With 3 nationals parks, countless lakes, hiking trails, and several mountain ranges, Washington State has more to offer than most. Few places can you cross-country or downhill ski, then stop for a scuba dive in the ocean on the same day. As a photographer living in Seattle, Randy Bott’s fine art galleries show how amazing Washington State photography can be. From Mountains and the Milky Way Galaxy to the rolling hills of the Palouse, Washington State landscapes stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Idaho border.
It wasn't until my photography journey that I realized how amazing Washington can be. I began researching photography locations around the state and spend a lot of time in my car. But who doesn't like a good road trip a few times a year? It's a great way to get out of the city and explore the wonderful state I live in.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK/HOH RAINFOREST
Olympic National Park takes up most of the land and beaches on the west coast of the state. On June 29, 1938, Mount Olympus National Monument became Olympic National Park. At the time, there were 22 other national parks in the United States. In the heart of the park stands Mount Olympus at 7,956 feet above sea level. This mountain is only visible from Hurricane Ridge and other tall peaks. It’s hidden from the surrounding cities.
Inside the Olympic National Park is the famous Hoh Rainforest. This includes 24 miles of low elevation forest along the Hoh River. This temperate rainforest once spanned from southeast Alaska to northern California. Found on the west side of Olympic National Park, it’s one of the wettest places on earth. The main trail follows the Hoh river and whether you’re doing an easy day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip, the Hoh Rainforest has something for everyone.
Some of the best hikes in Olympic National Park are the Hot Rainforest with the Hall of Mosses, Hurricane Ridge, Quinault Rainforest, and Sol Due Falls. These hikes vary in length but all are great for the entire family. No roads enter the heart of Olympic National Park so hiking trails are the only way to see the real beauty of this park.
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
Rising to a height of 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the most popular location in Washington. The most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states, it spawns 5 rivers, alpine meadows full of wildflowers, and ancient forests. You know the weather is Seattle is nice when people say “the mountain is out”.
The most popular hiking at the park is around the Paradise and Sunrise visitor centers. Some of the trails at Paradise are paved and provide a great way for people of all ages and abilities to experience the park. Located a few miles from Paradise are Reflection Lakes. On calm mornings, the lakes offer a perfect reflection of the mountain. Mount Rainier provides so many opportunities, I may save that for a blog of its own. The campgrounds inside the park are reservable but offer many first come, first serve sites. However, show up early if you want a first come, first serve. They are usually full by 8:00 am each morning.
The southeast corner of Washington is The Palouse. The rolling fields of farmland make amazing photographs. During the late spring and early summer, the fields are green with wheat and create a perfect backdrop against a blue sky. Old barns and vehicles dot the landscape along with some lone trees. For photographers, most show up in late May and early June for the green fields. Sunrise and sunset photographs are usually done on Steptoe Butte. Steptoe is a 3000 foot high hill in the middle of the Palouse and the road circles around to the top. With clear skies, the gold light right before sunset or right after sunrise cast light and dark shadows across the rolling hills.
In the late summer during the harvest, the rolling fields are gold and brown, creating a new look to the area. I arrived in August for the first time in 2021 and I think it’s my favorite time of year. The gold light with the gold hills are amazing together. If you’re lucky, you can photograph the combines cutting the wheat. If you're traveling to the Palouse, the towns of Colfax and Pullman are the best places for hotels.
THE GRAND CANYON OF WASHINGTON STATE
The eastern side of the state has several canyons but the most famous is the Palouse River Canyon. Carved out between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago when the Missoula dam broke apart and flooded the Palouse region. The canyon walls grow to 1,000 feet in some places. The main attraction to the canyon is Palouse Falls. With a drop of 200 feet, it's one of the tallest in the state. The hike to the falls is only about 0.5 miles or you take a longer trail to the top of the falls. Palouse River Canyon is must stop when traveling to the eastern side of the state. Currently, the parks department is not allowing camping or overnight photography but that may change in the near future.
NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK
The North Cascades National Park is one of the best places on earth. There are over 400 miles of hiking trails, countless peaks, lakes, rivers, and visitor centers. Most of the park doesn’t have trails or roads, so the only way in is to use a map, compass, and bushwhacking. The major attractions are Diablo and Ross Lakes. A ferry runs along the shore of Ross lake to drop hikers at trailheads. There are 19 boat-in campsites along Ross Lake and a backcountry permit is required for each site, so plan ahead. North Cascades National Park is home to the rugged north and south Picket Mountains. A subrange in the northern area of the park can be seen from the top of Trappers Peak which is a great day hike. What’s great about the Picket range is trails don’t exist. If you want to go there, put in the work. This is great for a lot of climbers since few will put in the work. Maybe the names of the peaks scare people away. Names like Phantom Peak, Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, and Ghost Peak to name a few. A great way to see the park is by driving the North Cascades Highway in the summer. It’s closed in the winter and opens sometime in June during most years. The highway goes past Diablo and Ross Lakes with several viewpoints. This is one park that should not be missed if you’re in the Pacific Northwest.
MOUNT SAINT HELENS
May 18, 1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted and became the deadliest and most economically destructive event in American history. Since then, the area has made an incredible comeback. You can see the destructive power from the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The observatory was named after David Johnston who was camped on the ridge when the volcano erupted. Unfortunately, David was never found. The many trails on the ridge are full of wildflowers in late spring and summer with an amazing view of the mountain (or what's left of it). On the east side of the mountain is the Cascade Peaks Interpretive Center with more hikes and wildflowers. This side of the mountain looks over Spirit Lake from the Windy Ridge Viewpoint which is famous for all the debris after the eruption. Mount Saint Helens is a must stop for anyone driving through the Pacific Northwest. For those adventurous types, you can hike the 32 mile Loowit Trail that goes around the mountain. Bring lots of water and something to shade you from the sun. There is very little water and trees so be prepared.
On the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge are several waterfalls worth mentioning. Lewis River Falls is one of the best since in the summer the large, flat rocks just under the surface are great areas to sit on and stay cool. There is a trail that goes from the lower falls to the middle, then the upper falls. One of the best waterfalls for photography is Spirit Falls. Located near the Columbia River and White Salmon, the water is blue in the spring which goes great with the green foliage. It's a bit difficult to get to so be careful on the walk down. Another one many people like is Falls Creek Falls. I struggle trying to photograph this one. While it's great to see, I have never seen an image I really liked from this location. A great website for finding waterfalls is waterfallsnorthwest.com
SKAGIT VALLEY TULIPS
Every year about an hour north of Seattle is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. This festival usually runs from April 1-30. The fields of the valley are lined with tulips as far as the eye can see. Many of the tulip fields are right next to the road but the best ones are in the gardens of Roozengaarde Tulip Farm and Tulip Town. These gardens charge an entrance fee but if you have never been to the tulip festival, it's worth paying the price. In years past, the gardens were requiring reservations so check that before you make the drive only to find out the gardens are booked for the day. The small towns of mount Vernon and La Conner have great places to eat so spend the day in the Skagit Valley and enjoy everything it offers.
Washington state has countless areas to create amazing photographs. Too many locations for a single post. With 3 national parks, The Palouse, Cascade mountains, and many other areas, it’s hard to photograph them all. It wasn’t until I got into photography that I learned about many of the locations. If you ever get the chance to visit the Pacific Northwest, take several days and explore this amazing state. It will not disappoint.