The Most Beautiful Places in Washington State
Get some fresh air.
It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest is one of the most stunning regions in the country. But let’s zoom in a little and take a closer look at Washington State, which is home to millions of acres of forest and 157 miles of dazzling shoreline. And that’s just on the west coast! Head east, and you’ll soon hit the Cascades, the Enchantments, Diablo Lake, and, of course, Mt. Rainier (to name a few). This is a state littered with glacial evidence of the Ice Age, mossy Jurassic Park-esque forest scenery, and a rich and diverse history of humanity cohabitating with the natural world.
COVID-19 precautions have somewhat limited the accessibility of these sites (lots of campsites are closed, for instance), but for the most part, they’re available for your next foray into the unknown (as long as it's safe and, of course, respectful). On that note, we recommend calling or checking online for updates before you head out. Otherwise, with warmer weather on the horizon and longer days ahead, there couldn’t be a better time to devise your next outdoor excursion. Below, find out precisely where to witness the best of Washington State’s natural beauty.
Snoqualmie Falls hosts over 1.5 million visitors every year, making it one of the most popular destinations for witnessing Pacific Northwest natural wonders. That might be due in part to its Twin Peaks cameo, but most of the credit should go to the waterfall itself, which is 270 feet of awe-inspiring beauty. Visiting the park is free, and now that both the upper and lower observation decks have reopened, you’ll have plenty to see and do within the two-acre park.
Let’s kick things off with one of the most stunning beaches on the Olympic Coast. You can’t actually visit the village of La Push right now (the Quileute Native Reservation is closed to visitors due to COVID-19), but Rialto is fair game, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. There’s plenty of nature to see and photograph, and if you take the Hole-in-the-Wall hike along the coast, you’ll end the day standing underneath a famous rock arch, surrounded by tide pools.
The Enchantments are not for the faint of heart—but if you’re a seasoned hiker, and prepared to climb several thousand feet in elevation to experience the view, buckle up. Nestled in a region of the Central Cascades called the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, The Enchantments boasts over 700 lakes, and granite as far as the eye can see. Unsurprisingly, this area—and the Cashmere Crags in particular—is considered one of the best places for rock climbing on the west coast.
Travel inland on Orcas Island and you’ll soon run into Moran State Park, which is home to Mountain Lake—a body of water located in a basin 900 feet up Mount Constitution. From here, you’ll be able to see some of the most beautiful, undisturbed nature on the island, picnic at any number of overlooks, and spend the night at the campgrounds, where the Mountain Lake Loop trail begins and ends.
Olympic National Park
Hoh Rain Forest is what Jurassic Park dreams are made of: spanning 10,000 acres alongside the Hoh River, this temperate rainforest is one of the largest of its kind in the United States. Pay a visit to witness the majesty of truly massive Western Hemlock trees (which just so happen to be the state’s official tree), and, of course, lots of other varieties, all of which are almost completely covered in hanging moss and ferns.
Whidbey Island & Fidalgo Island
Straddling Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island, Deception Pass State Park is best seen at sunset, at which point you should find a spot on the bridge overlooking this saltwater canyon and simply witness the magic. During the day, take some time to hike a trail or two (there are 35 miles of them, so you’ll be spoiled for choice) and explore the 14.6 miles of scenic shoreline.
For sweeping views of both the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic Mountains, pay a visit to Lopez Island, specifically Iceberg Point. This short hike will take you out on the rock cliffs of the island’s edge, which used to serve as a reef net site for locals. It’s a relatively easy hike, and you might see some orca whales off in the distance, if you’re lucky.
Olympic National Park
Perched just on the edge of Olympic National Park is Lake Quinault, a glacial lake nestled in the rainforest. This spot is perfect for any and all lakeside activities, and though the historic Quinault Lodge has reopened, we’d recommend camping if you’re going to spend the night—most things are still closed at the lodge, and it will be a much more impressive experience if you wait until we return to some sense of normalcy (don't’ hold your breath). Regardless, the lake is positively picturesque, and worth a visit.
Strait of Juan de Fuca
Dungeness Spit is a “sand spit”, meaning that it juts out—or spits out—from the Olympic Peninsula into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It’s the longest one in the country, and actually grows in length every year, about 15 feet. All that to say: This is one special place, and it’s never quite the same each time you visit. Stroll down miles of beach to your heart’s content, but don’t bring your dog—Dungeness Spit is a National Wildlife Refuge, and that means no pets allowed.
Palouse and Blue Mountains
Ever heard of the official waterfall of Washington State? Spoiler alert: It’s Palouse Falls, and we can confirm that it has indeed earned the distinction. At 198 feet tall, Palouse is the last remaining waterfall caused by glacial floods, which carved out the region during the last Ice Age. Take it all in via the one mile hike to the base, or watch the flow of water from the overlook at the parking lot. You’ll have a great view either way.
Diablo Lake is such a stunning shade of turquoise-blue, it almost looks fake. The story behind the lake’s unique hue is a geological one: glacial dust, or “flour,” is suspended in the water from nearby glaciers grinding up rocks into a fine powder. See for yourself by taking the trail up to the Diablo Lake Overlook, which will deliver the type of view that is almost impossible to capture in a photo. Once you’re at the vista, keep following the trail for more views of various peaks in the North Cascades.
What’s in a name? If there was ever a destination that earned the moniker Paradise, it’s this one. Located in the mile-high south slopes of Mount Rainier, this wildflower meadow is the closest you’ll get to a living postcard. Unsurprisingly, several of the park’s most popular hikes are located in Paradise (or at least, run through it), but if you want to spend the night, the closest campground is seven miles away (Paradise Inn, the lodge built in 1916, is currently closed). Other things to note: Peak flower season isn’t until July, but Paradise is open year-round. Weather conditions sometimes close the road, so check before you go (and bring snow chains for your car, which are required through May 1).
Visiting Tipsoo Lake is as much about viewing Mt. Rainier—which, on a clear day, is reflected perfectly in the water—as it is about looking at the actual lake itself. Both, of course, are beautiful, and the drive to Tipsoo Lake is equally so, if you take the Chinook Scenic Byway. The area around Tipsoo Lake arguably rivals Paradise, so make sure to pack a lunch and stay awhile.
Mark your calendars: Skagit Valley is about to be overrun with tulips, and when they arrive, the region will quickly transform into one of the most beautiful in the state. For the entire month of April, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival will play host to literally millions of tulips. And there’s plenty to see outside of tulip season, too; visit anytime for a scenic drive through the valley, which is one of the most agriculturally diverse areas west of the Cascades.