It’s summertime in the Pacific Northwest, and as if we needed any more cause to celebrate, it’s also National Park and Recreation Month! Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are fortunate to be home to some of the most breathtaking national parks in the nation. Here, ten must-see parks and recreation areas to visit this summer to show your support for National Parks and Rec Month, while having a blast.
1. Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
Crater Lake has been proclaimed one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders, and for good reason. Not only is it the most beguiling blue imaginable, but it is also the deepest lake in the United States at 1,200 meters deep! Visit Crater Lake from July through mid-September, when the weather is temperate and dry. With so much to do, you will have to plan wisely and pack as much as possible into your trip. Take your boat out for a spin, test your cycling skills on the grueling 33-mile Canyon Rim Drive, or hike up to Vidae Falls, one of 13 waterfalls in the Crater Lake area.
2. Olympic National Park (Washington)
Olympic National Park is perhaps the best destination on our list for a traveller who can’t make up their mind about whether to hike through the forest, up the coast, or through a rainforest. When you visit Olympic National Park, you can do all of the above! Spanning almost one million acres, Olympic is home to several diverse and distinct eco-systems, from old-growth forests to a wild coastline.
Plan your visit in advance to make sure you have enough time to do all that you want to do. The Ozette Loop trail takes visitors on a trek through a coastal forest and along the beach. This trail is rated Easy, though at nine miles, this loop will keep you busy for a long time! Kids will have a blast exploring the tide pools at either Kalaloch's Beach 4 or Mora's Hole in the Wall. During summer low tides, you’ll be able to peek at giant green anemones, multi-colored starfish, and bright pink Coralline Algae! Rangers offer scheduled programs at both of these tide pool locations.
3. Sun Lakes – Dry Falls National Park (Washington)
Ice age floods swept through the landscape of what is now Dry Falls, creating a 400 feet high, 3.5-mile wide waterfall. Though the water is no longer rushing, Dry Falls still offers spectacular views. Begin your journey with a visit to Vista House Overlook, which offers unparalleled views of Dry Falls and the deep plunge pools nearby. Hiking devotees will enjoy trekking around Umatilla Rock – Monument Coulee. This 5-mile round trip hike has you passing by crumbled basalt pillars on your way to the upper edge of the majestic Rock.
4. Mt. Rainier National Park (Washington)
Established as a national park in March of 1899, Mt. Rainier National Park is one of the oldest in the national park system. Rainier is home to 26 glaciers and is the tallest peak in Washington. While its last eruption was in 1894, Rainier is still considered an active volcano!
You would need months to fully explore all that Rainier has to offer, but if you only have a short time, some of these highlights are sure to please. The Grove of the Patriarchs, a proud stand of eons old trees, lies just west of the Stevens Canyon entrance along the Ohanapecosh River. This 1.1 mile long trail may be short, but it is long on beauty! Visitors to the northwest corner of the park can visit the Carbon River area, a temperate rainforest featuring lush plant communities and abundant hiking opportunities. Nearby Mowich Lake lies in a glacial basin, and is the deepest lake in Rainier.
5. Multnomah Falls National Scenic Area (Washington/Oregon)
Upwards of 2 millions visitors flock to the Multnomah Falls Scenic Area each year, and it’s not hard to understand why. The main attraction is Multnomah Falls (of course!), which is the second largest waterfall in the nation. Larch Mountain trail is another must-se, offering a winding journey through old-growth forest and waterfall views. The Multnomah Falls Lodge is the perfect place to stop for a snack after a day of hiking and exploring!
6. Ecola State Park – (Oregon)
Between the towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach, stretches the 9-miles of coastline comprising Ecola State Park. Ecola is a pleasure to use all year round, but never more so than in the summer months. Picnickers, tide gazers, surfers, hikers, and photographers abound at Ecola, exploring its hidden coves, trails, and Sitka forests. Visitors with kids will love the 2 ½ mile Clatsop Loop Trail, an interpretive trail with peekaboo views of Tillamook Lighthouse and a waterfall near Canyon Creek. At the fall’s second drop, photographers can always be found on Benson Bridge, a picturesque footbridge built in 1914.
7. Shoshone Falls State Park – (Idaho)
At 212 feet tall, Shoshone Falls is even higher than Niagra Falls! Cascading into the Snake River, the Falls offer spectacular views year-round. The city of Twin Falls manages Shoshone Falls and the nearby Dierkes Lake Complex, which offers play structures for kids, hiking boating, fishing, and swimming. The cliffs that soar above Dierks Lake are a popular destination for rock climbers of all skill levels.
8. Hells Canyon National Recreation Area – (Idaho/Oregon)
On the boundary between Idaho and Oregon lies the vast and rugged Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge – you would have to travel for a mile to reach the bottom. You won’t find any roads spanning the 10-miles of canyon, but you will find hiking, boating, and rafting opportunities galore. Explore the aptly named She Devil, He Devil, and Twin Imps Mountains. The Heavens Gate National Recreation Trail offers spectacular views of old-growth forest and the sweeping vistas of Hells Canyon. If you are looking to get away from it all, this is truly the place to go for solitude and reflection.
9. John Day Fossil Beds National State Park – (Oregon)
55 million years of plants and animals are recorded in the stones and clay of the John Day Fossil beds. Visitors can explore an astounding 40,000 fossils spanning three distinct fossil beds: The Sheep Rock Unit contains the fossilized remains of saber-toothed tigers, early camels and rhinos! Kids will love the Junior Ranger program as well as all of the fun interactive exhibits. Travel through the undulating Painted Hills Unit by boardwalk. The Red Scar Knoll Trail is the newest trail in the Painted Hills Unit and is well worth a visit. Follow the Painted Hills Overlook Trail along a ridge that sees a 100 foot elevation gain. Visitors to the Clarno unit are treated to views of the Palisades, an ancient landform created 44 million years ago containing evidence of tiny horses, brontotheres, crocodilians, and more!
10. Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve – (Washington)
Ebey’s Landing is a partnership between the town of Coupeville, Island County, WA State Parks, and the National Park Service. Explore historic Ebey’s Landing by bike, car, or boat! A walking tour of the 24 blocks of downtown Coupeville provides insight into the history of Ebey’s Landing. Nearby Fort Casey offers opportunities to learn about military history and even opportunities for scuba diving. Head Lighthouse is another must-see spot. Bird watching at Crockett Lake and biking along the Kettles Trail are other popular adventures.
Whether it is a coastal adventure or a high desert hike that you seek this summer, there is something for everyone at the national parks and forests of the Pacific Northwest. Visit the National Park Service website to plan your trip, learn more about Parks and Recreation Month, and to get involved with the Park Service today!
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