Must-Visit Attractions in Washington State

The Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest provides excellent opportunities for outdoor adventurers
The Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest provides excellent opportunities for outdoor adventurers | © Terry Donnelly / Alamy Stock Photo
Jacklyn Grambush

The Evergreen State, rounding out the northwest corner of the contiguous US, offers incredible business opportunities, art and outdoor adventures. For those who are just visiting, Washington State can be overwhelming to tackle. However, a good place to start is with the state’s top attractions, offering views – both natural and human-made – guaranteed to impress.

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Olympic National Park

One of three national parks in the state of Washington, the Olympic National Park is home to one of the few temperate rainforests, the Hoh Rain Forest, in the nation, as well as the Olympic Mountains and the Olympic Hot Springs. The park sits on the Olympic Peninsula in the northwest corner of the state, and among the most popular areas to explore is Hurricane Ridge.

Boeing Tour

The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is an incredible opportunity to visit the world’s largest building by volume, watch 747, 777 and 787 Dreamliner airplanes being assembled and gain admission to both the Aerospace Gallery and Strato Deck. Tickets sell out quickly at no more than $27 per person, so buy yours online.


The third-largest city in the state is well known for its museums, including the Museum of Glass, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Washington State History Museum. A few other points of interest include the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, as well as the Tacoma Dome.

San Juan Islands

This archipelago, comprising four main islands and several small islands not accessible by ferry, provides beautiful scenery and fun towns to explore. Must-see sights include Moran State Park on Orcas Island and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Also, there are excellent whale-watching opportunities throughout the area.

Coulee Corridor

With captivatingly stark scenery, the Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway lies in the desert region of Washington State. The Grand Coulee Dam is the “largest hydropower generating facility” in the nation and provides 75 percent of the Pacific Northwest’s power. You can also explore areas such as the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mt Rainier is the highest peak in the Pacific Northwest, rising 14,410ft (4,392m), and provides excellent hiking and biking opportunities. The park is also open during the winter for skiing and snowboarding. You can even enjoy Mt Rainier without visiting the park, as it towers gracefully above the rest of the state.

Port Angeles

The city of Port Angeles lies right outside the Olympic National Park. It has views of the Olympic Mountains to the south, while the Canadian city of Victoria sits on the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The impressively scenic city is also the starting location for the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

Following the Mount St Helens 1980 eruption, a monument was created in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, to act as a place of exploration and learning. The now-partially imploded volcano has trails open for hiking as well as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. The Learning Center shows how the surrounding ecosystem has reacted over time.

Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

This gorgeous forest runs more than 140mi (225km) along the west side of the Cascade Range (also known as the Cascades), from the Canadian border to the north end of Mt Rainier National Park. With glacier-covered peaks, meadows and old-growth forests, it’s one of the most visited forests in the nation.

Washington State Capitol Building

The state’s capitol building in Olympia is a sight to behold. It cost $7m dollars to build before opening in 1928 and has the tallest masonry dome in North America. Tours are available, including that of the five-ton Tiffany chandelier and the permanent sculptures.


One of two cities in the state to host a World’s Fair, Spokane is the second-largest city in Washington. Not too far from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, the 100-acre (40ha) Riverfront Park lies on the Spokane River and features a sculpture walk and a cable car, which provides views over Spokane Falls.

Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area was created in 1968, along with the North Cascades National Park in which it resides. Stretching for 50mi (80km), the lake is the third-deepest natural lake in the nation and a popular annual destination for residents. Aside from the numerous opportunities for outdoor activities, there is also a nearby water park called Slidewaters.

North Cascades National Park

The North Cascades National Park is a vast collection of forests and valleys along the Cascades and offers hiking, camping and climbing opportunities. Ross Lake and Thunder Creek Trail are two of the more popular destinations. The unincorporated community of Stehekin, nestled in the park, is a lovely city getaway with no cell phone reception and limited groceries.

Washington State Ferries

It’s not so much the ferries themselves that are so spectacular, but rather the views possible only from a ferry in the middle of Puget Sound. Surrounded by water, vistas include the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, islands, the Seattle skyline and – if you’re lucky – some orca whales.


This Bavarian-style town in Washington State was redesigned as a tourist destination in the 1960s after the decline of the logging and sawmill industries, which threatened its existence. Now a scenic getaway, Leavenworth is known for its Nutcracker Museum and Christmas Lighting Festival.


Approximately a half-hour from the Canadian border, the northern city of Bellingham is enveloped by evergreen trees and Mt Baker. Two points of interest, in particular, are the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention and the Whatcom Museum. Known as a more “hippie” section of the state, it’s also the location of Western Washington University.

Snoqualmie Falls

With more than 1.5m visitors every year, Snoqualmie Falls is a 268ft (82m) waterfall – that’s 100ft (30m) taller than Niagara Falls – with hiking trails and observation points. Over the years, the waterfall has attracted many daredevils, including tightrope walkers and those who parachuted into its canyon – some successfully and others to their death.

Columbia River Gorge

Dividing Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge is a canyon where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascades. The 80mi (129km) of canyon drops down to 4,000ft (1,219m) deep.

Vashon Island

Take a ferry to Vashon Island. Stretching for 13mi (21km), the island has 45mi (72km) of shoreline. It provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the relaxed island life while still maintaining proximity to Seattle.


The largest city in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is one of the most popular attractions in the Evergreen State. It hosted the 1962 World’s Fair and has since grown into a flourishing hub for technology and the arts. Don’t miss the Seattle Center (with the Space Needle), the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and Pike Place Market.

Diablo Lake

Camping and hiking are two year-round activities in Washington, and Diablo Lake, near Ross Lake and North Cascades National Park, is one for the purists. Watch the occasional kayak gliding on cerulean waters, its milky hue produced by the sun’s reflection onto tiny suspended glacial partials. Though the lake may be easily mistaken for a natural wonder, it’s man-made. The combination of thriving trout species, soaring mountains and pristine forests only add to its splendor.

Fremont Troll

Where would you expect to find a troll? Under a bridge, of course. But the Fremont Troll is unlike any other, happily residing under the Aurora Bridge in north Seattle. Steve Badanes and his team created this sculpture to transform the area from an unruly wasteland to a must-see sight. Weighing 13,000lbs (5,897kg) and measuring 18ft (5m) in height, the Fremont Toll has a steel eye and clutches a Volkswagen Beetle in its left hand. Featuring in songs and films (including 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle), there is perhaps not a more famous troll in the whole country.

Elliott Bay Book Company

In Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill, there are more than 150,000 titles displayed on cedar shelves at Elliott Bay Book Company, tempting passers-by, occasional readers or die-hard bibliophiles. Founded in 1973 by Walter Carr, it went on to call the Globe Building home, introducing Seattle’s first bookstore café. By 2010, the store moved to Capitol Hill, where it organizes about 500 author readings annually. As it proclaims on its website, “Come for the books, stay for the experience.”


The first recorded Europeans arrived in Washington’s capital city in 1792, and by the early 1910s, 22 blocks were developed in the downtown area to produce a deep water harbor. While travelers often overlook Olympia, it’s a fantastic and compact city with a laid-back attitude and a largely carefree lifestyle. It has more than 1,360 acres (550ha) of parkland – quite a figure for a place with just 50,000 inhabitants. Visit the Percival Landing waterfront park in the morning for a mesmerizing start to your day.

How to Cook a Wolf

There may not be an actual wolf on the menu, but the name is catchy. How to Cook a Wolf is an Ethan Stowell restaurant, and the menu focuses on simple ingredients transformed into delectable delights, all at reasonable prices. This Italian-Mediterranean eatery on Queen Anne Avenue in Seattle is first-class all the way. Try its prawn conchiglie with heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil and pangrattato, and finish off with the peaches and cream or fig tart with salted ricotta, lemon sabayon, walnut and basil.
Additional reporting by Jo Varley.

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