Few places on Earth offer an outdoor lover’s paradise quite like the Pacific Northwest. From forests to deserts, mountains to islands and beaches to alpine slopes, just about every type of landscape is represented. There is even a rainforest. And whatever outdoor activity you prefer, whether it’s hiking, biking, snowboarding or skiing, swimming, fishing, hunting, camping or virtually anything else, you can enjoy it in the Washington-Oregon-British Columbia trifecta.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best outdoor opportunities in the Pacific Northwest for camping, hiking and more. Maybe I should modify that. “Best” is hard to define. Instead, let’s just say these are some of the “greatest” and leave it at that. So without further ado, here are some of the best outdoor destinations in the Pacific Northwest.
North Cascades National Park
Located in the north-central region of Washington State, North Cascades National Park offers a staggering abundance of beautiful scenery and just about every outdoor activity you can imagine. One of the most common activities is simply to hike the 5-hour round trip through the mountains, stopping occasionally to admire the sprawling expanse of the mountains. Your best place to start is at Ross Lake, where you can camp and hike at Colonial Creek Campground, hike the Thunder Knob Trail, or take a small boat across the lake.
In the heart of Washington State are the San Juan Islands. To reach them you need to take a ferry that runs between the islands, then once you get there you’ll find a wonderland of tidal pools, wildlife, gorgeous beaches and glorious sunsets. The islands of San Juan and Friday Harbor also offer an array of charming shops to browse, while Lopez Island is famous for its bike. This group of islands is also renowned for its navigation possibilities.
The Olympia Peninsula
The Washington Peninsula offers several microclimates – from beaches along the coast and Puget Sound to the alpine peaks of the Olympia Mountains – all located within a few hours drive of each other. Most notably, the peninsula’s Hoh Rainforest has the distinction of being the largest rainforest in the United States. In the rainforest, you’ll find a real Lord of the Rings vibe, while in coastal towns like Ocean Shores or Westport, you can enjoy plenty of family fun. There are plenty of camping opportunities throughout the area, ranging from RV camping to wilderness hiking to glamping.
city of dunes
Nestled in the southern coastal corner of Oregon, Dunes City feels like another planet. With miles and miles of rolling Saraha-like dunes, this is decidedly the least peaceful place in the northwest of the entire region. Here you will find many campsites, many of which allow you to camp directly on the dunes. Arguably the most popular recreational activity here is renting an ATV and then jumping across the sand at top speed.
On the east side of Oregon stands one of the West Coast’s most unique natural features: the Painted Hills. Famous for its colorful striped appearance due to its many exposed sedimentary layers, it is an extremely magical place to spend the golden hour before sunset and take pictures. There are also a number of quaint old western and ghost towns to explore, such as Mitchell and Horse Heaven. If you love prehistory, keep an eye out for the many opportunities to explore fossils.
In south-central Oregon, you’ll find the deepest lake in the United States, Crater Lake. With its crystal clear waters, it is unlike virtually any other place on Earth. Translation: This is an amazing photo opportunity. It’s also located along the Umpqua National Forest, which is about as lush and green as it gets, with plenty of hiking and camping opportunities. The Umpqua/Crater Lake area is a bit far from major cities, so it would be a good idea to check them both out while you’re in the area.
Visible from nearby Portland, Mount Hood is extraordinarily scenic. With countless camping opportunities, fishing lakes, hiking trails and glamping resorts, there is something for everyone. Here you’ll also find the Timberline Lodge, which you might recognize as the Overlook Hotel in the movie the brilliant. It’s only moderately haunted, I promise.
On a clear day, Seattle residents have a saying: The Mountain is out. The mountain they refer to is Mount Rainier, looming in the distance. Although there are many easy-to-access campgrounds scattered around its base, if you feel particularly keen on hiking, you can still reach the top of the mountain via a one or two-day hike, which which is a moderately strenuous hike. While you don’t need to be an expert to take on this business, it’s not exactly for beginners. There are a number of mountaineering schools located on the mountain that will provide the training needed to up your hiking game.
If you’re looking to head further north, drive about an hour upriver from Vancouver and you’ll find one of BC’s outdoor gems: the mountain town of Squamish. The town and surrounding region offer plenty of hiking and camping opportunities, and it is becoming increasingly popular among mountain bikers, thanks to its abundance of trails designed for a wide range of skill levels.