OLYMPIA, Wash. — Despite well-documented budget woes in the Washington park system, Oregon’s neighbor to the north still has one of the best lineups of state parks in the country.
From Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River to Gardner Cave near the Idaho border, Washington will celebrate the centennial of its parks this year.
The Legislature created the system on March 19, 1913, although the first parks weren’t acquired until two years later. (Oregon’s system dates to a 1921 system of highway waysides.)
Special events are planned throughout the year to observe Washington’s 2013 centennial.
Following is a short list of the best of Washington’s 117-plus state parks (named parks have camping, except where noted):
Cape Disappointment, the jewel near Ilwaco where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, has a dynamic landscape at the south end of the Long Beach Peninsula, two lighthouses and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, a Maya Lin-designed Confluence Project.
Leadbetter Point (no camping) near Oysterville crowns the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula, which stretches 29 miles north of Cape Disappointment and whose shore is managed by the state as a seashore conservation area.
Grayland Beach near Westport has the most oceanfront campsites at any Oregon or Washington park. If you don’t want to chance a night in a tent in the coastal breeze, book a yurt.
Station Camp (no camping) near Ilwaco is part of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks. It opened new interpretive trails and Columbia River viewing platforms last August.
Washington’s Columbia River Gorge faces south, so it has more spring sun than Oregon’s side.
Maryhill and Doug’s Beach (no camping) near Dallesport cater to wind- and kite surfers, though Maryhill’s campground appeals to all.
Columbia Hills, also at Dallesport, has some of the best spring wildflowers in the Northwest, plus ranger-guided tours to the famous petroglyph, She Who Watches.
Beacon Rock near North Bonneville, Battle Ground Lake near Battle Ground and Paradise Point near La Center all offer convenient camping getaways from Portland.
With so much federal land on the Olympic Peninsula, it leaves little room (or need) for state parks, but you can still camp at Sequim Bay near Sequim and on Hood Canal at Dosewallips near Brinnon and Potlatch near Hoodsport. The water at Belfair, near Belfair in the southern arm of Hood Canal, is the warmest saltwater swimming in the state.
Port Townsend has a pair of parks flanking its harbor, Fort Worden and Fort Flagler. Formerly part of the coastal defense network, both have group overnight learning centers. The state calls these environmental learning centers. They are available in 15 Washington parks, while Oregon has something similar only at Silver Falls.
The San Juan Islands have one of the state’s most popular auto campgrounds, Moran on Orcas Island, but the islands shine brightest with their many marine parks that include Stuart Island, Sucia Island and Jones Island (the three biggest). Lime Kiln Point (no camping) on San Juan Island has a state park lighthouse.
Greater Puget Sound
Deception Pass near Anacortes is the busiest park in the state, with its large campground and Whidbey Island water access. The highway bridge over the watery pass is still one of the state’s engineering marvels.
Another distinctive architectural feature is the Peace Arch (no camping), the white monument at the Canadian border near Blaine. Nearby is much-loved Birch Bay. Just south of Bellingham, Larrabee became the first large park in the state system in 1915.
Fort Ebey near Oak Harbor is the anchor of a half-dozen parks on the scenic shores of Whidbey Island.
During spring runoff, rainbow-draped Palouse Falls near Washtucna puts on one of the most impressive natural displays in the Northwest. The 198-foot plunge is stunning indeed and so is its canyon, which is way too big for today’s waterfall but is a legacy from the ice age floods.
Ginkgo (no camping) at Vantage is named for petrified trees that have disappeared as natives in North America.
Iron Horse near Cle Elum is an old railroad line, now converted to a 110-mile trail, including a 2 1/3-mile tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass. This corridor offers cross-country skiing in winter at Lake Easton. Washington’s park system also has several other long-distance rail-trail conversions.
Steptoe Butte (no camping) near Colfax gives an elevated view of the Palouse hills
Washington’s sprawling corner, bounded by Idaho and British Columbia, is a long way for visitors from Oregon, but it does have some gems.
Foremost are the parks of the Grand Coulee, the dry channel carved out by the ice age floods. Water diverted from Lake Roosevelt keeps Steamboat Rock and Sun Lakes watery desert oases for campers and boaters. Dry Falls (no camping) has a view of what once was the biggest waterfall on earth. Bring your imagination. These parks are near Coulee City.
Mount Spokane is a state park like none in Oregon. Not only is the park near Spokane big (nearly 14,000 acres, 5,000 acres larger than Oregon’s biggest state park), but it also has the full gamut of winter recreation, from downhill and cross-country skiing to snowmobiling.
And how could we forget Lake Chelan, the 55-mile long fiord-like lake with two with state parks (Lake Chelan and Twenty-Five Mile Creek) up the lake from Chelan.