Washington nature is one of the most diverse we have seen in the US. Active volcanoes, deserts, glacier lakes, mountains, rain forests, waterfalls, caves, to name a few … You can play with snow in the morning and visit “saltwater beach” on the same day. 🙂 (A lot like Vancouver, BC)
Among dozens of must-see places, we chose the 13 outstanding (and our favorite) to show you. Map and essentials are at the end of the post.
Washington nature: 13 examples of rare beauty
1. Lake Diablo, North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is one of the most underrated National Parks in the US. The only explanation for this fact we suggest is lack of accommodation to stay overnight. Except camping (last picture), which is a true bucket-list destination.
Pro tip: Lake Diablo is the best to observe during direct sunlight, otherwise, you won’t be able to see its stunning colors. We love this place also for being accessible for all. Active travelers can go on hikes nearby.
2. Washington Pass Overlook
Vastness, wilderness, and height are unbelievable at Washington Pass Overlook. We like to visit in on the Memorial Day weekend: some snow is still present, but the trail to the top is easy and picturesque:
3. Big Four Ice Caves
Although there are now only two ice caves left (the rest have melted away), the place is surreal, especially for the first time. The trail (check if it’s open before you go) is easy and majestic. You’ll pass huge plants, towering trees, and secluded ponds: it feels like a dinosaur will appear behind the corner.
4. Olympic Peninsula beaches: Second Beach, Ruby Beach, etc.
Oregon Coast has the most scenic and dramatic coastline we have seen on the entire US West Coast. Olympic Peninsula beaches, Second Beach, Rialto Beach, and Ruby Beach, are some of the rare places where the Washington coastline are similar to Oregon’s beauty:
Pro tip: if you are looking for the “camping bucket list destinations”there are several campgrounds to stay at the beaches of the Olimpic Peninsula. (We tried Kalaloch and loved it).
5. Hoh Rainforest
Hiking the Hoh Rainforest (an iconic Hall of Mosses Trail) is picturesque, easy, and … bizarre. While there are tons of wet forests in WA, with similar features (branches covered in dangling ferns and moss), underwater forest (picture #2 below) is incredible:
Pro tip: make sure Hoh is your first wet forest in WA, not last. 😉
6. Lake Wenatchee
Lake Wenatchee is special year-round. It has one of the best sledding hills in the area, (we visit it every year). There is also nice cross country trails for skiers, spectacular fall colors, during summer – amazing camping, white sand beach.
7. San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands is where you are within hand reach of Canada. Islands are lovely during the summer season, and the ferry ride is like a separate attraction:
Pro tips: book the ferry early, the same as waterfront camping, and hotels. The most popular islands are San Juan and Orcas, we attended the YMCA family “all-inclusive camp” there and loved it.
8. Sun Lakes Dry Falls
Once upon a time, there was the biggest flood in history, with an enormous amount of water coming hundreds of miles from the spot pictured below. With the end of the last Ice Age, floodwaters stopped, leaving the waterfall high and dry.
Dry Falls is a geological wonder and located in deserted and sunny, Eastern Washington. The picture doesn’t pay much credit: Dry Falls has its own, special energy, the air is filled with it!
Pro tips: the area is popular for fishing, camping, and has a real Soap Lake with 23 minerals and healing mud.
9. Steptoe Butte
Endless to the horizon in all directions, rolling hills are marvelous and … calming. They look like dunes and were formed the same way, thousands of years after years.
We visited Steptoe Butte in early June when the hills were covered in velvet green, with the old barns peeking out here and there.
Pro tip: Palouse Falls are pictures and … not so far away.
10. Ginkgo Petrified Forest
Petrified wood is WA’s official state gem. At the Ginkgo Petrified Forest, you can touch (hug?) 15 million years old trees. Walk the trail and check the logs or visit a museum with one of the most diverse petrified wood collections in the US.
The park was named after the ginkgo – a rare species to find among petrified wood.
Pro tip: the area might be very windy, check the weather before you go
11. Mount St. Helens
The whole idea of an active stratovolcano being around is … strange. The area is dotted with evacuation route signs, just in case.
The last catastrophic eruption happened on May 18th, 1980, followed by the largest landslide ever recorded. Half of the dome gone, with the signs of landslide visible on the right side:
Pro tip: you don’t have to fly the Big Island of Hawaii to walk in the lava cave and even crawl inside the lava tubes – Mt. Saint Helens has it all (pictured above)
12. Spokane Falls
Spokane is known as Father’s Day birthplace and has multiple waterfalls right in the middle of the city. The waterfalls are enormous, loud, and charming. You can ride the gondola over the falls or watch them from the multiple parks:
Pro tips: Spokane has 5 major beautiful gardens and the biggest in the world Radio Flyer wagon. There is also … a garbage-eating goat. No joke!
13. Mount Rainier National Park
We call Rainier “the best”, as the possibilities to explore the NP are endless: wilderness camping, wildlife, “wheels-friendly” trails, winter fun, summertime wildflowers bloom, etc. It was the place where I realized that “it will be hard to move out of WA one day”.
Exploring Washington Nature: essentials
- The distances in WA are long. We weren’t used to driving 2 hours one way (or more) to go on a hike when we just moved here. However, once we have made it, we couldn’t stop. What we saw, was further beyond our expectations.
- Travelers to WA often aim for Seattle, missing out nature gems. If you short on time, stop at the Snoqualmie Falls or Gold Creek Pond (pictured below).
- While it is warm and dry (May-October), explore natural attractions: otherwise they mght be inaccessible or off-season the rest of the year. Use the oficial websites to learn about the best time to go.
- Dress in layers and wear comfy shoes. Don’t forget sunscreen, mosquito repellent, hat, snacks, water, camera, binoculars, and full tank of gas. 😉
Water wonders of Washington and Seattle: SUP, kayaking, camping, swimming, fishing.
Cabin and yurt camping in Washington: off-season fun for the entire family. The budget stays in Yellowstone. YMCA family camp.
Skiing in WA with a toddler: what is it like to ski in WA
Vancouver, BC; Iceland, Munich, Amsterdam, Portland, Washington DC.
Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks 6 days road trip. Death Valley 2 day trip in winter.
Thank you for visiting! 🙂