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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.