Houses and jetties on the shores of Chelan Lake, Washington. Image credit Esteban Martinena Guerrer via Shutterstock

6 Most Idyllic Small Towns in The Pacific Northwest

One of the Pacific Northwest's most spectacular aspects is its breathtaking natural beauty. Tucked amongst towering Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock trees covering the landscape, visitors can discover six small, idyllic towns steeped in history. From crystal clear lakes carved into the land by glaciers to the rush to find gold to the arrival of the Great Northern Railway, the Pacific Northwest has been transformed by its rich past and stunning natural surroundings into towns like Orcas Island, Jacksonville, Sandpoint, Astoria, Chelan, and Silverton.

Orcas Island, Washington

Orcas Island, Washington
Orcas Island, Washington.

Orcas Island is the largest San Juan Island in the northwest corner of Washington. Renowned for its stunning scenery and laid-back vibe, the island is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and those seeking a peaceful retreat. Around 5,000 residents call Orcas Island their part-time or full-time home, including retired astronauts, renowned chefs, and a few celebrities (although Oprah quietly sold her 43-acre estate on the island recently). Orcas is called an “island of artists,” and its thriving arts scene can be found in the village of Eastsound in studios and galleries like Orcas Island Artworks and Orcas Island Pottery or in the Orcas Center.

The island boasts diverse landscapes, including forested hills, rocky shorelines, and serene lakes. Mount Constitution in Moran State Park rises about one-half mile above Orcas Island and is the highest point in the San Juan Islands. From the top is a stone tower built in the style of 12th-century Russian watchtowers, offering visitors 360-degree panoramic views of other islands in the San Juan archipelago, the North Cascades, and on a clear day, Mount Baker from its summit.

Jacksonville, Oregon

Downtown Historic District brick buildings in Jacksonville, Oregon
Downtown Historic District brick buildings in Jacksonville, Oregon. Image credit Underawesternsky via Shutterstock

A historic gold rush town with well-preserved buildings, Jacksonville is set in the lush Rogue Valley in southern Oregon, surrounded by majestic landscapes. The Jacksonville landmark district is a well-preserved example of a 19th-century gold rush town that began with a mining boom in the 1850s. Various town tours are available, like the Jacksonville Trolley Tour, a 45-minute narrated tour highlighting historic homes and buildings throughout the town, like the Jackson County Courthouse and Beekman House. Constructed around 1855, the Beekman House is one of the oldest bank buildings in the Pacific Northwest and is now a museum where visitors can learn about the town's history and see artifacts from the era. Guided tours are also available at the Jacksonville Cemetery, the largest and oldest cemetery in the state. It is home to over 5,000 graves, nearly all dug by hand.

Since 1963, Jacksonville has hosted the Britt Music & Festival, a cultural institution in the small town that attracts thousands of music lovers for the summer concert series that spans June through September every year. The event is held in a natural amphitheater on the sprawling estate of 19th-century photographer Peter Britt, who arrived in the rowdy mining camp with $5 in his pocket. Two miles from the town center, visitors can find Forest Park, which has 30 miles of multi-use trails in the Jackson Creek Watershed. It has trails ranging from an easy 5% grade to a more challenging 20% grade.

Sandpoint, Idaho

A group of kayakers enjoy a summer day on Sand Creek River and Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho.
A group of kayakers enjoy a summer day on Sand Creek River and Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho.

Located in the Idaho Panhandle, 60 miles from Canada, Sandpoint is an idyllic small town on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille—the largest lake in the state and the 38th largest lake by area in the US. The lake gets its unusual name from the French words for “pendant” and “ear,” which describe the lake's shape, which resembles an earlobe. Sandpoint is an ideal town for outdoor enthusiasts with activities like skiing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, considered the best ski hill in the Pacific Northwest. With 2,900 acres of remarkable terrain, Schweitzer overlooks the town of Sandpoint and offers stunning views of three states, Canada, and the impressive Lake Pend Oreille.

Après ski season, visitors to Sandpoint can explore the area’s over 200 trails, all within an hour of town. The trails range from easy to strenuous and include the challenging 3.5-mile-long Mickinnick Trail, which rises more than 2,000 feet, the popular hiking and mountain biking Gold Hill Trail, or the easy, family-friendly Mineral Point Interpretative Trail along Lake Pend Oreille. After all that physical activity, thirsty visitors can relax with a stop at one of Sandpoint’s coffee houses, breweries, or wineries, like MickDuff’s Brewing Company, the Pend d’Oreille Winery, and Laughing Dog Brewing.

Astoria, Oregon

Overlooking Astoria, Oregon.
Stunning view of Astoria, Oregon.

With its rich maritime history and Victorian architecture, Astoria offers a charming waterfront and historical landmarks like the Astoria Column. It is a towering monument built in 1926 that offers panoramic views of the Columbia River and the surrounding landscape. The column attracts over 400,000 visitors every year who come to admire the colorful murals depicting the region's history, as illustrated in Attilio Pusterla’s initial sketches for the Astoria Column, which trace the region's development from its pristine beginnings to the arrival of the Great Northern Railway in 1926.

Discover downtown Astoria with a scenic ride aboard the vintage Astoria Riverfront Trolley, which runs along the waterfront and is a unique way to experience Astoria's maritime heritage. Spanning the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington, the Astoria-Megler Bridge is a prominent landmark that appears straight out of a Hollywood movie. Completed in 1966, the 4.1-mile-long steel bridge is North America's longest continuous truss bridge and the final link in the scenic Mexico-to-Canada highway. When it was initially constructed, critics called it “a bridge to nowhere” because they thought it was too remote to justify the expense. However, the span still attracts visitors who drive or walk across the bridge to capture photos of the stunning waterfront vistas.

Chelan, Washington

Beautiful view of the winery near the Lake Chelan in Washington
Beautiful view of the winery near the Lake Chelan in Washington.

Three hours from Seattle, Chelan, Washington, attracts an astounding two million visitors each year who come to discover the pretty Pacific Northwest town nestled along the shores of Lake Chelan—the third deepest lake in the US at over 1,500 feet. The crystal clear lake was formed over 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age by massive glaciers that carved out the lake’s deep U-shape, which eventually filled the lake with water as the glaciers melted. It is a popular destination for outdoor recreation like jet skiing, paddle boarding, tubing, canoeing, or simply cruising the 50-mile-long lake. The Lake Chelan Valley is also for wine lovers, with more than 30 wineries, including Benson Vineyards Estate Winery, Lake Chelan Winery, and Tsillan Cellars, to name a few.

Since 1901, Campbell’s Resort has been attracting visitors to its stunning 170 lakeside guest rooms and private beach on Chelan’s historic downtown waterfront. It is within walking distance to downtown brick-and-mortar shops like Lake Life Chelan and Lake Chelan Sports and local pubs like Stormy Mountain Brewing, whose motto is “Beer. BBQ. Friends. Beer.”

The Chelan Riverwalk Park is a scenic waterfront area downtown with walking paths, picnic areas, and views of the surrounding mountains. It's a popular spot for locals and tourists to enjoy the scenery and relax along the banks of the Chelan River.

Silverton, Oregon

Street view in Silverton, Oregon.
Street view in Silverton, Oregon. Image credit Laurens Hoddenbagh via

While the town of Silverton is known for its combination of history and pristine wilderness, it is probably most well-known for its proximity to the awe-inspiring Silver Falls State Park. Called the “crown jewel” in the Oregon State Parks system covering more than 9,000 acres, visitors to the park can walk behind the 177-foot curtain of water. On many a hiker’s bucket list, the Trail of Ten Falls is a 7.2-mile loop past ten stunning waterfalls that can be done in sections or completed in under four hours of moderate hiking.

Downtown Silverton is home to a collection of vibrant murals known as the Silverton Murals. The brainchild of the Silverton Mural Society, which set out to establish the town as a mural destination, the society is dedicated to preserving Silverton’s heritage in a beautiful outdoor art gallery surrounded by the sublime vistas of the Pacific Northwest. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour to admire the over 35 colorful mural sites on buildings throughout the city, which showcase the fascinating history of the Silverton area.

With its stunning landscapes and vibrant communities, the Pacific Northwest is deeply rooted in history. The region's past echoes the diverse influences from ancient Indigenous cultures to European explorers. The allure of the rugged coastline, lush forests, and towering mountains has drawn settlers and adventurers alike, leaving a legacy of exploration and innovation. Today, historic landmarks like the Astoria Column and Silver Falls State Park stand as testaments to this rich heritage, inviting visitors to explore and experience the timeless beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

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