Washington National Parks & Forests –Wanderlust Will Not End

With the summer coming to a close, Washington is still a nature lover’s paradise. From island hopping to scaling a volcano, there are so many National and State parks to visit lined with tons of trails, colorful foliage, waterfalls, lakes, and glaciers. You can easily find a place to experience your favorite activity whether you like to drive in your car, kayak on the water, ride your bike, or venture on foot. Washingtonians are all about spending time outside, rain or shine, and you can see why.

river-647644_640-2Columbia Gorge

This spectacular gorge rips through the countryside, leaving behind some of the best views you’ll ever see. Organic farms line the valleys along the Oregon side, while waterfalls drop down from almost every rock face along the Washington side. There are many camp grounds all along the gorge, but if you want a little luxury, there are only a few places to stay outside of Vancouver Washington and Portland Oregon. Skamania Lodge is located just 45 minutes from Portland. It offers some incredible views and fun activities for the whole family, including a golf course. True to the nature of things in Washington, this resorts offers a chance to contribute $1 per night to the Forest Stewardship Fund. It helps restore habitat around the area to maintain its beauty for years to come. 

Cape Disappointment is located where the river meets the ocean and the end of Lewis & Clark’s journey to the coast. This area is seeped in history, and is a great location to camp, yurt style, while flying a kite along the long-span of pristine sandy beaches. Keep a good eye on the kids, as the waves are magnificently large and riptides are always present, but if you venture out on a boat, you are sure to see some incredible wildlife.

But you know you didn’t come all this way for luxury, so strap on those hiking shoes and venture out into the many trails that line the area. This state is dog friendly, and couples are just as likely to have two dogs as two kids. So pack the pooch and bring him/her along for the ride or for a swim at the many watering holes along the way.

Feeling a little adventurous and have older kids, 10 years and older? Try heading to the river and take a whitewater trip down the rapids. Oh, did I mention the many vineyards in this area? 

lake-roosevelt-98114_640    Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area

Head up to the Northeastern part of the state, where the weather is warmer and drier, to visit the 130 mile lake created from the construction of the Grand Coulee dam. Houseboating is one of the top recreational activities, along with fishing, hiking and swimming. Take a day cruise around the lake or camp overnight and maybe hear a wolf or two howl off in the distance. This is a great location to get away from the city life of Spokane or Seattle.

The area is rich with wildlife. Besides the many wolf packs, there are black bears, bighorn sheep, and cougars. Hiking trails vary in difficulty and some start from the historical sites of St. Paul’s Mission and Fort Spokane. After getting a little history on the area, your family can head out into the wild and experience the sights firsthand.

DSC_2522Mount Rainier

Looming in the distance, this 14,410 foot live volcano is packed with snow all year. This mountain is treacherous with its many glaciers that beckons advanced mountaineers to it’s snow packed steep and rocky slopes. There are plenty of trails and mountaintop lakes close by to explore during the summer months that will give you breathtaking views of the mountain range.

The North20150821_134933_resizedeastern entrance into the park has a great scenic drive, and if you have a few hours to spare, try taking the Loop 1 drive around the entire range. There are plenty of sites to see along the way from spectacular mountain top views of Mount Rainer to plunging waterfalls.  You’ll be able to walk through an ancient forest with hidden meadows of subalpine wildflower and raging rivers.

If you plan on going directly to Mount Rainer, be sure to get there early as parking is limited and fills up quick. The weather can change rapidly in this mountainous region, so be sure to layer your clothing for a temperature change.

There are many places to camp and a few resorts close by where you can hike or bike to the top of a neighboring peak for an excellent view of Mt. Rainer. 

During the winter months, locals and tourist come out to explore the area and do a little skiing or snowboarding. There is a 8-passenger Gondola ride to the top of the mountain where you can eat at the Summit House and look out across the snow-covered range where Mount Rainer reigns.

mount-st-helens-164846_640Mount Saint Helens

Another great attraction not to miss in the Southern Cascades is Mount Saint Helens. This active volcano located in Skamania County, erupted in 1980 clearing the entire terrain.  Hiking is available throughout the region, and be sure to visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory for incredible views and exhibits of the volcano.

There are an abundant of places to stay and to camp within the area. Be sure to call ahead for availability and road conditions. 

mount-shuksan-230759_640North Cascades National Park

This complex region has moist habitats on the west and fire adapted habitats on the east. Lakes along the north Cascades have jagged peaks crowned by hundreds of glaciers that produce amazing waterfalls, rapid rivers and vast stretches of open land. Stehekin Valley is a step back in time where you can see how Washington’s interior wilderness is linked to the rugged Cascade Mountains. Lodging in this area accommodates transportation and many activities to keep the whole family entertained with hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, or just sitting around and soaking up nature.

Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in America and offers many places to explore from the jagged peaks topped with more than 300 glaciers to the amazing water slide park along the lake. There is plenty to keep you and your kids entertained. The North Cascades are abundant with waterfalls, the best known are the Gorge Falls along Route 20 and the Rainbow Falls in the Stehekin Valley, nestled at the headwaters of Lake Chelan. The recreational area offers over 61,000 acres to explore, along with great wineries and a very relaxed atmosphere.



icicle-river-505421_640Icicle River near Leavenworth is worth a visit. The small Bavarian town has festivals throughout the year for families to enjoy, and plenty of places to stay. Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort  located on the outskirts of town or Bavarian Lodge located in town are both wonderful places to experience both the town and the region’s many wonders. Looking for a family reunion site? Try Mountain Home Lodge* They offer a wide range of activities for every season from mountain biking to back country skiing.

ross-lake-55386_640Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a famous destination for trout fishing and is the home of a less well-known floating resort, Ross Lake Resort. A line of twelve individual cabins and three bunkhouses built on log floats is located on the west side of the lake. There isn’t a road access to the area, hiking or taking the Diablo Lake Ferry that meets up with the Ross Lake Resort Truck is the only way to the resort, but it is well worth it. Hurry up…this resort is only open from mid June to October 31st. There are also 19 “boat-in” camps if you want to venture out on your own. You’ll need a back country pass, but toilets, bear proof canisters and picnic areas are available on site.

olympic-national-park-318066_640Olympic National Park

Almost one million acres to explore, the wettest rainforest in North America has a rich ecosystem that will capture your families interest with it’s glacier peaks, waterfalls, rivers, and miles of beautiful shoreline. Madison Creek Falls off HWY 101, just west of Port Angeles, is an easy hike that will be well worth your time. Just south of this area is the Klahane Ridge. There are many trails along this mountainous region with varying difficulty, the quickest way to the top is on the Switchback Trail. True to its name, it winds up the side of the mountain gaining 1,500 feet in just 1.5 miles. This is for the seasoned hikers. Not in the mood for a serious hike, no worries. Hurricane Ridge road will take you to the top for a view of the world.

Heading further west on Highway 101 to Lake Crescent, you will find a spectacular swim hole for the kids. This lake is a local favorite that has lodging close by, as well as, camp sites. Sites near the beach, Kalaloch Campground and South Beach Campground, fill up quickly during the busy seasons, so arrive early or make reservations.

ruby-beach-53628_640Ruby beach is a must see, as massive rock structures topped with trees protrude from the sandy beach. Along the Olympic Peninsula, this is one of the most beautiful spots along the Pacific coast. It is great place for beach combing. Kids will be able to find a wide array of coastal creatures like sea stars as they explore the sandy coast. This area is very popular for its marine life, and it is not unusual to see whales breaching along the coast. Lodging is available at Kalaloch Beach just south of Ruby.  



orca-596879_640Island Hopping

Whale watching is a favorite event in this area. The many companies are familiar with the local and transient orcas that frequent this area. They keep close tabs on their activity, so if you decide to charter a tour, you’re very likely to see some amazing feats of flight and hunting excursions on your trip. Each island offers its own unique attraction, and island hopping is a must if you are visiting this area, but be sure to bring your passport, as you may end up wanting to visit our neighbors to the north.

During the summer, these islands become alive with many activities from the Cider Festival to the Lavender Festival at Friday Harbor. Be sure to plan ahead, as lodging fills up quickly during these events. There are many places to stay during your visit. If you are feeling adventurous, you can rent your own vessel and cruise around the islands at your leisure, just be sure to check on the regulations that apply to vessels in the area.

Resources: Camping, Island Adventures, Orca Whale Watching, Things To Do, Friday Harbor Island Inn

Main Page photo by Elaine Anthonise, *age restriction at site