Top 15 Pacific Northwest highlights
The Dead Horse Trail in Mt Rainier National Park. (Richard Cummins/LPI)
Where else in North America can you wallow in natural hot springs in the morning, take photos of mountains at lunch time, roll up in one of the world’s coolest cities by mid-afternoon, sample a mind-boggling assortment of locally brewed beers by evening and rock out until dawn?
The Pacific Northwest is a charmer, and its offbeat character and quirky sense of humor make it fun to be around and hard to say goodbye to. Here are just some of the reasons why we love the Pacific Northwest:
1. San Juan Islands, Washington
Sailing to the San Juan archipelago is like entering another world; a greener, cleaner America where bark-stripped madrone trees outnumber buildings and cars play second fiddle to bicycles. There are 450 landfalls in this expansive archipelago if you count every rock, sandbar, islet and eagle's perch between Anacortes and the Canadian border, though only about 200 of these islands are named, and of these, only a handful are inhabited. Washington State Ferries service the four largest - San Juan, Orcas, Shaw and Lopez Islands.
2. Mt Rainier, Washington
At 14,411 ft, majestic Rainier is the Cascades' highest peak and a longstanding Northwestern icon. The mountain's snow-capped summit and forest-covered foothills contain numerous hiking trails, huge swathes of flower-carpeted meadows and an alluring conical peak that presents a formidable challenge for aspiring climbers. Rising commandingly over the bustling population centers of Puget Sound, one brief glimpse of this indomitable and often cloud-enshrouded mountain - with its 26 glaciers and notoriously fickle weather - is enough to inspire a sharp gasp in most visitors.
3. Seattle, Washington
The largest city in the Pacific Northwest also happens to be a perfect distillation of all the great things the region has going for it. Known as the Emerald City, it is home to about 3.3 million people and is a lively, progressive urban center. In addition to being lush with parks and surrounded by natural beauty, Seattle has a phenomenal café and music scene and has some of the best outside art - including a seven-ton bronze statue of Lenin and a giant troll under a bridge.
4. Vancouver, British Columbia
It is Western Canada's largest city, a magnet for 8.7 million annual visitors and best known around the world as a utopia ringed by dense waterfront forest and looming snow-topped mountains. City highlights include Stanley Park's sea-to-sky vistas, artsy Granville Island, Gastown's bars, West Side's beaches and South Main's hipster shops. The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is Vancouver's best museum and the perfect spot to delve into First Nations culture.
5. Portland, Oregon
Call it what you want - PDX, P-Town, Puddletown, Stumptown, City of Roses, Bridge City, River City or Beervana - Portland kicks booty. It hums with a youthful vitality and personal style that are not easy to pigeonhole. It is a place where Gore-Tex rain jackets in fine restaurants are as common as sideburns on a hipster. It is a haven for activists, cyclists, vegetarians, outdoor nuts and dog-lovers, all supporting countless brewpubs, coffee houses and independent shops. It is a livable metropolis with pretty neighborhoods and a friendly, small-town atmosphere.
6. Crater Lake, Oregon
The gloriously still waters of Crater Lake reflect surrounding mountain peaks like a giant dark blue mirror, making for spectacular photographs and breathtaking panoramas. Crater Lake is Oregon's only national park and also the US's deepest lake at 1,943ft deep. You can hike and cross-country ski in the area, but most visitors just cruise the 33-mile loop Rim Drive, which is open from around June to mid-October and offers over 30 viewpoints as it winds around the edge of Crater Lake.
7. Victoria and Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Vancouver Island is laced with colorful, often eccentric settlements, many founded on logging or fishing and featuring the word "Port" in their name. Picture-postcard Victoria, the capital of British Columbia and the island's main city, was long-touted as North America's most English city. This was a surprise to anyone who actually came from Britain, since Victoria promulgated a dreamy version of England that never really was. For those interested in cycling, Victoria has more cycle routes than any other Canadian city.