The Pacific Northwest is one of the United States’ most geologically diverse regions, showcasing rugged fjord coastlines, temperate rainforest areas, and the spectacular peaks of the Cascade, Coast, Olympic, and Columbia Mountains. Several active volcanoes dominate the region’s skyline, including Mount Rainier, standing at 14,411 feet as the region’s highest peak. Coastal Douglas fir trees populate lushly forested regions, including some of the world’s tallest trees. These nine national parks & recreation areas within the region are conveniently accessible from major cities such as Seattle, offering a wide variety of day trip opportunities for visitors looking for outdoor exploration, historically-focused learning, and wilderness adventures.

1. Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park
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Olympic National Park spans nearly one million acres within Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, showcasing diverse areas of Pacific coastline, temperate rainforest, dry forest, and alpine ecosystems. The park was originally designated as a National Monument in 1909 before being converted into a national park in 1938. Today, it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers more than 70 miles of rugged wilderness coastline for visitor exploration and beach backpacking, including the popular nine-mile Ozette Loop. For more adventurous visitors, the park’s interior rainforest and alpine areas offer day-hiking experiences. Three visitor centers within the park offer museum exhibits, documentary films, and interpretive nature trails and serve as launch points for ranger-led wildlife watching and night sky programming. Other popular park activities include boating, fishing, skiing, snowshoeing, and camping at one of the park’s 16 campgrounds. Where to Stay near Olympic N.P.

2. North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park
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North Cascades National Park is the central unit of the North Cascades National Park Complex, which spans more than 680,000 acres throughout the state of Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The park was established to preserve the North Cascades glacial range, the most expansive system of its kind in the contiguous United States, and its associated waterways and forests. The mostly undeveloped park’s ecosystems are noted for containing the highest level of plant biodiversity of any American national park, offering a wide variety of opportunities for nature exploration, wildlife watching, and photography. Popular wilderness exploration activities for visitors include hiking, camping, and mountaineering, which all require a visitor permit. Two visitor centers are located within the park, including the Golden West Visitor Center, which showcases a gallery of works by local artists.

3. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park
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Mount Rainier National Park is a 236,000-acre national park within Pierce and Lewis Counties that was established in 1899 to preserve the region surrounding the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier stratovolcano, the Cascade Range’s largest peak. Today, the park receives more than 1.4 million annual visitors and is a popular spot for hiking and mountaineering, with more than 10,000 visitors attempting to reach the volcano’s summit each year. The park’s Wonderland Trail passes several notable glaciers, including the largest glaciers in the United States by both volume and area, while its Sunrise observation peak, the highest point in the park accessible by vehicle, offers spectacular views at a height of 6,400 feet. Facilities within the park include the Longmire Museum, the Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, and a number of hotels, restaurants, and campgrounds within the park’s five developed units.

4. Ebeys Landing National Historical Reserve

Ebeys Landing National Historical Reserve
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Ebeys Landing National Historical Reserve is located within the Puget Sound on Whidbey Island, a short distance from the seaport city of Coupeville. The reserve protects a significant 19th-century settlement area with a unique unbroken historical record, with historic farms still in operation that date back to the 1850s Donation Land Claim Act. It is under joint national, state, and local management and encompasses Fort Casey, Fort Ebey, and Ebey’s Landing State Parks, which offer attractions such as historic lighthouse and fort tours, visitor hiking trails, and scuba diving experiences. Popular outdoor activities include boating, fishing, and mountain biking, while nearby Coupeville showcases historic attractions such as the Island County Historical Museum. Though no official NPS visitor center is maintained at the site, the Jacob and Sarah Ebey House serves as a seasonal volunteer-run visitor center.

162 Cemetery Rd, Coupeville, WA 98239, Phone: 360-678-6084

5. Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Ross Lake National Recreation Area
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Ross Lake National Recreation Area is part of Washington’s North Cascades National Park Service Complex, which is centered around North Cascades National Park and also includes the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The recreational area spans the length of the Skagit River along the American-Canadian border and was designed to prevent flooding within the nearby national park. As a major recreational destination in the Pacific Northwest, the NRA contains the man-made Ross, Diablo, and Gorge Lakes, which offer ample fishing, canoeing, and kayaking opportunities. Trailheads within the area connect to trails in the nearby national park, and a number of campgrounds along North Cascades Highway offer opportunities for overnight stay with tent and RV hookups. The NRA is also the site of the Desolation Peak Lookout fire tower, which was featured in the Jack Kerouac novel Desolation Angels. More Weekend Getaways from Seattle

810 WA-20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284, Phone: 360-854-7200

6. Klondike Gold Rush NHP

Klondike Gold Rush NHP
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Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park commemorates the 1897 Klondike gold rush, which brought approximately 70,000 people to Washington state and southwestern Canada in search of striking it rich in the Yukon’s gold fields. The rush is noted as helping to bring an end to the Panic of 1893 economic depression and was a key factor in the economic development of Seattle as a major American city. Today, the rush is chronicled at the National Historical Park’s visitor center and museum, which is located within Seattle’s historic Cadillac Hotel. Two floors of interactive exhibits are offered, along with periodic daily showings of three documentary films about the event. More Day Trips from Seattle

319 Second Ave S., Seattle, WA 98104, Phone: 206-220-4240

7. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
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Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is part of the North Cascades National Park Complex, spanning more than 61,000 acres near Lake Chelan and the Stehekin River Valley. Throughout much of the year, the recreation area is only accessible via passenger ferry or floatplane from the nearby town of Chelan or from one of several hiking trails within the Cascade Range and the nearby national park, though an off-road bus access service is operated for hikers during the summer months. It is serviced by the national park’s Golden West Visitor Center and contains several notable historic sites, including the Buckner Homestead Historic District and the Stehekin School. The unit’s central lake, which reaches depths of more than 1,500 feet, offers ample opportunities for boating, fishing, and shoreline camping. More ideas: Beaches Near Seattle

810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284, Phone: 360-854-7200

8. San Juan Island National Historical Park

San Juan Island National Historical Park
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San Juan Island National Historical Park is located on Washington’s San Juan Island barrier island within the Puget Sound, near Vancouver Island and the Haro and Rosario Straits. The park was established in 1966 to preserve the American and English Camps, two historic campsites established by the United States and British Armies during the 1859 Pig War. The camps were peacefully occupied by the armies for more than a decade as part of a boundary dispute over island territory and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places today. Several surviving structures are preserved within each camp, including commissary, barracks, officers’ quarters, and hospital buildings. Two visitor centers offer exhibits and park information, and hiking trails provide ample opportunities for bird watching, berry picking, tidepooling, and shelling. More ideas: Washington Beaches

P.O. Box 429, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, Phone: 360-378-2240

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Spotlight: All About North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is located in northern Washington, a less than 3-hour day trip from Seattle. To the west of the mountain range, the park offers a landscape under consistent moisture and rain, while to the east of the mountains, the landscape is dryer. The mountains themselves offer more than 300 glaciers, as well as waterfalls and glacial lakes. Visitors enjoy hiking and camping, boating and fishing, wildlife and bird viewing, bicycling, and horseback riding.

Over 200 species of birds have been seen in the park, which is home to the threatened marbled murrelet as well as the spotted owl. Visitors may see Columbia black-tailed deer and picas, or perhaps the more elusive wolverine and gray wolf. As one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, the park is home to a variety of fish species, invertebrates and insects. Bodies of water within the park include the Gorge, Lake Chelan, Diablo Lake and Ross Lake at Hozomeen. Whitewater rafting and kayaking takes place on The Skagit and Stehekin Rivers. Extreme gradient and climate changes make for a variety of hiking trails through different habitats with different species. The park is home to over 400 miles of trails.

Visitors may enjoy day hikes, or overnight backpacking. Several drive-in and boat-in campsites are available throughout the park, as well as wilderness campsites for those seeking more solitude and adventure. Several of the trails and campsites are open to stock for horseback riding, especially those surrounding Lake Chelan. Stehekin Valley is located at the headwaters of Lake Chelan, and is accessible by foot, boat or plane only. The small community with just 75 permanent residents is home to the famous 300-foot Rainbow Falls, the Harlequin Bridge and the Buckner Homestead Historic District, a collection of structures from the late 1800’s through the 1950’s that represent the history of settlement in the area.

North Cascades National Park History

Archeological evidence and artifacts from the park indicate that people have lived in the North Cascades area for over 9,500 years. Over 260 prehistoric sites have been identified within the park. Native people have lived in the mountainous region for thousands of years subsisting off the land. Trade routes between the east and west sides of the mountain range were vital to their survival, including the Cascade Pass, which is a favorite of backpackers and climbers today. Miners arrived in the area between the 1850’s and 1950’s in search of gold, sliver and lead along the Skagit River.

The last mines closed in the 1950’s. Mining, logging and settling in the area led to the building of many roads in the mid-1900’s, including the construction of the Ross Dam, Diablo Dam and the Gorge Dam. The dams still provide power to the city of Seattle to this day. The park currently maintains over 81 historic structures, and the remnants of over 20 historic cultural landscapes. These sites include abandoned mines, historic hotels, ranger lodges, and cabins. The area was designated as a National Park in 1968 after a long history of failed attempts at preservation dating back to the late 1800’s. Today, over 90% of the park is set-aside as a wilderness area.

Plan Your Visit to North Cascades National Park

During the summer months, the park offers several ranger-led programs. Evening programs in the Skagit district include 30-minute campfire talks at the Newhalem Creek Campground Amphitheater. Newhalem by Night is a slide-show talk about the history of City Light in the North Cascades. The historic Ladder Creek Falls light show closes out the evening. Evening talks also take place in Hozomeen at the north end of Ross Lake. Historic Newhalem Walking Tours meet at the Skagit Visitor Center and offer easy one-hour walks while teaching about the history of the dam’s company town and the Skagit Hydroelectric Project.

Ranger talks on the history and culture of the area also take place at the Diablo Lake Overlook. The North Cascades Institute is a non-profit organization that operates within the park to offer a variety of educational programming for both children and adults. The organization operates the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, a state-of-the-art facility within the park offering classroom space, an amphitheater, dining hall and lodging. Skagit Tours offers walking tours, boat tours on Diablo Lake, and tours of the historic Gorge Powerhouse in Newhalem.

810 State Route 20 Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284, Phone: 360-854-7200

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Spotlight: All About Mount Rainier National Park

With a peak of over 14,000 feet, Mount Rainier in Washington is the highest mountain in the Cascades, the highest in the state of Washington and the 17th highest in the United States, although its topographic prominence has it ranked third of America's ultra prominent peaks. The most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, the mountain spans six rivers. Lower elevations include ancient pine forests and subalpine wildflower meadows.

The 368 square mile park is 97% wilderness. The remaining percentage of park land which has been developed has been designated a National Historic Landmark District and includes 260 miles of trails, over 140 miles of roads, as well as lodging, a museum, climbing and wilderness centers, and three visitor centers. Longmire served as the park headquarters when the park was first established in 1899. Today, the 1916 building, which once served as the administrative center of the park, is a museum. Attractions nearby include the National Park Inn, the Wilderness Information Center, and trail heads leading to the Narada Falls, Rampart Ridge and Eagle Peak. Sunrise, the highest point in the park which can be reached by car, is located at just over 6,000 feet above sea level.

From the Sunrise mountain meadows, visitors can see a 360-degree view of the landscape and other volcanic peaks such as Mount Adams. On clear days, visitors to Sunrise have an excellent view of the peak of Mount Rainier. Trails beginning at Sunrise take guests to Upper Crystal Lake, through the Naches Peak Loop along the Pacific Crest Trail, and to Tipsoo Lake. Ohanapecosh is located at the southeast corner of the park. The old growth forest of hemlock, cedars and firs is much drier and sunnier than the west side of the park. The trailhead at the Ohanapecosh campgrounds takes hikers on a 3-mile loop to the Silver Falls, one of the park’s most spectacular waterfalls. The Carbon and Mowich areas of the park are located in a temporal rainforest. The Carbon River in the northwest corner was named for the coal deposits found there, and receives consistent rainfall year round. Mowich Lake is the largest, deepest lake in the park and sits in a glacial basin surrounded by meadows. The Carbon glacier is the lowest elevation glacier in the contiguous United States. Several hikes through these areas allow visitors to camp and experience the subalpine lakes and meadows.

History: Mount Rainier is America’s fifth oldest National Park. Area visits from humans date back over 9,000 years. As far back as 15,000 years ago, when the mountain was still largely covered in snow and ice, people lived in the plains and valleys under its shadow. Approximately 9,000 years ago, the mountain’s mid-slope was no longer covered in permanent snow pack. As far back as 4,000 years ago, people were hunting and gathering on the mountain as wildlife made its home there in the subalpine terrain.

The Native tribes which have historically lived off the land in the area maintain relationships with the park to this day. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that archeologists began to systematically study Mount Rainier, but today, over 75 prehistoric sites have been catalogued, which demonstrate that people have been living on and around Mount Rainier for thousands of years. The last eruption at Mount Rainier was in 1882, although the mountain is still an active volcano and considered America’s most dangerous. In the mid 1800’s local residents and businesses began pushing for the area to be designated a park in an effort to increase tourism. The National Park was established in 1899 by President William McKinley.

Ongoing Programs and Education: The park offers an extensive array of ranger-led programs at each of the developed areas and visitor centers. Programs include Junior Ranger activities, and talks on park history, the park’s architectural history, wildlife, geology and the active volcano. Rangers lead eco hikes through the meadows at Paradise, Sunrise and through the forest at Ohanapecosh. Winter programs include guided snowshoe walks.

Evening programs include campfire talks at the Sunrise campgrounds and an astronomy program at the Paradise visitor center. A self-guided historic district walking tour begins at Longmire and takes visitors past some of the park’s most iconic rustic architecture. Visitor centers at Sunrise and Ohanapecosh offer exhibits, books sales and guided interpretive programs. The mountain is popular for climbing, although traversing the glacier is very difficult and requires technical skill. The success rate of summiting Mount Rainier is close to 50%.

55210 238th Avenue East Ashford, WA 98304, Phone: 360-569-2211

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