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Beyond the Big 3: Pacific Northwest National Parks and Monuments

The Pacific Northwest is host to a number of other national historic parks and monuments. Find a few of the lesser-known parks in Washington that make great destinations for hiking and learning about the history of the Pacific Northwest.

Adapted from Washington Trails magazine|by Charlie Lieu

As hikers, we recognize the big names like Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks, and major monuments like Mount St. Helens. But, did you know that the Pacific Northwest is host to a number of other national historic parks and monuments? These public lands are filled with a deep well of history are wonderful places to take a hike if you want to move beyond the 'Big 3'.

Below you'll find a few of the lesser-known parks in Washington, Idaho and Oregon that make great destinations for hiking and learning about the history of the Pacific Northwest.

Tips for visiting:

  • Our public lands are awesome. Expect plenty of company on if you visit on a sunny weekend.
  • Make sure you have the correct pass handy, or try aligning you visit with one of the annual fee-free days.
  • Have a 4th grader in the family? Snag your Every Kid Outdoors pass to gain free entry into federally managed public lands.

Puget Sound and Islands

Ebey's Landing Historical Reserve

Ebey's Landing preserves the historical, agricultural and cultural traditions of Native, European and Asian Americans while offering spectacular opportunities for recreation amidst stunning landscape at the gateway to Puget Sound. The park showcases the area’s rich farmland and promising seaports that lured American pioneers to Ebey’s Landing. Learn more about Ebey's Landing Historical Reserve.

Ebey's Landing. Photo by Jay L.jpeg
The view from along the bluff at Ebey's Landing. Photo by trip reporter Jay L.

Nearby Trails to Try

Kettles Trail System: Can't decide between walking along an ocean bluff with water stretched out for miles before you or wandering through forest under the drooping branches of moss-covered cedars? The Kettles Trail System on Whidbey Island offers you an opportunity to do both — with over 35 miles of trail to choose from!

Ebey's Landing: Perched on a bluff overlooking majestic Puget Sound is the unique acreage of Ebey’s Landing. In addition to hiking the popular Bluff Trail, you can also get a peek at nearby working farms and soak in a whole lot of wildlife views all in a tiny National Park on Whidbey Island.

Fort Ebey State ParkFor a quieter experience, head to the state park to explore an old WWII area bunker and enjoy classic views of the puget sound with an occasional paraglider or tugboat sighting. There are 4 miles of trail to explore here, as well as picnic area to enjoy a well-deserved lunch break.


Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

This park is an international collaboration focused on preserving the story of the stampede to the Yukon gold fields. The Seattle unit showcases the city’s crucial role in this historical event that ignited dreams of easy riches in the minds of thousands as word spread of a rich gold strike in northwestern Canada. Learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Klondike Gold Rush.jpgPhoto courtesy NPS.

Nearby Trails to Try

City Hall to Pike Place: This urban hike is a great way to take in the sights of downtown Seattle The route takes hikers past the site of the origin of the Great Seattle Fire of 1889; fountains; coffee shops; the Gum Wall; cobblestones; and Seattle's first Art Deco building.

Red Lining Heritage Trail: This route connects Seattle's International District and the Wing Luke Museum with the Northwest African American Museum. Along the way you can learn about the history of housing discrimination in the city and the progress that's been made on this front over the years. 

Discovery ParkThis classic Seattle-area hike is found north of downtown in the Magnolia area. Discovery Park is the largest park in the city and has a whole lot to see. You'll find grand views of the Puget Sound, a quaint and historic lighthouse as well as plenty of driftwood-covered beach to explore.

Kubota Gardens: These gardens are a beautiful oasis within the city of Seattle. Master landscaper, Fujitaro Kubota, pioneered the use of native North American plants in his display garden in the early 20s, creating a spectacular, dynamic landscape of hills and valleys complete with water features and quaint bridges.


San Juan Islands National Historical Park

This location is where the United States and Great Britain clashed over possession of the islands in a conflict known as the Pig War. This island park offers splendid vistas, glistening shores, dense woodlands and a chance to spy local orca pods. It is also home to one of the last remaining native prairies in the region. Learn more about San Juan Islands National Historic Park.

Lime Kiln State Park. Photo by pgu..jpeg
The lighthouse is a popular attraction at Lime Kiln State Park. Photo by trip reporter pgu.

Nearby Trails to Try

Lime Kiln State Park: San Juan Island is full of beauty, and much of it can be found at Lime Kiln. Sometimes called “Whale Watch Park,” it is not uncommon to see Orcas or other marine life playing in the water as you wander along the rocky edges of the Salish Sea.

Turtleback Mountain: This wetland hike wanders through rare Garry oak woodlands, grasslands and conifer forests. On Turtleback Mountain, you can usually find a bit of solitude if you are looking for a quieter hike.

Obstruction Point State Park: This small park packs in a lot. Although there are only 2 miles of trail, there are plenty of interpretive signs, picnic locations and expansive views from the bluff.


Central Washington

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

This alpine paradise is less than three hours from Seattle. Discover specially adapted flora and fauna surrounded by jagged peaks that are crowned by more than 300 glaciers. Here you can witness a landscape sensitive to the Earth’s changing climate and learn how to help steward the ecological heart of the North Cascades National Park Complex. Learn more about the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

Chelan Lakeshore Trail. Photo by thenomadicartist.jpeg
The area around Lake Chelan is known for its bountiful wildflowers. Photo by trip reporter thenomadicartist.

Nearby Trails to Try

Chelan Lakeshore Trail: This trail is excellent for folks looking to put in a lot of mileage early in the season. It features craggy, snow-capped peaks, a sapphire-blue lake, wildflowers, and a trail that’s regularly maintained by WTA volunteers.

Purple Pass: If you want to tackle a long, steady climb takes you from the Stehekin Landing to a high pass more than a mile above the surface of Lake Chelan -- this trails is for you. You'll be rewarded with incredible views of the lake gorge, the Stehekin Valley and peaks stretching from the Cascade Pass area to the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Rainbow-McAlester Loop: This loop starts out on the North Cascades Highway and curves around toward Lake Chelan before returning to the highway. Along the way hikers will be treated to sweeping views of the lake. 


Southwest Washington and Oregon

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Consists of two sites that highlight the fur trade and military history of the Pacific Northwest. The sites come alive with creative media, costumed programs, educational activities, living history events and reenactments. Visitors can explore the lands and structures at the center of that history and enjoy a world-class archaeology collection. Learn more about Fort Vancouver Historical Site.

Fort Vancouver. Photo by NPS Junelle Lawry.jpgPhoto courtesy NPS.

Nearby Trails to Try

Vancouver Lake: The barrier-free path at Vancouver Lake leads through a mature cottonwood forest with vibrant greens understory in spring, beautiful fall yellows and quite a few species of birds nearly all year.

Lacamas Park: This park is ideal for a quick fix of crisp Gorge air. Amid streams and waterfalls swelled winter’s runoff, you’re sure to forget the quaint Camas downtown is but a few minutes away. With two trails to choose from  Lacamas Creek and Round Lake to Lower Falls — this is a great spot to hang out for the whole day.

Columbia River Waterfront Renaissance Trail: This urban trail connects downtown Vancouver to the picturesque Columbia River Waterfront. It offers a view into Vancouver's rich history while passing through the National Historic Site.


Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

This park allows visitors to follow in the footsteps and discover the dramatic stories of America’s most famous explorers. The rich heritage of Native Americans, lush rainforests and coastal vistas come alive through a variety of activities and interpretive programs. Learn more about the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park.

Lewis and Clark National Historic
Photo courtesy NPS.

Nearby Trails to Try

Scarborough Hill: Climb to the top of a low peak at on the Washington side of the Columbia River, then visit an historic fort, complete with gun battery and old buildings available to rent. 

Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge:

Lewis and Clark Discovery Trail: This trail makes a wonderful outing for folks visiting the Ilwaco and Long Beach areas. Hike through coastal forest out to the beach, where the paved route zigs and zags across the sand and through dunes, grasses, and trees for three miles into the heart of Long Beach.


Eastern Washington and Idaho

LAKE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL HISTORIC AREA

Encompasses 130-mile long Lake Roosevelt along with historic Fort Spokane and St. Paul’s Mission. Nearby, the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail highlights the significant geologic features that formed when massive floods scoured the landscape. Learn more about the Lake Roosevelt National Historic Site.

Hawk Creek. Photo by Holly Weiler..jpeg
Photo by trip reporter Holly Weiler.

Nearby Trails to Try

Hawk Creek: The prime time to visit Hawk Creek is late winter or early spring when the waters of Lake Roosevelt are drawn down. The low water levels at this time allow hikers to explore the beaches of Hawk Creek just as it was 10,000 years ago.

Quartzite Mountain: The short, steep trail to the top of Quartzite Mountain takes hikers through sparse forests and wildflower meadows (and maybe even fresh strawberries if you time it right), leading to an overlook of the town of Chewelah 

Fort Spokane:


WHITMAN MISSION NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

This site is a rest stop along the historic Oregon Trail. Located in Walla Walla, Washington, this historic site preserves and tells the story of the events that took place on the Columbia Plateau, from the establishment of the Whitman mission in 1836 up until a tragic massacre in 1848, after which Oregon became an official territory of the United States. Learn more about the Whitman Mission National Historic Site.

Whitman Mission National Historic Site
Photo courtesy NPS.

Nearby Trails to Try

Twin Sisters Rock: The unique landscape and basalt pillars at Twin Sisters Rock is the result of ancient floodwaters. Hot and exposed in the summer, you can find sweet little wildflowers here in spring, and chilly winter winds accompany the stark landscape in winter.

Lewis and Clark Trail State Park: Head down to the banks of the Touchet River to find farmland views and opportunities to soak one’s feet on a hot day. Stop and enjoy the singing birds as you ramble through this luxurious oasis in the dry eastern grasslands.


Hanford Reach National Monument

This vast swath of land on the northern shores of the Columbia River holds interest for wildlife enthusiasts and history buffs. The shrub steppe is home to mule deer, coyotes, bald eagles, blue herons, and white pelicans along with herds of Elk. This is also the site of plutonium reactors that still stand as a reminder of the nuclear history of this area. Plutonium produced here fueled the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki Japan during World War II. 

A gentle grassy ridge extends into the distance where the Columbia River flows.
The gentle rolling hills of the Hanford Reach national Monument. Photo by HaroldC3. 

Nearby Trails to Try

Saddle Mountain East: Hike along decommissioned access roads, taking in expansive views of the shrub steppe and the Columbia River. During the spring the wildflowers will be popping. 

White Bluffs-North: Sand dunes and shrub steppe combine here to form one of the most unique landscapes in Washington. Enjoy views of the big sky and the big Columbia River on a walk here. 

White Bluffs-South Slope: A walk in this part of Hanford Reach will take you through some truly unique terrain. This is one of the few places where the Columbia River is free flowing, and unusual geological features add even more interest. 


NEZ PERCE NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

Tells the story of the Nez Perce people. Discover the history and culture of the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) and how they adapted to and continue to make the land their own. When visiting, start your explorations at the visitor center located in Spalding, Idaho. Learn more about the Nez Perce National Historic Park.

Kamiak Butte. Photo by Xavier McP.jpegViews at Kamiak Butte. Photo courtesy Xavier McP.

Nearby Trails to Try

Kamiak Butte: Amid a sea of agriculture is the forested oasis of Kamiak Butte. Hikers who venture to the summit are rewarded with a rolling patchwork of green and yellow fields in every direction, and bright blue skies overhead.  

Palouse to Cascades Trail: This trail stretches across much of our state, but the Tekoa section just south of Spokane and is a beautiful place to explore the rolling hills of southeast Washington.

Kirkwood Ranch: Just across the border in Idaho, you can descend into North America’s deepest canyon to find early wildflowers and regional history. Kirkwood is a wonderful place to visit when the snow and frost still covers much of Eastern Washington's hiking trails.