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From jaw-dropping glaciers to steaming volcanic terrain, the National Parks of the Pacific Northwest display some of the nation’s most diverse and dramatic landscapes. Intensely blue lakes are a kayakers dream, backpackers can challenge themselves amongst rugged rocky journeys, and the more chill traveler can see many amazing sites from the comfort of their vehicle. Wind past Seattle, along the west coast, and deep into California on this nearly 28-hour journey through the National Parks of the Pacific Northwest.
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A top national park in the United States, North Cascades National Park is quite the kick-off to a road trip through this pristine portion of the U.S. Dramatically introducing itself with snow-covered mountains and around 300 magnificent glaciers, one can nearly feel like they are in Alaska while at the top of Washington State. North Cascades Highway cuts right through the park and is one heck of a stunning drive. While we recommend spending some time exploring nature trails, wildlife and water features, even just a ride through is memorable.
Less than a four-hour drive away, Mount Rainier National Park is one of the more iconic of all the designated national parks in the United States, offering a long list of outdoor activities. The volcanic peak around which the park is focused demands attention both up close and from far away—it’s a symbol of Washington State. Sparkling glaciers are scaled by daring climbers, and in the winter snowshoeing becomes a highly anticipated hobby. In the late summer, beautiful vegetation emerges in meadows, but be sure to stay on marked trails to avoid damaging these lovely areas of the park. Various driving routes can offer a lot to those passing through for the day, but cozy lodges are open to guests who opt to stay a while.
Next, drive three hours to Olympic National Park. This is a mammoth of a park to absorb, because of its diverse landscape featuring completely different ecosystems. Park roads can be great for a relaxing quick look, but to really dig into the nitty-gritty of Olympic, a few days should be dedicated to hiking its scenic trails. Guests can experience the rainforest and powdery ski terrain in the winter. It’s a magical place. Exploring tide pools and gazing at the vibrant stars are some of the other things to do during your visit.
A lengthier, yet stunning coastal route is an option when making this almost 10-hour drive. Redwood National Park is mostly known for trees that tower around 350 feet, making them the world’s largest. Folks come to have their photos snapped while posing in front of one of these beastly beauties. The great Redwoods almost never was, as a piping hot logging industry was going full steam ahead to harvest back around the first World War. A long battle ultimately led to the creation of the National Park, forever protecting the symbolic forest. Be sure to dive deep within the park, either along walking paths or side roads, to witness the full glory of it all. Biking can be an easy, exciting way to venture as well.
If you opted for the coastal route to get to Redwood, cutting back up a bit into Oregon is worth the extra time spent. A six-hour drive away, Crater Lake National Park is defined by its namesake body of water, which was created ages ago from a massive eruption that left a huge hole in the earth’s surface. Snowmelt has accumulated to create a majestic blue center, which can be best experienced by looping Rim Drive (this can be done in one day). Cleetwood Trail is a direct route to the shore of the gorgeous lake and is overall fairly doable for most. Enjoy exploring Rim Village, where there is also a place to lodge. Camping, both at a site and backcountry are options here.
A 5.5-hour drive south, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a place of great geological complexity, thanks to many factors, including both old and newer (early 1900s), volcanic eruptions. According to National Geographic’s Guide to the National Parks of the United States, this is one of the few places on the planet to see all of the volcano types—plug dome, cinder cone, shield and composite. Highways both short and long offer detailed glimpses into the park, but hiking allows adventurists to delve deeper into craters, lava beds, hydrothermal sites, lakes and waterfalls. Camping is available at designated sites.