Visiting America's Pacific Northwest means experiencing some of the most spectacular and varied landscapes anywhere. With hundreds of miles of rugged coastline, snow-capped mountains, majestic and historic rivers, cosmopolitan cities, and more than a dozen national parks, the region could be a lifetime destination.
Washington and Oregon
All along the coast of both Washington state and Oregon, the Pacific Ocean provides a restless and dramatic setting, with sea stacks and steep cliffs interspersed with long sandy beaches. The beaches are frequently piled high with old timber and plenty of driftwood. Some of the largest beach logs are head high and testify to the mighty storms that pound this region at times.
One of the most fascinating places is where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. It was here that Lewis and Clark realized the end of their long journey, and many surrounding parks and museums commemorate that historic journey. The Columbia River forms the boundary between Washington and Oregon and the scenery in any direction is breathtaking.
The Cascades run the length of Oregon, Washington and into northern California, and they include some of America's most iconic mountains. Mt. Hood provides the backdrop for the very hip city of Portland while Mt. Rainier broods majestically over the city of Seattle. The Cascades are part of the Ring of Fire, and many volcanic mountains are within this range, including Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980.
The Olympic Peninsula is located north and west of Seattle. From here, visitors can access Puget Sound, the Pacific Ocean and Olympic National Park. Here also is Crescent Lake and the Hoh Rain Forest. There are not many places on earth where one can hike a 20-mile trail from a rain forest to glaciers. From the peninsula towns, Washington state ferries provide daily transportation for island dwellers, and endless cruise options for visitors.
Alaska, Idaho and Montana
Alaska! Many people visit the southeast coast, nearer mainland U. S., traveling to Juneau by cruise ship along the rugged southeast coast. The area near Anchorage is also popular with cruise ships, with rail excursions and car travel between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula or north to Denali and Fairbanks. Be prepared for scenery on a scale that is hard to comprehend.
Idaho and Montana are also blessed with spectacular scenery and plenty of outdoor activities. One of Idaho's top spots is the Sun Valley ski area. Idaho is also the home of Hells Canyon, North America's deepest river gorge, on the Snake River. It is a great area for fishing and white-water rafting and runs through spectacular wilderness areas. Montana's most famous site may be the Glacier National Park and the Going-to-the-Sun Road. With abundant wildlife and historic sites, Montana vacations will suit all ages and interests.
Unless you intend to visit for a very long time, it would be impossible to see even the high points of this vast region in one trip. Fortunately there are many websites that help you limit your choices and make the most of the time you have. Don't be surprised to find yourself visiting America's Pacific Northwest many times, either physically or just in your dreams.