Each of the Three National Parks in Washington Is Incredible
Washington state is famous for being home to Seattle, yes, but besides the city (and Starbucks), it is distinguished for its natural beauty.
It's almost impossible to escape nature here, even in the city. Not that you would want to escape it. On the contrary, the powerful Pacific, the glacial mountains rising from the ground and the fields of wildflowers that bloom in spring attract people to this state in the Pacific Northwest.
These are the three national parks in Washington state.
Mount Rainier National Park
Size: 369.3 square miles
Annual visitors: 1.5 million*
Best gateway town: Olympia
*Visitor numbers are from 2019, since they provide a more accurate picture of travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Experience: Mount Rainier
Near the capital of Olympia as well as Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park is easy to access. The volcano that gives the park its name is active, though it hasn't erupted for almost a millennium. The geothermal activity that it creates brings diversity to the ever-evolving landscape.
Hiking is by far the best way to explore the park. But if you're short on time, it's also possible to drive through it, stopping at scenic points that let you enjoy the sweeping views. Don't rush unless you need to, though. Even the famed conservationist John Muir was bewitched by the scenery, famously saying that it was "the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens" he'd ever seen.
North Cascades National Park
Size: 1,070 square miles
Annual visitors: 38,208
Best gateway town: Chelan
The Experience: North Cascades
Despite being only three hours away from Seattle, North Cascades National Park is the fifth least-visited park in the United States. This means two things: One, it's difficult to get to, and two, it's incredibly pristine.
Protected by other natural areas on all sides, the best way to enjoy this often-overlooked wilderness is by staying in one of the peaceful small towns that hover around it. Consider Chelan, one of the country's most scenic lake towns.
With challenging mountains, over 300 glaciers and limited facilities, this is a park for people who are familiar with the Great Outdoors.
Olympic National Park
Size: 1,442 square miles
Annual visitors: 3.2 million
Best gateway town: Port Angeles
The Experience: Olympic
Washington state's most-visited national park is a wonderland that seems to have come from a fairytale book. Covering over 1,440 square miles, the park boasts an astonishing diversity of landscapes.
Head to its temperate rainforests to see labyrinths of trees covered in moss. Or walk near the giant boulders that stand strong against the force of the mighty Pacific Ocean. Intrepid ice climbers can spend the day trekking the snow peaks and glaciers, then enjoy an afternoon soak in thermal hot springs.
As if that weren't enough, there is also a number of archaeological sites, some of which have been essential to our understanding of prehistoric peoples.