When you think of the Pacific Northwest, for most people at least, it’s all about nature. Sure, the Portland Farmer’s Market is the biggest and by far the best in the entire country. Sure, Seattle has the massive Seattle Center complex that can take days to explore. But the real draw in the Pacific Northwest is getting away from it all. The Olympic National Park alone can take a nature-lover a month or more to take in, and that’s just the shiny, gleaming tip of the iceberg.
Start With A City
Even if your goal is to seek solitude (alone or as a family), you should always start with a visit to a city near your destination. Most likely you’ll fly (or take a boat) into either Seattle or Portland. It’s a good idea to spend your first night in or near the city for one simple reason; it’ll give you time to adapt to the local weather conditions and to remember any last-minute provisions you’ll need to buy before you head out into the evergreen forest. Foreign visitors can use this opportunity to get local maps, find one of the big cities’ many places with a currency converter and currency exchange, and take a gander at what the local adventure outfitters consider to be ‘standard’ gear for a week in the wild.
Special Note: Cabela’s
Cabela’s is one of the biggest and grandest outfitters in the country, and it just so happens that the largest Cabela’s on the West Coast is nestled quietly in the unassuming town of Lacey, Washington, a little more than halfway toward Seattle from Portland. If you’re looking for the best in adventuring gear, it’s worth going an hour or two out of your way — and not just for the massive array of stuffed wildlife gnashing its teeth in the middle of the store.
The Best Parks for Real Adventure
Too many travel guides these days assume that Real Adventure comes with ziplines, cliff diving, guided eco-tours, and other similar endeavors. Those things are fun, but the Real Adventure is getting out into the deep woods and feeling what it’s like to separate yourself from civilization for a while. And to do that, there are three great locations in the Pacific Northwest:
- Olympic National Park (Washington)
- North Cascades National Park (Washington)
- Three Sisters Wilderness (Portland, Oregon)
The Three Sisters Wilderness
The Three Sisters are a set of three mountains sitting in a tidy little row in an otherwise fairly low-lying part of the Cascade Mountains. Crisscrossed with more than 250 miles of trails and protected by the Wilderness Act, the Three Sisters offers fishing, camping, hiking, and rock climbing opportunities for the adventure-seeking family. The southern two Sisters are even climbable by most determined families — only the northern Sister takes any technical skill to scale.
North Cascades National Park – Washington
The North Cascades National Park stretches from the northern tip of Lake Chelan (in the middle of Washington State) all the way to the Canadian border. Take a ferry from the city of Chelan out to the quaint little village of Stehekin, and start hiking northward. After a few days of roughing it, a visit to the Ross Lake Resort for comfy beds and a few hot meals will refuel you for the second half of the venture; a long, high-altitude hike to the tiny Hannegan campground to get picked up and taken back to Seattle for a well-deserved rest. It’s a long time off the grid, and one of the most beautiful things most of us will ever experience.
ONP isn’t a long-hike experience. It’s more like a shopping mall than a Wal-Mart. Highway 101 circles nearly the entire park, and dozens of minor roads break off and create incursions into the wilds. It’s possible (even easy) to venture into the park and stay there for a week or more, but the ONP is actually best enjoyed as a series of day-long adventures with a return to a campground or (if you’re the soft type) a motel in between. On the don’t-miss list:
- Hurricane Hill (hard drive, easy hike, phenomenal view)
- Lake Crescent (some of the coldest and cleanest water in the country)
- he Hoh Rainforest (the only temperate rainforest in the USA, home to the famous Hall of Moss)
The Pacific Northwest has a reputation for natural beauty — and for good reason. Come visit for a bit and have an adventure your family will never forget!