These stunning West Coast national parks showcase the geographical diversity and stunning beauty of the United States. Discover mountains, rivers, lakes, and plenty of wildlife.
The West Coast region is made up of Washington, Oregon, and California, which all border the Pacific Ocean. These three states have plenty in common, including awe-inspiring vistas and a wealth of national parks. If you plan on visiting multiple parks in one year, it’s worth purchasing an America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.
When planning a trip, be sure to check out parks that are nearby so you can save on gas and get to know your local area. This also makes it easier to find friends to carpool for a day trip, allowing you to make great memories while reducing your carbon footprint.
Remember to respect the places you’re visiting. This means leaving wildlife alone, taking all your garbage with you, sticking to the marked trails, and being courteous to other visitors. Nature is there for everyone to enjoy, so leave it looking even better than when you arrived.
Best West Coast National Parks in Washington
1. Olympic National Park
Designated as both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, it’s no wonder that this park is the first on the list. Olympic National Park encompasses nearly 1 million acres of diverse ecosystems ranging from temperate rainforests to glacier-capped mountains.
Aside from the gorgeous views, visitors are drawn to the park for boating, fishing, exploring tide pools, camping, hiking, and backpacking. You can also hike in winter, and the season brings additional activities such as cross-country skiing, guided snowshoe walks, snowboarding, and tubing. The park is busiest from June through September, so campsite reservations are highly recommended.
Olympic National Park is located approximately 80 miles from Tacoma and 110 miles from Seattle. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, so carpooling with friends can save money and cut back on your carbon footprint!
2. North Cascades National Park
This West Coast national park is home to more than 300 glaciers and one of the most geologically complex mountain ranges in the country. It’s also home to Lake Chelan, which is the third deepest lake in the United States.
Spring and fall are the best times to visit for both color and wildlife viewings, but you can enjoy the park year-round. Activities like hiking, backcountry camping, boating, mountaineering, biking, fishing, and even horseback riding are all on offer.
North Cascades National Park is located approximately 107 miles from Seattle. The best part is that there is no entrance fee, so you can enjoy this park free of charge.
3. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is an active volcano and an iconic part of the Washington landscape. It’s also the most glaciated peak in the United States, with over 25 named glaciers that feed its many rivers and streams. The water runoff also nourishes large subalpine wildflower meadows that come alive in the spring.
The park itself offers a plethora of activities including hiking, camping, climbing, cycling, fishing, boating, wildflower spotting, guided snowshoe walks, snowboarding, skiing, and snowmobiling.
Mount Rainier National Park is located just 60 miles outside of Seattle, making it ideal for day trips and quick getaways. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, so pack some hiking snacks and invite your friends along.
The Only National Park in Oregon
If you want to visit a national park in Oregon, you won’t be spoiled for choice — there’s only one. But Crater Lake National Park is definitely worth a visit. Not only does it feature the deepest lake in the United States, but Crater Lake is said to contain some of the most pristine water on the planet.
Due to high annual snowfall, this park is covered in snow most of the year, making it ideal for winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, and backcountry winter camping. During the summer months, you can also enjoy over 90 miles of hiking as well as fishing, biking, birding, and camping.
Crater Lake National Park is located 269 miles south of Portland, so it’s worth packing your camping gear and making a weekend out of it. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle in the summer and $20 per vehicle in the winter.
Although there is only one national park in Oregon, there are plenty of other incredible sites to see, including the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument and Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.
Best West Coast National Parks in California
California has some of the most diverse landscapes and is home to more national parks than any other state. Plus, there are also 280 state parks in California to explore.
1. Yosemite National Park
This West Coast national park is one of the most visited parks in the country and with good reason. It’s best known for its incredible waterfalls and climbing opportunities, but it’s also a great place to see redwoods. Yosemite isn’t an official dark sky park, but it is a fantastic place to do some stargazing.
Most famous for Bridalview Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome, the park has plenty of places to see. Camping is extrememly popular, as is visiting the park by car, so it pays to plan ahead. Other activites you can enjoy here include hiking, biking, birdwatching, horseback riding, rafting along the Merced river. It’s also a nice backdrop for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the winter.
Yosemite National Park is located 141 miles southeast of Sacramento and 167 miles east of San Francisco. The entrance fee is $35 per vehicle and reservations are required at certain times of the year.
2. Channel Islands National Park
Accessible only by boat, this park is surrounded by coastline. It’s made up of 5 small islands and includes the surrounding marine area as well. Due to the isolated location, biosecurity checks are required before you depart the mainland.
You can enjoy a ton of watersports while visiting the park, including snorkeling, kayaking, diving, and swimming. Camping is a popular activity, as is whale watching and wildflower spotting. There are plenty of California native plants to be seen on the islands.
Channel Islands National Park is located off the coast of Santa Barbara and has some of the best Southern California hikes. The visitor center is located in Ventura, but it will take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours by boat to reach the park itself depending on the island you wish to visit. There is no entrance fee, so let the sea breeze whisk you away and enjoy your day out.
3 & 4. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Mountains, canyons, and large trees all help to create the rugged backdrop that these national parks are famous for. Scientists are active in the area recording soundscapes to help better understand how species diversity varies over time and location.
You can enjoy some epic hiking in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon, as well as climbing, picnicking, overnight backpacking, and wildlife spotting. Check out the Crystal Cave for something completely different, or just spend time marveling at the giant sequoia trees. In Kings Canyon, the Roaring River Falls is a must-see.
Sequoia National Park is located 78 miles east of Fresno and 94 miles north from Bakersfield. The entrance fee is $35 per vehicle, but that includes access to Kings Canyon National Park, which is an additional 50 miles north and definitely worth a visit.
5. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Found in the northeastern part of the state, this national park features hydrothermal sites with bubbling mud pots. The spot called the Devastated Area contains plenty of lava rocks from the last eruption of Mount Lassen. You can enjoy a variety of activities including 150 miles of hiking trails that connect to the Pacific Crest Trail, boating, fishing, camping, or simply just driving along the scenic highway.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is located 192 miles north of Sacramento and 130 miles west of Reno. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle in the summer and $10 in the winter and you won’t miss out on anything by visiting in the colder months.
6. Pinnacles National Park
The unique look of this West Coast national park is due to its formation from volcanic eruptions more than 20 million years ago. The resulting landscape is rich in caves and towering rock spires, and is home to plenty of wildlife.
It’s a great park for bird watchers, as it’s home to the California condor. You can also enjoy over 30 miles of hiking trails, as well as camping, rock climbing, and caving.
Pinnacles National Park is located 76 miles south of San Jose, 123 miles south of San Francisco and 143 miles west of Fresno. The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, so grab some friends and enjoy a short road trip.
Bonus Parks in Canada and Alaska
Though not part of the contingent states, Alaska can also be considered part of the West Coast region. If you find yourself headed up that way, there are several national parks you don’t want to miss out on:
- Denali National Park and Preserve
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
- Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
- Kenai Fjords National Park
If you’re driving up that way anyways, you might as well check out some incredible national parks in Canada, like:
- 7 Don’t-Miss Hiking Trails in Big Bear
- Wild Camping: A Beginner’s Guide to Free Camping in the US & Canada
- 11 Jaw-Dropping Hikes in Canada
Do you like this post?