Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in the Pacific Northwest

  • Published 2021/11/09

The Pacific Northwest is one of the most breathtaking scenic regions in the continent, with diverse loveliness that meets the eye at every turn—an ideal destination for long and leisurely road trips.

In the Pacific Northwest, there are ancient woods, lovely cities, cliff-studded beaches, charming coastal towns, endless flower fields, foggy shores, wooded mountains, live volcanoes, and so much more.

There is an endless bounty of sights for anyone taking a multi-day journey, and it’s a true haven for both seasoned outdoor explorers and urban travelers taking on the region.

The Pacific Northwest has a characteristic climate and geography, making for an astonishing range of things to do on this side of the continent.

If you’re already planning stops for a road trip and seeking out ideas for places to go, read on to know the 15 best things to do in the Pacific Northwest.

Take a Sightseeing Tour at Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park's Ecosystems

Jakapong Paoprapat /

Another noteworthy state park to visit in Washington is Olympic State Park, set in the farthest corner of the United States.

This vast, pristine, and resplendent park amazingly contains four entire ecosystems within itself, all of which are possible to visit in a day!

Visit miles upon miles of Washington coast: storm-battered rock, sand, and trees; tide pools swimming with life; sea stacks, cliffs, and rock arches; and wildlife such as sea otters, whales, seals, raccoons, and eagles, all of which you will see when hiking a wilderness beach.

Olympic National Park's Ecosystems

Galyna Andrushko /

Step upon the temperate rainforests with gigantic trees wrapped in warm green ferns, moss, and lichen; abundant falls of rain; and wandering river otters, deer, and elk.

Journey up the mountains on excellent hiking trails to view ridges, meadows, and wildflower growths; look upon lakes, forests, and oceans; spot black bears and mountain goats; and attempt to scale the craggy heights on the alpine zone and nearby Mount Olympus.

Olympic National Park's Ecosystems

Checubus /

Explore the lowland forests and their huge ancient trees like western hemlock and Douglas fir, look for spotted owls among the tree trunks and go on a scenic cruise around the lakes.

The Olympic Peninsula is a true escape to nature, and Olympic National Park holds all that and more.

See Strange Lands at Craters of the Moon National Preserve

Strange Lands at Craters of the Moon National Preserve

Kris Wiktor /

If you feel like you want to step out of this world and onto an alien planet, this uncanny destination in central Idaho is a landscape unlike any other.

It is a 400 square mile protected area blanketed in flood basalt, an exceptionally well-preserved lava field created thousands of years ago by eruptions.

Start by picking up your park map and permit at the Robert Limbert Visitor Center and ask the rangers any questions you have.

Strange Lands at Craters of the Moon National Preserve

Kris Wiktor /

Drive the park loop road as you scope out the trails, and you will see the Devil’s Orchard, which takes you through crumbled rock and lava, and the Twisted Tree, which helped scientists date the lava flow in the area.

The North Crater Flow Trail is a path paved across the younger lava flows, and here there are ashy slopes, satellite craters, irregular spatter cones, and gently undulating pahoehoe flows.

Hike up the Inferno Cone— formed when volcano froth erupted then piled up— a cinder cone that seems steep and intimidating, but once you’re up there, the panoramic sights and abundant greenery are all worth it.

Strange Lands at Craters of the Moon National Preserve

Kris Wiktor /

Another feature is the Snow Cone Trail, spatter cones formed by an eruption that tossed around chunks of molten lava which went on to form tiny volcanoes; here, you will find a deep crater where snow resides year-round.

Go inside caves and lava tubes that brought heated magma to the surface until they bubbled up and formed this extraordinary landscape: tubes left behind when the lava flow stopped.

Start planning your visit to the strange and surreal geography of Crater Moon National Preserve.

Strange Lands at Craters of the Moon National Preserve

Kris Wiktor /

Cherish the Scenic Views at Mount Rainier National Park

Views at Mount Rainier National Park

Galyna Andrushko /

One of the most postcard-worthy places in Washington State is Mount Rainier National Park.

Mount Rainier is an active volcano capped with glaciers that is also the tallest peak in the entire Pacific Northwest and the Cascade mountain range.

At 14,410 feet, it is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

The park surrounds the entirety of Mount Rainier and is a paradise of mountains, bodies of water, snowfields, and ancient forested slopes.

Views at Mount Rainier National Park

Beach Creatives /

This park is a scenic pleasure with its amazing views of alpine lakes, the Cascades in the distance, and the iconic mountain at the center of it all.

Take any of the wild trails where there is a profusion of wildflowers carpeting the slopes in magical bloom.

Explore the glaciers that make the mountain one of the most heavily glaciated peaks in the lower 48 states, or walk in the ancient Grove of the Patriarchs and get lost among the towering firs, cedars, and hemlock.

Views at Mount Rainier National Park

Mike Peters /

For more intense views of Mount Rainier up close, take up the more arduous hikes that give you staggering viewpoints as you get close to the summit.

You might also choose to view Mount Rainier against a star-filled night sky with the mighty Milky Way behind its signature peak.

You’re guaranteed to leave the park with a memorable impression of this mountain and its slopes.

Wander Around Cannon Beach

View of Cannon Beach's Stunning Sights

Art Boardman /

You can have a great beach getaway on the Pacific Northwest side of Oregon, right on Cannon Beach.

With stone formations dominating the shoreline, glimpses of marine life at low tide, and waves hitting the rolling shore, it’s easy to see why this coastal location is considered one of the 100 most beautiful places in the world.

Hold a festive picnic on the sand, light bonfires at sunset to warm up in the evening chill, fly a kite in the winds that blow in from the coast, and catch a genuinely glorious sunset in the vastness where the sky meets the shore.

View of Cannon Beach's Stunning Sights

VagnerRoque /

Stop by to have delicious food and a drink at the nearby brewery and scout for great beach finds at the boutiques and galleries.

And you mustn’t miss the coastal icon that is Haystack Rock.

Haystack Rock along Cannon Beach is an almost mystical sight: a massive sea stack looming over the beach and a dazzling geological feat that anyone has to see to believe.

View of Cannon Beach's Stunning Sights

cdrin /

It is a piece of Oregon’s coastal history created millions of years ago by molten lava flows and is now surrounded by migrations of birds and intriguing tide pools with strange, colorful creatures.

People everywhere have described it as an awe-inspiring spectacle and find themselves nearly unable to believe the sheer size of it every time they visit Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach remains a firm favorite among coastal destinations, and once you make your stop, you’ll get an idea why.

View of Cannon Beach's Stunning Sights

Marisa Estivill /

Admire Crater Lake National Park’s Grandeur

Crater Lake National Park's Grandeur

Kris Wiktor /

Crater Lake National Park, located in Oregon, is a gem of the Cascade Mountain Range, containing lively forests, rich wildlife, and a most majestic blue lake, the end-product of the ancient Mount Mazama collapsing in on itself after a cataclysmic eruption.

At 1943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and you have never quite seen a shade like its stunningly dark blue waters that come entirely from snow and rain, making it one of the purest and cleanest in the world.

Crater Lake is made entirely of glacial runoff and precipitation, which are responsible for its clarity and intense blue color.

Crater Lake National Park's Grandeur


Drive through Rim Drive, the 33-mile centerpiece road with almost 30 scenic pullouts that let you appreciate the beautiful land, natural scenery, and the wonder and majesty of the lake from every possible angle.

As you circle the park, you will also have outstanding views of the ancient forests and the diverse range of creatures in the lands around it.

The heavens are just as much a part of the display, and you will catch your breath at the sunrise glow in the lake, the striking golden sunsets, and the astoundingly clear night sky over the park.

Crater Lake National Park's Grandeur

Kris Wiktor /

Another otherworldly sight is the strange islands coming out of the lake, such as Wizard Island, a submerged volcano-within-a-volcano humped hundreds of feet above the surface, or Phantom Ship Island, a series of tall and mysterious crags right off the lakeshore.

Stay a few nights to allow time to traverse Crater Lake and its surroundings and discover why it’s the subject of so much inspiration, wonder, study, and exploration.

Ride the Dunes at Bruneau Dunes State Park

View of Bruneau Dunes State Park

Peter Milota Jr /

This state park in Idaho is among the more remarkable ones that sit on the Snake River.

The desert wind has shaped the dunes here for over ten thousand years, stripping layers of sand from the highlands and slowly depositing them to the Bruneau basin.

Along with the smaller dunes, this park also boasts a 470-feet high sand dune, the largest single-structured dune in North America.

View of Bruneau Dunes State Park

Sam Strickler /

The park has many attractions for visitors—one can go hiking, horseback riding, bluegill fishing, stargazing, or take Observatory tours.

The highlight of the Park’s activities, however, is sandboarding on the dunes.

Rent wooden sandboards and sand sleds at the visitors’ center, hike up the sand dune of your choice, and finally go down the sand in a crazy and exhilarating desert ride.

View of Bruneau Dunes State Park

CSNafzger /

You may sled down the dunes, or you could also ride a sandboard down the sand feeling like the desert version of an epic snowboarder or surfer – you might wipe out harder than you would on the sled, but the challenge is a lot of fun!

Bruneau Dunes State Park is open year-round, so note their campsite details, remember your desert supplies, and prepare for some desert fun.

Spot Marine Life at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

View of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area with its Lighthouse

Oleksiy Oleksyuk /

Another Pacific Northwest coastal destination that shouldn’t be missed is Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.

It is among the prettiest parks on the coast of Oregon, with a well-trodden history and the perfect location for a merging of human beings and the oceanside natural world.

The beacon of the park is its stately lighthouse, a picturesque structure in the waves pounding the basalt headland where you can hear tales of the long-gone days on the coast and learn about the rudiments of lighthouse-keeping.

View of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area with its Lighthouse

Jacqueline Lee /

At the Interpretive Center, browse seabird and marine culture exhibits and learn the histories of the past lighthouse keepers and their families.

Train binoculars on the rocks off the shore where there is a multitude of birdlife: peregrine falcons, kestrels, pelicans, cormorants, swallows, and eagles are just a few of the species found there, depending on the time of year.

Follow the trails to the tide pools—some of the best on this side of the coast— with their colorful urchins, sea anemones, hermit crabs, starfishes, mussels, aquatic plants, and other sorts of sea life at low tide.

On the rocks below the headland, you might spy sea lions and harbor seals sunning themselves and might even catch a glimpse of gray whales going by.

View of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area with its Lighthouse

Marv Vandehey /

Walk the staircase below the cliffs to Cobble Beach, made entirely of grey cobblestones with a pretty cliffside ocean view and a pleasing sound made by the stones when the tide crashes into them.

Climb up to Salal Hill for a panorama of the entire headland, the lighthouse, the surrounding coves, and the adjacent beach.

Know how this coastal landmark truly does live up to its name and thrives by the ocean that gives it life.

Be Astounded by the Painted Hills

View of Painted Hills

Christian Petrone /

Another wonder of Oregon awaits you at the Painted Hills.

Here you will find the landscape made up of hills that appear in striations of red, tan, gold, orange, and black stripes, intense and almost unreal under the open sky.

They are a study in stratigraphy: eruptions deposited volcanic ash layers of rock over millions of years, and over this time, minerals underwent chemical reactions and finally settled into the varicolored bands one sees today.

View of Painted Hills

Claudia G Cooper /

Behold the extraordinary sight of the hills changing hues and shades at different moments of the day, brightening to life during sunrise and sunset.

Hike the trails to spot varying shades of yellow, lavender, and crimson and catch the stunning red-gold overlook when the sun goes down.

Or walk through historical sites where fossils were once excavated, trek to a massive knoll bright with yellow and red clay, and catch the sweeping sight of the colored hills from high vantage points.

View of Painted Hills

MattLphotography /

Just be sure to protect yourself from the desert sun, watch out for living critters, and take a lot of water, and you’ll be ready for the excursion ahead.

The eye-catching bright bands and hilly terrain of this land truly will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a strange new universe, and that alone will be worth making the trip.

Have Adventures at Columbia River Gorge

View of Columbia River Gorge

Kumiko Shafer /

Still another of Oregon’s wonders is the Columbia River Gorge, the longest national scenic spot in the United States which divides Oregon from Washington.

You will behold incredible vistas and some of the world’s most jaw-dropping waterfalls with plenty of opportunities for outdoor escapades.

Stop at the Crown Point Vista House, perched on a promontory hundreds of feet over the mighty Columbia River, with its elegant marble floors, stained glass windows, viewing deck – and naturally, an incredible view from on high.

View of Columbia River Gorge

Bill Perry /

Plan a hike to any of the endless waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge, which has the highest concentration of them in the region.

One of them is Multnomah Falls, the tallest falls in the state pouring down in two tiers and a glorious 600 feet: a remarkable destination of the Pacific Northwest.

Outdoor recreation lovers will surely enjoy the opportunities for windsurfing, jet skiing, sailing, kiteboarding, and kayaking down the Hood River.

View of Columbia River Gorge

Stephen Moehle /

Anyone searching for an unusual sight will be in for a treat watching the salmon swim upstream at the Bonneville Hatchery when they come back from the ocean to the rivers.

And for a break from all the exciting sights, visit the Hood River Fruit Loop, a scenic drive into the farms, wineries, and fruit stands where you can take a pick of garden-fresh produce, seasonal fruits, and wine that the region has to offer.

The Columbia River Gorge carries many varied adventures anyone shouldn’t miss.

Feel the Power of Snoqualmie Falls

View of Snoqualmie Falls

Sean Pavone /

Do you want to have a look at one of the most visited waterfalls in Washington State?

Snoqualmie Falls is indeed among the state’s biggest scenic attractions.

Its popularity soared to cult status when it featured on the opening credits of the cult-hit television show Twin Peaks.

The word Snoqualmie comes from the Salish tribe’s word for ‘moon,’ and the Salish people consider the falls a place of an immense spiritual draw.

View of Snoqualmie Falls

Kenneth Sponsler /

The falls are where the Snoqualmie River plummets down a 268-foot cliff, crashing with an almighty boom, spilling into a wide basin surrounded by age-old trees.

Follow the interpretive trail, which affords a viewpoint from the upper to the lower fall.

The trail has markers on the path that teach people about flora and fauna throughout the park and hold information on the culture of the Native American locals.

You will find a steep little hike with information plaques on the native wildlife, complete with their Snoqualmie names.

View of Snoqualmie Falls

Cascade Creatives /

At the bottom, you will find a boardwalk along the river, where the sound of the waters falling becomes thunderous, and you will walk in a cloud of mist and read signs chronicling the historical importance of Snoqualmie Falls.

The falls can get very intense during stronger weather, with the mist soaking anyone on the observation decks and the strong vibrations from the roar and thunder of the water.

See for yourself why Snoqualmie Falls was considered a place of great power by long-ago tribes.

Visit the Maryhill Stonehenge Monument

View of the Maryhill Stonehenge Monument

Neil Lockhart /

How about a trip to a historical monument erected on a mistaken assumption?

The Maryhill Stonehenge is a concrete, steel, and tin replica of Stonehenge in England.

Sam Hill, an eccentric entrepreneur and pacifist, commissioned the monument in the early 20th century.

Following the prevalent interpretation of the time, Hill had (mistakenly) assumed that the original Stonehenge was a site of sacrifice, and so he commissioned the monument to remind everyone that humanity is capable of being a sacrifice to the god of war.

View of the Maryhill Stonehenge Monument

whojiggy /

The dedication plaque states that the monument memorializes soldiers and sailors of Klickitat County who died defending their country.

It then states that the monument stands in the hope that those inspired by their valor and heroism would continue to burn in the fire of patriotism and liberty.

View of the Maryhill Stonehenge Monument

Danita Delimont /

It was the very first monument in the United States to honor the World War I dead, and just like the original Stonehenge, it is an enchanting place to be on the summer and winter solstice.

Here there are memorials to fourteen soldiers, Hill’s resting place just below, and a nearby marker that carries the names of everyone who died in dissents from World War II up to the present.

See this solemn piece of history on a quiet bluff close to the Columbia River in Maryhill, Washington.

View of the Maryhill Stonehenge Monument

Karin Hildebrand Lau /

Stroll Through Skagit Valley Tulips

View of Skagit Valley Tulips

Ganeshkumar Durai /

Every springtime, a wondrous phenomenon meets the eye in Skagit Valley, Washington.

For an entire month, the valley treats you to the sight of millions of tulips bursting into colorful bloom at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

Skagit Valley is a place of verdant farmland against a backdrop of the snowy Cascade Mountains and has millions of bulbs planted and ready for the festival every April.

View of Skagit Valley Tulips

Irra /

The festival is a driving tour, and you can get maps to the different tulip fields ahead of time and check their respective schedules.

Book a place to stay in the valley, plan your trip to the fields, and be sure to secure a good parking place when you get there.

And then it’s time for a spectacular flower explosion as you view springtime’s gorgeous parade: the stripes and rainbows of color on the fields and all the varicolored tulip gatherings in the gardens are there for you to admire to your heart’s content.

View of Skagit Valley Tulips

Edmund Lowe Photography /

Take many beautiful photographs among flower acres and portray the bursts of color against the snow-capped mountains.

So make sure to wear your best clothes, be careful where you tread, take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints, and enjoy the loveliness that Skagit Valley holds.

Enjoy the Stunning Views at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Stunning Views at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Yingna Cai/

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a classic British Columbia attraction and one of the most enduring ones in the Pacific Northwest.

Its main showcase is a suspension bridge that sways above a rainforest and over the Capilano River, stretching 450 feet across and swinging 230 feet from the canyon bottom, and you can experience the thrill of crossing it and walking high above the forest floor.

Then go walking along Treetops Adventure: seven suspension bridges linked together 100 feet above the ground by treetop platforms that will make you think of grand quests from old childhood movies.

Stunning Views at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Michaelf_01 /

The Cliffwalk will also let your imagination soar: a series of semicircle walkways cantilevered and suspended from the cliff face over the river, sure to make your head spin when you look down.

Stop by Raptors Ridge to see the birds of prey that train and rehabilitate there, the Living Forest Walk to learn about the temperate rainforest and its plant and animal species, or the Nature’s Edge Walk to stroll through a quiet boardwalk winding into the trees.

And as you enjoy the park, have a very Canadian snack of ‘Beaver Balls,’ small pancakes drizzled in sugar and maple syrup: one of their signatures!

In this park, experience the delight of a forest adventure and soak in the enchantment of walking in nature’s depths.

Go Whale Watching in British Columbia

Whale in British Columbia

Nina B /

After traveling a long way, why not grab a chance to see some gorgeous living creatures in their natural habitat?

British Columbia is one of the ideal places in the world to watch whales in their natural environment!

You will glean comfort from knowing you’re not supporting the captivity practice and instead get to watch these stunning and intelligent creatures out in the ocean where they belong with their families and their pods.

A range of whale-watching tours in British Columbia offers you everything from hour-long trips on a zodiac boat, multiple-day tours on a cruiser, week-long excursions on a sailboat, or even outings on sea kayaks.

Whale in British Columbia

Birdiegal /

Travel out into the open ocean and spot native species like gray whales, humpback whales, orcas, and minke whales.

It is an incomparable experience to find these incredible animals up close and drift alongside them as they socialize, fluke, play, feed, and travel together in the ocean that is their home.

Other species around are bald eagles, elephant seals, harbor seals, sea lions, and porpoises that sometimes like to leap and play alongside boats.

Learn about the abundant wildlife in the area and the ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean from expert guides.

These marine wonders are sure to give you an outstanding experience in your explorations of the Pacific Northwest.

Get Lost in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

View of Nature at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Sara Winter /

There’s a serene quality to the west coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, although it faces the wild Pacific Ocean.

Here sits Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a national treasure of Canada with fjords, rainforests, and rugged beaches everywhere that meets the eye.

The First Nations people consider the area sacred territory and work with the park for long-term conservation and the ecological use of natural and cultural resources in the lands within.

View of Nature at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Carrie Cole /

At the Long Beach area, you can watch the surfers and go cold-water surfing, comb for driftwood and ocean treasures, then walk through a forest and be stunned by the sea stack formations and ocean vistas.

You can wander around the dramatic shorelines and admire the sea life, walk on extraordinary bog ecosystems teeming with plant life, and look out for old-growth rainforest trees on the trails.

Drop by the Kwisitis Visitors Center and learn about the culture of the First Nations people who dwell on the coast.

View of Nature at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

christian kober /

If you are an experienced hiker, you can take off for days on the West Coast Trail through beaches, cable cars and ladders, and a deep trek into the Canadian rainforest.

There are beautiful clear waters in the Broken Group Area where you can go kayaking, snorkeling, and diving or explore the islands by boat for days.

Be ready for anything as you traverse this wild yet tranquil coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Final Thoughts

The Pacific Northwest is an epic stretch of land that will take anybody on a journey through wondrous outdoor escapes.

Start planning your itinerary, and don’t forget to consult this list as you set out for this prodigiously adventuresome region.

One trip might not be enough for every Pacific Northwest milestone you want to reach!

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