12 Best Things About the Pacific Northwest

Yes, we’re aware it rains in the Pacific Northwest. That does not stop us from loving it. The climate has

#6...the volcanos. Photo by Ron Reiring

#8…the volcanos. Photo by Ron Reiring

Yes, we’re aware it rains in the Pacific Northwest. That does not stop us from loving it. The climate has created the landscape and it’s shaped the culture. When it rains, it can be kind of a bummer, but when it doesn’t, it’s amazing. We could bounce around our favorite cities-Seattle, Vancouver, Portland-or stay out of them completely and just play on the trails and in the mountains.

Here are a few of our favorite things-oh, and for our purposes, “Pacific Northwest” means Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia (or Cascadia, if you prefer):

1. The Beer
Neither Oregon nor Washington have the most per capita craft breweries in the United States. They have the third and second most, respectively, according to the Brewers Association-382 between the two states.

2. The Coffee
You can love or hate Starbucks (we happen to be quite enamored with it when driving through former Espresso Deserts along interstate highways in the Midwest), but you have to admit that the chain has had more than a little to do with the proliferation of coffee culture in the United States and has provided us with many opportunities to not have to drink Folger’s coffee. Alternately, you don’t have to admit that-you can just go try to have a coffee at every single great coffee shop in the Pacific Northwest. Which should take you several months.

3. Bike Culture
In Bicycling Magazine’s 2014 ranking of bike friendly cities, Portland came in fourth and Washington came in eighth (Eugene was 15th, and Salem was 38th). The League of American Bicyclists named Washington the number one bike-friendly state in the U.S., and Oregon number five.

4. The Oregon Coast
It’s like California without the people (hallelujah!), the water temperature is usually about the same as Santa Cruz, and where it’s not beach, it often looks like Big Sur. There’s tons of camping, and every foot of beach in Oregon is public (thank you 1967 Oregon Beach Bill).

5. Smith Rock
It’s steep, it’s technical, it’s the birthplace of sport climbing in the United States, and it ain’t bad looking either.

6. The Skiing
The snow has higher moisture content, so it sticks to higher-angle faces that might not hold snow in drier climates. Plus, there’s just so damn much of it: Mt. Baker Ski Area clocks an average of more than 53 feet of snow each year and in 1998-99 got 95.

7. The Summer
Sure, Colorado has 300 days of sunshine, and in Southern California the temperature hardly ever dips below a point where you need more than a light jacket. But in the Pacific Northwest, they really appreciate summer-it rains off and on for much of the year, but one day in June or July every year, the sun comes out for real and shows up for work for several weeks in a row.

8. The Vulcaneering
Drive around Oregon and Washington a little bit on a few clear days, and you’ll see one famous volcano after another rising out of the horizon like white ghosts: Rainier, Hood, Baker, Adams, the Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, and Mt. St. Helens. Most of them are good for climbing, most are good for skiing, and some are good for skiing year-round.

9. The North Cascades
Are the North Cascades the gnarliest mountain range in the Lower 48? It’s very likely you wouldn’t know, isn’t it? They’re hard to access, hard to get across, and hard to climb, but way easy to take an incredible photo of.

10. The Mountain Biking
Dark, lovely loam, glowing green rain forests, and it just so happens to be the birthplace of elaborate trail-building in America.

11. Whistler
Not many towns can claim to have world-class biking and skiing, but Whistler can. The brown pow is as good as the white pow, and the bike park is the standard by which all are measured.

12. Squamish
Amazing, varied granite climbing from one to fifteen pitches, right in front of your face-and that’s just the Chief. If you have a little bit of good weather during a visit to Squamish, you’ll see why it’s the most famous rock climbing destination in Canada, and if you have nothing but good weather, you’ll probably think it’s the best rock climbing destination in North America.

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Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
Showing 16 comments
  • JP

    Pretty disappointed with this list…I mean has this guy ever been to the Northwest? Transiting through Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver is far from a glimpse at the Northwest. Check out the rest of these areas before you write an article next time. Central and Eastern Washington and Oregon receive 300+ days of sunshine a year yet the only mention of the weather is of the rain on the Wetside. Pretty poor effort put into this…

    • Robi

      But, if it’s the dry side you’re not really in the influence of the “P” in the PNW.

    • Chris

      I disagree.

    • Dan

      Yup, pretty weak list. Reads like it was created by someone from Southern California who wouldn’t know Moses Lake from Lake Sammamish.

  • Nick

    It’s cool, man. It’s fun keeping our PNW secrets.

  • Piers

    Erm up here in murica’s hat we call it the Pacific Southeast.

  • alpentalic

    Well someone has to say it, Its all lies, the PNW sucks!

  • Christina

    The craft brewery ranking cited is for the number of breweries in the state as opposed to the number of breweries per capita. Oregon has the highest number of breweries per capita and Washington is ranked 8th (Vermont is the second highest) according to the Brewer’s Association.

  • DK

    The fly-fishing and the Gorge keep me excited to return to the NW.

  • Dan Nelson

    Despite the criticisms from locals, this is a respectable list. With the diversity of people, landscapes and outdoor activities encompassed by the great Pacific Northwest, it’s impossible to please everyone—and finding the top 10 or 12 of anything will always be debated. As local guidebook author and 20-year veteran outdoor writer based in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, the only suggested edit I’d make to the list is adding:

    13: Versatility. Where else can you spend a morning enjoying a sunrise sea kayak outing followed by mid-day ski runs while crossing a gorgeous mountain range, and then cast dry flies for native cutthroat trout on a desert river as the sun goes down?

    • Chris V

      I agree Dan. Born here and have spent most of my life in Washington State. Sure he could have put a couple of the other amazing places east on his list, but the truth is a dozen just couldn’t cover it all anyway…

  • Kit Basswood

    Having grown up in Salem, I’d say the #1 thought that comes to mind is the ability to go from the coast to rainforest to farmland to alpine to high desert in 3 hours. Where else can you do that?

  • Jeff D.

    What? No hiking? The hiking is fabulous in the NW! Especially the Skyline Trail in the Paradise Valley of Mt. Rainier National Park – just to name one.

  • Dennis

    Washington and Oregon are amazing and I tend to agree the list is west-sided but that’s O.K. because being on the east side of the state I get the great skiing, mountain biking and hiking trails more or less to myself. My daughter is 13 now and we went to Fernie last year. She was amazed that we actually had to wait in a ski lift line and a little outraged. She’s been skiing since 3.

  • CMNS

    One of the best things about the Pacific Northwest is being able to combine several of the items on this list. In late April or early May, before the ski resorts close for the season, it’s possible to enjoy a cup of great coffee on the way to the ski hill in the morning and enjoy a local craft beer at the beach later the same day. Although these opportunities come just once or twice every year, it makes living on the coast and slogging through the dreary winters worthwhile.

  • Spliff

    the Columbia river gorge national scenic area

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