Are the Washington National Parks Worth Visiting?

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Washington’s national parks offer seemingly endless opportunities if you love spending time outdoors. Hike through lush forests, explore rushing waterfalls, camp outdoors, or simply take in the amazing views.

Whatever your outdoor adventure preference may be, Washington has a national park for you, and they are worth a visit. Take a look at what these majestic places have to offer.

Why You Should Visit Washington State

Visiting Washington State is truly a unique and wonderful experience. It has many stunning mountains, such as Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Baker, Mount Adams, and Mount Olympus.

Add that to its 3,000 miles of shoreline, and you may also see why this state is worth a visit. 

Washington has a wide expanse of varied terrain, from vast desert landscapes and farmlands to coastal waters to lush rainforests. You can hike, bike, climb, camp, ski, pick apples, swim, shop, and dine in Seattle and other metropolitan areas.

Or stroll along the beach at the Pacific Ocean or on one of its many islands and lakeshores.

Whatever you love to do, see, or experience, Washington has it all. Not to mention its gorgeous national parks.

How Many National Parks Are in Washington?

Washington has 17 national service units. These include historical reserves, historic sites, recreation areas, historic trails, and of course, national parks.

And Washington is proud of its three national parks: Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier.

Pro Tip: Curious about the different National Park Systems? Be sure to read How Many National Parks Are There in the US? Decoding the National Park System next!

View of one of the Washington national parks.

A Complete Guide to the 3 Washington State National Parks

Each of Washington’s three national parks has its own unique landscape and history. Visitors can explore the lush rainforests of Olympic National Park.

North Cascades is known for its dramatic waterfalls and jagged peaks.

Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most popular, with its towering mountain peaks and sprawling glaciers. We have a guide to Washington’s national parks right here.

Olympic National Park

You can access Olympic National Park, located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, via vehicle or ferry. This Washington national park deserves your attention because of the 70 miles of wild coastline and a million acres to explore.

You’ll find over 10 campgrounds, backcountry camping options, climbing, hiking, and water activities throughout the park. It has three major lakes, several rivers, and the Pacific Coastline. You can also enjoy boating, rafting, kayaking, and more.

Hiking is a popular activity at Olympic. You can choose from meadows, mountains, or coastal hikes along with one or more of its 30-plus trails. They range from easy and short to long and arduous. 

Whatever you choose to do to spend time at Olympic, you won’t be disappointed. You can find beauty everywhere you go.

The Hoh Rainforest is one of the most popular places to explore in Olympic National Park. This lush rainforest receives over 140 inches of rain annually and is certainly like none you’ve ever seen in the country.

It is home to giant trees of many species, various wildlife, and unique plant life. Hiking through this terrain will certainly heighten your senses.

The Staircase area, named for an old cedar staircase that is no longer there, was built to circumnavigate the rocky cliffs. Much talked about but rarely visited, this little gem is a must when visiting.

Towering peaks and grand trees will also greet you during any season. And you can go hiking, kayaking, and camping. 

Best Time to Visit

The best time to experience all that Olympic National Park offers is during the summer. You’ll find open trails, flowers blooming, and long days. However, you’ll have big crowds, but summer is still the best time to experience this Washington national park.

Olympic National Park, one of the Washington national parks

North Cascades National Park

From waterfalls and glaciers to mountain peaks, North Cascades has plenty of beauty to experience. And it’s also only three hours north of Seattle.

Consisting of what is called a National Park Complex, Cascade includes Chelan and Ross Lake National Recreation Areas.

Camping here is certainly an experience on its own. From traditional tent and RV camping to sites for boat and bike camping, you can experience a night under the stars. You can also enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, climbing, horseback riding, and more.

Many enjoy driving the scenic North Cascades Highway. It’s the only paved road that goes through the park.

Another popular attraction is the Gorge Lake Overlook. It’s less than half a mile round trip to view the stunning scenery of the lake below. Two other popular overlooks include Ross Creek and Diablo Lake Vista. 

North Cascades National Park, one of the Washington national parks

If you’re feeling adventurous, pay a visit to the small community of Stehekin on the northern end of Lake Chelan. It is only accessible by foot. In addition, it’s a popular place for backpackers to start and end their hikes.

Best Time to Visit

The weather within North Cascades changes from the east to the west side. At higher elevations, storms can arise often.

Be prepared for rain and quite possibly summer snow. However, the park’s eastern side can get up to 90 degrees in the summer. 

The best time to visit is from mid-June to late September, giving you your best chance at great weather for those long-awaited hikes.

Keep in Mind: While visiting these Washington parks, you should know your etiquette. Check out the 10 Rudest Things You Can Do in a National Park!

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is an active volcano that rises to 14,410 ft above sea level. It is the most glaciated peak outside Alaska and the highest volcanic peak in the contiguous United States. With over 236,000 acres, Mount Rainier has a lot to explore. You can do so in comfort or while roughing it.

Hiking, biking, backpacking, climbing, fishing, swimming, camping, and more will keep you entertained while spending time in this Washington national park. And with three campgrounds, backcountry camping, and two inns, you can have a nice rest for all the adventures awaiting.

Start your Mount Rainier adventures in Paradise’s wildflower meadows. It is a popular place to visit and hike. Paradise is the place for some of the best wildflower viewing in the state in high summer.

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is another popular area of the park to visit. Home to 1000-year-old Douglas firs and red cedar trees, this 1-mile hiking loop is worth a visit.

A view of a Mount Rainer sign, one of the Washington national parks

Museum fan or not, pay a visit to the classic Longmire Homestead. You’ll also find the National Park Inn, the Longmire Wilderness Information Center, and several trailheads.

And one can’t visit Mount Rainier without also experiencing the majestic beauty of the mountain herself. Standing at over 14,000 ft, you can’t miss it. Paradise and Sunrise are two of the best places to view Mount Rainier.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Mount Rainier is in the summer. And of course, you’ll have crowds of people. Here are a few tips that will make your summertime visit to this Washington national park more enjoyable, though. 

Arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Visit during weekdays instead of weekends. And, many use the Nisqually and White River entrances. So if you can enter at other access points, you can skip some congestion.

Pro Tip: When you visit, you’ll have to visit one of these 12 Excellent Thousand Trails Campgrounds!

A green welcome to Washington State sign that says "the evergreen state".

Don’t Forget the Other National Park Designations

The other 15 National Park Service Units located in Washington deserve mention and a visit, too. Visit the Oregon National Historic Trail, where you can also visit many museums and interpretive sites. They’ll teach you more about the journey of Westward expansion in the country.

You can stop by the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, commemorating the volcanic eruption in 1980. You’ll find many educational sites to explore here. In addition, you can also hike, camp, and fish in the surrounding national forest.

Visit other sites such as the San Juan Island National Historic Park, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Lake Roosevelt Recreation Area, and the Wing Lake Asian-American Museum. All offer educational opportunities and many places to explore the beauty and history that encompass Washington’s National Park Service Units.

What Is the Prettiest National Park in Washington?

All three Washington national parks have gorgeous sights. Many would say that Mount Rainier National Park is the prettiest national park in the state. 

It has mountain peaks reaching over 14,000 ft, over 250 miles of trails, alpine lakes, lush forests, and meadows full of vibrant wildflowers. You may see why people are spellbound when visiting Mount Rainier. You’ll need to experience this beauty to appreciate it fully.

A river running through lush green hills with the towing Mount Rainier covered in the snow in the background.

What Is the Most-Visited National Park in Washington?

The most visited national park in Washington, according to National Geographic, is Olympic National Park. It has distinct terrain and no roads that take you through it. It’s no wonder that this is the most visited park in the state. It’s nature at its finest, unspoiled, raw beauty, and over three million people experience it annually.

Don’t Skip Washington’s National Parks 

Washington is home to some of the most stunning national parks in the country. Visitors have great options for natural beauty between its three parks, in addition, to having something for everyone.

In other words, have an outdoor adventure, see wildflowers and wildlife, or simply relax and rejuvenate. They’re only a hop, skip, and jump away. You undoubtedly won’t want to skip out on Washington’s national parks.

Have you experienced one of these gorgeous national parks?

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