Washington — Things to Do
Wild Washington is an outdoor lover’s paradise. All that rain creates a veritable Eden to the west of the Cascades, while dry high desert landscape dominates the eastern slopes. The coastal region of the state boasts a pristine marine environment where whale watching, sea kayaking, and romping through the rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula are highlights. The San Juan Islands are just offshore from Seattle and offer easy access to a truly unique scene.
The Cascade Mountains are the most volcanically active in America, featuring snow-capped beauties like Mount Rainer and its national park for sublime summer hiking and winter skiing. With all the rain and snow, the rivers in Washington are a dreamland for kayakers and rafting fans. On the east side of the Cascades, the wineries of Walla Walla and Yakima create other fun opportunities for road tripping.
While few people truly love the relentless drizzle of rain, water is a key component of Washington’s landscape. It feeds the rivers on both flanks of the Cascades, providing some of America’s finest rafting and kayaking. The list of rivers here is long, from whitewater on the Wenatchee and Skagit, to mellow floating on the Hoh and Queets. Professional guides like Blue Sky Outfitters and Wildwater River Tours offer a full range of river outings.
The Pacific Ocean creates another essential environment in Washington, with waters that are among the cleanest in the country. A popular excursion for visitors is whale watching for Orca whales off the coasts of the San Juan Islands and in Puget Sound. Summer is prime time for killer whales, while migrating gray whales are commonly sighted March through May in towns like Westport. San Juan Safaris and Island Adventures are just two of the companies running whale-watching tours around Seattle.
The San Juan Islands and Puget Sound are also superb areas for sea kayaking. Conditions really don’t get better than this in the US, thanks to the protected status of the waters here. Calm waters and plenty of wildlife attract kayakers to this unique environment, especially in summer. Firms such as San Juan Kayak Expeditions and Crystal Seas Kayaking offer gear rental, training, and guidance for all levels.
Another awesome activity on the San Juan Islands is biking. Its four main islands are the state’s top spot for biking tours on the quiet country roads where trips can last a few hours or a few days. An inn-to-inn tour is a magical way to experience this part of Washington, with companies like Bicycle Adventures and TerraTrek handling all the logistics.
There are miles of hiking trails in Washington State, from those running through rugged alpine scenery in the North Cascades National Park to other passing lush rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula. You can even summit the peak of Mount St Helens volcano, such is the scope of potential hikes here. Most hikes can be managed independently. But great insider information and guidance is available from the North Cascades Institute.
When winter hits in Washington, all that rain turns to snow and the six major ski resorts in the Cascades open for business. The annual snow depths here are off the charts, from the snowboarding mecca of Mount Baker to the diverse terrain of Crystal Mountain on the edge of Mount Rainer National Park.