From sweeping beaches and towering evergreens to thundering waterfalls and meadows marinated in wildflowers, Washington State is home to incredible outdoor beauty. A big chunk of that beauty can be found within Washington’s state parks system.
There are over 100 parks throughout the state, including 19 marine parks and 11 Historical Parks. Some of them are well-known. Others? Well, you have to look for them. Most in this list are on or near the coast. All require Discover Passes.
Here, in no particular order, are my top 100% unscientific, totally subjective picks for lesser-known but still awesome state parks of western Washington:
1. Birch Bay State Park – Whatcom County
This park includes over 8,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and nearly 15,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on Terrell Creek. The Terrell Creek Marsh is one of the few remaining saltwater/freshwater estuaries in north Puget Sound. A natural game sanctuary sits at the park’s north end.
If you want to lunch on a pristine beach with sweeping views of the San Juan Island and the jagged spires of the North Cascades, this is the place.
Birch Bay State Park is located between Bellingham and Blaine. Take exit 266 off the I-5. Follow the signs to the park. It’s a pretty drive. The park entrance is on Helweg, just off Jackson Road and past the Birch Bay Beachwood Grocery and Deli.
2. Peace Arch State Park – Whatcom County
This is both a state park and a national historic site. The park features some of the most beautiful grounds and rolling green hills ever.
The arch straddles both U.S. and Canadian borders. It commemorates the long friendship between these two great nations and the longest undefended border in the world. On the U.S. side, you can find it in Blaine. It’s about as far north as you can get in Washington.
3. Cowlitz Falls State Park – Cowlitz County
Reposing beneath spiky blue ridges bristling with conifers, this park is out in the middle of no where! It’s located at the east end of Lake Scanewa where the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers meet. The lake is humongous, with quiet aquamarine waters that stretch for miles. There’s a campground nearby. Both take several minutes to reach from the highway.
The day use-only area includes a small beach, swimming area, fishing options, a floating dock, and a few trails.
Cowlitz Falls State Park is located about 10 miles off Highway 12 near Morton. Worth the drive.
4. Lake Sylvia State Park – Grays Harbor County
Five main hiking trails, 15,000 feet of freshwater shoreline, and all the cool scents your fur ball could ever want to sniff out! The park is quiet, restful, and thickly forested. Lots of options for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and exploring.
Located in the City of Montesano.
5. Cape Disappointment State Park – Pacific County
Nestled in a cove fronting the Columbia River on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, Cape Disappointment State Park includes craggy cliffs and giant boulders, Waikiki Beach, and the nearby Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. From the beach you can also see the historic Cape Disappointment Lighthouse overlooking the Pacific.
This park is located southwest of Ilwaco, Washington, on the bottom end of Long Beach Peninsula where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.
6. Bottle Beach – Grays Harbor County.
This is a 75-acre state park with 6,000 feet of shoreline. It consists mainly of tide flats near the historic town site of Ocosta. Bottle Beach doesn’t get the big waves or expansive sandy beaches you’ll find in Westport, but you’re also much more likely to have this beach to yourself. Or almost.
Tip: Watch those tides! Dogs allowed from mid-October through February.
7. Larrabee State Park – Whatcom County
Larrabee State Park is Washington’s first state park. Located near Bellingham, it’s known for postcard-perfect views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands.
It offers boating, paddling, fishing, shellfish harvesting, diving, teeming tide pools and hiking. Tip: Hike to Fragrance or Lost Lakes. Great trails with awesome views and scenery!
8. Millersylvania State Park – Thurston County
A gem of a state park just south of Olympia, Millersylvania’s 842-acres offer camping, swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating, bicycling, picnicking, birding, and beautiful Deep Lake, with its 3,300 feet of freshwater shoreline.
A network of fam-friendly trails cross-hatches the park. Many are either nameless, poorly marked, or both. So a really, really stupid hiker can easily get lost. After getting turned around, it only took me about 20 minutes of aimless meandering to find my way back to the main trail.
Located in Thurston County ten miles south of the state capitol, Millersylvania State Park was constructed almost entirely by hand in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it on a sunny summer weekend. But it’s perfect for a mid-week visit during the off-season, when wild geese are calling and fall colors are putting on a floor show.
9. Rainbow Falls State Park – Lewis County
Nestled in rustic Lewis County about 16 miles west of Chehalis, Rainbow Falls State Park is only 139 acres. But it includes camping, fishing, horseback riding, bicycling, hiking, and 3,400 feet of freshwater shoreline on the main stem of the Chehalis River.
The park’s main network of trails are brief, easy strolls. Crowded with conifer skyscrapers and quiet, the trails bear names like “Oxalis Loop,” “Deer,” “Woodpecker” and “Hemlock.” They’re well-shaded, with a few mild ups and downs. You can stroll the entire Perimeter Trail of about 1.5 miles in under an hour.
The small but fast-flowing Rainbow Falls canters down the Chehalis River. Good fishing nearby. There’s a dirt parking lot at the falls. Cross the street to access the park’s network of uber easy trails.
10. Tolmie State Park – Thurston County
Tolmie State Park is a 154-acre, marine day-use park with 1,800 feet of saltwater shoreline on Puget Sound. It’s close to the state capitol of Olympia, but feels like you’re in the boondocks.
The park is set on a spit in a cove and is backed by a forest. Besides three+ miles of hiking trails, Tolmie State Park has a nice beach and calm waters for little ones to wade. The park fills quickly on busy summer weekends but can be quiet during the week.
What would you add?