Kayaking on Lake Union Oksana Photo / iStock

Top Ways to Experience Nature in Seattle

Explore the Pacific Northwest’s great outdoors—hike, paddle, ski, scuba dive, and more.

Kayaking on Lake Union Oksana Photo / iStock

Stunning wildlife, regal mountains, and water as far as the eye can see—nature is an essential part of the Seattle area. Happily, there are endless ways to get out and experience this natural beauty up close.

From spring through fall, Washington state is a dream for hikers, with everything from flat walking paths to challenging climbs across more than 14,484 kilometers of trails. Visit any of the three nearby national parks or the central Cascade Mountains, less than an hour’s drive from Seattle, for wide-ranging hikes that encompass wildflower meadows, old-growth forests, and roaring waterfalls. Visit the Washington Trails Association for detailed directions, trailhead locations, and trail conditions.

Prefer an aquatic adventure? Seattle is flanked by Puget Sound, Elliott Bay, Lake Washington, and Lake Union, making it easy for beginners and experts alike to get out on the water and enjoy the view. Try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP for short), which involves standing or kneeling on a large board and using a paddle to propel yourself forward. The sport is quickly gaining popularity around the world, and several Seattle businesses rent equipment and offer guided lessons: Surf Ballard, Moss Bay, Northwest Outdoor Center, Agua Verde Paddle Club, and Salmon Bay Paddle.

More traditional water activities like kayaking, canoeing, and boating are also easy to experience in Seattle. Rent a canoe or rowboat from the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center, where you can spend an afternoon exploring Union Bay or the Washington Park Arboretum. Alki Kayak Tours, based in the West Seattle neighborhood, also rents sea kayaks and leads guided kayaking tours during sunset and around Elliott Bay. Meanwhile, engine-powered boats are just as accessible for visitors with varied options like classic vessels from The Electric Boat Company, round boats from Seattle Donut Boat Co, and floating hot tubs from Hot Tub Boats.

Or dive beneath the water’s surface to discover fish, octopus, eels, and other interesting creatures in surrounding bays. Seattle Dive Tours guides open-water diving experiences for groups of four. If you’re an experienced diver and comfortable going on your own, rent gear from Underwater Sports to explore famous dive sites like Edmonds Underwater Park, less than an hour north of Seattle, or the Hood Canal, about a two-hour drive away.

During cold-weather months, nearby mountains and ski resorts receive plenty of snow for wintery fun. Less than an hour east of Seattle, The Summit at Snoqualmie is a popular family-friendly resort with nearly 809 hectares of skiable land and 26 chair lifts. There’s also backcountry for skiers and snowboarders, as well as a tubing run—it’s like sledding on a large, inflatable ring—for everyone. About two hours northeast of Seattle, Stevens Pass features two mountains of downhill runs, a terrain park, and evening hours. Two hours south of the city, the recently remodeled Crystal Mountain Resort has more than 80 designated downhill runs, plus a safe, enclosed gondola that carries visitors of all ages to the top of the mountain for amazing views of nearby Mount RainierThe gondola is a fantastic option for non-skiers, too, who simply want to enjoy the views and lodge at the summit.

Throughout the year, local tour operators provide guided trips to some of the Seattle area’s most stunning sites. Evergreen Escapes, Customized Tours, and Tours Northwest are just some of the tour operators providing full-day guided trips to Mount Rainier National Park. Experienced naturalist guides pick up passengers from area hotels before driving to see the glacier-covered mountain, along with roaring waterfalls, wildflower-filled meadows, centuries-old forests, and wildlife such as elk and bald eagles.

Other iconic natural sights are the orca, minke, and gray whales that migrate to the Pacific Northwest every year. Tour operators like Puget Sound Express, Clipper Vacations, San Juan Safaris, and Western Prince provide whale-watching boat trips in the waters around the San Juan Islands, about four hours north of Seattle, to safely see these amazing animals up close. Some companies even provide transportation from points in or close to Seattle.

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Learn more about excursions with unique nature-filled offerings, including the San Juan Islands, Snoqualmie Falls, Mount St. Helens, and the Olympic Peninsula. Plus, find even more inspiration for curated itineraries here.

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