From sunlit conifer forests to majestic waterfalls, beautiful Washington State has it all. It’s home to three national parks plus a passel of scenic state parks, too…making it one of best states to visit in the USA.
Travel here to slow down, get out in nature, and breathe in beauty.
Ogle blossoms at the famous tulip festival in spring or step into your own Hallmark movie as winter drapes itself around cute little Leavenworth at the holidays.
Below are my recommendations for a wonderful vacation in Washington state.
Most Beautiful Places in Washington
Beautiful Washington state is a recipe for relaxation. Scenic spots also include the magical mystery all along the stunning coast here, too.
Just south of Vancouver Island in Canada, bustling Seattle gives way to the meandering Puget Sound, the playground for transient Orca whales here. It’s the ideal place to see them.
The dramatic Olympic Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean and nestles up to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Salish Sea—the boundary line between the U.S. and Canada runs right down it—and dozens of beautiful islands.
Read on for ideas of some of the best places to go in Washington state. If your favorite place isn’t listed here, it might just mean we haven’t visited yet! Tell us why it’s wonderful in the comments so we can share additional destinations with readers here.
1. San Juan Islands
There are more than 400 islands that make up the archipelago of the San Juan Islands in the Salish Sea just north of Seattle.
But the best known are San Juan Island (which is the most visited), Orcas Island (which draws hikers to Mount Constitution) and Lopez Island (which is flatter and favored by cyclists).
It’s easy to settle into relaxed island life here with leisurely forest or coastal walks on a late summer evening. Beautiful sights abound here. Even in mid-summer when tourism is at its peak, the islands feel quiet and care-free.
(Book accommodation by early spring for summer though or prepare to be disappointed. July and August are primetime here. The ferry is also by reservation only so it’s critical to reserve as early as possible. Get my best tips on taking the ferry here.)
You’ll spot plenty of deer, red fox, and American bald eagles in the San Juans. And if you’re lucky, you’ll even see orcas from shore. Otherwise, be sure to book a whale watching tour! In fact, there are three resident pods of Orcas that call this area home.
All three islands host a tight-knit community of artisan bakers, farmers, and those who value nature in its pristine state.
Activism is alive here with bakeries donating to justice and equality causes…volunteers who rescue marine mammals…and a “free” store where residents cut consumption by trading everything from clothes to kitchen cabinets!
Stroll a lavender field. Meet alpacs. Taste-test homemade jams at a farmer’s market. You might never leave!
2. Snoqualmie Falls
One of the beautiful places in Washington state not to be missed is Snoqualmie Falls, which is instantly recognizable as the waterfall in the iconic TV show Twin Peaks.
The waterfall, framed by a forest of trees, is picture-postcard perfect.
One and a half million visitors each year visit this breathtakingly beautiful attraction to stand on the observation deck and feel the power of the water gushing over the cliff and crashing 268 feet down onto the river below.
The mists rising from the bottom of the falls gives it a mystical feel that somehow typifies Washington state nature.
The best time to visit is during the rainy season between November and March when the river is high, and the falls is a curtain of water.
Snoqualmie Falls can easily be visited as a day trip from Seattle. In fact, exploring the falls is a top thing to do near Seattle.
Near the top of the waterfall, there is a gift shop. Not only is Snoqualmie Falls a beautiful place, but it’s also just a short walk—perfect for families—to excellent viewing decks with some of the best views in Washington state.
There is an interpretive trail with educational displays about the falls, the area’s history, and flora and fauna, too.
The boardwalk leads past the hydroelectric power plant and down to the base of the falls, where there are picnic areas and bathroom facilities.
The parking lot has spaces reserved for those with disabilities.
Christina | Travel2next.com
3. Olympic Peninsula
Composed of wild shoreline, rainforest, and staggering mountain peaks, Olympic National Park has something for everyone. It’s one of the top places to see in Washington state!
The thing that makes Olympic National Park so special is Hoh Rainforest, the only temperate rainforest in the United States, located on the Olympic Peninsula.
Walk a portion of the 17.3-mile Hoh River Trail to see the vibrant green ferns and rainforest flora, or walk it in its entirety to end up at Blue Glacier.
(Be sure to bring backpacking gear so you can camp overnight).
It’s a tough trek, but it’s not just anywhere that you can follow a trail from a rainforest to a glacier!
Other places to visit in Olympic National Park include the beaches.
The most impressive are Kalaloch Beach and Ruby Beach, both of which feel rugged and alive with lots of driftwood and rock formations out at sea.
Finally, don’t miss the area around Hurricane Ridge, the most easy-to-access alpine area of the park.
There are lots of great hikes that depart from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center so you can pick something that best meets your fitness level.
Visiting Olympic National Park is wonderful year-round, but it is perhaps best visited in the summer so you can explore the beaches, or in the early fall when the weather is still on the warm side but the summer vacation crowds have subsided.
Allison | Small Town Washington
Read more on Western US travel:
• Best hikes in Yellowstone National Park
• Best Things to do in Grand Teton National Park
• Things to do in Portland, Oregon
4. Mount Rainier
Dramatic Mount Rainier leaves both visitors and locals awestruck. It’s one of the best places to visit in Washington state.
At 14,410 feet, it is the tallest of all the Cascade peaks and is the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous United States.
Also known as Tacoma, it is an active volcano and the nation’s fifth national park.
Despite this grandeur, the mountain is enjoyed as a backdrop in views throughout the region and is easily accessible for hiking, camping, and exploring.
It makes a perfect day trip from Seattle and the mountain’s entire surrounding vicinity as well as a memorable overnight trip.
Choose from prime campgrounds, historic lodges, house rentals, and modest motels in or around the park.
Visit Paradise, with its ever so apt moniker. Paved trails bring you through fields of breathtaking subalpine wildflowers in the summer.
In the winter, this same area offers sledding and snowshoeing trails, with guided options led by rangers on the weekends. (Always check road conditions in winter.)
The park is laced with stunning trails offering a wide range of difficulty levels. Near Paradise is the Grove of the Patriarchs, an easy trail to old growth giants.
Backpackers can enter the lottery to hike the famed Wonderland Trail.
Be sure to explore the visitor centers in the park to discover the stories of the First People of Tacoma and to learn about the powerful natural forces behind the extraordinary beauty of Mount Rainier.
Erica | Trip Scholars
5. North Cascades National Park
Looking for epic things to do in the state of Washington? North Cascades National Park is arguably one of the most picturesque and underrated national parks in the entire United States.
With thick pine forests, impressive glaciers, and the dramatic Cascade Mountains, this remote area is home to all sorts of wildlife, including grizzly bears and wolves.
The North Cascades Highway snakes through this park, offering jaw-dropping views in all directions.
However, if you want to explore deeper than simply stopping at viewpoints, you’re in luck because North Cascades National Park is home to some of the best hikes in Washington State.
Whether you’re looking for a short and relatively easy jaunt or a multi-day backpacking adventure, you’ll find a hike that’s suited to your level and preference.
One of North Cascades must-see landmarks is Diablo Lake, which is an otherworldly shade of teal and is flanked by mountains that are just as gobsmacking.
If you visit during the summertime, you may be lucky enough to spot idyllic purple and golden wildflowers that pop up in this area.
The combination of shockingly turquoise lakes, colorful blooms, and rugged snowcapped peaks looming in the distance make this part of northern Washington seem almost too beautiful to be real.
Katie | Go Wander Wild
6. Deception Pass State Park
If you’re lucky enough to get to spend some time in Deception Pass State Park, you’re in for a real treat.
It’s the most visited state park in Washington, which is pretty amazing considering there are over 200 state parks to choose from!
Visitors will find plenty to do in the area including 38 miles of hiking trails—Bowman’s Bay is quite popular—fresh and saltwater for swimming, and several miles of bike riding trails.
You can spend a leisurely day picnicking at Rosario Beach, examining the tide pools, and watching a glorious sunset.
Deception Pass also is an excellent place for kayaking and getting a close-up look at the marine life in the area. Of course, even those spending their time on the beach can frequently spot seals and otters near the shore.
Walking across Deception Pass Bridge is an experience in itself. It’s actually made of two bridges connecting Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island.
At almost 1500 feet long and 180 feet above the water, the narrow pedestrian lane is not for the faint of heart!
There are many other things to do and see nearby throughout the year, including flower festivals, bald eagle festivals, and much more!
Karee |Our Woven Journey
7. The Enchantments
Hiking the Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is one of the best ways to see Washington’s beauty up close.
It’s no secret though and has become a coveted place to explore. Hikers and backpackers converge on this area to get lost in the woods for a bit.
To protect the region from the influx of visitors, only a handful can camp in the backcountry at any given time.
And because the permits are so popular, they are allotted by a random drawing every year.
Whether or not you win the drawing, it is a great place to hike, especially spring through fall. Summer temps can get warm here.
Fortunately, the area is covered in alpine lakes with abundant streams to cool off in. Lakes like Eightmile and Caroline are great stopping points for day hikers or the perfect sites for campers.
However, one of the most spectacular parts of the Enchantments awaits further up the trail. Campers can wake up with some coffee and take a day hike to Windy Pass.
A couple miles past Lake Caroline, the forest opens up to a verdant meadow of native grasses and wildflowers. Follow the stream to its source and take a moment to just breathe it all in.
The views are truly special. Just one look and you will understand why they named this area “The Enchantments”.
Steve | Maps Over Coffee
8. Bainbridge Island
Another one of the most beautiful places in Washington is Bainbridge Island.
This approximately 28-square mile island is just a short 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.
It has 53 miles of shoreline dotted with gorgeous beaches, but even the island’s interior has breathtaking forests, hikes, and viewpoints.
Bainbridge is a fun day trip no matter the season, but June through September is most popular because there’s less rain and more daylight for enjoying outdoor activities.
As soon as you arrive, take the waterfront trail system from the ferry dock to downtown Bainbridge.
You’ll get water views before landing among adorable shops, eateries, and wineries.
Don’t forget to fuel up at one of the incredible Bainbridge Island restaurants before making your way to other outdoor adventures.
Once satiated, drive to Fort Ward State Park, which has two historic arms batteries within a 137-acre park full of trails weaving through the woods.
Afterwards, head to Grand Forest with its seven miles of easy walking trails.
For more water views, head to Lytle Beach. This small beach is in a residential area of Bainbridge Island and is barely visited by tourists.
End your day here enjoying the sunset before making your way back to the ferry.
Adria | The Emerald Palate
9. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
La Conner, Washington is a quaint fishing town on the Skagit River. It is 67 miles north of Seattle or 88 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia and is a lovely town filled with beautiful little hotels, B&Bs, and artisan shops.
One of the best things to do here is window shop the dozens of antique shops for unique finds and refurbished furniture.
But the main attraction is Skagit Valley’s spring tulip festival. The farmers’ fields surrounding La Conner and beyond come alive with thousands and thousands of color saturated tulip blossoms.
For a small entrance fee, you can walk through the fields and purchase tulips or bulbs.
But even if you miss the festival, the 21-mile Chaukanut Drive makes a memorable day out of La Conner along the scenic Pacific Ocean with awe inspiring views.
Drive slowly, stop and take lots of photos, and savor seafood fresh from the sea at one of the amazing eateries along the way.
Nicole | Go Far Grow Close
Beyond Washington’s natural beauty is its fame for the quaint Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth, which offers plenty of charm year-round.
Nestled in a narrow valley and surrounded by the Washington Cascades and snowcapped mountains, Leavenworth is the place to go if you’re looking for a unique holiday experience.
What makes Leavenworth so special is that you don’t need to fly all the way to Europe to experience the unique Bavarian way of life.
With its alpine chalets, polka performances, and excellent hiking and skiing trails, Leavenworth truly offers a slice of old world ambiance.
Although anytime is great to visit Leavenworth, the village has a magic spell during the Christmas holidays or in June when it’s not yet crowded, and temperatures are pleasant.
If you’re a sports enthusiast, be sure to hit the two major ski resorts here—Mission Ridge and Stevens Pass—for a magical day on the slopes or a thrilling sled ride down the mountain.
During summertime, enjoy all nature has to offer here. Icicle Creek makes the perfect day hike.
During a winter visit, foodies should head directly to the Gingerbread Factory for some yummy homemade cookies. (Be sure to pick up a kit for making gingerbread houses at home!)
Looking for a romantic weekend? This is the perfect spot for a wine tasting tour or a carriage ride.
Sara | Mindful Travel by Sara
11. Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge sits in southern Washington, forming a natural border between Washington and Oregon.
A river may not sound like much to look at, but the gorge that the river cuts through can rival any sight in the Pacific Northwest.
From the best viewpoints in the gorge, you can see Mount Hood towering above the surrounding mountains.
The best things to do in the Columbia River Gorge involve the outdoors. There are pristine hiking trails all along Evergreen Highway that runs parallel to the Columbia River here.
Beacon Rock is a great hike for sweeping views after just a mile and a half walk as you climb the core of an ancient volcano.
Cape Horn Loop Trail also leads to a lookout of the gorge on a longer hike.
Many of the state parks along the Columbia River Gorge here also offer campgrounds to stay at, including Beacon Rock State Park and Columbia Hills State Park.
The best time to visit the Columbia River Gorge? Without a doubt, it’s in the spring… when the wildflowers are blooming!
Dog Mountain, completely draped in bright yellow flowers, will take your breath away.
Val | Voyages with Val
These beautiful places in Washington will steal your heart.
The state of Washington has something for everyone. Whether you’re joining locals to feast on crab in summer or cozying up in a cabin for a romantic weekend under snowy peaks in winter, you’ll return refreshed and renewed.
I have a hard time understanding why Lake Chelan is not on the list. So much hiking and sights to see, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Especially near the end of the lake.
Thanks for the recommendation! This post includes favorite places in Washington visited by a number of travel bloggers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other gorgeous spots we still need to see 🙂
R. Imper says
Laje Chelan should definitely be on the list. No visit there would be complete without a visit to Stehekin, one of the most stunningly beautiful and remote locations in the continental U.S. in a forested wilderness area. You can only get there by boat, seaplane, or by hiking through beautiful and rugged mountain trails.
Thanks for sharing!
Frank James says
It rains all the time there. And the Sasquatch carry people off at night. More and more traffic and oppressive rules about COVID require wearing masks. In San Juan Islands a $1,000 fine for not wearing a mask in doors!
I had to approve your comment Frank for its sheer entertainment value 🤣 It seems locals are getting creative to keep tourists away. I can’t really blame you for wanting to keep this beautiful state all to yourself. Happy to report there were no fines in effect in the San Juans this summer. Really grateful for the mandatory mask requirements that were in effect so travel feels safe.
I have been hearing on the news that the ferries are having some difficulties. I would like to see the sites but it sounds there is long waits.
Hi Jeannie. We found the Washington ferry fleet was aging when we did some hopping around the San Juan islands last summer. As long as you have a reservation though, it should be fairly straight forward without long waits.
Lisa Stultz says
Another beautiful rugged spot is the canyon between Ellensburg and Yakima. The Yakima river runs through it. It’s a beautiful underrated drive with no traffic.
That sounds so lovely, Lisa. Thank you so much for sharing.
There are a lot of great parks as well!!
Lake Chelan is my orientation destination. I do, however understand why it isn’t on this list.
Greg, thank you so much for sharing. There are still so many beautiful places in Washington I’ve yet to see. I appreciate the rec!
Thank you for this wonderful article! Where was that last photo taken, the one (at the end of the article) with the water, trees, and white wild flowers?
Ah! That was in a gorgeous little cove with kayak rentals on San Juan Island. Thanks for reminding me of my lovely day there 🙂
You have a typo in Mt Rainier section. It is also know as Tahoma…. Tacoma is a city south of seattle
Hi Anne— Always happy for someone to catch a typo! However, I double checked on Wiki here and, in this case, “Mt Ranier is also known as Mt. Tacoma, Tahoma, Tacobet, and təqʷubəʔ”