Few places on earth offer an outdoor lover’s paradise quite like the Pacific Northwest. From forests to deserts, from mountains to islands and from beaches to alpine slopes, almost 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 triangle.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best outdoor options in the Pacific Northwest for camping, hiking and more. Maybe I should change that. “Best” is difficult 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 Pacific Northwest’s greatest outdoor destinations.
North Cascades National Park
Located in the north-central region of Washington state, North Cascades National Park offers a breathtaking array of beautiful scenery and just about every outdoor activity you can imagine. One of the most common activities is simply driving the 5-hour loop through the mountains, stopping every now and then to enjoy the vast expanse of the mountains. The 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 watercraft across the lake.
San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are located in the heart of Washington state. To reach them you need to take a ferry that runs between the islands. As soon as you arrive you will find a wonderland of tidal pools, wildlife, stunning beaches and beautiful sunsets. San Juan and Friday Harbor Islands also offer a range of charming shops to browse, while Lopez Island is famous for its cycling. This archipelago is also known for its sailing opportunities.
The Olympia peninsula
Washington’s peninsula offers multiple microclimates—from the beaches along the coast and Puget Sound to the alpine peaks of the Olympia Mountains—all within a few hours’ drive of one another. In particular, the peninsula’s Hoh Rainforest is considered the largest rainforest in the United States. You’ll find a no-nonsense Lord of the Rings vibe in the rainforest, while you’ll find plenty of family-friendly entertainment in seaside towns like Ocean Shores or Westport. There are many camping options throughout the region, from RVs to wild backpacking to glamping.
Tucked away in Oregon’s southern coastal corner, Dunes City feels like another planet. With miles of Saraha-like rolling dunes, it’s definitely the most non-Pacific place in the Northwest of the entire region. Here you will find many campsites, many of which allow you to camp right on the dunes. Arguably the most popular pastime here is to rent an ATV and then blast across the sands at full speed.
The Painted Hills
On the eastern side of Oregon is one of the West Coast’s most unique natural features: the Painted Hills. Famous for its colourful, striped appearance due to its many layers of sediment exposed, this is an utterly magical place to spend the golden hour before sunset and take photos. There are also a number of quaint old western and ghost towns to explore such as Mitchell and Horse Heaven. If you are interested in prehistory, keep an eye out for the many opportunities to explore fossils.
Crater Lake National Park
In south-central Oregon you will find the deepest lake in the United States – Crater Lake. With its crystal clear waters, it looks like practically no other place on earth. Translation: It’s an incredible photo opportunity. It is also adjacent to the Umpqua National Forest which is as lush and green as it gets with plenty of hiking and camping opportunities. The Umpqua/Crater Lake region is a little far from the big cities so it would be wise to experience them both while you’re in the area.
Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood can be seen from the nearby city of Portland and is exceedingly picturesque. With countless camping opportunities, fishing lakes, hiking trails and glamping resorts, there is something for everyone. This is also where you’ll find the Timberline Lodge, which you might recognize as the Overlook Hotel in the movie The Shining. It’s only moderately haunted, I promise.
Mount Rainier National Park
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. While there are plenty of easy-to-reach campsites around its base, you can always climb the mountain via a day or two, which is a moderately strenuous hike, if hiking is your thing. While you don’t need to be an expert to undertake this endeavor, it’s not exactly for newbies. There are a number of mountaineering schools on the mountain that offer the training necessary to improve your hiking game.
If you want to head further north, drive about an hour up from Vancouver and you’ll find one of British Columbia’s outdoor gems: the mountain town of Squamish. The city and region around it offer plenty of hiking and camping opportunities, and it’s becoming increasingly popular with mountain bikers thanks to its abundance of trails designed for a variety of skill levels.