Washington State Parks Hosts Free Days – Your Next Adventure Is Closer Than You Think

grayland beach
Flying kites at Grayland Beach. Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks.


By Margo Greenman

oly orthoFew things are as invigorating as hiking through a wooded trail, summiting a snowy peak, or camping beneath a twinkling sky. While many consider these types of adventures as vacations, people living in Washington state can access these escapes daily. Surrounded by the great outdoors, Washingtonians are spoiled when it comes to getting their nature on.

Of course, keeping our parks pristine and protected costs money, and for those without a Discover Pass, our state parks are not as easily accessible. Enter: Free Park Days. Throughout spring, summer and even into fall, Washington State Parks is hosting several Free Park Days to introduce curious locals to the vast natural wonders that surround them.

washington state parks
Visitor looks through telescope at Goldendale Observatory. Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks.

Grab your hiking boots and picnic baskets, because you won’t want to miss the wonder and awe nestled in Washington’s backyard.

With more than 100 state parks throughout the state, finding a destination to hike, bike, camp, fish, picnic, bird watch, bask, discover, explore and more is closer than you think. Brimming with natural resources, wildlife, mountain peaks, sparkling streams and other abundances, Washington is revered for its commitment to protecting the natural flora and fauna that make the Pacific Northwest the outdoor oasis that it is.

If you’re looking to experience more than just the ground you walk upon, Goldendale Observatory State Park is a 5-acre, certified Dark Sky Park in Goldendale, Wash., featuring one of the largest public telescopes in the country. Visitors can peer out upon the countryside from the observatory’s 2,100-foot elevation by day, and gaze up at the mysterious galaxy that surrounds us by night. This Washington State Park has attracted tens of thousands of visitors since its dedication in 1973, and is an excellent Free Park Days destination.

Have you ever visited Washington state’s official waterfall, Palouse Falls? If you haven’t, you can during Free Park Days. This natural landmark boasts views of the Ice Age floods that carved the canyon and the rushing waters that flow from this 198-foot archaic drop. Located in LaCrosse, Wash., Palouse Falls State Park is best enjoyed in the spring and early summer when the fall experience a high volume of water flow.

Cape Disappointment
Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks.

But, Washington’s parks are more than just the setting for outdoor recreation. Many of Washington’s State Parks offer visual experiences full of history, culture, awe and more. For instance, Ginko Petrified Forest, located in Vantage, Wash., is a literal preservation of Washington’s past. The 7,470-acre park is “regarded as one of the most unusual fossil forests in the world,” and is registered as a national natural landmark. The park offers year-round camping, three miles of hiking trails, a museum and more.

For an educational experience with a truly Washington-esque edge, park-goers can make the trek to Cape Disappointment State Park and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Ilwaco, Wash. 1,182-acres of forested campgrounds met by a 2-mile stretch of sandy, Pacific Ocean beaches, two lighthouses, hiking trails and more, make this park an outdoor adventure marked by the historical journey of Lewis and Clark. The park is free on Free Park Days, but for a small cost, visitors can learn the story of Lewis and Clark’s journey from St. Louis to the West Coast at the Interpretive Center ($5 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 7-17, and free for children 6 and under), before heading out on an exploratory adventure of their own.

grayland beach
Flying kites at Grayland Beach. Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks.

For a day at the beach, Grayland Beach State Park is a favorite for bird watching, kite flying and year-round marine camping. Put on your waders for a day of clamming, crabbing and fishing, or enjoy some light exercise while taking advantage of the park’s five, short trails – all of which lead from the campground to the beach.

Of course, these are just a few of the dozens of scenic parks available to explore during Free Park Days. To find parks closer to your home, you can visit the Washington State Park’s website and search for parks by region. The website provides detailed information regarding each park to help educate new visitors.

Free Park Days for 2014 are Saturday, Apr. 19, Tuesday, Apr. 22 (Earth Day), Sunday, May 11, the weekend of June 7-8 (National Trails Day), Saturday, June 14 (National Get Outdoors Day), Monday, Aug. 25 (National Park Service’s birthday), Saturday, Sept. 27 (National Public Lands Day), and Tuesday, Nov. 11 (Veteran’s Day weekend).

Grayland Beach birds
Shorebirds at Grayland Beach. Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks.

If you find yourself hooked on the state’s breathtaking parks after attending a few free days, a Discover Pass can be purchased for $30 in person at nearly 600 retail locations across the state and at State Parks headquarters and region offices, online through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recreational licensing system, and by phone by calling 866-320-9933. For more information regarding Discover Passes and Washington State Park Free Days, click here.


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