Tillamook County, Oregon: Scenic view of the Oregon coast.

7 Underappreciated Towns to Visit in The Pacific Northwest

Stretching from the islands in the Pacific Ocean to the Cascade Mountains to the east, the Pacific Northwest is an enchanting and vast region covering unbelievably diverse landscapes. Just a hop from the coast, Tillamook is the dairyland heart of Oregon, where you can indulge in the best ice cream and take a tour with Tillamook Creamery on an epic journey through its delicious cheese-making heritage.

McMinnville, the heart of Oregon wine country in the lush Willamette Valley, is home to a vibrant shopping and restaurant scene, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, as well as two fantastic festivals—the UFO and International Wine Festival—while Yaak may be the home of Bigfoot, or at least some strange creatures definitely lurking in this furthest reach of the PNW.

Guemes Island, Washington

Anacortes, Washington: Guemes Island Ferry crossing from Anacortes.
Anacortes, Washington: Guemes Island Ferry crossing from Anacortes. Editorial credit: CL Shebley / Shutterstock.com

Part of the San Juan Islands, this small Pacific Coast isle feels like a speck in the archipelago, especially with its tiny population of some 500 spread out over 5,505 acres. Offering all that room to breathe the freshest sea air just a short 8-minute ferry from Anacortes, visitors can find out what it is like to own an island, with over three-quarters of open space for roaming, including beaches and trails. From Peach Preserve to Island Labyrinth and the most trodden Guemes Mountain Trailhead, don't miss the public beach access overlook and descend via stairs to the sands. There's also the Peach Preserve, Guemes Island Rocks, Kelly's Point Overlook, and the serene shores of the Indian Village.

With so many nature reserves and unique perspectives of the island scenery as well as local wildlife, the Guemes Island Resort offers accessible information for every type of traveler or the pursuit of a visit to get the most of your journey's worth of lasting memories. The Guemes Island General Store offers all the amenities for a longer stay, including freshly made foods and booze to have a good time in the outdoors, as well as a calendar of spring events for every age. Whether you're a mainlander or an out-of-stater, the island vibes and crowdless feel hit the spot just right, from the resort's lakefront cabin, a yurt, or a rental home, as well as a sauna, boat rentals, massages, and the island's stone beach for the guests.

McMinnville, Oregon

McMinnville, Oregon: Aerial view of Joe Dancer Park facing south, featuring playground, baseball and soccer fields, and the south side of town.

McMinnville, Oregon: Aerial view of Joe Dancer Park facing south.

This historic town in the lush Willamette Valley, the heart of Oregon's wine country, can easily contend for the unglorious title of the most underappreciated. Nestled at the crossroads of the North and South forks of the Yamhill River in the valley, under an hour from both Portland and the state's capital, Salem, McMinnville is home to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and two fantastic festivals. From historic downtown tours to wine-tasting tours that accentuate the scenic bounty, as well as village greens like the popular Discovery Meadows Community Park, the International Wine Festival takes the town by storm, attracting connoisseurs and enthusiasts to cheers to Oregon's sustainable viticulture.

Some know McMinnville for its UFO festival and others as a shopper's paradise with several renowned female-owned businesses, while the agriculturally rich lend lends a thriving restaurant scene, from gourmet to cozy farm-to-table, where wine pairing is art. Housed in restored, turn-of-the-century buildings, including wine bars and galleries, visitors can enjoy lovely riverside strolls into the evening under the twinkling tree lights, regardless of the season, in a family-friendly atmosphere. Inspiring romance and indulgence, visitors can unwind and explore the surrounding hills covered in hazelnut orchards and wheat fields, perfect for a picnic with a wine bottle from a vineyard.

Naches, Washington

Naches, Washington: Autumn colors and footbridge on the Tieton River.

Naches, Washington: Autumn colors and footbridge on the Tieton River.

The small town of Naches is often overlooked, tucked scenically in the foothills of the Cascades. Home to just over 1,000, it may be tiny, but it is also picturesque and idyllic within stunning nature, which truly deserves a standing ovation. Amid agricultural landscapes and access to hiking trails for every level, like the Water Works Trail Head, Tieton River Nature Trail Access Point is just eight minutes away along the Tieton River, a tributary of the Naches River. From here, it is all about exploring and enjoying farm-to-table food on repeat, including the Naches Peak Hiking Trail, Naches Ranger Station, and strolls along the Naches River, hugging the town in the south.

If that sounds like you, this underappreciated town loves seeing new faces and treating them to local hospitality in between adventures in a hiker's paradise, while the wonderful Mount Rainier National Park is under two hours away. Starting each day over coffee at Highway Espresso or with a treat from Sticky Fingers Bakery & Cafe, don't miss the old-timey vibe of the Drift Inn 50s Diner and Laredo Drive-In for a memorable meal. From Tieton Nature Trail to Bear Creek Mountain, as well as Goat Peak and Crystal Lake, there is no wrong time to visit, even in the heat of summer, to enjoy the crowd-free atmosphere along the trails and a warm local welcome.

North Bend, Washington

North Bend, Washington: Twede's Cafe with Mount Si backdrop.

North Bend, Washington: Twede's Cafe with Mount Si backdrop. Editorial credit: Ian Dewar Photography / Shutterstock.com

The underappreciated town of North Bend, emerging from the shadow of the Cascade Range, is quaint yet vibrant. Full of colors of history and nature, the scenes in town will ring a bell for their pivotal role in the cult classic "Twin Peaks." North Bend's effortless marriage of nostalgia, cinematic fame, and modern amenities like lively entertainment appeases every type of traveler on a PNW journey to discover a new small-town vibe, from local breweries and eateries to the geographic advantage of open doors into the Central Cascades. Starting at Huxdotter Coffee, visitors can explore along the meandering hiking trails through lush forests and ascend to breathtaking vistas in the summer, like Mt. Si, Twin Falls, and Rattlesnake Ledge.

Switching to downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in the wintertime foothills, North Bend Premium Outlets is ready to gear you up for the best of every season. Whether you're an active type or relaxing is your goal, every minute spent in the area's outdoors highlights its natural allure, which will quickly fill up your Instagram feed. Rooted to the Snoqualmie Valley with a rich indigenous heritage, after exploring the depths of nature and the longevity of life in the area, this multidimensional town offers to unwind and celebrate the discoveries in the landscapes, reminiscing over experiences at Tweede's Cafe or cheering with a taste of the Pacific Northwest's finest craft beer scene at Mt Si Tavern.

Stehekin, Washington

Stehekin, Washington: Boat landing at the secluded community on Lake Chelan.

Stehekin, Washington: Boat landing at the secluded community on Lake Chelan.

The state's most remote town—no wonder it goes unappreciated—is also one of the most scenic and adventurous. Home to 75 year-round residents, this tiny incorporated community in Chelan County boasts a loyal fan base of active outdoor lovers heading just north to North Cascades National Park and water babies in the summer at the northwest end of Lake Chelan, part of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Stehekin was christened after the Native American word for "the way through," referring to the well-traversed area through wilderness for centuries. Despite no road access, Stehekin offers a lot to linger for today, starting with an adventurous passenger ferry-in aboard the wistful Lady of the Lake.

Visitors can also enjoy private boat access from Chelan or by foot over Cascade Pass, as well as floatplanes for thrill-seekers or small aircraft to the turf airstrip in June through September, while vehicle barge service is available to enjoy the 22 miles of roads on locale. From here, the highly unusual type of continental climate of hot summers, the Mediterranean precipitation pattern, and the heavy winter, rendered by its inland location, make Stehekin a showstopper for outdoor adventures. Boasting frequent hot days in the summer for lakeside recreation and winters far cooler than the PNW coast but warmer than further east in North America’s interior, the snowbirds have access to the best cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails, as well as skating on the lake.

Tillamook, Oregon

Tillamook, Oregon: Aerial view of the coastline.

Tillamook, Oregon: Aerial view of the coastline.

Visiting the town of Tillamook, just a few minutes from the Pacific coast and even closer to Tillamook Bay, feels like an epicurean journey designed to unwind and entertain for every taste. Bestowing on visitors in between, the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum houses history into the deep cheese-making heritage, and festivals light up the Tillamook County Fairgrounds. Welcome to the heart of Oregon's dairy culture, where knowledge and traditions pair together, as well as its finest cheeses and wine from the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, an undisputable must-hit.

Tillamook Creamery offers a restaurant menu and interactive tours for every age, including tastings and recommendations to stock up on your favorites like medium cheddar and smoked black pepper white cheddar. Just up the road, visitors can enjoy strolls along the Wilson River, with cute shops and cafes away from the hustle of downtown, like florists, gem stores, and waterfront inns. From there, when not exploring the culinary arts, agricultural history, and sampling some of the PNW's finest dairy, it is all about the coastal beaches until the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, and don't forget the ice cream you'll be coming back for this summer and dreaming about long after.

Yaak, Montana

Yaak, Montana: Yaak River scenery.

Yaak, Montana: Yaak River scenery. By Davidmcarson, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Home to the Yaak Sasquatch Festival, this small town few have heard of in the vast reaches of Cascadia into Montana is underappreciated foremost for the fun atmosphere it hosts and delivers foursome during the festival at the Dirty Shame Saloon. And if you've ever wondered what creatures lurk within the nooks and crevices of the region, where visitors can explore its furthest reach, beyond the festive grounds, and into a whole other form of excitement—the thrill of adventures in the serene embrace of the breathtaking Northwest Peaks Scenic Area. With the dominating range overlooking the lush and idyllic Yaak Valley, it is all about some of the region's best backcountry trails for hiking or cross-country skiing in the winter.

Whether you're a backpacker or a picnicker in the valley, the Yaak area promises peaceful moments in nature like fishing, mountain lakes, and untouched wildlife trails. Back in town, its penchant for mystery and close-knit community charm encapsulates the underappreciated dimension of the PNW—the folklore. The unique celebration captures the essence of the small town, the spirit of the whole Pacific Northwest, and the role that small towns play in the region. Focusing on the legendary Bigfoot, the family-friendly fun encompasses events, live music, food, arts and crafts booths, and a 6K sasquatch run for the active. In the utmost northwestern part of the state, Yaak represents a rich tapestry of wilderness and cultural blend in a long-occupied area.

Discover Hidden Highlights Across the Pacific Northwest

And while the PNW is not underappreciated per se, the all-encompassing feel often veils the small town scene with quite a few vibrant characters that let nature rightfully take the front stage. From Oregon to Washington and Montana, the PNW is boundless to explore its multidimensional spheres in ways you haven't imagined. Yaak, in Montana's northwest corner, offers access to the breathtaking Northwest Peaks Scenic Area and the idyllic Yaak Valley, with the best backcountry trails.

Accessible by foot, boat, or floatplane, as well as with its seasonal airstrip, Stehekin is worth finding and lingering this summer for the hot days and a bounty of lakeside recreation along Lake Chelan in the area, meaning "the way through," according to the Native American language. In McMinnville, visitors can take a historic downtown tour or a wine-tasting tour, highlighting the area's scenic bounty and sustainable viticulture.

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