The town of Yachats on the rough Oregon coast at dusk.

7 Most Charming River Towns in The Pacific Northwest to Visit in 2024

The Pacific Northwest is heaven to those who love the outdoors. The forests infringe on the most populated city centers like Portland, Washington, and Seattle. Mountains, like the majestic Mount Rainier, loom in the foggy distance. There are active volcanoes throughout the Cascade Mountain Range. Several massive rivers flow through cities and small towns and the islands are overrun with stunning wildlife, and the landscape offers unmatched stargazing spots. So, if you love moody, rainy coastlines, pristine green spaces, and charming river towns where you can let your hair down, you cannot go wrong with the following road trip and vacation options in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest.

Leavenworth, Washington

Wide view of people and dogs enjoying sunny weather in the downtown shopping district
Tourists in sunny weather in the downtown shopping district. Image credit Colleen Michaels via Shutterstock.

Leavenworth is more of a village than a town; it is a Bavarian-themed village. This charming Pacific North destination sits in the middle of Washington State and boasts several lakes, rivers, mountains, and wineries. It lies 177 miles east of Seattle, making it a short day-trip location. If you want to experience Germany without paying for an expensive airplane ticket, this is the place to be. In 2024, Leavenworth will host the usual Oktoberfest, Autumn Leaf Festival, and Maifest. And, if that is not enough to get you there, consider the dozens (dozens!) of wine-tasting rooms where you can enjoy the best regional wines.

Moreover, Leavenworth is also a river town with the Wenatchee River flowing through for at least 10 miles. You can go whitewater rafting or enjoy a lazy picnic along the riverbank. Icicle Creek brings the views, while Lake Wenatchee State Park offers swimming, fishing, and boating. If you visit Leavenworth in winter, you will have plenty of time for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Winthrop, Washington

Trees reflecting in a pond near Blue Lake, Winthrop, WA on a sunny day
Trees reflecting in a pond near Blue Lake, Winthrop, WA on a sunny day.

Winthrop is an Old West town that provides a short gateway to the North Cascades National Park and the Okanogan National Forest. The town itself is not short on attractions, with more than 120 miles of hiking trails and vast cross-country skiing sites. Winthrop keeps its history alive with the oldest legal saloon in the state and hosts several annual events like the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival and the Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival.

If you want to enjoy watersports and a historic small-town atmosphere, you can head to the Methow River, which flows directly through Winthrop. The river is joined by the Chewuch River at the town’s edge. Methow is great for kayaking and rafting, or you can toss a fishing line into the water and relax along its banks while you wait for the big one to bite.

Yachats, Oregon

The town of Yachats on the rough Oregon coast in a beautiful sunset scene
The town of Yachats on the rough Oregon coast in a beautiful sunset scene.

The small community of Yachats welcomes visitors from the enviable location of the Yachats River mouth on the central Oregon coast. The river flows into the ocean at the Yachats Ocean Road State Natural Site, a popular place for anglers. The Yachats Ocean Road offers unbelievably beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and Yachats Bay. If you want to enjoy more expansive views, drive or hike to the Cape Perpetua Lookout. It is the highest lookout on the Oregon Coast, reachable by car, and from the top, you’ll see the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve, Devil’s Churn, and the infamous Thor’s Well.

You can get up close to nature by hiking the Ya’Xaik trail, which you can get onto from almost anywhere inside Yachats. The Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint is where you will find the Heceta Head Lighthouse, built between 1892 and 1894. You can stay at the lighthouse to experience the lighting at night.

The 804 trail will take you to a cluster of tidepools where colorful starfish cling to the rocks. You can watch the sunset from these pools or enjoy the end of the day at your chosen hotel with a cocktail in hand.

Camas, Washington

View of Camas, Washington. By Another Believer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
View of Camas, Washington. By Another Believer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Camas is the largest of this list of small towns, with a population of just over 27,000. But being bigger does not detract from its charm in any way. Camas is located along the Columbia River and is famous for its tree-lined streets. More trees await in the nearby forests, as do tranquil lakes and misty hills. You can take your backpack along for a stroll through Lacamas Lake Regional Park because you will want to stay for a while.

If you want to explore the town limits first, start with the Camas downtown area with its historic buildings. The Camas Antique store is filled with must-have souvenirs, while the Liberty Theatre’s doors are open to movie lovers. The theatre also hosts live performances and music concerts. If you are visiting in 2024, plan your trip between May and October to catch the Camas Farmers Market and the Camas Plant & Garden Fair.

Snoqualmie, Washington

Wide view of Snoqualmie Falls, Washington, about an hour east of Seattle.
Wide view of Snoqualmie Falls, Washington, about an hour east of Seattle.

Snoqualmie is best known for Snoqualmie Falls, a magnificent 268-foot waterfall just 25 miles from Seattle. The waterfall is one of the background locations in the hugely successful 1990s TV show Twin Peaks. The 45-mile Snoqualmie River flows through this small town, and its three forks join above the waterfall. The river is a popular hangout for boaters and fishers, while hikers enjoy the fresh air and beauty of the area surrounding the water.

Try to time your trip to Snoqualmie during the summer months to make the most of the warm weather. If you are traveling from Seattle, you will reach the town in 30 minutes. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest offers a great camping site, Douglas Fir Campground if sleeping in a tent is part of your plans. The site is on the banks of the North Fork Nooksack River, where you can do some fishing or take in the views. If you are staying longer than a weekend, check out the 7.7-mile Mailbox Peak Trail Loop. Back in town, you will find excellent wine at Sigillo Cellars and extreme relaxation at the Attic at Salish Lodge & Spa.

Stehekin, Washington

Boat Landing at Stehekin, Washington.
Boat Landing at Stehekin, Washington. 

Stehekin gives new meaning to the word ‘remote.’ This place with its fewer than 100 permanent residents, is not the place to go looking for wine and spas. Visitors can reach Stehekin by foot, plane, or boat only. It is a valley overlooked by the North Cascades and filled with 100-foot-tall trees. The Stehekin River flows peacefully along the landscape towards Lake Chelan.

In Stehekin, you will find the breathtaking Rainbow Falls where you can walk to the upper viewpoint in minutes. If you take the red bus tour to the falls, it will stop at the Stehekin Pastry Company along the way. This place is famous for its pastries and other baked goods so you can stock up on snacks for the trip. After visiting the falls, you can go on a nature hike following the Stehekin River Trail that runs along the river. Or, if you want something more challenging, the Purple Creek Trail is a tough hike that rises 6000 feet to Purple Pass.

For an adventure of a different kind, you can explore the Stehekin reservations on horseback or kayak through the estuary, where the river meets the lake.  

Seaside, Oregon

Canoeing on the Necanium River in Seaside, Oregon
Canoeing on the Necanium River in Seaside, Oregon.

Seaside, Oregon, is not quite as remote as Stehekin, but it is every bit as beautiful. The beach and the promenade call out to those who love exploring the seaside. The Seaside Aquarium is a wonderful experience where you can interact with amazing marine life and creatures like seals and sea lions.

Seaside boasts two rivers, the Necanicum River, which flows through the town and empties into the Pacific, and the Neacoxie Creek, which also leads to the ocean. You can go paddleboarding or surfing in the sea. The promenade and bike path provide all the views you need of the ocean and surroundings. A short distance away, the Ecola State Park offers incredible hiking trails and expansive views of the rocky coastline.

If you are a fan of cars, you simply cannot miss the Seaside Wheels and Waves Car Show. This event comes with live music, great food, and all the classic and custom cars you can imagine. In 2024, the show is planned for September 12-15.

It does not matter what you look for in a travel destination because the Pacific Northwest has it. You will find all the nature scenes your soul craves, the tranquility of river landscapes, the moodiness of the ocean, and the thrill of hiking steep trails. Moreover, there is a desert and rainforest in the same state. There is the Devil’s Punchbowl and the historically named Cape Disappointment. There are fjord coastlines and islands, inlets, and channels. And these seven charming towns are just the beginning of an unforgettable journey through one of the most exquisite regions in the U.S.

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