The 3 National Parks In Washington: What To See And Do

Washington is home to not one, but three of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring National Parks in the United States.

The three national parks in Washington are a must-see for any outdoor enthusiast.

Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or just looking for a great place to spend a weekend outdoors, these parks have something for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about each of them before planning your visit.

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How Many National Parks Are In Washington?

In a nutshell, these are the three national parks in Washington state:

  1. Olympic National Park – This park is known for its truly diverse landscape, which includes rainforests, mountains, and coastline–all in one park! There are plenty of activities to enjoy here, including hiking, fishing, and kayaking.
  2. Mount Rainier National Park – This is Washington’s most well-known national park, home to the highest peak in Washington State, and offers stunning views of the Cascade Mountains. Visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, and skiing here.
  3. North Cascades National Park – With over 700 miles of trails, this park is a hiker’s paradise. It’s also home to beautiful glaciers and peaks.

In addition to these three national parks in Washington, there are also a number of national historic sites and other federally managed areas.

The 3 National Parks In Washington: What To See And Do

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park - West Coast National Park Road Trip

Olympic National Park is Washington’s westernmost national park. It covers an area of nearly one million acres and includes several different ecosystems, such as the rainforest, coastline, and mountains.

Olympic National Park is best known for its stunningly diverse ecosystems. From the rugged pacific coastline to massive peaks and glaciers to even a temperate rainforest–Olympic is truly a national treasure. In addition to its natural beauty, Olympic National Park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, bears, and eagles.

  • Hiking: There are over 900 miles of trails in Olympic National Park, so there’s plenty of room to explore. Some of the most popular hikes include the Hurricane Ridge Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains; the Hoh Rainforest Trail, which takes you through one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests; and the Seven Lakes Basin Trail, which is a great option for those who want to explore some of the park’s beautiful lakes.
  • See the beaches and waterfalls: Sol Duc Falls, Mora Beach, and Rialto Beach are not to be missed!
  • Camping: Camping is a great way to experience all that Olympic National Park has to offer. There are several campgrounds located throughout the park, so you can find one that’s perfect for your needs.
  • Fishing: Fishing is a popular activity in Olympic National Park. There are many rivers and lakes to choose from, so you’re sure to find the perfect spot to cast your line.
  • Kayaking: Kayaking is another great way to explore the park. There are plenty of waterways to choose from, so you can paddle your way through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

In addition to the national park, there are also several state parks and recreation areas nearby like Bogachiel State Park, Sequim Bay State Park, and Potlatch State Park.

Towns/Attractions Near Olympic National Park

  • Port Townsend, WA
  • Sequim, WA
  • Port Angeles, WA
  • La Push

Mount Rainer National Park

Mount Rainier National Park Weekend Trip Adventure: 2-Day Itinerary

No trip to Washington or Oregon is complete without a Mount Rainier National Park visit. The sights and experiences at this iconic national park are truly unforgettable. I’ve been here twice already, and I’m itching for my next trip back!

Located just 2 hours south of Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park receives more than two million visitors each year. The park is home to the towering Mount Rainier, which stands at over 14,000 feet tall.

There’s so much to see and do at Mount Rainier National Park all year round, from hiking among the wildflowers, to chasing hundreds of spectacular waterfalls, to even strolling through a temperate rainforest.

Of note, Mount Rainier NP is a hiker’s paradise. Among the many, many hikes are standouts like the 6-mile roundtrip Mount Fremont Lookout Trail in the Sunrise area and the 5.5-mile Skyline Trail hike in the Paradise area (a must-do for any first-time visitor).

If you’re a waterfall chaser, head to the Ohanapecosh area to see Silver Falls, one of the best-looking waterfalls in the park and one of my absolute favorites!

Towns/Attractions Near Mount Rainier National Park

  • Tacoma, WA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Olympia, WA

Where To Stay Near Mount Rainier NP: Mountain Meadows Inn and Alexander’s Lodge (both in Ashford, WA)

  • Mount Rainier National Park Weekend Trip Adventure: 2-Day Itinerary
  • 18 Best Things To Do At Mount Rainier National Park For First Timers

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park - National Parks In Washington

North Cascades National Park is the last of the national parks in Washington. This national park is located in the north-central part of the state, and it is known for its dramatic alpine scenery. It’s very reminiscent of the Swiss Alps.

Often called “The American Alps”, the park is home to rugged mountains, glacier peaks, and evergreen forests surrounding clear blue lakes. And by blue, I mean really blue!

Among the most notable views in North Cascades is Diablo Lake. You absolutely cannot miss this large turquoise lake even if you tried–you’ll see it peeking up at you along Highway 20, the only highway through the park. Be sure to stop at one of the many viewpoints along the way to grab some photos of it!

North Cascades National Park can be accessed in two ways–either by driving along Highway 20, better known as the North Cascades Scenic Byway, or by catching the Lady of the Lake Ferry across Lake Chelan and entering via the scenic little village of Stehekin.

Once in the park, visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, and wildlife watching. The park also offers opportunities for winter recreation, such as skiing and snowshoeing.

If you only have one day to spend in the North Cascades, the Maple Pass Loop Hike is the ultimate hike to do. While the 7.2-mile hike is a bit more challenging, with a 2000-foot elevation gain, it is well worth the experience.

For a more family-friendly trail, opt for the much shorter quarter-mile Washington Pass Overlook Trail!

All in all, North Cascades National Park is a beautiful place to explore, and it is a great destination for both adventure seekers and nature lovers.

    or Sun Mountain Lodge or Hotel Rio Vista (Winthrop, WA)
  • Mt Baker Hotel (Concrete, WA)

I recommend staying in Winthrop, WA because it’s actually closer to most of the attractions in the park, such as Washington Pass Overlook and the Maple Pass Loop Hike.

Other State Parks And Recreation Areas In Washington

  • Deception Pass State Park
  • Cape Disappointment State Park
  • Palouse Falls State Park
  • Lake Wenatchee State Park
  • Lime Kiln Point State Park

What is the most visited national park in Washington?

There are several national parks in Washington, but the most popular one is Mount Rainier National Park.

Every year, more than two million people visit Mount Rainier to see its breathtaking glaciers, majestic mountains, and pristine forests.

Even though it is one of the smaller national parks (compared to heavy-hitters like Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park), it still offers an incredible variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. Park visitors can enjoy day hiking, backpacking, skiing, and even climbing.

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18 Best Things To Do At Mount Rainier National Park

How far are the national parks from Seattle?

  • NOTE: When calculating whether taking a ferry is faster than driving, take into account the ferry schedule, on-boarding time, and off-boarding time. In some cases, it can actually be faster to drive.

Mount Rainier National Park – approximately a 2-hour drive from Seattle

North Cascades National Park – approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle

What national park is closest to Seattle?

The closest national park to Seattle is Mount Rainier National Park.

In fact, Mount Rainier is visible from Seattle and Tacoma on a clear day. Being one of the highest peaks in the country, you can actually see the mountain in all its glory, standing at a whopping 14,410 feet high.

Mount Rainier National Park is located 100 miles from the southern entrance of the park (Paradise, WA) and 95 miles from the northern entrance of the park (Sunrise, WA).

18 Best Things To Do At Mount Rainier National Park For First Timers - Skyline Trail

Can You Use The Same Park Entrance Fee For Multiple National Parks?

The short answer is no. If you plan on paying $35 for the 7-day pass at one National Park and expecting free entrance to another National Park, think again.

For example: You can’t pay to get into Olympic National Park, and then use your 7-day entrance pass to get into nearby Mount Rainier National Park or North Cascades National Park.

Each national park sets its own entrance fee. If you’re visiting two National Parks, the total one-time admission to both these parks will cost $70. I would not recommend paying the one-time entrance fees at all.

Instead, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, which costs $80 and will get you into any of the 2,000+ National Parks, National Monuments, or National Forests for an entire year.

As long as you visit 2 additional national parks, the pass will more than pay for itself and save you so much money on park admission fees. You can buy a pass online at REI or in-person at the entrance gates of any National Park.

Want to Hike in National Parks in Washington State? Here’s 6 of the Best Trails

national parks in washington state

There are not one, not two, but three stunning national parks in Washington State. Each has its own character and beauty, and all three are definitely worth the visit. So if you’re road-tripping through Washington, you may want to try and hit up all of them if you have the time. And if you’re wondering how you could possibly choose which hikes to do to explore their beauty, we have you covered on the best ones to do so you don’t have to spend hours researching.

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Hiking the National Parks in Washington State

With so many mind-blowing hikes in Washington , it can be a little overwhelming to know where to start! This list of the best hikes in National Parks in Washington State combines all the elements needed for a hike you’ll never forget – stunning views, points of interest, grand finales, and that classic Washington scenery you’ll start to fall in love with.

Here are two epic hikes in each of the national parks in Washington State so you can get a taste of each park and start to build your itinerary for a fantastic vacation.

Olympic National Park

A couple of hours from Seattle and Tacoma and across the Salish Sea from Victoria, British Columbia Canada, Olympic National Park illustrates the diversity of land of the Pacific Northwest.

Over a million acres, the park includes the iconic Mt. Olympus, hiking trails along 70 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline and rainforests, and a vast wilderness with varied ecosystems. If your time in the area is short, it’s one of the national parks in Washington State that you can do as a day trip from Seattle. And bonus, you can definitely do Olympic National Park with kids in tow!

1. Hole in the Wall Trail

national parks in washington state

3.3 miles, rated moderate

Rialto Beach’s Hole in the Wall Trail seems to bring you the best parts of the Washington coast in just over 3 miles. There are tide pools, cliffs, sea stacks, crazy rock formations, and crashing waves. It’s beautiful when the weather is nice, but even when it is not so nice, it just adds to the moody, atmospheric area. (This is the Washington Coast, after all!)

Rialto Beach is a stunning beach in the Olympic National Park, filled with colossal driftwood logs, yet comes with the added benefit of easy access. Most of the trail takes place on this beach, which means you can only walk it during low tide (make a note of this, you don’t want to be disappointed).

Start this hike by walking 1.5 miles along the shore of the beach until you reach the feature that the hike is all about, the hole in the wall! Snap some pictures, yes, including that iconic ‘through the hole’ shot, before coming back the way you came.

TIP: This might seem like a beach walk but definitely wear good shoes. Your shoes will get wet, and it will be quite cold. The rocks around the tidepools are also slippery. So wearing your hiking shoes is a good call. Also, don’t forget to complete this hike within one or two hours before or after low tide. If you come during high tide, you won’t be able to reach the hole in the wall or be able to go tide pooling.

2. Mount Storm King

national parks in washington state

5.3 miles, rated difficult

After your stroll on the beach, you’ll have to see what Olympic National Park offers when you’re off the coast. A favorite is Mount Storm King. During this leg burner, you’ll be able to take in the park in all its glory and understand why thousands of people flock to the trails year after year. For a day hike, you get to see so much, including incredible views over Lake Crescent and beyond, once you reach your lofty peak.

After starting flat, you quickly begin to climb. We are talking around a 2000 foot elevation gain in 2.5 miles. There are little glimpses of the view as you make your way up, but these are just a tease of what is to come. Before you get to the vista, you’ll have to tackle the trickier climbing elements. This hike gets interesting after you pass the “not maintained” sign of the trail, and you have to climb up a rock face using a sketchy rope.

There’s even a “graveyard” of gloves at the rope section for you to borrow to assist you up to the narrow summit. It’s a bit hairy, but that adds to the sense of adventure! Once you make it, you’ll be rewarded with epic vistas over Lake Cresent. The summit is narrow so coming early means you won’t have to wait in a line to even make it to the summit. However, be extra careful as there are sketchy cliffs on either side of you up here.

TIP: Definitely take the quick and easy detour to Marymere Falls. You’ve already started it since this 2-mile detour shares the same trailhead as Mount Storm King. However, save this add-on after you conquer Mount Storm King.

Mount Ranier National Park

Another one of the National Parks in Washington State near Seattle, Mountain Rainier’s Peak, is one of the region’s icons, featured in so many images of the Pacific Northwest. This national park is 263,000 acres around Mount Rainier and offers stunning views, a summer wildflower field, and fantastic hiking. Here are two of the best trail for your visit!

3. Skyline Trail Loop

national parks in washington state

6.2 miles, rated difficult

The Skyline Trail is one of the most hiked trails in Mount Rainier National Park, and for a good reason. Once you have seen the views this trail offers once, you will be greedy to see even more. On just this one hike, you’ll take in incredible Mount Rainier views waterfalls, and you’ll also pass fields of wildflowers while looking at the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains.

The highlight of this trail has to be Panorama Point. When the flowers are in their full force, you’ll be blown away by the vibrant meadows. Mount Rainier, of course, dominates the background, but the Nisqually glacier, Mount Adams, Tatoosh Peaks, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens all make their mark.

You can take the trail in either direction as it’s a loop, and both are great. Clockwise will take you to the viewpoint first, meaning a short, sharp climb, while the other approach is more gradual.

TIP: Keep a sharp out for wildlife! Bears, marmots, goats, and foxes are seen wandering this area.

4. Mount Freemont Lookout Trail

national parks in washington state

5.7 miles, rated moderate

The Mount Fremont Lookout Trail well and truly has you covered on epic views of Mount Rainier. Although fairly steep, it is not too difficult, it is not too long, and the reward is epic! This is one of the best trails if you want to get a lot of bang for your buck.

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The first part of the trail will take you along the Sourdough Ridge Trail, slowly climbing along the ridge before the view reveals itself. Of course, the higher you climb, the better the view.

Pass Frozen Lake and keep climbing, and soon you’ll see the lookout far off in the distance. Keep going; it is worth it! But do watch your step. This part of the trail is narrow, with traffic going in both directions. The terrain is shards of rock that create an unstable path, and there is a cliff to one side of you!

Soon enough, you’ll reach the fire lookout tower; you will have made it! The views are incredible, so drink it all in before turning back and making your way back down.

TIP: Be prepared for adorable chipmunks at the top, which will try to steal your lunch. Also, note that entrance to the tower is not allowed; you can only walk around it.

North Cascades National Park

At three hours one way, North Cascades, one of the National Parks in Washington State that’s harder to do as a day trip. That being said, if you’d love to visit Alaska’s national parks but can’t make it there yet, North Cascades National Park is a more accessible option that will give you a lot of the same type of scenery. That’s because its landscape features jagged peaks and tree-dense forests with waters and glaciers – – more than any U.S. National Park outside of Alaska.

5. Maple Pass Trail

national parks in washington state

7.4 miles, rated difficult

The Maple Pass Trail has to be one of the most stunning hikes in the whole of the Cascades. It offers impressive lakeside views, scenic overlooks, forested paths, and some climbs while surrounded by spectacular peaks. For the first part of the trail, you’ll be hiking through beautiful meadows and forests. Then, as you begin climbing, the views start to emerge. Although you are not actually within the park boundaries, you’ll have views of what seems like the whole of the Cascades as you tower high above Ann Lake.

You’ll be doing a circuit around the lake with the option to make a quick detour down to the shores. Keep an eye out for local wildlife like cute little Marmots catching some rays along the rocks. Mountain views are in abundance; you really won’t know where to look; whether it’s the rugged peak of Cutthroat Mountain or Glacier Peak in the distance, it is a stunning hike!

TIP: Hike this trail counterclockwise for a gradual climb, but do know that means a steep descent. Alternatively, the clockwise way will have your thighs burning on the way up but will be easier on the knees on your way down.

6. Chain Lakes Loop Trail

national parks in washington state

7.1 miles, rated moderate

See the beauty of not one but many incredible alpine lakes on the Chain Lake Loops Trail, with a couple of flower-filled meadows and mountain views thrown in for good measure. Compared to many other Cascades trails, the hike is very ‘doable,’ so expect to see all types of hikers making the most of this incredible hike.

Iceberg Lake is the perfect place for a picnic, and Mazama Lake, although small, has some of the best views of Table Mountain. Haye Lake has views no matter what shore you are on and has a few places to camp. The last lakes are the Bagley Lakes on your way back down the loop, which you will see as you descend from Herman Saddle.

Not only will you be able to take in these stunning lakes, but the views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan are incredible. The loop can start at Heather Meadows or Artist Point, making it easy to fit into your itinerary.

TIP: There’s a totally open toilet overlooking Iceberg Lake if you want the best view while peeing. You can also add on a bit more mileage if you wander around the trails at Bagley Lakes.

Stay A While and Explore the National Parks in Washington State

So if you’re thinking about a trip to explore all the urban Seattle and Tacoma have to offer, think about staying for a while so you can explore all that the National Parks in Washington State has to offer. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Washington National Parks: Travel Guide & Itinerary

There are three Washington national parks: Olympic, Mount Rainier, and the North Cascades.

In Olympic National Park, explore the temperate rainforest, hike high into the mountains, and stroll along the rocky, misty coastline. Mount Rainier is an outdoor paradise, with its old growth forests, carpets of wildflowers in the summer months, and network of hiking trails. To the north, explore the incredibly beautiful landscapes of North Cascades National Park.

In this guide to the Washington national parks, get an overview on the best things to see and do in each park, important planning advice, and a sample itinerary to help you plan your Washington road trip.

Table of Contents

Washington National Parks Map

Washington National Parks

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse national parks in the United States. In just one national park, you can climb peaks as high as 8,000 feet, walk through old growth temperate rainforests, and stroll along beaches littered with driftwood.

This is one of the larger US national parks, with an area just under 1 million acres. Due to its size, geography, and various ecosystems, it takes a minimum of three days to visit the main sights.

The best way to visit Olympic National Park is to road trip around it.

Unlike parks such as Yosemite, Arches, and the Badlands, where the main road cuts through the center of the park, the roads in Olympic National Park form a loop on its perimeter. From this loop, you can visit Hurricane Ridge, explore the coastal sights, venture into the dense forests, and spend some time on the quieter but just as scenic southeastern section of the park.

Hurricane Ridge Washington national parks

Storm King Washington national parks

Mount Storm King

Olympic National Park Beach Washington national parks

Marymere Falls Washington national parks

Hall of Mosses Washington national parks

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days

Top Experiences: Go hiking on Hurricane Ridge, photograph the moss dripping from the trees in the Hoh Rainforest, stroll along Rialto Beach until you get to Hole-in-the-Wall, hike to Mount Storm King, see lovely Sol Duc Falls and Marymere Falls, and hike along Shi Shi Beach.

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, go backpacking in the Enchanted Valley or spend the night camping on Shi Shi Beach.

Olympic National Park in One Day: With one very busy day in Olympic National Park, hike one of the short trails on Hurricane Ridge. Drive west, visit the Hoh Rainforest and then spend the afternoon on Rialto Beach. I recommend staying in Port Angeles or near Forks, Washington, to minimize how much time you spend in your car.

Cool Fact: The Hoh Rainforest gets between 12 to 14 feet of rain each year. Most of this falls in the winter months. And Hurricane Ridge can get up to 30 feet of snow each winter!

When to Go: The main park roads in Olympic National Park stay open all year. There are a few interior roads and high-elevation roads, such as Obstruction Point Road, that close due to snowfall. But for the most part, you can visit Olympic National Park year-round.

Where to Stay: There are numerous campgrounds and lodges located around the park. Port Angeles makes a great home base for exploring the northern part of Olympic National Park. Forks, the Kalaloch Lodge, and the Quinault Lodge are convenient locations to visit the coastal sights and western section of the park. Stay in Skokomish to visit the eastern side of Olympic National Park.

Plan Your Visit:

Mount Rainier National Park

At 14,411 feet (4,392 meters), Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington state and the Cascade Range.

Mount Rainier is a glacier-capped, active volcano that can be seen from hundreds of miles away. With its forests of evergreen trees, subalpine lakes, and network of hiking trails, this is an outdoor paradise for many travelers.

The hikes are spectacular and you really don’t have to go far to get some truly amazing views. There are many short, relatively easy trails that offer jaw-dropping views of Mount Rainier, making this is a great place to visit for those who want to hike, but not too far.

And if you do want to hike far…you have a lot of great trails to choose from.

Aside from hiking, there are still many wonderful ways to spend your time in Mount Rainier National Park. Have lunch or dinner at the Summit House and enjoy one of the most spectacular views of Mount Rainier. Have brunch at the Paradise Inn. Photograph Mount Rainier from Reflection Lake. And enjoy the scenic drives on the roads that circle around Mount Rainier.

Washington State Road Trip

Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier Washington

Hikes in Mount Rainier Washington national parks

Sourdough Ridge Trail in Sunrise

Things to do in Mount Rainier

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days

Top Experiences: See Myrtle Falls, hike the Skyline Trail in Paradise, have brunch at the Paradise Inn, visit Sunrise and fill your camera’s memory card with images Mount Rainier from the Sourdough Ridge Trail, visit the Grove of the Patriarchs, ride the Mount Rainier Gondola to Crystal Mountain, and hike to a fire lookout tower.

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Ultimate Adventure: I’ve got two for you. Hike the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile trail that circumnavigates around Mount Rainier. On average, this takes between 9 and 13 days. Or, climb to the summit of Mount Rainier. It takes 2 to 3 days to reach the summit and this is best done with an experienced guide.

Mount Rainier National Park in One Day: With one day, you have enough time to visit one area of the park. I recommend choosing between Paradise and Sunrise. Personally, I don’t think that one is better than the other. You have lots of hiking options and spectacular views from both places.

Cool Fact: Mount Rainier is an active volcano. In fact, due to its high probability of eruption in the near future, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

When to Go: Summer and early fall are the best times to visit, since all of the park roads and hiking trails will be open. The wildflowers typically bloom from mid-July through mid-August. In Mount Rainier, there are several roads that close in the fall and don’t reopen until spring. These include Stevens Canyon Road, Sunrise Road, and the Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass.

Where to Stay: Packwood, Ashford and the lodges at Sunrise and Paradise are handy locations for exploring Mount Rainier National Park. If you want to visit the northwestern corner, stay in Puyallup.

Plan Your Visit:

Mount Rainier

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States, but for those who venture here, it is a serene, beautiful experience. It is just a short drive from Seattle, Washington but North Cascades only gets a handful of the visitors that flock to nearby Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.

With jagged, snow-capped mountain peaks stretching as far as the eye can see, North Cascades is also called “The American Alps.” At times, it really does look like you are standing in Switzerland.

The scenic drives and overlooks give you a glimpse of the beauty of this place, but to truly discover the majesty of the North Cascades, you’ll have to hit the hiking trails.

There are three sections to North Cascades National Park Complex: the Chelan Lake National Recreational Area (which includes Stehekin), Ross Lake National Recreational Area, and North Cascades National Park.

Most visitors spend their time along Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway), which is located in the Ross Lake National Recreational Area. But for hikers and backpackers, 400 miles of trails criss-cross their way through the North Cascades, including a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

North Cascades is one of the least visited parks in the national park system. In 2021, it only had 18,000 visitors, making it the 4th least visited national park in the United States.

Things to do Washington State

Hikes in Washington

Washington Road Trip

Hikes in North Cascades

Hiking to Cutthroat Lake

Cost: There is no entrance fee. However, if you plan to hike in one of the adjacent national forests (such as Rainy Lake or the Maple Pass Loop) you will need a Northwest Forest Pass. This can be purchased for $5 at the trailhead.

Top Experiences: Go for a scenic drive along North Cascades Highway, hike to Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm, enjoy the views from the Washington Pass Overlook and the Diablo Lake Vista Point, hike the Maple Pass Loop, and visit Stehekin.

Ultimate Adventure: Hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. 18 miles of the PCT travels through the park. You will need a backcountry permit if you plan to camp overnight along the trail.

North Cascades National Park in One Day: With one day in North Cascades National Park, drive North Cascades Highway, visit the overlooks, and do one or two hikes. If you prefer short, easy hikes, we recommend Rainy Lake, Blue Lake, or Thunder Knob. For something more challenging that will offer spectacular views of the North Cascades Range, the Maple Pass Loop is amazing.

Cool Fact: The North Cascades Range, for which this park is named, has the largest glacial system in the United States, other than Alaska. In the park, there are over 300 glaciers and 300 lakes. Over millions of years, these glaciers created some of the steepest mountain ranges in the USA, with some mountains rising 4,000 to 6,000 feet above their bases.

When to Go: If you want access to the entire park, plan your visit for the summer months, when all of the roads are open. This is also your best chance for sunny skies and warm temperatures, although rain and snow are a possibility all year long. Highway 20, the main road in North Cascades National Park, is typically closed from early November through early May.

Where to Stay: Twisp, Winthrop, and Mazama are all located east of the park and make a great home base for exploring North Cascades National Park. The Ross Lake Lodge is the only lodging inside of the park. On the west side, Marblemount is a good place to stay if you plan to hike one of the trails that are located on Cascade River Road (such as the Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm hike).

Plan Your Visit:

North Cascades Travel Guide

Road Trip Itinerary and Map

The best way to visit all three Washington national parks is on a road trip. Ideally, you need 10 days to do this. Not only is there a lot to do in each of these parks but they are spread out across the state of Washington, so you will spend a nice chunk of time driving from park to park.

To get the full details on how to do this same itinerary, and get suggestions if you have more or less time, read our article Washington Road Trip Itinerary: 7 to 14 Days in the National Parks.

Day 1: Arrive in Washington, drive to Port Angeles
Day 2: Olympic National Park
Day 3: Olympic National Park
Day 4: Mount Rainier National Park
Day 5: Mount Rainier National Park
Day 6: Leavenworth
Day 7: Lake Chelan
Day 8: North Cascades National Park
Day 9: North Cascades National Park or Mount Baker
Day 10: Fly Home

Things to Know Before You Go

Best Time to Visit the Washington National Parks

The best time to visit the Washington national parks is in the summer months (mid-July through the end of September), when the roads in all three of the national parks are open.

From late September through May/June, several park roads will be closed in each of the parks, giving you limited access to the main sights.

America the Beautiful Pass

If you plan to visit all three Washington national parks, your grand total only comes to $60.

The America the Beautiful Pass is an annual park pass that costs $80 and is valid for one year. It won’t save you money on this trip, but you will get free admission to any other national park or federal recreation sites that you visit within 365 days of purchasing this pass. Learn more here.

Important Links for the Washington National Parks

Here are the links to each national park website. Check park conditions and road closures as you plan your trip and before your visit.

US National Parks List

If you have any questions about how to visit the Washington national parks, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to Washington

WASHINGTON: Visit our Washington Travel Guide to learn more about the national parks in Washington state.

WASHINGTON ITINERARY: Take the guesswork out of planning your trip to Washington with our Washington Road Trip Itinerary.

ENCHANTMENTS: The Enchantments is an epic hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington State. Check out our Enchantments Trail Guide and our guide to how to handle the logistics of hiking the Enchantments.

USA ROAD TRIPS: Planning your next big adventure in the USA? Check our our USA Road Trip Guide for travel ideas and sample itineraries.

NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.

Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.

Washington National Parks Itinerary Guide

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