national parks in washington state national parks in washington state

Hiking, Wildlife, and More: National Parks in Washington State

Going on a Nature retreat in a great national park is an excellent means of getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnecting with nature. National Parks also have a lot to offer in terms of outdoor activities, such as camping and hiking.

Are you in Washington and looking for one such park for your trip? We are here to help.

Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, and North Cascades National Park are the three Washington National Parks managed and administered by the US National Park Service.

In this article, we will discuss these National Parks. Each of these National Parks has its charm and adventure. Please keep reading to know more about them!

What are National Parks?

A National Park is a piece of land set aside by the government to protect the natural environment. It is an incredible way to conserve nature’s remarkable beauty, distinctiveness, and wilderness.

National Parks may be established for recreational, scientific, or historical purposes. They have recently become prevalent among locals and tourists, garnering hundreds of thousands of people each year.

national parks i
Source: Zack Frank/ Shutterstock

1. Mount Rainier National Park

Without a doubt, one of the most popular, Mount Rainier National Park, is also one of the oldest National Parks in the United States. 

It was established in 1899 as the United States’ fifth national park. The Mount Rainier National Park, situated southeast of Seattle, spans 36,381.49 acres and attracts over two million people yearly due to its diverse plant and animal life and wide range of outdoor recreation activities.

Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in Washington and the Cascade Range at 14,410 feet, is, without a doubt, the park’s most prominent feature. This peak point is also known as Columbia Crest and was once believed to be the highest point in the United States.

Fun fact: Mount Rainer is an active volcano, and it last erupted around 150 years ago!

Here we share with you some more details about Mount Rainier National Park!

1.1. Basic Information

The basic information that you need to look into before you visit the Mount Rainier National Park includes-

  • Fees
  • Hours of operation – open all year round.
  • Park maps and brochures
  • Entrances – There are four entrances to the National Park: the Nisqually entrance in the southwest, the Steven Canyon entrance in the southeast, the Carbon River entrance in the northwest, and the White River entrance in the northeast.

1.2. Wildlife

Mount Rainier has a range of ecosystems and life zones protected due to its height difference of almost 13,000 feet. At each elevation gain, you’ll most likely witness different animals. 

Clark's Nutcracker on a Branch
By: randimal/Depositphotos

This diversity allows a wide range of invertebrates, mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles to thrive. Slime molds come in various shapes and sizes, resembling animals and fungi!

The park is home to 65 animal species, 14 amphibian species, five reptile species, 182 bird species, and 14 native fish species.

The most memorable animals found at Mount Rainier National Park are the Columbian black-tailed deer, Douglas squirrels, boisterous Stellar’s jays, and common ravens.

Invertebrates, such as insects, worms, crustaceans, and spiders, to mention a few – are the most diverse and plentiful species in the park and presumably account for 85 percent of the park’s animal biomass.

1.3. Weather

The weather at Mount Rainier National Park is generally cold and rainy, even during late July and August, which are often the driest and warmest months of the year.

Wet and cold weather can strike any time of year, so those planning to visit should pack extra clothing and rain gear year-round, even if the weather is pleasant.

For those who plan to go hiking on Mount Rainier Mountain, the weather is erratic and ever-changing up until the peak. All hikers should come equipped and make an informed decision about whether or not to ascend.

You must consider one-day and long-range weather predictions, avalanche warnings, and special weather alerts. Speaking with park rangers beforehand, with the most up-to-date information on peak conditions, is also advisable.

1.4. Things to Do

While you can do many amazing things at Mount Rainier National Park, here is a shortlist to get you started!

Visit Paradise

Paradise might be the most beautiful area of Mount Rainier National Park! If you visit during the summer, you will see fields covered in wildflowers and magnificent waterfalls forming from snow melting.

You must visit Myrtle Falls, located in Paradise itself! It would be very convenient for you to reach Myrtle Falls as it requires a short half-mile walk!

Another worthwhile experience would be to hike the Skyline Trail, which has its starting point in Paradise.

Go hiking

Hiking is one of the main attractions of Mount Rainier National Park, and there are many hiking trails for you to choose from. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you should hike all these trails!

Photo by Toomas Tartes on Unsplash

Apart from the Skyline Trail, there are many other short trails, like the Naches Peak Loop, the Silver Falls Trail, the Sourdough Ridge Trail, and many more.

The Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile-long hiking trail, circumnavigates around the mountain, and you can get amazing views and sights throughout!

Visit Sunrise-

Sunrise is another great place in the National Park to spend time at. The location provides you with an unmatched view of the Cascade Range!

There are several hiking trails in Sunrise, a lodge, and a Sunrise Visitor Center! Another one of the

1.5 Nearby Attractions

Some of the nearby attractions of this park include other NPS sites, Gateway communities, etc.

Some notable locations are –

  • Mount St Helens
  • Johnston Ridge Observatory
  • Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
  • Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

2. Olympic National Park

Another one is the Olympic National Park, which was originally a national monument established in 1909. 

Still, President Franklin D. Roosevelt renamed it Olympic National Park in 1938. The National Park has later declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage Site in 1981.

Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA.
By: sepavone/Depositphotos

Spanning over nearly a million acres, it is located in the Pacific Northwest on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

From the spectacular heights of the Olympic Mountains to old-growth forests, the park spans a variety of ecosystems. Climbers flock to the summit of glacier-capped Mt. 

Olympus, hiking, and trekking trails wind through the park’s rainforests and along the Pacific coast.

Here we share with you some more details about Olympic National Park!

2.1. Basic Information

The basic information that you need to look into before you visit Olympic National Park includes the following-

  • Fees
  • Hours of operation – open 24 hours, all year round.
  • Park maps and brochures
  • The park is divided into four parts- The Pacific Coastline, The Alpine Region, The Temperate rain forests, and the Mountains.

2.2. Wildlife

Olympic National Park’s vast size of a million acres and diverse terrain ensures the existence of abundant wildlife within the park boundaries.

Olympic National Park protects and is home to over 300 species of birds for at least part of the year. You will be amused by the sounds of owls or peregrine falcons in the forest and witnessing tiny penguin-like rhinoceros auklets along the coast to golden eagles soaring above the hills.

You might be lucky to see whales, dolphins, seals, and even sea lions and otters on the Pacific Coast. On the other hand, the tide pools are home to invertebrates of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.

Two Dolphins
Photo by Ranae Smith on Unsplash. Copyright 2022.

You can also find land animals, such as raccoons, beavers, and minks, in the lower regions of the park, and other animals, such as deer, bears, elks, and cougars, everywhere, including the mountain meadows and the valleys.

Outside of Alaska, some of the healthiest populations of Pacific salmon may very well be found in the dark waters.

The park also has endemic species, such as the Olympic marmot and Olympic torrent salamander, found nowhere else on the planet.

2.3 Things to Do

The Olympic National Park offers a variety of locations and activities to make your visit worthwhile! Here are a few of them!

Visit Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge provides one of the best views in Olympic National Park! This beautiful location can be seen by glaciated mountain peaks, lush green forests, and Mount Olympus.

The Hurrican Ridge is located about 18 miles from Port Angeles.

Visit Beaches

There are plenty of beaches along the wild coastline that you can visit and enjoy!

However, the best experience would be to visit Rialto Beach and hike to the Hole in the Wall!

Source: Jon Bilous on Shutterstock

Visit Valleys and Lakes-

There are several lakes in the Olympics, especially in the Western region. Lake Quinault and the Enchanted Valley are among them.

2.4 Lodging

At the Olympic National Park, there are lodging options both inside and outside the premises of the National Park.

There are a few resorts and lodges inside the National Park where you can reside. These include-

  • Kalaloch Lodge – The Kalaloch Lodge is open all year round and includes cabins, a campsite, and lodge rooms. It also has a gift store, a restaurant, and a mercantile.
  • Lake Crescent Lodge – The Lake Crescent Lodge is open from May to January and includes cabins, cottages, and lodge rooms. It also has a gift store, a restaurant, and kayak rentals.
  • Log Cabin Resort – The Log Cabin Resort is open from May to September and includes cabins, chalets, lodge rooms, RVs, and campgrounds. It also houses a cafe, deli, gift shop, convenience store, laundry, and boat rentals.
  • Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort – The Log Cabin Resort is open from April to October and includes cabins, suits, RVs, and campgrounds. It also has hot spring pools, restaurants, a deli, a convenience store, and a gift shop.

Outside Olympic National Park, the gateway communities provide a variety of lodging alternatives. Hotels and motels, bed & breakfasts, and vacation rentals are available in these places, with prices ranging from luxurious to economical.

3. North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park Washington
Image Source: nps

The North Cascades region was initially designated as a Forest Reserve in 1897. Later, activists affirmed that the stunning region required more protection; hence, it was redesigned as a National Park in 1968.

North Cascades National Park is located in northern Washington and covers 504,780.94 acres. It’s a vast landscape of coniferous forests, glaciers, and lakes.  The North Cascades Highway passes vistas and leads to trails like the Thunder Creek Trail, which is rather steep.

The North Cascades National Park Service Complex comprises three units, with the North Cascades National Park being regarded as one and by far the largest of the three. 

This National Park offers a diverse range of recreational opportunities, with the North Cascades’ glaciated mountain peaks being one of the most popular destinations for hikers, climbers, and skiers.

Here we share with you some more details about North Cascades National Park!

3.1. Basic Information

The basic information that you need to look into before you visit the North Cascades National Park includes the following-

  • Fees – you would be delighted to know that there is no entrance fee to enter the North Cascades National Park! For more information about other passes and charges, click here!
  • Hours of Operation – the National Park is open from late May to late September, with limited services available outside that time.
  • Park maps and brochures

3.2. Wildlife

North Cascades National Park has a multitude of landscapes with over 9,000 feet of vertical elevation, ranging from the temperate rainforest in the wet west to the dry ponderosa pine habitat in the east.

The North Cascades is home to one of the world’s most magnificent ecosystems. A diverse range of vegetation and wildlife can be found throughout the park, changing with every elevation gain. 

A Black Tailed Deer on a summer day on Tod Mounta

Over 1,600 species have been recognized within the park’s boundaries so far. Gray wolves, fishers, and wolverines are elusive mammals found in small quantities in the wilderness. 

In contrast, many more adaptable animals, such as the Columbia black-tailed deer, Douglas squirrels, and pikas, amuse park visitors.

Within the park’s confines are diverse bird breeds, including uncommon species like the bald eagle, osprey, Harlequin duck, and even many neotropical migrants.

The clean mountain lakes and streams are home to various fish and amphibians. Invertebrates such as butterflies, dragonflies, stoneflies, and mayflies thrive in lush forests, steep slopes, and pure waterways.

3.3. Weather

The best time to visit North Cascades National Park is between mid-June and late September, as the weather is ideal for a day hike in the North Cascades. 

Autumn and spring are popular times to visit the Skagit, Okanogan, and Stehekin Valleys if you want to explore the park by car.

The North Cascades are prone to storms. Heavy snow and rain are forecast at high elevations during the winter seasons, with avalanches also happening during that time. 

So it is advisable to carry warm, waterproof clothes and a tent if you plan to go camping. It is best to layer up for your journey and remember that the higher you go, the more likely you will see snow.

You can also expect warmer weather and a somewhat dry climate if visiting the east side of the Cascade Mountains.

3.4. Things To Do

Lake Overlook

aerial lake reflection landscape view
Image Source: freepik

For some gorgeous and breathtaking views, visit Diablo Lake Vista Point. Diablo Lake has an unusual blue color because of the melting of glaciers.

Other beautiful lakes include Ross Lake, Gorge Lake, and Alpine Lakes.

Go hiking

The true beauty of North Cascades National Park lies in its hiking trails, which exist in abundance! The Cedars Nature Walk, the Maple Pass Loop, and the Blue Lake hike are popular trails.

You can also hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in this National park.

3.5. Lodging

There are a few lodging options while visiting the many regions within the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. The most popular one being –

North Cascade Lodge – Located at Stehekin, this lodge is open all year round and is only accessible by ferry or a mountain trail.

3.6. Nearby Attractions

Given that there are two whole complexes just around the National Park, there is a lot that you can do there, in addition to visiting other NPS sites close by. Here are some suggestions.

  • Visit Stephen Mather Wilderness which is located in Chelan National Recreation Area.
  • Visit Washington Pass Overlook
  • Visit the Canadian border
  • Columbia River

Closing Thoughts

That was all we had to say about the three National Parks. We hope that this article was helpful to you and gave you valuable insight.

Remember, the weather at the National Park is also determined by seasonal changes and can range from bitterly cold to gloriously sunny.  Hence, it is better to prepare for all conditions, check the forecast, and talk with park rangers before visiting Olympic National Park.

Let us know in the comments section which one of Washington’s National Parks you find the best!

Frequently Asked Question

1. What are the Lodging options at Mount Rainier National Park

For lodging purposes, you have a few options from which you can choose the best one for yourself!

Firstly, two inns are managed by Rainier Guest Services within the Mount Rainier National Park. These are-

  • National Park Inn: The National Park Inn is open all year and is located in the Longmire Historic District at an elevation of 2,700 feet. There are 25 guest rooms in the inn, a full-service dining room, and a general store.
  • Paradise Inn: The Paradise Inn, built in 1916 and has kept its rustic character, is open from mid-May to early October. The Paradise Inn includes 121 guest rooms, a gift store, a post office, a café, and a full-service dining room at an elevation of 5,420 feet.

Secondly, aside from the two inns, the park features three automobile campgrounds and other wilderness camping sites scattered around the park.

2. What is the rain shadow weather effect in Olympic National Park?

Like most National Parks located in mountain regions, the weather at the Olympic National Park is also variable and unpredictable throughout the year.

Due to the immense size of the Olympic National Park, you will witness different weather conditions within a radius of a few miles. One such condition is the rain shadow effect in the Olympic National Park.

Storms moving over the peninsula from the Pacific Ocean run into a formidable barrier: the Olympic Mountains.  Moisture must be discharged to reach the other side of these colossal heights. As a result, the park’s western half receives far more rainfall than the eastern half, generating a rain shadow effect.

Last Updated on November 4, 2023 by Namita Soren


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