10. Deception Pass State Park
This is the most-visited state park in the state of Washington, with more than 1 million visitors each year taking in the scenery. The park boasts 30 miles of hiking trails, 19 miles of saltwater shoreline, three freshwater lakes, 320 campsites, scuba diving, fishing, kayaking, and numerous sightings of bald eagles. But the greatest attraction in the park is the bridge that connects Fidalgo Island with Whidbey Island. The bridge is 1,487 feet long and stands 180 feet above the churning waters of Puget Sound and was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Breathtaking scenery of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic mountains can be seen from the bridge and that alone makes this worth the trip to the northern part of the state.
9. Flaming Geyser State Park
Located about 25 miles from Seattle near the city of Auburn, this unique state park offers a flaming geyser (the result of methane seeps from coal deposits), a bubbling geyser, fossils, petrified wood, abundant wildlife, whitewater rafting (Class IV rapids) and, get this, a model airplane flying area.
Hugging three miles of shoreline along the Green River, this day-use park is virtually unknown by people outside the immediate area. Head a short distance upriver and you’ll find the Green River Gorge, very popular with locals but hard to reach. Sandstone cliffs rise 300 feet above the gorge, a perfect spot for wildlife viewing and getting away from urban sprawl.
8. Ft. Stevens State Park
This Oregon fort was part of the Harbor Defense System at the mouth of the Columbia River and was active from 1863-1947. Originally built to defend against possible British invasion during the Pig War in the 1870s, the fort itself is an earthwork battery and the park consists of 3,700 acres. History buffs will be interested to learn the fort was fired upon by a Japanese submarine during World War II.
The park offers visitors camping, beachcombing, swimming, hiking trails, and, of course, a military history museum and tours of the fort itself.
7. Ecola State Park
The American history regarding this park began in 1806 when Lewis and Clark took a side trip to this beach to see a beached whale. Located just north of Cannon Beach, Oregon, the park offers unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean and 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, a must-see for any camera bug. Walk the interpretive trail as you follow the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. Keep an eye out for migrating gray whales, explore the tidal pools, or put on your wetsuit and enjoy some surfing. This is one of the few designated surfing areas on the northwest coast, and the waves can be impressive. Towering Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock surround you as you soak in one of the gems of the Oregon State Park System. Drive a few miles north to the town of Seaside, a popular tourist destination.
6. Iron Horse State Park
Toss away all pre-conceived notions of what a park should look like and visit this 110-mile-long park starting in Easton, Washington. The park’s big draw is the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, which follows the former rail bed of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad to the Idaho border.
This park is a hiker’s dream, passing waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and rugged mountain scenery while descending a mere 2 percent grade. Fishing spots are plentiful, as are rock-climbing opportunities. In the winter you can snowshoe, cross country ski, dogsled or snowmobile. And for those of you who savor the Wild West, toss on a saddle and ride your horse through the park.
5. Sun Lakes State Park
Camp in the area scoured by one of the greatest Ice Age floods of all time. This 4,027-acre park sits where water once raged from the Lake Missoula Flood 15,000 years ago. Few geologic sites are more impressive than nearby Dry Falls, a 3.5-mile-wide feature that stands 400 feet high. This park is like an oasis in the desert and offers 73,640 feet of freshwater shoreline.
4. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
OK, so it’s not technically a park, but visit it once and the distinction between park and recreation area will seem irrelevant. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is the largest sand dune area in North America. Located between Florence and Coos Bay, Oregon, these dunes stretch more than 40 miles along the coast. Some of the dunes are 500 feet high.
Almost three dozen lakes are within the recreational area for swimming and fishing. There are also numerous campgrounds and hiking trails as well as opportunities for world-class off-road vehicle fun.
3. Gingko Petrified Forest State Park
Located a few miles outside the town of Vantage in central Washington, this National Natural Landmark is a scientist’s dream come true. The park covers 7,470 acres along the Columbia River. Over 50 species of trees have been discovered here, including the Ginkgo tree, once abundant in this area before the last Ice Age.
These trees were buried under volcanic ash and then exposed about 15,000 B.C. by the Lake Missoula Floods. What remains is one of the largest collections of petrified wood in the world. Activities include camping, swimming, boating and fishing.
2. Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
This is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the Pacific Northwest. On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens erupted, the deadliest eruption in modern U.S. history. The blast sheared 1,300 feet from the top of the mountain, ash floated in the atmosphere around the world, and the resulting landscape resembled the surface of the moon. Entire old-growth forests were leveled by the force of the blast, leaving the surrounding area looking like a giant’s game of pick-up sticks. Yet a few months after the eruption, plants began sprouting. Now, more than 30 years later, the area is once again lush in vegetation.
1. Olympic National Park
Established in 1938 as a national park by President Roosevelt, Olympic National Park was named a World Heritage Site in 1981. The park boasts three different major ecosystems within its boundaries and the largest temperate rainforest in the United States. The park features 73 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the scenic wonder of landscape and wildlife, there are abundant opportunities for fishing, hiking and swimming. Or take a long hike and then sit down to soak in Sol Duc or Olympic hot springs, popular destinations for decades.