town 

For those traveling from other regions or states, flying into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is the most convenient option.  

From the airport, you can rent a car and follow the driving directions outlined above.

Here are some tips for travelers coming from further afield: 

By Air: Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The airport is well-served by major airlines and has numerous car rental agencies.

From the airport, it’s about a 2.5 to 3-hour drive to Olympic National Park. 

By Bus: Greyhound and other bus services run routes to Port Angeles from major cities like Seattle.

Once in Port Angeles, you can use local buses or shuttles to get around, but having a car is highly recommended for full access to the park’s attractions. 

By Train: Amtrak offers train services to Seattle from various locations across the country.

From Seattle, you can rent a car or take the bus or ferry to reach the park. 

What to Do and See in Olympic National Park 

Olympic National Park is a treasure trove of diverse landscapes and ecosystems, offering a myriad of activities and sights for visitors.  

From rugged coastlines to dense rainforests and alpine meadows, each area within the park presents unique opportunities for exploration and adventure. 

Highlights of Key Areas Within the Park 

Olympic National Park is divided into several distinct regions, each with its own natural beauty and attractions.  

Whether you’re drawn to the snow-capped peaks, serene lakes, or lush rainforests, there’s something for every type of adventurer.  

Here’s a detailed guide to what you can see and do in the park’s key areas. 

Things to Do at Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent 

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge in winter

Hurricane Ridge: Hurricane Ridge is one of the most accessible mountain areas in the park, offering stunning views and a variety of trails for all skill levels. 

Hiking Trails: The Hurricane Hill Trail is a popular, moderately difficult hike that rewards you with panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains and, on clear days, the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

For an easier option, try the Cirque Rim Trail. 

Wildlife Viewing: Keep an eye out for black-tailed deer, Olympic marmots, and occasionally, black bears. 

Winter Activities: In the winter months, Hurricane Ridge becomes a hub for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even downhill skiing and snowboarding. 

Lake Crescent: This pristine glacial lake is known for its clear, deep blue waters and is a great spot for various water and land-based activities. 

Kayaking and Canoeing: Rent a kayak or canoe to explore the lake’s calm waters. 

Hiking: The Marymere Falls Trail is a short, family-friendly hike that leads to a picturesque waterfall.

For a more challenging hike, the Mount Storm King Trail offers breathtaking views over the lake and surrounding mountains. 

Picnicking and Swimming: Several areas around the lake, including Fairholme Beach, are perfect for a relaxing picnic and a swim in the cool, refreshing water. 

Things to Do on the Northern Pacific Coast 

The northern coast of Olympic National Park is a dramatic landscape of rugged cliffs, sea stacks, and tide pools, providing endless opportunities for exploration. 

Rialto Beach: Known for its striking sea stacks and driftwood-covered shore, Rialto Beach is a must-visit.

The 1.5-mile hike to the Hole-in-the-Wall rock formation is particularly popular. 

Tide Pooling: Visit during low tide to explore the tide pools teeming with sea stars, anemones, and other marine life. 

Camping: For an immersive experience, consider camping at the Mora Campground, which is close to Rialto Beach and the Quillayute River. 

Things to Do on the Southern Pacific Coast 

The southern coast offers a more tranquil experience, with long stretches of sandy beaches and less crowded spots for relaxation and exploration. 

Kalaloch Beach: This area features wide sandy beaches, perfect for long walks and beachcombing.

The Tree of Life, a large Sitka spruce precariously perched on an eroded bluff, is a fascinating natural feature to visit. 

Ruby Beach: Known for its reddish sand and dramatic sea stacks, Ruby Beach is ideal for photography and tide pooling.

The beach is easily accessible with a short trail leading down from the parking area. 

Beach Camping: Kalaloch Campground offers campsites with stunning ocean views, providing a great base for exploring the southern coast. 

Hoh Rainforest

The Hoh Rainforest 

The Hoh Rainforest is one of the park’s most enchanting areas, with its lush, green canopy and moss-draped trees creating a magical atmosphere. 

Hiking: The Hall of Mosses Trail is a short, easy hike that showcases the rainforest’s dense vegetation and impressive moss-covered trees.

For a longer trek, the Hoh River Trail offers more in-depth exploration and can be followed for several miles along the river. 

Wildlife Viewing: The rainforest is home to a variety of wildlife, including Roosevelt elk, black bears, and numerous bird species.

Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times for wildlife spotting. 

Visitor Center: The Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center provides information about the area’s ecology and offers ranger-led programs during the summer months. 

Where to Stay in Olympic National Park 

Olympic National Park offers a variety of accommodation options, from rustic campgrounds nestled in the forest to charming lodges with stunning views.  

Whether you prefer camping under the stars or the comfort of a cozy cabin, you’ll find a range of choices to suit your needs. 

Overview of Accommodation Options Inside and Near the Park 

Staying within Olympic National Park allows you to fully immerse yourself in its natural beauty and maximize your time exploring.  

For those who prefer a bit more comfort, nearby towns offer additional lodging options with easy access to the park’s many attractions.  

Inside the Park 

Kalaloch Campground: Located along the southern coast, this campground offers sites with ocean views and easy access to Kalaloch Beach. It’s a great spot for beachcombing and enjoying sunsets over the Pacific. 

Hoh Campground: Situated in the heart of the Hoh Rainforest, this campground provides a serene setting among towering trees and lush greenery.

It’s perfect for those wanting to explore the rainforest trails. 

Mora Campground: Near Rialto Beach, Mora Campground is ideal for those looking to explore the northern coastline and its striking sea stacks and tide pools. 

Heart O’ the Hills Campground: Close to Hurricane Ridge, this campground offers a convenient base for exploring the mountain trails and enjoying panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains. 


Lake Crescent Lodge

Lake Crescent Lodge: Overlooking the pristine waters of Lake Crescent, this historic lodge offers comfortable rooms, cozy cabins, and a restaurant with stunning lake views.

It’s an excellent choice for those wanting to enjoy kayaking, hiking, and the serene beauty of the lake. 

Kalaloch Lodge: Situated on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, Kalaloch Lodge provides cozy cabins and lodge rooms with easy access to the beach.

It’s a perfect retreat for those looking to unwind and enjoy the coastal scenery. 

Near the Park 

Port Angeles: As the gateway to the park, Port Angeles offers a range of accommodation options, including hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts.

Staying here provides easy access to the northern sections of the park, including Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent. 

Forks: This small town near the park’s western edge is a convenient base for exploring the Hoh Rainforest and the park’s coastal areas.

Forks offers various motels and vacation rentals. 

Sequim: Located on the northeastern side of the park, Sequim is known for its sunny weather and proximity to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s a great option for those visiting the park’s northern and eastern sections, with several hotels and charming bed-and-breakfasts available. 

Quinault: Near the southern edge of the park, Quinault offers access to the Quinault Rainforest and Lake Quinault.

The Lake Quinault Lodge provides a historic and comfortable lodging option with beautiful views of the lake. 


For a beach experience, Kalaloch Campground is unbeatable. 

For rainforest lovers, Hoh Campground is the ideal choice. 

Lake Crescent Lodge for lakeside relaxation and water activities. 

Kalaloch Lodge for cozy accommodations with ocean views. 

Port Angeles for its convenient location and variety of lodging options. 

Forks for easy access to the Hoh Rainforest and coastal adventures. 

North Cascades National Park Guide

North Cascades National Park Guide

North Cascades National Park, often referred to as the “American Alps,” is a haven for those who crave rugged wilderness and stunning natural beauty.  

Located in the northern part of Washington State, this park is characterized by its dramatic mountain peaks, expansive glaciers, and pristine alpine lakes. 

The park spans over 500,000 acres and is part of the larger North Cascades National Park Complex, which includes Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas.  

This vast expanse of wilderness is split by the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20), which provides the main access to the park’s interior. 

Major Features: 

Rugged Mountains: The North Cascades are renowned for their jagged peaks and steep ridges, many of which are snow-capped year-round.  

The most prominent of these peaks include Mount Shuksan, known for its iconic appearance and often photographed from Picture Lake, and Mount Baker.

While technically outside the park boundaries, it dominates the skyline with its impressive 10,781-foot summit. 

Glaciers: The park is home to over 300 glaciers, more than any other US national park outside Alaska.

Notable glaciers include Boston Glacier, which is the largest in the North Cascades, and the dramatic Sahale Glacier.  

These glaciers feed into numerous streams and rivers, creating a network of waterways that sustain the park’s rich ecosystems. 

Alpine Lakes: Scattered throughout the park are countless alpine lakes, each offering crystal-clear waters and breathtaking surroundings.

Some of the most notable include: 

Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake: Known for its striking turquoise color, caused by glacial silt suspended in the water.

It’s accessible via the North Cascades Highway and offers opportunities for boating and kayaking. 

Ross Lake: Stretching over 20 miles, Ross Lake is a popular spot for fishing, canoeing, and camping. It’s accessible by hiking trails and boats. 

Lake Chelan: Although primarily part of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, it connects to the park and provides a scenic entry point for visitors arriving by boat. 

The park’s varied terrain supports a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Wildlife enthusiasts can spot black bears, mountain goats, and a variety of bird species, including the elusive spotted owl and the majestic golden eagle. 

The Best Time to Visit North Cascades National Park 

The best time to visit North Cascades National Park depends on what you want to experience.  

Each season brings its own unique highlights and activities, making the park a year-round destination for adventurers and nature lovers. 

Spring (April to June) 

Spring in the North Cascades is a time of awakening.  

As the snow begins to melt, waterfalls swell and the park’s rivers and streams rush with renewed vigor.

The lower elevations start to see blooming wildflowers and budding trees. 

Summer (July to September) 

Summer is the most popular time to visit North Cascades National Park.

The weather is generally warm and dry, making it ideal for outdoor activities.

Higher elevation trails become accessible as the snow melts, revealing lush meadows and vibrant wildflowers. 

Fall (October to November) 

Fall in the North Cascades is a quieter time, offering stunning autumn colors as the foliage turns vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow.

The air becomes crisp, and the park takes on a serene, tranquil atmosphere. 

Winter (December to March) 

Winter transforms the North Cascades into a snowy wonderland.

While many of the park’s higher-elevation roads and trails are inaccessible due to snow, the lower areas and the North Cascades Highway up to Ross Dam offer stunning winter scenery. 

Recommendations for the Best Times to Visit 

Hiking: The best time for hiking is from mid-July to late September when the trails are snow-free and the weather is favorable.

Early July can also be beautiful as wildflowers begin to bloom. 

Climbing: Late summer (July to September) is ideal for climbing, offering the best weather and access to high routes. 

Wildlife Viewing: Spring and fall are excellent for wildlife viewing.

In spring, animals are more active after winter, and in fall, the salmon runs attract predators like eagles and bears. 

Each season in North Cascades National Park offers a unique experience, so choose your visit based on the activities you want to enjoy and the natural phenomena you wish to witness.

How Many Days to Spend in North Cascades National Park 

Whether you have just one day or a full week, North Cascades National Park offers a wealth of activities and sights.  

Here’s a guide to help you make the most of your visit based on the time you have available. 

Stop at the Washington Pass Overlook

Stop at the Washington Pass Overlook

1-Day Visit 

For a one-day visit, focus on the highlights to make the most of your time.  

Start with an early morning drive along the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20).  

Stop at the Washington Pass Overlook for stunning views of Liberty Bell Mountain.

Continue to Diablo Lake Overlook for breathtaking views of the turquoise waters.  

Visit the North Cascades Visitor Center near Newhalem for a quick educational stop.

If time allows, check out Gorge Creek Falls before heading back. 

Key sights: Washington Pass Overlook, Diablo Lake Overlook, North Cascades Visitor Center, Gorge Creek Falls. 

2-Day Visit 

With two days, you can delve deeper into the park.  

On Day 1, follow the one-day itinerary, but add a hike on the Thunder Knob Trail in the afternoon.  

Spend the night at Newhalem Campground.  

On Day 2, hike the Cascade Pass Trail for spectacular views, then visit Ross Lake for a short paddle or a leisurely stroll. 

Key sights: Thunder Knob Trail, Cascade Pass Trail, Ross Lake. 

Multi-Day Visit (3+ Days) 

A multi-day visit lets you explore more remote areas and immerse yourself in the park’s backcountry.  

Follow the two-day itinerary on Days 1 and 2.  

On Day 3, tackle the Sahale Arm Trail via the Cascade Pass Trail for panoramic views of glaciers and peaks.  

Explore the Maple Pass Loop on Day 4 for stunning vistas and alpine scenery.

If you’re up for it, embark on a backcountry camping trip, such as the Copper Ridge Loop, for a rugged and rewarding experience. 

Key sights: Sahale Arm Trail, Maple Pass Loop, Copper Ridge Loop (for backcountry enthusiasts). 

Getting to North Cascades National Park 

Reaching North Cascades National Park is an adventure in itself, offering stunning scenery and varied access routes.  

Whether you’re coming from nearby cities or further afield, here’s how to navigate your way to this rugged wilderness. 

Overview of Access Routes and Transportation Options 

North Cascades National Park is primarily accessed via the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20), a scenic route that cuts through the park from east to west.  

This highway is the main artery for visitors, connecting them to key points of interest and trailheads.

Public transportation options are limited, so driving is the most practical way to reach the park. 

Getting to North Cascades National Park From Seattle 

From Seattle, the most direct route to North Cascades National Park is via Interstate 5 (I-5) and Highway 20.  

The drive is pretty straightforward and you should easily be able to reach within 3 hours. 

Getting to North Cascades National Park From Out of Town 

For those traveling from other regions or states, reaching North Cascades National Park involves a bit more planning.

Here are some tips to help you navigate your journey: 

Fly to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA): Seattle is the nearest major city with a well-connected airport.

From the airport, you can rent a car to drive to the park. 

Alternate Airports: Consider flying into Bellingham International Airport (BLI) if you’re looking for a smaller, more manageable airport.

Bellingham is about 20 miles north of Burlington, providing a slightly shorter drive to the park. 

Driving from Portland: If you’re driving from Portland, Oregon, take I-5 North to Burlington and then follow the directions provided for Seattle travelers.

This drive takes approximately five hours. 

Public Transportation: Limited public transportation options are available.

Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses service nearby towns, but renting a car is highly recommended for park access. 

What to Do and See in North Cascades National Park 

North Cascades National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a mix of challenging hikes, scenic drives, and breathtaking viewpoints.  

Here’s an overview of key areas and activities to help you plan your adventure:

Diablo Lake Overlook: One of the most photographed spots in the park, offering stunning views of the turquoise waters. 

Ross Lake Resort

Ross Lake Resort

Ross Lake: A prime spot for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Boat rentals are available at Ross Lake Resort. 

Cascade Pass Trail: A moderately difficult hike providing panoramic views of peaks and glaciers. 

Sahale Arm: Extending from Cascade Pass, this trail offers an even more rewarding view of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. 

Thunder Knob Trail: 3.6 miles round trip. Offers beautiful views of Diablo Lake and surrounding peaks. 

Maple Pass Loop: 7.2 miles round trip. A challenging but rewarding loop with incredible alpine scenery. 

Sourdough Mountain Trail: 10 miles round trip. Offers panoramic views of the North Cascades from the summit. 

North Cascades Highway (Highway 20): This drive provides access to many of the park’s top attractions, including Diablo Lake, Washington Pass Overlook, and numerous trailheads. 

Washington Pass Overlook: Offers one of the most dramatic mountain views in the park. 

Where to Stay near North Cascades National Park 

Finding the right place to stay can enhance your North Cascades adventure.

Here’s an overview of accommodation options inside and near the park, from campgrounds to lodges. 

Inside the Park 

Backcountry Camping: For those seeking solitude, numerous backcountry campsites are available.

Permits are required and can be obtained at the park’s ranger stations. 

Campgrounds: Newhalem Campground and Colonial Creek Campground are popular choices, offering basic amenities and proximity to key trails. 

Near the Park 

Marblemount: A small town close to the park’s western entrance, offering motels, B&Bs, and a few restaurants. 

Winthrop: Located on the eastern side of the park, this charming town offers a variety of lodges, motels, and dining options. 

Final Thoughts, Best National Parks Washington State 

Washington State’s national parks offer an unparalleled blend of natural beauty and adventure, each with its own unique charm.  

Mount Rainier National Park captivates with its towering volcanic peak, lush meadows of wildflowers, and challenging hikes that reward with breathtaking views.  

Olympic National Park enchants visitors with its diverse ecosystems, from the misty Hoh Rainforest and rugged Pacific coastline to the alpine beauty of Hurricane Ridge.  

North Cascades National Park, often dubbed the “American Alps,” mesmerizes with its rugged mountains, pristine alpine lakes, and over 300 glaciers. 

Exploring these parks is more than just a visit; it’s an immersion into some of the most stunning landscapes in the United States.  

Whether you’re hiking the trails, driving through scenic routes, or simply soaking in the views from a tranquil spot, each moment spent here brings a deeper appreciation for the natural world.  

These parks offer a perfect escape for adventurers seeking solitude, inspiration, and a profound connection with nature.

Also read, San Francisco Drive to Los Angeles: The Ultimate Road Trip.

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