The unreplicable Pacific Northwest, offering more public lands than most other regions in the US, is the definition of rugged beauty. Many of the regions in the Pacific Northwest feature wild coastlines beat down by surf-worthy waves with unspoiled beaches and pristine inland nature through state parks, forested areas, and mountains. However, that beauty multiplies when visitors venture off the beaten path!
These coastal gems, towns in the foothills, and mountain enclaves offer a home away from home feel, removed from civilization and set in dramatic, unspoiled, and diverse landscapes. The bonus is that these areas are virtually tourist-free. Epic adventures await along mystical shorelines with tidepools, wildlife, and whale watching. Away from the islands scattered off-shore in the Pacific lies 16 National Forests, a temperate Coastal Mountain rainforests, and the imposing volcanic snow-capped mountains which anxiously await wanderers!
This small town, across the Chetco River from Harbor, sharing a port and the mellow weather, is part of the unique “banana belt” section along the Southern Oregon border, with warmer temperatures than just miles out. Its local parks and gardens from the doorstep delight the eye with azaleas and rhododendrons in the warmest months, while the beautiful Harris Beach State Park is perfect for tide pooling and photoshoots around the large rocky areas. Brookings, the Easter Lily capital of the world with Redwood Groves, is spoiled by nature for outdoor lovers!
Soft, comfortable winters in the mid-60's and rugged 360-degree beauty are the recipe for spectacular year-round adventures. At the north end of town, the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor begins its 12-mile odyssey through beaches, hiking trails, and viewing points. Nearby, Port Orford highlights the scenic coastal highway with more dramatic beaches studded with sea stacks and rock formations, while California, south across the border, offers a contrast to the wild Oregon Coast.
Gold Beach, Oregon
Hidden below the aptly named Rogue River, Gold Beach is a wildly beautiful year-round destination, with fishing and rafting in the summer. Take a riverside hike to where it dispels into the Pacific for a beach day in the unique falltime atmosphere on the southern Oregon Coast, called the Indian Summer, until the end of October. From long scenic walks to lounging and picnics, the miles of unspoiled, wind-swept beaches are particularly calm before the stormy winter. The mild springtime feels like a rebirth, with new growth sprouting in timid greens along the beach, suddenly sporting "hair" next to the ocean, and the ferns in the rainforest elongating their needles.
The sweet myrtles cover the river in a protective embrace, and even the mighty Pacific mimics the dark Douglas Firs in the national forest with its endless emerald green trees. From summertime beachcombing, jet boating, and gaping for whales at the waves that even international windsurfers crave, the 70s in the warmest months feel like a reprieve for hiking, biking, and golfing. Port Orford and Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the furthest point west in the continental United States, are just 40 minutes away, as are northern California's mighty Redwoods!
Hood River, Oregon
This charming town on the mighty Columbia River is hidden along the famed Columbia River Gorge—the windsurfing capital of the world. Snatch a stay perched on a cliff to commence easy-going hikes and gorgeous adventures to the gorge, waterfalls, forests, and wildflowers. Truly a one-stop shop for all and their babies, you can browse, sip, and unwind after a riverside stroll. Nothing gets you started for a day like a breakfast experience at Broder Øst of Scandinavian staples without the lines and coffee from Stoked Roasters with high-quality organic beans.
With vineyards and tasting rooms nearby, like Phelps Creek Vineyards, a MountNbarreL wine-bike tour has never been more relevant for a curated tasting experience. Soak up the booze with a foodie scene at Celio, creative takes on farm-fresh-topped pizzas, and waterfront views at Solstice Wood Fire Cafe or Saw Tooth Roadhouse to build your flatbread. Hood River boasts the most breweries per capita in hops-loving Oregon and a cider daze on the side thanks to its thriving orchards, with the state’s oldest Full Sail Brewing Co. and Hood River Hops Fest in September. For sparkling, head to Slopeswell Cider Co., Fox-Tail Cider, and Hood River Hard-Pressed Cider Fest in April.
The small fishing village at the gateway to Cape Disappointment State Park is your ticket to lighthouses, gorgeous beaches, and rich historic sites. Ilwaco is a real hidden secret for world-class fishing and a vibrant art community with a range of restaurants, shops, and galleries without crowds! Filled with opportunities for exciting adventures, you can hike to scenic overlooks like the trail spurs to Beard’s Hollow, the North Head Lighthouse, and the 8.5-mile, aptly named Discovery Trail. Visit the delightful lavender at the whimsical hillside farm, while Fort Canby's derelict army batteries are exciting to discover under its old-growth forest. There's unique portside lodging for every style, like quaint cottages, yurts, hotels, beachside camping, and RV parks nearby.
Black Lake is a quick drive away, with bountiful trout and bass fishing, trails around, and nearby mountain biking. The Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum offers insights into Chinook Nation and Clamshell Railroad, while art fans look no further than the lively waterfront with galleries of Don Nesbit, Marie Powell, and Luisa Mack, a jeweler, in between shopping and dining venues with views. The gorgeous port—an 800-slip marina—is equipped to the teeth with year-round moorage, two small boat hoists, live bait pens, and more for all types of water fans. The moody surf crashing against the rocky coast caused many shipwrecks, while the scenically lonely Cape Disappointment Lighthouse prevented others.
Kalaloch, part of Olympic National Park with its second-to-none Ruby Beach, is nestled along the southwest coast of the gorgeous Olympic Peninsula. The beach town is a one-stop shop for natural wonders, like out-of-this-world spectacular sunrises and sunsets along the coast. With thousands of marine species under the protection of three national wildlife refuges and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the islands, visible off-shore above high tide for 135 miles, nest colonies of common murres and tufted puffins.
Although a farther drive from major cities and low on amenities, you can enjoy direct access from Highway 101 to nature at its purest with low crowds and the town's Creekside Restaurant to recharge you post-ventures. Kalaloch offers a romantic hideaway to explore the coastline, where Ruby Beach creates a natural boundary with the Hoh River in the north. From beachcombing around tidepools, seastars, and multicolored anemones with panoramic views of the coast and the PNW scenery, you can also access Olympic National Park hotspots like Hoh Rainforest.
La Push, Washington
La Push is a surfboarder's paradise right from the screen at First Beach and the lush Hoh Rain Forest nearby. A real Olympic Peninsula gem, its 70 miles of protected coastline, tidepools, and wildlife sanctuary offer hiking for days in the footsteps of Quileute, Hoh, and Makah and wave handling without crowds. While you may not see a vampire along the forested trails or a werewolf jump out onto the shore, you can catch sight of eagles, deer, cougars, and bears! The Quileute tribe welcomes Twilight fans and their friends to explore the wild land and sea, with awe-inspiring views to the horizon, equipped to unplug and unwind, like a resort, camping and RV sites, and a charming marina.
The Quillayute River, deep-rooted in the local Native American culture, brims with salmon, halibut, tuna, and trout fishing from the beach, by boat, or on a river charter, while the nearby Forks is a timber town to dine in style or get provisions. While the gatherers cook the feast over a beach campfire, you can hike the easy Second Beach Trail along the ocean with stunning sea stacks, seals, and bald eagles, as well as migrating whales between April and October. There's camping for permit holders right at Second Beach, one of the world's most pristine, amid the logs and driftwood for an authentic atmosphere.
Neah Bay, Washington
Rooted deep in local Native American history, Neah Bay is an intriguing destination, with nature abounding along the trails and beaches for unforgettable recreational activities. The area, home since immemorial to "people generous with food"—the Makah, from the Salish language of the neighboring tribes—is more giving than ever. Visitors can hike and camp in the historic tribal footsteps near the Cape Flattery trail for strolls and bike rides, close to the central Bayview Avenue fare through Neah Bay.
Equipped with some modern amenities, Neah Bay is the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, perfect for unwinding over serene fishing trips, hiking ventures, and hanging tens in the clear ocean waters. Some of the artifacts from 300 to 500 years ago, recovered here in the village in the 1970s, are on display at the nationally renowned Museum at the Makah Cultural and Research Center. From the museum to the beaches and the rainforest, you will not run into crowds no matter the season, with various accommodations for an insightful journey into its natural and cultural past.
The hub for the Oregon Dunes region, Reedsport, is one of the state's most diverse and underrated towns, scenically tangled amid three rivers. With verdant wildlife forests at the doorstep and just a short drive to both the ocean and the dunes, the Oregon Coast crossroads town is a hopping place for nature lovers. The sights and culture along the cute streets reveal the rugged notes of the state's spirit and its rich heritage through attractions at the hands of the warm, welcoming locals.
The ancient forests beckon for scenic hikes and camping trips in the footsteps of rough-handed railroad men who set camp in the founding days while building the Southern Pacific Railroad to Coos Bay. Discover heritage around the weathered chainsaw-carved wood sculptures and painted totem poles, while the Umpqua Discovery Center displays exhibits on natural and cultural history. From vantage points along Dean Creek to the northeast-bounding Great River and its arm through town, waterside trailing is endless. There is also a year-round Roosevelt elk habitat, while HWY 101 over the picturesque Umpqua River Bridge leads to the Tide Ways Island Memorial Park.
The tiny town hidden within the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area and four mountain ranges of Sawtooth, Smoky, Boulder, and White Cloud is home to a diverse population of outdoorsmen, ranchers, artists, and few visitors. Stanley's eclectic downtown offers a gamut of scenic pursuits to fill a vacation along its laidback streets. The town off the beaten path at the headwaters of the major Payette, Salmon, Boise, and Big Wood rivers is home to river companies, as well as hundreds of lakes and over 1,000 miles of streams nearby.
No wonder there are so many outfitters, backcountry guides, and adventurous locals from all backgrounds who have found their niche in world-class fishing, whitewater, mountain biking trails, or climbing. Whether you're in for pioneering history at the Stanley Museum or eyeing that inland PNW ruggedness of over 50 peaks over 10,000 feet, Stanley is a one-stop shop for all. With three National Forest Scenic Byways converging here, easy-going hikes, backcountry skiing, horseback riding, and camping are just outside the town limits in Sawtooth, Ponderosa Pine, and Salmon River.
Near the more popular town of Bend, the resort town of Sunriver is the perfect getaway for year-round outdoor recreation without crowds. Sunriver has plentiful lodging options like vacation rentals, small condos, and luxury stays that are affordable when shared with up to 16 others. The Sunriver Resort, with year-round activities and amenities, features kid-friendly pools, rock climbing, and sleigh rides, as well as on-site restaurants, cafes, and local microbrews to unwind after 40 miles of bike trails. From the Sunriver Marina to the Deschutes River, there's paddleboarding, canoeing, rafting, and floating, while the outdoorsy town of Bend is just south for a fantastic day trip.
With the Lava Lands portion, Newberry National Volcanic Monument, its Lava Lands portion, offers access to family-friendly hikes through Lava Cast Forest, the Big Obsidian Flow, and the Lava River Cave for underground discoveries. You can rent a bike at the Village Bike and Ski downtown, take a dip in the cold mountain runoff after the high desert sun, and seek the shaded Ponderosa pines for a picnic. There is year-round skiing and hiking, 20 minutes to Mt. Bachelor with Mt. Bachelor Spa, or the impressive Mount Hood just south.
White Salmon, Washington
The town along the namesake tributary is a rafting destination where the Columbia White Salmon River meets the warm waters of the Columbia River. Off the water, there is plenty of biking and hiking in White Salmon, a getaway to Mount Hood, and trails along the east moraine of the Eliot Glacier, an unreplicable destination for adventurers and one-of-a-kind scenery seekers. After only a short approach, you can enjoy different views of Mount Hood with no crowds guaranteed, rather than the more common west-side hikes. Mt. Hood Meadows is a year-round destination for snow bunnies and hikers alike, while higher up, Timberline is the country's only year-round ski area to perfect your skiing no matter the season.
The area operates a scenic chairlift to enjoy the summertime views from above under the glorious sunshine on your face, alighting the landscape below. For unwinding, welcome to beer country, where you're never too far from a world-class brewery like Everybody’s Brewing, while Soča Wine Shop & Bar offers to unwind over a glass or a bottle of your favorite for a picnic. The standout Chips Bar & Grill in Bingen, a small town nearly colliding with White Salmon, is a local favorite dive with a laidback, quiet feel to fully appreciate its divine Bahama Mama over a brisket salad.
Over 30 percent of Washington and 53 percent of Oregon are ecotourism destinations designated for recreation, offering a visual backdrop and identity for the towns lost in their wilderness. These eleven off-the-beaten-path towns are your ticket into the rugged PNW's unspoiled nature. Complete with a resort, a brewery scene, and warm locals throughout, visitors to any part here will feel right at home. Complete with views that make one feel as if a fairytale has come to life...
From the Cascade Range, Coast Mountains, and Blue Mountains, there are also emerald green river valleys with rambunctious rivers, tributaries, and streams replete with fish species and the vast, arid, sunbathed high desert. PNW's National Forests blanket the mountains for hiking and climbing against the magnificent peaks, with fifty-seven rising above 8,000 feet.