Even though this is a waterfalls website, we recognize that there are many highlights in the Pacific Northwest (both involving and not involving waterfalls).
So we’ve come up with this page to pay homage to some of the highlights that we think are worth mentioning as you try to figure out what to see and do in your own trip plans.
While I recognize that this list is by no means exhaustive and that it is highly subjective, at least you have an idea of what we loved about the Pacific Northwest Region. By the way, we’re defining this region to encompass the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska.
So without further adieu, here are the highlights in no particular order…
There are quite a few things going on that the average tourist must do when in the Emerald City. Among these activities include the Pike’s Market and the Kerry Park view of the skyline.
Even though Pike’s Market isn’t a natural attraction, when it’s bustling, this is a quintessential Seattle must-do activity and is basically the state’s most famous farmers market. There’s something to be said about the buzz and energy of this place when you have a lot of people all gathered here looking for a good time.
As for Kerry Park, if you’re looking for a good place to view Mt Rainier along with the Seattle Skyline (including the iconic Space Needle), this is a great place to do it on a clear day in the late afternoon.
This quiet and relaxing beach sits on Oregon’s southern coast. Featuring rocks that emerge from both the sand and the tides, it’s a great place to take sunset photos, peer through a sea arch, watching sea lions sun bathing, or just relax and bask in the beauty of the scene.
Given that it’s a bit out-of-the way from cities like Portland or even San Francisco, you truly do feel like you’re in a different place here.
Further up the Oregon Coast about 90 minutes west of Portland, this very popular beach also features rock stacks protruding out of the sand and tides as well as provide gorgeous sunsets when the weather is agreeable.
The seaside town fronting the beach manages to maintain a more or less laid back feel to it despite its proximity to the city.
If you want a different perspective of Cannon Beach, check out Ecola State Park just to the north. There, you get more vistas looking southwards at Cannon Beach as well as a surprising waterfall spilling onto Crescent Beach.
There’s also a sea lion rock there featuring an arch through it though it’s not easy to get a view through its span.
This very progressive and liveable city is also known as the city of gardens as there are numerous ones here to experience. I’m guessing they took full advantage of the city’s tendency to get lots of rain.
Among the gardens that we got a chance to experience were the compact but beautiful Chinese Garden as well as the Japanese Garden. We even witnessed the cherry blossom along the Willamette River on an early Spring trip.
On a clear day, this city also boasts breathtaking vistas of volcanoes such as Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, and of course, the conical Mt Hood. We were fortunate to experience this on a good day from the Japanese Garden as well as the Council Crest Park.
Sea Lion Cave
About 11 miles north of Florence, this unusual attraction features the namesake sea lions in their natural tunnel as well as a gorgeous view of a lighthouse on the other side of the cave.
We don’t think we had ever seen sea lions in their natural habitat this close before, and we found it certainly worth checking out given that it was an activity somewhat agnostic to bad weather.
Crater Lake National Park
This sapphire blue lake was once Mt Mazama before it collapsed in a massive eruption resulting in a large depression that ended up being this famous lake.
It’s one of the deepest freshwater lakes in the US (possibly the deepest) and it contrasts well with the surrounding landscape given its deep blue hues under sunny skies. Adding to the scenic allure were features within the lake like Wizard Island and Phantom Ship.
This is one of Oregon’s major attractions, and it easily gets busy as vacationers from around the world who come here to gaze upon a sight that seems too beautiful to be true. There are plenty of lookouts, hikes, and even a boat tour on the lake itself so indeed there are many ways to experience this place.
Glacier National Park
This dramatic park encompasses the northernmost Rocky Mountains of the United States. Even though most of the glaciers in the park are in danger of being completely gone by either 2020 or 2030, its name is appropriate due to the hanging valleys and U-shaped valleys as well as the glacial lakes left behind in their wake.
Cutting right through the heart of the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which revaled beautiful vistas and shapely peaks capped with snow along with turquoise-blue lakes not to mention numerous cascades and waterfalls.
And that road isn’t the only thing the park has going for it. There were also a pair of other sections of the park in Many Glacier and Two Medicine Valley that were quite dramatic in their own right.
We even managed to spot some wildlife like the majestic grizzly bear or elusive moose as well as some of the more common megafauna like elk, deer, or bighorn sheep.
Mt Rainier National Park
Since this dominates the Seattle skyline and just about any other suburb or urban center or paddock through much of the west-central part of the state, it’s no surprise that it’s the state’s most iconic volcano and highest mountain.
But in order to truly appreciate the beauty of this place, you’ll have to get right onto its slopes and take a hike.
While we came here for waterfalls, there were plenty of vistas as well as trails leading to glaciers. Some of the vistas even included tarns and lakes offering a chance at taking that photo with the mountain reflected in the water.
Plus, some of the meadows are havens for wildflower displays in addition to more vistas. And with the intact ecosystems due to the conservation mentality in National Parks, let’s not forget the chance of spotting wildlife such as bears and eagles.
Mt St Helens National Monument
In May 19, 1980, this volcano erupted violently obliterating much of its north face and the surrounding area within the blast zone. What’s left is a large chunk of the mountain that’s missing exposing a still steaming lava dome as well as a ghostly forest full of bare stumps, a Spirit Lake with a log mat, and a path of destruction that is still visible 30 years since the eruption.
There are two entrances to the monument. The west entrance takes you to the Lava Dome Observatory directly within the path of the pyroclastic flow that occurred here. There are facilities as well as a direct view of the still active lava dome.
The east entrance takes you to Windy Ridge where you can see the scale of the destruction of the blast zone as well as get a perspective of where the famous time sequence photographs were taken of the actual eruption itself (the largest landslide ever documented live).
On a good weather day (like what we were blessed with upon our visit), you could see in almost all directions around you enabling vistas of Mt Adams as well as Mt Hood.
It’s difficult to visit the monument from both entrances in a day due to the amount of driving and winding roads. So give yourself time or an excuse to come back to see how violent yet beautiful Nature can be.
Glacier Bay National Park
I would have to say that this nearly pristine wilderness is perhaps the main highlight of an Inside Passage cruise to southeastern Alaska (you can only get here by boat).
It’s basically a series of glacial fjords, but in particular, we got to experience this wilderness at the Y-shaped inlets joining Johns Hopkins Inlet with Tarr Inlet. That’s where we saw five tidal glaciers converging in this one area and that’s not including a handful of glaciers that aren’t terminating at sea level.
When the weather’s good like it was the day we were here, it could be a spiritual experience as well as one that could move you to tears. It’s that breathtaking, and when you figure in the significance of the ice (human-caused Global Warming is real folks and these glaciers will disappear) along with the chance to spot wildlife like otters, harbor seals, whales, grizzly bears, and bald eagles among others, you know it’s a special place where for once we could see on a large scale what happens when Mother Nature is allowed to operate without interference from us.
Panorama Point and Hood River
This park near Hood River was one of the best places to get a nice clean look at the conical shape of Mt Hood, especially from its quieter northeast face.
In addition to this vista, the town of Hood River was a quaint Columbia River Gorge town, where we also found a rare healthy eatery that Julie was able to have as it was lectin free and more paleo without excessive carbs yet still delicious.
Craters of the Moon
This barren landscape was evidence of a past geological history with its craters and old lava flows.
The reddish and black landscape definitely made us feel like we were on the moon (as the name of the reserve suggested), and the fact that it was in the middle of nowhere further added to the drama of being in such a remote place.
Grand Teton National Park
It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic and signature skyline than that of this mountain range that rises sharply out of the dude ranches and plains into the clouds at upwards of 13,000ft!
There were quite a few places to take in the skyline as well as going on a hike around the Jenny Lake area.
There were even historic barns at Mormon Row acting as the perfect foreground subjects fronting the sharp snow-capped mountains.
To get the most dramatic effect and lighting, you’ll have to be an early bird though.
Yellowstone National Park
You can’t mention highlights without including American’s first National Park. It’s hard to believe that it became that way due to the fact that its protected area spanned multiple states. And since there was no precedent for setting aside something spanning multiple states, they made it national!
That said, the geothermal features, the waterfalls, the mountains and lakes, and the wildlife among others is really what makes this place as special as it is. In fact, there’s so much wildlife out here that they call this the American Serengeti!
This very moist area of the western part of Washington state features loads of ferns and mossy trees as well as beaches with rock stacks and formations.
Even though it was foggy when we showed up, that just added to the mood and the atmosphere of a place this far away from civilization.
I should also mention that this is one of the few places where it might be better under overcast skies (especially in the rainforests) because the greens really jump out of the photos while maintaining even lighting (so no shadows).
A highlights list wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the plethora of waterfalls, especially given the rainy and misty environment that they’re in. After all, there’s a reason why things are as green as they are in the Pacific Northwest!
Naturally since this is a waterfalls website, we’ve got numerous write-ups that extensively cover these features.