The Best Natural Attractions in Washington State
The San Juan Islands: Forested mountains rise up from the cold waters north of Puget Sound to form the archipelago known as the San Juan Islands. Bald eagles circle overhead while orca whales dive for salmon below. Such natural beauty is a powerful magnet and despite hordes of tourists in summer, the San Juans are Washington's top summer vacation spot.
Olympic National Park: This park has the only rainforests in the contiguous United States, and they comprise a fascinating ecosystem. Living plants stake out every square inch of space, from towering Sitka spruce trees to lush mosses and giant ferns. The park preserves miles of pristine, fog-shrouded beaches, as well as beautiful alpine and subalpine scenery with lush meadows.
North Cascades National Park Complex: Comprised of one national park and two national recreation areas, this rugged and remote region is among the state's least explored. The North Cascades Scenic Highway has stupendous views on clear days, but is closed by snow for nearly half the year.
Mount Rainier National Park: With its glaciers and easily accessible alpine meadows, Mount Rainier is Washington's favorite mountain. Sunrise and Paradise are the two best vantage points for viewing the massive bulk of Mount Rainier, and in these two areas of the park, you'll also find some of the best hiking trails.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument: Mount St. Helens is slowly recovering from the 1980 volcanic blast that turned one of the Cascades' most beautiful peaks into a scarred landscape of fallen trees and fields of ash, but it remains the only active volcano in the contiguous U.S. Several visitor centers portray the events of the 1980 eruption and what has happened since.
Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area: Carved by ice-age floods 1,200 feet deep, the Columbia Gorge is a unique feature of the Northwest landscape. Waterfalls by the dozen cascade from the basalt cliffs on the Oregon side of the gorge, but the best wide-angle views are from the Washington side, which is where you'll find Beacon Rock, one of the largest monoliths in the world.
Dry Falls: It has been thousands of years since any water flowed over this central Washington waterfall (thus the name), but it is still a very impressive sight. Created by massive ice-age floods, Dry Falls was once 400 feet tall and more than 3 1/2 miles wide.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.