Washington Is Home to 24 National Historic Landmarks… These 5 Are the Best Ones to Visit

Written by Marisa Higgins
Updated: November 7, 2023
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The state of Washington is located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, and it is home to a variety of geological wonders and features. Between its coastlines, mountain ranges, and volcanoes, the state offers a diverse topography you can explore, alongside its hidden wonders. In addition to Washington’s rugged landscape, you can also find 24 National Historic Landmarks across the state. Let’s dive into the five best National Historic Landmarks to visit in Washington.

The Evergreen State

Many of the National Historic Landmarks convey the state’s natural beauty. The state is called “The Evergreen State” for a reason. With six geographic regions and the home to both mountains and coast, Washington is best known for its lumber and plywood production. The state is covered in an abundance of lush forests, a sure reason as to why Washington has been dubbed “The Evergreen State.” These forests, and the corresponding lumber industry, have given many of the state’s landmark historical status.

5. Marmes Rockshelter (Franklin County)

Palouse Canyon Archaeological District3 NRHP 84000464 Franklin County, WA.jpg

What once was an ancient burial ground is now buried beneath the waters of the Snake River.

©Jon Roanhaus, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

Marmes Rockshelter is cited as one of the oldest archeological sites in the Pacific Northwest. During an expedition, thousands of Stone Age artifacts were unearthed. Professor Richard Daugherty first heard about the site from a local rancher in 1952, but Washington State University and the National Park Service didn’t start excavating the site around 1962. The team discovered artifacts that dated back more than 11,000 years. The Marmes Rockshelter was named after the farmer Ronald Marmes. He was the one who first discovered the property near Hooper, Washington in 1952.

The team at WSU began excavating the site a few years before the Lower Monumental Dam was expected to be finished. This meant that archeologists were racing to finish the dig before the area was inundated by the Snake River. During the race to complete their expedition, scientists and archeologists discovered that the site had been used for shelter, storage, and burial. Even more, the team uncovered thousands of well-preserved items found inside a ceremonial burial pit, such as skeletal remains. These remains suggested that the site had been inhabited for at least 8,000 years. Once the dam was completed in February 1969, the site disappeared beneath rushing water.

Why You Should Visit Marmes Rockshelter

Now, visiting Marmes Rockshelter is a bit tricky seeing as it’s underwater. However, you can still visit the Snake River or the Lower Monumental Dam. The site was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, highlighting the significance of the archeological dig. Although you can’t see the historic site, visiting the areas that inundated Marmes Rockshelter and considering the evolution of the plateau might give you a greater appreciation for Washington’s unique history. 

4. Port Gamble Historic District (Kitsap County)

Walker-Ames House in Port Gamble, Washington

The architecture at Port Gamble resembles New England-style homes and buildings.

©Steven Pavlov / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Port Gamble sits on the Kitsap Peninsula with the shores of the Hood Canal surrounding it. The port is 120 acres of history filled with turn-of-the-century architecture and New England-style houses. Port Gamble was once a mill town, the mill owned and operated by William Talbot and Andrew Pope. The mill opened in 1853 and remained open until December 1995. Port Gamble is noted as one of the nation’s best-preserved lumber towns in the West.

Why You Should Visit Port Gamble

The buildings and historical sites of Port Gamble have been well-preserved, serving as an example of the Pacific Coast’s logging community during the nineteenth century. Today, you can visit the Port Gamble Museum, see the historic St. Paul’s Church, and visit adorable shops and dining establishments.

3. Port Townsend (Jefferson County)

Mount Baker and lighthouse in Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend is a gorgeous town surrounded by coast, mountains, and history.

©Dene’ Miles/Shutterstock.com

The Port Townsend Historic District is located on the waterfront and downtown area of Port Townsend, Washington. This area is found at the northeastern tip of the state’s Olympic Peninsula. Port Townsend, as well as many other areas throughout Jefferson County, have a rich history linked to Indigenous settlement. During the late 1800s, the area saw a boom as businessmen began developing a railway between the city and Portland, Oregon. 

The construction boom during the 1880s and 1890s left Port Townsend with impressive buildings and mansions. These late-Victorian-styled architectural buildings sat empty for many years. In the 1960s, Seattle architect and preservationist Victor Steinbrueck’s lecture about Port Townsend inspired the city’s Art League and Chamber of Commerce to revitalize the abandoned buildings. In January 1963, Port Townsend offered its first Homes Tour of the area’s historic homes. Nearly 2,000 people participated in the tour, making it an annual event. By 1976, Port Townsend’s historic waterfront was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Why You Should Visit Port Townsend

No matter your preferences, Port Townsend has something for everyone. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a culture buff, or an inspiring foodie, Port Townsend’s rich history and thriving arts scene makes it a great destination. Visit the Point Wilson Lighthouse, shop at the Port Townsend Farmers Market, or stroll downtown and take in the Victorian-era architecture. This adorable historic town in Washington is a perfect place to visit.

2. Mount Rainier National Park (Pierce and Lewis Counties)

Mount Rainier and Eunice Lake as seen from Tolmie Peak

These spectacular views of Washington’s natural wonders will leave you in awe.

©KYPhua/Shutterstock.com

Mount Rainier is noted as the fifth national park in the United States. It’s located in the southeast corner of Pierce County and northeast Lewis County in Washington. Mount Rainier became a national park on March 2, 1899, preserving nearly 236,2690.89 acres of land. The highest point in the Cascades, a mountain range in the western part of North America, is Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier is nearly 14,000 feet tall. 

Why You Should Visit Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park offers hiking, mountain climbing, and camping opportunities, to name a few of the activities available at the park. Mount Rainier has over 275 miles of trails to embark on, and in the spring, you can enjoy the subalpine meadows filled with wildflowers. This historic national park offers gorgeous views and a variety of activities.

1. Paradise Inn (Pierce County)

Take a step back in time and disconnect from the world with a stay at Paradise Inn.

©Ian Poellet, CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Paradise Inn opened in 1917 and the lodge features 121 guest rooms, a dining room, and a stately lobby. In 1919, a German carpenter designed the woodwork features and the lodge’s rustic piano and 14-foot grandfather clock. The inn’s rooms do not offer modern amenities such as internet, television, or phones. 

Visitors would stay at a campground near Carter Falls before Paradise Inn was constructed. The influx of visitors necessitated a hotel, which led to the construction of Paradise Inn. Initially, the hotel only had 37 rooms, but increased demand forced the hotel to continue adding additional rooms. Paradise Inn remains nearly unchanged from the 1920s. 

Why You Should Visit Paradise Inn

If you’re looking to disconnect from the world and experience the natural beauty of Mount Rainier, Paradise Inn is a great place to do so. This historic lodge is a step back in time all while surrounded by massive glaciers, lush forests, and spectacular waterfalls. 

Washington’s Historic Landmarks

The best National Historic Landmarks in the state of Washington offer a solid representation of the state’s offerings: a mixture of history as the West developed coupled with natural scenic beauty. Each of these landmarks offers an interesting history, yet they’re surrounded by breathtaking views and natural wonders. Exploring these historic landmarks in Washington will not disappoint!

Summary of the 5 Best National Historic Landmarks to Visit in Washington

RankHistoric LandmarkLocation
1Paradise InnPierce County, WA
2Mount Rainier National ParkPierce and Lewis Counties, WA
3Port Gamble Historic DistrictKitsap County, WA
4Port TownsendJefferson County, WA
5Marmes RockshelterFranklin County, WA

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Kirk Fisher/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

Dr. Marisa Higgins is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on travel, places to visit, and fun activities. Marisa holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and French, a Master of Arts in English, and a Ph.D. in English, and she's spent the past decade teaching, writing, and researching. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her husband, and their Beagle-Chihuahua, Rumi, and cat, Rory.

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