Five Vibrant and Authentic National Parks near Seattle

Adventure Hiking Travel Wildlife By Nancy Raven Kirk

Seattle is known for its iconic Space Needle, as the birthplace of Starbucks, and its moniker of “Emerald City.” With lush greenery within the city’s borders and beyond, Seattle’s parks offer an immense amount of diversity in scenery and historical significance.

There’s plenty to see and do after hitting Pike Place Market. Weekend getaway options are plentiful, with five national parks within driving distance. You can also explore Road Tripping in Central Washington and 5 Natural Landmarks in Washington State

1. Mount Rainier National Park 

Approximate Distance from Seattle: 80 miles 
Entry Fee: $30 per private, non-commercial vehicle 

Mount Rainier was established as the country’s fifth national park in 1899. It contains a massive volcano standing at 14,400 feet high, the tallest peak in the Cascade Mountain Range, which can be seen all around Western Washington. There’s more to Mount Rainier than just its mountain tops, and the park boasts waterfalls, rivers, and wildflower meadows, which are most vibrant in mid-July when all the snow has melted. 

Five Main Sections of the Park 

  • Longmire is the park’s historic district with an information center and museum. 
  • Paradise is known for its wildflower meadows in the summer and its variety of winter activities in the winter. 
  • Ohanapecosh contains the park’s old-growth forest, as well as a campground. 
  • Sunrise offers great hiking, views of the mountain, wildflower meadows, and a campground.
  • Carbon River/Mowich offers endless trails and a lakeside campground. 
gray concrete bridge over river
Along the road to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park, you’ll find a busy concrete bridge and the amazing Christine Falls. Photo by Rich Martello.

Areas to Visit

  • Carbon River 
  • Christine Falls 
  • Eagle Peak Trail 
  • Grove of the Patriarchs 
  • Longmire Museum
  • Narada Falls  
  • Paradise Valley
  • Skyline Trail 

2. North Cascades National Park  

Approximate Distance from Seattle: 110
Entry Fee: Free

With more than 300 glaciers and 300 lakes, you can escape the crowds and breath in crisp mountain air in underrated North Cascades National Park. It’s the 5th least visited park in the county, receiving only 38,000 visitors in 2016. Enjoy mountain climbing, camping, swimming, boating and fishing, and even horseback riding. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a decent amount of wildlife, whether that’s elk, marmots, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and even black bears and otters. 

Stehekin – A Community in the Mountains

For a unique experience, visit Stehekin, a community nestled in the mountains. The town has no roads and is only accessible by boat, plane, or foot. The town has no cell reception, no ATM services, and limited grocery and food services, but it offers a variety of historical, cultural, and outdoor activities. 

green trees beside body of water during daytime
The community of Stehekin is only accessible by boat, plane or on foot. Photo by David Merrick.

Areas to Visit 

  • Cascade Pass Trail
  • Diablo Lake Vista Point 
  • Gorge Lake Overlook
  • Ladder Creek Falls 
  • Maple Pass Loop 
  • North Cascades Highway 
  • Ross Lake 
  • Sterling Munro Trail
  • Washington Pass Overlook 

3. Olympic National Park 

Approximate Distance from Seattle: 110 miles 
Entry Fee: $30 per private, non-commercial vehicle 

Olympic National Park covers an abundantly diverse region that offers everything from sandy beaches to rainforests to hot springs on its nearly 1 million acres of land. There are also more than 150 glaciers, 13 rivers, and 60 miles of rugged coastline filled with colorful and lively tide pools that are home to starfish, sea anemones, rock crabs, wolf eels, and more.

If you’re into bird watching, there are more than 250 species that live in the park. It’s not surprising that the park is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is part of the international system of Biosphere Reserves.

According to the National Parks System, this one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the U.S. Hurricane Ridge is the most popular portion of the park, which has fantastic hiking trails that lead to expansive views and an excellent option for those who only have a day in to explore. 

Eight Hikes along Hurricane Ridge 

  • Big Meadow (0.5 miles round trip) 
  • Cirque Rim (1 mile round trip) 
  • Elwa (12 miles round trip) 
  • Little River Dirt (16 miles round trip) 
  • High Ridge (1 mile round trip) 
  • Hurricane Hill (3 miles round trip) 
  • Klahhane Ridge (8 miles round trip) 
  • Wolf Creek (16 miles round trip) 

If you have additional time, consider exploring other areas of the park to truly appreciate this diverse landscape. 

green trees near lake under cloudy sky
The most popular section of the Olympic National Park: Hurricane Ridge. Photo by Rod Ramsell.

Areas to Visit 

  • Hoh Rain Forest 
  • Kalaloch Beach
  • Lake Crescent
  • Lake Quinault 
  • Marymere Falls 
  • Olympic National Forest
  • Ruby Beach 
  • Sol Duc River 

4. San Juan Island National Historic Park

Approximate Distance from Seattle: 115 miles 
Entry Fee: Free 

The San Juan Islands encompasses four islands: Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island.

The American Camp National Historical Park is located in San Juan Island, which was the location for a major boundary dispute called ‘The Pig War’ between the United States and Britain in 1859.  It’s almost hard to believe, but the dispute began when an American killed a pig that belonged to the British after it wandered onto his land. Although no shots were fired during this crisis, the island wound up divided into English and American camps for ten years after the pig’s killing.

Obscure history aside, this beautiful island offers 6 miles of sandy beaches and craggy bluffs. There are strong rip currents, so swimming is not recommended, but it is a great place to go whale watching, especially for orcas. The easiest way to get here is via ferry, and once you arrive, a convenient way to see the park is via bicycle. 

Four Hikes on San Juan Island

  • Young Hill (2.2 miles) 
  • Lime Kiln Point (2.2 miles) 
  • South Beach to American Camp (2.8 miles) 
  • Jackal’s Lagoon to Mt. Finlayson (3.5 miles) 
white and brown concrete building near body of water during daytime
Lime Kiln Point State Park is located on the west side of San Juan Islands. Photo by Yan L.

5. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park 

Entry Fee: Free 
Distance from Seattle: Located in Downtown Seattle 

If history is what you crave, the Klondike Gold Rush National Park will delight anyone interested in the age of pioneers. Learn what life was like in the late 1800s when Seattle became the platform for the gold rush in the last frontier, doubling its population from 40,000 to about 80,000 over the span of just ten years. The museum involves interactive exhibits and creative storytelling tactics. It’s located in Pioneer Square’s Cadillac Hotel, built back in 1889 when Klondike prospectors infiltrated the town. 

Klondike gold rush green street board
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park by Bart E.

Go on Your Quest With KÜHL

Hiking through new destinations can be invigorating, and it’s important to always fuel your body with adequate energy. Read our In-Depth Look Into Food for Hiking: Tips and Ideas and tag us in your adventures @kuhl

Featured Image – Hurricane Ridge by Wild.

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deer standing on green grass with snowy mountains in background
Nancy Raven Kirk
Nancy is a writer, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast originally from Los Angeles. She's had work published in the L.A. Times, OC Weekly, and various other publications. Check out her website at