Washington State has many renowned national and state parks, but the beauty of this state goes well beyond just the National Park system. From downtown Seattle, to expansive wine country, to the cliffs along the Columbia River, there are so many other noteworthy areas to check out in Washington!
A Few Places No Visitor Should Miss
This central mountain pass carries interstate 90 across the Cascade Range and is named after the Snoqualmie tribe. This “tiny Yosemite,” as some have called it, is surrounded by jagged rock walls where vertical veins of melting snow run down and shine against them. A breathtaking area of Snoqualmie pass is where the famous Pacific Crest Trail crosses through it. However, there are other trails available in this region to hike and climb in the summer, and trails where cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can be done during the winter. If you ever get the chance, try walking the short and paved Gold Creek Pond Trail. The trail is just over a mile long and features a lake cupped by mountains in every direction, fields of blooming wildflowers, and great terrain for beginning snow-shoers during the winter months.
Just past Snoqualmie pass lies the city of Ellensburg. Ellensburg is known as the most centrally located city in the state of Washington. Simply driving through it gives visitors a quintessential countryside feeling- picturesque barns, fields with long grasses, running horses, and grazing cattle surround and are within its city limits. Unlike the Western side of the state, Ellensburg has a four-season climate. It is on the drier, eastern edge of Washington’s Cascade Mountain Range, at an elevation of 1,540 feet, but sits in a valley, which makes it one of the Nations most prime hay farm regions. Today, Kittitas County hay is sold internationally and is often purchased for major racehorses. If you are looking to explore the outdoors of Ellensburg, try taking the advanced hiking trails of Manastash Ridge that provide a breathtaking view over the entire town and in the distance, Mt. Stuart. Or, you can stroll through the Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park for a tree covered walk that follows the rushing Yakima River and touches little Carrie Lake.
Wenatchee National Forest
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is a large and diverse landscape, encompassing over 4 million acres along the east slopes of the Cascades. The slopes of the forest are covered by plant life such as sagebrush, pine, alpine fir, and mountain huckleberry that add an inviting scent among the natural flora of the woodland. The Wenatchee forest offers many recreational opportunities for locals and visitors alike. According to the National Forest Foundation, there are approximately 5,000 miles of forest roads that provide access to campgrounds, trailheads, scenic vistas, woodcutting, berry picking areas, hunting areas, rockhounding areas, lakes, and streams. During the winter, snow-covered roads are used for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Right outside of Cle Elum, Washington, Teanaway Ridge Trail is a 7.8 mile hike that features beautiful wild flowers and distant glimpses of Mount Rainier and Mount Stuart.
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a large region that blankets over the Central Cascades of Washington State. The wilderness features jagged topography with craggy pointed rocks that carve into each other, granite walls accompanied by mountain lakes, and profound glacial valleys. During the spring and early summer, hikers may experience snow and cold temperatures at higher elevations, but can still enjoy swimming holes such as Cooper Hole, located near Cooper Lake. For a remarkable backpacking trip, head towards Rachel Lake. This 8 mile hike has a 1,600 foot elevation gain, peaking at 4,600 feet. When hikers reach camping spots, they can set up while admiring the southern side of the reflective lake. Visiting Alpine Lakes Wilderness is an opportunity to appreciate the true wild side of the state.
Yakima River Canyon
Just outside of Ellensburg is the ravine of the Yakima River Canyon-Washington State’s desert oasis. The 15-mile canyon is made of basalt edges that rise as much as 2,000 feet above the river. According to the Nature Conservancy, the endangered basalt daisy lives and grows only in the Yakima River Canyon. The canyon isn’t just a safe haven for all different types of species, it also offers outdoor activities that draw visitors from the west side of the state and beyond. These activities include river rafting and fly fishing along the Yakima River, as well as camping and hiking alongside it.
From mountains high to canyons low, the natural phenomenon of Washington push the state beyond simply being described as the “rainy, Evergreen state”, to an absolute recreational dream.