I love visiting a national park, and Washington is home to some beauties. The best thing about a national park vacation is you can pick your own itinerary and make visiting parks part of the journey–or the destination. Here’s some thoughts on natural wonders within a 2-hour drive of Seattle, Washington.
Olympic National Park is known for its rustic scenery and natural beauty that offers a little of everything. There’s over 60 miles of coastline, complete with dramatic rock formations called sea stacks. These provide a home to legions of birds, sea life and gorgeous views of the Pacific. Not only will you be completely alone on some of the country’s most gorgeous beaches, you’ll find bubbling hot springs, massive glaciers and dense forests to explore nearby.
This huge park offers many different outdoor pursuits and natural areas. If your time is limited, head north from Aberdeen on U.S. 101 to the Queets Ranger Station. This brings you to Queets River Valley, home to some of the most incredible rainforests in the park. Keep driving northwest up the 101 to the Kalaloch Station where you can photograph the most incredible views of the Pacific between Kalaloch and Ruby Beach. From Ruby Beach continue north on U.S. 101 until you reach the turnoff for the Hoh Rain Forest Center.
Olympic National is also known for its flower meadows on the east side of the park. Start at the visitor center and move along to Hurricane Ridge, one of the most popular spots in the park, where you can soak in the sea of wildflowers when they are in bloom. Take the Hurricane Hill trail which is a nice paved path leading up to the colorful alpine meadows.
When you’re done with Olympic you can head on over to Mount Rainier National Park to see the gorgeous peaks that dominate the Seattle skyline. The park’s mountain goats, waterfalls, and sprawling meadows of summer wildflowers delight thousands of visitors every year.
This stunning mountain is known for its breathtaking, snowy landscape and sometimes harsh weather conditions. Know before you go is a good policy, and plan to arrive on a sunny, splendid day–safe for exploring and hiking. Two of the most popular places in the park are Paradise and Sunrise. Paradise is a sub-alpine meadow located in the south-central area of the park, home to Mount Rainier’s historic lodge, The Paradise Inn. Aside from having the only public showers in the park, it offers exhibits on geology, glaciers, and local plants to help inform your hiking and other adventures as you learn about the area.
Sunrise, at 6,400 feet, is the highest point that you can drive to in the park. You’ll find educational displays and exhibits, together with guided nature walks that explain everything you wanted to know about sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems. Want to see some glaciers? You can use the free telescopes after you hit the snack bar or restaurant for a much needed pick-me-up.
The best part of this vacation is using the great city of Seattle as your home base. When it’s not raining, it’s one of the most entertaining cities to visit with Pike Place Market, Seattle Aquarium, Pioneer Square, the Space Needle and Pacific Science Center. The city offers numerous cultural attractions, a wonderful waterfront area and the food (and coffee) is unbeatable. You can also hop aboard a boat to visit the historic city of Victoria, British Columbia or take a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, where you can explore, have lunch and see some pretty amazing art galleries. The view from the back of the ferry ride looking toward the city is well worth the ticket price.