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
2. North Cascades National Park
3. Mount Rainier National Park
4. Ebeys Landing National Historical Reserve
5. Ross Lake National Recreation Area
6. Klondike Gold Rush NHP
7. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
8. San Juan Island National Historical Park
The 8 Best Recreation Areas and National Parks Near Seattle near me today according to local experts are:
- 1. Olympic National Park
- 2. North Cascades National Park
- 3. Mount Rainier National Park
- 4. Ebeys Landing National Historical Reserve
- 5. Ross Lake National Recreation Area
- 6. Klondike Gold Rush NHP
- 7. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
- 8. San Juan Island National Historical Park
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
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