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Your Guide to the Pacific Northwest’s National Parks

  |  Cannon Beach, Central Oregon, Hood River, Neighborhood Insight, Portland, Southwest Washington, Travel

From the Washington coast lined with rugged rocks to the thick forests in Northern California packed with towering redwoods, we have some of the most diverse and scenic geography here in the Pacific Northwest. And one of the best resources for exploring and protecting this land is the national park system, which manages 63 national parks in all 50 states. 

Washington, Oregon and California are home to a handful of exceptional national parks, each providing an array of sights to see and activities to do, from hiking and biking to camping and wildlife viewing. To help you get a lay of the land — quite literally — we’ve outlined some of the best features and things to do in these national parks in the Pacific Northwest. 

Plan a road trip this summer to one (or several!) of these parks for a weekend of outdoor exploration. 

 

Olympic National Park | Washington 

Basic Facts 

Size: 922,650 Acres 

Established: 1938 

Entrance Fee: $30 vehicles$15 individuals 

Olympic National Park Things to Do

Encompassing nearly one million acres in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is one of the state’s most popular national parks. And we have a few former presidents to thank for working diligently to preserve it. The area was originally designated as Olympic Forest Reserve by President Grover Cleveland in 1897 as a response to concern about local deforestation. And in 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt designated a portion of the reserve as Mount Olympus National Monument in order to protect endangered Roosevelt Elk. In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt visited the park and officially established it as a national park the following year. 

Olympic National Park has an incredible range of precipitation, elevation and terrain. In fact, the park has three distinctly different ecosystems, including subalpine forest and wildflower meadow, temperature forest, and the rugged Pacific coast. You could hike through a lush, damp forest and dip your toes in the ocean all in the same day at Olympic National Park! 

Things To Do 

Visit the Olympic National Park Visitor Centergo to Lake Crescent, soak in Sol Duc Hot Springshike through Hoh Rain Forestgo to Kalaloch and Ruby Beach, and take in views at Hurricane Ridge. 

 

Basic Facts 

Size: 504,654 Acres 

Location: Northern Washington 

Established: 1968 

Entrance Fee: $0 

North Cascades National Park Things to Do

Situated in the northern edge of Washington, North Cascades National Park is one of the lesser-known national parks in the country. But its natural beauty and untouched wilderness should not be missed. The park contains jagged peaks with more than 300 glaciers, forested valleys, sparkling lakes and winding hiking trails in its 500,000-acre land. Plus, North Cascades National Park is a shelter for grizzly bears and gray wolves, plus more than 200 bird species. 

At the southern tip of the park’s three-part complex lies the remote community of Stehekin, a town located along the shore of Lake Chelan accessible only by foot or ferry. Here, you can set up base camp (quite literally, at a campground — or a hotel if you prefer!) for your adventures at North Cascades National Park. 

Things To Do 

Drive along North Cascades Highway, go to Blue Lake, hike Thunder Nobtake in views at Diablo Lake Vista Point and Ross Lake Overlook, visit Stehekin and hike around Rainy Lake. 

 

Mount Rainier National Park | Washington 

Basic Facts 

Size: 236,381 Acres 

Location: Southwest Washington 

Established: 1899 

Entrance Fee: $30 vehicles, $15 individuals 

Mount Rainier National Park Things to Do

As the name implies, the towering, glacier-capped Mount Rainier is the centerpiece of Mount Rainier National Park, a 236,381-acre state reserve in Southwest Washington. The 14,410-foot mountain is an active stratovolcano and the only fourteener in the lower 48 states not located in California or Colorado. A climb up this spectacular mountain is doable for experienced hikers with a professional guide, but you can take in views of the peak throughout the park — including a drive to Sunrise, the highest point reachable by car. Or make your way to Paradise, a 5,400-foot overlook that offers stunning mountain views, summertime wildflower meadowsand access to various hiking trailheads. 

But there’s more to the park than just the mountain itself. The peak is surrounded by trails, forests, wildflower meadows and lakes, all teeming with wildlife. Of the park’s 236,381 acres, 97% has been designated by Congress as wilderness. 

Things To Do 

Take in views at Paradise and Sunrise, hike the Grove of the Patriarchs TrailSkyline Trail or Silver Falls Trail, learn something at Longmire, go to the Carbon River areaand see the waterfalls at Ohanapecosh. 

 

Basic Facts 

Size: 183,224 Acres 

Location: Southwest Oregon 

Established: 1902 

Entrance Fee: $30 in summer and $20 in winter for private vehicles 

Crater Lake National Park Things to Do

Considered one of the most renowned destinations in the Pacific Northwest and one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, Crater Lake is a spectacular sight to behold. With a depth of 1,943 feet, the jaw-dropping Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. The intense blue color reflects the lake’s purity and depth, made even more magical on a clear, sunny day. There are several viewpoints overlooking the lake, but a favorite is the historic fire lookout tower on the Watchman Peak Trail, which is less than a mile long. Or take in several different vantage points by driving along the 33-mile Rim Drive encircling the lake and providing 30 overlooks. 

The park containing this popular lake encompasses 183,224 acres in the Cascade Mountains of Southern Oregon. The area is covered in snow much of the year, but has a spectacular summer season — just make sure the skies are clear before you go so you can actually see the lake when you get there. Check the webcam here! 

Things To Do 

Visit Crater Lake Lodge, go on a guided boat tour to Wizard Island and hike the 760-foot summit, hike through Garfield Parkcamp at Mazama Campground or Lost Creek Campgroundand of course, visit Crater Lake. 

 

Basic Facts 

Size: 106,452 Acres 

Established: 1916 

Entrance Fee: $30 vehicles ($10 in winter) 

Lassen Volcanic National Park Things to Do

The center of attention at Lassen Volcanic National Park is Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world. From 1914 to 1917, the peak erupted several times, including a major eruption in 1915, resulting in a 6-mile-high mushroom cloud visible for hundreds of miles. This event shaped the landscape we see today. And you can see evidence of those changes during your visit, especially during the 5-mile round-trip hike up the volcano’s summit. The 106,452-acre park has plenty in store for visitors, including Drakesbad Guest Ranch, which is one of the only few dude ranches in the national park system. Plus, Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few areas in the entire world where all four types of volcano can be found: plug dome, shield, cinder cone and stratovolcano. 

Things To Do 

Hike to the top of Lassen Peak, visit the Devastated Area and Bumpass Hell, stay at Drakesbad Guest Ranchgo camping at Summit Lake (see wildflowers July–September), and visit Manzanita Lake and Lake Helen. 

 

Basic Facts 

Size: 138,999 Acres 

Established: 1968 

Entrance Fee: $0 

Redwood National and State Parks Things to Do

The Redwood National and State Parks are a complex comprising Redwood National Park, California’s Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. The combined area totals 138,999 acres along the coast of northern California. Together, all four parks protect 45% of the remaining coast redwood old-growth forests totaling more than 38,982 acres. This is where some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world can be found — some more than 360 feet tall and up to 2,000 years old. There is so much to see at Redwood National and State Parks, from towering redwoods in the thick, lush forest, to gray whales off the rugged coastline. But standing under massive trees — and sometimes driving through them — is one of the main reasons visitors come to Redwood National Park each year. That’s right! You can actually drive through a redwood at Avenue of the Giants off Highway 101. 

Things To Do 

Drive along Highway 101, take in views at Klamath River Overlooksee Big Tree, hike to Trillium Falls, visit Fern Canyon, go to Tall Trees Grove, drive through the Avenue of the Giants, and go to Stout Grove. 

 

Where Will You Go First? 

Tell us where you plan to explore this summer! 

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About the Author

Melissa Peterson, Director of Agent Services and Technology

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