Puget Sound photography guide
Our contributors have added 60 photo spots to this Puget Sound photo guide. Have you discovered an amazing new location in Puget Sound?
Nestled between two mountain ranges and filled with saltwater beaches, evergreen forests, and colorful cities and towns, the Puget Sound region of Washington State presents endless opportunities for nature and travel photography. The area includes stunning vistas of the glacier-studded Cascade volcanoes Mount Rainier and Mount Baker, blue lakes and emerald forests, driftwood-strewn beaches with historic lighthouses, sunsets behind the craggy teeth of the Olympic Mountains, and iconic white and green ferry boats plying the waters of Puget Sound. The Puget Sound region presents a variety of opportunities for any photographer; whether you enjoy cityscapes, landscapes, history and modern art, wildlife or formal gardens.
The region generally experiences a temperate marine climate; warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Each season brings its own special opportunities. In winter bald eagles gather on the Skagit River and snow geese flock in the Skagit valley. In spring, colorful tulip fields replace the snow geese, rhododendrons blossom in the area’s many gardens, and cherry trees grace the state capital in Olympia. Summer provides long days to explore the waters, beaches and forests. And fall brings scattered color amongst the evergreens and returning migratory birds to the Nisqually delta.
There are few restrictions on photography in the area. Tripod use is allowed in most parks and outdoor areas, though in some of the gardens you may be asked not to block pathways. Photography is also allowed on Washington State ferries, though you would not want to use a tripod on them due to the vibrations of the ship’s motor. Personal photography is allowed most everywhere, though several of the listed attractions have restrictions on commercial photography.
Though there is some debate over what encompasses the Puget Sound region (Puget Sound itself officially extends north from Olympia to Deception Pass at the far tip of Whidbey Island), this guide covers the lowlands west of the Cascade Mountains and east of the Olympic Mountains, and from the Canadian border in the north to Olympia in the south. It purposely excludes the San Juan Islands, which are a destination in their own right, and the City of Seattle, which has its own guide.
Most popular Puget Sound photo spots
The City of Tacoma offers a little taste of everything from the Puget Sound region. It makes a great base from which to explore the south Sound area. The Museum of Glass in downtown Tacoma offers unique views outside and glass blowing demonstrations inside. There are fantastic views of Tacoma’s namesake, Mount Tahoma (also known as Mount Rainier), from several spots downtown and on the waterfront. Point Defiance Park contains wonderful gardens, old growth forests, a delightful zoo, as well as abundant natural wildlife, views of the Olympic Mountains, beaches, and a ferry boat landing. From Tacoma, it is a short drive to beautiful and scenic Gig Harbor, the rhododendron and bonsai gardens in Federal Way, the Nisqually wildlife refuge, and more. Mount Rainier National Park is just a two-hour drive away.
Bainbridge Island is another great destination. The Winslow neighborhood has a small town feel, but is just a ferry ride away from downtown Seattle. And speaking of ferries, the view from Bainbridge of the ferries sailing across the Sound with either downtown Seattle or Mount Rainier in the background can’t be beaten. The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island provides acres of wonderful photo opportunities in both formal and informal gardens.
For a historical setting, Port Townsend is superb. Port Townsend itself is a Victorian seaport and home to Fort Worden State Park, one of the “Triangle of Fire” army forts that protected the entrance to Puget Sound during the early 19th century. Another of these historic forts, Fort Flagler, is just outside Port Townsend. Take the ferry out of Port Townsend across the sound to Whidbey Island and visit the third point on the triangle, Fort Casey. Both Fort Worden and Fort Casey also offer photogenic, historic lighthouses.
Besides Fort Casey, Whidbey Island offers several photographic options. Perhaps the best is Deception Pass State Park, with numerous beaches, rocky headlands, old growth forests, and a scenic bridge over the roaring waters of Deception Pass. If you visit in the spring, just to the east of Deception Pass, are the riotous color of tulip and daffodil fields of the Skagit River valley.
A suggested itinerary to cover the whole region and miss most the bothersome traffic in the Seattle-Interstate 5 corridor is to start in Tacoma and explore the south Sound area for several days. Then move to Kitsap Peninsula, perhaps staying in Poulsbo or on Bainbridge Island. Continue to Port Townsend, with a side trip down the west side of Hood Canal. From Port Townsend, take the ferry across to Whidbey Island, spending the night in Coupeville. Drive north to catch Deception Pass State Park and Anacortes. From there, take Chuckanut Drive up to Bellingham and spend a day exploring Whatcom County. Finally, cruise back down toward Seattle to complete your circumnavigation of the Sound.
While public transportation serves many of the spots in the guide, the best way to get around the region is to drive. A car will easily get you to all the spots listed in the guide, though traffic through the Everett-Seattle-Tacoma corridor can be congested, particularly during normal workday commuting times. On weekends and during the summer, there can be long wait times for ferry passage across Puget Sound by car, and often it may be quicker driving around the Sound. That said, riding the ferry across the Sound presents unique photo opportunities, and you may seek a ferry ride as its own photo adventure.
Cell phone coverage is good in most of the area, though in some areas distant from the cities it can be spotty. Overnight accommodations are available in all the cities and most towns. There are a number of state parks and other campgrounds in the region, though if camping in the state parks during summer or on holiday weekends, a reservation is suggested. Washington State Parks charge a $10/day entrance fee. Therefore, if visiting several on your trip, consider purchasing the annual Discover Pass for $30 (online https://store.discoverpass.wa.gov/, at most state parks, or from many sporting goods stores in the state), which provides entrance to all state parks and many other state-controlled sites.
Be prepared for wet weather, especially if visiting in the winter, spring or fall. Carrying a raincoat and camera protection is advised. Boots or other waterproof footwear are recommended for the state parks, beaches, and other natural areas. Trails and beaches can be muddy, even in the summer. The range of tides in Puget Sound can be ten feet or more. Depending on location and season (daytime high tides are higher in winter), high tides can totally cover a beach, making beach travel much more difficult or even impossible. If you plan a significant amount of beach walking, you may wish to consult a tide table.
Gig Harbor Wings and Wheels; typically a day or two before July 4; includes a car show and airplane flyovers.
Kitsap County Fair & Stampede; every August the last weekend before Labor Day; the Stampede includes steer wrestling, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, and more.
Renaissance Faire; typically held weekends in August near Bonney Lake; each weekend has a different theme such as pirates, faeries, and chivalry.
Roy Pioneer Rodeo; one weekend in June and another in September; a small town rodeo with all the normal rodeo events plus businessmen’s cow milking.
Stillaguamish Festival of the River & Pow Wow; one weekend in August near Arlington; hosted by the Stillaguamish Tribe, this festival includes a logging show and an Indian Pow Wow.
Tacoma Freedom Fair; a 4-day celebration ending on July 4; includes several car shows, an air show, and fireworks
Wooden Boat Festival; the weekend after Labor Day in Port Townsend; includes hundreds of wooden boats of all sizes.
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