There’s practically no other area in the world like Seattle, with grand mountains, sparkling waterways, and lush forests within city limits or just a quick day trip away. When you’re in town, you can wander down a beach trail, hike in a majestic park, feel the spray of a roaring waterfall, and more.
Three nearby national parks are well-known among locals and visitors as symbols of Washington stunning scenery. Mount Rainier National Park, about a 2.5-hour drive southeast of Seattle, is perhaps the most famous for its iconic peak, Mount Rainier. Covering 95,660 hectares, this national park is also one of the most accessible with several visitor areas for easy exploration. The area known as Paradise is surrounded by alpine meadows and features several trails and stunning up-close views of the glacier-clad peak. In summer, the fields here bloom with vibrant wildflowers and hikers are out in full force. The national park’s other visitor areas offer access to thousands more hiking trails and scenery, including old-growth forests, peaceful lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife. (An entry fee is required.)
Olympic National Park on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is only a three-hour drive from Seattle and offers nearly 404,685 hectares of protected wilderness and plenty of dramatic coastlines and lush rain forests. Visitor centers can provide information about easy to medium- trails, while crystal-clear Lake Crescent and the tranquil, moss-covered Hoh Rain Forest are two standout scenery spots. Along the Pacific Ocean coastline, explore tide pools, admire sea stacks along misty beaches, and—for the experienced—even surf in the waves. (An entry fee is required.)
More dramatic peaks await in the “American Alps” of North Cascades National Park, a two-hour drive from Seattle. Find more than 300 glaciers, an array of wildlife including more than 200 bird species and black-tailed deer, and countless hiking trails. Turquoise Ross and Diablo Lakes are perfect for summer fun and boat tours, while scenic Highway 20 has several panoramic stops along the road. (No entry fee is required.)
The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, about a 3.5-hour drive from Seattle, details the legacy of Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980 and left it with a distinct horseshoe “U” shape. Four visitor centers are dedicated to the volcano and the eruption, many with interactive exhibits about the recovery along with viewing platforms for you to peer into the mountain’s crater and see the lava-carved pathways below. (An entry fee is required.)
Aside from national parks and monuments, the has plenty in terms of awe-inspiring nature and views. More than 1.5 million visitors make their way each year to Snoqualmie Falls, only a 30-minute drive east from Seattle. Once you see the 82.2-meter-tall waterfall up close, you’ll understand why. The gushing cascade is taller than Niagara Falls and has a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform at the top affording a breathtaking view of the waterfall that’s so close you can feel the mist on your face. Down below, an easy hiking trail leads to a boardwalk for another look at the waterfall from the river level.
Within Seattle city limits, Discovery Park is a hidden gem tucked away in the Magnolia neighborhood. Its more than 216 hectares feature sandy beaches, flower-filled meadows, and leafy forests. It’s a favorite spot for anyone who wants a quick dose of nature. Stroll the Discovery Park Loop Trail to see a variety of scenic landscapes, then visit the iconic lighthouse on the beach for a prime photo opportunity. And for a water experience, Lake Union and its park, just north of downtown, is an oasis among the skyscrapers. Admire the historic ships tied up in the wharf, launch a paddleboard or kayak, or simply soak in the shimmering water views.
Learn more about excursions with unique nature-filled offerings, including the San Juan Islands, Snoqualmie Falls, and the Olympic Peninsula. Plus, find even more inspiration for curated itineraries here.