The National Park Service turns 100 this year in August. That means 2016 will kick off a second century of stewardship and community engagement within America’s scenic national parks. It’s the perfect year to plan that trip to the National Park you’ve always wanted to see, or check out a local landmark in your own backyard. In fact, admission to all national parks will be free for an entire week during National Park Week this spring, April 16-24. So with the National Parks Centennial on the mind, we’ve amassed some local road trip favorites into two itineraries to Washington National Parks starting from right here in Bellevue, ideal for both the regular hiker and the family in need of a weekend escape.
Road Trip: A Day at Mount Rainier
Even from afar, Mount Rainier is a beauty to behold. But when you’re staying in Bellevue, you can get an up-close view of the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest in less than three hours! All you need is a car and a free weekend to hit some of our favorite stops and spots on the itinerary below:
Pre-Road Prep: Gear up for your hiking/walking/ snowshoeing adventures ahead of time. Sturtevant’s and The North Face in Bellevue, as well as REI’s Redmond store offer the latest in outdoor shoes, gear, and apparel. For a morning pick-me-up before hitting the road, we always love grabbing donuts and expresso at Top Pot Doughnuts across from the Hyatt or FROST at Lincoln Square.
Visit Paradise: Once you arrive at Mount Rainier, it’s time to beeline towards a visitor center to get your bearings. The visitor centers at the park serve as a great place to talk to a ranger, grab a map, and snap a few shots of the mountain from an ideal location. If you’re visiting Mount Rainier during the winter and spring months, the new Paradise Jackson Visitor Center is open on weekends. Paradise is a stunning spot to enter the park, easy to find and a prime spot for winter sports.
Snowshoe Trip: A perfect introduction to Rainier this time of year is the Ranger-Led Snowshoe Walks at Paradise offered through March 27, 2016 beginning at 11am and 1:30pm. Walks start from the Jackson Visitor Center where snowshoes can be borrowed for a $4 donation per pair and fill up on a first-come, first-serve basis. Never been snowshoeing before? Rest at ease, this 1.5 mile, two hour trip is perfect for the first-time explorer.
Refuel: After you’ve trekked across the snow (and likely engaged in a couple of spontaneous snowball fights), take a short drive from the Paradise area for a hearty lunch at National Park Inn, a cozy place to unwind and open year-round. Try their pickle fries!
Wander the Sculpture Park: As you leave the park, don’t forget to stop by the Ex-Nihilo Metal Sculpture Park. The artist, Dan Klennert, repurposed scrap metal to create over-sized and life-sized models of everything from horses and motorcycles to old fashioned trains and popular dinosaurs.
From a Different Angle: If you’re all about the view of Mount Rainier from the sky, take an alternate trip to see Rainier from Crystal Mountain Resort. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a skier or not, anyone can get tickets for a scenic 8-passenger ride on the Mt. Rainier Gondola. The gondola takes you 2,500 feet to the summit where you’ll want to have your camera ready for breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade. Complete the day after your ride at Summit House, Washington State’s highest elevation restaurant.
Road Trip: A Day at Olympic National Park
Maybe you’ve already seen Mount Rainier, or you’re looking for a chance to see mountains as well as the ocean in one trip. Then we recommend a similar length of drive in the other direction to Olympic National Park, where the Olympic Peninsula’s spectacular combination of mountains, rain forest, beaches, and unique wildlife leave its visitors enchanted.
Pre-Road Prep: It’s going to be a full day, so we suggest getting up a little early for a piping hot breakfast of champions to fuel you through the day. Chace’s Pancake Corral, Gilberts on Main, and Eques at Hyatt Regency Bellevue will all deliver heaping plates and are open between 6am and 7am most mornings.
Know Your History: First stop, the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles. See exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the park along with the award-winning short film “Mosaic of Diversity” to get oriented before you explore.
Hurricane Ridge: No trip to Olympic National Park is complete without a visit to Hurricane Ridge. A 45-minute drive from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge takes you out of the forested lowlands up to the treeline. In clear weather, the views of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca are spectacular from here. Listen for the whistle of a marmot while you’re out here. If you whistle at one, it’ll whistle back! During the winter months into March, Hurricane Ridge becomes a snowy wonderland. Visit the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Area tubing park open Friday through Sunday for a perfect excuse for everyone to get out of the car and get some fresh air on the slopes.
Lake Crescent: An hour away from Hurricane Ridge you’ll find Lake Crescent, an alpine lake escape. But before taking a stroll around this glacier-carved beauty, you’re probably going to be ready for lunch. Take a snack break on the shores of the lake, or visit the Lake Front Dining Room at Lake Crescent Lodge (open May 2016 to January 2017) for a more decadent meal. After lunch, Marymere Falls Hiking Trail is a perfect gentle ¾ mile hike by the lake with waterfall views. For a little additional adventure, take the Camp David Junior Road on the north side of Lake Crescent from Fairholm to hook up with the Olympic Discovery Trail and Spruce Railroad trail. This will take you near a couple of train tunnels, and on a clear day, you can look into the pristine lake and make out the shadows of a train engine that fell into the lake many years ago.
Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach: If you’re itching to get to the coast, finish the day with a drive out to the rugged and picturesque Cape Flattery with views of crashing waves and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This is the northwesternost point of the contiguous United States and can be reached from a short hike, most of which is boardwalked. If you feel a bit more adventurous you can make a day of hiking to Shi Shi Beach. Make sure you have good hiking shoes for the sludgy trail leading to the ocean, but the reward is well worth the hike. Sandy beaches stretch southward, with eagles soaring overhead and gulls soaring overhead. Get your cameras ready, especially if you find yourself just in time to catch the sunset!
And presto, in just one day-trip you can explore Washington’s most iconic National Parks starting from Bellevue. There’s so much to do in the great Pacific Northwest, you might just find yourself hooked and coming back for more!
(Photo Credits, Top to Bottom: Crystal Mountain Resort, (Crystal Mountain Hiking) Jason Anglin, (View of Rainier from Paradise) National Park Service via Kevin Bacher, (Mt. Rainier Gondola) Crystal Mountain Resort, (Hurricane Ridge View) National Park Service via Dave Turner, (Hurricane Ridge in Winter) National Park Service, (Lake Crescent) National Park Service, (Shi Shi Beach) Sharon Linton)