Tag Archives: Washington

Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Overview

Bisecting the two sections of North Cascades National Park in northern Washington is Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  The incredibly scenic Highway 20 (closed seasonally) cuts through the mountains here, less than two hours from Seattle.  The rainshadow effect is readily apparent to anyone who crosses these mountains from the lush west to the arid eastern portion of the state.  Access to the only boat ramp on Ross Lake actually requires a drive through Canada, but you can also pick up a water taxi near Diablo Dam.

Highlights

Diablo Lake Overlook, Gorge Creek Falls, Ross Lake Resort, Sourdough Mountain Trail

Must-Do Activity

If coming from Seattle, start your visit at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center on the scenic North Cascades Highway (20).  Ross Lake National Recreation Area contains three hydroelectric reservoirs, which have an interesting turquoise color due to glacial silt, especially evident at Diablo Lake Overlook.  Nearby, Colonial Creek Campground offers a peaceful forest in which to spend the night and a good jumping off place for a day hike on Thunder Creek or Fourth of July Trails through old-growth forests with colossal mushroom conchs and giant banana slugs.

Best Trail

Summiting Desolation Peak is often found on the bucket lists of the writer Jack Kerouac’s biggest fans, as he did some of his best writing while stationed as a fire lookout here in 1956.  The observation tower is not far from the Canadian border and the trek is a daunting task, typically utilizing a water taxi to cross Ross Lake.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Do not drive past Diablo Lake Overlook, an awe inspiring and usually gusty stop along Highway 20.  The craggy heights of the geologically young mountains surrounding this spectacular reservoir are magnificent to behold, yet forbidding to enter.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The North Cascades Highway (20) is typically closed east of Ross Dam from mid-November through mid-April (or later).  The unpaved road to Thornton Lakes Trailhead is not suitable for trailers.

Camping

Colonial Creek Campground (164 sites) is only one option, additionally there are Newhalem Creek (119 sites), Goodell Creek (22 sites), and Hozomeen (122 sites accessed via a 40-mile gravel road from Hope, British Columbia).  For the full backcountry experience, pick up a free backpacking permit at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, Washington.

Related Sites

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (Washington)

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska-Washington)

Explore More – Only two miles across at its widest point, how long is Ross Lake?

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area

Overview

Stretching nearly one mile (5,223 feet) in length, the Grand Coulee Dam was the first constructed across the mighty Columbia River between 1933 and 1942.  In case you are wondering what a “coulee” is, that is a regional name for a canyon, many of which were carved by the walls of water that scoured this region after Lake Missoula burst through its ice dams periodically 15,000 to 13,000 years ago.  The reservoir created by the dam was named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is why the National Park Service (NPS) manages it as Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

Highlights

Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center, Fort Spokane, St. Paul’s Mission, watersports

Must-Do Activity

The Bureau of Reclamation manages the museum at Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center and a free laser light show is projected on the mile-long dam during the summer months.  Near a major river confluence, Fort Spokane was established in 1880 and now has a one-mile trail explaining its diverse history.  The reservoir submerged the salmon fishing grounds at Kettle Falls that had been used for millennia.  Native Americans still inhabit this region today, as the lake creates a border between the Colville and Spokane Indian Reservations.  Campgrounds and boat launch sites are located all along the narrow lake’s 129-mile length, although some may close due to changing reservoir levels.

Best Trail

A quarter-mile trail with interpretive signs is located at St. Paul’s Mission, one of the oldest churches in Washington state.  Here you will learn about (now submerged) Kettle Falls and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s historic impact on the region.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the time, the Grand Coulee Dam became the largest masonry structure ever built, breaking a record held for 4,700 years by the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/laro/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

The NPS charges a fee at boat launches and you cannot use the America the Beautiful pass.  Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center is free, as are the Keller Ferry and Gifford–Inchelium Ferry that cross the lake.

Road Conditions

There are some unpaved roads, but the designated Scenic Drive follows only paved roads and utilizes two free ferries.

Camping

There are 26 campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis, while sites at a few take reservations.  Boat-in campgrounds and shoreline camping are both free.

Related Sites

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Explore More – During peak construction, how many people were employed at the Grand Coulee Dam?

Olympic National Park

Overview

Rising from the Pacific Ocean to 7,980-foot tall Mount Olympus, western Washington’s Olympic National Park is arguably the most diverse National Park in the entire country.  Originally named as a National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect his namesake Roosevelt elk, the area was almost named Elk National Park when upgraded in 1938. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Ruby Beach, Lake Quinault, Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge

Must-Do Activity

Visitors can explore tidepools at Ruby Beach (pictured in our logo below), soak at a hot springs resort after hiking around Sol Duc Falls, experience sweeping mountain vistas from Hurricane Ridge, and boat across picturesque Lake Crescent.

Best Trail

There are more than 600 miles of trails, but one of the quietest is on the north shore of Lake Quinault and leads to a huge, hollow western redcedar tree.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Discover the moss-draped Hoh Rainforest, which at 160 inches annually experiences the highest rainfall totals in the continental U.S.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but notably the road up to Hurricane Ridge is not open every day of the week in the offseason.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds and four lodges, plus the historic Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926 (and technically outside of the park).

Related Sites

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This design we created to celebrate Olympic National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Although they are shrinking, how many glaciers are found in the Olympic Mountains?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

Overview

As the only National Historical Reserve in the National Park Service (NPS) system, Ebey’s Landing is a unique 17,000-acre site under federal, state, county, town, and private ownership.  Located on Whidbey Island at the entrance to Puget Sound, it is accessible by ferry from the Seattle area and the Olympic Peninsula, or by driving Highway 20 across a bridge from the north (closer to Bellingham).  There are nearly one hundred historical structures protected by the reserve, mostly Victorian houses within Coupeville, Washington.

Highlights

Jacob Ebey House, Davis Blockhouse, Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start your visit is at the Island County Historical Museum (which charges an admission fee) in Coupeville, Washington.  After enjoying the Victorian architecture in town, drive to the Jacob Ebey House, World War II-era Fort Ebey State Park, and Fort Casey State Park where you will find gun emplacements from 1901 and picturesque Admiralty Head Lighthouse. 

Best Trail

Much of Whidbey Island was prairie when it was settled in the 1850s, and remains pastoral, which is great for travelers looking for a glimpse back in time.  Located adjacent to farm fields, Bluff Trail is known for its great views on clear days.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Admiralty Head Lighthouse provides a great photo op in Fort Casey State Park.  Gun emplacements built there became obsolete shortly after their installation due to the rise of the airplane.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ebla/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None except at the 3 State Parks and Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville, Washington

Road Conditions

The main roads are all paved and any gravel roads are well-maintained.

Camping

Both Fort Casey State Park and Fort Ebey State Park have campgrounds, and the latter provides shower facilities.

Related Sites

San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska-Washington)

Explore More – How many islands are there in Puget Sound (with the largest being Whidbey Island)?

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Overview

Nez Perce National Historical Park is unique because it comprises 38 sites stretching across four states, not even including an 1877 incident inside Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.  Many of the locations (as well as Big Hole National Battlefield) cover the War of 1877, when a portion of the tribe fled more than 1,000 miles from Oregon towards the Canadian border only to be stopped 40 miles short by the U.S. Army at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana.  Under the leadership of legendary Chief Joseph they crossed the Rocky Mountains at Lolo Pass, made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition that the tribe assisted in 1805.

Highlights

Museum, film, Heart of the Monster, Lolo Pass, Bear Paw Battlefield

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is in Spalding, Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation where the “heart of the monster” resides.  According to legend, after Coyote slew the monster that inhaled all the people, its heart and liver came to rest on the banks of the Clearwater River.  This park is also unique because the Nez Perce remain an active tribe with a strong sense of community, as documented in the excellent new film at the visitor center.  Highway 12 follows the beautiful Clearwater River through northern Idaho and provides access points for the unpaved Lolo Motorway (a section of the Nez Perce National Historical Trail) and its many scenic overlooks.

Best Trail

Nez Perce National Historical Trail stretches 1,170 miles from Oregon to Montana, ending at the NPS site at Bear Paw Battlefield where a five-day fight finally led to the tribe’s surrender in October 1877.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At a roadside pullout on Highway 95 in Idaho, the NPS interprets White Bird Battlefield where 34 U.S. Army soldiers were killed on June 17, 1877 escalating the U.S. government’s conflict with the Nez Perce into a war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nepe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major roads are paved, with the notable exception of the Lolo Motorway which requires a high clearance vehicle (and four-wheel drive on its western end).

Camping

There are camping opportunities ranging from dispersed to developed located throughout Clearwater, Nez Perce, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

Related Sites

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Explore More – After the 1863 “Steal Treaty” reduced the Nez Perce Reservation by 90%, what was the 1887 federal law that allowed another 90% to end up in white ownership?