Tucked in the northwest corner of the continental U.S. you’ll find Washington State, a state that has a full title, first and last name, so as not to be confused with nation’s capital. But when you arrive in Washington State, you’ll find that you’ve entered another world, and its nothing like Washington D.C. Washington is known for some of the most stunning landscapes in the country, with some of almost every ecosystem and landform known in North America.
Along the pacific coast of Washington you’ll find rugged cliffs and long beaches, but head into the interior and you’ll be confronted by the Cascade Mountains, towering snowy peaks adorned with dark green forests. The majority of the state’s population is found in the central part of Washington near trendy and artsy Seattle and its neighboring cities, but if you head to the far eastern portions of the state you might think you’re in the southwest where deserts and dry dusty towns cover the land and are few and far between.
Olympic National Park
Washington’s most stunning National Park is located in the northern part of the state encompassing coastline, alpine regions, temperate rainforest, and forested areas. The park is known for spectacular vistas created thanks to the variety of terrain created by ancient glaciers. Although the area the park sits on has long been important to Native American tribes, much of the National Park today consists of remote lands accessible only by foot.
Olympic National Park is a popular destination for camping, hiking, and backpacking offering lengthy trails for a variety of skill levels. It is also notably one of the few locations in the country where backpacking routes can be found along the beach as many trails follow the coastline. The park is famous for excellent winter conditions where skiers and snowboarders can enjoy the powder at either the Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area or on a backcountry skiing trip.
San Juan Islands Washington
If there is anything in the state of Washington that has a hope of beating out Olympic National Park as the state’s most idyllic and beautiful location, it might be the San Juan Islands. This archipelago of islands located between northern Washington and British Columbia, Canada is one of the state’s leading tourist destinations and a haven for retirees and artists from around the world. Surrounded on all sides by waterways like the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Rosario Strait, Hard Strait, the Strait of Georgia, and the San Juan Channel the islands have become one of the best places in the northwest for marine mammal watching.
Several of the larger islands can be visited by ferry and feature natural and historical attractions as well as arts and craft shopping in small villages. The most popularly visited islands are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. The smaller islands are accessible only by personal watercraft, but are excellent destinations for boat camping or camping on shore.
North Cascades Scenic Highway
This popular route, also known as State Route 20, travels from the northern coastal town of Port Townsend to the city of Newport and eastwards to the Idaho state line. Along the route views of coastal land followed by snowcapped remote mountain peaks might make it hard to keep your eyes on the road.
Mount Rainier National Park
Like much of the northwest, Washington has many towering mountains scattered across the landscape and 14,000 foot tall Mount Rainier happens to be the tallest of the entire Cascade Range. The park has varied ecosystems and terrain including valleys, waterfalls, subalpine meadows, old growth forest, and at least 25 glaciers. The park has several visitor centers, campgrounds, and extensive hiking routes. The most popular destination for visitors is Paradise, an area at 5,400 feet on the slope of Mount Rainier that is known for its record annual snowfall.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
The most recognizable element of the skyline of Seattle, half of Washington, and the northern half of Oregon, is this volcano that blew its top back in 1980 creating a regional disaster and lending the mountain its new flat-topped shape. Mount Saint Helens is located in the Cascade Mountain Range and stands at 8,365 feet in elevation. It is estimated to be more than 40,000 years old and is still considered an active volcano. Today visitors come to the mountain to enjoy hiking, camping, climbing, and learning about the eruption of 1980. At the visitor center, informative exhibits teach about the causes and events that led to the amazing yet tragic events of Mount Saint Helen’s eruption.
Top Things to Do in Washington
Other than Mount Saint Helens, the other lofty object to grace Seattle’s skyline is the Space Needle a 518 foot tower built for the 1962 World’s Fair. The Space Needle, which in actuality doesn’t resemble a needle, is visited by 20,000 people every day. After riding the elevator up to the top visitors can enjoy amazing views of Seattle from the observation desk or dine in SkyCity, a rotating restaurant.
Pioneer Square and Seattle Underground
This neighborhood that was once the heart of the city in Seattle is today an excellent location for viewing some of the city’s late 19th century architecture. A small triangular plaza named Pioneer Square is the focal point of the Pioneer Square-Skid Road Historic District, which includes many buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood is also home to notable art galleries, nightclubs, shops, and cafes, and the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park. One of the most common reasons visitors venture into Pioneer Square is to participate in the famous Seattle Underground Tour which takes participants below the city streets to the original streets of Seattle built in the late 19th century before drainage problems called for new construction at a higher level.
Pike Place Market
This public farmers market is one of the only in the country to be named a National Historic Place and it has long held the title as Seattle’s most visited tourist attraction. The market is located near the Elliot Bay waterfront and has been opened since 1907. On its many levels vendors selling fresh food, antiques, comic books, collectibles, crafts, and other products can be found earning a living every day of the week. The most famous vendors in the market are fishmongers who are known for their reputation of jovially tossing fish and yelling customer orders to one another in what seems more of a comedy club act than a grocery store manner as delighted tourists watch.
Columbia River Gorge
On the southern border of Washington the enormous Columbia River draws a line between Oregon and Washington creating the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. The gorge is known for steep, rugged, tree-lined walls often littered with jagged cliffs and glistening waterfalls that can be viewed on dozens of hiking trails. On the Washington side of the gorge, one of the easiest and most popular ways to take in the views stretching down the river in each direction is to climb the mile-long trail to Beacon Rock a large rock shaped formation at the edge of the river.
Washington State Ferries & Puget Sound
Puget Sound is the large body of water in the inlet that encompasses much of upper Washington including regions stretching from the San Juan Islands to Seattle. The sound is made up of various waterways from the north to the south end, all of which are home to a variety of marine life including Orca whales, bottlenose dolphins, harbor seals, minke, humpback whales, grey whales, and several types of sea lion.
The best way to see this natural gem is aboard a Washington State Ferry, a system of passenger ferries run by the state traveling throughout the region to Seattle, various islands, and coastal towns.
Things to Do in Washington
Like its southern neighbor and many other states, Washington is split into two sharply opposed yet beautifully blended regions. Seattle and other large cities in the central part of the state are popular destinations for visiting museums, shopping, and enjoying the unique counterculture. Outside of this region visitors can enjoy vast expanses of forested land, mountains, rugged coastline, and endlessly stunning waters.