Scenic Views Await at These 15 Lesser-Known Destinations
From desert gorges to crashing Pacific waves and snow-clad peaks, don’t forget to pull over and check out the scenery.
In Washington state, jaw-dropping roadside viewpoints abound from the Inland Empire around Spokane to the Pacific Coast, and all the peaks in between. Perch yourself high upon a misty mountaintop. Look down from a historic lighthouse at waves crashing to shore. Feel the ocean breeze with nothing but blue water stretching to the horizon. There are scenic views to be had seemingly around every bend. We have shared some of our favorites here. These often-overlooked sites provide a glimpse of the varied scenic sights in the Evergreen State.
Twenty-Five Mile Creek State Park
On Lake Chelan, Twenty-Five Mile Creek State Park is an overlooked, yet truly stunning viewpoint. A 30-minute drive from Chelan on South Lakeshore Road, the North Cascade mountains rise above the gorgeous waters of the lake, showing off the first snows of the fall and the ruggedness of the mountains.
Nisqually John Landing
Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Washington near the twin towns of Lewiston and Clarkston on the Washington-Idaho border, you’ll find Nisqually John Landing, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wildlife Management Unit in the Snake River Canyon. The viewpoint reveals one of the Pacific Northwest’s most important waterways, as well the rolling hills and rocky cliffs winding with the snaking channel.
Best known for skiing and hiking, Mount Spokane makes for a glorious drive from mid-June through mid-October, offering panoramic views of wildflowers, meadows and mountains in several spots along the nearly 13-mile route. After the scenic drive, take in the views from Vista House, a granite and timber structure originally built in 1933 perched atop the mountain.
Maryhill’s Stonehenge Memorial
When driving along the Columbia River across from Oregon, the sweeping scenes found at Maryhill’s Stonehenge Memorial will leave you in awe. The Stonehenge replica, built as a memorial for lives lost in WWI on the cliff overlooking the Columbia River, perfectly frames the waterway, Mount Hood and the surrounding landscape. Nearby Maryhill State Park, an 89-acre camping park with 4,700 feet of waterfront, brings you to the riverbank where you can dip your toes in cool water surrounded by golden hills.
Located about 40 miles east of Ellensburg, Frenchman Coulee is a geologic wonderland with rock cliffs and a landscape molded by ice age floods. It can be a bit tricky to find. Take Interstate 90 to exit 143. At the bottom of the ramp, go left under the freeway for less than a mile, and then turn left again on Vantage Road SW (you will need a Discover Pass beyond this point) where you’ll run into a parking lot nearly 3 miles down the road. This is a good place for a hike. A short trail leads to cliffs of columnar basalt and a seasonal waterfall.
Mount Walker Viewpoints
If you have driven up U.S. Highway 101 along Hood Canal to Sequim, you’ve probably noticed the signs for Mount Walker. The summit is reached by a seasonally open, unpaved, 4-mile road. Two viewpoints offer sweeping vistas of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. From the north viewpoint, you’ll see Hood Canal Bridge, Mount Baker and the Cascades. The south viewpoint looks toward Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. You can even spy the Seattle and Tacoma skylines. At sunset, the view of Mount Rainier is incredibly memorable.
Right off U.S. Highway 101, the views at Ruby Beach perfectly represent the wild Washington coast. All of the Kalaloch Beach area is gorgeous, but the views at Ruby Beach are the most stunning, showing off sea stacks, craggy islands and the mighty waves of the Pacific. A gem at sunset, it is worth visiting again and again.
Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge may get the most attention, but those seeking a wilder and more scenic route in the mountains need to head to Deer Park. The seasonally open road starts between Sequim and Port Angeles, winding upwards for 18 miles to a final elevation of more than a mile above sea level with incredible views of the mountains and wildflowers. At night, this is a world-class spot for star gazing. Be aware that 9 miles are gravel and not suitable for RVs, trailers or those wary of a bouncy and narrow road.
North Head Lighthouse
Overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, the historic North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment State Park is one of those must-see spots in Washington. On stormy days, boiling waves crash to the shore against the moody backdrop of black-and-gray clouds. On sunny days, the placid blue sea stretches for miles to the horizon, and the entire sky glows orange at sunset. For a bonus, head down Jetty Road to Waikiki Beach to see waves crashing by the park’s other lighthouse.
Rising 1,273 feet above the sea lapping at the shores of Fidalgo Island, Mount Erie gives incredible views of Mount Baker and Mount Rainier on clear days. The waterways of the region shimmer around the green land rising out of them. When the curvy road is open, this local favorite spot should not be skipped, as the views are truly unique and spectacular.
Point No Point Lighthouse
Point No Point Lighthouse stands tall over the Puget Sound at the northeastern-most tip of the Kitsap Peninsula. This scenic spot is known for immaculate sunrises and sunsets and views of the Cascades in the distance. You might spot a whale or seal splashing about in the water. At this remote outpost, the views are stunning from the car or on a walk along a mile-long beach trail. Birders should head to Point No Point Park, populated with numerous species of shorebirds.
South Whidbey State Park
South Whidbey State Park is another surprise spot along the Puget Sound. While views of the Admiralty Inlet and the Olympic Mountains are great attractions at the beach, the park is best known for its old-growth forest, including a 500-year-old cedar on the east side of Smugglers Cove Road.
San Juan County Park
San Juan County Park may take time to reach, but once you are there, you’ll never want to leave. This small park is perfectly placed along the Haro Strait, a body of water separating San Juan Island from Vancouver Island. The park offers trails, picnic areas and sweeping views. Be sure to look toward Low Island for seals and shorebirds on the rocks. You might even spot an orca.
North Cascades Highway’s Washington Pass Overlook
Although Diablo Lake may get the most attention on the North Cascades Highway, the Washington Pass Overlook is just as stunning. In the fall, before the road closes, golden larches stand out against the white backdrop of snowcapped peaks. If you are visiting in the late spring or summer, don’t fret. The views are equally impressive through the year.
Stevens Canyon Road
Running for 19 miles, from Paradise to the southeast entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, Stevens Canyon Road is one of Washington’s most scenic roads. Open during the snow-free months, the mountain views along Stevens Canyon are incredible. With wildflowers, wildlife and water features, you can spend an entire day on this stretch of road, stopping at places like Reflection Lakes, Picture Frame Falls and Box Canyon.
Bonus: Often-Missed Mount Rainier Viewpoint
South of Mount Rainier, 16 miles east of Packwood along the White Pass Scenic Byway, is an overlook that many zoom right past. Known as Mount Rainier-Goat Rocks Observation Site on U.S. Highway 12, this viewpoint may be widely ignored, but it offers a classic view of Mount Rainier. The roadside pullout usually has plenty of parking spots. Little Tahoma Peak juts out to the right of the glaciated summit.
Happy travels on the road, and don’t forget to pack your binoculars. But before you head off, remember to check the road status and whether you’ll need a Discover Pass or permit to enter.
–Written by Douglas Scott, updated in September 2022
–Top image of Ruby Beach by Sean Pavone/Getty Images