Seattle's Child

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Girl looks out at rough seas from driftwood log at Saltwater State Park

Gray sky, gray sea. November looks beautiful at Saltwater State Park. Photo by Julie Hanson

11 great Seattle-area state parks to visit in fall and winter

Find waterfalls, beaches, wildlife and more.

We love our state parks, and there are some lovely spots within easy reach of Seattle. Here are 11 that are particularly good for a cold-season outing.

On most days, visiting a state park requires a Discover Pass. ($35 for a year, $11.50 for a day, available online here). Here are the days when state parks are free in 2024.

Some of the parks are good for an afternoon jaunt, some will take a day trip together. At a few of them, you can stay overnight in cabins. (More on renting cabins at state parks here.)


Saltwater State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 30 minutes

Escape to the beach while right in the city (the city of Des Moines, that is). This park is packed on sunny spring and summer days, but it’s also a scenic spot for a rainy walk or to watch a storm. The beach usually has lots of driftwood for fort-building kids, and there’s a flat, paved waterfront trail in addition to some more hilly, forested trails deeper into the park. People frequently buy takeout fish and chips or teriyaki in town and eat at the park’s tables or even in their cars, enjoying the view.


Saint Edward State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 30 minutes

This park is situated around a gorgeous 1930s-era former seminary that has been transformed into an upscale hotel. It makes a great centerpiece for a park that has ballfields, an excellent playground and some unexpectedly rugged hikes down to the shores of Lake Washington. The park has 3,000 feet of tree-lined lakefront.


Dash Point State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 45 minutes

Dash Point State Park is easily accessible from Federal Way. Its beach is longer and sandier than the one at Saltwater, popular for family excursions and for skim-boarding, sort of a cross between surfing and skateboarding. The park also has camping, tiny cabins for rent and miles and miles of biking and hiking trails.


Squak Mountain State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 45 minutes

Set amid the zone of Cascade foothills known as the Issaquah Alps, this big, rugged, forested park has a 13-mile network of trails to explore. Small hikers will appreciate the short Pretzel Tree Trail lined with signs depicting the adventures of a field mouse who meets local forest creatures.


Olallie State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 45 minutes

This park has one of the area’s best hikes for children: the Twin Falls Trail. The walk totals 2.5 miles there and back. It winds through dripping woods along the south fork of the Snoqualmie River, and finishes at a spectacular waterfall.

Read also: Olallie State Park: a hit with families in any season


Camano Island State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 1 hour

Camano Island is a great destination for a winter day trip. Not too far, stunningly scenic and full of open spaces to explore. Along with the woodland walks and the 6,700 feet of shoreline to take in at Camano Island State Park, there’s nearby Cama Beach State Park. And if you’re inclined to stay the night, both have cabins.


Wallace Falls State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 1 hour

Waterfalls are at their best in the cold months, and if you have waterfall fans in your family, you’re going to want to visit this park. The main trail takes you through old-growth forest, up the Wallace River to Wallace falls, which drops 265 feet in three tiers. The trail to get to the falls is relatively tame, and you can turn around satisfied at that point. If your party has the energy to climb the steep slope up to the upper viewpoint, that’s an option too. The park has cabins.


Deception Pass State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 1.5 hours.

There are several good reasons why Deception Pass State Park may be the most popular in the system. There’s the pass where high cliffs frame a narrow inlet full of powerful tidal waters. And the rest of the park is lovely too, full of coves and rocky headlands, with gnarled madrone trees leaning out on the shore. Inland areas have old growth woods, and you can spend a lot of time on the trail system. It has cabins.

Read also: Deception Pass with kids: 5 things to do (and one maybe)


Larrabee State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 1.5 hours

When you go to this big park near Bellingham, you have options. You can take a route like the Fragrance Lake Trail and explore the wild country up on Chuckanut Ridge. Or you can go down to the shoreline, which is lined with gray sandstone in amazing undulating patterns. Short side trip for November: stop at nearby Arroyo Park and watch the chum salmon fighting their way up Chuckanut Creek.


Dosewallips State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 2.25 hours, depending on what ferry sailing you catch

If your criterion for a park is abundant wildlife, this haven on the shore of Hood Canal may be your best choice. You can see a run of chum salmon thrash their way up the Dosewallips River. You can observe eagles and other wildlife gather for the fishy feast. And as if all that wasn’t enough, a herd of elk routinely saunters around the place. It has cabins, too.


Fort Flagler Historical State Park

Driving time from Seattle: 2.25 hours, depending on what ferry sailing you catch

This park on Marrowstone Island, near Port Townsend has a lot to do. There’s a stunning beach that juts out into Puget Sound. Even on calm days it’s good for kite flying. On blustery days it’s a wonderful vantage point to see the majesty of a stormy sea. You can explore an  array of abandoned bunkers and fortifications. (Along with Fort Ebey, Fort Casey and Fort Worden, it was once part of a system of fortifications defending Puget Sound from potential naval threats). And there are birds galore, from wintering ducks to graceful flocks of shorebirds, here for the winter. It has some overnight accommodations in historic buildings.

Originally published Nov. 5, 2020

More to explore:

Getting outside and finding joy

5 hands-on ways to play outside in the fall

3 magnificent fall hikes on the Eastside

About the Author

Fiona Cohen and Julie Hanson