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National Parks near Seattle-Tacoma

Camp, Hike, Boat, Fish and Mountain Climb

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Seattle and other Puget Sound cities are lucky as there is no shortage of nature nearby—and right in the cities! In 2013, AmericanForests.org even included Seattle on its list of 10 Best Cities for Urban Forests. But while urban green spaces are great for walks and hikes, sometimes you just want more. Sometimes you want to truly get away from the city and explore amazing natural expanses. Sometimes you just need a national park.

Fortunately for all, there are several national parks within an easy drive from Seattle-area cities. Some national parks charge entrance fees, but if you can’t afford or don’t want to pay an entrance fee—no worries. There are free entrance days throughout the year. Also, many parks never have fees!

1. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park
Photo copyright cruiznbye

The closest national park to Seattle is Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is visible from Seattle and Tacoma—on a good day, at least—at a whopping 14,410 feet high. It’s one of the highest peaks in the country, and an active volcano at that. Climbing the mountain is one of the most exhilarating things to do in any Washington national park, but not for those who are inexperienced climbers. There are ample day hikes in the park, both easy and massively challenging. There is also the unique Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile trail around the base of the mountain. Visitors can bike, camp at one of the established campgrounds, fish and boat. Visitor centers are located at Ohanapecosh, Longmire, Paradise and Sunrise, which are around 5,000 to 6,000 feet and are the highest points visitors can reach by car.

Distance from Seattle: 2 hours/90 miles
Entrance Fee: Yes

2. Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park
Photo copyright: yugenro

Olympia National Park is a great place to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. At the park, visitors can go fishing, hiking, camping, or even mountain climbing. Hiking trails traverse temperate rain forests and mountains alike. Hurricane Ridge is one of the most visited areas of the park and has a few trails that start from the parking lot or visitor center. Some are level and easy, others have hundreds of feet in elevation gain. Mt. Olympus, the highest peak on the peninsula’s Olympic mountain range at 7,980 feet high, is also within the park.

Distance from Seattle: 2.5 hours, route involves taking a ferry or driving through Tacoma via Highway 16
Entrance Fee: Yes

3. North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park
Photo copyright: jeffgunn

With more than 300 glaciers within the park bounds, North Cascades National Park is a mountainous paradise. Visitors can hike, bike, fish and boat, climb, camp, view wildlife, or join a guided tour to learn more. One of the more unique experiences is a journey via boat, plane or foot to Stehekin, a small community not accessible by car that serves as a gateway to the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and wilderness areas.

Distance from Seattle: 2.25 hours
Entrance Fee: No

4. San Juan Island National Historic Park

San Juan Island National Historic Park
Photo copyright: BLMOregon

Situated on San Juan Island, the national park of the same name is accessible by Washington State Ferry, private boat companies, and small air carriers. The San Juans were formerly owned by the British, and remnants of this still remain in the park—there is both an English Camp and an American Camp. Today, both camps serve as visitor centers with exhibits and informative presentations. Activities to enjoy at the park include exploring beaches, watching wildlife and hiking.

Distance from Seattle: 3.5 hours/111 miles, including a ferry passage
Entrance Fee: No

5. Klondike Gold Rush – Seattle Unit National Historic Park

Klondike Gold Rush National Park Seattle Unit
Photo copyright: two_gypsy_hearts

Okay, so the Seattle Unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park will not exactly allow you to get out into expansive green spaces. Instead, visitors can learn about the Klondike Gold Rush through multimedia and photos, as well as interactive activities. Go on a geocaching tour, a self-guided cell phone tour, or a ranger-led tour of Pioneer Square. The actual Klondike Gold Rush National Park is located in Alaska.

Distance from Seattle: Located in Seattle
Entrance Fee: No

6. Other National Areas near Seattle and Tacoma

Western Washington is home to many other national sites and areas, which also offer superb avenues out into nature and history. Like national parks, many national sites, areas and landmarks don’t have entrance fees, but the ones that do are open for free select dates throughout the year.

  • Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve on Whidbey Island
  • Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
  • Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
  • Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
  • Lewis and Clark National Historic Park
  • Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument
  • Nez Perce National Historic Park
  • Okanogan National Forest
  • Ross Lake National Recreation Area
  • Whitman Mission National Historic Site
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