Washington - Nature and Scientific Wonders | Travel | Smithsonian
Current Issue
September 2014  magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Washington - Nature and Scientific Wonders

Washington - Nature and Scientific Wonders

smithsonian.com

It's no wonder Washington is called the "Evergreen State" with 120 state parks, three national parks, two national monuments, a national scenic area, a national historic reserve, six national forests, 18 national wildlife refuges and a national marine reserve to its name. Some consider the entire state one giant wildlife-watching preserve and with good reason.

Olympic National Park boasts the nation's longest wilderness coastline, and one of only a few temperate rainforests in the country. Just forty miles from where forest and surf collide, icy mountain peaks pierce the sky. In between these extremes, ancient trees draped in moss reside deep inside the rainforest. Salmon and steelhead make annual runs up rivers that flow all four directions from these jagged peaks. Roads provide access to the outer edges of the park, but the heart of Olympic is wilderness; a primeval sanctuary for humans and wild creatures alike.

Almost completely surrounding Olympic National Park is Olympic National Forest, which features five wilderness areas, six vegetation zones and seven-thousand-foot peaks rising in the distance. This easy to get to, diverse forest is accessible to hikers of every skill level and offers prized fishing on its westward-flowing creeks and rivers. There is wildlife here found nowhere else in the world.

Mount Rainier National Park, in Pierce county, circles one of the tallest peaks in the U.S., the Northwest's popular icon, Mount Rainier. Early Native Americans revered Mount Rainier, itself an active stratovolcano, as Tahoma, "the mountain that was God." Here visitors can discover trails, wildflowers and waterfalls, bird watching, snow sports and more. Come to camp or enjoy a stay at a historic lodge. Hike the Wonderland Trail or learn about glaciers from park rangers at Longmire, Paradise, Sunrise, and Ohanapecosh visitor centers.

From the northern flanks of Mount Rainier National Park to the Canadian border, with peaks named Forbidden, Formidable and Desolation in between, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest includes two active volcanoes and North Cascade National Park.

Rugged and remote, the half-million-acre North Cascades National Park is one of the most pristine national parks in the country. This surprisingly accessible expanse includes national wilderness areas, lakes and over 300 glaciers—more than any other U.S. national park, in the lower 48 states. Three park units in this mountainous region are managed as one, including North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. Almost 400 miles of trails and vast undeveloped wilderness allow visitors to experience nature with minimal human-influence. Experiences range from accessible trails to world-class mountaineering, including scenic drives, hiking, camping, nature-watching, relaxation, boating and fishing.

Washington's national forests are blanketed with more than a million acres of cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir. One of America's first national forests was southwest Washington's Gifford Pinchot, named in honor of America's first professionally-trained forester. The massive Gifford Pinchot National Forest encompasses 1.3 million acres between Mt. Rainier National Park and the Columbia River, including the entire Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Washington State is home to five active volcanoes: Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. Mount St. Helens is famous for its May 18, 1980 eruption, during which nearly 230 square miles of forest were blown down or buried beneath volcanic deposits. Though it hasn't seen an eruption since, the volcano remains active and unpredictable, making each trip a new experience.

At Alpine Lakes wilderness in the northern part of the state, nearly 700 crystal lakes scattered among glacier-carved terrain are what give this extensive wilderness its name. Over 615 miles of trail snake their way through thick forests and open meadows, offering some of the best hiking, camping and rock-climbing in the Western United States.

Colville National Forest in north eastern Washington, offers over one million acres of forest, lakes and rivers in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, attracting those looking for adventure, wildlife or seclusion. Motorcycle and snowmobile trails wind through the area and in some places, mountain lions, moose and bear outnumber humans.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus