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With everything from rugged coastline and crashing waves to soaring mountains, glistening lakes, rushing rivers and even lush rain forest, it’s no surprise that the Pacific Northwest offers a wealth of outdoor adventures. While you’ll find plenty of the usual recreational activities, there may be a few surprising options as well. No matter what your taste, these exciting pursuits will allow you to have fun while enjoying the region’s spectacular natural scenery.
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The deepest lake in the U.S. at nearly 2,000 feet deep, there are few other lakes on Earth that can rival the intense blue shade of Crater Lake. The often still, serene water reflects the mountain peaks as if it’s a vast, dark blue mirror, and with the sheer cliffs that surround it, it’s truly a jaw-dropping sight. Created by the collapse of Mount Mazama over 7,500 years ago, the lake sits within the state’s only national park, which is popular for hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and boat tours. But you can also enjoy a sport that you probably wouldn’t have considered here too: diving. While other lakes may have sunken towns or shipwrecks, only this one offers the opportunity to dive right into a flooded volcano, viewing underwater moss meadows, lava formations and fish in crystal clear waters.
While there are countless miles of scenic trails throughout the Pacific Northwest for hiking, at Olympic National Park in Washington, you can hike through a rain forest. The Hoh Rain Forest is among the only protected temperate rain forest in the Northern Hemisphere, located on the west side of the park. It receives an annual average of 140 inches of precipitation, but that number can reach as high as 200 inches in the highlands. From the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center walk one or more of the three loop trails. The one-and-a-quarter-mile Spruce Nature Trail meanders through the younger forests of red alder and cottonwood along the glacier-fed river, while the three-quarter-mile Hall of Mosses Trail reveals the moss-covered maples that are especially stunning in the spring.
Whitewater rafting in the Pacific Northwest is an option too. Oregon’s Rogue River is considered one of the best spots in the country. There are day trips and multi-day trips available on the Wild & Scenic Rogue that will bring you through gorgeous Siskiyou mountain scenery while paddling the gently surging waters that combine with “one-of-a-kind” rapids for lots of thrills.
Sea kayaking is especially unforgettable in Washington’s San Juan Islands. The waters just off the west coast of San Juan Island, the most populous in the archipelago, is arguably the very best as pods of orca whales can frequently be spotted here thanks to the area’s supply of Chinook salmon. Known as the Southern Resident killer whales, the best time to paddle among them is typically from late May through early October. While you could take a boat tour, kayaking makes for a much more intimate experience. In addition to the whales, there’s lots of other wildlife to watch here too, like dolphins, seals, otters and bald eagles.
The Columbia River Gorge, which separates Oregon and Washington, is renowned for offering some of the best windsurfing in the world. The gorge begins just 30 miles east of Portland, and while locals often windsurf here throughout the year, the best conditions can be found during the summer months, with water temperatures reaching more comfortable temps in the low 70s in August and September. In addition to windsurfing, there are miles and miles of scenic trails in this area, many of which lead to magnificent waterfalls.
Crane Prairie Reservoir is tucked within Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, just off the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway. If you’re into bird watching, this may be your ultimate paradise. One of the premier wildlife viewing areas in central Oregon, an astounding array of waterfowl can be found in abundance here, including Sandhill cranes, Canada geese, bald eagles and osprey. Go to Osprey Point for interpretive signs about the local fauna, and to see artificial osprey nesting platforms erected after natural snags toppled from age. Elk, deer and other wildlife are often spotted here too.
Smith Rock State Park is a must for rock climbing enthusiasts. This is Oregon’s, and arguably the entire Northwest’s premier destination for the sport. It offers everything from from classic beginner routes to hardcore challenges on a wide variety of rock, offering something for climbers of all skills and types. There are several thousand climbs right in the park, with over 1,000 bolted routes, as well as numerous hiking trails and abundant wildlife like golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver.
Caving at Lava River Cave
The mile-long Lava River Cave near Bend, Oregon offers a fascinating caving experience. Formed from a volcanic eruption some 80,000 years ago, self-guided tours in the dark and chilly environment are offered that are ideal for “beginner caving” with reinforcements like railings and concrete steps to help guide you along the way. The visitor center offers interpretive maps and lantern rentals as well.
There are multiple places to surf along Washington’s and Oregon’s coast, but Westport, nicknamed “Surf City,” is arguably one of the best. Surfrider Foundation’s Ian Miller told the Seattle Times, “Westport is definitely Washington’s premier place to surf…It’s the only place to surf with a town right there, which means places to stay and places to eat.”