Large, remote, protected, and stunningly beautiful. That’s about all these parks share in common. All of the other characteristics can be considered unique and special to each individual park.
Despite being home to major urban centers such as LA, San Francisco, Seattle, and even Tijuana, the Pacific Coast is also home to some truly wild places where you might not see another soul for days at a time. The parks and protected areas of the west are a photographer’s and storyteller’s dream: stunning nature, fresh air, and challenging terrain keep millions of people coming back year after year.
Here is a quick summary of the best (or my favorite, at least) national parks on North America’s western coastline. Only 2 of the parks aren’t physically on the coast; but from the top of the mountains you can see the Pacific waters- which is good enough in my book to have a nod on this list.
Pacific Rim National Park – British Columbia, Canada
Situated on the west coast of Vancouver island, this is one of those places that you won’t realize how amazingly beautiful it is until you get there. In my opinion that is due to the fact that everything here is so big- photos simply don’t do it justice. Lush evergreen-carpeted mountains jut out of the wild sea, giving a landscape that is one of a kind. In the summer the clear skies make for an artist’s delight, with an abundance of fish and wild mammals creating one of the world’s most rich biospheres. In fact the UN recently declared it a World Heritage Site.
North Cascades National Park – Washington, USA
If you have read The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, you will already have some of the imagery of this park, even without ever having set foot there, or seen a photo for that matter. This was the latter part of Kerouac’s self-reflective trip into the wild long before Into the Wild. It has long been a haven for hikers, and with the recent boom in Backcountry Skiing, also is host to some world-class ski touring routes.
Olympic National Park – Washington, USA
This is one of the wettest, if not the wettest, spots in the lower 48. Some people might not see that as an ideal vacation getaway. But others will realize that with rain comes a lush rainforest. As such the trees here are full of life, many still in their natural state before the loggers came. The terrain is extremely diverse, from the sandy coastline to the glaciated mountain peaks nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Summer is the best time to visit, but also the most crowded. However given the park’s size of nearly 1 million acres, you don’t have to venture too far off the beaten path to get away from the masses.
Crater Lake National Park – Oregon, USA
Home to the deepest lake in the United States, this ancient volcano is a natural wonder. I don’t know whether it’s the lake’s depth or the distance from civilization, but Crater Lake’s deep blue hues are some of the most vivid and stunning colors of blue that one can find.
Redwood National Park – California, USA
Once thriving on the coast, the Coastal Redwood tree is an endangered species that hopefully now has enough time to regain it’s lost ground. If it does, it will be thanks to the conservation efforts within parks like RNP and it’s state park cousins. The park is bisected by the US 101 route at the northwest tip of California. While you can drive through the park with ease, you aren’t seeing much unless you get out of your car and walk amongst the giants, some well over 1,000 years old.
Cabo Pulmo National Park – Baja California Sur, Mexico
Situated on the southeastern tip of the Baja peninsula, this park is home to the oldest coral reef on the pacific coast, dated to be around 20,000 years old. The marine diversity here is enough to make you want to get your scuba license, but if you are a surface dweller, the kayaking on the (relatively) tranquil waters on the Sea of Cortez are definitely worth a few days of paddling and camping. Not to mention a siesta or two.