Historic Sites In Washington. More Than Just Parks has 10 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the Top 10 Historic Sites In Washington that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as national parks.
Now if you’re planning a trip to the Evergreen State then one book that I highly recommend is: Washington Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit!
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Historic Sites In Washington
10. Arthur Foss Tugboat
We kick-off our list of the 10 best historic sites in Washington with the Arthur Foss Tugboat.
The Arthur Foss Tugboat is believed to be the oldest wooden-hulled tugboat still afloat.
It was originally built in 1889, by Willamette Iron and Steel Company of Portland, Oregon as the Wallowa for the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company of Portland, Oregon.
This is a ship with quite a story to tell. Ten years after the boat began operations, gold was struck near the Klondike River, close to the Yukon-Alaska border. The boat played a role in the Klondike Gold Rush.
In 1933, the tug was acquired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studio of Beverly Hills, California. Where she was renamed as the Narcissus.
And, it was featured in the 1934, MGM film “Tugboat Annie,” with Wallace Beery, and Marie Dressler.
Tugboat Annie was the box office sensation of 1933. The Arthur Foss was not only paid for, but also modernized to 1930s standards.
The steam engine was replaced with the current 700-hp diesel engine, and the deckhouse was rebuilt.
After its stint in films, the Arthur Foss worked up and down the West Coast. It was used in projects which included the Golden Gate Bridge.
Around May 1941, the Arthur Foss transited to Pearl Harbor towing a dry-dock gate for the U.S. Navy.
The boat started a regular run from Pearl Harbor to Wake Island, about 2,500 nautical miles from Honolulu.
It was there on December 8, 1941, the day after Japan attacked the United States.
During World War II, the Foss Company contracted with the military to build bases in the Pacific.
Spend A Night On A Historic Tugboat
Today visitors can experience a night aboard the 1889 tugboat Arthur Foss and learn about life as a “tow boater.”
Docked at South Lake Union, the tug has excellent views over the lake and the heart of Seattle. The Arthur Foss provides both accommodations and a slice of Puget Sound maritime history.
Participants receive an orientation and tour from engine room to wheelhouse from members of our knowledgeable crew.
The tugboat has largely the same amenities it did in the 1930s, including in-cabin sinks and flush toilets in the main heads, but has been improved with hot showers, fresh bed linens, and a few modern conveniences such as a microwave.
Plan on bringing meals or eating out, an extra blanket, and other overnight necessities. (Source: NW Seaport Maritime Heritage Center)
CHECK OUT: 15 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In California
Historic Sites In Washington
9. San Juan Island National Historical Park
Coming in at #9 on our list of the best historic sites in Washington is the San Juan Island National Historical Park.
San Juan Island is well known for its splendid vistas, saltwater shores, quiet woodlands, orca whales and one of the last remaining native prairies in the Puget Sound/Northern Straits region.
After the Oregon Treaty of 1846, both Americans and British pursued territorial claims in San Juan Island. Americans homesteading on San Juan Island, and the British Hudson’s Bay Company establishing a farm on the southern tip of the island.
The Pig War
In 1859, an American killed a stray British-owned pig, sparking the international dispute known as the Pig War.
The American homesteaders requested military protection, resulting in the establishment of the American camp, while the British sent Royal Navy ships.
Wiser heads prevailed, however, and an agreement was reached whereby both sides would maintain camps on the island until the dispute could be resolved through diplomacy.
Things To Do
You would be amazed at all of the wonderful things to do and see at the San Juan Island National Historical Park.
These activities include:
- Have A Picnic: Many visitors enjoy having picnics! Since there aren’t any restaurants in the park, it’s a good idea to bring food if you plan on staying a while. Groceries, snacks, and prepared food are available in the towns of Friday Harbor and at Roche Harbor near American Camp.
- Visit A Beach: South Beach is the largest public beach anywhere in the San Juan Islands. It tends to have choppy waves and rocky shorelines, so it isn’t the best for swimming. However, it is a favorite spot for beach fires (in the approved fire pits), recreation, and relaxing.
- See The Wildlife: San Juan Island National Historical Park provides habitat for many species of animals.
- Kayak: Sea kayaks are very popular for travel among the islands.
- Bike: Bicycling is one of the most rewarding ways to see San Juan Island! Companies offer bike tours of the island’s roads every year, with heavy traffic in the summertime. Cyclists of any experience level are welcome to enjoy our island’s roads.
- Hike: San Juan Island National Historical Park has hiking opportunities for visitors of all ages and abilities. There are nearly 20 miles of trails that originate in and traverse the park.
- Go Tide Pooling: While exploring the shoreline, you might see anemones, tide pool sculpin, mussels, shore crabs, barnacles, and a variety of seaweeds. Visitors often find sea glass too! The best time to see these marvels of nature is at low tide. (Source: NPS)
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Georgia
Historic Sites In Washington
8. Fort Worden Historical State Park
Coming in at #8 on our list of the best historic sites in Washington is Fort Worden Historical State Park.
Fort Worden Historical State Park is a 432-acre multi-use park with more than 2 miles of saltwater shoreline and a wide variety of services and facilities, including a full-service conference center that can be booked for daylong or multi-day events.
Want a comprehensive history lesson? Start at the Friends of Fort Worden Gift Shop, and grab a self-guided walking tour map. Stop into the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum, Commanding Officer’s House and Marine Science Center.
Enjoy a meal in the Guard House Pub, and peruse the photogenic 1914 Point Wilson Lighthouse.
Explore defunct coastal defense batteries, and imagine the compound teeming with enlisted men, officers and staff during World Wars I and II. (Source: Washington State Parks)
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Historic Sites In Washington
7. The Ape Caves, Gifford Pinchot National Forest
At lucky #7 are The Ape Caves, Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Ape Cave is the third longest lava tube (2.5 miles long) in North America and cave temperature is 42 degrees F/5.6 degrees C year-round. The cave was formed nearly 2000 years ago from lava streaming down the southern flank of Mount St. Helens.
It was discovered in 1950 by a logger and his friends who called themselves Mount St. Helens Apes.
Make sure to bring two sources of light per person (a cell phone light is not bright enough), sturdy shoes, warm clothing, even in warm weather. In summer, Ape Headquarters, a small information station, offers lantern rentals, information and sales items to ticket holders.
There’s a short, paved, accessible trail beneath towering trees leads to a stairwell into the cave. The ¾ mile, one-way lower cave route is relatively easy and family friendly.
For the more adventurous, the 1.5 mile upper cave route leads to a climb up an eight foot rock wall and scramble over rock piles, then an exit and a 1.5 mile above ground hike back to the parking lot. (Source: U.S. Forest Service)
America’s First Forester
The national forest in which you will find Apes Caves is aptly named after the man who was America’s First Forester.
Gifford Pinchot was America’s first forester. In a time when our nation’s forests were in danger of being decimated, Pinchot developed a plan to balance their use with their preservation.
His approach became known as “Utilitarian Conservation” whereby natural resources, such as lumber, were to be used in a sustainable manner. Central to this idea was the premise that, for those resources which were being depleted, provisions would have to be made to ensure their replacement.
Ideally, outputs would equal inputs which in turn would create a replaceable supply for generations to come.
Historic Sites In Washington
6. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
At #6 on our list of the best history sites in Washington is the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum.
Take a trip back in time and experience daily life in the 1850s at a regional trade and agriculture center.
Fort Nisqually was a British outpost was the first European settlement on Puget Sound.
Today, it’s a living history museum where volunteers and staff, in period clothing, engage visitors in the work, crafts, and social practices of the mid-19th century.
Located in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum features seven historically furnished buildings, including two National Historic Landmarks, as well as a Visitor Center with Museum Store.
A modern multi-purpose room is available for rent for groups of 60 or fewer. After hours, the Fort grounds may be rented for up to 350 people.
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The Top 5 Historic Sites In Washington
5. North Cascades National Park
We’re on to the Top 5 Historic Sites in Washington. At #5 we have North Cascades National Park.
Referred to by some as the “American Alps” with mountain beauty that rivals any range on the planet, North Cascades is the crown jewel of the mighty cascade range.
One of three Washington state national parks, North Cascades is the least visited, the most difficult to access all around, and perhaps the most rewarding for those who are willing to dare.
A backpackers paradise to be sure, but it’s just not very approachable for the average national park/outdoors enthusiast. For that reason we had to dock it on amenities as there really aren’t any.
That said, the park’s interior is absolutely stunningly beautiful as a simple Google image search will show you, and its lack of crowds and backcountry offerings are a major plus.
If you’re interested in getting off the beaten path and seeing some amazing scenery, here’s your chance.
North Cascades Highlights
Maple Pass Trail is a steep but beautiful trail in North Cascades National Park. This hike ascends up from the valley into the land of the peaks and is passable in summer & fall.
Diablo Lake is one of the most mesmerizing lakes in the Pacific Northwest known for it’s deep turquoise color in the Summer.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit North Cascades National Park is in the fall when crowds are minimal and the larches turn a vibrant yellow.
Fall hikes in the park are spectacular and you’ll practically have the run of the place!
Summer is also a good time with wildflowers and turquoise lakes.
CHECK OUT: Washington’s National Parks Ranked
Historic Sites In Washington
4. Space Needle
We’re on to the final four and at #4 we have Seattle’s Space Needle.
As a former history teacher, I think that a little history lesson is in order.
Built for the 1962 World’s Fair—the Century 21 Exposition whose theme was “The Age of Space” — the tower’s futuristic design was inspired by the idea that the fair needed a structure to symbolize humanity’s Space Age aspirations.
Since its grand opening on April 21, 1962, the landmark continues to symbolize the innovative and forward-thinking spirit of Seattle.
Located at Seattle Center, the Space Needle stands at 605’ tall and is one of the most photographed structures in the world.
Visitors to this architectural wonder will experience Seattle’s only 360-degree indoor and outdoor panoramic views of downtown, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, and the Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges.
Before you travel to Seattle, however, you might want to pick up a copy of 100 Things to Do in Seattle Before You Die, 2nd Edition by Jake Uitti. It’s full of great ideas for things to do, places to go and sights to see.
The Parallax View & The Space Needle
In the 1974 thriller, The Parallax View, the iconic Space Needle is featured in the opening scene.
Stuntman Chuck Waters plays an assassin cornered by a fictionalized Senator’s bodyguards on top of the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.
If you’re interested, the film, which stars Warren Beatty, is the story of a presidential candidate who is assassinated in the film’s opening scene. This event leads a political reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) begins to suspect that the mysterious Parallax Corporation may be involved.
As he investigates, others who share his suspicions start turning up dead, including his editor, Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn). Eventually, Frady uncovers a conspiracy bigger than anyone expected and must race to prevent the corporation’s next big hit as this political thriller plays out in an explosive game of cat and mouse.
Historic Sites In Washington
3. Mount Rainier National Park
We’re counting down to #3 on our list of the best historic sites in Washington with Mount Rainier National Park.
John Muir referred to Mt. Rainier as “The most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings”.
This most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous US is downright mesmerizing.
Similar to the feeling one gets when looking into the Grand Canyon, you can gaze upon this mountain for hours without fathoming what exactly you’re looking at.
This park has so much more to offer than the magnificently glaciated mountain surrounded by carpets of the most beautiful wildflowers you’ve ever seen.
It has vast old growth forests, clear blue rivers, abundant wildlife, countless vistas, and so many wonderful hiking opportunities.
Summer crowds can be troublesome and wildfires seem to be more present with each passing year, but plan accordingly and you’ll be amazed by this immensely beautiful national park.
Getting to Mount Rainier National Park
Mt Rainier National Park is located in the western part of Washington State and looms large over the Seattle landscape.
The park itself is located just 2.5 hours south from Seattle. The closest airport to Mt Rainier is Sea-Tac which is just 2 hours from the park’s Longmire entrance.
Historic Sites In Washington
2. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
In the runner-up position for the best historic sites in Washington is Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
At 8:32 Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, shaken by an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, the north face of this tall symmetrical mountain collapsed in a massive rock debris avalanche. I
n a few moments this slab of rock and ice slammed into Spirit Lake, crossed a ridge 1,300 feet high, and roared 14 miles down the Toutle River.
The avalanche rapidly released pressurized gases within the volcano. A tremendous lateral explosion ripped through the avalanche and developed into a turbulent, stone-filled wind that swept over ridges and toppled trees. Nearly 150 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead and standing.
At the same time a mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and drifted downwind, turning day into night as dark, gray ash fell over eastern Washington and beyond. Wet, cement-like slurries of rock and mud scoured all sides of the volcano.
Searing flows of pumice poured from the crater. The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.
A vast, gray landscape lay where once the forested slopes of Mount St. Helens grew. In 1982 the President and Congress created the 110,000-acre National Volcanic Monument for Research, Recreation & Education. Inside the Monument, the environment is left to respond naturally to the disturbance. (Source: U.S. Forest Service)
Things To Do
There are quite a few things to see and do at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. These activities include the following:
- Helicopter tour of the National Park
- Climbing the Volcano ( permit required – 100 person a day limit )
- Hiking the National Park trails – start at Coldwater Lake / JRO
- Shopping at the Popular Discovery Gift Store – Forest Learning Center
- Elk Viewing ( Forest Learning Center view point )
- Fishing Coldwater Lake
- Exploring Ape Caves on the South Side of the National Park
- Dining on Blackberry Cobbler at 19 Mile House
- Horse Rides on the mudflow from Eco Park
There’s also volcano-watching and photographing America’s volcano at the National Park.
And, while you’re there, check out the exhibits and movies at the Mount St. Helens National Park Visitor Centers.
The #1 Historic Site In Washington
1. Olympic National Park
As the #1 historic site to see in Washington we’ve chosen Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park is the most diverse national park in America, hands down.
This park has everything from lowland forests, striking mountain ranges, pristine alpine lakes, sparkling rivers, temperate rain forests (the largest in North America), iconic wildlife, and over 50 miles of wild coastline!
Oh, and it’s a stones throw from Seattle!
Olympic National Park truly has it all and without the crowds that have become so insidious in other US national parks in recent years – which is why we rank this Pacific Northwest gem as the best national park in America.
CHECK OUT: ALL 63 US NATIONAL PARKS RANKED BY EXPERTS
Getting to Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is located on the Olympic peninsula in northwestern Washington State. The closest airport to Olympic National Park is Sea-Tac which is located just south of Seattle in Tacoma, Washington. From Sea-Tac to Hurricane Ridge is a 3.5 hour drive.
If you are driving from Seattle (or north of the city), getting to the park can be done one of two ways. Option one is driving through Seattle, Tacoma, and around the Puget Sound which takes about 3.5 hours.
Olympic National Park Ferry From Seattle
Option two is taking the ferry from Seattle across the Puget Sound to the Olympic Penninsula. This route takes about the same amount of time as the drive around the sound but requires less driving. The ferry costs $15 for a standard vehicle each way.
Check Out the Award Winning Film
MTJP | OLYMPIC is a visually stunning journey through Olympic National Park. This video is the culmination of a month spent backpacking through Olympic National Park. We chose Olympic as our first of the More Than Just Parks short films due to its incredible diversity.
It is unlike any park on the planet offering glacial mountain peaks, old-growth rainforests, and over seventy miles of wilderness coast – all within a day’s drive. This production was filmed entirely in UHD 4K.
We chose to shoot this film in Summer months during peak accessibility. During winter the road to Hurricane Ridge closes due to snow accumulation. Olympic is one of three Washington State National Parks, the other two being North Cascades and Mount Rainier.
Filming locations include: Hurricane Ridge, Obstruction Point, Hoh Rainforest, Quinalt Valley, Queets Valley, La Push, Ruby Beach, Crescent Lake, Staircase, Kalaloch, and more.
Map Of Historic Sites In Washington
List Of Historic Sites In Washington
- Olympic National Park
- Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Space Needle
- North Cascades National Park
- Fort Nisqually Living History Museum
- The Ape Caves, Gifford Pinchot National Forest
- Fort Worden Historical State Park
- San Juan Island National Historical Park
- Arthur Foss Tugboat
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and proud dad of these two guys hopelessly obsessed with the national parks.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested joining the adventure, sign up below!