5 Best National Parks and National Forests in Washington State (2023)
When it comes to nature, its wonders, and its vastness, Washington State is truly at one of the top positions. Though it has only a countable National Parks and National Forests, each one of them is truly the best in the world. Washington State has only 3 National Park and about 9 National Forests in total. However, the diversity of landscapes amongst them will leave you impressed and surprised to no end. While exploring them all, you will find everything from active volcanoes, accessible hot springs, alpine lakes, lush rainforests, glacier mountains, healthy river valleys, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and healthy wildlife.
The beauty, serenity, and tranquillity of Washington’s wilderness are such that you will not forget them for the rest of your life once you see them. And since recreational and adventure options here are truly endless, both your virtual desires and physical fun opportunities would go back fully satisfied. Are you still waiting?
5 Best National Parks and National Forests in Washington State
Find out the most popular and must-visit National Parks and National Forests in Washington State.
1. Mount Rainier National Park
Unarguably the most iconic National Park in Washington, the Mount Rainier National Park is truly divine. It is home to the popular Mount Rainier peak, which is also an active volcano. Since it is at 14,410 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in the entire National Park and Washington State as well. The park spreads over 369 square miles, which include woodlands, glaciers, peaks, and 260 miles of hiking trails. Regardless of the season, spring, summer, fall, and winter, there is something that appeals to visitors of different interests here.
The best point to explore here is the visitors centre at 6400 feet. It is also the highest driving point from the base and is famous for its amazing sunrise and Mount Rainier views. Even if it is still summer, visitors can admire snow on the Rainier peak. Other popular attractions within the park include the Paradise Area, the Wonderland Trail, the Skyline Loop Trail, and Naches Peak Loop. Since the National Park also facilitates designated and primitive camping, visitors can stay overnight.
2. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie is a national forest that you cannot miss visiting in Washington State. It is between the Canadian border and Mt. Rainier National Park on the west of the Cascade Mountains. The forest is spread over 140 miles along the slope of Cascade and is known for its magnificent landscapes. Though its geography is widely expanded, it is prominently known for housing the 10,781-foot-tall Mount Baker. This scenic mountain has an impressive summit and is also home to Washington’s famous Winterland, the Mount Baker Ski Area. However, that’s not enough. The National Forest is also home to Stevens Pass, Crystal Mountain, and The Summit at Snoqualmie, the best Ski resort in Washington.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest houses maximum glaciers and snowfields anywhere outside Alaska. Though don’t confuse it with being a winter-only destination. During summers, there is so much to enjoy, including hiking, cycling, biking, climbing, horse-riding, fishing, camping, and more. The National Forest is also popular for its scenic roads, and visitors love driving through them. Some most scenic routes here include the Mather Memorial Parkway, though every road has a distinctive postcard view to it.
3. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is the region that defines Washington’s vast wilderness, distinctive ecosystem, and 1000 years old human history. Olympic National Park is truly the best and must-visit in Washington of all the state parks/forests and national parks/forests. It is home to a million acres of wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula. Though diversity is uncountable here, the most prominent amongst them includes the greatest Hoh Rainforest. It is amongst the largest temperate rainforests and is popular for moss-covered towering trees. A popular way to explore them is via hiking on the Hall of Mosses Trail and the Spruce Nature Trail.
Besides forests, the Olympic National Park is also home to several beaches, peaks, lakes, and ridges. Every traveller visiting the Olympics must include Quinault River, Enchanted Valley, Hall of Mosses, Hurricane Ridge, and their itinerary. The Rialto Beach, Coastal Wilderness, and Lake Crescent too are some appealing attractions to explore. The National Park has campgrounds, a few lodges, and the popular Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort within its boundaries for an overnight stay.
4. North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades National Park, though it is a lesser visit, must not stop you from making your trip successful here. The wilderness is a unified combination of National Park, Ross Lake, and Lake Chelan national recreation areas. It is spread over 781 miles, housing the true majesty of the Pacific Northwest. The National Park is home to nearly 300 glaciers, miles of hiking trails, forestlands, and much more. Though what takes all the limelight is the Stephen Mather Wilderness, a truly divine and blessed natural location.
The best time to visit North Cascades National Park is between mid-June and late September from a weather perspective. Wanderers can access the park via North Cascades Scenic Byway (Highway 20) or by catching the Lady of the Lake Ferry. Some of the must-stop/ visit attractions in the park include the Diablo Lake Overlook and Ross Lake Overlook (via Highway 20 route). The Blue Lake trail, Sterling Munro trail, and the Washington Pass overlook too are appealing enough to consider.
5. Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Located in southwest Washington, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of the oldest national forests in the United States. It is spread over 1.3 million acres, and besides what is well known, the forest house some exciting hidden gems and lesser-explored places. For example, it is home to Mount Adams, the second-highest mountain peak in Washington after Mount Rainier. Nevertheless, it is also the similar forest that houses Mount St. Helens. Gifford Pinchot houses the nation-spanning Pacific Crest Trail, the Lewis River Trail, Lewis River Recreation Area, and the Goat Rocks Wilderness within the popular attraction list.
Besides that, the hidden gems of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, too, are a quiet handful. The list includes Ape Caves, also known as the longest lava tubes in the United States. Further is the Takhlakh Lake, a popular recreational and camping spot. The Goose Lake, with old tree trunks poking out of the water, also has an appealing draw. Lastly, the Panther Creek Falls and the Falls Creek Falls too are the must-visit attraction of the forest.