The State of Washington is home to many breathtaking natural parks and landscapes and the best way to explore them is by taking a road trip! This Washington National Parks Road Trip will take you to Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and North Cascades National Park, as well as other beautiful areas in Washington State.
Where to Go
An international hub for the Pacific Northwest, Seattle rests on Puget Sound and provides a fantastic starting point for your trip. With a population of around 780,000, Seattle is the largest city in Washington State. Ever since it hosted the 1962 World Fair, Seattle has thrived as a cultural, technological, and outdoor recreation mecca. The 605-foot Space Needle remains the proud symbol of the Pacific Northwest metropolis and enchants visitors with incredible views. Snow-capped peaks and temperate rain forests characterize the city, luring hikers, cyclists, and other adventurers.
Olympic National Park
Just two-and-a-half hours from Seattle, Olympic National Park is the next stop along your road trip. From the rugged Pacific coast to snow-capped peaks, the diversity of Olympic National Park is off the charts. Beachgoers can marvel at the miles of driftwood and sea stacks dotting the coastline. Campsites along the shoreline allow you to watch mesmerizing sunsets and spend the evenings stargazing. Venture through the lush rainforests that boast Sitka spruce, western hemlock, ferns, spike-mosses, and other unique plant species. Find solitude at Lake Crescent by kayaking on its sparkling waters or climb the adjacent peaks. The temperate rainforests eventually give way to the mountains, and Mount Olympus sits proudly above the landscape. Hurricane Ridge offers year round recreation and enchants visitors as one of the park’s most iconic vistas.
Mount Rainier National Park
Under a three-hour drive from Olympic National Park lies Mount Rainier National Park, the next stop on your road trip. Paradise is the word that best describes the natural beauty of Mount Rainier National Park. Its namesake peak rises 14,411 ft into the sky, the highest mountain in the Cascade Range. The Paradise Area gives visitors the best view of the famous mountain and its eye-popping alpine meadows. Gain more elevation by driving to Sunrise and explore the hiking trails that offer incredible views of the Cascades. The quick trek to Tipsoo Lake and the 6.3-mile Crystal Lakes Trail each include alpine lakes and blooming wildflowers. Thousands of mountaineers attempt to summit the mighty peak, but the sheer elevation gain of over 9,000 feet makes this a monumental challenge.
Hanford Reach National Monument
Just over two hours from Mount Rainer National Park sits the Hanford Reach National Monument, the next stop on your journey. Wildlife abounds in the last free-flowing, non-tidal stretch of the Columbia River. Established in 2000, the Hanford Reach National Monument brings visitors face-to-face with elk, coyotes, birds of prey, and other incredible species. More than 200 bird species inhabit the refuge, and anglers can catch bass, salmon, steelhead, and walleye. Hanford Reach features rare traces of sagebrush grassland that have remained untouched due to the security around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The B-Reactor at Hanford Reach was the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, and the landscape set aside for the Manhattan Project retained its immense diversity of plant and animal life.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Just about two hours away is your next stop, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. More than 4 million acres of pristine wilderness lures nature enthusiasts searching for solitude from the crowds. Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest straddles the eastern side of the Cascades and gives hikers hundreds of miles of trails to explore. Spruce, lodgepole pine and Douglas-firs adorn the subalpine forests and scattered lakes offer serene fishing holes. Methow Valley provides a sanctuary for numerous species such as lynx, grizzly bears, wolves, and beavers. Recreation seekers share the landscape with wildlife and partake in activities like mountain biking, fishing, rafting, and Nordic skiing.
North Cascades National Park
Continue on for two-and-a-half hours to reach North Cascades National Park. The park boasts over 300 glaciers, the most you’ll find anywhere in the Lower 48. Its untouched wilderness includes turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls, and beautiful alpine meadows. Diablo Lake is the star attraction with its stunning mountain vistas and old-growth forests hugging its shores. The nearby Ross Lake Resort is a prime spot for recreational activities such as boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and camping. Hikers gravitate to the Cascade Pass for the jaw-dropping views of granite peaks and forested valleys. Situated at nearly 5,500 feet, the Washington Pass Overlook inspires nature lovers with its immense spires rising up towards the heavens. Although it requires serious effort to get to, the remote village of Stehekin is a magical lakeside hideaway engulfed by snow-capped peaks.
When to Go
Despite the large crowds, July and August offer the best conditions to road trip through Washington State’s national parks. These are the driest months of the year in Olympic National Park, which provides amicable hiking conditions. Many roads inside Mount Rainier National Park are closed from November to May. Plus, the wildflowers dotting the alpine meadows are at their peak bloom during the summer. North Cascades National Park experiences similar roadway closures in the winter, and summer offers the most pleasant weather conditions. Although this route is doable within a week, you could spend a lifetime exploring these miraculous landscapes. Give yourself at least two weeks, or longer, for a rewarding road trip.