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  8. Pacific Northwest


The states of Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest attract outdoor enthusiasts. Known mostly for its western rainfall that contributes to its lush vegetation, the landscape in this region includes a diverse array of features to discover: mountain peaks and dense forests, rolling hills and river valleys, arid canyonlands and rushing waterfalls, river gorges, and ocean vistas.

The Northwest’s metropolitan cities, Seattle (largest) and Portland are both renowned for their artsy, laidback atmosphere, diverse food scene, coffee culture, and award-winning microbrews. Both cities offer international airports to serve as hubs from which to explore the surrounding nature.

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Olympia (state capital), Seattle, Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, Olympic Peninsula, Cascade Mountain Range, Columbia River, Yakima, Spokane


Salem (state capital), Portland, Columbia River Gorge, Cascade Mountain Range, Crater Lake, Painted Hills, Eugene, Cannon Beach, Oregon Dunes, Ashland



Whidbey Island in Puget Sound
Photo by Ali Giaudrone


Olympia is the capital of Washington, a state known for misty air and abundant outdoor beauty—from the western islands to the eastern canyonlands, where the Pacific Ocean recedes into inlet waters where a backdrop of volcanic mountains rise above rolling hills of apple orchards, wine country, and wheat fields to the east beyond. Mount Rainier is the largest volcanic peak of the Cascade Range. In the Southwest are Mount Adams and Mount St Helens, which infamously rained ash upon the region when it erupted in May 1980, reducing its majesty by over 1000 feet. In the Northern Cascades, Glacier Peak rises with Mount Baker near the Canadian border.

A ferry boat system, distinct to the area, with 20 terminals transports passengers and vehicles from the Olympic Peninsula to the islands throughout the Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands archipelago of the Salish Sea, which lies between Vancouver Island, British Columbia in Canada, and the North Cascades mainland.

The most populous area lies along the shores of Puget Sound where Seattle, the largest city in the Northwest, provides a mega-port and gateway to the Pacific Ocean and Asia. With Lake Washington to the east, coffee houses, microbreweries, and ethnic restaurants are plentiful in this vibrant city that major corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Nordstrom, REI, Alaska Air, and Boeing. Seattle’s iconic landmarks include the Space Needle and Pike Place Market where fishmongers famously sling a token catch, just for show. Salmon, trout, and sturgeon are among the freshest brought in by local anglers, along with seasonal oysters, crab, and other seafood harvested in nearby waterways.

See the official Washington Tourism pages.


Grants Pass
Photo by Ali Giaudrone


Salem, the state capital, sits in the Willamette Valley halfway between the north pole and the equator. To its south, Eugene is home to the Ducks at the University of Oregon, while Corvallis is home to the Beavers at Oregon State University.

Nestled in the far north of the Willamette Valley (pronounce: “will-AM-et”), Portland, the largest city (and my childhood hometown) in Oregon, is home to a vast and diverse selection of quality restaurants, representing both local and global cuisine, as well as great cafes and breakfast hotspots. The city is also the perfect hub from which to connect to the outdoors. The Willamette River bisects the “Rose City” as it flows to its confluence with the large Columbia River, which divides Oregon and Washington and rushes into the Pacific Ocean.

The Columbia River Gorge divides Oregon and Washington. Mount Hood of the Cascade Range can be seen from the Portland hills. Further south is Mount Jefferson, a group of mountains dubbed the Three Sisters near Bend along with small ski-worthy Mount Bachelor, the over 2000-foot-deep caldera of Crater Lake, and Mount McLaughlin near the southern border with California.

These monolithic peaks divide the western state from its more arid east due to the mountain rain shadow effect. The Snake River divides much of Eastern Oregon and Idaho. The geologic Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds are highlights.

At the far northwest corner, Astoria sits where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Drive south along the Highway 101 coastline to Cannon Beach, home to the intertidal monolith of Haystack Rock. Depoe Bay has the world’s smallest (6-acre) harbor. Newport is a central coast city across the Coastal Range from Corvallis. To the south are the Oregon Dunes, the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America.

Jacksonville transports visitors to the old west in Southern Oregon near Medford, while Ashland hosts the Shakespeare Festival each year just north of the Californian border.

From Portland: Columbia Gorge Waterfalls Tour

See the official Oregon Tourism pages.

Free Insider Guide: Portland, Oregon