For the best things to do in Washington State, this comprehensive list is exactly what you’ll need to complete your research and begin setting off on your adventure! We’ve compiled 30 places and spaces that best highlight the amazing Washington wilderness, landscape and culture!
Washington State is home to some of the United States’ most beautiful mountain ranges, coastlines, and protected habitats, making this state a very popular destination – and for good reason! The state prizes and respects its natural spaces, and you can too when you plan your trip to Washington. Check out these 30 best things to do in Washington State!
30 Best Things To Do In Washington State
Explore Hoh Rainforest
Did you know that Washington State has rainforests? While many of us be more familiar with tropical rainforests when we imagine rainforests, temperate rainforests are an amazing magical sight unlike any other. The Hoh rainforest, located on the Olympic Peninsular on the state’s western coast, is the most popular destination in the park, and gets its namesake, Hoh, from the river that runs through it. It’s famous, mossy ferns are a sight to see!
Located immediately under the Canadian border, this towering volcano is the most glaciated in the Cascade Range and 3rdtallest peak in Washington State. The volcano is also the second most active of the volcanos in the Cascade Range (after Mount Saint Helens) and one of the snowiest places in the world. The mountain peak is visible from both Vancouver and Seattle. The popular attraction is located between Washington State’s Mount Rainier National Park and the North Cascades National Park in Snoqualmie National Park, and is by far one of the most beautiful peaks in Washington!
Walk the Seattle Underground
Under 31 blocks of today’s historic Seattle downtown, an ominous underground “city” filled with the shells of old buildings, alleyways and antiquated streetlamps preserve a fascinating tale of the city’s making. The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 left most of the central business district, then predominately wood, in complete shambles. The effort to rebuild the city with strong brick structures accompanied an effort to raise the neighborhood out of the sunken marshy bed that made it susceptible to regular flooding.
The new Seattle street grid was built up to 2 stories above the preexisting one using concrete retaining walls, though pedestrians continued to walk the underground streets and enter businesses through their lower levels, which were lined with streetlamps until the early 20thcentury when the space became illegal to walk, and synonymous with the criminal world.
Today, the tours are aplenty in the Seattle underground, covering 3 blocks of the underground that include shopfronts, a hotel and a bar. You’ll love an underground tour into Seattle’s past!
Visit the UPS Waterfall Garden
Snug between the urban streets of Seattle’s popular Pioneer Square, pedestrians are able to walk into a quaint little garden with a large man-made waterfall and a small collection of tables and chairs. Although the United Postal Service no longer operates from the location, the garden was built on the footprints of the original UPS building in downtown Seattle, Washington where the company was founded. Next to the waterfall a plaque dedicates the garden to the company’s dedicated employees who elevated it into the national success it is today. Check out this cute urban garden on your next stroll through downtown Seattle!
A Day Trip to the San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are a cluster of temperate, rural islands that are great getaways for anyone who loves nature, boating and wildlife. The area is renowned as a premier Orca Whale habitat and is one of the best places in the world to see them! Three main islands that cater to tourists – Lopez Island, Orca Island and San Juan Island. All three islands are full of hiking trails and stunning viewpoints.
The islands also have great small local communities with plenty of wineries, cideries, breweries and local farmer’s markets to keep any visitor cheery. Love cycling? These islands are great for cyclists of all levels! If you’re arriving in the fall, don’t miss out on the “Savor the Juans” Festival held all over the islands featuring local artisans, film and food!
Take a Boing Tour
25 miles north of Seattle in the town of Mukilteo, Boeing’s Everett factory stands as the largest building in the world. The factory manufactures the largest number of models produced for Boing’s worldwide base of customers, and all of their assembly processes are available for viewing in the Boeing Factory Tour. The tour even features an interactive “Future of Flight Aviation” exhibit that includes a flight simulator! Admission fees are currently $27 for adults and $17 for children. The tours last 90 minutes, and operate from 9am-3pm or 8:30-5pm from May 22- September 7th. Don’t forget to book these popular tours in advance!
Hike Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is the tallest volcano in Washington at 14,410 feet, and the most glaciated peak in the United States. The volcano’s highest peak is a picture-perfect scene in contrast to the beautiful evergreen forests beneath it and it’s the 2nd most active volcano in the Northern Cascade Range due to its location on a subduction zone where 2 colliding plates are causing regular seismic and geothermal activity.
The beautiful national park that surrounds Mount Rainier constitutes a multitude of ecosystems and the mountains feature numerous ice and snow patches as well as 25 major glaciers – making it the largest single-mountain glacial system outside of Alaska! The park offers 260 miles of trails that cross through think conifer forests, river valleys and subalpine meadows. Don’t forget to reserve your permit to hike the popular “Wonderland Trail” and to camp overnight or hike the backcountry here! Don’t miss out on the premier sights and experiences this gorgeous National Park has to offer!
Go Skiing in Snoqualmie
Love skiing or snowboarding? Or maybe you’re hoping to give it a try while in mountain country? No matter your background, you’ll fall in love with Snoqualmie! Located 52 miles east of Seattle, “The Summit at Snoqualmie” is a gigantic resort owned by Boyne Resorts encompassing 4 formerly independent ski resorts that now constitute as separate “bases.” These bases are – Alpental, Summit West, Summit Central and Summit East. Each base possesses its own unique terrain and specialize in different difficulty levels, so it’s important to drive to the correct base and entrance that will suit you (and your travel buddies’) skill levels.
The best known and busiest base, Summet West, is closest to Seattle and is home to the Summit Learning Center. The school holds classes for all ages and caters specifically to those of beginning to intermediate skill levels in skiing and snowboarding. The terrain at Summit Central contains a variety of terrain, Summit East is known for a mix of intermediate to advanced runs, and Alpental for its advanced and backcountry runs. If you don’t prefer skiing, snowboarding or Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and winter tubing are great alternatives, and wonderful for families.
Mount Saint Helens
Mount Saint Helens has always been an imposing and majestic volcano in its own right, but nothing brought the volcano more notoriety than its 1980 eruption – the deadliest eruption in United States History. On May 18th1980, a 5.1 earthquake caused the already rumbling giant to bulge and burst from its side. The volcano blew off its top, spewing ash, rock and hot gases into the air. Ash blanketed the northeast and the sky turned dark for days, while damaging over 230 square mile of land, 158 miles of highway, 200 homes and 47 bridges. The eruption left the impressive mountain with a great crater in its top, cut it’s glacier mass by 70% and reduced its height by 1314 feet!
Located just 50 miles NE of Portland and 96 miles south of Seattle, Mount Saint Helens is more popular than ever. Climbing to the rim of the crater can be done via the Monitor Ridge Route, which is about 5 miles ( 7-12 hours) and doesn’t require technical climbing, but it’s extremely steep, ashy and rugged. Additionally, there are countless viewpoints of the volcano, the best of which is the Johnson Ride Observatory. From here, you’ll be able to view its horse-shoe shaped crater, learn about it’s history and take trails further into the park. Don’t forget to stop at Mount St. Helens, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Washington State!
Explore the Ape Caves
Located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the Ape Cave is the longest continuous lava tube in the continental US. The 2.5-mile-long trail runs inside of a lava tube and is a National Recreation Trail with over 170,000 visitors a year!
The Ape Cave is a lava tube was formed over 2000 years ago from lava streaming down the southern end of Mount Saint Helens. As the outer perimeter of the lava stream cooled and hardened, the hotter interiors of the fluid basalt continued moving. This formed “tunnels” with unique layers of lava flow that makes this hiking experience totally unique.
The Ape cave allows trekkers to choose from two possible routes – a lower an upper trail. The lower trail is easy to walk and fairly flat and broad, while the Upper trail is 1.5 miles in one direction and more rugged. Most hikers prefer the Upper trail because the lava’s formations are more interesting – its shapes change frequently, and the trail extends into the forest above the cave. However, some physical ability is needed to climb over or squeeze around some formations and ascending into the trail’s forest path requires hikers to exit via a ladder. This trail is one unlike any other!
Take Photos at Panther Creek Falls
Situated in southwestern Washington’s Skamania County near the Columbia River Gorge, the Panther Creek Falls is a gorgeous 130 ft (40 m) canopy waterfall that runs through a vibrant green backdrop of hanging mosses. The waterfall is a “hidden gem” of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and creates a dramatic crescent water backdrop during the area’s rainiest months.
There’s a wooden viewing deck that shows off the main portion of the waterfall, which is is accessible almost immediately from the falls’ parking lot, but don’t forget to step off of the deck into the creek to see the waterfall in its entirety and capture some amazing photos!
Tour the Washington State Capitol Building
Located in Olympia, Washington’s state capital complex is actually a large campus! However, the eye-catching massive domed capitol building is the most striking, as it bears a lot of resemblance to the national capital building in Washington D.C.. This building houses the Washington State Legislature, offices for the Governor, lieutenant Governor, secretary of state, and treasurer.
The building’s large dome soars 287 feet and is the largest self-supporting masonry form in the United States! The other buildings on the campus include those which serve the Washington Supreme court and the governor’s mansion. As the 42nd state to the Union, the Washington State campus features the number repeatedly throughout its architecture. Taking a tour through Washington’s state capitol is one of the best things to do in Washington State!
Explore the North Cascades National Park
Cascades National Park is the largest national park in the North Cascades National Park Complex featuring over 500,000 acres of wilderness and offering more flora biodiversity than any other national park in the country. The park offers the most expansive glacial territory under Alaska, the steepest mountains in America (the tallest being Goode mountain at 9229 ft) and over 300 glaciers and turquoise-colored lakes. The rugged backdrop of the Cascade Mountains offers endless spectacular views that can be accessed via countless trails, but also an expansive backcountry.
This national park has such a large array of terrain with so many places of interest, from the Picket Ranges and Mount Triumph, to Eldorado Peak and Mount Shuksan. Although the park consists of over 400 miles of trail, the most popular in the park are the Cascade Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail.
However, the North Cascades Park is wilderness park, and therefore has no campgrounds. Those wishing to camp must do so from an adjacent park, but the recreational park to the south of the National Park offers a ferry to visitors who want to hike the south-side. The North Cascades National Park is one of the most underestimated National Parks in the country, but hiking this park is undeniably one of the best things to do in Washington State!
Marvel at Palouse Falls
This imposing giant cascades over a towering cliffside at a height of 186 feet from its top to its pool below. The Palouse Falls, the state waterfall of Washington, is located southeast of Washington on the Palouse river inside of Washington’s Palouse River Falls State Park. Carved over 13,000 years ago, the waterfall is among the last active waterfalls dating to the to the path of the Ice Age floods!
The Palouse Park itself consists of over 94 acres with onsite camping and some great picnic locations for weekend and day trips, and a fantastic canyon just downstream of the falls. The park offers 3 views of the waterfall. The first accesses the waterfall’s base via a winding staircase, a second from a paved walking path, and a third offers a panoramic view of the falls and Palouse River Canyon from above. The Palouse Falls is a must-stop for all visitors to Washington State!
Visit the First Starbucks Ever
While in Seattle you’re going to have to explore the first Starbucks ever – if coffee’s your kind of thing! Established in 1971 at 2000 Western Avenue from 1971-1976, the original Starbucks store then moved on 1977 to 1212 Pike Place Market where it stands in its original form today. The face of the store even broadcasts the original version of its current logo, which was a brown colored mermaid with far more detail. Since 1977, the successful franchise has gone beyond its original mission to sell freshly roasted coffee beans, now selling a mind-blowing array of popular coffee and tea refreshments. The now-chain has made an amazing legacy since its beginning. Today there are over 21500 stores in over 64 countries!
Don’t worry! Despite its retro appearance, the original Starbucks does sell your favorite modern brews. But it can be busy, so plan accordingly!
Soak in the Olympic Hot Springs
Natural hot springs are popular all over the world and come in a variety shapes and styles. Unsurprisingly, Washington State is home to a handful of its very own! Located in the Olympic National Park in western Washington, these pools are located between two and three miles into the Boulder Creek Trail in Elwha Valley. They are fairly shallow, reaching about waist deep when seated. The pools are completely natural, untreated and unmaintained and only accessible by foot.
To access the park, you’ll only need a National Park Pass. The walk there is simple and easy for all ages, though it does require crossing a suspension bridge 2 miles in. After a quarter mile, you’ll reach Boulder Creek, where the springs will be scattered across the area – some on the trail and some more secluded. Just don’t’ forget to test the water before getting in, they’re constantly piping hot!
Watch the Sunset at Second Beach
Beaches are amazing locations from which to view sunsets , and Second Beach is exactly where you’re going to want to be! Beach 2, often referred to as “Second Beach,” is a scenic hidden gem located on Washington’s pacific coastline next to the Quileute Reservation and the town of La Push. The beach is the largest and flattest of the nearby “Beach 1” and “Beach 3,” and is full of dramatic coastline islands and bluffs.
From the beach’s parking lot, the inauspicious trailhead heading to Beach 2 begins in the Quileute Reservation and runs about a mile on boardwalk and dirt trail. Arriving at the beach, you’ll immediately be drawn to the beach’s breathtaking sea stacks rising out of the shallow shore and an arch to the north that howls when the wind passes through it. The archipelago and cluster of islands with sea stacks are part of a wildlife preserve called the Quileute Needles National Refuge, which protects the local bird and sea creatures that habituate the needles. This beautiful backdrop is relatively unknown, and the perfect place to spend your evening!
Visit Treehouse Point
Treehouse Point is an unrivaled “glamping” experience in the middle of the lush Washington wilderness, and it’s just 30 minutes of Seattle near the Raging River! The compound has a total of 6 classic rental treehouses (all a bit different), a communal multi-purpose space and 2 bath houses. One “deluxe” treehouse dubbed the “Cameron Tower” offers a 2-storied view of the wilderness and has large, open windows to show every inch of it off. Others connect to the campus via rope bridges and have small connecting private decks.
For those of us trying to cash in on a mindful experience, the compound offers yoga classes, Tai Chi and massages! The owners even open up their unique space to wedding parties and has meeting accommodations available for you and your co-workers! This small treehouse city offers unforgettable experiences and is going to make your inner child melt!
Stick Gum on the Gum Wall
A Gum wall? Gross… or impressive? Somewhere between a colorful collective art wonderland and a sticky mess, the famed Seattle Gum is a surprisingly well-frequented destination. The famous wall is in the center of Seattle’s downtown in the Pike Place market and began in the 1900s with patrons waiting outside for the start of an improv show at Alley’s Market Theater.
Today, the Gum Wall covers an enormous surface area comprising of the original brick surface of the theater and its surrounding alleyway. In 2015 the wall was finally pressure washed and scraped for the first time in 20 years (which was ok, as it began to give off a stench), though visitors and locals alike immediately began building the wall up with gum again. Any and all visitors are encouraged to contribute when visiting! The sticky wall says a lot about Seattle’s quirky character. The colors, texture and overall image of the wall is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Definitely give the gum wall a look!
Visit Lake Diablo
Diablo Lake is a reservoir in the North Cascade mountains in Washington State, known for its intense turquoise color (from finely ground silt created through the process of glaciation) and as a popular kayaking and canoeing destination. Located between Ross Lake and Gorge Lake on the Skagit river, the lake and was created by the Diablo Dam, which is part of the Skagit River Hydraulic Project, managed by Seattle City Light.
Diablo Lake Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1981 and runs for 3.8 miles (6.12 km) along the lake’s shore. It also climbs Sourdough Mountain, where you’ll find waterfalls, and some more amazing destinations. The reservoir is absolutely stunning, can spend all day looking for new perspectives to observe it from. Diablo Lake also has an easy-to-reach overlook from highway 20 – diablo lake vista point. There’s no doubt that Lake Diablo is one of the most stunning in Washington State, so don’t forget to stop by the lake on your next trip!
Visit the Maryhill Museum and Stonehenge
Who knew you could visit Stonehedge without crossing the pond? Maryhill Stonehenge in Maryhill, Washington boasts a replica of the famous site in England, reimagined as it might have looked like in its heyday. However, this Stonehenge wasn’t built as an accurate representation of its predecessor. The concrete structure, made in 1918, was the first memorial to the dead in the ongoing World War (specifically those from Klickitat County, Washington).
At this time, the primary interpretation of Stonhedge was that it served as a place of sacrifice, and this memorial echoes sacrifice metaphorically in the context of that for one’s country in war. Today the structure is part of the Maryhill Museum of Art and includes monuments to local soldiers who died in World War 2, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Explore the Colombia River Gorge
This 90-mile canyon cuts through the Cascade mountains, offering some of the most stunning landscapes in the country and carving the line that divides the states of Oregon and Washington. Located only 100 miles east of Portland, the River Gorge is the largest scenic area in the United states – consisting of basalt cliffs, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rainforest, desert, riverscapes and snowscapes. The Gorge is absolutely enormous, consisting of over 293,000 acres of land, and multiple parks and can be driven, walked or biked. It’s completely free to enter, though a discover Pass is needed to enter its state parks like Beakon Rick, Creek Hatchery or Doug’s Beach.And of course, the region is home to some great local food and wineries!
Hike to Colchuck Lake
Colchuck Lake is one of the Cascade region’s most picturesque lakes. The area is renowned for its swimming, for its water sports, and for the beautiful hike leading to the lake itself. The lake features a deep blue turquoise color, a beautiful characteristic of the lakes in the region. The magnificent Dragontail and Colchuck “twin peaks” tower above the lake.
Luckily for campers, if you wish to camp next to the lake you absolutely can! Overnight stays only require a permit during high season, May 15thto October 31st. To reach the Stuart trailhead that begins the trek to Colchuck lake, take to US Highway 2 West. The hike is upwards is difficult, but the views are fantastic. The hike delves into a boulder field featuring mountain and views and a waterfall. At 4.5 miles, you’ll be met with the greatest overlook of the lake, but the greatest views are of course right upon the turquoise lake itself!
Spend a night at Shi Shi Beach
Located in Olympic Park near Neah Bay, Shi Shi beach is surrounded by coastal forest. The beach is one of the most beautiful coastlines in Washington and is most famous for camping! Camps sprawl along the beach, and into the forest. You’ll even be able to make fires on the beach, as long as you only burn driftwood in the park’s provided fire ring. The beach is very long and flat, making it ideal for any and all activities, and is famous for its shallow outcrop of sea stacks called the “Point of Arches.” You won’t even need to swim to reach these arches! This area can be approached via a path of sand that places you directly in the middle of the outcrop, which is otherwise surrounded by water in every direction.
To camp here, you’ll simply need an Olympic Wilderness Permit and a Makah Recreation Pass from Neah Bay to access the trailhead which begins in the Makah Reservation! Happy camping!
Attend a concert at the gorge Amphitheater
This outdoor venue is considered one of the most scenic concert locations in the world! Located near the Columbia river some 150 miles east of Seattle (near George, Washington), the venue offers concertgoers a glorious view of the Colombia Rive embellished by the Cascade mountains on either bank and sweeping views of the Columbia Gorge Canyon.
Opening in 1986 under the name “Champs de Brionne Music Theatre” alongside a winery, the venue was designed to accommodate up to 3000 concertgoers. The venue has since been enlarged and is now owned by Live Nation and accommodates campground spaces for weekend festivals. The venue has brought in many popular acts over the years, including Phish, the Dave Matthews Band, and famous festivals like Lollapalooza, the Vans Warped Tour, the Sasquatch! Music Festival, and Rock the Bells. If you ever get a chance, don’t miss an opportunity to experience music from this next-level music venue!
Explore Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan is a 50.5-mile-long lake in North-Central Washington State nestled between the North Cascade Mountains in what’s one of the deepest gorges in North America. Just 160 miles east of Seattle, the lake is both settled and unsettled, with three towns that become populated with visitors over the summer months.
The lake is surrounded by subalpine fir trees and plenty of trails to explore the perimeter, namely within the Lake Chalan National Recreational Center near the town of Stehekin. From here, it’s easy to camp out before taking to the Pacific Crest trail, which spans the entire length of the US from Mexico and view the 312-foot Rainbow falls. Additionally, Wenatchee National forest spans the east and western lengths of the lake, and 2 state parks on the southern end of the lake near the town of Chelan.
Spend Christmastime at Leavenworth
This Bavarian-themed town in Washington is magical. You won’t have to leave the States to enjoy traditional Bavarian architecture, cuisine and beer! The town is the center of German festivals like Oktoberfest, Maifest, the Accordian Celebration, and of course their annual Christkindlmarkt!
Celebrated during the Christmas Season every thanksgiving weekend on Front Street, festivalgoers will be able to find traditional handmade Bavarian crafts, Bavarian foods and entertainment. On Friday and Saturday, the start of the festival is commenced with the Lantern Festival, filled with children playing Christkindl (Golden Angels). Carrying paper lanterns, these children walk alongside Mr. and Mrs. Claus to the center of the festival grounds, welcoming and greeting guests, commencing the festival. Don’t forget to stop by Leavensworth and pick up some Christmas gifts if you’re traveling Washington during Thanksgiving weekend!
Ride the Washington State Ferries [and look for whales!]
Don’t miss out on whale sighting while in Washington State! The Puget sound is one of the most abundant marine ecosystems in the country. To see marine life unfold before your own eyes, take to the Washington State Ferries. This government agency single-handedly operates the largest fleet of automobile and passenger ferries in the United States across the Puget sound and in between the San Juan Islands.
Common wildlife sightings from any ferry include seals, sea lions, porpoise and river otters. However, spotting a whale is far more likely with some extra planning. During the summer, board a San Juan Island ferry to view Orcas, who can otherwise be seen from October to February in the center of the sound. Finally, grey whales will feed near the Whidbey island from March to May and can be seen via the Mulkiteo or Clinton ferries. Visit thewhaletrail.org and the Washington State Ferry’s site for more planning resources!
Visit Snoqualmie Falls
The Snoqualmie Falls is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in Washington State, and very likely the most popuar. Early on, the falls inspired many myths and legends in native lore, attracted daredevils, and quickly became one of the top tourist destinations in the area. Seeing over 1.5 mill visitors every year, the large 270-foot waterfall has a 2-acre park at its base with boardwalks for viewing and a viewing platform above the falls near its parking lot.
As of November 2019, falls are now owned by the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, who recently purchased the land in a great funding campaign from a tribe who’d planned to develop the area, despite the significance of the land and proximity to burial grounds. 45 additional acres are now protected! You won’t want to miss this natural wonder on your next trip to Washington!
Spend the Night at a Fire Lookout
With the majority having been built around the turn of the last century after a series of terrible wildfires deemed early fire detection of the upmost importance, fire lookouts began dotting the peaks of Washington wilderness. Although most have gone into disuse today, many have been renovated by volunteer groups to allow visitors to experience their extraordinary viewpoints. There’s nothing more amazing than waking up to a high-altitude view!
If not available for rental, most fire lookouts are available in a first-come-first-serve basis. However, this rule means something different to everyone else, so always prepare for worst – come with a tent, as there’s normally tent camps just next to these shelters. Camping in a fire lookout hits the very top of our list of the best things to do in Washington State!
Washington State is full to the brim with amazing destinations! We hope that these places have been of some inspiration to you. Whether at Panther Creek Falls, the Olympic hot springs, whale watching, or on top of a secluded fire lookout, Washington State is beautiful all around! Happy adventuring and don’t forget to slow down to enjoy the view!