The Washington State Parks system has more than 200 parks that feature a pretty impressive array of scenery, environment, and recreation opportunities. Whether you want to go hiking or camping, stay in a cabin, get out on the water, hang out on a beach, or have an outdoor birthday party or family reunion, state parks have it all. You can even delve into local history as several state parks have historical buildings from past military installations or schools. Do note that state parks require a Discover Pass to park, which costs $30 for an annual pass and $10 for a day-use pass. Many parks, but not all, feature stations where you can buy a pass, or you can buy one online before you go.
Beacon Rock State Park
Beacon Rock State Park is located in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. This 4,458-acre park’s main feature is the 848-foot-tall Beacon Rock that you can venture to the top of via switchback trail and enjoy stellar views. The park also is perfect for hiking to waterfalls (there are tons and tons of waterfalls in the Gorge, including Multnomah Falls that’s not too far away), rock climbing, cycling, or horseback riding. Portland is also close by, so this park makes a great complement to city adventures, too.
Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment is just about everything except disappointing. Cape Disappointment has terrific hiking, campsites, cabins, yurts, and a boat launch, but what makes this park a standout is not only its excellent outdoors opportunities but also the history of the grounds. Visitors will find not one, but two historic lighthouses perched high on bluffs overlooking the ocean (part of the “Graveyard of the Pacific” due to the high number of shipwrecks), as well as the ruins of former military bunkers that you can climb into and explore. Visitors can even stay in historic homes located right in the park.
Dash Point State Park
Dash Point State Park is a well-rounded state park that has one significant advantage over many parks in the system--it’s located just off I-5 in Federal Way, which is a short drive from Seattle or Tacoma. The park has overnight camping, boating opportunities, and lots of hiking and biking trails, but its shoreline is another part of what makes it a standout. Visit when the tide goes out, and you’ll find an expansive stretch of sand excellent for tide-pooling and strolling. Other parks near Seattle and Tacoma include Saltwater State Park just south of Seattle, Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, and Millersylvania and Tolmie state parks near Olympia.
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass is Washington’s most visited state park as this park has it all—and it’s all stunningly gorgeous. The park encompasses 3,854 acres, both a marine and camping park, 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline, and 33,900 feet of freshwater shoreline divided between three lakes. To top it all off, visitors will find an incredibly high bridge that offers views second to none. Just as you might imagine, the recreational opportunities here are numerous. Go fishing or swim in Cranberry Lake, hike, watch for whales from the bluffs throughout the park, go beachcombing, or stay overnight in one of the many campsites or even in a cabin you can only reach by kayak or other non-motorized boats.
If you love military history, Fort Casey is the place to be. Built in the late 1800s, Fort Casey was a military installation created for defense. Up until the 1940s, it was still used for training. As a result, today, visitors will find all kinds of remnants of the park’s military past—a pair of rare disappearing guns, mounted guns, and a battery that you can explore freely. There’s also the Admiralty Head lighthouse to examine as well. Beyond its history, the park also has opportunities to go boating, fishing, hiking, and all kinds of other outdoor adventures.
Gingko Petrified Forest State Park
What not to miss at Gingko Petrified Forest State Park is, perhaps obviously, the petrified wood. This 7,124-acre park features an interpretive center where you can see outdoor exhibits of petrified wood, but also the Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail where you can see 20 petrified logs in their original settings. This park isn’t all about exhibits, though. There’s also 27,000 feet of shoreline on Wanapum Lake where you can go boating, swimming, fishing, or otherwise enjoy the water. You can stay overnight at the nearby Wanapum Recreation Area.
Lake Wenatchee State Park
If you want to enjoy some sheer Northwest goodness, Lake Wenatchee is an excellent choice. This alpine lake and surrounding state park offer everything from boating on the five-mile-long lake to guided horseback tours available from an outfitter located right within the park. There are shallow spots in the lake for young kids to swim, too. In the winter, you can give snow camping a try or go snowshoeing through the miles of nearby trails.
Larrabee State Park
Larrabee was Washington’s very first state park. Located close to Bellingham, the park has a little bit of everything—boating, fishing, paddling, diving opportunities, tide pools to explore, hiking, camping, and more. You can also harvest shellfish on the 8,100 feet of shoreline here too. Larrabee State Park is located on the beautiful 21-mile Chuckanut Drive, making it a perfect stop if you’re driving the full scenic route.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Most people probably think about going out on a boat tour to whale watch, but the fact is that you can whale watch from land too. And Lime Kiln State Park is one of the best places to do just that. This small day-use park has fantastic opportunities to spot orcas, gray whales, porpoises, humpback, and minke whales between May and September. Visitors can also check out exhibits about whales, hike or tour the lighthouse.
Moran State Park
Located on tranquil Orcas Island, Moran State Park is the perfect place to relax in nature. The park is home to five lakes for water recreation galore, has 38 miles of hiking trails and mountain biking trails, and has a stone tower perched up high that you can climb and enjoy a fantastic view out over the San Juan Islands. Moran State Park is also a great place to camp with several campgrounds. Southend campground is right on the water, and the Northend campground is close to a swimming area.
More than 13,000 years ago, a series of massive Ice Age floods carved a path through the upper western United States. Today, Palouse Falls is one of the last waterfalls left along this path, and it’s a sight to see. Dropping over picturesque canyon walls, the falls are popular with painters and photographers alike. The park itself isn’t massive at just 94 acres. There are campsites and three viewpoints to see the falls.
Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park
Like Palouse Falls, Sun Lakes-Dry Falls is leftover from Ice Age floods and features dramatic canyon scenery as a result. Unlike Palouse Falls, there is only a former waterfall here, but one that was at one time four times as large as Niagara Falls! Lakes remain, and visitors can go boating and fishing to enjoy the water. There are also plenty of places to hike and explore the history of this ancient landscape.
Wallace Falls State Park
Wallace Falls is a 1,380-acre park tucked into the Cascades filled with forests, lakes, and waterfalls. If you want to go camping and hiking, it’s tough to top this park. Explore 12 miles of trails and don’t miss the three-tiered 265-foot Wallace Falls with multiple viewpoints allowing you to enjoy this impressive waterfall from any angle. If you have backpacking gear and secure a permit from park staff, you can branch out into the backcountry hiking opportunities here too.