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Mt. Adams Wilderness | © Jeff Hollett / Flickr
Mt. Adams Wilderness | © Jeff Hollett / Flickr
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The Best Places to Visit Along North America's Pacific Northwest

Picture of Jacklyn Grambush
Updated: 5 October 2017
The borders of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are not agreed upon by everyone. Though some argue that the PNW reaches as far north as Alaska, as far east as Montana and Wyoming, and as far south as San Francisco, most people agree that Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia are the core of the PNW. With that in mind, here are the most incredible places in the region.

Seattle

As the largest city in the Pacific Northwest by population, Seattle is a hotspot for music, business, art, and adventure. Most people have heard of the Space Needle, Microsoft, and Nirvana, which are among an exceptional list of Seattle legends. Washington State has the second largest number of wineries and breweries in the nation, not to mention some of the best seafood in the U.S. From the city to the mountains that surround it, there is a reason incredible things tend to be born there. The best way to understand it is to go see it for yourself.

Seattle at Sunset | © Jon / Flickr
Seattle at Sunset | © Jon / Flickr

Mt. Hood

Part of the Cascade Range that snakes through the Pacific Northwest, Mount Hood is Oregon’s highest peak. Named after Lord Samuel Hood of the British Royal Navy in 1792, this stratovolcano is approximately 11,240 feet tall. Mt. Hood provides many resources to the state and nearby Portland, including recreational ones. Offering ample terrain for camping, hiking, and the like, the mountain is perhaps best known as a skiing destination. The highest elevation via lift for skiers is 7,300 feet.

Northern Cascades National Park

The 789 square miles of the Northern Cascades National Park in the state of Washington includes forested valleys, wetlands, marshes, swamps, over 300 glacier-topped peaks, and over 500 lakes and ponds. One of the most complex and least understood geological formations in North America, the park is also home to the Columbia River (the largest river system in the west of the U.S.) and Lake Chelan (the third deepest natural lake in the nation). Recreation opportunities include camping, hiking, climbing, bicycling, boating, fishing, and horseback riding.

Crater Lake National Park

Heading south in the Cascade Range, Crater Lake National Park is a 183,224 acre park in Oregon. Thousands of years ago, a volcanic eruption triggered the collapse of Mt. Mazama, forming the park’s namesake, Crater Lake. The lake is the deepest in the U.S. at 1,949 feet, and the seventh deepest in the world. Wizard Island is the former peak of Mt. Mazama, rising 2,500 feet above the lake floor, but only 763 feet above the water. The park has over 4o caves and a log, named The Old Man, which has been floating upright in Crater Lake for over 100 years.

Oregon Coast

Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Oregon Coast Range, this region of Oregon offers an eclectic range of activities: camping, fishing, and mountain biking, as well as galleries, wineries, and antiques shops to visit. One of the region’s top spots is Ecola State Park, which stretches across nine miles of coastline. Cannon Beach, a small town of just under 2,000 people, is a highly recommended stop for its beach and views.

Portland

The second largest city by population in the PNW, Portland is known for being a weird town of hippies. Don’t misunderstand — that description is a source of pride for the citizens of Portland. Similar to Seattle, Portland is a full-on city surrounded by some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the nation. That means the best of both worlds: Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge a mere half hour away with the resources of a city at hand. Some of the city’s best known attractions are Powell’s City of Books, Voodoo Doughnut, and the International Rose Test Garden.

Whistler

The town of Whistler, north of Vancouver, B.C., sits at the base of two mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. The Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort is the largest ski resort in North America, and one of the largest in the world, comprising 8,171 acres. Offering over 200 trails, the highest lift elevation is 7,494 feet (2,284 meters). With a record number of 2,180,000 skier visits, the area also includes Olympic Park, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics’ location. That being said, the destination is worthwhile all year round.

Olympic National Park

In Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is an incredibly diverse quilt of ecosystems that include the Olympic mountains, old-growth rainforests, and over 70 miles of coastline. Mount Olympus (7,980 feet) is less than 33 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the 1,442 square mile park. Activities such as boating, climbing, fishing, hiking, skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing are all available. Hurricane Ridge is an excellent location for panoramic views.

Columbia River Gorge

Up to 4,000 feet deep and 80 miles long, the Columbia River Gorge is the only sea-level route through the Cascade Mountain Range, which extends from British Columbia down through California. As such, it is a vital factor in commerce, communication, and transportation, and is home to 75,ooo people. The river gorge was established as a national scenic area (as opposed to a park or wilderness), comprising federal, state, county, and tribal governments’ collaboration across the 292,500 acres of public and private lands. This is yet another excellent option in the PNW for camping, hiking, and general nature viewing.

Columbia River Gorge | © Sarah McDevitt / Flickr
Columbia River Gorge | © Sarah McDevitt / Flickr

San Juan Islands

This archipelago in Washington State is the full package getaway experience for visitors and locals alike. With dozens of ways to connect with nature — like hiking, kayaking, and the Scenic Byway — the San Juan Islands are an optimal place for whale-watching, especially orcas. There are also wineries, artisan producers, spas, and the like. San Juan County includes 172 named islands and reefs, four of which – San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island – are accessible by ferry.

Victoria

As the oldest city in the PNW and the capital of Canada’s British Columbia province, you shouldn’t miss Victoria. Heavily influenced by First Nations, British, and Asian cultures, the city hosts the oldest Chinatown in Canada. Sitting on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, water activities such as whale watching and sailing are popular. A few of Victoria’s top attractions include the Butchart Gardens, Craigdarroch Castle, and Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Victoria's Fairmont Empress Hotel | © artonthefly / Flickr
Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel | © artonthefly / Flickr

Mt. St. Helens

Famous for erupting in 1980, Mt. St. Helens is an active stratovolcano in Washginton. Part of the Cascade Range, the 8,366 foot volcano is also part of the Ring of Fire, the string of volcanoes and seismic activity that forms a ring around the Pacific Ocean. Since the ash has settled, visitors have returned to the mountain, participating in typical Cascade Range activities such as hiking, climbing, horseback riding, fishing, and zip-lining.

Mt. St. Helens Before 1980 Eruption | © Forest Service / Flickr
Mt. St. Helens in 1979, before the eruption | © Forest Service / Flickr
Mt. St. Helens After 1980 Eruption | Courtesy of United States Geological Survey
Mt. St. Helens After 1980 Eruption | Courtesy of United States Geological Survey

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

The 193.7 square miles of Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve are situated on Vancouver Island. The park is divided into three parts: the Long Beach Unit, the Broken Groups Islands (over 100 islands only accessible by boat), and the West Coast Trail. With both rainforests and seashore, the park offers activities like surfing, kayaking, cycling, and camping. As the birthplace of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, the park reserve is constantly working on a respectful and cooperative partnership with the Nuu-chah-nulth’s 14 nations.

Snoqualmie Falls

This 268 foot waterfall is the most famous in the state of Washington, with 1.5 million visitors every year. Surrounded by a two acre park and an observation deck, the waterfall is 50 to 150 feet wide (depending on water depth). Visitors may either hike the trail to the lower observation deck or the park in the lower parking lot to reduce walking time.

John Day Fossil Beds

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is an uncommon preservation of plant and animal evolution, changing climate, and past ecosystems. The 21.88 square miles of fossil beds are split into three units. The Clarno Unit is made of volcanic mudflows formed 54-40 million years ago. The Painted Hills Unit offers hills striped in red, tan, orange, and black, with trails no longer than 1.6 miles (2.6km) for better views. The Sheep Rock Unit is composed of reworked layers of volcanic ash and green rock formations. This third unit also provides hiking trails as well as the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, where visitors can find fossil exhibits.

Painted Hills | © John Fowler / Flickr
Painted Hills | © John Fowler / Flickr

Vancouver

There’s just something about metropolitan bustle surrounded by panoramic natural views that’s quite magical. But what does Vancouver have that Seattle, Portland, and Victoria don’t? Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain Resort, the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Cliffwalk, the Vancouver Art Gallery and Robson Street (the latter two places for a more refined experience). That’s what.

Mt. Rainier

The tallest peak in the Pacific Northwest and the Cascade Range, this iconic PNW mountain stands at 14,410 feet. An active volcano, Mt. Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S. The national park in which it resides is 369 square miles, offering all the activities visitors expect in national parks. It also includes the Valor Memorial, honoring those who lost their lives while rescuing others.