Drift creek fall trail in Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon

8 Underrated Places to Visit in the Pacific Northwest

The American Pacific Northwest spans across Washington and Oregon states, bordering the Pacific Ocean, Northern California, and Canada's British Columbia. A lesser-settled corner of the United States, in part due to its persistently wet climate, the Pacific Northwest is a distinct ecological and cultural region full of incredible natural beauty. From endless miles of protected Pacific coastline to rolling National Parks that stretch from ocean to mountain peak to historic seaside pioneer towns, the west coasts of Oregon and Washington State are full of underrated places to visit and explore.

Olympic National Park, WA

Beach along the Washington state coast in the Olympic National Park.
Beach along the Washington state coast in the Olympic National Park.

With over 70 miles of coastline and close to one million acres of protected wilderness, Olympic National Park is a must-see for all outdoor enthusiasts. Olympic National Park encompasses vast forests, mountains, and oceanic coastlines and holds designations as a World Heritage Site as well as an International Biosphere Reserve. Along the coast itself are the sandy Kalaoch and Ruby and the stony Mora and Rila Beaches for days exploring the water. Within the park are also several distinct temperate rain forests, including the Hoh Queets, and Quinault Rain Forests, each sitting at different altitudes and attracting varying volumes of tourists each year. The Elwha River Valley and Lake Crescent areas are old-growth forests and are excellent spots for deepwood hiking and camping. The park offers infrastructure for all levels of outdoor adventurists, from short day hikes and skiing to longer backwoods camping and backpacking.

Guemes Island, WA

Guemes Island Ferry crossing from Anacortes
Guemes Island Ferry crossing from Anacortes. Image credit CL Shebley via Shutterstock.

A relatively small Pacific Coast island part of the San Juan Islands spanning only 5,505 acres, Guemes Island, is only an 8-minute ferry from Anacortes. The island is home to diverse wildlife, several hiking trails, as well as the Guemes Island resort. Some of the natural attractions on the island include the Guemes Mountain Trail, Guemes Island Rocks, the Peach Preserve, and Kelly's Point. The Guemes Island General Store serves groceries, fresh food, booze, and a good time, with a full calendar of Spring events, entertaining residents, tourists, and mainlanders. The Guemes Island Resort offers lakefront cabins, yurts, and houses for rent. Resort guests have access to a sauna, boat rentals, massages, and the island's stone beach.

Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, WA

Fishing boat at the Maritime Museum
Fishing boat at the Maritime Museum

The Maritime Washington National Heritage Area spans over 3,000 miles of Washington State's shoreline, protecting the region's natural and cultural heritage. The area runs between Grays Harbor up through to Puget Sound and the Canadian border. The region is home to 30 port districts and countless harbors, island shores, and protected parks, connected by the United State's largest ferry system. Although the region is worth exploring across its expanse, some exciting places to visit include the Polson Museum in Hoquiam, the Quinault Cultural Center and Museum in Taholah, and the Swadabs Waterfront Interpretive Park in La Connor.

Fairhaven, WA

Fairhaven district, Bellingham, Washington: Nelson Block and other buildings. By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
Fairhaven district, Bellingham, Washington: Nelson Block and other buildings. By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Registered as a National Historic District in Bellingham, Fairhaven is a unique coastal community that prides itself on its heritage and "ski to sea" activities. Fairhaven offers several eclectic and one-of-a-kind adventures such as a cracked crab dinner cruise offered by San Juan Cruises. Every year, Fairhaven hosts the Dirty Dan Harris Festival, celebrating the town's founder, and the Ski to Sea relay race that begins at Mount Baker and ends in town. Some of the best spots for entertainment in town include the Bellingham Circus Guild, which hosts live shows year-round, and the Bellinghistory Tours, offering themed tours of the historic district with guides in historical costumes.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument, OR

Newberry National Volcanic Monument in South Bend, Oregon
Newberry National Volcanic Monument in South Bend, Oregon.

Located within the Deschutes National Forest, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument spans 54,000 acres of lakes and lava flows. The 17 square mile caldera, often referred to as the Newberry Crater, is a collapsed magma chamber at the center of a 1,200 square mile active volcano. Looking into the caldera, visitors can see volcanic vents and miles of basalt flows, witnessing the volcano exude enormous energy. Hikers can reach the top of Paulina Peak, sitting at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, offering one of the best viewpoints over the caldera and surrounding High Desert. Visitors can do a day trip to the Monument or extend their stay across one of the six campgrounds or at the Cheif Paulina Horse Camp for those doing an extended horse ride through the Park and Monument. This all-season recreational area also hosts cross-country skiing and snowmobiling during the winter months.

Brownsville, OR

Old western style architectural Masonic Lodge building in the rural town of Brownsville, Oregon.
Old western style architectural Masonic Lodge building in the rural town of Brownsville, Oregon.

An old pioneer town home to just under 2,000 residents. The town is full of historic buildings and a historic downtown shopping area full of buildings that originated between the 1850s and 1920s. It is home to a 26-acre Pioneer Park along the Calapooia River. Brownsville is an easy dive from Portland, Eugene, and Corvallis, making it an ideal day, overnight, or weekend trip for many living in or passing through Oregon. Some of the best places to visit in Brownsville include Living Rock Studios, The Brownsville Saloon, and the Lin County Historical Museum.

Oregon Dunes, OR

Windswept patterns in the sand dunes near Lakeside in Oregon, USA
Windswept patterns in the sand dunes near Lakeside in Oregon.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area sits in the Siuslaw National Forest and is one of the largest temperate coastal sand dunes regions in the world. The Recreational Area covers 31,500 acres of the National Park, and features islands, open sand dunes, beaches, and wetlands, offering a range of outdoor activities and sights to explore within the region. Within the recreational area are five major beachcombing areas, including the Siltcoos Area, and six major Sand Play areas, including the Umpqua Dunes Area. Visitors can rent campgrounds and cabins across fourteen major areas, depending on the group's recreational interests. The Siltcoos Area also offers the Carter Lake Boat Ramp, offering easy access to the water for both motorized and non-motorized water sports. Surfing is also available in the South Jetty Area when conditions are appropriate.

Whale Watching, OR

Gray Whale Spouting in the Sunlight off the Oregon Coast
Gray whale spouting in the sunlight off the Oregon Coast

The Oregon coast is one of the best places in the world to whale watch year-round. Though there are surges of Gray whale activity between mid-December and mid-January, in late March, and from June to mid-November, there tends to be constant activity even during the quieter months. Oregon State Park hosts two migration Whale Watch Weeks each year in late December and late March, drawing in locals and tourists to 15 designated watch sites across the park. Some of the best Whale Watching sites include Beach State Park and Cape Ferrell Harris to the south, Beverly Beach State Park in the center of the state, and Fort Steven's State Park to the north. There are also countless whale-watching tours available throughout the state such as Whale's Tail Charters and the Tradewin Charters in Depoe Bay, a day trip by car from Portland.

Due to its climate and unique settlement patterns, the Pacific Northwest offers countless national and historic landmarks for tourists and locals to explore. Both Oregon and Washington State's Pacific Coasts are dense with historic centers, well-maintained and protected parks, monuments, and recreational areas. The towns that line the region are rich with their coastal and mountainous histories, with many of them preserving their historic downtowns and harbors. A trip to this region would be best completed by car or boat, to explore the region's rolling coastline, full of beaches, marinas, islands, and secluded natural wonders.


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