Seattle is enclosed by a wild and picturesque natural world, squeezed between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Elliott Bay, the city’s main harbor, connects the city with Puget Sound and the Pacific beyond, making Seattle an oceanic port. To the west of the sound, the snow-clad peaks of the Olympic Mountains can be seen striding across the Olympic peninsula. Closer by, a series of peninsulas, passes, islands and fjords contain several easily accessible yet gloriously wild state parks, a world of water, rock, and diverse woodland creatures that provides an invigorating contrast to the Seattle skyline which remains frequently visible on the eastern horizon.
Secluded at the end of the road on Marrowstone Island, Fort Flagler is an 1897 fort surrounded by a wind-whipped and wild state park, covering 784 acres on a high bluff overlooking Puget Sound. Fir tree forests roll down to sand and cobble beaches, stretching along a rugged saltwater shoreline which is ideal for crabbing, clamming and fishing. Biking and hiking trails run through the area, while at the fort itself there’s a military museum and several historic buildings – the Hospital Steward’s House, the Waterway House, and two Non-Commissioned Officers’ Quarters – which visitors can stay.
Deception Pass is a narrow, fast-flowing channel that runs between Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island at the north of Puget Sound. An iconic green bridge spans the pass, and surrounding it is a 4000 acre state park, encompassing swathes of old-growth forest, rocky headlands, three freshwater lakes, sand and pebble beaches and rugged cliffs. There are lots of hiking trails, and the park is also well-served by roads – cars can drive right up to the shoreline and drink in majestic views of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On beautiful Ben Ure Island, which can only be reached by boat, a small and well-equipped cabin can be hired by up to two people at a time.
Named for an outcrop of rock said to resemble Abraham Lincoln, this state park runs along the east side of Lake Entiat on the Columbia River. The park looks down on the giant Rocky Road Hydroelectric Dam, known for its sophisticated design which worked to minimize the impact on the river’s wildlife. The dam complex houses a visitor’s center about the Columbia River, with a submerged viewing platform where you can watch shoals of salmon stream by. A popular getaway camping spot with Seattle residents, the park also contains a number of prettily placed wooden cabins, and is an excellent spot for swimming, water skiing and strolling along the picturesque riverbank.
Only eight miles from downtown Seattle, Blake Island is a small and wild island in Puget Sound. Ringed by five miles of beaches, it has views onto the Olympic Mountains to the west and, in striking juxtaposition, over the skyscrapers of Seattle to the east. On the north of the island is Tillicum Village, which showcases the art, culture and food – such as freshly-caught salmon dinners – of northwest coast Native Americans. A broad variety of tree species, including Cedar, Yew, Maple, and Cherry, cloak much of the island. Land mammals include deer, raccoons, chipmunks and otters, and deer occasionally swim between the island and the town of Manchester, which makes for a particularly memorable sight. The island is only accessible by boat, with Argosy Cruises operating a ferry service from Seattle. Sea kayaking around the island is a popular activity, and there is the thrilling possibility of an orca or grey whale sighting during the spring months.
With beaches running down to the jagged shoreline of the Hood Canal, Scenic Beach State Park lives up to its name with majestic views over this wild fjord and onto the Olympic Mountains beyond. Back from the rocky shore, the park is famous for its springtime carpet of rhododendron flowers, waded through by elk, deer, chipmunks and foxes. The water of Hood Canal is good (if chilly) for scuba diving, while the park also hosts volleyball fields, horse riding trails and a campsite.