The most northwestern of all continental United States, Washington State is border by Oregon to the South, Canada to the north and Idaho to the east. This is one of America’s—even the world’s—wettest and snowiest regions. Covered in dense pine forests and home to rugged mountain ranges and even volcanoes, Washington State is a real beauty. And there’s only one way to really experience that—by going on a Washington State national parks road trip.
Besides the three national parks in Washington State, there is also a national volcanic monument. Not too many other states can claim such a site. When exploring this part of the U.S. on a Washington State national parks road trip, you’ll take in everything from spectacular Pacific coastline to glaciers and waterfalls to temperate rainforests and towering mountains.
Washington State National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
If you’re not based in Washington, you’ll probably be flying into Seattle-Tacoma International airport, where you can pick up your rental car. After you’ve done that, it’s a 85-mile drive north to the small town of Sedro-Woolley. You might want to spend the night there before kicking off your epic Washington State national parks road trip.
Day 1-2: North Cascades National Park
From Sedro-Woolley, Route 20, more popularly known as the North Cascades Highway, runs for 46 miles to the entrance of North Cascades National Park. The road continues through the heart of the park. Many hiking trails start just off of this scenic road while numerous overlooks offer views of the mountains, lakes and waterfalls.
After exiting North Cascades National Park at its eastern boundary, continue following Route 20 and Route 153 through the wonderful Methow Valley. When you reach the town of Chelan, it’s time to call it a day.
Day 3-4: Mount Rainier National Park
Get up early on the third day to drive to the Mount Rainier National Park, a trip that’ll take more than three hours. Once you’re there, you have a plethora of options. Spend the rest of the afternoon driving the magnificent 30-mile Sunrise Road.
The next day, you’re strongly encouraged to go for a hike in the park’s mountains. There are a number of superb trails to one of the peaks, hikes that take between four and six hours in total. Additionally, there are also lots of shorter, less strenuous hikes. You can even join a park ranger for a guided tour through the wildflower-carpeted meadows.
Day 5: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Your third destination, on day five, on this memorable Washington State national parks road trip is Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Enter this region from the west side on Route 504.
In 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, which is still the most destructive and deadliest volcanic event in the United States’ history. The eruption came with a debris avalanche and an earthquake. More than 50 people died, 185 miles of roads were destroyed. You can learn all about this catastrophic event at—and still see its aftermath from—the Mount St. Helens Science and Learning Center.
Afterward, retrace your steps on Route 504 and head north on Interstate 5 towards Olympia, where you’ll turn left and continue your drive on Route 101. Follow this scenic road along the Puget Sound until you get to Port Angeles.
Day 6-7: Olympic National Park
After a night in Port Angeles, it’s time for a full day of nature adventures in Olympic National Park. From the town, it’s a 17-mile drive to Hurricane Ridge. There, you can pick from several excellent hiking trails running through mountain meadows, cold-climate forests and underneath imposing mountains.
The next day, jump back into your RV rental and head west on Route 101 to La Push. This narrow section of coastal beauty is also part of Olympic National Park, even though it’s not connected to the park’s main part. At La Push, you can hike along some spectacular coastline. Other major highlights in this part of the park include the Hoh Rain Forest and Lake Quinault, where you can spend the night in the local lodge.
From Olympic National Park, it’s a 130-mile drive back to Seattle-Tacoma International airport.