The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Washington
From magnificent mountains to gorgeous lakes, these are natural wonders of Washington.
If you’ve spent the last two months cooped up in your home, watching rain and/or snow fall and feeling generally unmotivated to go outside, consider this a sign that it’s time to change your tune. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it gets dark around 4:30 pm everyday. But why let temporary circumstances prevent you from enjoying the great outdoors? The Pacific Northwest is, after all, one of the most spectacular regions of the country, and you’d be remiss not to explore it. Ahead, the most beautiful places in Washington State that you should probably visit, stat.
Just 52 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon sits Mount Saint Helens—an active volcano that last erupted in 2008 (though the May 18, 1980 eruption is perhaps its most famous to date, as it was one of the biggest in US history). Nowadays, the mountain and surrounding natural landscape are open for hiking (yes, you can scale an active volcano), biking, hunting, fishing, zip lining, and more. FYI, climbers must have a permit, and it’s recommended that reservations are made well in advance.
Tucked inside Snoqualmie National Forest, Mt. Baker is a 10,781 feet tall active volcano that provides excellent snow (amongst other things) for your winter sport of choice. Skiers and snowboarders will probably want to head straight to Mt. Baker Ski Area, while the rest of us can simply marvel at the natural beauty of the third highest mountain in Washington State.
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.
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 since both the upper and lower observation decks reopened last winter, you’ll have plenty to see and do within the two-acre park.
Olympic National Park
If you’re intimidated by the 600,000 acres or so of Olympic National Park and unsure of where to start, try Hurricane Ridge. It’s the easiest mountain area to access within the park, open year round, and, much like Mt. Baker, is a great place for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and the like. Plus, with only 18 miles between here and Port Angeles, it’s an easy trek back to civilization at the end of a long day of exploration.
If you live in Washington, you probably already know that Rialto Beach is one of the most stunning beaches on the Olympic Coast. 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. Oh, and once you’re over there, don’t forget to stop by La Push—which is now open to visitors, along with the trailhead to Second Beach.
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.
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.
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.
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, it admittedly doesn’t feel totally back to “normal” quite yet. Regardless, the lake is positively picturesque, and worth a visit.
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.
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.
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.
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 you’ll have to wait until spring in order to spend the night at the historic Paradise Inn (it’s closed for the season, reopening May 21). 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.