Mountain view of the Yaak Valley, Montana.

The Pacific Northwest's 9 Most Underrated Towns to Visit in 2024

The Pacific Northwest, famed for its urban hubs like Portland and Seattle, has much more to offer than the famous destinations of Portland or Bozeman. Within these gorgeous states lie a host of underrated destinations inviting travelers with scenic landscapes and unique attractions. Nestled between rugged coastlines and verdant forests, these lesser-known towns boast picturesque settings perfect for exploration. Each locale provides a unique glimpse into the Pacific Northwest's blend of natural splendor and quaint charm, making them essential stops for adventurers and road-trippers alike.

Astoria, OR

Overlooking Astoria, Oregon.
Overlooking Astoria, Oregon.

Astoria serves as a treasure trove for history, cinema, and coastal recreation enthusiasts. It is widely celebrated as the backdrop for the film "The Goonies," inviting fans to relive the adventure in this picturesque locale. Gastronomically, it hosts Bucket Bites, a food truck known for serving the best pasties in the state, a food item popularized in Michigan and the surrounding states. 

The town's diverse shops and beach activities offer endless exploration and fun, from unique local crafts to engaging water sports. The presence of seals along its shores adds a delightful natural encounter, enriching the coastal experience. Moreover, the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Astoria engages visitors in the explorers' historic journey, blending the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest with profound historical narratives. This combination of cinematic heritage, culinary excellence, diverse shopping, and historical significance, all set against the backdrop of Astoria's stunning natural scenery, establishes it as an underrated gem in the Pacific Northwest.

Winthrop, WA

Old buildings in the historic western town of Winthrop, Washington.
Old buildings in the historic western town of Winthrop, Washington. Image credit Gareth Janzen via Shutterstock

Winthrop is a captivating blend of Old West charm and outdoor splendor near the majestic North Cascades National Park. This quaint town is a base for exploring the vast trails of the North Cascades and Methow Valley, offering hikes for all skill levels, from serene forest walks to challenging mountain treks. Winthrop is also renowned for its cross-country skiing, with the Methow Trails providing world-class trails. Seasonal activities abound, from summer markets offering local produce to the Methow Valley Cider House, where visitors can enjoy local ciders and live music. Pearrygin Lake State Park invites campers to its scenic grounds for relaxation or adventure, including boating and swimming. The Shafer Historical Museum offers a glimpse into the area's rich past, making Winthrop a perfect mix of outdoor adventure and historical exploration.

Northbend, WA

Aerial view of North Bend, Washington with Preacher Mountain and Snoqualmie River.
Aerial view of North Bend, Washington with Preacher Mountain and Snoqualmie River. 

North Bend emerges from the shadow of the Cascade Range as a quaint yet vibrant community, celebrated for its pivotal role in the cult classic "Twin Peaks." This small town effortlessly marries the nostalgia of its cinematic past with the liveliness of present amenities, including an array of local breweries that offer a taste of the Pacific Northwest's famed craft beer scene.

North Bend's geographical position at the gateway to the Central Cascades opens up a world of outdoor exploration. Hiking trails meander through lush forests and ascend to breathtaking vistas while the changing seasons bring opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, highlighting the area's natural allure. The town's history, deeply rooted in the Snoqualmie Valley and enriched by its indigenous heritage, adds a layer of depth to the visitor experience, inviting exploration of both the landscape and the legacy of the Snoqualmie Tribe. 

Tillamook, OR

Street view in Tillamook, Oregon, via Christa Boaz /
Street view in Tillamook, Oregon. Image credit Christa Boaz via iStock.

Tillamook offers a unique blend of beach exploration, dairy heritage, and culinary exploration at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. This self-guided tour can educate visitors in the art of cheese-making, from its history to modern production processes, complete with tastings of their famous cheeses like Medium Cheddar and Smoked Black Pepper White Cheddar. The experience, enriching for adults and children, spans 2-3 hours, featuring interactive exhibits that engage all ages. After the tour, folks can head out to the beach and watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. 

A visit to Tillamook is a journey through the heart of Oregon's dairy culture, blending educational tours with the joy of tasting exceptional cheese and ice cream. It's an essential destination for anyone interested in culinary arts, agricultural history, and sampling some of the finest dairy products in the Pacific Northwest.

Bend, OR

Mirror Pond in Bend, Oregon along the Deschutes River.
Mirror Pond in Bend, Oregon along the Deschutes River.

Bend, Oregon, epitomizes the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience with its unique combination of outdoor adventure, cultural vibrancy, and a touch of historical nostalgia. Renowned for its extensive mountain biking trails, the city offers over 300 miles of singletrack that cater to riders of all skill levels, set against breathtaking landscapes. Beyond the adrenaline of outdoor sports, Bend's downtown district invites leisurely exploration with its eclectic boutiques, galleries, and many dining options, reflecting the city's relaxed urban vibe. The Old Mill District accentuates the historical charm, where Bend's industrial past meets contemporary lifestyle and the iconic last-standing Blockbuster store!

Nature and adventure intertwine at landmarks like Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint and Smith Rock State Park, offering activities from scenic hikes to rock climbing against stunning vistas. The Deschutes River is a central lifeblood, enabling various water-based activities that capture the essence of Bend's outdoor culture. With a vibrant events calendar celebrating everything from art to athleticism and craft brewing, Bend showcases its community spirit and love for the great outdoors. This dynamic city attracts nature enthusiasts and cultural aficionados and embodies the spirit of community and adventure characteristic of the region.

Yaak, MT

Montana Mountain View’s Yaak Valley
Montana Mountain View’s Yaak Valley.

The Yaak Sasquatch Festival, headquartered at the Dirty Shame Saloon, is a unique celebration that captures the spirit of the Pacific Northwest with a focus on the legendary Bigfoot. This event features live music, food, various craft booths, a 6K Sasquatch run, and even a chainsaw-carving contest, offering a mix of entertainment and community spirit. Proceeds from the festival benefit local causes, including Kootenai Pets for Life and the Yaak School District, making it a fun and meaningful event for the community. Yaak, Montana, located in the state's utmost northwest corner, extends an invitation to explore beyond the festival's excitement into the serene embrace of nature. With its breathtaking mountain wilderness, the Northwest Peaks Scenic Area, and the lush Yaak Valley, the region offers an idyllic setting for many outdoor activities. From backcountry adventures on cross-country trails to peaceful moments of fishing in mountain lakes and wildlife viewing, Yaak caters to those with a penchant for mystery, adventure, and the close-knit charm of small-town life. This blend of cultural celebration and natural beauty makes Yaak a unique destination, encapsulating the essence of the Pacific Northwest's spirit and its rich tapestry of folklore and outdoor adventure.

Idaho City, ID

Street of Idaho City, Idaho.
Street of Idaho City, Idaho.

Idaho City, nestled within the Boise Basin, is a captivating window into the American West's gold rush era. It boasts a history as rich as the minerals once extracted from its soils. During the mid-1860s, this town was a bustling hub of activity and prosperity, surpassing even Portland in size with a population of 7,000, driven by the feverish pursuit of gold. Today, Idaho City offers a tangible connection to this pivotal period through its well-preserved buildings and historical sites, serving as a treasure trove for history buffs and those intrigued by the legacy of the American frontier.

The town's storied past is meticulously chronicled in attractions like the Boise Basin Museum and The Springs, which provide an immersive exploration of life during the gold rush. The National Register of Historic Places lists the entire city for its historical significance, with landmarks such as the Boise County Courthouse and the Masonic Hall as a reminder of the town's enduring heritage. Furthermore, Idaho City's importance in Masonic history and its role as a cultural melting pot, highlighted by the once-thriving Chinese immigrant community, add depth to its historical narrative. Transitioning from its gold-laden history, Idaho City now offers a serene getaway, blending outdoor adventures with a rich tapestry of history. It is a compelling destination for those seeking to unearth the stories and scenic wonders of Idaho's past.

Buckley, WA

Mt. Rainier viewed from across a field in Washington State
Mt. Rainier is viewed from across a field in Washington State.

Buckley, Washington, offers a unique blend of history, outdoor activities, and community events, making it a charming destination in the Pacific Northwest. The annual Buckley Log Show is a highlight, transforming the town into a hub of logging competitions, parades, and family fun. This two-day event, held at the Buckley Log Show Grounds, features thrilling contests like axe throwing and chainsaw carving, showcasing the skills of loggers and celebrating the area's timber heritage. Visitors can enjoy a lively parade on Main Street, adrenaline-pumping competitions, and the crowning of the "All-Around Logger."

The history of Buckley is deeply rooted in its early establishment and development, and its proximity to Mount Rainier and outdoor activities adds to its appeal. Originally known as "Perkin's Prairie," the town was renamed "Buckley" in 1887 after J.M. Buckley, a Northern Pacific Railway district superintendent. The town has a rich history marked by early settlers, the establishment of the first school, and significant growth due to the coal discovered in nearby Wilkeson. Over the years, Buckley has experienced fires that have shaped its development and architecture, with many brick buildings on Main Street standing as proof of its resilience and history.

Ashland, OR

Aerial view of Ashland, Oregon.
Aerial view of Ashland, Oregon.

Ashland, Oregon, emerges as a cultural haven, seamlessly integrating the allure of the performing arts with the majestic beauty of its natural surroundings. Anchored by the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland is celebrated as a pivotal arts community, earning a spot among "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America." This festival and the city's array of galleries, theaters, and award-winning eateries position Ashland as a premier destination for theater lovers and cultural enthusiasts alike. Beyond the limelight of the stage, the city's geographical setting between the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges opens up a world of outdoor recreation, from the aquatic activities at Emigrant Lake County Park to the unparalleled beauty of Crater Lake National Park, the deepest lake in the U.S. formed by a volcanic caldera.

Ashland's charm extends through the seasons, offering the Oregon Cabaret Theatre's unique blend of dining and entertainment and the winter allure of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area. The ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum provides an engaging educational experience for families, while oenophiles can explore the acclaimed Rogue Valley Wine Country, further enhancing Ashland's appeal. This city invites exploration of its vibrant arts scene and outdoor adventures and offers a taste of its exquisite culinary landscape, making it a year-round haven for visitors with varied tastes and interests. Ashland's rich cultural tapestry and abundant natural wonders embody a diverse and enriching experience that captivates and delights.

The Pacific Northwest's charm extends far beyond the familiar. These towns exemplify the spirit of discovery, offering a glimpse into the area's multifaceted identity through outdoor adventures, cultural celebrations, and historical insights. They stand as a testament to the region's capacity to inspire, entertain, and educate, making them essential stops for those seeking to embrace the Pacific Northwest experience fully. 

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