Washington is home to not one, but three of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring National Parks in the United States.
The three national parks in Washington are a must-see for any outdoor enthusiast.
Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or just looking for a great place to spend a weekend outdoors, these parks have something for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about each of them before planning your visit.
This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!
How Many National Parks Are In Washington?
In a nutshell, these are the three national parks in Washington state:
- Olympic National Park – This park is known for its truly diverse landscape, which includes rainforests, mountains, and coastline–all in one park! There are plenty of activities to enjoy here, including hiking, fishing, and kayaking.
- Mount Rainier National Park – This is Washington’s most well-known national park, home to the highest peak in Washington State, and offers stunning views of the Cascade Mountains. Visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, and skiing here.
- North Cascades National Park – With over 700 miles of trails, this park is a hiker’s paradise. It’s also home to beautiful glaciers and peaks.
In addition to these three national parks in Washington, there are also a number of national historic sites and other federally managed areas.
The 3 National Parks In Washington: What To See And Do
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is Washington’s westernmost national park. It covers an area of nearly one million acres and includes several different ecosystems, such as the rainforest, coastline, and mountains.
Olympic National Park is best known for its stunningly diverse ecosystems. From the rugged pacific coastline to massive peaks and glaciers to even a temperate rainforest–Olympic is truly a national treasure. In addition to its natural beauty, Olympic National Park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, bears, and eagles.
There are so many things to do in this park, from hiking and camping to fishing and kayaking. And, of course, you can’t forget about making time just to sit there and soak in the stunning scenery. Here are just a few of the things you can do in Olympic National Park:
- Hiking: There are over 900 miles of trails in Olympic National Park, so there’s plenty of room to explore. Some of the most popular hikes include the Hurricane Ridge Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains; the Hoh Rainforest Trail, which takes you through one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests; and the Seven Lakes Basin Trail, which is a great option for those who want to explore some of the park’s beautiful lakes.
- See the beaches and waterfalls: Sol Duc Falls, Mora Beach, and Rialto Beach are not to be missed!
- Camping: Camping is a great way to experience all that Olympic National Park has to offer. There are several campgrounds located throughout the park, so you can find one that’s perfect for your needs.
- Fishing: Fishing is a popular activity in Olympic National Park. There are many rivers and lakes to choose from, so you’re sure to find the perfect spot to cast your line.
- Kayaking: Kayaking is another great way to explore the park. There are plenty of waterways to choose from, so you can paddle your way through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
In addition to the national park, there are also several state parks and recreation areas nearby like Bogachiel State Park, Sequim Bay State Park, and Potlatch State Park.
Towns/Attractions Near Olympic National Park
- Port Townsend, WA
- Sequim, WA
- Port Angeles, WA
- La Push
Mount Rainer National Park
No trip to Washington or Oregon is complete without a Mount Rainier National Park visit. The sights and experiences at this iconic national park are truly unforgettable. I’ve been here twice already, and I’m itching for my next trip back!
Located just 2 hours south of Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park receives more than two million visitors each year. The park is home to the towering Mount Rainier, which stands at over 14,000 feet tall.
There’s so much to see and do at Mount Rainier National Park all year round, from hiking among the wildflowers, to chasing hundreds of spectacular waterfalls, to even strolling through a temperate rainforest.
Of note, Mount Rainier NP is a hiker’s paradise. Among the many, many hikes are standouts like the 6-mile roundtrip Mount Fremont Lookout Trail in the Sunrise area and the 5.5-mile Skyline Trail hike in the Paradise area (a must-do for any first-time visitor).
If you’re a waterfall chaser, head to the Ohanapecosh area to see Silver Falls, one of the best-looking waterfalls in the park and one of my absolute favorites!
Towns/Attractions Near Mount Rainier National Park
- Tacoma, WA
- Seattle, WA
- Olympia, WA
- Mount Rainier National Park Weekend Trip Adventure: 2-Day Itinerary
- 18 Best Things To Do At Mount Rainier National Park For First Timers
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is the last of the national parks in Washington. This national park is located in the north-central part of the state, and it is known for its dramatic alpine scenery. It’s very reminiscent of the Swiss Alps.
Often called “The American Alps”, the park is home to rugged mountains, glacier peaks, and evergreen forests surrounding clear blue lakes. And by blue, I mean really blue!
Among the most notable views in North Cascades is Diablo Lake. You absolutely cannot miss this large turquoise lake even if you tried–you’ll see it peeking up at you along Highway 20, the only highway through the park. Be sure to stop at one of the many viewpoints along the way to grab some photos of it!
North Cascades National Park can be accessed in two ways–either by driving along Highway 20, better known as the North Cascades Scenic Byway, or by catching the Lady of the Lake Ferry across Lake Chelan and entering via the scenic little village of Stehekin.
Once in the park, visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, and wildlife watching. The park also offers opportunities for winter recreation, such as skiing and snowshoeing.
If you only have one day to spend in the North Cascades, the Maple Pass Loop Hike is the ultimate hike to do. While the 7.2-mile hike is a bit more challenging, with a 2000-foot elevation gain, it is well worth the experience.
For a more family-friendly trail, opt for the much shorter quarter-mile Washington Pass Overlook Trail!
All in all, North Cascades National Park is a beautiful place to explore, and it is a great destination for both adventure seekers and nature lovers.
Where To Stay Near North Cascades National Park: The closest major city to North Cascades National Park is Seattle, which is a little over 2 hours away. There are a few small towns you could stay in if camping within the park is not your thing.
- Methow River Lodge or Sun Mountain Lodge or Hotel Rio Vista (Winthrop, WA)
- Mt Baker Hotel (Concrete, WA)
I recommend staying in Winthrop, WA because it’s actually closer to most of the attractions in the park, such as Washington Pass Overlook and the Maple Pass Loop Hike.
Other State Parks And Recreation Areas In Washington
- Deception Pass State Park
- Cape Disappointment State Park
- Palouse Falls State Park
- Lake Wenatchee State Park
- Lime Kiln Point State Park
Read More: 20 Beautiful Places To Visit In Washington
What is the most visited national park in Washington?
There are several national parks in Washington, but the most popular one is Mount Rainier National Park.
Every year, more than two million people visit Mount Rainier to see its breathtaking glaciers, majestic mountains, and pristine forests.
Even though it is one of the smaller national parks (compared to heavy-hitters like Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park), it still offers an incredible variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. Park visitors can enjoy day hiking, backpacking, skiing, and even climbing.
How far are the national parks from Seattle?
Olympic National Park – approximately a 3-hour drive from Seattle. Alternatively, you could get there via ferry run by Washington State Ferries.
- NOTE: When calculating whether taking a ferry is faster than driving, take into account the ferry schedule, on-boarding time, and off-boarding time. In some cases, it can actually be faster to drive.
Mount Rainier National Park – approximately a 2-hour drive from Seattle
North Cascades National Park – approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle
What national park is closest to Seattle?
The closest national park to Seattle is Mount Rainier National Park.
In fact, Mount Rainier is visible from Seattle and Tacoma on a clear day. Being one of the highest peaks in the country, you can actually see the mountain in all its glory, standing at a whopping 14,410 feet high.
Mount Rainier National Park is located 100 miles from the southern entrance of the park (Paradise, WA) and 95 miles from the northern entrance of the park (Sunrise, WA).
Can You Use The Same Park Entrance Fee For Multiple National Parks?
The short answer is no. If you plan on paying $35 for the 7-day pass at one National Park and expecting free entrance to another National Park, think again.
For example: You can’t pay to get into Olympic National Park, and then use your 7-day entrance pass to get into nearby Mount Rainier National Park or North Cascades National Park.
Each national park sets its own entrance fee. If you’re visiting two National Parks, the total one-time admission to both these parks will cost $70. I would not recommend paying the one-time entrance fees at all.
Instead, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, which costs $80 and will get you into any of the 2,000+ National Parks, National Monuments, or National Forests for an entire year.
As long as you visit 2 additional national parks, the pass will more than pay for itself and save you so much money on park admission fees. You can buy a pass online at REI or in-person at the entrance gates of any National Park.
Washington National Parks Road Trip: Essential Packing List
- America the Beautiful National Parks Pass | National Park entrance fees typically cost $30 to 35 for a 7-day pass. However, the national parks annual pass is a great way to save on entrance fees. If you intend to visit three or more NPS parks or sites in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will more than pay for itself. This pass can be purchased at the park entrances or online here. [Example: 3 National Parks x $30 parking each = $90. Savings with the annual pass = $10. Any more parks you go to thereafter = FREE!]
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.
- Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
- Umbrella | An umbrella, particularly a wind-proof umbrella, is crucial when traveling to destinations with varying/unpredictable weather. If you have an umbrella with you, then it means the rain can’t stop you from enjoying your trip and exploring the outdoors.
- Travel Pillow | If you have room in the car for a regular pillow, I find that they are the most comfortable for long car trips. If you need a more portable option, this memory foam travel pillow works well not only for car travel but also for camping!
- Travel Blanket | For all your napping needs–especially if the driver likes AC and you’re trying to snuggle up for a nap. This one is packable so it won’t take up very much in your car.
- Slip-on Sandals | Slip-on/slip-off sandals are a must for that extra comfort while sitting in the car. This allows you to make lots of stops without having to go through the process of putting your sneakers/boots back on.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. This means you can actually eat well on the road instead of opting for fast-food every time! A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- Garbage Bags | Because you don’t want the inside of your car to resemble a dumpster can. Plastic bags (or garbage bags) can also be used to hold wet clothes if you get caught in the rain, go for a swim, etc.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time on the river or at the Cascade Lakes, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | You’re going to need layers in Washington. The coastal, forested, and high desert climates of the west coast brings chilly evenings year-round, even on warm summer days. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Laundry Bag | Summer and/or outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
- Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from a river or lake to a car. This one here is a great option.
- Travel Clothesline | This is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
- Dry Bag | Another multi-purpose item on the list! Dry bags are completely necessary for keeping your dry belongings (clothes, electronics, money, etc)… dry. Don’t set foot on a kayak, boat or canoe without putting your stuff in a dry bag. Trust me, it’s better than ending up with a phone or camera submerged in water in the case where the boat tips or something. It’s also super handy for carrying around wet bathing suits and towels. Or even doubling as your laundry bag!
- Insect Repellent Lotion | Mosquitos love hot and wet climates, so I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage if you’re traveling in the summer and plan to be on the water. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Headlamp / Flashlight | Being able to find your way through the wilderness in darkness is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great breweries and eateries after your day hikes… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.
Looking for more Washington travel tips? Read more: