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Best Places to Visit in the PNW: 15 Epic Pacific Northwest Vacation Ideas

Renowned for its breathtaking views, rugged coastlines, and vibrant cities, the Pacific Northwest is jam-packed with so many amazing vacations. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast eager to explore the expansive trails of national parks, a foodie looking to indulge in the freshest seafood and local delicacies, or a history buff interested in the region’s rich heritage, the PNW has something for everyone. Here are the 15 best Pacific Northwest vacation ideas.

Where is the PNW?

The Pacific Northwest is a region that sparks friendly debate about its exact boundaries. While Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are usually included, some also consider Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and British Columbia. 

Positioned in the northwest corner of the United States, it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. For the scope of this article, we’ll be covering must-do activities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia (my home province).

Pacific Northwest Vacation Ideas for Nature-Lovers

From hiking through the Hoh Rainforest to road-tripping to scenic waterfalls, there are so many nature-filled adventure getaways in the Pacific Northwest.

Inside Passage Ferry to Prince Rupert, BC

  • Number of days needed: 4 days (for just Prince Rupert and the Inside Passage Ferry) or 10+ days for an entire Northern BC road trip
  • Recommended stay: Cassiar Cannery
  • Best time of year to visit: June to September

A ride along the Inside Passage Ferry is an excellent way to start any PNW vacation. Departing from Port Hardy, this 16-hour ride is met with amazing views, wildlife spotting, and ease. After deboarding in Prince Rupert, you’ll be met with a wide array of adventurous experiences.

Prince Rupert is a quaint coastal town surrounded by the rugged Great Bear Rainforest. During your time here, I highly recommend immersing yourself in the history of the town’s indigenous heritage as well as exploring the great outdoors.

If you have extra time in this corner of the PNW, you can continue exploring Terrace and The Nass Valley, Stewart, and/or Kitimat.

Olympic National Park, WA

Olympic National Park
Credit: Depositphotos
  • Number of days needed: 2+ days
  • Recommended stay: Hoh Valley Cabins
  • Best time of year to visit: May to September

Washington is home to so many amazing national parks. From the spectacular views at Mount Rainier to the rugged mountains and alpine lakes at North Cascades National Park, it’s hard to choose a favorite. However, if you only have time for one, I recommend planning a Pacific Northwest vacation to Olympic National Park, as it has a bit of everything!

It’s just over 2 hours from Seattle, but you’ll feel a world away. During this getaway, you can choose between hiking through the famous Hoh Rainforest, exploring the tide pools, or relaxing on the sandy beaches.

Idaho Hot Springs Road Trip

  • Number of days needed: 7+ days
  • Recommended stay: Campervan if possible!
  • Best time of year to visit: Mid-September to February

Did you know that Idaho is home to the most soak-able natural hot springs in the United States?! This state is oftentimes overlooked by its neighbors. However, it deserves a spot on this list of best Pacific Northwest vacations.

With over 140 usable natural hot springs, this road trip could last for weeks. Some highlights include Pine Flats, Kirkham Hot Springs, Sunbeam Hot Springs, and the famous Boat Box. Each spring has different rules, fees, and hiking difficulties, so it’s important to do research before arriving at each hot spring.

San Juan Islands, WA

San Juan Islands
Credit: Depositphotos
  • Number of days needed: 6+ days to explore each island
  • Recommended stay: This will differ depending on the island you choose to explore.
  • Best time of year to visit: May to September

The San Juan Islands make for one of the very best places to visit in all of Washington state. Visitors can reach the islands via a ferry ride from Anacortes Ferry Terminal.

Each island has its unique charm; Lopez Island is known for its friendly community and gentle bike-riding terrain, Orcas Island offers a more hilly landscape with the stunning Moran State Park, and San Juan Island is rich in history and culture with its bustling harbor town of Friday Harbor.

Columbia River Gorge, OR

  • Number of days needed: 2 to 3 days
  • Recommended stay: Skamania Lodge
  • Best time of year to visit: April to June

Calling all waterfall lovers! The Columbia River Gorge will quickly become your favorite getaway. Stretching 80 miles from the Deschutes River to Portland, you’ll find over 90 waterfalls. You can start this PNW vacation by flying into Portland and then driving 30 miles to your first waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls.

Then, continue driving east with stops at Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, and the famous Multnomah Falls. Continue the road trip another 13 miles along the Columbia River Highway to Cascade Locks (saving time for more waterfalls along the way). This is an excellent place to grab dinner and spend the night.

Pacific Northwest Vacation Ideas for Beer and Wine-Enthusiasts

Although California is known for producing the most wine, the Pacific Northwest also has some not-to-be-missed wine regions! Don’t worry; I threw in a great beer destination as well!

Willamette Valley, OR

  • Number of days needed: 4 to 7 days
  • Recommended stay: Will differ depending on the region you choose to explore
  • Best time of year to visit: September to early November (Harvest season)

It doesn’t get much better than a wine vacation to the Willamette Valley! Willamette Valley stretches over 150 miles from Portland to Eugene. Throughout the region, you’ll find over 700 wineries. Yep, 700!

During your getaway, I recommended taking the time to explore each of the four regions. North Willamette Valley is known for its intimate family-owned wineries and delicious Pinot Noir. South Willamette Valley has a rustic charm, a warmer climate, and less crowded wineries. The eastern region is closest to Portland and home to urban wineries, while the western region is best known for its wild and natural beauty.

In addition to wine tasting and touring vineyards, you’ll also find a plethora of outdoor activities, quaint shops, and vibrant events.

Walla Walla, WA

  • Number of days needed: 3 days
  • Recommended stay: The Wesley Walla Walla
  • Best time of year to visit: April to June

Although not as expansive or popular as the Willamette Valley wine region, Walla Walla is a great stop for wine lovers in Washington state. This region is quite the hidden gem; however, you’ll still find over 130 wineries and almost 3,000 acres of planted vineyards.

This area is particularly known for its Cabernet, Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, so there’s sure to be a wine for everyone. After checking out a few tasting rooms, be sure to save some time to stroll down the quaint downtown, where you’ll find charming boutiques and farm-to-table restaurants.

Okanagan Valley

  • Number of days needed: 2 to 3 days
  • Recommended stay: The Cove Lakeside Resort
  • Best time of year to visit: July to August

Heading further north into British Columbia, you’ll find one of BC’s top-producing wine regions. Okanagan Valley is known for its dry, sunny climate and fertile soils, creating ideal conditions for vineyard cultivation.

In addition to its 180+ wineries, visitors will also find adventurous activities such as boating on Okanagan Lake, hiking along the many miles of trails, or picking some fruit at the many U-Pick orchards.

Bend, OR

  • Number of days needed: 3 to 5 days
  • Recommended stay: Riverhouse on the Deschutes
  • Best time of year to visit: June to September

As promised, if wine is not your thing, Bend is an excellent destination in the Pacific Northwest for beer lovers. Bend, OR, is nestled at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and has rapidly gained a reputation as a haven for beer enthusiasts. It’s sometimes even called “Beer City USA” and has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon.

During your trip to this mountain town, I recommend stopping at the Bend Visitor Center to pick up a free Bend Ale Trail passport. It’s a fun way to track your progress and win fun prizes for visiting the town’s breweries.

And when you need a beer break, Bend is also home to a plethora of outdoor fun, such as river rafting, hiking, and skiing.

Pacific Northwest Vacation Ideas for City Slickers

The following PNW cities each have their eclectic mix of culture, cuisine, and creativity. These vibrant cities are perfect for anyone looking for a unique urban retreat!

Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
  • Number of days needed: 2 days
  • Recommended stay: Tiny Digs Hotel of Tiny Houses
  • Best time of year to visit: June to August

Portland offers a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience with a blend of quirkiness and natural beauty. Oftentimes referred to as the “City of Roses,” visitors will love exploring the vibrant arts and culture scene and eclectic neighborhoods. The food and craft beer scene is also regarded as one of the best in the United States.

While exploring the city, be sure to pay a visit to the Portland Art Museum, Powell’s City of Books, the Japanese Gardens, and (if visiting on a Saturday) the famous Portland Saturday Market.

If you have extra time (and want to add a bit of nature to your city vacation) head to Cannon Beach to check out some popular hiking trails along the Oregon coast and to marvel at the famous haystack rock. It would be especially magical to go horseback riding along the shores!

Victoria, BC

  • Number of days needed: 2 days
  • Recommended stay: Fairmont Express
  • Best time of year to visit: March to May (whale watching and cherry blossoms)

Victoria, the (extremely) picturesque capital of British Columbia, is an essential Pacific Northwest getaway. The city has a unique blend of old-world charm and modern vibrancy. During your visit, you’ll love marveling at the historic architecture and lush gardens.

Highlights include a trip to Butchart Gardens, whale watching, kayaking, or simply biking throughout the city.

Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
  • Number of days needed: 2 to 3 days
  • Recommended stay: Treehouse Point
  • Best time of year to visit: June to August

As with most cities in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is an ideal destination for anyone seeking a blend of city life with natural beauty. It’s Washington state’s largest city, with a whopping population of almost 750,000. Bordered by the sparkling waters of Puget Sound and Lake Washington with Mount Rainier as a backdrop, Seattle is a city full of panoramic views.

While visiting, be sure to factor in time to stroll around the famous Pike Place Market, take in the views from the top of the Space Needle, and indulge in the fresh seafood. If you visit in the summer months, you’ll likely find many exciting festivals and events.

Leavenworth, WA

Leavenworth
Credit: Depositphotos
  • Number of days needed: 3 days
  • Recommended stay: Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort
  • Best time of year to visit: October to December

Leavenworth just may be my favorite weekend getaway city in the entire United States. With its Bavarian charm and over-the-top Christmas decorations, it just doesn’t get much better. This small town is nestled in the heart of the Cascade Mountains and is a slice of Europe in the Pacific Northwest.

If you can pull yourself away from the charming downtown, Leavenworth is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. You can go whitewater rafting or kayaking down the Wenatchee River or tackle the trails in the lush forests of the surrounding mountains.

Boise, ID

  • Number of days needed: 3 days
  • Recommended stay: The Riverside Hotel
  • Best time of year to visit: March to September

Although Boise doesn’t always make everyone’s PNW bucket list, I believe it deserves a spot on this list! It’s the vibrant capital of Idaho and provides a perfect blend of urban culture and outdoor recreation. There are many art galleries, theaters, and live music venues, plus many delicious and locally-owned restaurants.

The Boise River Greenbelt is also a great place to take in views of the river, or you can adventure right on the river with a swim or float. You’ll also find the Boise Foothills just outside of the city, which provide ample opportunities for hiking and mountain biking.

Jackson Hole, WY

  • Number of days needed: 3 to 7 days (if wanting to venture into Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone)
  • Recommended stay: The Lodge at Jackson Hole
  • Best time of year to visit: Memorial Day to Labor Day

Jackson Hole is not only a great home base for an epic Teton adventure but also an amazing city to explore! It’s a luxurious destination with a blend of Western charm and sophistication.

During your time in Jackson Hole, you can explore the galleries, boutiques, gift shops, and restaurants and also dive into the culture and history at the nearby museums. The National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum are two of my favorites. The nightly town square gunfight is also fun!

After you have your city fixed, I highly recommend allotting more time in your itinerary to venture into the neighboring National Parks, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone.

Start Planning Your Pacific Northwest Vacation Today!

Have I convinced you how many amazing Pacific Northwest destinations there are?! Whether you are craving fresh seafood from a bustling city or want to partake in the plethora of outdoor activities, the Pacific Northwest has a vacation for everyone!

Now is the time to visit the Pacific Northwest!

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks

Related: Prepare to Be Amazed: 15 Quaint Small Towns in the USA That’ll Steal Your Heart!

Originally Published on https://thefrugalexpat.com/

Steve Cummings Journalist, Traveler, and Personal Finance Enthusiast

Steve Cummings is a traveler, writer, and personal finance enthusiasts that has taken an adventure to leave his home country to travel and live around the world with his family. Through many years of learning he seeks to help those to save more and travel better. He has been featured in MSN, The Associate Press Wire, and various other content outlets with his writing and publications through his website The Frugal Expat. In the last six years, He has traveled to all seven continents, over 30 different countries, and has lived abroad learning and teaching others about good financial habits and travel hacks.

As an ex-English Teacher, he hopes to provide good tips and education on money and travel to help people think outside the box and achieve the impossible.

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