The Emerald City’s mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers offer a wealth of recreation possibilities. Seattle’s City Center is a popular destination, hosting historic Pike Place Market (home to the first Starbucks), the waterfront and the iconic Space Needle. The area that is now Seattle has been inhabited at least 4,000 years, white settlers came to the area in 1851. Lumber, coal, the Klondike Gold Rush and subsequent shipbuilding industry helped the area grow. Within a few hours’ drive, Seattle’s backyard is teaming with diverse landscapes and quiet beauty. Here’s a guide to great destinations in and around the Gateway to the Pacific Northwest.
“Gold!” is what the headlines read in 1897, starting the Klondike Gold Rush. Thousands, hoping to ease the woes of economic depression, sold farms, dropped businesses and boarded ships to follow their dreams north. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park – Seattle Unit commemorates the significant role the city of Seattle played in the Klondike Gold Rush – 70,000 of the 100,000 people who journeyed toward the Klondike passed through Seattle, transforming the city into the gateway to the gold fields.
This unique museum, housed in the very hotel that provided countless Asian immigrants with their first home in America, tells the story of the challenges they faced as they sought opportunities in the Pacific Northwest and America. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is located in the heart of Seattle's lively Chinatown International District and profiles stories of survival in the face of discrimination. An affiliate of the Smithsonian and the National Park Service, the museum offers tours, events and exhibits illustrating the adversities and triumphs of Asian Americans.
The U.S. Coast Guard Museum Northwest, located just south of Seattle on Pier 36, opened August 4, 1976, on Coast Guard Day. The museum has more than 15,000 photographs dating back to the mid 1800's. There are several large-scale finely-crafted models of Revenue Cutter Service, Coast Guard Cutters and Icebreakers. Base access is restricted, and the public can visit by contacting the Museum and making arrangements for an escort. Groups and school classes are welcome.
The nearly 100-year-old Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, locally known as the Ballard locks, create a waterway connecting fresh water Lakes Washington and Union with the Puget Sound. Each year more than a million visitors watch pleasure craft and commercial vessels pass within feet, providing an unforgettable, up-close experience. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the locks also host one of our nation’s first fish ladders, giving wild Pacific salmon access to freshwater spawning areas during their June to October runs.
The only U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-maintained botanical garden, the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden is the brainchild and life-long endeavor of horticulturist Carl English. He almost single-handedly designed and built the gardens during his 43-year tenure with the Corps starting in 1931 until he retired in 1974. The seven-acre gardens are co-located with the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and feature plants from around the world. English received many of the plants sent by world-wide horticulturists and delivered by vessels traversing the Locks.
The Puget Sound Navy Museum is a great way for people of all ages to experience the U.S. Navy. The museum is conveniently located off base and next door to the ferry terminal in Bremerton. The museum is full of fun and informative exhibits about the history of, life in, and work of the U.S. Navy. This Puget Sound attraction is hands-on, family-friendly, and best of all – free! Housed in historic Building 50, it’s just a one-hour, scenic ferry ride from downtown Seattle.
Dive in! The Naval Undersea Museum brings to life the world under the sea for visitors of all ages. The U.S. Navy does much more than send submarines full of sailors to the oceans deep. Learn how Navy divers explore the seas, discover how remotely operated vehicles and submersibles go farther and deeper than ever before, and learn about the challenges of working underwater! Best of all, parking and admission are always free.
Enjoy a day of picnicking, hiking, biking, playing in the splash pool or riding your horses in a scenic woodland setting at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mud Mountain Dam recreation facility near Mount Rainier. Built on the White River by the Corps in the 1940s, the flood control dam protects the lower White and Puyallup River valleys from flooding. The White River flows through the reservoir which is usually empty, except when holding back heavy rains and melting snow.
Olympic National Forest’s 633,000 acres encompass the varied landscape of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula from lush rain forests to deep canyons to high mountain ridges to ocean beaches. This diverse and scenic forest reaches the mid elevations of the Olympic Mountains and surrounds Olympic National Park. It is easily accessible from Seattle by scenic drive or a beautiful ferry ride.
Olympic National Park is a land of beauty and variety. A day's exploration can take you from breathtaking mountain vistas with meadows of wildflowers to colorful ocean tide pools. This diverse park encompasses three distinctly different ecosystems - rugged glacier-capped mountains, wild Pacific coast, and magnificent old-growth temperate rain forest. Interwoven throughout these diverse landscapes are cultural and historic sites that document over 12,000 years of human history. The park offers advance reservations for camping at Kalaloch. This is a park filled with opportunities to explore!
On a clear day magnificent glacier-clad Mount Rainier is visible southeast of Seattle. From its 14,410-foot alpine peak to the old-growth forests growing at its base, Mount Rainier National Park offers spectacular scenery and recreational opportunities from auto touring to mountaineering. Enjoy views of glaciers and subalpine wildflower meadows in summer, colorful foliage in fall, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Spend a few hours browsing through interpretive exhibits in the visitor center. Stay in a historic inn or reserve a campsite at one of Mount Rainier’s four reservable campgrounds.
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary on the spectacular outer coast of the Olympic Peninsula is one of North America's most productive marine ecosystems. The Olympic Coast Discovery Center in Port Angeles is a great place to learn about efforts to study and protect the area’s wildlife and marine ecosystems. Investigate ocean science; explore captivating shipwrecks and maritime heritage; discover a magnificent cultural heritage; or enjoy tide pooling, wildlife viewing, kayaking and fishing. Launch your own journey of discovery.
Padilla Bay is located on the upper reaches of Puget Sound, north of Seattle in Skagit County. The Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve protects one of the largest continuous eelgrass beds in the United States and provides a variety of recreational activities including, hiking, boating and bird watching. Don’t miss their free Olympic Coast Discovery Center that captures the history and ecology of the area through engaging exhibits and fish tanks.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is one of the most visited forests in the nation. The forest is located east of Seattle on the west side of the Cascade Mountains between the Canadian border and Mount Rainier National Park. Here you will find glacier-covered peaks, spectacular mountain meadows and old-growth forests, rich in history and outdoor opportunities. The forest offers reservable camping in the summer and recreational possibilities year-round - tour the forest, go fishing, river rafting, bird watching, or for a change of pace try snowshoeing or skiing.
Along the North Cascades Highway an alpine landscape beckons. About three hours from Seattle, North Cascades National Park spans the cascade crest from the temperate rainforest of the wet west-side to the dry ponderosa pine ecosystem of the east. Stay overnight in one of the reservable campsites, then discover the two communities of life adapted to persistent moisture in the west and recurrent fire in the east. Explore jagged peaks crowned by more than 300 glaciers and contemplate waterfalls cascading into deep valleys. These mountains are calling you.
"Mountains to See, Places to Be" sums up the abundance and variety of recreation opportunities found in the incredible Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Summers are hot and dry, and winters are famous for brilliant skies and plenty of snow. Stretching from the high Cascade Crest to the lowlands of the Columbia River, the 4-million acre forest has vast wilderness areas, while thousands of miles of trails and roads offer easy access to one of the most heavily visited western United States national forests. Make a reservation at one of the Forest’s campgrounds or cabins.
Craving adventure, or the smell of the ocean, the sound of birds in the forest or the view at the top of the trail? Then get out and onto one of Washington State’s national wildlife refuges within a few hours’ drive of Seattle. Hiking, bird watching, boating, wildlife viewing, camping, interpretative programs and more await your arrival. Visit Nisqually NWR, Dungeness NWR, San Juan Islands NWR, Willapa NWR and all the rest!
Experience the best of the Northwest at a national fish hatchery. Whether you are seeking recreation, conservation or relaxation, these facilities offer something for everyone and are all within driving distance of the Seattle-Metro area. Catch a glimpse of spawning steelhead at Quilcene NFH, snag a salmon of your own at Quinault NFH, take a winter snowshoe tour at Leavenworth NFH, or get in touch with your inner child during Kids Fishing Day at Entiat NFH.