The Best Places to Visit in the Pacific Northwest

Walk among the trees via the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia
Walk among the trees via the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia | © Erik Lattwein / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jacklyn Grambush
6 April 2021

The borders of the Pacific Northwest are not agreed upon by everyone. Though some argue that the area 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 this stunning region. With that in mind, here are the best places to visit in the Pacific Northwest (PNW).

Seattle

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Seattle downtown H600TW
© Sorin Colac / Alamy Stock Photo

Known as the Emerald City, Seattle is a hotspot for music, business, art and adventure. It’s the largest city in the PNW by population and most famous for Starbucks, Microsoft and Nirvana – all of which are part of the city’s exceptional list of achievements. Take a trip to one of its most treasured landmarks, the Space Needle, where you’ll find panoramic views of downtown, Mount Rainier and the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. And if you love wine, you’ve come to the right place. About a 30-minute drive from downtown is Woodinville, a suburb that boasts more than 100 wineries. Washington State also has many breweries, not to mention some of the best seafood. From the city to the mountains that surround it, Seattle really is the perfect place for adventure. So, why not go and see it for yourself?

Mount Hood

Natural Feature
Map View
Two young women snow shoe on Mt. Hood on a sunny day.
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest peak, is actually a dormant volcano and part of the Cascade Range that snakes through the PNW. It towers over the Columbia River Gorge and provides many resources to the state and nearby Portland. There’s ample terrain for camping and hiking, making it the perfect spot for families. But the 11,240ft (3,426m) mountain is perhaps best known as a skiing destination. The highest elevation via a lift for skiers is 7,300ft (2,225m), creating an exhilarating experience for the more experienced skiers.

North Cascades National Park

Park
Map View
Mountains near Lake Chelan
© Fen Kuntz / Alamy Stock Photo
The 789sqmi (2,044sqkm) of the North Cascades National Park in Washington includes forested valleys, wetlands, marshes, swamps, more than 300 glacier-topped peaks and 500 lakes and ponds. This diverse region is home to an abundance of aquatic life, including plankton, salamanders, aquatic insects and frogs. It’s one of the most complex and least-understood geological formations in North America and is also home to the Columbia River (the largest river system in the western US) and Lake Chelan (the third-deepest natural lake in the nation). There are plenty of recreational activities, including camping, hiking, climbing, bicycling, boating, fishing and horseback riding. If you’re nervous about venturing out on your own, guided tours are available.

Crater Lake National Park

Park
Map View
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Heading south in the Cascade Range, the 286sqmi (741sqkm) Crater Lake National Park lies in Oregon. Thousands of years ago, a volcanic eruption triggered the collapse of Mt Mazama, forming the park’s namesake, Crater Lake, which is the deepest in the US at 1,949ft (594m) and the ninth deepest in the world. Wizard Island is the former peak of Mt Mazama, rising 2,700ft (823m) above the lake floor but only 755ft (230m) above the water. The park has about 40 caves and a log named the Old Man of the Lake, which has been floating upright in Crater Lake for more than 100 years.

Oregon Coast

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Crescent Beach at Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

Between the Pacific Ocean and the Oregon Coast Range, this region of Oregon offers an eclectic variety of activities, including 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 9mi (14km) of coastline. Cannon Beach, a small town of just under 1,500 people, is a highly recommended stop for its beach and views.

Portland

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Exterior view of men with bikes crossing road outside Powell's Books famous book store in Portland Oregon USA  KATHY DEWITT
© Kathy deWitt / Alamy Stock Photo

The second-largest city by population and one of the best places to visit in the PNW, Portland is known for being a weird town of hippies – a description that’s a source of pride for its citizens. Similar to Seattle, it’s surrounded by some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the US and has the best of both worlds. Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge are 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. You can also explore some of its most popular neighborhoods, including the Alberta Arts District, the Pearl District and Hawthorne, a vegan hub.

Whistler

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Whistler ski resort from the top of the mountain
© Welsh Designs / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

The town of Whistler, north of Vancouver, British Columbia, sits at the base of two mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. Together, Whistler Blackcomb is the largest ski resort in North America and one of the largest in the world, comprising 8,171 acres (3,307ha). It offers more than 200 trails, and the highest lift elevation is 7,494ft (2,284m). With a record number of 2.1m skier visits, the area also includes the Whistler Olympic Park from the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, the destination is worthwhile all year round.

Olympic National Park

Park
Map View
© Bill Gozansky / Alamy Stock Photo
On Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is an incredibly diverse quilt of ecosystems that include the Olympic Mountains, old-growth rainforests and more than 70mi (113km) of coastline. Mount Olympus (7,980ft/2,432m) is less than 33mi (53km) east of the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the 1,442sqmi (3,735sqkm) 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

Natural Feature
Map View
Columbia River Gorge, view of Crown Point and the Vista House in the Sumer season, Oregon state, USA
© Andriana Syvanych / Alamy Stock Photo
Up to 4,000ft (1,219m) deep and 80mi (129km) long, the Columbia River Gorge is the only sea-level route through the Cascade Range. As such, it’s a vital factor in commerce, communication and transportation, and is home to 75,000 people. The river gorge was established as a national scenic area (as opposed to a park or wilderness), with federal, state, county and tribal governments working together across the 292,500 acres (118,371ha) of public and private land. It’s yet another excellent option in the PNW for camping, hiking and general nature viewing.

San Juan Islands

Natural Feature
Map View
Summer weekend boaters enjoy calm seas and scenic views of Mt Baker in the San Juan Islands, Washington
© Jo Ann Snover / Alamy Stock Photo

This archipelago in Washington State is the full package getaway experience for out-of-towners and locals. With dozens of ways to connect with nature – such as 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

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Butchart Gardens at Victoria, Vancouver Island 2A5NTG3
© Andreas Karnholz / Alamy Stock Photo

As the oldest city in the PNW and the capital of Canada’s British Columbia province, Victoria is a must-visit. 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 the city’s top attractions include the Butchart Gardens, Craigdarroch Castle and Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Mount St Helens

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Morning light streams across the wildflowers on Johnston Ridge overlooking Washington?s Mount St Helens Nat Volcanic Monument.
© Larry Geddis / Alamy Stock Photo

Famous for erupting in 1980, Mount St Helens is an active stratovolcano in Washington. Part of the Cascade Range, the 8,366ft (2,550m) volcano is also part of the Pacific 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.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Park
Map View
© Ron Watts / Alamy Stock Photo
Canada’s 197sqmi (510sqkm) Pacific Rim National Park Reserve lies on Vancouver Island. It’s divided into three parts: the Long Beach Unit, the Broken Groups Islands (more than 100 islands only accessible by boat) and the West Coast Trail. With both rainforests and seashores, the park offers various adventures, such as 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

Natural Feature
Map View
View of Snoqualmie Falls, near Seattle in the Pacific Northwest
© Darryl Brooks / Alamy Stock Photo

This 268ft (82m) waterfall is the most famous in Washington, with 1.5m visitors every year. Surrounded by a 2-acre (1ha) park and an observation deck, the waterfall can reach 150ft (46m) at its widest point (particularly after a good rainstorm). You 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 National Monument

Park
Map View
A landscape view of rock and mud formations in the Painted Hills Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, in central Oregon.
© Buddy Mays / Alamy Stock Photo

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a unique preservation of plant and animal evolution, changing climate and past ecosystems. The 22sqmi (57sqkm) of fossil beds are split into three units. The Clarno Unit features volcanic mudflows that formed more than 40m years ago. The Painted Hills Unit offers hills striped in red, tan, orange and black, with trails no longer than 2mi (3km) for better views. The Sheep Rock Unit has reworked layers of volcanic ash and green rock formations, complete with hiking trails and the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, where you can find fossil exhibits.

Vancouver

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The famous Steam Clock on the corner of Water Street and Cambie Street in the historic Gastown part of Vancouver
© hpbfotos / Alamy Stock Photo

There’s just something about a bustling metropolis encompassed by panoramic natural views that’s quite magical. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and deep blue seas, this chic city is one of the coolest places to visit in British Columbia. Enjoy a cycle through Stanley Park, or hike up Grouse Mountain Resort for sweeping views of the city. Brave a walk along the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Cliffwalk, or try something a little more sophisticated and visit the Vancouver Art Gallery or Robson Street.

Mount Rainier

Park
Map View
Road in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington 2B6N53Y
© Allard Schager / Alamy Stock Photo
An active volcano, this famous mountain is the tallest peak in the PNW and the Cascade Range, rising 14,410ft (4,392km). Mount Rainier is also the most glaciated peak in the contiguous US, and the 369sqmi (956sqkm) national park in which it resides offers all the activities you’d expect to find. It also includes the Valor Memorial, honoring those who lost their lives while rescuing others.
These recommendations were updated on April 6, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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