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When you’re looking to escape from it all, the last thing you’d probably want to do is to go somewhere that’s jam-packed with people. Traffic jams, long lines, and elbowing your way through hordes of tourists don’t exactly make for a relaxing getaway. Fortunately, in Washington State, there are a number of scenic destinations where you can expect to find tranquility without the masses, with everything from more remote national parks and serene islands to mountain towns.
Olympic National Park is located in the northwest corner of the state and offers it all, including over 50 miles of coastline with wild driftwood-strewn beaches, a vast swathe of temperate rainforest, hot springs, soaring mountains, and abundant wildlife, minus the crowds. Take a scenic drive to Hurricane Ridge with its lush wildflower-filled meadows filled and opportunities to spot wildlife like black-tailed deer, mountain goats, and marmots. At Lake Crescent, you can spend the day swimming and paddling across sapphire waters, while the Hoh Rain Forest offers trails that wind through moss-draped trees and alongside a glacier-fed river. Beaches like Ruby and Shi-Shi are renowned for their sea stacks, while remote Olympic Hot Springs offers an unforgettable soak following a short hike.
An uncrowded alternative to other national parks, North Cascades National Park sees only around 30,000 visitors annually, which means you can enjoy this scenic, rugged wilderness area practically all to yourself. There are dazzling lakes in surreal shades of blue and green and more glaciers than you could find anywhere outside of Alaska with more than 300. Much of it can be seen while driving the North Cascades Highway, but you’ll want to get out and hike to explore the more remote corners. Some of the wildlife that might be spotted include bald eagles, osprey, moose, black and grizzly bears, and gray wolves.
Port Townsend is a Victorian seaport town at the northern tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, surrounded by water and mountains. While the main street can get busy during the summer, it’s rarely too crowded, but if you want solitude, it’s easy to escape by heading to North Beach County Park just west. It stretches for about 3.5 miles along the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Point Wilson and McCurdy Point. At McCurdy Point, visitors can enjoy peaceful strolls with few others around while searching for colorful sea glass.
Located in the Methow Valley, Twisp has long been in the shadow of the faux-western town of Winthrop just a few miles away, but the small town that began as a mining and farming town makes a great base for enjoying the area’s delights without the crowds. It’s now the arts center of the valley with a thriving arts and culture scene. It also boasts the Methow Trails, the country’s largest cross-country ski trail system, and in the summer, visitors can enjoy hiking and rock climbing or fishing on the Columbia River.
Camano Island is a quiet island yet it’s just an hour north of Seattle while offering lots to do, with gorgeous beaches, scenic hikes, and an under-the-radar food scene. Connected to the mainland by a bridge two miles west of Stanwood, Camano Island State Park which has serene stretches of sand and wooded walking trails is especially ideal, with Cama Beach State Park to the north busier. After a day at the beach, head to Camano Commons in the heart of the island to browse the shops with Pacific Northwest items, enjoy a beer or an ice cream, or a meal at one of the restaurants.
The easternmost island that can be accessed by ferry in the San Juans, lying off Washington’s northern coast, Lopez Island offers the chance to enjoy the simplicity of island life, as one of the less-visited islands in the archipelago. It offers a peaceful setting with no stoplights or traffic, and plenty of opportunities for quiet strolls on the beach, cycling, kayaking, hiking, and bird watching. In Lopez Village, you’ll find charming cafes, restaurants, a historical museum, galleries, a bookstore, and shops to explore.
Lummi Island borders the San Juan Islands just west of Bellingham. It can be accessed by a small, open-air ferry that takes just five minutes to cross. While it may be a tiny island at just nine square miles, it’s jam-packed with unique shops and art galleries with a wide range of works, including sculptures, paintings, and photographs made by local artisans. You’ll find a variety of options for tranquil bike rides and scenic hikes, while Windy Hill Art Sculpture Park features interactive kinetic sculptures on eight-acre grounds with forests, grasslands, and wetlands, ideal for quiet contemplation.
Once the largest mining camp in the Republic Mining District, the small town of Republic is just 25 miles south of the Canadian and was founded during the gold rush of the late 1800s. Nestled in the foothills of the Kettle Mountain Range, it’s incredibly picturesque, with its biggest draw the Stonerose Fossil Interpretive Center where visitors can search for 50,000-year-old fish, insect, and plant fossils. Enjoy all sorts of recreational activities nearby, including lakes and rivers for fishing, and then come back to enjoy a cold craft brew at the Republic Brewing Company.
Located just north of Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula, Dungeness is a tiny unincorporated community that offers a peaceful, quiet setting with waterfront accommodation. The star of the show here is the Dungeness Spit, the country’s longest natural sand spit stretching for 5.5 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It’s part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, inhabited by over 250 bird species, including the snowy owl, along with many marine and land animals. Seals use the beach to haul out and give birth to pups or rest. A walk along the full length of the Spit leads to New Dungeness Lighthouse, one of the oldest in the Pacific Northwest, open to the public for free tours and a spectacular view from the top that includes Mount Baker, the Olympic Mountain Range, and Canada’s Vancouver Island on a clear day.
Lake Chelan, located at the base of the Northern Cascade Mountains, is a 55-mile-long lake that’s a popular spot among Seattleites, with clear blue waters and idyllic beaches, but visitors can enjoy a more remote experience with few others around in Stehekin. It sits at the far end of the lake and can only be accessed by boat or plane, offering a wealth of outdoor adventure enjoyed among breathtaking scenery. Kayak tours are available for exploring from a perspective of the water, and you’ll find both standard bike and electronic bike rentals for exploring the land. There are many easy day hikes along with opportunities for fishing and horseback riding.
Neah Bay is one of the most remote and wild places in the continental U.S. From here you can take a short hike along the Cape Flattery Trail to stand at the country’s northwesternmost point. Along the .75-mile trail, there are four observation decks with breathtaking views of the sea crashing against rock formations, Tatoosh Island, seabirds like puffins, and marine mammals, including gray and orca whales. Nearby there are beautiful stretches of sand like Shi Shi Beach, often ranked among the world’s most stunning with gnarled logs that have been bleached and battered by the surf and sea stacks just offshore. Neah Bay is on the Makah Reservation and the Makah Tribe offers a variety of accommodations, including a beach resort, cabins, and campgrounds.
Port Gamble is a hidden gem on the Kitsap Peninsula, set along the Hood Canal. A tiny but especially picturesque community, it’s a National Historic Landmark that includes turn-of-the-century buildings housing shops and eateries, along with New England-style homes and a pretty historic church. Learn about its past at the Port Gamble Historic Museum, enjoy productions at the Port Gamble Theater Company, and hike trails in the town’s privately owned 4300-acre tree farm, home to bears, deer, coyotes, owls, and other wildlife. Kayak tours are available along with kayak, paddleboard, and mountain bike rentals.