Scenic mountains, luxuriant forests and coastal vistas, Washington State is a cornucopia of natural wonders, says Jeannine Williamson
From the viewing platform on the 605ft tall Space Needle we gazed across the still waters of the Puget Sound towards the glacier-capped peak of Mount Rainier.
It took just 43 seconds by lift to reach the top of Seattle’s most recognisable landmark, but then we wanted to linger and take in the panoramic vista of what lay ahead.
Hugging the Canadian border, and with a mild climate that makes it perfect for sightseeing, the cosmopolitan city and airline hub is the ideal starting point to explore Washington State, the most north-western territory of the US.
Back near to ground level, we took a futuristic monorail back to the historic waterfront and made good use of the City Pass, the most cost-effective way to discover Seattle, offering free entry to attractions such as the aquarium, with its scene-stealing sea and river otters, and tickets for boat trips around the harbour.
Known as the ‘evergreen state’, densely forested Washington State is home to three National Parks – Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades – and as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary this year with themed walks, exhibitions and special events, it’s a wonderful time to take a walk on the wild side.
Our journey into the dramatic, mountainous green heartland began the next morning with a ferry ride to the western side of the Puget Sound, a Pacific inlet, to embark on a tour combining Olympic and Mount Rainier.
But you don’t need to wait until you reach the parks before you spot wildlife. Our route took us through Port Townsend, one of only three Victorian seaports in the US.
Waterfront buildings have been converted into shops – where you can even enjoy a taste of home with a cuppa, scones and cakes at Pippa’s Real Tea – and black-tailed deer roam in the surrounding residential streets.
Covering nearly a million acres and with three distinct ecosystems – the Pacific coastline, rainforest and mountains – 95% of the Olympic National Park is wilderness, so it’s possibly no surprise that loggers, native tribes and visitors have reported sightings of the legendary giant primate Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.
We were rewarded with a clear glimpse of the park’s other famous inhabitants, Roosevelt Elk.
With antlers branching up to 4ft, these magnificent creatures are the largest species of elk in the US.
Other record-breakers are guaranteed to be found at Lake Quinault’s Valley of Rainforest Giants, where six conifer trees are the tallest of their kind and we craned our necks to marvel at a 200ft Douglas fir with a trunk measuring around 30ft.
The next day we arrived at another extraordinary spot, the Hoh Rainforest, which is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the US, with a lush canopy of moss and ferns kept moist and emerald green by more than 12ft of rainfall annually.
The afternoon brought the coastal highlight of Ruby Beach, overlooked by bald eagles and attracting colonies of seabirds such as puffins.
We wandered along the spectacular seascape of rugged, rocky stacks interspersed with hidden caves and bleached-white driftwood washed on to the shore.
John Anderson, a retired plumber from nearby Forks, has created an idiosyncratic attraction from his 40-year passion for gleaning the shoreline for finds.
The Beachcombing Museum in his hometown contains items from everyday flotsam and jetsam to poignant wreckage from the 2011 Japanese tsunami and a collection of messages in bottles.
At night we stayed in comfortable accommodation located in the parks, such as Lake Crescent Lodge, set in an idyllic location next to the crystal-clear expanse of water of the same name.
Scenic high point
The week ended at breathtaking Mount Rainier, a 14,410ft-high active volcano that last erupted 150 years ago and is the tallest peak in the Cascade Range.
Accessible through driving routes and well-marked hiking trails, highlights include the mirror image of the mountain at Reflection Lakes.
Bigfoot may have eluded us, but Washington State is certainly big on sights and experiences.
After a short drive from there, we were in Fort Worden, built in 1897 to defend the Puget Sound.
More recently it was used as a location for the 1982 Richard Gere film An Officer And A Gentleman and several of the original officers’ homes are now atmospheric b&bs.
Great for independent explorers
Washington State Ferries operates the largest ferry system in the US. Car and passenger vessels serving 20 ports criss-cross the Puget Sound and its inland waterways, providing a convenient and scenic way for visitors to get around.
Great for food lovers
Beneath the landmark red neon sign on Seattle’s waterfront is Pike Place Market. Its labyrinth of small arcades includes 80 restaurants and food stands selling crab cakes, chowder and other local delicacies, with many stallholders offering free samples.
Great for fun-loving families
The town of Forks inspired Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga of vampire stories and fans can follow a walking trail of locations featured in the books.
Each September, Forks hosts a themed festival that attracts dedicated ‘Twihards’ from around the world.
North American Travel Service offers a 15-night Washington Wonders self-drive itinerary that includes Seattle, Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks.
Available from April to October, prices start from £2,165 on a room-only basis, including return flights from Heathrow with Delta Airlines and car hire with insurance and satnav.
For further details, call 020 7499 7299 or visit northamericatravelservice.co.uk