Three Washington National Parks in 3 Days

3 washington national parks

Mount Rainier National Park

mount rainier national park

  • Mount Rainier is the tallest in the Cascade Mountain Range at 14,410 feet and the mountain with the most glaciers in the United States. The American Indian tribes that once inhabited the lands (Cowlitz, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, and Yakama) referred to this active volcano as Tahoma, meaning Mother of Waters. 
  • With active stem vents, periodic tremors, and previous eruptions, the mountain is closely monitored hoping to provide days’ notice before the next eruption.
  • The park is divided into 5 areas, Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise/White River, and Carbon River/Mowich Lake. A 93 mile hiking trail, Wonderland Trail, circles the base of the mountain.

Southwest: Longmire

christine falls mount rainier

  • Longmire is one of the few areas in Mount Rainier National Park open all year. 100 foot tall Christine Falls can be seen along the road behind an arched stone bridge.

narada falls mount rainier

  • A steep .2 mile hike leads to this view of Narada Falls. A rainbow can often be seen in the spray.

South: Paradise

river above myrtle falls

myrtle falls mount rainier

  • Learn about and identify local wildflowers while admiring stunning views of Mount Rainier along the 1 mile trail to 60 foot tall Myrtle Falls.

reflection lakes mount rainier

  • There are many trails surrounding Reflection Lakes (pictured above) and Louise Lake (pictured below) between Paradise and Stevens Canyon.

louise lake mount rainier

Southeast: Stevens Canyon/Ohanapecosh

stevens canyon mount rainier

  • Look for waterfalls hidden among the old growth forest on the scenic drive through Stevens Canyon. Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old. 

Traveling Gingerbread Note: A single road passes through the South and East areas of Mount Rainier National Park. Trails, overlooks, and scenic viewpoints are clearly marked. The road is in good condition and there plenty of places to pull over along the road to take in the beautiful scenery. Sunrise Visitor Center in the Sunrise/White River area is the highest point accessible by road in the park at 6,400 feet. Unfortunately, during our visit this portion of the park was closed due to wildfires. 

Olympic National Park

mount olypmus washington

  • Olympic National Park is a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site protecting the largest old growth forest in the Northwest United States. No roads go through Olympic National Park, but US 101 circles the park through Olympic National Forest. The Olympic Peninsula is home to 8 American Indian tribes. 


mount olypmus

hurricane ridge olympia national park

  • Hurricane Ridge is named for winds reaching 75 mph in the area. On a clear day, Port Angeles and the Strait of Juan de Fuca can be seen from the 1 mile Cirque Rim Trail. Hurricane Ridge was our first stop in the park. Visiting early in the morning, the fog was heavy preventing a clear view of Mount Olympus but there were very few visitors.

Madison Falls in olympic national park

  • A .2 mile round trip trail leads to the base of 60 foot Madison Falls in Elwha.

Lowland Forests

lake crescent

  • Lake Crescent was formed by large ice sheets and is 624 feet deep in some areas. A 1.5 mile round trip trail leads to 90 feet tall Maymere Falls.


The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary protects more than 3,310 square miles and is home to the most diverse population of marine mammals in North America.

beach # 2

  • Beach #2 is reach by a .7 mile trail from La Push Road in the Mora-La Push area on Quileute Indian Reservation. After a hike though the forest, the trail emerges onto a beach sprinkled with crab shells. 

ruby beach trail

shores of ruby beach

  • The Kalaloch area is part of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary extending 20-50 miles into the Pacific Ocean. Ruby Beach is one of 7 beaches in the area. The tide was unpredictable as it crashed into the rocks. We almost lost a flip flop as a wave unexpectedly surged onto the rocky shore.

Temperate Rainforests

July Creek Picnic Area

  • A scenic loop drive takes visitors around Quinault Lake and through Quinault Rain Forest. The diameter of these large trees is almost as tall as Stephanie (5 feet)! Be on the lookout for black bears, we saw one crossing the road on our way to July Creek Picnic Area on the North side of the lake.

Traveling Gingerbread Note: Olympic National Park didn’t offer the experience of being totally surrounded by nature that we expected. Since roads don’t go through the park, we spent most of our time on US 101 passing through small towns and residential areas in the bordering Olympic National Forest. A few roads branch off US 101 extending into the park on the North and Southwest areas, but overall we actually spent very little time in Olympic National Forest. Long hikes are required to truly experience Olympic National Park.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

mount st helens view

  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It has been 20 years since Mount St. Helens’ last eruption in May 1980. Route 504 with access the West side of Mount St. Helens provides views of the blast zone, Toutle River Valley, and the crater.

West: Coldwater Lake

gifford pinchot national forest

coldwater lake mount st. helens

  • Coldwater Lake was formed by the 1980 eruption.

West: Loowit Viewpoint and Johnston Ridge Observatory 

loowit viewpoint

  • Drive or Hike a .75 mile trail along the ridge from Loowit Viewpoint to Johnston Ridge Observatory for great views of the 8,328 feet high volcano. Visiting the observatory at 4,314 feet in a high wind advisory made our visit to Mount St. Helens…intense. After attempting the hike to Johnston Ridge Observatory we turned back to Loowit Viewpoint in fear of being blown off the ridge. We recommend hiking rather than driving, weather permitting. 

South East: Lahar Viewpoint

lahare viewpoint mt st helens

  • Lahar Viewpoint offers the only clear view of the mountain from the South East.

Traveling Gingerbread Note: Visiting Johnston Ridge Observatory in the morning the fog was thick blocking most of the mountain. If planning to visit both sides of Mount St. Helens, begin at the East to possibly encounter less fog in the afternoon at the observatory. There is no quick route from Johnston Ridge Observatory (West) to Lava Canyon (South East). We had to retrace our route through Gifford Pinchot National Park to Interstate 5 and Highway 503.

South: Lava Canyon

canyon lava trail mount st helens

mitch in the lava canyon trail

  • A 1 mile round trip trail in Lava Canyon crosses a suspension bridge, continues through lava fields, and passes near waterfalls.

Mount Rainier National Park Map:

mount rainier trail map

Olympic National Park Map:

olympic national park trail map

September 2020

Author: The Traveling Gingerbread

The Traveling Gingerbread is a place for us to share budget travel tips for people with full time jobs, fun facts, itineraries, and where to find the best craft beer. We have been traveling together since 2013. Living and working full-time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we travel as much as our vacation days and finances allow. We cram each adventure with activities, tours, experiences, and local breweries. We can't walk by an Irish pub without stopping in for a pint of Guinness. In 2019, we brewed our first beer and were hooked, although, we have no intentions of brewing more than small batches. We'll continue our self appointed roles of professional testers and creating craft beer trails.

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