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The Pacific Northwest, most commonly referring to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada, is home to some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. You can encounter everything from spectacular towering mountain peaks to wild, rocky shores. It’s also home to some of the coolest cities, where you’ll frequently find a rather offbeat, quirky character along with an almost baffling assortment of locally brewed beers, and fantastic arts and music scene. For your next trip, book a Pacific Northwest vacation at one of these top destinations.
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There are many reasons to visit Seattle, the largest city in the region. In addition to being surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, the Emerald City is home to famed Pike Place Market where you can take in the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience by getting to know many of its interesting, and sometimes eccentric characters, enjoy the sounds and sights of street performers, and, of course, watch the fishmongers who toss the fresh catch of the day while cracking jokes. Seattle also has a fantastic café, music and arts scene. Don’t forget to check out the giant troll under the Aurora Bridge just north of downtown in the Fremont neighborhood.
The Oregon coast is well-known as one of the most beautiful coastlines on earth. If you want to see the best of the best, visit Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach. Follow Ecola Park Road from Cannon Beach through old-growth rainforest and end with expansive views of the ocean and Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Enjoy a picnic atop the grassy cliffs while elk often graze in the meadow nearby. In the town of Cannon Beach, you’ll find a number of art galleries, gift shops and upscale restaurants along with its famed beach, home to Haystack Rock, one of the most photographed objects in the state.
Visiting the San Juan archipelago is like entering another world, yet the islands are easily accessible from Seattle. Getting there is a magnificent adventure in itself, with the ferry weaving its way through small forest islands. San Juan Island, the second largest and most populous, offers a tranquil retreat and is home to the picturesque, historic seaport town of Friday Harbor, with a number of museums, art galleries, eclectic shops, and numerous eateries boasting menus based on local ingredients, including fresh seafood, produce and herbs. Head to Lime Kiln Point State Park on the west side of the island for the chance to spot orca whales that frequently pass by in the summer months.
Multnomah Falls is one of the countless waterfalls found in the Columbia River Gorge, but it deserves a mention of its own as a must-see destination in the Pacific Northwest. Located just a 30-minute drive east of Portland, this magnificent waterfall plunges more than 600 feet as the “granddaddy” of the 77 waterfalls found on the Oregon side of the gorge – only three falls in the entire nation are higher. While a 5-minute walk from the parking area offers a great view, if you want to see the falls in all its glory, hike the 1.2-mile trail to the top.
On a clear day in the Puget Sound, majestic Mount Rainier, peaking at 14,411 feet, is an incredible sight that can be glimpsed from many points throughout the area, but by heading to Mount Rainier National Park you’ll get an up-close and personal experience that is sure to leave a memorable impression. Not only does the mountain’s snow-capped summit await, but you’ll also see alpine meadows dotted with colorful wildflowers, massive glaciers and waterfalls that cascade around nearly every bend. Some of the very best views can be found at Tipsoo Lake, where photographers can capture a reflection of the mountain in its translucent waters.
Bend, Oregon is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, located on the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range, tucked between snow-covered peaks and Central Oregon’s high-desert plateau. Not only does the city and the surrounding region receive an abundance of sunshine, but the area’s mountains also offer renowned rock climbing, hiking and biking in addition to the myriad of trout streams providing blue-ribbon fly fishing. The town itself has a vibrant energy of a cosmopolitan mountain town with a startling number of world-class breweries, more per capita than any other city in the state.
The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the country’s most spectacular waterfalls, and Snoqualmie Falls is one of the best. Just a 40-minute drive east of Seattle, the fast-moving whitewater tumbles 286 feet from the Snoqualmie River into a 65-foot-deep pool below. The falls are surrounded by a picturesque park that includes a gift shop, small café and observation deck as well as a large grassy area, perfect for an afternoon picnic. Film and television trivia buffs will likely recognize the area as the falls have appeared in the cult TV series, “Twin Peaks,” as well as the 1993 flick “The Vanishing.”
Oregon’s Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America at nearly 2,000-feet deep. Its glorious tranquil waters reflect the surrounding mountain peaks like a massive dark blue mirror, making for an incredible sight and amazing photographs. Created by the collapse of Mount Mazama over 7,500 years ago, it sits within the state’s only national park, popular for hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and boat tours. Most visitors cruise the 33-mile loop Rim Drive, open from June through mid-October, with its more than 30 viewpoints that wind around the edge of the lake.
Western Canada’s largest city, often referred to as one of the most beautiful in the world, is encircled by dense waterfront forest and soaring snow-capped mountain peaks. Some say it’s like “Manhattan with mountains,” or even the “supermodel of North American cities.” Whatever you call it, Vancouver is a city everyone should experience at least once. Take in the sea-to-sky vistas at Stanley Park, artsy Granville Island as well as beaches found on its West Side. From awe-inspiring sights to world-class shopping, gourmet fare, live entertainment and outdoor adventure, it’s hard to beat Vancouver.
North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the country, typically receiving less than 27,000 visitors per year, which means you can enjoy this incredibly scenic, rugged wilderness area practically all to yourself. The park is not only home to the most glaciers outside of Alaska, with over 300, but you’ll also find one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. Look for bald eagles and osprey perched among the lush forests and rocky slopes as well as elusive creatures like the fisher, wolverine, gray wolf, black and grizzly bears, moose and cougars. Just driving the North Cascades Highway from Sedro-Wooley to Winthrop, makes for an unforgettable journey.
Pacific Rim National Park, stretched along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, is made up of three units: Long Beach, the West Coast Trail and Broken Group Islands protecting the rugged shoreline and coastal forests. Each provides a unique experience, with hiking enthusiasts heading to the historic hiking route featuring sandstone cliffs, waterfalls and beaches, while many visitors enjoy Long Beach, a 10-mile strip of undeveloped coastline set against a backdrop of lush rain forest and distant mountains. As one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions, Long Beach attracts surfers, beachcombers and marine life enthusiasts.
Yoho was named for a Cree expression of “awe and wonder,” describing it perfectly, boasting towering rock walls, impressive waterfalls, expansive glaciers and numerous rocky mountain peaks. It’s a hikers’ dream, with treks of all types, from short strolls around magnificent Emerald Lake and to Wapta Falls as well as hikes where half-a-billion-year-old fossils can be discovered in the Burgess Shale fossil beds and epic multi-day adventures on the high-elevation Iceline Trail.
Olympic National Park is tucked away into the extreme northwest, which means it tends to be another one of the country’s least-visited parks, yet it’s also one of the most magnificent. Discover a wild, rugged coastline with forests dipping down to storm-lashed beaches as well as glacier-capped mountains, misty cliffs, cascading falls, and a temperature rainforest that holds a vast primeval wilderness. Just a few of its highlights include Rialto Beach, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge, and Lake Crescent, a deep emerald-hued lake with pristine waters that were carved from glaciers centuries ago.
Astoria is one of Oregon’s most interesting cities, though it may be most famous among film buffs as the setting of the popular 1985 film, “The Goonies.” The residence used as Mikey’s house in the movie is still standing – its current owners even have a sign directing visitors from the bottom of their drive. Astoria itself is rich in tradition and historical architecture, located on the Columbia River, providing the opportunity for all types of water activities. For one of the best views, visit the Astoria Column, where the Pacific Ocean, Columbia River and snow-covered volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range can all be seen.
If you visit the town of La Conner, or even if you don’t, Deception Pass State Park is a must-see, located just 15 miles west along Rosario Strait. This is one of Washington State’s most beautiful and most visited destinations, with awe-inspiring scenery that can rival the best on the planet. The park features a saltwater shoreline with rugged cliffs dropping down to meet emerald-green waters as well as a historic bridge that provides amazing views of the pass. At Rosario Beach, set within a small cove, you’ll find tide pools to explore – and, just offshore, pods of orcas and porpoises as well as the occasional gray whale can be seen swimming through the strait.
Victoria, located on beautiful Vancouver Island, is not only the capital of British Columbia, Canada, but it’s also a picture-postcard city with fabulous eateries as well as great farmers’ markets featuring fresh, organic fruits and vegetables along with a wide range of other mouth-watering delights like baked goods, homemade jams and sweets. The city and the surrounding area offers some of the country’s most dramatic scenery, with ocean or mountain vistas around practically every corner, along with flower gardens like Butchart Gardens, famous around the world for its brilliant blooms. Victoria’s British ancestry can be seen through its horse-drawn carriages, tearooms and double-decker buses.
La Conner, located in the Skagit Valley, has the distinction of being named the “best small town,” “most undiscovered town” and “One of the best getaways in the U.S.,” among numerous other accolades. This historic town is well-known for its history, art and culture, but it’s arguably most famous as the host of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival which attracts hundreds of thousands from across the globe throughout the month of April every year. Visitors are treated to acres and acres of brilliantly-colored tulips in an array of colors, almost as far as the eye can see.
Portland is known as one of the world’s quirkiest towns, with its practically endless micro-breweries, funky neighborhoods, art galleries, cheap but fantastic food and forest hikes. It’s a haven for outdoor nuts, cyclists and vegetarians as well as activists and animal lovers, all supporting its independent shops, coffee houses and brewpubs. In addition to the must-see-to-believe annual naked bike race, you’ll find some of Portland’s most creative chefs clustered in pods, preparing their meal magic in food trucks and carts that range from sheds where you’d store your lawnmower to old vacation trailers. Don’t be alarmed if when searching one out you see a Portlander walking their goat down the street – miniature goats, sometimes wearing a fashionable jacket, which seems to be one of the city’s latest trends.
The Columbia River Gorge divides the states of Washington and Oregon. By driving the Historic Columbia River Highway which begins just east of Portland, you’ll take in astonishing vistas, including one of the most breathtaking, from Crown Point which offers panoramic views of the mighty Columbia. Hikers will be rewarded with some of the most scenic waterfalls in the world, while wind sport enthusiasts may be blown away by the world-class windsurfing and kiteboarding conditions. This journey also leads to a number of wineries, spas and museums.
Port Townsend, a Victorian seaport town set on the northeastern tip of Washington’s beautiful Olympic Peninsula, surrounded by water and towering mountains, was named one of America’s Best Small Towns by Fodor’s Travel Guides and even earned the distinction as the “City of Dreams” when it was officially settled by in 1851, with the hopes that it would become the largest harbor on the west coast. While that didn’t happen, it is still considered a city of dreams today, with people of all types and backgrounds giving up more lucrative careers in larger cities for the chance to live in one of the most picturesque places on the planet. Here, you’ll find an eclectic mix of artists, writers, musicians, mariners, and outdoor adventurers as well as streets lined with magnificent, century-old buildings that house a variety of restaurants and cafes, galleries and boutiques.
Cape Flattery Trail, located on the Makah Nation at Neah Bay, offers the chance to stand on the most northwesterly tip of the contiguous lower 48 States from its end. You’ll find four observation decks along the 0.75-mile trail with breathtaking views of interesting rock formations, seabirds – including puffins, marine mammals like orcas and gray whales, along with a dramatic marine landscape that includes the Pacific’s intensely-colored turquoise waters, the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Tatoosh Island.
Langley, perched atop a bluff on Whidbey Island, overlooking the dazzling waters of Saratoga Passage and the Cascade Mountains, has often been named one of the Northwest’s “best escapes.” You’ll find quiet, charming streets that are lined with historic buildings, book stores, and antique shops as well as a number of outstanding cafes and eateries, including those whose chefs’ creations are made with island-grown ingredients. This seaside village also offers the chance to do everything from embarking on a whale watching trip and blowing glass to chatting with winemakers, artists, and coffee roasters.
Dungeness Spit, the longest natural sand spit in the U.S., stretches for 5.5 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is part of the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, home to over 250 species of birds, including the snowy owl, as well as 41 species of land mammals and eight different species of marine mammals. A trail, running mostly around the perimeter of the recreational area, offers views of the Olympic Mountains, and on a clear day looking north you can see Canada’s Vancouver Island. Walking the 5.5-mile spit brings visitors to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, one of the oldest in the Pacific Northwest. Take the free tour and enjoy even more spectacular views from the top.