Find out how to plan an itinerary in Washington State’s national parks with Jeannine Williamson’s guide
It felt as if we had stepped into a fairy tale. Rounding a corner deep in the forest, we were dwarfed by a 60m-tall Douglas fir tree with a trunk measuring 9m in circumference.
American parks are not just of the themed variety, and our journey through Washington State, dubbed the ‘evergreen state’ for its abundant forests, opened our eyes to many natural wonders.
Home to three of the country’s 59 national parks – Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades – it’s a great spot for those who like the great outdoors, particularly in the countdown to the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.
Situated on the Pacific coastline near Canada’s border, with a mild climate that’s ideal for hiking and sightseeing, it’s the most northwestern state in the US.
The airport gateway of Seattle is well known as a jumping off point for Alaska cruises, yet the mountainous heartland is relatively undiscovered in the UK market, making it an ideal destination for repeaters and active clients looking to discover a different part of the states.
Special events, including exhibitions and themed walks, are being organised to celebrate the park service’s centennial milestone.
Delta offers the highest flight frequency, with a daily non stop service from Heathrow. BA also flies direct and there are one stop services with Icelandair and other carriers. Most tour operators offer fly-drive options, twinned with a stay in Seattle.
Geographically, Olympic and Mount Rainier, located in western Washington State, are the parks that most easily lend themselves to fly-drives. Clients can take a car ferry from Seattle across the Puget Sound or stick to the road hugging the shores of the Pacific inlet.
Patti Denny, the Port of Seattle’s international tourism manager, says: “There are few destinations that boast such diverse landscapes: majestic snow-capped mountains, rainforests, islands, wine country and historic seaport towns. Seattle’s stimulating urban attractions are complemented by the natural beauty of Washington State, and it’s an exciting time for us to work with the UK travel trade.”
Although travellers might not spot Bigfoot, the legendary giant ape said to inhabit the dense forests, they will discover a destination with big sights that are naturally amazing.
Day tours out of Seattle to both Mount Rainier and Olympic, guided walks, kayaking and other tours can be booked through Evergreen Escapes, which works with UK agents and operators.
Mount Rainier National Park
An active volcano that last erupted 150 years ago, breathtaking Mount Rainier dominates the landscape in America’s fifth-oldest national park. At 4,392m, it’s the highest peak in the Cascade Range and the park offers scenic driving routes and hikes along well marked trails ranging from the gentle to the adventurous.
The 1.5-mile Grove of the Patriarchs trail gives visitors the chance to marvel at 1,000-year-old trees, while a short drive away the crystal-clear waters of Reflection Lakes are one of the most-photographed spots in the park.
Jackson Visitor Center, with its impressive and informative displays, is the ideal starting point for a tour and next door is the atmospheric wood-panelled Paradise Inn, also celebrating its centenary in 2016.
Mount Rainier ticks all the boxes for wildlife enthusiasts, with four legged residents including marmot, deer, black bear, mountain goat and bald eagle. Fun activities for families include geocaching and Frisbee golf.
Olympic National Park
Covering more than 400,000 hectares and with three distinct and diverse ecosystems – Pacific coast, rainforest valleys and glacier-capped mountains – Olympic is 95% wilderness and home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including the mighty Roosevelt elk, the largest elk species in the US.
Other record breakers can be found in Lake Quinault’s ‘valley of rainforest giants’ where six conifer trees are the largest living specimens of their kind, with one Douglas fir topping 91m.
Another extraordinary spot is Hoh Rainforest, the largest temperate rainforest in the US with emerald green canopies created by moss and ferns. And from late June to the end of August the fields of Sequim create a dazzling spectacle when lavender comes into bloom.
A coastal highlight is Ruby Beach (pictured below), a dramatic seascape of rugged sea stacks and piles of bleached driftwood that attract bird colonies such as puffins. John Anderson’s quirky new beachcombing museum at Forks is a marine treasure trove on the Pacific shoreline.
Port Townsend, where deer roam the streets, is one of only three Victorian seaports in the US. Elegant buildings in the downtown area have been converted into attractive shops, including Pippa’s Real Tea, which may appeal to Brits pining for a proper cuppa.
Nearby Fort Worden, built in 1897 to protect Puget Sound, will look familiar to fans of An Officer and a Gentleman as it was used as a location for the 1982 film.
Where to stay
Lodges inside national parks allow clients to really immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of the great outdoors. Comfortable rather than luxurious, and with meals that are hearty as opposed to gourmet, they’re filled with rustic charm and often have a resident ghost thrown in for free!
Lake Crescent Lodge (pictured below) occupies a spectacular spot alongside the namesake lake in Olympic National Park. Built in 1915, there are 55 rooms divided between the original lodge (which have shared bathrooms) and ensuite cabins and motel-style rooms dotted around the grounds.
For the best views book a Roosevelt cabin, complete with a cosy fireplace. Also in Olympic is the 91-room Lake Quinault Lodge, visited by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 and with spacious, recently renovated lakeside rooms.
The Crystal Hotel complex in the heart of Washington State’s largest ski resort is a good family option that includes spacious rooms for four.
Facilities are adequate but basic, and geared towards time spent outdoors, which isn’t hard to do as the resort is at the foot of Mount Rainier and a 10-minute gondola ride to Summit House, the state’s highest restaurant, serving good grub and great views at 2,094m.
Smaller family-run options include the 23-suite Alta Crystal Resort, with a charming log honeymoon cabin. Owners Vivian and Steven Cadematori host convivial get-togethers for guests, with wine, snacks and films about Mount Rainier.
Near Mount Rainier is the pretty 12-room Alexander’s Country Inn, where guests can fish for their supper in a trout lake, or indulge in imaginative and beautifully presented dishes that include excellent vegetarian and vegan options.
North America Travel Service offers a 15-night Washington Wonders self-drive itinerary that includes Seattle, Olympic and Mount Rainier parks. Room-only prices from £2,165, including Delta flights from Heathrow and car hire. northamericatravelservice.co.uk
Ranch Riders has a seven-night all-inclusive riding and activity holiday at the K-Diamond-K Ranch, bordered by Colville National Forest, plus a week’s room-only self-drive in Olympic and Mount Rainier parks. Prices start at £1,470 including car hire but not flights. ranchrider.com
Funway Holidays’ eight-night Washington State fly-drive includes a night in Seattle and seven nights in a motorhome. From £1,059, including Delta flights and unlimited mileage. funway4agents.co.uk
This is a community-moderated forum.
All post are the individual views of the respective commenter and are not the expressed views of Travel Weekly.
By posting your comments you agree to accept our Terms & Conditions.