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Washington state travel guide: Breathtaking national parks, the bustling city of Seattle and beyond

Washington state is known for its wide range of stunning natural landscapes, from rugged coastlines to snow-capped mountain peaks to vibrant rainforests.

Cities like Seattle and Spokane offer their own array of cultural and culinary attractions.

Whether you are interested in outdoor adventure or simply taking in the scenery, the Evergreen State has something for every type of traveler.

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Here’s a deep dive.

National Parks in Washington

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park spans 70 miles of coastline and almost 1 million acres. This World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve offers anything you could want from a national park, like hiking, boating and the opportunity to see wild animals in their natural habitat in the temperate Hoh Rain Forest.

“It’s one of those places that really embodies what you would consider the Evergreen State,” Jennifer Coleman, publisher of the Scenic Washington road trip guidebook and the road map for Washington state, told Fox News Digital during a phone interview. “The beaches along the Pacific there are pretty wild. So, I always tell people, bring a raincoat and plan for wind. You know, it’s not like going to the beach even in Oregon, where you can really lay out in the sun.”

“I mean, OK, we do get sunny days, but it’s just not the same as a little further south,” Coleman added.

Visitors can observe ecosystems in miniature in the tide pools of Olympic National Park’s beaches. And while there might not be many sunbathers, the park is a well-known destination for stargazers. About 95% of the park is designated as wilderness and is devoid of human-caused light, making for a spectacular view of the night sky.

Sunlight reflects off the blue surface of Diablo Lake, which sits at the foot of mountains in Washington's North Cascades National Park

Diablo Lake is one element of Washington state’s North Cascades National Park that draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. Park-goers can take canoes or kayaks out on the water to experience the lake’s beauty up close. (Giulio Andreini/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

North Cascades National Park

This park is named for the many waterfalls along its hundreds of miles of trails. The clear, blue mountain waters of Lake Diablo and the park’s other lakes and rivers offer opportunities for boat tours and fishing and make North Cascades Coleman’s favorite of the state’s three national parks.

She pointed out that although the park is remote, its beauty is accessible to those not up for a hike, since a driving trip along the North Cascades Scenic Highway still affords gorgeous views of mountain peaks, verdant trees and rushing waterfalls.

And for those who want a hands-on experience, North Cascades National Park is known for its climbing opportunities.

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Naturalists can keep their eyes peeled for the gray wolves, wolverines and more than 200 species of birds that call one of Earth’s most diverse ecosystems home.

Mount Rainier National Park

“It’s sort of the iconic Washington thing, to go to Mount Rainier National Park,” Coleman said. The mountain lies along several officially designated scenic byways for the road trippers out there, and it is the highest peak in the Evergreen State, rising 14,410 above sea level.

Since the park is so highly attended, a timed entry system will be implemented during the busiest months, from May to September, beginning in 2024. Reservations open 90 days in advance.

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This is the most popular state park for mountain climbing and skiing, with more than 20 climbing routes and ski descents. With its wilderness backpacking campsites and more than 260 miles of maintained trails, including some that are paved, hikers of all stripes can find the perfect trek. 

Winter sports are popular in Mount Rainier National Park, but it is also known for its hundreds of species of wildflowers that bloom spectacularly over the summer.

Seattle, Washington

Washington’s largest city is also one of its main travel destinations and serves as the origin point for many of the road trips in Scenic Washington’s guides. The city itself offers plenty to do.

Seattle is known for shellfish and coffee

The Emerald City is known for its food and drink scene: Japanese cuisine, craft beer, wine and especially coffee and seafood.

Starbucks is based in Seattle, so naturally, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery is located there, too. Think Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory but for coffee, complete with a coffee bean library. Numerous smaller cafés are spread across the city as well for those who want a more unique espresso experience. 

Tea houses and bakeries are in no short supply, either, in case you need to cool it on the caffeine.

Seattle sits on Puget Sound, where shellfish are readily available. The city is known for its oysters.

Seattle's waterfront and city skyline are seen, including the iconic Great Wheel and Space Needle

Seattle’s waterfront is seen here, including the Great Wheel and the Space Needle. Seattle’s name is derived from the Native American name “Sealth,” who was a chief of the Suquamish tribe at the time the first White settlers arrived in 1851. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Iconic Seattle attractions

Visitors to Seattle can stop at one of its many museums, like the Museum of Pop Culture, or look for the Fremont Troll, a giant sculpture under the George Washington Memorial Bridge. The colorful, if a bit gross, Gum Wall near Pike Place Market is worth seeing, and the market is itself well-known for its craftspeople, restaurants and fishmongers.

But few Emerald City attractions are more iconic than the Space Needle. The Space Needle was originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair and has become perhaps the most recognizable element of the city skyline. In just 43 seconds, you can ride the elevator all the way to the observation deck, where you can see far and wide over the rest of Seattle.

Few Emerald City attractions are more iconic than the Space Needle.

Across the street from the Space Needle is Chihuly Garden and Glass, home to the works of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The breathtaking installations make this TripAdvisor’s top-rated Seattle attraction.

If the Space Needle is the most iconic component of Seattle’s Skyline, the Great Wheel is No. 2. This Ferris wheel was built in 2012 and offers a different way to get a bird’s eye view of the city and the surrounding mountains.

The Amazon Spheres provide an unexpected break from the hustle and bustle of the city with their four-story jungle-like interior, containing more than 40,000 plants. Another Washington-based company, Amazon, constructed the spheres to afford employees the tranquility of the rainforest without leaving the city. The Spheres are open to the public for free during the first and third Saturday of each month.

Kerry Park offers an extraordinary vista of the city skyline, Space Needle and all. On a clear day, Mount Rainier can be seen in the background. Photographers can often be found here as the sun goes down.

More from Washington state

Washington’s national parks and Seattle might be its most famous attractions, but you could see them all without even leaving the western half of the state — and even then, you would be missing other attractions in the west.

Mount St. Helens

In the southwest of Washington, visitors can find the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, just south of Mount Rainier. “And that’s a really cool place to go visit,” Coleman said, “Because you can actually drive right up into the blast zone.” The total devastation wrought by the volcano’s 1980 eruption contrasts with the new growth that has regenerated in the area, making for a thought-provoking trip to a natural wonder that could easily be overshadowed by Mount Rainier.

The Columbia River Gorge isn’t far away: “The Gorge is really a fantastic place. It’s basically along the Columbia River, which is the river that separates us from Oregon. That whole gorge region … both the Washington and Oregon sides, is kind of like waterfall central,” said Coleman.

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Whale watching

Orcas, gray whales and humpback whales can be spotted in Washington’s Puget Sound all year round, and whale-watching boat tours are available at multiple locations along the coast. Most boats won’t get too close to the whales, as some are endangered and have been killed in collisions with ships. Make sure to dress warmly and bring your binoculars.

Eastern Washington

The eastern portion of the state is totally different from what many think of as the wet environs of the Pacific Northwest. On the other side of the Cascade mountain range, it gets dry and hot. The city of Spokane provides an urban hub for excursions eastward and, though smaller than Seattle, offers arts and culture, craft beer and wine, and other trappings of an urban center.

South of Spokane lies Pullman, where Washington State University is located. Further south still is Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. Though it lies mostly in Oregon and Idaho, a portion of it does fall in southeastern Washington. This gorge is popular for high-speed jet-boating during the hot summers.

The golden, rolling fields of wheat of Washington's Palouse region are seen beneath a blue sky with wind turbines in the background

Rolling wheat fields of Washington’s Palouse region are seen from Steptoe Butte. The Palouse region experiences short, warm, dry summers and cold, snowy, cloudy winters. The region is also home to Palouse Falls, the official state waterfall of Washington, located in Palouse Falls State Park. The falls cascade down 198 feet to the Snake River. (Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The warm, sunny weather makes the region great for agriculture. “Wine country” is in the center of the southern portion of the state. The region, as you might be able to guess, is known for its more than 300 vineyards and wineries.

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Road trips

There are many reasons to visit Washington state, but many visitors tend to fit within a certain profile, Coleman told Fox News Digital: “Everybody has their different thing that they’re wanting to accomplish when they visit, but overall … if they’ve chosen Washington as their destination, chances are they’re looking for outdoor recreation or, you know, scenic views, seafood or national parks.”

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That is why Scenic Washington offers pre-planned road trip itineraries. The popular Cascade Loop begins from Seattle and circles the northern half of the state. The Palouse Scenic Byway explores Washington’s east, from its central desert lands to lakes and waterfalls to the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse region, which holds the largest concentration of wheat per acre in the world.

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.

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