Top Washington Adventures

From adrenaline-pumping action to beginner-friendly escapes for all ages, Washington has you covered.
Washington State Vacation
Washington State Vacation

High-Flying Fun

Parasail Lake Chelan Seeing Lake Chelan from above is a must—it’s impossible to take in the entire thing from the ground, and it’s one of the state’s most beautiful waterways. The 50.5-mile-long lake stretches from Central Washington to the sharp peaks of the North Cascades, and its glassy surface is best seen from the heights of a parasail. You’re attached to a parachute and a speedboat at the same time, earning a combination of height and velocity during flights that can last more than 10 minutes.  In hour-long outings from Pirate’s Cove Parasail in the town of Chelan, a 31-foot boat pulls a rig that holds one to three people at a time, strapped in with legs dangling. Takeoffs happen directly from the boat, though it’s possible to get your feet wet on a descent, dipping toes into the turquoise waters (the third deepest in the country). From the 800-foot soaring altitude, you can see up the snake-shaped lake flanked by tan hills and green vineyards. 

Hot-Air Balloon Wine Country

Some flights are so serene they come with epic views—and maybe a glass of wine afterward. Over the Rainbow in Woodinville offers hour-long sunset trips over farmland and glimpses of the Cascade Mountains bathed in purple alpenglow, followed by tastings at a local winery. If you prefer your two feet stay on solid ground, the Great Prosser Balloon Rally and Walla Walla Balloon Stampede are annual events that send dozens of colorful balloons soaring into the air. They’re a favorite among shutterbugs.

Volcano Climbs

Summit Mount Rainier - This 14,411-foot mountain dominates the Washington skyline as one of the highest in the contiguous United States. It’s a glaciated volcano, meaning that every route to the top encounters a variety of hazards, from rock fall and avalanche to plunging crevasses that reach deep into ancient ice. Still, it’s possible to reach the summit with little mountaineering experience—though, of course, training is essential—if done with one of the handful of outfitters like RMI Expeditions. The Whittaker family that founded and still runs the company is perhaps most famous for Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest and the first CEO of outdoor outfitter REI.  Over the course of four days, instructors teach the basics of traveling on a rope team and using tools to stop a possible fall. The camp halfway up the mountain is named for the famous naturalist John Muir, who was taken with Rainier’s beauty when he visited more than a century ago. The final push happens at night, with climbers reaching the top near sunrise. The summit crater sits like a crown atop the mountain, a flat space where the ropes can come off and everyone can mosey to the highest point for pictures, then record their accomplishment on the summit register before heading down. Back down in the real world, it’s hard to look at the massive mountain the same way. 

Ascend Mount St. Helens - Make no mistake, reaching the crater rim of Washington’s erupted volcano is a challenging day hike, rising 4,500 feet in about five miles, but it’s much easier than the daunting climb up Rainier. With a little trail savvy (and a permit purchased in advance), it’s achievable for first-time mountaineers. Guided climbs, including ones led with a geologist, are also available through the Mount St. Helens Institute. Looking for even easier summit views? Head back north for a scenic ride up Crystal Mountain on the Mt. Rainier Gondola for views of Rainier’s peak and even a meal at the Summit House Restaurant. 

Treetop Adventures

Zip Line Silver Lake - This zip line adventure starts with a boat ride. The cables of Treehouse Island Zipline Adventures are located on a Silver Lake island, just west of Mount St. Helens. Today the calm, rural waters are best known as the home of largemouth bass fishing. Once ashore Treehouse Island, guides lead the way up the forest canopy on a secluded end of the island, which stretches 50 acres from shore to shore.  From there, the only place to go is up: zip liners ascend the trees using ladders and primitive staircases, topping out at 75 feet above ground. Reaching airy perches in the tree is just the beginning. The three-hour adventure includes six zip line rides, plus walks along platforms and rope bridges suspended in the air. The longest zip line is more than 600 feet through thick green trees, acting as a finale to the aerial day. 

Explore the Canopy

Along the Columbia Less remote, Zip Skamania’s 2.5-hour zip line tour features seven lines—the longest extending more than 900 feet—on the forested grounds of Skamania Lodge Resort in Stevenson. If that’s still too much adrenaline-pumping action for you, try a stroll across the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the Columbia River and links up the Oregon and Washington portions of the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Paddle Runs

Paddle the Spokane River Gorge The flow of the Spokane River is so intense that it holds seven dams along its length to generate electricity from the rush of water. A section of the river through the city of Spokane, where the river tumbles through downtown, is unimpeded and marked with class III rapids. Half-day whitewater rafting trips from ROW Adventures are a wild adventure that starts in the city.  Trips travel eight miles of the river past the dramatic Eastern Washington landscape. Guides point out wildlife that peeks from between the ponderosa pines. Things get bumpy at the rapids, including the Bowl and Pitcher next to striking basalt cliffs. Many paddlers choose to jump off the rounded edge of the boat for a quick swim during a calm stretch. Daredevils can also try a full-day trip to other nearby rivers with bigger rapids, including trips that pair paddling with a guided history of the region’s Nez Perce tribe.  

Kayak the San Juans

There’s no whitewater in the bays of San Juan Island, just the ghostly greenish light of tiny bioluminescent animals. During a nighttime kayak tour from Discovery Sea Kayaks, every stroke of the paddle means a whirl of light in the dark water. The island chain is known for its protected waters, easy for beginners even under the cover of night.

Roam a Rain Forest 

No need to travel to the equator. Washington’s Olympic National Park features four temperate rain forests, including the Hoh. Start at the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center to embark on two easy nature loops: the Hall of Mosses (0.8 miles) and the Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles). 

Kitesurf the Gorge

The Columbia River is a watery playground for kiteboarders, who flock here to harnessthe wind. East Point Kite Beach in Stevenson is a popular launch point, while White Salmon offers viewpoints of kitesurfers near Hood River from land. 

Bike the Olympic Adventure Route

Ride some 80 miles of hilly, forested, packed-earth terrain on the north end of the Olympic Peninsula. This route is almost entirely off road and boasts epic views of the Olympics. 

Hike to Palouse Falls

One of the most iconic and dramatic views in the state is surprisingly accessible. The 198-foot-tall Palouse Falls is Washington’s official waterfall, with its water flow plunging into a rocky bowl. The quarter-mile hiking trail overlooking the falls is wheelchair accessible and great for beginners. 

 --Allison Williams