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Top 10 Washington State Attractions

Washington's Best Visitor Attractions

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The state of Washington is blessed with landscapes, whether created by nature or by humans, that are not only scenic but perfect for outdoor recreation of all kinds. Washington State attractions that disappoint are few and far between. The state's top attractions are all outstanding and will provide memories that will stick with you for a lifetime.

Here are my picks for the best attractions to enjoy in the state of Washington.

1. Olympic National Park

Trail (footpath) through trees and lush greenery at Quinault Rainforest. Quinault Rainforest, Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park, Washington State, Pacific Northwest, USA.
Martin Ruegner/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
Olympic National Park, a unique and diverse wilderness preserve, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. During a visit to the park you can experience a number of different ecosystems, including alpine mountain, temperate rain forests, and rugged ocean beaches. The park's Hurricane Ridge can be visited on a long day trip from Seattle. If you wish to explore several sections of the park, plan to spend at least three days on a multi-day loop around the Olympic Peninsula.

2. Mount Baker Highway

Mt. Shuksan View from Artist Point at the End of Mt. Baker Highway 542 (Angela M. Brown)
Mt. Shuksan View from Artist Point at the End of Mt. Baker Highway 542
Mount Baker Highway begins in Bellingham on Highway 542, passes through a charming rural area, then enters Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Along the way you'll enjoy 60 miles of beauty and recreation. Be sure to stop at the US Forest Service ranger station in Glacier for a map, recreation pointers, and the latest road and trail condition. There will be many places to stop and enjoy the scenery, hike, or picnic, including Horseshoe Bend, Nooksack Falls, Heather Meadows, and Artist Point. If you plan to head all the way up to Artist Point (which, along with Heather Meadows is the reason Mount Baker Highway ranks so high on this list), August or September is the time to go.

3. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier Reflecting in Reflection Lake in Mount Rainier National Park © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Mount Rainier Reflecting in Reflection Lake
The stunning beauty and dominant presence of Mount Rainier demands that all who see it on their horizon will want to visit in person. And the closer in you get, the more gorgeous the view. Mount Rainier National Park is accessible to all who wish the experience; much can be experienced on a driving tour with frequent stops at scenic viewpoints. Those who wish to explore the mountain landscape up close will find hikes that range from easy to difficult, from a few minutes to several days.

4. Coulee Corridor, including Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam © Angela M. Brown
Grand Coulee Dam
The Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway runs from Omak in the north, through Moses Lake, to Othello. Along the way you'll take in stunning scenery, both natural and human made. Grand Coulee Dam is a major highlight, where you can spend a good chunk of your day. Dry Falls Interpretive Center, Banks Lake, Steamboat Rock State Park, Sun Lakes State Park, Lake Lenore Caves, Potholes State Park, and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge are all worthwhile stops along Coulee Corridor.

5. North Cascades Scenic Highway

Diablo Lake at Highway 20 Viewpoint © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Diablo Lake at Highway 20 Viewpoint
The North Cascades Scenic Highway follows Highway 20 from Sedro-Wooley to the Methow Valley, passing through portions of both Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades National Park. Along the way you'll see sharp snow-capped peaks, historic dams and powerhouses, and blue-green lakes. There are numerous places to get out and stretch your legs at a scenic viewpoint or hiking trail. Must-do stops include the Diablo Lake Boat Tour, the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, and the charming Western-themed town of Winthrop.

6. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

View of Mount St. Helens from the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center © Angela M. Brown (2009)
View of Mount St. Helens from the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center
Mount St. Helens and the lands preserved in Mount St. Helens National Monument are a fascinating place to visit for a number of reasons. First, getting up close to an active volcano provides a certain thrill. As you drive through the Monument, you'll see evidence of the vast destruction from the 1980 eruption. But you'll also see signs of amazing recovery in plant and animal life. Each of the visitor center's does an excellent job in filling you in on different aspecits of Mount St. Helens - before, during, and after the events of 1980 - with photographs, videos, models, and interpretive exhibits.

7. Pike Place Market in Seattle

Photo of Public Market Sign at Seattle's Pike Place Market © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Public Market Sign at Seattle's Pike Place Market
Seattle's Pike Place Market is packed full of more stalls, shops, and eateries than you can explore in just one visit. Or even a few. That's one of the things that makes Pike Place Market a favorite with both visitors and residents. You know you'll see a gorgeous array of seafood, produce, and flowers. You know you'll find nifty craft items, hear entertaining street musicians, and see numerous interesting characters. But you also know that, along with these old favorites, you'll discover something new and uniquely Northwest.

8. Seattle Center

The Space Needle and Seattle Center © Angela M. Brown (2008)
The Space Needle and Seattle Center
A legacy of the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, Seattle Center combines open park spaces with a number of attractions and performance venues. Many of Seattle's major annual festivals are held at Seattle Center, including the Northwest Folklife Festival, Bumbershoot, and Winterfest. The Space Needle, Experience Music Project and SciFi Museum, the Pacific Science Center, Key Arena, McCaw Hall, and Intiman Theatre are just some of the places you can visit during a day at Seattle Center.

9. Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferry Passing Between Islands, San Juan Islands
Washington State Ferry Passing Between Islands (J. Poth/Washington State Tourism)
Part of Washington's state highway system, the Washington State Ferries convey people and their vehicles to and from points around the Puget Sound. Not only are these ferries a way - often the only way - to get to the many island communities scattered around the Sound, they are also a fun and relaxing way to experience the beauty of the region. Major ferry docks are located at downtown Seattle, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Clinton, Kingston, Bainbridge Island, and Anacortes.

10. Riverfront Park in Spokane

Great Northern Clock Tower in Spokane's Riverfront Park © Angela M. Brown
Great Northern Clock Tower in Spokane's Riverfront Park
World's fairs and expositions have left Washington with wonderful community spaces and unique structures that have gone on to become treasured landmarks - Riverfront Park is a stunning example. Expo '74 transformed Spokane's downtown railroad yards into lovely green spaces dotted with interesting buildings. Some of those structures remain, along with fun attractions such as the Spokane Falls SkyRide, the historic Looff Carrousel, and an amusement park and seasonal ice skating rink.

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