Here at the bottom of the Puget Sound, surrounded by the beauty of Washington State, we have access to some of the most iconic wilderness regions in the United States, all just a short drive from our homes. While many will visit the protected lands of the Pacific Northwest once or twice and call it a year, we now have ten opportunities to visit our national parks free of charge. Starting in January 2017, ten fee-free national park days will be available to you and your family, giving you the perfect excuse to load up the car and rediscover the beauty of Washington State.
Living close to both Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks, we have two of the most scenic areas in the world close to our homes. This isn’t hyperbole; it is a fact. Olympic National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in the country and has been for decades. Year round, both Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks inspire wilderness adventures and fuel our wanderlust. Thanks to Olympic National Park, we can connect with pristine wilderness with ease, exploring glaciers, rainforests, lakes, rivers, and the wild Pacific coastline. In Mount Rainier National Park we get to experience a different world of adventure, leading us to lakes, waterfalls, and sweeping vistas of a mesmerizing, active volcano. While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of possible adventures for you and your family in both local national parks, we recommend the following schedule to maximize the free entry dates.
The ten entrance free days for 2017 will be:
- January 16, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- February 20, Presidents’ Day
- April 15-16 and April 22-23, National Park Week
- August 25, National Park Service birthday
- September 30, National Public Lands Day
- November 11-12, Veterans’ Day weekend
To continue your national park adventure beyond these ten fee-free days, pick up an annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass. This pass, which is a one-time fee for the entire year, allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks. This is one of the best things you can buy if you love our public lands. Another awesome part of our national parks involves the free or discounted passes available for seniors, current military members, fourth grade students, and disabled citizens. Passes can be purchased at Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks, National Forest offices, and REI in Olympia.
Finally, once you have purchased your pass and planned your trip, make sure you pick up a guidebook to Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula or Mount Rainier National Park to ensure you have the greatest adventure possible. Whether you choose to hike an old favorite or discover somewhere new to create lifelong memories, the ten free days in Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks this year are sure to reconnect you with the majesty and beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
1. Fee Free Day: January 16
In January no experience will be better for you and your family than heading up into Mount Rainier National Park and seeing the snow-filled winter wonderland found at Paradise. Just a few short hours from downtown Olympia, you will find yourself on the slopes of this majestic mountain, able to experience stunning snowshoe and cross country ski adventures, as well as the incredible sledding area located above the Paradise Lodge. As the volcano looms to the north and the Tatoosh Range expands to the south, an endless array of panoramic views awaits you on the snowy slopes of Mount Rainier.
2. Fee Free Day: February 20
In February you need to make the drive north and experience the beauty of Hurricane Ridge. As the trees become weighed down with snow and transform into images from a Dr. Seuss book, the already intoxicatingly beautiful region becomes virtually perfect. On sunny days the Olympic Mountains shimmer and shine, showing off their glaciers and powdery peaks. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers have over 20 miles of trails to explore, each offering views more breathtaking every mile. Those who would rather just sit back and enjoy the sweeping vistas from the comforts of a warm building are in luck, as the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center lets you enjoy the panorama without being in the elements. Those with kids can also enjoy the small sledding area near the visitor center.
3. Fee Free Day: April 15-16 and 22-23
In April you must head out to the coast of Olympic National Park and explore the beauty of Kalaloch or LaPush. While the weather may not be warm, the coast will be empty, transforming into a personal, coastal playground. Look for ocean life in the tide pools, explore the sea stacks, check out the Kalaloch Root Tree and catch a gorgeous sunset. Typically during April 20,000 gray whales migrate past the region and they can be easily seen from the numerous lookout points along Kalaloch Beach. This is an amazing experience for everyone and might just become a family tradition.
4. Fee Free Day: August 25
Photo credit: Douglas Scott
In August a trip to Olympic National Park’s Staircase region will help you cool off in the summer sun, while providing an incredible hiking experience for the entire family. Offering mountains to climb, alpine lakes to backpack to or even just a short family-friendly loop around the North Fork of the Skokomish River, Staircase is your go-to destination close to Olympia. Families will enjoy the Staircase Loop Trail, while those hoping for something incredible should check out Cub Peak or hike up to Flapjack or Black and White Lakes. The region is full of adventure, wilderness and endless opportunities to reconnect with nature, all within 90 minutes of downtown Olympia.
5. Fee Free Day: September 30
In September there is no greater place to experience the high alpine fall colors than around Mowich Lake. While the lake itself is a pretty destination, the true beauty is found along the Spray Park Trail. This often-overlooked region of Mount Rainier is perfect for day hikes and the start of some serious backpacking into the wilderness of Mount Rainier. At six miles round trip and with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet, this climb will challenge inexperienced hikers. Despite the distance, this trail is accessible for most and rewards you with jaw-dropping views of the mountain from an angle we rarely see in the South Sound.
6. Fee Free Day: November 11-12
In November we come full circle, enjoying the dwindling daylight hours and watching the final weeks of 2017 fade away. This is when we recommend you return to a new, favorite destination and find a different trail. For many this is an ideal time to return to the coast and hike to Second Beach or Rialto Beach at LaPush and take in one last sunset along the wilderness coast. Long gone are the summer crowds, letting you enjoy the eagles, breaking waves and miles of coast by yourself.