While popular destinations in Washington like Mount Rainier and Pike Place Market are well-known to tourists and locals alike, the state also harbors a wealth of lesser-known gems that offer unique experiences.
Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour
Whidbey Island is a serene escape not too far from Seattle, and one of its hidden gems is the Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour. You’ll start with an educational introduction where you’ll learn the basics of mushroom foraging and the types of mushrooms you can find in the Pacific Northwest. Then, you’ll embark on a forest walk, likely through one of the old-growth forests on the island. The tour is a hands-on experience, allowing you to identify and even forage a few mushrooms to take home.
The Fremont Troll, Seattle
Located under the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, the Fremont Troll is an 18-foot tall sculpture that has become a local icon. It was created in 1989 when the city asked the Fremont Arts Council to revamp the area under the bridge. The troll is crushing a Volkswagen Beetle in his hand, making for a unique photo opportunity.
Steptoe Butte State Park
Steptoe Butte State Park in eastern Washington is a geological marvel. The park’s namesake is a 3,612-foot-tall quartzite island that rises dramatically above the rolling hills of the Palouse region. At 400 million years old, it’s made of some of the oldest rock in the Pacific Northwest. A spiral road leads to an overlook at the top, offering panoramic views and interpretive exhibits detailing the park’s history and geological significance.
Lyla’s Café, Granite Falls
If you find yourself in Granite Falls, a small town near the North Cascades, don’t miss Lyla’s Café. Known for its unique coffee flights, you can sample mini cups of rotating monthly flavors for about $15. Each mini cup is a work of art, complete with whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, or even a maraschino cherry. The café also offers an all-day breakfast and unusual menu items like a grilled PB&J or an apple compote and bacon sandwich.
Chuckanut Drive, Bellingham
Chuckanut Drive is a 22-mile scenic route that starts in Burlington and ends in the charming town of Bellingham. The drive features a stunning coastline, rugged beaches, and plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails. Highlights include Larrabee State Park, known for its views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands, and Taylor Shellfish Farms, where you can enjoy freshly shucked oysters right on the oceanfront.
Salmon Cascades in Olympic National Park
Salmon Cascades offers a unique natural spectacle in Olympic National Park. Here, you can witness salmon jumping up a series of waterfalls in the Sol Duc River as they return to their spawning grounds. The best times to visit are in September and October for Chinook and Coho salmon, and from late March to May for cutthroat and steelhead trout. A viewing platform provides a safe vantage point, but if conditions allow, you can also get closer views from the rocks.
The Tree of Life, Olympic National Park
The Tree of Life is a Sitka spruce tree located on Kalaloch Beach along the coastline of Olympic National Park. Over the years, erosion has caused the ground beneath the tree to wash away, leaving it seemingly suspended in the air by its roots. Despite this, the tree remains alive and well, making it a symbol of resilience and a must-see natural wonder.
Ape Cave, Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Ape Cave is a unique geological feature located in southern Washington, near Mount St. Helens. It’s a lava tube that stretches over 2 miles and offers two sections for exploration: one easy and one difficult. The lower cave is beginner-friendly, while the upper cave requires some climbing over rock walls. Regardless of the path you choose, you’ll need a headlamp or lantern as it’s pitch black inside the cave.
Palouse Falls State Park
Palouse Falls State Park is another hidden gem in eastern Washington. The park is home to Palouse Falls, one of the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age floods path. The falls plunge 198 feet into a churning bowl-shaped pool below, offering a dramatic natural spectacle. The park has several viewpoints and trails that provide different perspectives of the falls.
Whether you’re a local looking to explore your home state of Washington, or a visitor keen to go off the beaten path, these nine spots provide a rich tapestry of experiences that capture the essence of Washington’s diverse landscapes and cultures. So why wait? Start planning your 2023 adventure now and discover the hidden gems that make Washington truly special.