Summers in Washington, what can I say? Long evenings and pastel sunsets. Warm weather, mountainsides bursting with wildflowers, and miles of once snow-packed trails open for adventure. Sure we have pretty gloomy winters here but — my gosh — summer pretty much makes up for it. In the last couple of weeks I’ve visited all three of Washington’s National Parks (North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier). Traveling through those parks really illustrates the stunning variety of landscapes this state has to offer. From high lakes, to alpine meadows, and cool rainforest it’s really something like a wonderland up here in the great Northwest. I never wanted to live in a big city like Los Angeles or San Francisco but Seattle is different. I’m in the middle of a world class city and only 30 minutes from mountain trailheads. If there was ever a city for me, this is it.
Our first national park this summer was North Cascades, way up almost to the Canadian border. The rugged stretch of highway that runs through the park is blocked by snow in the winter and is sometimes closed due to mudslides even in the summer. The short season and geographic remoteness make this one of the least visited national parks in the U.S. I heard somewhere that the yearly visitor rate is about 50,000. That’s too bad because there are dozens of trails that take you into high alpine country where rugged and jutting peaks meet grassy slopes populated with mountain goats and marmots.
You’ll find even more accessible alpine territory at Mount Rainier National Park, where a drive to the Paradise Visitor Center puts you in the center of the action. In the winter, this visitor center is buried under more than a dozen feet of snow (seriously, we visited last spring and could walk next to the windows on the third story of some of the buildings). Spring and summer are short here and only last a few weeks, but they’re worth it. Wildflowers come into bloom, filling grassy slopes with brilliant blues, purples, and reds. Waterfalls swell with snow melt, and the park’s animals come out of hiding to take advantage of the life that surrounds them. When we were there, a thunderstorm kept me from getting very far past tree line but what I did see was a haunting barren landscape that I’d only experienced before in the French Alps or on long and remote hikes.
Olympic National Park also has some of the same stunning mountain and glacier views when you drive to it’s Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. But it also offers miles of Pacific coastline and thick rainforest. Here are the big trees and the dark woods. Woods where life springs out of the ground in abundance. Woods where big elk roam and hidden maple groves wait. It rains all the time here but that just adds to the vitality of the groves.
I believe the national parks are one of the greatest things about my country. These wild patches of land, rich with animal and plant life, rival some of the most epic scenery from around the globe. I’m excited for an upcoming trip I have planned this fall to one of my favorite national parks. For now, I’ll keep the details under wraps, but let’s just say I’m bringing along some special equipment to help me capture what is sure to be an epic adventure.