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Washington State: Best Places to Visit by County (Lewis - San Juan)

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

This article is part of a four-part series. CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE START OF THE SERIES.

Lewis County

Claquato -- The small community of Claquato (meaning "high prairie" or "high land" in the native Chehalis Tribe language), though considered by many today to be a ghost town, still has a few residents scattered around its original town center. Claquato was one of the earliest settlements in Washington State, having been founded in 1853. It was founded and platted by Lewis Hawkins Davis, who originally named the area Davis Prairie. The town grew quickly to include Claquato Church, a cemetery, hotels, and several stores and was, for a time, the largest populated town between the Columbia River and Olympia. By 1858, the town would become the county seat for Lewis County until that designation was transferred to Chehalis in 1874. Today, what remains are the church and the cemetery. It is easy to access from I-5 -- just take SR 6 west from Chehalis and within a mile or two, you'll see the sign for Claquato.


Lincoln County

Lake Roosevelt Recreational Area -- In 1942, when the Grand Coulee Dam was built on the Columbia River, a new 130-mile long lake was created. This beautiful lake was named in honor of President Franklin Roosevelt. The recreational area around the lake contains numerous parks and campgrounds that are extremely popular places where you can enjoy the warm, sunny weather or jet-ski on the lake. Visitors also enjoy boating, fishing, swimming, canoeing, hunting and visiting historic places such as Fort Spokane and St. Paul's Mission.


Mason County

Twanoh State Park -- Located along SR 106 on Hood Canal between the towns of Union and Belfair is the picturesque and tranquil Twanoh State Park. The park is graced with the warmest saltwater bodies in Puget Sound. Hood Canal is actually a fjord, and Twanoh is situated near the end of the waterway's 70-mile stretch. Visitors come to Twanoh to enjoy shallow, warm water play off the beach, and during low tides (after having procured a shellfish permit), visitors can dig for oysters along the beach. During low tide, you may also spot orange sea stars, purple crabs and other intertidal creatures. In the summer, Twanoh State Park is open from 6:30 am to dusk and in the winter from 8 am to dusk. The park offers two kitchen shelters with electricity, plus 125 uncovered picnic tables. The campground has 25 tent spaces, 22 full hookup spaces, two restrooms and one shower. The park's southern half contains a hiking trail through a green forest of moss-draped trees that filter sunlight. The trail runs along a creek that is filled with Chum salmon in the fall.


Okanogan County

Grand Coulee Dam -- Famed for being the largest hydroelectric dam in the United States, Grand Coulee Dam provides both electricity to the region and irritation water to local farming communities. It was constructed on the Columbia River, in Grand Coulee, from 1933 to 1942. As part of the Bureau of Reclamation, the dam offers guided tours and even a laser light show. The show runs nightly from May 29th at 10:00 p.m. through July 31st. For the month of August, the laser light show starts at 9:30 p.m., and in September, it runs at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are not required to watch the light show. You can listen to the show’s nightly audio and synchronized music on 90.1 FM. There are plenty of parking lots from where you can view the show. You'll notice when you drive through the small community of Coulee Dam at the base of the dam, just before crossing the river at the bridge, that the tidy and well-maintained houses along the main street have that quaint 1940s government housing look about them. It's like taking a step back in time.


Winthrop -- Located on SR 20 on the eastern end of the North Cascades Highway, is small town preserved to resemble a Wild West frontier village, complete with covered, antique wooden plank sidewalks, false front commercial architecture, weathered-looking, rough-hewn wooden siding, and a town "marshal" who keeps law and order. You simply cannot pass through town without stopping for at least a quick stroll down the main street, or perhaps stop for a moment to get some ice cream from Sheri's Sweet Shoppe. Though the town is small, there are plenty of great restaurants, wineries, breweries, shops and inns to round out a full-service tourist experience of this unique spot in the middle of the Methow Valley, miles and miles from the nearest large town.


Pacific County

Long Beach Peninsula -- Pacific County's Long Beach Peninsula is the longest unbroken stretch of beach in the United States at 28 miles. Located in the very southwest corner of Washington State, where the Columbia River empties out into the Pacific Ocean, you'll find a string of quaint and inviting communities along the peninsula, starting with Ilwaco at the south end, then Seaview, Long Beach, Ocean Park and Oysterville at the northern tip. Oysterville is the oldest community, having been founded in 1854, and served as the county seat until 1893 when it was moved to South Bend. Leadbetter Point State Park and Willapa National Wildlife Refuge are at the northern end of the peninsula and Cape Disappointment is at the southern end, with Pacific Pines State Park located in between. Cape Disappointment State Park, west of Ilwaco, is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park which marks the westernmost terminus for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The largest community on the peninsula is Long Beach. It's where you will find the boardwalk which stretches for almost half a mile along the beach among the dunes. It provides panoramic views of the Washington coast and glimpses of the North Head Lighthouse in the distance. Closer into town, there are carnival rides and hot dog vendors to complete the beachside community pastiche. There are dozens of restaurants and places to stay up and down the peninsula. Check the hyperlink above for more information.


Pend Oreille County

Crawford State Park -- First of all, let's get the pronunciation of the county name out of the way. It's pronounced pond o RAY. This tall and slender county is tucked way up in the northeast corner of the state, a short drive from Spokane. The county is very scenic so a simple drive from Spokane to the Canadian border along US 2, then SR 20 at the town of Newport, will provide you with spectacular scenery along the way. Crawford State Park, a 49-acre tract located near the Canadian border, is a nice place to stop the car and enjoy Mother Nature. The main feature of the park is Gardner Cave known for its stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and rimstone pools. It is a 500 million-year-old cavern that measures approximately 2,072 feet in length (making it the third longest natural limestone cave in the state) and 295 feet in depth. You can even reserve tours of the cave using the website linked above.

To get there from Spokane, head north on US 2 for 28 miles, then turn left onto SR 211. Follow SR 211 another 16 miles until you reach the junction with SR 20. Turn left (north) onto SR 20 and drive 31 miles until you reach SR 31 (SR 20 will turn left toward the west). Stay on SR 31 northward another 13 miles. Just past the town of Metaline, you'll see signage for the park indicating a left turn onto Boundary Road. Stay on Boundary Road for approximately 12 miles until you arrive at the park. The park is literally 1,000 feet from the border with Canada.


Pierce County

Mount Rainier National Park -- Mt. Rainier is the tallest peak in the Pacific Northwest, standing at 14,410 feet. It is also the most visible landmark in the state -- on a clear day -- for hundreds of miles in all directions, and has become such an integral part of the ethos of Washingtonians that we put it on our license plates. It is covered in 25 glaciers and is snow-capped year-round. And even though the last eruption occurred more than 1,000 years ago, it is considered to be an active volcano.

The best entrance to the park is through the small town of Elbe on SR 7 south of Tacoma. Signage from Interstate 5 through Tacoma will point you in the right direction. From Elbe, take SR 706 up into the foothills and keep climbing until you reach the Paradise Visitor Center. You'll deposit $30 on the way up at the collection booth for a car and passenger (no extra for additional passengers). The pass you purchase is good for seven days.

At Paradise, the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center offers exhibits, films, guided ranger programs, a book store, a snack bar, a gift shop, and public restrooms, as well as informational brochures and maps. There are indoor picnic tables for those who brought their own meals. Outside the building is the striking and magnificent south face of Mt. Rainier itself. There are several trails leading up from the visitor center, but the easiest one to follow, by far, is the Skyline Trail. It is a loop trail that climbs from the main visitor area up through subalpine meadows. Along the way, you capture breathtaking views of the south face of Mount Rainier, glaciers, and the Tatoosh Range, with glimpses of Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens on clear days. There are also a couple of great lodges at Paradise if you decide you want to overnight beneath of the towering peak.


Point Defiance Park -- This park, situated at the northernmost point of land in Tacoma, and jutting out into the Puget Sound from Commencement Bay, is one of Tacoma's best attractions with more than 700 acres of beaches, gardens, footpaths, drives and unspoiled, old growth Northwest forest. It is also home to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Take a meandering tour of the park along Five Mile Drive, or stroll along the shell-strewn gravel-and-sand shoreline of Owen Beach or visit the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. There's plenty to see and do here in this magnificently elegant municipal park.


Museum of Glass -- Opened in 2002, the Museum of Glass is a 75,000-square-foot art museum in Tacoma, dedicated to the medium of glass. Featured at the museum is the Dale Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Chihuly is a Tacoma native who is world-renowned for his unique glass creations. The 500-foot pedestrian, partially covered bridge spans Interstate 705 and the Foss Waterway. It links the Museum of Glass to Museum Row and Tacoma's downtown. The covered section of the bridge has a ceiling installment called the Seaform Pavilion, on which hang over 2,000 glass objects, giving the viewer the perspective of looking at a coral reef from below. Further along the bridge are towers made of blue translucent crystal, which capture and refract the daylight and which are illuminated from below at night. The final installation on the bridge is Venetian Row, an 80-foot wall filled with 109 glass sculptures, all of them museum quality. From the bridge, visitors have an excellent view of Mount Rainier and the city of Tacoma; there is no charge to cross the bridge.

Admission is $17 for adults (13-61), $14 for seniors (62+) and military, $5 for children (6-12) and free for kids under 6. AAA members get a $2 discount. Business hours are Thursdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


LeMay-America's Car Museum -- Harold LeMay was a Tacoma businessman who, at the time of his death, owned the largest private car collection in the world; he had over 3,500 cars. The LeMay-America's Car Museum has 350 of his cars from a wide range of car manufacturers and eras. Here visitors can see race cars from Lotus and Ferrari, as well as a 1953 Citroen, a 1913 Daimler, a 1926 Ford Model T pickup, a 1929 Cadillac, a 1932 Packard, and a 1966 Ford Mustang. Guided tours are available. For hands-on fun, there is a Formula 1 racing simulator and a family zone where kids can relax and play. The museum, which is located next to the Tacoma Dome, offers guided tours, a full-service café, and a gift shop selling Route 66 souvenirs, model cars, car care products, and Ford collectibles. The museum's address is 2702 E. "D" Street, Tacoma, WA 98421.

Tickets are $18 for adults (19-64), $16 or seniors (65+) and active duty military, $14 for young adults (13-18), $10 for kids (6-12) and children under 6 get in for free. The museums hours are Thursdays through Mondays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Northwest Trek -- Located on SR 161 just north of Eatonville, Northwest Trek is a 600-acre wildlife park that is a refuge for bighorn sheep, great blue herons, wild turkeys, bison, elk, moose, and more. Transportation through the park used to be by tram, but those are currently being serviced. You can register your own vehicle to drive through the Free-Roaming Area of the park as part of a caravan tour. If you'd prefer a personalized guided tour, you can sign up for the Keeper Adventure Tour. One of the park's keepers will chauffeur you around in a Jeep in an off-road experience to give you a 90-minute animal adventure you’ll never forget. And if you're into ziplining, you can try your hand at the Zip Wild Deep Forest Challenge -- three exhilarating zipline courses that run through the breathtaking tree canopy. The park is usually open daily from February through September from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but for 2021, the park is open from July 1 through September 6 only. Admission prices, if purchased online, are $22 for adults (13+), $20 for seniors (65+), $14 for kids ages 5 to 12, and $10 for tots aged 3 and 4. Add $3 for each age group if purchasing your tickets at the front gate.


San Juan County

English Camp and American Camp -- San Juan County is the only county in Washington State that you have to pay to visit. The only way there is by ferry from Anacortes or by float plane. The county is made up of a collection of islands, principally Lopez, Shaw, Orcas and San Juan, that encroach upon the boundary waters of Canada and Vancouver Island, halfway between Bellingham, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. In 1859, this geographical proximity, or rather, an ambiguous definition of where the actual border fell, led to the not-so-famous Pig War. A little background first.

The border between British territory and the United States should have been firmly established in the Oregon Boundary Treaty of 1846. According to the agreement, the border, after splitting the mountains along the forty-ninth parallel, would continue west, south, and west again, through “the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s island.” This vague and noncommittal definition suited admirably at the time, because no one suspected that the islands lay astride the ill-defined border, and in any case, no one lived on them. Over the next twelve years, both British and American homesteaders arrived on the islands and began farming side by side. Then on June 15, 1859, on San Juan Island, a pig belonging to a British farmer wandered into the garden of an American settler. The enraged American settler (Lyman Cutler) shot the pig (and presumably ate it). The British farmer demanded restitution and a trial which escalated the matter. Sixty American solders were dispatched under General William Harney to quell the querulous Brits. This was the beginning of the stand-off between the two nations, and the construction of the two encampments at either end of the island.

The Pig War, as it was known, was entirely bloodless and was resolved in 1872 when the German Kaiser was asked to arbitrate. He declared that the international border should fall to the west of the San Juan Islands because the channel was naturally deeper and better suited to shipping traffic. And with that proclamation, the United States officially embraced the San Juan Islands as legally part of its territories.

The two camps today, separated by eight miles, are beautifully maintained amid the lush greenery of the island. A number of the original buildings remain and are very well preserved.

American Camp:

English Camp:


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