Though we’ll get into the specifics of what makes the Pacific Northwest (PNW) the most beautiful part of North America momentarily, it mostly whittles down to intensity, rarity, and variety. For example, the PNW not only has mountains, but it has one of the tallest mountains in the contiguous U.S. It has one of the wettest ecosystems (rainforest) and one of the driest (desert), then somewhere between those two are bustling, major cities. Here’s the breakdown.
The PNW includes half of the states and provinces in North America with Pacific Ocean coastline. With beaches galore, it is one of the prime areas in the world for whale-watching, especially for orcas. America the Beautiful ends on the poignant note of “from sea to shining sea.” Well, the PNW has one of those.
With the ocean on the west, deserts are found on the eastern portions of Washington and Oregon. Though some may imagine deserts as dead wastelands, and thus not beautiful, think more Georgia O’Keefe: stark landscapes, stunning in their simplicity, with bold colors that are hard to turn away from. Then throw in a few scattered waterfalls, brilliant in contrast with their surroundings, and you’ll have a more accurate image.
The PNW’s Hoh Rainforest is one of the few temperate rainforests not only in North America, but in the world. A green canopy of lush humidity, covered in a blanket of moss and ferns, the Hoh Rainforest is largely untouched by man and can even offer sights of wildlife on less crowded days. Not that a rainforest isn’t beautiful on its own, but it sure doesn’t hurt that it’s nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic Mountain range.
Even with ocean, desert, and protected rainforest, the PNW still hosts metropolitan areas like Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, B.C. Though there are many ways in which Mother Nature cannot be matched, especially in the PNW, there’s something to be said for the creations of man: buildings all climbing upwards, cutting the city’s skyline into the landscape. Again, back to the intensity—not only do we have cities, but we have the birthplace of cultural powerhouses such as grunge, Microsoft, and Starbucks—to name a very, very few.
The states of Washington and Oregon alone have 17 national forests, two national volcanic monuments, a national scenic area, and national grassland—not to mention the collection of state parks and national park reserves, or the protected natural areas in British Columbia. The effect of these are three-fold: for one, each of these areas is another part of what makes the PNW so beautiful; secondly, the level of recognition of these designations proves an objective amount of awesomeness beyond the locals’ biases; and third, the protection that comes with these titles ensures that the region stays stunning in the future.
The islands in the Pacific Northwest are difficult to estimate, but include at least 100 separate islands, including the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island. Islands—with their limited development and transportation—tend to be nature-focused. Plus, the philosophy of island-time and island-life is beautiful in and of itself.
From two of United States’ five tallest waterfalls to its second largest by volume, waterways in the PNW definitely make a splash. Features like the Columbia River and its accompanying gorge, as well as Snoqualmie Falls continue to capture the hearts of onlookers with their beauty, their power, and their elegance.
Though it may be unknown why humans find mountains so stunning, it doesn’t change the facts that they do and that the Pacific Northwest has a lot of them. Including the Coast Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Olympic Mountains, and Columbia Mountains, the area also boasts one of the highest peaks in the continental U.S.: Mt. Rainier. Pretty much anywhere you go in the PNW, jagged, towering mountains will be part of your view.
Not only does the PNW offer so much on its own, but it has inspired humans in the area to do the same. Botanical gardens and arboretums abound in the region, including the “oldest continuously operating public rose test garden in the U.S.”. People have also designed scenic byways in the region, showing off phenomena like the largest hydroelectrical facility in the U.S., the deepest canyon in North America, and the deepest lake in the U.S.
The weather in the Pacific Northwest affects the area’s beauty in a couple ways. First, it obviously contributes to the gorgeous environments. Second, the temperate nature of it allows for people to go out and enjoy everything on this list. How does this help? Well, if a region is beautiful, but no one is there to notice, is it really all that pretty?
The John Day Fossil Beds—almost 22 square miles of fossil beds in Oregon—are just one example of the rich history in the PNW. From pioneers to fossils, the PNW values its heritage, going to great lengths to preserve and share it. The region’s respect for its past not only makes it more interesting and culturally beautiful, but translates to its respect for the future.
The PNW is known for its liberal (and/or hippie) viewpoints, especially in regard to environmental sustainability. More than most places in North America, the PNW as a whole is conscious of humans’ interaction with the planet. Here, going green is in style. All of the green practices in the area continue to protect the surrounding nature, keeping it as beautiful as can be.
Citizens of the PNW are proud of where they live. Their enthusiasm for the region is visible in how they treat it, play with it, and share it with others. The excitement of the PNW people is infectious, creating a bond and sense of belonging for its visitors and for those who call it home. The beauty of the PNW is visual, but also cultural, historical, and social. Leave it if you’d like. Everyone will be happy to see you when you inevitably come back.