On August 25, 1916, the National Park Service was born. Now over 100 years later, the country’s 59 national parks showcase everything from geysers to glaciers to old-growth forests. Celebrate the centennial with a jaunt through Washington’s three wonder-filled national parks: Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic.
Get up close to Mount Rainier a state icon that rises 14,410 feet above sea level. As the most glaciated peak in the contiguous US, Mount Rainier spawns six major rivers and looms on the horizon from almost anywhere in the Puget Sound region. Wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems, with ancient forests cloaking the icy volcano’s foothills and exquisite meadows blossoming with wildflowers in spring and summer. Mountaineers train to summit the glacier-clad peak, while others take a leaf from Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling book Wild and trek sections of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which loops around the mountain. For a more relaxed experience, drive to Sunrise (6,400 feet), the park’s highest point accessible by vehicle, to glimpse the breathtaking beauty sprawled out below.
In the northwest corner of the state on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park offers fairytale-esque scenery. Think fog-soaked old-growth forests, snow-capped peaks, and a rugged tide pool–lined coast. Anchored by the majestic Olympic Mountains and a system of Pacific-bound rivers, the park protects 73 miles of coastline and draws outdoor enthusiasts from near and far. After all, the park is 95 percent wilderness with 600-plus miles of hiking trails. Begin at Port Angeles, home to the park’s main visitor center, before heading to Hurricane Ridge, the most accessible high-country zone that dazzles with a 360-degree view of alpine meadows and craggy peaks—and sometimes glimpses of black-tail deer and black bears. Then delve into the park, exploring gems from the mystical Hoh Rain Forest and dreamy Ruby Beach to Sol Duc Hot Springs and the calm waters of Lake Quinault and Lake Crescent.
Further north, North Cascades National Park offers a gorgeous alpine landscape of jagged peaks crowned by 300-plus glaciers. Popular draws to this diverse terrain of cascading waterfalls and dense, forested valleys range from climbing and rafting adventures to wilderness backpacking treks. Ross Lake, with its national recreational area, and nearby Diablo Lake are both easily accessible from Newhalem and offer boating excursions on their placid waters.
And if you’re still craving more after romping in Washington’s national parks, you’re in luck. The state has more than 100 state parks, including Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear production facility just north of Richland that’s set to become part of the new multistate Manhattan Project National Historical Park. In the meantime, schedule a tour of the site to see the nuclear reactor and learn about its World War II–era history.