Explore Washington state’s top parks

  • By Terry Richard The Oregonian
  • Thursday, April 18, 2013 5:54pm
  • Life

Despite budget woes in the park system, Washington still has one of the best lineups of state parks in the country.

From Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River to Gardner Cave near the Idaho border, Washington celebrates the centennial of its parks this year.

The Legislature created the system on March 19, 1913, although the first parks weren’t acquired until two years later.

Special events are planned throughout the year to observe Washington’s 2013 centennial.

The Evergreen State has the Peace Arch at Blaine, designated winter snow play locations along Interstate 90 east of the Cascades, and marine camping parks throughout Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

Following is a short list of the best of Washington’s 117-plus state parks (named parks have camping, except where noted):

Greater Puget Sound

Deception Pass near Anacortes is the busiest park in the state, with its large campground and Whidbey Island water access. The highway bridge over the watery pass is still one of the state’s engineering marvels.

Another distinctive architectural feature is the Peace Arch (no camping), the white monument at the Canadian border near Blaine. Nearby is much-loved Birch Bay. Just south of Bellingham, Larrabee became the first large park in the state system in 1915.

Fort Ebey near Oak Harbor is the anchor of a half-dozen parks on the scenic shores of Whidbey Island. Cama Beach has 31 waterfront camping cabins and two bungalows on Camano Island, while Blake Island off Seattle in Puget Sound is home of the long-running native history program by Argosy Cruises.

Dash Point on the King-Pierce county line offers woodsy camping at the edge of Tacoma, with the south end of Puget Sound a short walk from the campground.

Flaming Geyser, with its summer floating on the Green River near Black Diamond, has another of the state’s environmental learning centers. Wallace Falls near Gold Bar plunges 265 feet.

Cape Disappointment, the jewel near Ilwaco where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, has a dynamic landscape at the south end of the Long Beach Peninsula, two lighthouses and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, a Maya Lin-designed Confluence Project.

Leadbetter Point (no camping) near Oysterville crowns the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula, which stretches 29 miles north of Cape Disappointment and whose shore is managed by the state as a seashore conservation area.

Grayland Beach near Westport has the most oceanfront campsites at any Oregon or Washington park. If you don’t want to chance a night in a tent in the coastal breeze, book a yurt.

Station Camp (no camping) near Ilwaco is part of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks. It opened new interpretive trails and Columbia River viewing platforms in August.

Lewis and Clark is named for the explorers, though they did not visit this area near Toldeo. The park offers camping convenient to I-5, as well as a rare old-growth forest in Washington’s western lowlands.


With so much federal land on the Olympic Peninsula, it leaves little room (or need) for state parks, but you can still camp at Sequim Bay near Sequim and on Hood Canal at Dosewallips near Brinnon and Potlatch near Hoodsport. The water at Belfair, near Belfair in the southern arm of Hood Canal, is the warmest saltwater swimming in the state.

Port Townsend has a pair of parks flanking its harbor, Fort Worden and Fort Flagler. Formerly part of the coastal defense network, both have group overnight learning centers. The state calls these environmental learning centers. They are available in 15 Washington parks.

The San Juan Islands have one of the state’s most popular auto campgrounds, Moran on Orcas Island, but the islands shine brightest with their many marine parks that include Stuart Island, Sucia Island and Jones Island (the three biggest). Lime Kiln Point (no camping) on San Juan Island has a state park lighthouse.

Marine parks are also common in waters south of the San Juans, all the way down the Key Peninsula near Longbranch where Penrose Point and Joemma Beach have auto as well as Cascadia Marine Trail camps.


Washington’s sprawling corner, bounded by Idaho and British Columbia, has some gems.

Foremost are the parks of the Grand Coulee, the dry channel carved out by the ice age floods. Water diverted from Lake Roosevelt keeps Steamboat Rock and Sun Lakes watery desert oases for campers and boaters. Dry Falls (no camping) has a view of what once was the biggest waterfall on earth. Bring your imagination. These parks are near Coulee City.

Mount Spokane near Spokane isbig (nearly 14,000 acres, 5,000 acres larger than Oregon’s biggest state park), but it also has the full gamut of winter recreation, from downhill and cross-country skiing to snowmobiling.

And how could we forget Lake Chelan, the 55-mile long fiord-like lake with two with state parks (Lake Chelan and Twenty-Five Mile Creek) up the lake from Chelan.

Crawford (no camping) near Metaline has a limestone cavern (Gardner Cave).


During spring runoff, rainbow-draped Palouse Falls near Washtucna puts on one of the most impressive natural displays in the Northwest. The 198-foot plunge is stunning indeed and so is its canyon, which is way too big for today’s waterfall but is a legacy from the ice age floods.

Ginkgo (no camping) at Vantage is named for petrified trees that have disappeared as natives in North America. Iron Horse near Cle Elum is an old railroad line, now converted to a 110-mile trail, including a 2 1/3-mile tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass. This corridor offers cross-country skiing in winter at Lake Easton. Washington’s park system also has several other long-distance rail-trail conversions.

Steptoe Butte (no camping) near Colfax gives an elevated view of the Palouse hills; Yakima Sportsman offers camping in Yakima city limits for visitors to wine country; and Sacajawea (no camping) near Pasco has a Maya Lin-designed Confluence Project at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Columbia River

Maryhill and Doug’s Beach (no camping) near Dallesport cater to wind- and kite surfers, though Maryhill’s campground appeals to all. Columbia Hills, also at Dallesport, has some of the best spring wildflowers in the Northwest, plus ranger-guided tours to the famous petroglyph, She Who Watches.

The telescope at Goldendale Observatory (no camping) near Goldendale is used for public viewing, while Beacon Rock near North Bonneville, Battle Ground Lake near Battle Ground and Paradise Point near La Center all offer convenient camping getaways from Portland.

State parks app

Washington State Parks has a new app for smartphones.

The Pocket Ranger app is free and is available for Apple and Android devices.

The app includes information on more than 100 state parks, historic sites and campgrounds. It includes maps, directions and information on amenities.

You can search parks by location or activity. You can save the GPS maps before you head out; cell reception can be spotty in many state parks.

Other features include calendars, news, advisories, weather alerts and educational information. Get more information and download the app at pocketranger.com.

Washington park info

By phone: 866-320-9933 (Discover Pass), 360-902-8844 (info line), 888-226-7688 (camping reservations)

Online: parks.wa.gov

Discover Pass: Vehicles need a day ($10) or annual ($30) Discover Pass (vendor fees are extra); buy them where state hunting and fishing licenses are sold, or online at discoverpass.wa.gov; the pass may or may not be available in individual parks.

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