Are you ready to embark on an epic road trip through three of America’s most beautiful and diverse National Parks? These Washington National Parks – Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades – are home to glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, jewel-colored lakes, and miles of rugged coastlines.
In this Washington National Parks road trip guide, I will map out your route, reveal the best time to take this trip, and share important visitor information for each National Park, including what to do, where to stay, and how to long to visit.
Washington National Parks Road Trip Map
How Many National Parks Are in Washington?
There are 3 National Parks in Washington. North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and Olympic National Park are all located in Washington State.
Where to Start Your Washington National Parks Road Trip
The best place to start your Washington National Parks road trip is Seattle. There is a massive international airport in Seattle, and it’s centrally located to all three National Parks in the state.
The Best Time to Take a Washington National Parks Road Trip
The best time to take a Washington National Parks road trip is July through September.
Since these parks are at elevation in many spots, park roads, trails, and services are often closed in the winter months.
To enjoy snow-free roads and trails and open services, visit the Washington National Parks from July through September.
Must-Know Tips For Your Washington National Parks Road Trip
- Park entrance fees: Mount Rainier ($30/car), Olympic ($30/car), and North Cascades ($5/car for forest trailhead parking lots). Save yourself some money and get an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass before your trip.
- These three Washington parks are all massive and divided into multiple regions. You will need to prepare to spend more time in the parks if you want to explore each section. Otherwise, you can just spend your time focusing on one or two sections of each park.
- Avoid weekends and holidays if possible. These parks can get extremely crowded.
- You might find that taking the ferry from Olympic National Park to Seattle is faster than driving. Check ferry schedules to see if this would benefit your travels.
⚠️ Before embarking on your Washington National Parks road trip, you’ll want to buy an America the Beautiful Pass! You’ll get access to every National Park unit for FREE for an entire year! Buy yours now.
Ultimate Washington National Parks Itinerary
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Washington National Parks Road Trip Stop #1: North Cascades National Park
🚗 Drive time from Seattle to North Cascades National Park: 2 hours
Hundreds of jagged peaks topped with glaciers dot this majestic landscape in northern Washington. Hugging the Canada/US border, this remote slice of America often gets put on the back burner. But in my opinion, North Cascades is the best of the trio of parks.
North Cascades National Park is MASSIVE. There are two other NPS sites in the park’s complex – Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area – and combined, there is a total of half a million acres of protected land.
Knowing which section to spend your time in can be difficult, but I’ll share some of the highlights of the park to help narrow it down for you.
Most visitors will spend the majority of their time in Ross Lake National Recreation Area because it is the most accessible portion of the park complex.
🚗 While you’re in the National Park complex, I’d recommend driving Highway 20 – it is incredibly scenic – and pulling off at some of the overlooks. Diablo Lake and Gorge Lake are two must-see overlooks.
🛶 Drop your paddle board or kayak into the turquoise waters of Diable Lake – you won’t be able to resist the temptation!
🥾 If you’re a hiker, you can’t miss the Maple Pass Loop. It is one of the most beautiful and scenic trails I’ve ever hiked. Add Rainy Lake to the beginning or end of this epic hike if you have some spare time!
🏔️ If you’re looking for an adventure of a lifetime, backpack the Cascade Pass / Sahale Arm Trail. It’s said that the toilet with the best view in America sits at the top of this pass. 🚽
How Much Time to Spend in North Cascades National Park
You could easily spend a week exploring the backcountry in North Cascades, but 3-4 days are ideal for cruising the scenic drive, dipping your toes into some of the diverse hiking trails, and getting out on the water.
→ READ NEXT: 14 Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting the National Parks 🌲
Where to Stay in North Cascades National Park
- Colonial Creek Campground – Forested campground in a prime location of the park, featuring many waterfront campsites
- Ross Lake Resort – Rustic and remote lakeside cabins and campsites (accessible by boat only!)
- North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin – Peaceful lakeside lodge with boat rentals and amazing mountain/water views
Washington National Parks Road Trip Stop #2: Mount Rainier National Park
🚗 Drive time from North Cascades National Park to Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise Section): 4 hours
There are five developed areas in Mount Rainier: Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon River.
If you’re short on time, I’d spend your day(s) in the Paradise section. But I’ll share the best things to do in each section of Mount Rainier!
Longmire: Wonderland Trail, Christine Falls
Paradise: Skyline Trail, Reflection Lakes, Nisqually Vista Trail
Ohanapecosh: Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (⚠️ temporarily closed), Silver Falls Trail
Sunrise: Sunrise Point, Mount Fremont Lookout Trail, Burroughs Mountain Trail, Naches Peak Loop Trail
Carbon River: Tolmie Peak Trail, Carbon Glacier Trail
How Much Time to Spend in Mount Rainier National Park
You could easily spend a week or two exploring the different sections of Mount Rainier, but if you focus on one or two sections of the park (like Paradise and Sunrise), 3-4 days would suffice.
Where to Stay in Mount Rainier National Park
- National Park Inn – Small year-round in-park lodge (Longmire section)
- Cougar Rock Campground – Camping in the park (Paradise section)
- Paradise Inn – Seasonal in-park lodge (Paradise section)
- Ohanapecosh Campground – Camping in the park (Ohanapecosh section)
- White River Campground – Camping in the park (Sunrise section)
- Mowich Lake Campground – Camping in the park (Carbon River/Mowich section)
Washington National Parks Road Trip Stop #3: Olympic National Park
🚗 Drive time from Mount Rainier National Park to Olympic National Park (Port Angeles Section): 4 hours
This million-acre public land is one of the most diverse regions in America. From glacier-capped mountains to rugged coastlines to temperature rain forests, Olympic National Park gives visitors many reasons to be at the top of their bucket list.
Much like the other Washington National Parks, it can be hard to figure out which area to focus your time on due to its vastness and diversity.
Some of the highlights of the park by region:
- Hoh: Wander through the temperature rainforest on the Hall of Mosses Trail and Hoh River Trail.
- Lake Crescent: Go kayaking on Lake Crescent, hike to Marymere Falls, and summit Mount Storm King.
- Hurricane Ridge: Drive Hurricane Ridge Road.
- Pacific Coast: Spend time at Rialto Beach, Second Beach, and Ruby Beach.
How Much Time to Spend in Olympic National Park
If you want to take the time to explore each region of the park, you’ll need one to two weeks. If you want to brush the regions and/or spend most of your time in one or two regions, I’d spend 3-4 days in the park.
→ READ NEXT: Complete Guide to Exploring Olympic National Park 🌊
Where to Stay in Olympic National Park
- Kalaloch Lodge – Year-round in-park lodging featuring campsites, cabins, and lodge rooms
- Lake Crescent Lodge – Seasonal in-park lodging featuring cottages, cabins, and lodge rooms.
- Log Cabin Resort – Seasonal in-park lodging in the Lake Crescent area.
- Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort – Seasonal in-park lodging featuring cabins, suites, and campsites.
- Mora Campground – Year-round campsites 2 miles from Rialto Beach.
- North Fork Campground – Year-round campsites in the Port Angeles area. First-come, first-served.
- Go backcountry camping – ⛺️ Read all about my experience backcountry camping at Second Beach here!
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!