Whether you’re in search of an escape from life’s hustle and bustle or simply trying to update your social media with cool pics, traveling outside Seattle's city walls to become one with nature is bound to be good for the soul. Here is a list of Seattle’s top 5 jaw-dropping national parks worthy of exploration. We've gone through everything you need to know, and included one gorgeous must-do hike for each.
Olympic National Park
2 hr 35 mins from downtown Seattle
From mossy rainforests to glacier-capped mountains and the beautiful Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park is the one park you should visit if you’re short on time. You can soak in the Sol Duc hot springs, take a stroll to Marymere Falls, or reminisce on your Twilight vampire-loving days by visiting La Push. Activities on offer in the park include biking, fishing, skiing, hiking, and touring Lake Quinault. A noteworthy hike is Klahhane Ridge (located near Hurricane Ridge) which is comprised of meadows and wildflowers and home to wildlife like mountain goats, deer, and black bears. Although the trail begins beneath the canopy of trees, it soon opens up with incredible views to distract you from the continuous incline. Olympic National Park has an entrance fee of $25 which is valid for seven consecutive days.
Mount Rainier National Park
1 hr 44 mins from downtown Seattle
Although Mount Rainier is an active volcano, this doesn’t stop the 1-2 million people who visit each year. If you follow the road through Mount Rainier National Park , you can take a quick stop at Narada Falls to witness a beautiful rainbow on a sunny day before reaching Paradise. Paradise, the park’s main visitor center, offers prime views of Rainier, wildflower meadows, and a cafeteria to recharge before exploring more of the park. Although climbing, fishing, camping and boating are activities that can be done at Mount Rainier, the most popular activity is hiking. With a 93-mile Wonderland Trail encircling Mount Rainier, there are shorter hikes that can be taken for a day trip. Tolmie Peak Lookout, one of the shorter hikes available, is the ultimate hike for your perfect PNW picture. At the top you'll see a fire lookout, up-close views of Mount Rainier, and a sapphire blue lake below. Bug spray is a must and starting the hike early is also advised to avoid the crowd. Mount Rainier National Park has an entrance fee of $25 which grants unlimited entry for one vehicle for seven consecutive days.
North Cascades National Park
2 hrs from downtown Seattle
Washington’s North Cascades, also known as the “American Alps” features diverse snow-topped mountains, glaciers, rivers, and valleys. Bird watching, camping, horseback riding, and hiking are some of the activities offered in the North Cascades National Park . The southern unit of the park contains Gorge Lake, Diablo Lake, Lake Chelan, and Ross Lake, offering activities such as kayaking, canoeing, boating, dining and wine tours. The park usually attracts hikers and backpackers for the beautiful mountain ranges. A day hike recommendation would be Heather-Maple Pass Loop. This hike offers something new with every season, exploding with vibrant colors in the fall and summer. Maple Pass Loop also offers the option of starting the hike clockwise to knock out the steep part of the trail or counterclockwise for more dramatic views as you climb to the top. There is no entrance fee to the park although campsites charge $16 per night.
Mount St. Helens Volcanic Monument
3 hr 24 mins from downtown Seattle
Iconic for being the most destructive volcanic eruption in US history, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is well worth the drive. The best views of Mount St. Helens are accessed from the main visitor center, Johnston Ridge Observatory ($8/adult) and Windy Ridge. Helicopter tours, ziplining, camping, fishing, and horseback riding are some of the fun activities available at the park. Another activity allows hikers to summit the active volcano through a 10 mile roundtrip trail. If you’re planning on climbing the volcano, permits are free of charge from November 1 through March 31. However, beginning April 1 to October 31, permits cost $22 per person and are available online. From May 15 to October 31, it is limited to 100 climbers per day. If you’re in search of a shorter day hike, Harry’s Ridge is a beautiful hike to get a full view of Mount St. Helens and the surrounding mountains. The trail follows a ridge-line, making Mount St. Helens visible for a majority of the hike and it’s crucial to bring water on a hot day since there’s virtually no shade. On the Eastside and Southside of the monument, a National Forest Recreation Pass is required at designated sites for $5 per vehicle per day. There will be self-service pay stations around the monument.
Cape Disappointment State Park
3 hr 40 mins from downtown Seattle
Although it’s not quite a national park and does have a misleading name, Cape Disappointment State Park truly doesn't disappoint! This park is historic, marking the end of Lewis and Clark’s journey in 1805. The park offers magnificent photo opportunities for lighthouse enthusiasts, eight miles of hiking trails for the wilderness explorers, and campgrounds for the overnight stayers. Admission to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center are $5 for ages 18 and $2.50 for the North Head Lighthouse tour which is open to visitors from May to September. The hike to the lighthouse can be slippery, muddy, and narrow, but fortunately it is short. There are peek-a-boo views of the ocean as the trail winds through the rainforest, and alternative hiking options such as the Coastal Forest Loop trail or Discovery Trail are available as well. This park is equipped with automated pay stations for visitors to purchase a one-day or annual Discover Pass.
Looking for more beautiful spots in Seattle? Check out this guide to 5 day hikes .