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Watmough Bay Kayak, San Juan Islands | © Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington/Flickr
Watmough Bay Kayak, San Juan Islands | © Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington/Flickr
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The Best Things to See and Do in Washington State

Picture of Jacklyn Grambush
Updated: 20 October 2017
From top attractions to obscure and strange experiences, Washington State has a ton to offer. When it comes down to it though, some options can wait until the next visit (because you’re definitely going to want to come back), while others cannot. For those looking for “the best of the best of the best, sir”, read on.

National Parks

As a huge part of the stunningly gorgeous Pacific Northwest, Washington State boasts three National Parks. The North Cascades National Park includes the Cascades Mountains, one of the two signature mountain ranges in the state, and Lake Chelan, the third deepest natural lake in the nation. The Olympic National Park is comprised of the second signature range (the Olympic Mountains), the Olympic National Forest, the Hoh Rainforest, and the Olympic Hot Springs. Last, but not least, the Mt. Rainier National Park holds the iconic Mt. Rainier volcano.

Silver Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park | © Steven Smith / Flickr
Silver Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park | © Steven Smith / Flickr

Seattle

There are several cities worthy of your time while visiting the Evergreen State, but Seattle is absolutely at the top of the list. From the Space Needle to Pike Place Market, the city harbors world-famous attractions. The music, despite the decline in grunge since the 90’s, is still one of the best reasons to visit, while food and craft or local alcoholic beverages follow closely behind. Whether you’re visiting for art, the first Costco, or to-die-for coffee, Seattle is likely to impress.

Islands

From Whidbey Island to Vashon Island to the San Juan Islands, there’s no shortage of island-life across from the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. The islands offer smaller communities, great trails for hiking or biking, and protected natural havens to explore. Orcas Island hosts Moran State Park and Mt. Constitution, while Deception Pass State Park connects Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island. The San Juan Islands in general are an excellent location for whale-watching orcas.

Deception Pass | © clpo13 / Flickr
Deception Pass | © clpo13 / Flickr

Mt. St. Helens National Monument

President Reagan established the Mt. St. Helens National Monument a couple years after its 1980 eruption that killed 57 people. As the most studied U.S. volcanic eruption, it is certainly worth a visit. From the Science and Learning Center that chronicles the eruption’s effects on the surrounding environment to hiking trails and observation points, this volcano in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is certainly a sight to behold.

Snoqualmie Falls

Niagara Falls gets a ton of hoopla, but the Snoqualmie Falls in Washington State is actually 100-feet (almost two thirds) taller. One of the state’s most popular attractions, approximately 1.5 million visitors explore the falls every year. There are both longer and shorter trails that lead to the lower observation deck in order to accommodate a range of physical capabilities.

Snoqualmie Falls | © russellstreet / Flickr
Snoqualmie Falls | © russellstreet / Flickr

Museums

Washington State is rich in history and loves to share it with the world. A few art museums worth your time include, but are certainly not limited to, the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Museum of Glass (including Chihuly’s Bridge of Glass as well as opportunities to watch glass being blown), and the Maryhill Museum of Art. The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) – formerly the Experience Music Project (EMP) – in Seattle should not be missed, in addition to the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour.

Columbia River Gorge

Dividing Washington State and Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge is the canyon through which the Columbia River creates the only sea-level passage through the Cascade Mountains. Proving essential in trade, communication, and transportation, the gorge captures the hearts of many onlookers with its panoramic views. Up to 4,000-feet deep and 80 miles long, the area offers great opportunities for hiking, camping, and general human interaction with nature.

Columbia River Gorge | © Zachary Collier / Flickr
Columbia River Gorge | © Zachary Collier / Flickr

Outdoor Activities

Washington State has ocean, forests, mountains, hot springs, rainforest, islands, desert, volcanoes, lakes, and rivers. Combined with temperate weather, your only excuse for staying inside is the rain (which you’ll stop noticing if you stay long enough). So grab your gear, and go hike, bike, snowboard, ski, surf, and derivations thereof.

Eastern Washington

As you can see below, most of the state’s population is concentrated around the Puget Sound area (because Seattle). To the west of the Puget Sound is the Olympic Mountain Range and to the east, the Cascade Mountain Range. Then East of the Cascades? Farmland, including vineyards, and desert – hence the lower population density. Still, the area is beautiful. Head over for wine tastings or apple picking. Take a trip to Spokane and wonder at the stark barren desert on your way. Western Washington gets a lot of credit and for good reason, but Eastern Washington should not be dismissed.

Washington Population Map | © Jim Irwin / Wikimedia Commons
Washington population map | © Jim Irwin / Wikimedia Commons