There are few places in the United States more beautiful and naturally diverse than the Pacific Northwest states. Commonly referred to as Cascadia, the region generally includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and northwest Montana as well as parts of western Canada. This article focuses only on the American region.
by Greg Gerber
Oregon – The Beaver State
Like Washington, there is so much for people to do and see in this state that one part of one article can’t begin to do it justice.
People who visited Oregon in the past may have been surprised by a state law dating to 1951 which prohibited drivers from pumping their own gas. However, that law was rescinded in August 2023.
There are more than 80 ghost towns scattered throughout Oregon. If you’re spooked by the experience, don’t worry, there are more than 750 vineyards producing more than 70 different types of grapes. You’ll find ample opportunities to pick up a bottle of wine to calm your nerves.
Once considered the “Pearl of the Northwest,” Portland’s reputation has tarnished in recent years, and safety is a big concern. Yet, it remains an interesting place to visit, and not just because it’s home to more than 60 microbreweries, making it the No. 1 brewery city per capita in the world. Other things to do in Portland include:
- Portland Japanese Garden is a 12-acre private park composed of eight different garden spaces. It features streams, waterfalls and ponds with koi swimming in them. There is also a tranquil and meticulously-raked sand and stone gardens.
- International Rose Test Garden is home to 10,000 individual rose bushes representing 610 flower types. The roses bloom between May and October, and are tested and/or replaced with new varieties.
- Home to more than 2,300 species of trees and shrubs, Hoyt Arboretum has 12 miles of hiking trails crammed into a 189-acre refuge in the middle of Portland.
- Exhibits at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry focus on natural sciences, industry and technology. The USS Bluejack submarine can be toured, or visitors can enjoy a planetarium show. There is something of interest to people of all ages.
- Pittock Mansion is a 46-room estate resting on a 46-acre now-public park which offers panoramic views of Portland.
About 30 miles east of downtown Portland, the Multnomah Falls mesmerizes 2 million travelers annually. It’s distinctive double-deck water flow over two tiers is Oregon’s largest falls and has been featured in many movies. Located just off Interstate 84, the popular rest stop features a gift shop, snack bar and hiking trail to the top of the falls.
The entire Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is actually a spectacularly-beautiful canyon that is 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep. Whether you take a boat tour of the area, drive along Columbia River Highway on the Oregon side, or drive along State Highway 14 in Washington, there are plenty of opportunities to capture stunning photos.
There are a number of waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, and the lush green landscape is punctuated by distant snowcapped mountains.
Nike’s worldwide headquarters is located in Beaverton and, yes, you can visit the campus. However, you might want to stop at the store at the visitor’s center first to pick up some new shoes before walking among the 75 buildings scattered around 286 acres. Most buildings are named after legendary athletes and coaches.
With its crystal clear water, not only is Crater Lake a spectacularly scenic place to visit, it’s not a place you’d want drop your phone. Measured to be 1,949 feet deep at its deepest point, it is the seventh deepest lake in the world. The lake actually rests in the remains of an old volcano. The 33-mile Scenic Rim Drive features more than 30 stunning overlooks. People use the road to circumnavigate the lake by car or bicycle.
Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, and one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in America. The city makes hundreds of bikes available for short-term rental at locations throughout the community. Two key attractions include:
- Cascades Raptor Center, which serves as a hospital for sick or injured birds of prey.
- Studio West Glassblowing Studio, where you can learn to create your own ornament, winestopper, bubble bowl or other work of art.
Dozens of small beach communities are connected by Hwy. 101. Whether you are seeking sun or souvenirs, a trip along the highway can be a winding excursion and difficult for larger RVs to maneuver. Yet, it offers some iconic ocean views and landscapes featuring giant boulders jutting out from the ocean. Cannon Beach, Face Rock and Haystack Rock are among the most popular, and frequently photographed.
The landscape is also punctuated by nine lighthouses along the Oregon coast. While some are located offshore, people can visit and tour many others. The Heceta Head Lighthouse west of Eugene is one of the most photographed lighthouses in America.
Located west of Portland, the coastal community of Tillamook is home to the renowned Tillamook Creamery, which make some of the best ice cream and cheese in the nation. Not only can you watch workers process tons of cheese every day, you can buy some at the onsite store. Food service is also available where you can enjoy an ice cream cone, grilled cheese sandwich, and your choice of fresh or deep fried cheese curds. Be careful! They are addicting.
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the most diverse excavation sites in the world. Its finds include plants and mammals dating back 45 million years. Day hikes and drives allow visitors to explore Oregon’s prehistoric past, as well as watch scientists in action while they uncover new discoveries. Multiple displays tell the story of earth’s evolving landscape.
Oregon Caves National Monument near Cave Junction is rather unique in that the caves are made of marble. Guided tours are available every day. But, during summer months, the last tour of the day is illuminated by candle lanterns to recall how early explorers navigated the passages.
Western Montana – Big Sky Country
Montana is a really big state, and there is plenty to explore there. For this article, I’ll focus on a tiny portion of western Montana that borders Idaho.
It’s considered the Pacific Northwest because it closely resembles the features of the other states mentioned here. However, a few areas are especially noteworthy.
Glacier National Park is called the “Crown of the Continent” for good reason. It’s one of the few areas in the lower 48 states where you can see 25 active glaciers that never completely melt. Yet, when the considerable winter snows start to melt in spring, it works to feed a bevy of streams and lakes.
The park is home to more than 100 lakes, a thousand different plants and hundreds of animal species. The highlight of a visit is traveling along the nearly 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, which connects the eastern and western entrances. The winding road can be bumper-to-bumper during peak summer months, but there are frequent pull-outs to allow faster cars to pass or for tourists to hop out and take photos.
To help reduce vehicular traffic along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the National Park Service provides a free shuttle that makes frequent stops along the route. That way passengers can avoid the crowded, winding road and still stop at the visitors centers, gift shops and pull-offs, where they can snap some breathtaking photos of the mountains and valleys below.
Flathead Lake is a large, deep body of water located just south of Kalispell. It is 30 miles wide, and 16 miles long and gets as deep as 370 feet. The lake feeds five streams, all of which are famous for its trout, salmon and bass fishing.
There are some fun things to do indoors as well. The Miracle of America Museum in Polson, at the southern shore of Flathead Lake, hosts a collection of thousands of artifacts depicting the country’s history and modes of transportation.
The Charles E. Conrad mansion in Kalispell was once the home of an early pioneer who became a shipping magnate and trader. Visitors can take a guided tour of the 26-room mansion or walk through the impressive facility on their own.
Take a walk through the ruins of a historic mining town at Granite Ghost Town State Park. The mine was the richest silver mine on earth after its payload was discovered by a fluke. After years of unsuccessful operation, word was sent to shut it down. But the telegram was delayed, so workers carried on until the last blast of the last shift uncovered the bonanza. Once home to 3,000 people and dozens of businesses, the area is completely abandoned today.
Launching from St. Charles, Mo., in 1804, the Louis and Clark Trail traverses all four of the Pacific Northwest states until it connects with the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Ore. Throughout your highway journey, you will encounter a large number of historical markers depicting the people, places and major events chronicled during the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
As you plan your trip through the Pacific Northwest, consider Workamping in that region for a season or two. It is a fabulous way to truly experience the scenic beauty and diverse culture.
For more information about visiting the Pacific Northwest, contact these tourist agencies:
- Washington – https://stateofwatourism.com
- Oregon – https://traveloregon.com
- Idaho – https://visitidaho.org
- Montana – https://www.visitmt.com
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