Top 10 Experiences in the Pacific Northwest
About the Pacific Northwest
Dominated by dramatic coastlines, a verdant interior, and towering mountain peaks, the Pacific Northwest is the epitome of a bucket list destination. The PNW – as it is effectively nicknamed – is located on America’s western coast and comprises Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Although also located along North America’s west coast, Alaska is not part of this region, and “The Last Frontier” deserves an itinerary all its own, anyhow.
Because the Pacific Northwest is also known for its drab forecasts and frequent rain showers, the best time to visit is during the dry season – around late September and early October. However, there is truly no bad time to visit this stunning area, and you’ll find plenty of fun, family-friendly activities available year-round, rain or shine.
Of all the national parks in the PNW, Mount Rainier is perhaps the best for stretching your legs. There are over 260 miles of maintained trails in the park, so whether you’re looking for a peaceful stroll through verdant, old-growth forests with the kids, or a full day hike around the rim of Mount Rainier, you’ll have plenty of options. Because of the lofty peaks, the hiking season at Mount Rainier is a relatively short one. The best time to hit the trails is between July and September, when the routes are sure to be clear of snow and ice.
The San Juan Islands are located off the coast of northern Washington. This 172-island archipelago is renowned for its world-class whale watching, charming small towns, picturesque hiking trails, and above all, its stunning scenery. The best way to experience the beauty of this area is by sailing between the islands. You can set sail for a single afternoon or indulge in a multi-day itinerary to see as much of the archipelago as possible.
The Cascades are a premier winter sports area that stretches from southwestern British Columbia all the way down to northern California. These mountains see tons of snow each season, meaning that the skiing and snowboarding opportunities are endless. There are tons of lodges and resorts situated around Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, and Mount Bachelor, and some even offer free ski passes for kids!
Skiing on Mount Hood, Oregon. Photo credit: Bucket List Places.
A train trip through the Willamette Valley is one of the best ways to explore the PNW. Originally known as the Willamette Valley Express, the route from Seattle in the north to Eugene in the south is now part of the Amtrak Cascades corridor. As you ride the train, you can hop off wherever you please. Highlights of Willamette Valley include historic vineyards, farm-to-table restaurants, and Silver Falls State Park.
British Columbia is one of the most beautiful districts in Canada, and Victoria (the region’s capital city) is its crowning glory. A city break in Victoria is one of the top experiences in the Pacific Northwest, and there are plenty of fun activities for the whole family. History buffs can get their fix at the numerous museums and landmarks, and nature lovers can paddle around the vast network of lakes, bays, coves, and beaches. Victoria also boasts a lively waterfront area, a wealth of hiking trails, and endless parks and gardens for picnicking on summer afternoons.
Fifty shades of green await you in the Columbia River Gorge. The Gorge sits just east of Portland and is blessed with one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the entire PNW. You can make a day or even a whole week out of chasing waterfalls in this lush area. However, if you have time for just one waterfall, make it the massive Multnomah Falls. As you hike to these famous falls, you’ll also wander past smaller waterfalls and other verdant scenery.
The Pacific Northwest is often touted as an outdoor playground for the most adventurous thrill-seekers. But this area is also famous for its luxurious hot springs. Soaking in a hot spring is a great way to relax after a busy trip, and you’ll find a large concentration of them throughout Oregon and southern Washington.
Thanks to its varied climate, Washington is one of the top apple producers in the United States. The central part of the state is especially abundant, and you’ll find a wide variety of apples, including Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, and more. You can head to one of the many apple farms in the region and pick your own fruit straight from the source. Most orchards are ripe for the picking in September, but some farms start their harvest as early as August and as late as October.
Taking a ferry from Seattle is more than just a way of getting from point A to point B – it’s an entire activity in its own right. This is one of the top experiences in the Pacific Northwest, and there are a variety of towns located off Seattle’s coast that deserve a visit. One of the most popular is Bainbridge Island, known for its stunning scenery and outdoor offerings. The views begin on the ferry ride over, and you’ll be able to take in epic vistas of the Seattle skyline and the towering mountain peaks in the distance as you ride.
Oregon is home to some of the finest beaches in the PNW. Spending some time ambling up and down the coast is also a great way to see some of the most scenic sections of the famous Highway 101. Even when the weather isn’t at its finest, the beaches of Oregon provide great beachcombing opportunities and scenic vistas that are worth checking out no matter the forecast.
How to get around the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is easily accessible, with major airports in Seattle (SEA), Portland (PDX), Victoria (YYJ), and Vancouver (YVR).
You’ll have a few options when traveling from city to city within the PNW. Of course, you could always drive yourself, but there are also a few train and bus routes available. Amtrak has a variety of itineraries for the area, but the Amtrak Cascades Route is by far the best for exploring the Pacific Northwest. Major stops along this line include Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. There are also numerous affordable bus routes connecting major cities within the PNW, like from Seattle to Vancouver.
If you plan on visiting any islands during your trip, you’ll likely need to take a ferry or two. Ferries depart mostly from Seattle and taxi pedestrians to Bainbridge Island, the San Juan archipelago, and other islands in Puget Sound. There’s no need to reserve your spot, as there are multiple ferries each day that transport passengers on a first-come-first-served basis.
The Pacific Northwest is all about enjoying the great outdoors. This is true even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. As long as you pack for the season and dress in plenty of layers, you’ll be set for a successful adventure in the PNW!
About the Author
Mary King is an avid traveler who seeks to share the absolute best bucket list places around the world. She is originally from the Pacific Northwest but has traveled across the United States and the world checking things off her bucket list. See more of her work at Bucketlistplaces.com.
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