Ten Adventure Destinations that Define the Pacific Northwest

From active vol­ca­noes to the neck-cran­ing water­falls, the Pacif­ic North­west is filled with enough amaz­ing adven­tures to explore for a life­time. Incor­po­rat­ing the states of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton, the PNW extends into British Colum­bia and Ida­ho and can include North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Mon­tana, and Wyoming depend­ing on your def­i­n­i­tion. Through­out the ver­ti­cal land­scapes of this adven­ture-dense region, many mag­i­cal places help define this far­away land some­times known as Cas­ca­dia. While this list doesn’t include every­thing that defines the Pacif­ic North­west, like the influ­en­tial cul­tures that exist in the big­ger cities, spend any time explor­ing these exem­plary adven­ture des­ti­na­tions, and you’ll quick­ly piece togeth­er the epit­o­mes of the Pacif­ic Northwest.

Mount Rainier

MT. Rainier

Stand­ing proud­ly as the tallest peak in the Pacif­ic North­west, Mount Rainier is a stag­ger­ing 14,410 feet above sea lev­el and at the cen­ter of a world-renowned nation­al park of its own name. Any vis­it to Rainier is spe­cial and awe-induc­ing, and areas and trails with­in the nation­al park like Par­adise Val­ley and the Sky­line Trail live up their descrip­tive names. For the ulti­mate adven­ture sur­round­ing Rainier, the Won­der­land Trail cir­cum­nav­i­gates the base of the moun­tain with just under 100 miles of a prime back­coun­try trail.

Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge

Multnomah Falls in Columbia Gorge

Form­ing the sea-lev­el bor­der between Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon, the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge and cor­re­spond­ing Nation­al Scenic Area are both a com­mu­ni­ty and recre­ation des­ti­na­tion. Epic water­falls tend to be the most com­mon adven­ture explored, and with pop­u­lar exam­ples like the dou­ble-deck­er Mult­nom­ah Falls, it’s easy to see why this water-fed area is so pop­u­lar. Any soon-to-be vis­it to the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge should first start by check­ing Alerts and Notices about the area, per­tain­ing to the areas you can vis­it after the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.

Mount Hood

Mount Hood

Seen on clear days from high points in Port­land, Mount Hood pro­vides a majes­tic moun­tain envi­ron­ment just a cou­ple hours east of the city. At the cen­ter of it all and sur­round­ed by its own Nation­al For­est, Mount Hood caters towards back­pack­ers, hik­ers, bik­ers and year-round skiers. A great place to con­vene for adven­ture is the his­toric Tim­ber­line Lodge, of which film con­nois­seurs might rec­og­nize from the Stan­ley Kubrick clas­sic, “The Shin­ing”. From there, it’s easy to get lost in the sur­re­al alpine land­scapes just out­side their backdoor.

Ore­gon Coast

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon

The rugged and open-to-the-pub­lic Ore­gon coast pro­vides unique water attrac­tions, forest­ed head­lands and always some great ocean views. High­lights among many on the Ore­gon Coast include Haystack Rock at Can­non Beach, Cape Per­pet­ua State Scenic Area and the Samuel H. Board­man State Scenic Cor­ri­dor fur­ther south. Near­ly an unlim­it­ed amount of pure Ore­gon beau­ty can be found along the Ore­gon Coast, and one of the best ways to dis­cov­er it all is along the 400+ mile Ore­gon Coast Trail.

Olympic Penin­su­la

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

For per­haps the dens­est look at what defines the Pacif­ic North­west, the Olympic Penin­su­la west of Seat­tle, includ­ing with it the Hoh Rain For­est, pro­vides scenery found few oth­er places in the Unit­ed States. Bor­dered by the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the rugged shore­line of the Pacif­ic Ocean, adven­ture abounds in this undi­lut­ed atmos­phere and high­ly con­cen­trat­ed west­ern arm of Wash­ing­ton. Olympic Nation­al Park is one of the best places to begin explor­ing the Olympic Moun­tains and sur­round­ing Nation­al For­est, and the entire penin­su­la is filled with cater­ing com­mu­ni­ties, ocean bays, and post­card images always on display.

Crater Lake

Crater lake National park,Oregon

Fur­ther south in Ore­gon, Crater Lake is an ancient caldera, or vol­canic crater, filled with water and left behind by a col­lapsed vol­cano over 7,00 years ago. As one of the deep­est lakes in the coun­try, the rain and snow-fed waters lend to quite the inspi­ra­tional sight to see. Vis­i­tors to Crater Lake Nation­al Park can bike along the Rim Dri­ve for great views, and bet­ter yet, trails like Dis­cov­ery Point and Garfield Peak pro­vide panoram­ic view­points of the water.

Mount St. Helens

Mt St Helens

As a tes­ta­ment to the region’s vol­canic past and present, Mount St. Helens with­in the Gif­ford Pin­chot Nation­al For­est is per­haps best known for its dra­mat­ic erup­tion in 1980, which lopped off more than 1,200 feet from its sum­mit. Today, vis­i­tors can explore the Mount St. Helens Nation­al Vol­canic Mon­u­ment includ­ing with it the pop­u­lar Mount Mar­garet Back­coun­try. On the east side of the Nation­al For­est, Mount Adams is anoth­er defin­ing peak of the Pacif­ic North­west with ample oppor­tu­ni­ties to explore.

Willamette Nation­al Forest

proxy falls in Willamette National Forest

Home to the enchant­i­ng Three Sis­ters Wilder­ness, as well as sev­en oth­er des­ig­nat­ed wilder­ness zones, the Willamette Nation­al For­est is a true nat­ur­al play­ground filled with end­less things to do. In vicin­i­ty to Bend and bor­dered by the equal­ly defin­ing Deschutes Nation­al For­est (home to Mt. Bach­e­lor), explor­ers in either Nation­al For­est can hike, bike, chase water­falls, climb moun­tains, search for hot springs and stop and smell the wild­flow­ers among many oth­er things to do. The Pacif­ic Crest Trail makes its way through both areas, lend­ing towards some of the most icon­ic moments of its 2,600+ mile path.

North Cas­cades

Mt. Baker in the North Cascades


Abut­ting the Cana­di­an bor­der in north­ern Wash­ing­ton, the North Cas­cades are a rugged play­ground fea­tur­ing many adven­tures. The heav­i­ly glaciat­ed Mount Bak­er is one of the main char­ac­ters of the North Cas­cades, includ­ing with it one of the snowiest ski resorts in the coun­try. The North Cas­cades High­way is a scenic means of entry, lend­ing access to much of the North Cas­cades Nation­al Park Com­plex, includ­ing Ross Lake Nation­al Recre­ation Area. Anoth­er fun way to trav­el into the North Cas­cades, patrons can cross Lake Chelan via fer­ry and find them­selves in the wel­com­ing and gate­keep­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Stehekin.

San Juan Islands

Lime Kiln Lighthouse is located on San Juan Island

North of the Puget Sound and eas­i­ly accessed from both Van­cou­ver Island and the U.S. main­land, the San Juan Islands are an arch­i­pel­ago full of wildlife, wel­com­ing com­mu­ni­ties and won­der. There are 100’s of islands that make up this chain, with four that receive fer­ry ser­vice for easy access. A great place to begin is San Juan Island itself, includ­ing the cliff jump­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Fri­day Har­bor and the great nat­ur­al space found at Lime Kiln Point State Park. Pop­u­lar activ­i­ties among many sur­round­ing the San Juan Islands include boat­ing, whale watch­ing, island hop­ping, and a gen­er­al relax­ing made easy by the laid-back atmosphere.