Washington State

National Parks

Washington - The Evergreen State

Washington State is located in the far northwestern corner of the USA adjacent to Canada. This area, commonly known as the Pacific Northwest, is renowned for its rugged scenic beauty and its variety of outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, boating, skiing, mountain climbing, biking and backpacking.

Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park in Western Washington © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Giant redwoods from California wash ashore at Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park. Sunset turns the sun-bleached trees into a fiery orange.

The western coastline on the Pacific Ocean is well-known for its scenic beauty. Picturesque bays, lofty cliffs and rugged promontories are interspersed with rocky beaches strewn with giant logs scattered like the discarded matchsticks of a giant. An enormous inlet, called Puget Sound, extends over 100 miles inland and continues 75 miles further south.

Most tourists visiting the state of Washington fly to Seattle, its primary city, and tour the state from there. It is a very scenic city with many attractions and a vibrant entertainment scene. Luxury cruise ships depart from Seattle for Alaska, while ferries take commuters and tourists alike to the western islands and the Olympic Peninsula. North of the city, near the inlet to Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands with their resident population of wild Orcas, their profusion of birds, fishes, seals and sea otters attract many tourists. Further north, Victoria Island and Vancouver offer Canadian attractions.

The Olympic Peninsula

This grand bay defines the large mountainous and sparsely populated Olympic Peninsula which is mostly included in Olympic National Park. The Olympic Mountains are not very high. Their highest peaks are less than 8,000 feet (2500 meters), yet they are perpetually covered with snow and glaciers due to the vast amounts of precipitation coming from the warm currents in the Pacific Ocean. The western slopes of these mountains are shrouded in a temperate rain forest where giant trees grow in dense profusion and the ground beneath is thickly carpeted with luxurious green mosses and ferns.

View from from Space Needle in Seattle Washington © Michelle Leco / USATourist.com
For a fantastic 360° view of Seattle, take a ride to the top of the Space Needle, Seattle's most recognizable landmark.

To the east of the Olympic Peninsula across Puget Sound lies Seattle, the largest city in the state of Washington. This "Emerald City" is situated on a series of hills almost surrounded by water. It enjoys a temperate climate moderated by the moist breezes from the Pacific Ocean that keep its summers cool and its winters above freezing. Seattle gets frequent rain and fog but rarely snow. It is the corporate home of Microsoft, Adobe, Amazon and numerous other high-tech industries. It has a diverse population including a large Asian community, and its residents are notorious consumers of coffee.

The Cascade Mountains

Just east of Seattle and the Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountain Range forms a spine that spans the state all the way from the Canadian border in the north to the State of Oregon in the south. Its peaks typically rise only 5,000 to 9,000 feet (1500 to 2800 meters), yet they are snowcapped every winter due to the abundance of precipitation. Several volcanic cones tower above the surrounding mountains, most notably the 14,000 ft. (4300 meter) eternally snowcapped Mount Rainier clearly visible on the Seattle horizon when the weather permits. The Cascade Mountains cordillera is a favorite destination for skiers, campers, backpackers, hunters and fishermen as well as sightseeing tourists. Mountain Climbers hone their skills on Mount Rainier and the other towering volcanic peaks.

The eastern half of the state lies in the rain shadow of the Cascades Range, so it gets much less precipitation. A desert plateau of lava-flow prairies and barren ridges slowly evolves into rolling semi-arid hills of rolling grasslands and grain fields as you approach the eastern border of the state. The grand Columbia River traverses these eastern lands from the Canadian border to the southern boundary with Oregon. At that point, it joins with the Snake River flowing westward out of Idaho and the Yakima River flowing southeast from the Cascade drainage; then this even grander Columbia River goes on to define the border between the states of Washington and Oregon as it flows westward to the Pacific Ocean.

Washington State Wine Country

These three rivers form riparian bands of agricultural abundance weaving through the eastern Washington landscape. The river valleys are lined with fields, orchards and vineyards that produce many fruits and vegetables.

East of Seattle, the Snoqualmie Pass is but 50 miles. It provides easy access to the scenic beauty of the Cascade Mountains and to the Yakima Valley beyond. A leisurely drive down the Yakima Valley and into the Columbia Valley stopping to sample the products of the various wineries in this Washington State Wine Country is a popular tourist adventure.

Mt. Rainier south of Seattle Washington © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Reflection Lake offers a unique view of the beauty of Mount Rainier. Just below the Paradise Inn, it is a favorite spot for photographers.

Mount Rainier National Park

South of Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park lies less than one hundred miles away. Many visitors go to see its scenic attractions, to hike its forested slopes or to climb up its ice and snow encrusted cap. Nearby, the remnants of Mount Saint Helens still display the effects of its violent eruption in 1980. Yet further south, about a three-hour drive from Seattle, Portland, Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge beacon to tourists.

Washington Climate

The best times to visit Washington State are the summer months when the weather is warmest and driest or the winter if you like skiing and winter activities.

In Seattle, the summer temperatures seldom exceed 70 – 80 degrees (20 – 27 C) and the occasional rains are typically gentle showers or light drizzles. In the Yakima Valley and the eastern lands, the temperature can get much warmer and summer rainfall is rare. Winter and Spring are the wettest seasons with frequent periods of fog, drizzle and light rain in the coastal regions. It almost never snows in Seattle, but the higher elevations of the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east get large amounts of snowfall.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Michelle Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: The tulip fields in Skagit County, north of Seattle, bring an explosion of color to the spring landscape.