Washington State Parks: The 12 Best State and National Parks

Washington acquired the nickname the ‘Evergreen State’ due to its many evergreen forests, and it’s a paradise for tourists and nature lovers. It has everything from snow-capped mountains to alpine lakes, waterfalls, and campsites.

Although Olympic and Rainier make headlines as the most famous Washington State parks, there are many more hidden gems. You’ll be fascinated by Lake Wenatchee and spellbound by the towering waterfalls in the North Cascade mountain range.

Are you ready to get out and experience Washington’s beautiful landscapes? Is mountaineering or hiking at the top of your list this summer? There are 124 Washington State parks. Whether you’re a native Washingtonian or on vacation, here are eight state parks that will leave you longing for more time in the great Pacific Northwest wilderness.

Lake Wenatchee State Park

Located west of Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee is a clear blue sea encircled by mountains. Whether paddling, horseback riding, camping, or soaking your feet in the lake, so much fun awaits you here. 

The beautiful views and spectacular Dirtyface Peak attracts Washington residents and tourists, and its accessibility to recreational activities has crowds throng the park. With pristine cross-country ski trails, it’s not surprising that Lake Wenatchee is an all-time favorite for skiers.

Deception Pass State Park

Over 2 million people visit Deception Pass State Park every year. Its popularity is no mystery. Located on Whidbey Island, this park is a must-go-to for all, with abundant wildlife, amazing views, and rugged cliffs.

From the dunes to the iconic Deception Pass Bridge and Cranberry Lake, the park’s picturesque scenery just keeps on giving. Embrace your inner explorer at the Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center.

If you’re visiting in April, leave time for the nearby tulip fields during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. It’s a short twenty-minute drive from Deception Pass, and you’ll discover why over one million people visit the fields and display gardens in La Conner, Washington, each year.

Palouse Falls State Park

Named after the 198-foot Palouse Waterfall that trickles down into a deep gorge, Palouse Falls State Park earns itself a spot on the best Washington State Parks list.

While comparatively small, the park boasts some of the best views in the state. Once is not enough to experience the waterfall in its glory, so you’ll want to plan a second trip.

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Point State Park is famous nationwide as a whale-watching destination. It boasts breathtaking views from the vintage lighthouse or sea cliff.

After taking in the marine life, you can look through exhibits and learn about the land-dwelling fauna at the Lime Kiln Interpretive Center. You can also go hiking, birdwatching, or diving. Don’t forget to plan your Pacific Northwest packing list so you can dress in layers and prepare for all types of weather.

Cape Disappointment State Park

Don’t let the name fool you – this park will not disappoint! Named after the unsuccessful voyage of Captain James Meares, Cape Disappointment State Park is famous for its beautiful lighthouses, hiking trails, and ocean coastlines. You’ll be captivated by the lovely views of North Head and Cape Disappointment, which have both stood the test of time.

If you want to know more about the history of the park, stop by the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Visit the U.S. Corps of Discovery, perched on a cliff 200 feet above the water, and learn about Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific Ocean. While you’re here, you can go salmon fishing and crabbing, explore the trails, or gaze at the stars from your campsite.

Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park

Next on our list is Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park, home to one of the largest historic waterfalls in America. This park will make you feel like you’re on another planet.

Dry Falls is a North American wonder that would have rivaled Niagara Falls if water still flowed there. Today, all that’s left is a spectacular 400-foot-tall cliff and the reflective lakes below. Take time to visit the Dry Falls Visitor Center, where interpretive displays tell the story of the floods and their effects on Washington’s landscape.

The waterfall may be long gone, but there’s still plenty to do in this state park. Fishing is popular here, as are boating, kayaking, hiking, and golf.

Manchester State Park

Military and maritime enthusiasts will enjoy their stay at this park. The park, built in the early 1900s as a fort, has become a vacation destination for many tourists. An outstanding feature of this park is the 3,400 feet of saltwater shoreline for kayaking and swimming.

Surrounded by maple and Douglas-fir forest, Manchester State Park houses a stone fireplace, windowless arches, and a torpedo warehouse. It’s a surprisingly popular spot for picnics, weddings, and reunions.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park

Rich in petrified wood, Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is home to diverse fossil forests. The park includes these areas: Wanapum Recreation Area, Ginkgo Petrified Forest Interpretive Center, The Trailside Museum, and Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail.

You can camp under the stars at the Wanapum Recreation Area, go for a swim, or soak in the afternoon sun by the beach. Want to learn about the local history and archaeology? Take a trip to the Interpretive Center or Trailside Museum.

Washington State Park Amenities

Most parks offer camping facilities, pull-through options, hook-ups for RVs, picnic tables, restrooms, and more. Some even provide cabins and yurts that can be reserved on a first-come-first-served basis. Call the park service or go online for campsite availability and the reservation fee for each park.

Top Three National Parks in Washington State

There are 63 National Parks in North America, and Washington State has three of them. According to More Than Just Parks, two rank in the top three among all the National Parks in America.

All three of these parks are on the west side of the state and are only a few hours’ drive from Seattle. While you could plan an entire vacation in any of these parks, you can also see a lot of the beauty they offer in a single day. While some national parks have a reservation system, there’s no timed entry needed for these three parks.

Note: while dogs are allowed in most Washington State Parks, they are not permitted in National Parks unless they are service animals.

North Cascades National Park

Less than three hours away from Seattle, North Cascades National Park is reminiscent of grey wolves, jagged peaks, and towering waterfalls. You can access this park through Highway 20 or Lady of the Lake Ferry.

Traveling via Highway 20, you’ll come across the (very Insta-worthy) Diablo Lake Overlook and other scenic views like Lake Shannon. If you enjoy hiking, you’ll find the 400 miles of hiking trails fascinating and well worth your time.

If you are spending a weekend in Seattle, you may want to extend your stay for a couple of extra days to drive the North Cascades Loop. You’ll experience the beauty of backcountry Washington, along with the quaintness many of the small towns have to offer. Fall is an especially popular time to drive the loop.

Olympic National Park

Covering almost one million acres, Olympic National Park embodies diversity with its boundless wilderness, lush rainforests, glacier-capped mountains, and more. Encompassed by the Olympic Peninsula, the park has several campgrounds accessible by road, and it’s not surprising that

it’s a popular park for RV campers to enjoy.

Thanks to the numerous rivers, beaches, and lakes, fishing and boating opportunities are available throughout the year. For a fun-filled experience, consider visiting the national park around July or August.

The Olympic National Park is also home to the Hoh Rain Forest, the only temperate rainforest in North America. Although you can drive through the forest, you will want to take the short hike through the Hall of Mosses before continuing your drive. Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center overlooks mountain valleys in Olympic National Park. This park is open 24 hours a day, year-round.

Mount Rainier National Park

Spawning five significant rivers, Mount Rainier ranks as the most visited national park in Washington. It’s also one of the oldest national parks in the country. With a height of 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, and climbing it is a bucket list for most mountaineers.

From Myrtle Falls to Paradise Inn, the iconic park is home to many beautiful sights, including fields of wildflowers in the summer months. It boasts 250 miles of hiking trails, giving you plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy the park. However, you don’t need to walk for miles before experiencing some of these impressive views. A drive to Sunrise, the highest point you can drive up the mountain, provides many spectacular views and turnouts.

Final Thoughts

The next time you’re ready to explore the great Pacific Northwest, consider visiting one of Washington’s beautiful state or national parks. If you want to explore the U.S. military legacy, a visit to Case Disappointment State Park may be a good choice. Does whale watching top your list? You’ll want to spend time at Lime Kiln Point State Park. Each park has something new to offer, and you will want to see them all!

From kayaking to horseback riding and backpacking to day hikes, these Washington state park systems offer opportunities for world-class outdoor recreation.

Keep in mind that there’s an entrance fee to all Washington State Parks. You can pay the $10/day rate or $30 for an annual pass.

National Parks are $35/day or $80 for an annual America the Beautiful Pass. This pass gets you into more than 2000 federal recreation sites across the country.

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.

Karee Blunt is the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel blog focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.