Time is the only limitation you have when you visit Washington's National Parks, so here are a few suggestions on how to make good use that valuable resource. From 24 hours to 10 days, check out these suggested itineraries.
Some choices have to be made if you only have one day, as it's impossible to visit all three parks in that short of a time frame. So, pick a park and enjoy these highlights.
Olympic National Park
Start the day at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles, and don't miss the .4-mile Living Forest Trail out back. Next, head over to the east trailhead of the Spruce Railroad Trail, off of East Beach on the north shore of Lake Crescent. After a nice walk through the forest, stop at Sunnyside Café at the Log Cabin Resort for a bite to eat. After lunch, explore the west section of Spruce Railroad Trail, along Camp David Jr. Road, just west of the Fairholme General Store. When it's time for a break, check-in to Lake Crescent Lodge, which has two wheelchair-accessible rooms, and a number of other choices for slow walkers. After you've settled in, take a short stroll along the Moments in Time Trail, located near the lodge. Finally, sit back and relax on the lodge's glassed-in porch, and watch the sun slip slowly behind the mountains.
Mount Rainier National Park
For a good primer on the history of the park, stop in at the Longmire Museum, located across the parking lot from the National Park Inn. And for a blast from the past, don't miss the vintage 1937 tour bus outside, which once transported visitors throughout the park. Next, head across the street and take a hike along the east side of the Trail of Shadows, which offers interpretive plaques about the eruption of Mount Rainier, and has benches to sit and rest along the way. When it's time for lunch head over to Kautz Creek Picnic Area, a mile west of Longmire. Afterwards, save time to explore the Kautz Creek Trail, across the street. And when the day is done, check-in to the accessible room at National Park Inn, and enjoy a spectacular view of Mount Rainier from the back porch.
North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, makes a good first-stop on any North Cascades visit. Not only does it offer interpretive exhibits on the park, but the wheelchair-accessible .05-mile Sterling Munro Boardwalk is located to the left of the back patio. For a more in-depth hike in the forest, head over to Loop B in the Newhalem Creek Campground and pick up the 1.4-mile River Loop Trail. After that, follow the signs to the To Know a Tree Trail, a half-mile hard-packed dirt trail covered in stabilized granite. The Newhalem Creek Picnic Area, which is located across from Loop C of the campground makes a perfect lunch stop. Afterwards, follow the Linking Trail to the Rock Shelter Trail, and then on to the Newhalem Powerhouse. From there you can pick up the Trail of Cedars, a .3-mile stroll through the evolving forest. Finally, settle down for the night in the accessible room at the Buffalo Run Inn in Newhalem.
You still need to make some choices if you only have three days, but you'll be able to enjoy an in-depth visit to your favorite park.
Olympic National Park
Follow the one-day Olympic itinerary, then head down to Sol Duc for a soak in the accessible hot springs pools. Spend the night in an accessible cabin at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. On day three head over to the Hoh Rain Forest and enjoy the Mini Rainforest Trail and the Hall of Mosses Trail, then have lunch at the nearby picnic area. Return to Sol Duc for an overnight stay.
Mount Rainier National Park
Follow the one-day Mount Rainier itinerary, then head over to Paradise on day two. Check out the Jackson Visitor Center, then take the Skyline Trail to Lower Myrtle Falls. Catch a ranger program in the lobby of the Paradise Inn, then enjoy dinner and overnight in an accessible room at the same property. On day three, take the scenic drive to Sunrise, then return to the Paradise Inn for the evening.
On day one follow the one-day North Cascades itinerary. On day two, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the sites along State Route 20, then return to Newhalem for an overnight stay. On day three, explore the Okanogan National Forest, with stops at the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail and Washington Pass Overlook. Plan for a late lunch in nearby Winthrop, then return to Newhalem for an overnight stay.
If you have a whole week, do the three-day Olympic itinerary, followed by the three-day Mount Rainier itinerary, and then tack on the one-day North Cascades itinerary at the end.
Start with a one-day visit to the Lake Quinault area of Olympic National Park, to explore the Maple Glade and Kestner Homestead trails. Pack along a picnic lunch to enjoy at the Kestner Homestead picnic pavilion. Spend the night at Lake Quinault Lodge, which offers several wheelchair-accessible rooms.
On day two, head west to Kalaloch and visit Beach Four and Ruby Beach, and then check-in to an accessible cabin at Kalaloch Lodge. Explore the oceanside property, then enjoy the sunset from the gazebo near cabin 43.
On day three, begin the three-day Olympic itinerary, followed by the three-day Mount Rainier itinerary, and the one-day North Cascades itinerary.
Finish things off on day 10 with a scenic drive along state route 20 in North Cascades National Park, with stops at Gorge Creek Falls, the Happy Creek Forest Walk and Ross Lake Overlook along the way. Pick up a sandwich at the Skagit General Store in the morning, and have a picnic lunch at Diablo Lake Overlook in the afternoon. If time permits, head into the national forest for a sunset view from Washington Pass Overlook. Spend the night in Newhalem.