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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! With parks like Discovery Park in Seattle and Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, you hardly need to leave the city limits to go hiking or spend some time among the local greenery. 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 the grand expanses of a national park.
Fortunately for all, there are several national parks within an easy drive from Seattle. 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!
If you long for nature but don’t want to drive far, look to the state parks near Seattle—there are many and they are also great for hiking, camping, fishing, and other outdoorsy fun.
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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 as the climb is technically challenging.
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. Paradise is the most popular (and the crowds on some days will prove that), but is a beautiful stop where you can enjoy wildflower fields in the spring and long hiking trails. Mount Rainier National Park is also an excellent place to simply drive through and enjoy the mountain and forest views, and an excellent place for photographers as well.
Distance from Seattle: 2 hours/90 milesEntrance Fee: Yes
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Olympic 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 16Entrance Fee: Yes
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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. But be warned, you’re dependent on the ferry to get to and from Stehekin so don’t miss your boat!
Distance from Seattle: 2.25 hoursEntrance Fee: No
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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 passageEntrance Fee: No
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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 SeattleEntrance Fee: No
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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 Historical 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 Historical Park
- Okanogan National Forest
- Ross Lake National Recreation Area
- Whitman Mission National Historic Site
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