Top 15 Pacific Northwest highlights
8. Oregon Coast, Oregon
Driving along Oregon's coast is a must-see highlight any time of year. Rocky headlands loom high above the ocean, providing astounding vistas, while craggy rocks lie scattered along the shoreline like oceanic sentinels. The Coast Range is deeply etched by great rivers and patched with forests, offering outdoor enthusiasts excellent boating, fishing and hiking opportunities. The Oregon Dunes - among the largest coastal dunes in the world - stretch for over 50 miles, and, offshore, gray whales migrate offshore from Alaska to Mexico and back.
9. Mt St Helens, Washington
What it lacks in height Mt St Helens makes up for in fiery infamy dating back to the catastrophic volcanic eruption in May 1980, which rocked the mountain and the surrounding countryside. When the smoke finally lifted, Mt St Helens sported a new mile-wide crater on its north side and had lost 1,300 ft in height. A visit to Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument will demonstrate how nature has restored much life to the mountain, although the devastation wreaked by the explosion is still hauntingly evident.
10. Olympic National Park, Washington
Hidden away in the nation's extreme northwest, Washington's spectacular coastline and heavily forested interior showcases over 350 miles of wild, storm-lashed beaches along with some of the country's most untainted and pristine rural ecosystems. The jewel in the crown is the unique Olympic Peninsula and its eponymous national park, a remote and rugged amalgamation of glacier-coated mountains, misty cliffs and lush, temperate rain forest that encases a vast primeval wilderness where human habitation has been kept to a minimum.
11. Mt Hood, Oregon
Oregon's highest peak, Mt Hood (11,240 ft), pops into view over much of northern Oregon whenever there is a sunny day, exerting an almost magnetic tug on skiers, hikers and sightseers. In summer, wildflowers bloom on the mountainsides and hidden ponds shimmer in blue, making for some unforgettable hikes; in winter, downhill and cross-country skiing dominates people's minds and bodies. Timberline Lodge, a handsome wood gem from the 1930s, offers glorious shelter and refreshments year round, and can not be missed.
12. John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon
Within the soft rocks and crumbly soils of John Day country lies one of the world's greatest fossil collections. Discovered in the 1860s by clergyman and geologist Thomas Condon, these fossil beds were laid down between six and 50 million years ago, when this area was a coastal plain with a tropical climate. Roaming the forests at the time were saber-toothed, feline-like nimravids, bear-dogs, pint-sized horses and other early mammals.
13. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Cleanly dividing Oregon and Washington is the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. Driving east on I-84 (or, more leisurely, on the scenic Historic Columbia River Highway) has you passing high waterfalls and nearly vertical mountain walls, all while paralleling the mighty Columbia. Hikers will be entertained by the steep trails that lead through canyons lined with ferns and pretty waterfalls. Wind sport enthusiasts will be blown away (quite literally) by the world-class windsurfing and kite boarding conditions. There are also mountain biking and rafting possibilities, especially around Hood River.
14. Yakima Valley, Washington
With its scorched hills interspersed with geometrically laid-out vine plantations and apple orchards, the Yakima River valley glimmers like a verdant oasis in an otherwise dry and barren desert. Arising from the snowy slopes of Snoqualmie Pass and flowing deceptively southeast (and away from the Pacific) until it joins courses with the mighty Columbia, the fast flowing Yakima River supports a lucrative agricultural industry that churns out copious amounts of cherries, hops, vegetables and peaches, along with the world's largest yield of apples.
15. Ashland, Oregon
This popular city is best known for its internationally renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), which attracts 100,000 playgoers from all over the world and runs for nine months of the year. In fact, Ashland would not be the cultural center of southern Oregon without the OSF, but a visit is well worth it.