Washington attracts millions of tourists each year, and those looking for true adventure can trek across the entire state via the Pacific Crest Trail, or explore the massive environments found in Washington's three acclaimed national parks. Fun things to do and exciting places to visit are found in every direction in Washington, including the more arid eastern side of the state in cities like Spokane. One trip to Washington will never be enough, and with each visit it's easy to discover more of what makes the Evergreen State one of the best to visit in the nation. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Washington State.
ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT IN Washington
1. Olympic National Park
From ocean beaches to glaciered mountaintops, Olympic National Park overflows with incomparable scenery. The park covers most of the Olympic Peninsula, and roads only circle the park with a scenic drive on US 101, never cutting through the park's mountainous heart. Iconic coastal areas like Ruby and Rialto Beach define the rugged western edge of the park, only a short drive away from the over-sized trees and abundant foliage found in the Hoh Rain Forest. Other popular attractions at the park include the snowy peaks of Hurricane Ridge and the welcoming waters of Sol Duc Hot Springs.
The hiking trails at Olympic National Park traverse many different landscapes, including a Hall of Mosses and the family-friendly Marymere Falls. An absolute must-do hike for all ages, the Hoh River Trail explores the rain forest and river corridor with a flat path for 13 miles before ascending to the lateral moraine of Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus.
2. Seattle Center
Of all the top-rated attractions in Seattle, the Space Needle within the Seattle Center is perhaps the most iconic. Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Seattle Center's 74-acre campus contains many popular places to visit, including the Space Needle, Monorail, parklands, museums, and restaurants. Among the newer sightseeing options are the colorful glass artworks at Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Frank O. Gehry designed Museum of Pop Culture.
Other fun things to do at the Seattle Center include a plethora of art installations, various theater and stage accommodations, and multiple garden and fountain settings.
3. San Juan Islands
North of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands are the best known of Washington's many islands, with the four largest being readily accessible by ferry. Each has a mix of galleries, seafood restaurants, and parks, including San Juan Island National Historic Park where British and American troops became embroiled in the Pig War border dispute.
Popular destinations within the San Juan Islands include Friday Harbor, Eastsound, and Moran State Park, where visitors will find one of the best campgrounds in Washington. Favorite things to do on the San Juan Islands include sea kayaking, whale watching, and dining on local fare.
4. Mount Rainier National Park
An iconic Washington landmark seen from miles in every direction, Mount Rainier is the tallest peak in the state (14,410 feet). Located south of Seattle, Mount Rainier lies at the center of its namesake national park. Two areas of particularly stunning interest include the Sunrise and Paradise regions of the park. The Road to Paradise is open, weather permitting, year-round, allowing visitors to reach high elevations for hiking in summer and snowshoeing in winter.
Alongside the around-the-mountain Wonderland Trail, other hiking trails at Mount Rainier National Park tour mountain meadows, massive waterfalls, and groves of ancient forests. Four auto-campgrounds comprise some of the best campgrounds at Rainier, as well as several popular spots in the national forests surrounding the park.
5. Seattle Downtown
It's a large, densely packed city, but downtown Seattle reveals its more relaxed side at the waterfront. Here, piers and parks rim the shoreline. Pike Place Market is the standard draw for tourists, but the historic buildings and venerable institutions add diversity. Visitors will likely wish to catch an underground tour near Pioneer Square, or a performance at Benaroya Hall. And back on the waterfront, a sea-level exploration takes you from the Olympic Sculpture Park in the north to the Seattle Aquarium and ferry terminal farther south. The waterfront is also a popular spot to depart on some of the best day trips from Seattle.
After the town of Leavenworth experienced the bust after a boom in the logging industry, city leaders rallied the town and decided to change their image. Today, the town of Leavenworth proudly recognizes itself as a Bavarian Village, and it's common to see residents wearing lederhosen or blowing a morning serenade on an alphorn. There are several annual festivals, including a holiday lights celebration in December.
Outdoor recreation is also a main tourist draw to Leavenworth with iconic destinations like the Icicle Gorge and Alpine Lakes Wilderness nearby, home to one of the best hiking trails in Washington state. To the east, the Wenatchee Valley is famed for its apples and hosts the annual Washington State Apple Blossom Festival.
7. North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades are one of the most unspoiled tracts of country in the United States. Anglers, walkers, and nature lovers are all catered for in the national park, which shares a border with British Columbia, Canada. A drive through the park on the North Cascades Scenic Byway is rewarded with some fantastic views. Some of the many highlights of this drive include the Washington Pass Overlook, the aquamarine waters of Ross Lake, and the western-inspired town of Winthrop in the Methow Valley.
Many of the hiking opportunities in the North Cascades are steep, though some of the best hikes in the area also incorporate family-friendly treks with stunning mountain views. The North Cascades Institute within the park offers educational opportunities and overnight visits. Bordering the southern edge of the national park, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area is home to one of the deepest lakes in the country and provides a stunning backdrop for the mountain town of Stehekin (only accessible by foot, boat, or seaplane).
8. Puget Sound
On the western border of the state, separating the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle, Puget Sound is a watery region filled with inlets, islands, and unique worlds to discover. Some of the things to do in Puget Sound include sea kayaking, whale watching, and visiting the vibrant communities that define the islands. An extensive ferry system accesses the different destinations in Puget Sound, allowing for easy day trips and island hopping.
Whidbey Island, the largest in the sound, is home to the friendly towns of Oak Harbor and Coupeville, and exciting outdoor attractions like Deception Pass State Park. One of the best hiking trails near Seattle can be found on Whidbey Island at Ebey's Landing, and those traveling on the Bluff Trail can expect quite the view. For a look into the native cultures that once inhabited the region, Tillicum Village on Blake Island Marine State Park delivers, with authentic salmon feasts and cultural celebrations.
9. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
When Mount St. Helens explosively erupted on May 18th, 1980, it reduced the peak by 1,300 feet and leveled much of the surrounding area. A cloud of ash rose 13 miles into the air. Almost 150 square miles of forest was destroyed, houses were overwhelmed by masses of water and mud, and 57 people lost their lives. The landscape of Mount St. Helens today is still rebounding from the massive event, and visitors are encouraged to learn more about the geological processes still underway at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Set aside for both research and recreation purposes, all the best hiking trails at Mount St. Helens provide interpretive information and a first-hand look at the destruction. It is even possible to climb Mount St. Helens, though permits are required. Visitor centers along Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504) provide further insight into the disaster, including Johnston Ridge Observatory, where it is possible to peer into the crater on a clear day.
10. Deception Pass State Park
Spanning Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands in Puget Sound, the Deception Pass Bridge is an iconic landmark of the region and civic achievement dating back to the Civilian Conservation Corps. On both sides of this scenic bridge, Deception Pass State Park easily ranks high as one of the best state parks in Washington (and most visited). Activities like tidepooling, hiking and boating are some of the most popular activities at the park, and a large campground facilitates multiple days of adventure. For those interested in passing under the bridge with a boat, knowing the tides will be the key to success.