The Pacific Northwest: A Trip Through the Northwest of the USA
The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a region that covers the northwestern part of North America. Although there are no clear boundaries, most say that the Pacific Northwest includes the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho in the United States as well as the province of British Columbia in Canada. Others say it also includes areas in several other states like Northern California, Western Montana, Western Wyoming, and even Alaska.
The easiest way to travel the Pacific Northwest is by car or RV, and the best time is any time! The PNW has lots to offer in every season. In winter, you can ski in Washington or snowboard in Idaho. During spring, you can see the beautiful cherry blossoms in Portland and Seattle or the waterfalls in Oregon and Washington. Summer offers the best weather for a road trip along the Pacific coast, for backpacking trips, or for a visit to one of the many national parks. Below, we’ll tell you a little about each of the states and give you our personal recommendations on which stops you should definitely make on your trip to the PNW.
States Worth Seeing in the Pacific Northwest
Oregon – an abundance of waterfalls
Oregon is known for its cascading waterfalls, incredibly beautiful hiking trails along the coast, and of course, for its beer – Oregon has more than 200 breweries in total!
Top Oregon recommendations from us are driving along the Oregon coast; visiting the capital city of Portland, which is famous for its food; visiting Tamolitch Falls, which is also called “Blue Pool” because of its vibrant color; and last but not least, seeing Multnomah Falls – a two-tiered waterfall (pictured below).
For the more adventurous travelers, we recommend visiting Smith Rock State Park to see its colorful rock spires; the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument with the colorful Painted Hills; and the Wallowa Mountains (the “Alps of Oregon”) to climb rock faces and take on more challenging hiking trails.
Eastern Oregon also has some great places to visit. Our favorite there is Leslie Gulch – an impressive canyon full of towering rock spires and sharp peaks formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.
Washington – a mix of nature and city
Washington State is famous for its rainforests, mountain lakes, and beaches. It is also home to Seattle, which may be familiar to some as a popular TV show setting. Here, you can discover attractions like the Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, or just enjoy a cup of coffee on the pier.
Washington State has three incredibly beautiful national parks: Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; North Cascades National Park on the Canadian border; and Mount Rainier National Park. Each of these is more than worth a visit – or two!
We also recommend a hike to Palouse Falls; a visit to the 1,000-year-old Tree of Life in Olympic National Park; and a stop in Leavenworth – a mountain town surrounded by state and national parks in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Leavenworth is a traditional alpine town known not only for its Bavarian style of architecture but also for its Bavarian celebrations, food, and drink.
Canada – a trip across the border
Just across the border into Canada, British Columbia is a not-to-miss destination for any PNW trip. Huge mountains tower over beautiful lakes, backpacking trails, and pristine nature.
A must-see on your trip to the Canadian province is the fabulous Whistler Village, which is especially beautiful during the Christmas season. Whistler Mountain, where you can ski or snowboard, towers directly over the town.
If you want something even more exhilarating, try making your way across the Capilano Suspension Bridge on the north shore of Vancouver. This 136-meter-long free-swinging rope bridge hangs 70 meters above the ground, and walking across it is not for the faint of heart.
For more hiking, try Golden Ears Provincial Park just outside of Vancouver or Kootenay National Park, home to the Canadian Rockies, a bit further away. Both offer wonderful hiking trails with breathtakingly beautiful scenery.
Idaho – the underdog
If you ask an American if they know anyone who lives, has lived, or was born in Idaho, the answer is usually “no.” Travelers to the United States also typically bypass this state.
But why? Sure, it might not have a big city like New York or Los Angeles, but what it does have is plenty of serene and off-the-beaten-path nature. Idaho is known for its hot springs, tranquil forests, and rustic cabins. This more rarely visited state is all about seclusion and quiet, which can be an absolute paradise for some.
If this sounds ideal to you, we especially recommend Burgdorf Hot Springs nestled in the Payette National Forest; the Backcountry Yurts located just north of Idaho City for overnight hikes with fabulous views; and the Sawtooth Mountains – part of the Rocky Mountains – located in central Idaho.
Northern California – endless possibilities
Northern California is known for its dense forests and giant redwood trees, which can be seen in their full glory on the Avenue of the Giants.
You can fill your time in Northern California with fishing, camping, or road-tripping along the coast – there is always another outdoor adventure around the corner. We definitely recommend stops at the many parks in this region, but if you are looking for a city to mix things up, don’t miss San Francisco.
It’s the perfect city to start and end a road trip. Our recommended route: From San Francisco, drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mount Tamalpais State Park and then on to Point Reyes National Seashore. Next, stop at Black Sand Beach in Shelter Cove before going on to Redwood National Park. Just north is Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is definitely worth hiking.
On your way back down south, be sure to drive past Lake Shasta to see the picturesque Burney Falls. If you have more time, Lassen Volcanic National Park is less than an hour away. To make your route even longer, you can detour over to Lake Tahoe or Yosemite National Park before heading back to San Francisco.
Western Montana – unexplored country
Montana is the place to go if outdoor adventures are your thing. Western Montana is mountainous with vast, unexplored land. There are thousands of hiking trails and opportunities for kayaking or rafting.
Our recommendations for western Montana are all in Glacier National Park, located on the border with Canada. Hike to Hidden Lake Overlook, which gives you a view of the entire national park. Also be sure to go see Bowman Lake with its crystal clear water and colorful stones.
If you want an easy hike through the park, the Avalanche Lake Hike is just the ticket. This hike is the oldest hiking trail for visitors to Glacier National Park, but of course one of only many you can check out during your stay.
Wyoming – the state of famous national parks
For many, Wyoming is synonymous with rural living and ranch life, but it also has one of the most well-known parks in the United States: Yellowstone National Park. But some of you might also know about the Grand Tetons National Park.
This state is especially known for its national parks, open cattle pastures, and wild animals. In Wyoming, there are numerous deep canyons, high mountains, dense forests, and also hot springs.
Our tips for visiting Wyoming are obviously to stop at Yellowstone National Park and then also to check out Jackson Hole, a 9 to 13-million-year-old valley in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.
Alaska – a bucket list state
Alaska is most famous for its many geysers, wild animals like moose and bears, and indescribably beautiful nature. It is the best place to cross off a few items on your bucket list – from here, you can even see the Northern Lights! For the best views, travel to Fairbanks in February or March to see the aurora borealis in their most beautiful splendor.
For a truly unique experience, Alaska also offers dog sledding tours. And, for an adventurous hike, consider checking out the Bomber Traverse. Beware that this route is best suited for those with some hiking experience. It includes some very steep rock faces, but the view at the top is truly magnificent.
A few other must-sees on your trip to Alaska are Denali National Park, Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Matanuska Glacier located 100 miles northeast of Anchorage, and of course, Fairbanks.
The PNW is perfect for those who love adventure and want to spend more time in nature. The PNW offers towering mountains, fabulous forests, beautiful lakes, and of course, breathtaking views.
Whether you choose to visit one, two, or all of the states in the region is up to you. Regardless of where you choose, outdoor adventures and unforgettable experiences await.
Ready to ditch the mainstream tourist destinations of New York, Las Vegas, and Miami? Come explore the backcountry of America and make some truly unique memories in the PNW.