Washington, aka the Evergreen State, is endowed with many natural assets. Though modest in size, this northwestern state boasts not one but three national parks, plenty of scenic coastline and some spectacularly pretty island getaways. But there’s good reason to make sure your next Washington vacation isn’t just an ordinary walk in the park. That’s because Washington also happens to be home to three national recreation areas, all of them lakes, which promise hours of outdoor activity come summer sunshine.
If you’re looking for the largest of the bunch, it’s Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which at 117, 574 acres takes in three reservoirs and some serious mountain scenery. Running south from the Canadian border along the east side of North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake NRA then meanders west, forming a natural split between the national park’s north and south units. As one of the most convenient access points into the national park complex, Ross Lake NRA sees some through traffic, but for those who stick around the reward is hiking, camping, boating (and boat-in camping), fishing, paddling and even climbing. Moreover, this one doesn’t get that many visitors annually, so you may find you have a lovely slice of lake wilderness all to yourself if you time it right.
Also managed as part of the North Cascades National Park Complex but separated from Ross Lake by a substantial stretch of rugged wilderness, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area sees about a tenth of the traffic that the Ross Lake NRA does, in part no doubt due to the lack of roads. If you want to tick this one off your list, you’ll need to get in on foot, by float plane or courtesy of the passenger ferry which runs from Chelan, Washington to the tiny, barely there town of Stehekin. Once you get there though, there’s a summer shuttle bus service to help you see the valley making it easy to access noteworthy day-hikes and local campgrounds. Remote? Relatively. Worth the trip? Definitely.
And last, but not least, there’s Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area which takes in 130 miles of glittering water particularly popular during summer months, when sail boats, paddlers, puttering anglers and power boats put in an appearance. There are 22 public boat launches here, a long list of camp grounds and plenty of places to swim, spot wildlife and even windsurf once the weather warms up.
So sure, you don’t want to skip the park completely on your next Washington vacation, but you might enjoy your trip even more if you get taken for a ride - on a boat that is - at one of the state’s three lovely national recreation areas.