It’s easy to let the months and years roll by without really experiencing your home state like a tourist might. No matter your adrenaline tolerance, there’s an experience awaiting you. Consider this your Northwest bucket list. Let’s go!
by Kirsten Abel, Zoe Branch, Joanna Kresge, Olivia Langen, and Shelby Rowe Moyer
By Zoe Branch
Do you realize you can hike one of the seven temperate rain forests in the world, right in your own backyard?
Stretching from southeast Alaska to Northern California, this epic ecoregion is the largest temperate rain forest on Earth. Lucky for us, a large expanse of it is within Olympic National Park, which boasts four stunning river valleys that are all home to temperate rain forests ready to be explored.
Nestled in the southwest corner of the park, Quinault Rain Forest is only 3.5 hours from the Seattle area, and offers a wide range of activities for all levels that are gorgeous year-round.
Highlights of the rain forest include the Enchanted Valley, which should probably be on any backpacker’s bucket list, even for beginners.
“It’s an absolutely incredible place,” said Penny Wagner, a public information officer at Olympic National Park. “You can probably tell that just from the name. The hike up to Enchanted Valley is amazing because it features so many waterfalls and so much wildlife.”
Hikers often spot black bears, bald eagles, or a section of the Pacific Northwest’s largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk.
Though the valley is straight out of a fairytale, the 13-mile one-way trip might not be for everyone. Luckily, the trail offers plenty of options.
“Even if you only want to go a few miles in, you can still get a great hike by going up to Pony Bridge,” said Wagner. “You definitely don’t have to be backpacking to see some really beautiful things.”
This kind of variety is found everywhere in the rain forest, where there’s something for just about everyone, from easy — the 31-mile Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive that can be completed from the comfort of your car — to difficult — the North Fork Quinault River Trail, a hike that can be followed 45 miles to the northern boundary of Olympic National Park. So, no matter who you are, pack some snacks and your hiking boots (or swim suit, if you prefer a quick dip in Lake Quinault) and escape the summer heat in the majestic beauty of a local rain forest.
More Fun on Two Feet:
Birding on the San Juan Islands
Look no farther than the San Juan Islands for a perfect birding spot in Washington. With more than 300 species of known birds and the year-round option to take a professionally led and easily customizable trip, this backyard destination is a no-brainer for anyone itching to see local birds.
Carriage Rides in Leavenworth
Whether you’re hoofing it down a snowy street or making your way through a sunny meadow, a carriage ride is bound to be fun. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Rock Climbing at Exit 38
If you’re looking to get your feet off the ground — but you’re not willing to actually take flight — consider checking out some of Washington’s excellent rock-climbing locations. Exit 38, which is located near North Bend, is home to tons of amazing routes, most of which are well-traveled and perfect for an intermediate climber.
This 7.2-mile round-trip trail in Snoqualmie National Forest climbs steadily through gorgeous old-growth forest lined by small waterfalls. The 2,253 feet of elevation gain earns the hike its “moderate” rating, but hikers all agree that the switchbacks are worth the stunning views waiting at the top.
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
If our cover image conjures feelings of inspiration, visit it for yourself. The nature expanse encompasses 394,000 acres of the Central Cascades Region in Washington and includes more than 700 lakes to photograph and dip your toes in. Pick one of 47 trailheads to encounter its 615 miles of trails. Pick an activity — hiking, horseback riding, camping, rock climbing, or nature viewing — and hit the road.
Tribulation Bike Trail at Summit Ridge
Bikers consider this black diamond trail a must-do for anyone who wants to keep his or her technical skills sharp and have a fun ride. The 454 feet of descent in 2 miles will keep even advanced bikers on their toes.
Berg Lake Trail
If your travel-by-land experience can include a road trip into Canada, make sure to carve out time to do the Berg Lake Trail outside of Mount Robson Provincial Park. Spend at least three nights on the trail so you can take your time up the steep inclines and savor some of the best views that the Rocky Mountains have to offer.
Pacific Crest Trail
The PCT stretches 2,663 miles along the West Coast. Committing to the entire trail entails hiking from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, which usually takes four to six months. Test it out by navigating your section of choice.
The Little Owl Cabin at MountRainier, Packwood
$229 per night
No matter how seasoned a hiker you fancy yourself, at the end of the day, you want to drop your muddy shoes at the door and rest your weary legs in front of a roaring fire. That’s why this adorable A-frame house 20 minutes from Mount Rainier is a must. Soak in the cedar soaking hot tub, grill some hearty grub on the gas grill, crank up the hi-fi sound system, or select a tome from the home’s modest library.
By Olivia Langen
If surfing in the Pacific Northwest seems daunting, that’s because it kind of is. From an outsider’s perspective, the long drives toward frigid and often-disappointing waves might not seem worth it. For the open-minded souls looking for a new kind of adventure, now is the best time to try on a wetsuit and take a trip to Long Beach Peninsula in the southwest corner of Washington.
“There’s a low barrier to entry for trying, and a higher barrier for sticking to it,” Seattle-based surfer Tom Scearce said. “That’s where the mindset comes in.” When Scearce shares his weekend plans with co-workers, the typical response is, “You what?”
Recognizing the general unpopularity of the hobby, Scearce co-founded the Seattle Surfers page on meetup.com in 2012 with an old high school buddy.
Meet-up groups are endlessly helpful when trying new outdoor activities and provide an especially supportive platform for surfers of all levels to share in the adventure. There is safety in numbers, especially when you’re fighting currents and learning the ways of the waves.
Unlike the localist, exclusive attitudes, which dominate many Californian beaches, Scearce has seen that surfers in the Pacific Northwest are in it together.
Find some equally open-minded friends and take a surf class with Skookum Surf Co. on the Long Beach Peninsula to see whether it’s your thing — you’ll never know until you paddle out.
“It’s a good metaphor for the forces beyond your control,” Scearce said. “And it’s just so different from everything else we can do outdoors in the Northwest.”
More Ways to Splish, Splash, and Explore:
Local Tide Pooling
Take a closer look at the delicate ecosystems skirting the city. Constellation Park in West Seattle is home to many creatures visible daily at low tide. Whether you’re looking for a solo tide pool walk or an educational morning adventure with the kids, the Pacific Coast is packed with opportunities to explore these colorful habitats. Just Google “low tide time” and grab a pair of rubber boots.
Sol Duc Hot Springs
Built in 1912, the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort in Olympic National Park is a historic and family-friendly option for more relaxation-minded adventurers. A Quileute name for “sparkling waters,” the Sol Duc underground hot springs heat three mineral soaking pools on the resort grounds. Lodging is available.
Take a drive down the coast to Tillamook County in Oregon, and experience everything the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Seafood lovers, kayakers, paddlers, and surfers alike can find a weekend full of fun on the Tillamook Coast. Tent camp on a sandy beach, or glamp out in an Airstream trailer at Hart’s Camp in Pacific City. Don’t forget to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory for the best cheese and ice cream.
Book a few nights at Black Bear Lodge near the upper Columbia River, and catch some trout. Enjoy the convenience of a cozy stay at the riverside lodge in between your fishing trips.
Discover hidden inlets and coves while paddleboarding Elk Lake in central Oregon. Thirty minutes outside of Bend, you find this summertime playground packed with live music on Saturdays, lakeside camping and awe-striking views of Mount Bachelor and South Sister. For the more amenity-minded paddlers, the Elk Lake Resort offers comfort and adventure all in one.
The tricky currents are worth the epic sights when kayaking the Sound. At Hammersly Inlet near Shelton, surround yourself with serene wildlife, including harbor seals, cormorants, and luminescent jellyfish. Paddle out to Hope Island, and hike along the panoramic beaches before heading back. Don’t attempt this trip without ample knowledge of currents and tides.
San Juan Sailing School
The first step to sailing around the world is learning how to sail. What better place to get started than in the beautiful San Juan and Canadian Gulf islands? Learn from experienced sailors on the open seas, and you’ll be circumnavigating the globe in no time.
If you’re seeking an adrenaline rush, take on the white waters of the Upper Klamath River in southern Oregon. Consider taking an all-day trip to Hell’s Gorge, or a turbulent ride down Caldera Rapids. Navigate class IV rapids and cascade down the high-speed currents. Don’t forget your helmet! (And an experienced guide.)
Houseboat on Quartermaster Harbor, Vashon Island
$150 per night
After a day kayaking, paddle -boarding, captain -guided sailing or power boating, or simply riding the ferry, go with the flow and stay in an actual houseboat, where the sounds of lapping waves will lull you to sleep. In the morning, enjoy a steaming beverage while taking in the views of boats in the adjacent marina while the mist slowly rises off the water.
By Shelby Rowe Moyer
It’s hard to describe the feeling.
Despite its monumental size and power, a helicopter lifts off the ground so seamlessly and pulls passengers upward into the proximity of the clouds. Classic Helicopters’ — which operates Seattle Helitour, with spokesman, Audra Kim, first buckled herself into the seat of a helicopter in Skagway, a small, city in southeast Alaska, when she was working for an expedition company.
“It was a little scary,” she said. “In a good way. It’s so hard to explain. I think I was just so impressed with how the world looked from a helicopter. You think you’re very familiar with an area, but when you see it from the eagle-eye level, it becomes truly special. There’s no other form of transportation that allows you that viewpoint.”
Seattle Helitour is one of the premier helicopter tours in the area, with flights that whisk tourists (and locals) around the city and natural landscape.
In the last year or so, Seattle Helitours cleverly added an Instagram Photo Flight series where guests can choose their own adventure, from routes that boast the Seattle skyline, soar atop Evergreens to picturesque Snoqualmie Falls, or a marriage of the two with city and nature views.
“There was a demand from amateur photographers for opportunities that are often reserved for commercial photographers,” Kim said about the decision to add the Instagram tours. “It provides the opportunity to take off the doors on the flights, so you don’t have to take photos through the window.”
Those seeking a more traditional helicopter-tour experience also have three tours to choose from: Views of the South Sound, with Mount Rainier and the Port of Tacoma as the backdrop; a Seattle-area tour with a bird’s-eye glimpse at the Seahawks training center, statuesque Bellevue, and the glorious homes of Medina; and a tour that truly captures Western Washington, starting at Mount Rainier and flying over Tiger Mountain and Snoqualmie Falls (which also is Kim’s favorite route).
It’s the ultimate summer adventure, unlike anything else you’ll experience. “I always tell people: No matter where you are or which company you go with, if you have a desire to go on a helicopter tour, you should go for it,” Kim said. “Don’t wait for some big special moment in your life. Make that your special moment.”
More bird’s-eye view adventures
No matter the season, mountain views are always spectacular. Don’t wait for winter to plan your next trip to Crystal Mountain. The Mt. Rainier Gondola offers summer rides over whimsical meadows of wildflowers, 2,000 feet to the summit of the mountain. Once you arrive at the top, cheers a glass of wine and enjoy a fine meal at the Summit House, a restaurant that holds the record for being at the highest elevation in the state.
Hot Air Balloon Rides
The centuries-old sport of hot air ballooning — the first successful human flight dates back to 1783 — is a quintessential way to experience Olympia’s beauty. Whether you’re aiming for a romantic outing or just want to upgrade your sightseeing, Soaring Sports in the Capital City is the way to go. View Thurston County’s Bountiful Byway of agricultural splendor from above, with several package options available. Choose from private or shared rides, or design a weekend getaway around the basket flight with Soaring Sport’s bed and breakfast package. No matter what, you’re sure to have a memorable (and highly photographic) trip.
If you’re torn between hitting the water and feeling the freedom of flight, why choose? Soak in the beauty of the Puget Sound with Pacific Parasail in Tacoma. This family-owned and-operated business has been zipping people around the Sound for 15 years. Each person gets 10 to 15 minutes of flight time and spends the rest of the ride relaxing in the boat. Bring the whole family out to Tacoma — the activity is great for those 5 and up. And hit Point Ruston for a bite to eat before making your way back to I-5.
Situated on a 50-acre island of Evergreen paradise between Olympia and Portland is Treehouse Island Zipline Adventures in Silver Lake, where you can release the excitement of your inner child while slicing between cedar, ash, maple, and fir trees. Book a day or a three-hour trip, and feel your spirit come alive.
Feeling your hair streaming in the wind is exhilarating from hundreds of feet above the treetops. Seattle Paragliding in Issaquah is situated at the foot of Tiger Mountain and offers tandem flights for curious land-dwellers who want to experience Eastside views from the air. If you’re hooked, the company offers a full course to become a certified paragliding pilot.
This is your year! Take the plunge (pun intended,) and schedule your first skydiving experience at the historic Harvey Field with Skydive Snohomish. When skydiving really caught wind in the 1950s, Harvey Field hosted several competitions, and became a “home” for many of the adrenaline junkies who took part. Experience a piece of history, and cross this adventure off your bucket list.
Pleasant Bay Lookout, Bellingham
$102 per night
While not quite in the sky, this treehouse is about as close as you are going to get to sleeping in the clouds. While this is literally a tiny house on stilts, what it lacks in interior space, it makes up for in its seclusion and stunning views overlooking the sea, where you can spot boats, wildlife, and soaring eagles. Head next door and introduce yourself to the property’s owners in the main house and they’ll give you free reign of their hot tub, too.
The Junior Rangers
Parents know there are many bumps along the road when it comes to traveling with their children. Kids tire quickly when out and about, especially if there’s walking, hiking, or monotonous tour guides involved. However, if your travels take you to a national park or monument, there is a solution: The National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program.
Simply inquire about the program at the visitors’ center of your NPS park of choice, help your child (ages 5 to 13) complete the age-appropriate sections of his or her activity booklet, and watch with pride as your child takes the Junior Ranger oath from a real park ranger. If your child needs further incentive, just remind her that there’s a brag-worthy Junior Ranger badge at the end of the process. If you plan to hit other parks on your adventures, no problem: Your little ranger can pick up a unique badge for every park she visits.
Start your adventurer off at one of these close-to-home National Parks:
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Oregon and Washington
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Oregon and Washington
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington
Olympic National Park, Washington
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Nez Perce National Historical Park, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington
San Juan Island National Historical Park, Washington
Whitman Mission National Historic Site, Washington
Five fun items to capture your adventures.
1. Backpacks & Tents
Hide from the rain in a high-quality tent that will last. Or consider renting your gear — REI offers rental backpacks and tents. REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus Tent, $229, rei.com
The problem with summer hiking? Sweaty feet. The solution? Chacos. Outdoor sandals are perfect for getting your feet wet for adventuring, both literally and figuratively. You’ll always be able to find some wacky patterns on sale! Diana Sandal, $85, chacos.com
If you’re planning on birding, these binos are essential — not to mention compact and affordable. Spot even the smallest of Pacific wrens as you adventure across the Northwest. 10×25 Compact Waterproof Binoculars, $23, amazon.com
4. Fisheye lens
Take it all in: These clip-on attachments let you capture 180 degrees of panoramic beauty straight from your smartphone. AMIR for iPhone Lens, $14, amazon.com
5. Cairn box
With a subscription to Cairn, you’ll receive a monthly box of gear and gadgets you never knew you needed. Check it out for endless adventure supplies! Original collection box, from $27/month, getcairn.com
Great Trips Deserve Great Snacks
Suggestions for road trips, hikes, or flights.
The last thing you want on any outdoor adventure is to get hangry, so prioritize healthy protein on the go. Jerky’s Gourmet is handcrafted beef jerky that is made from grass-fed beef from the Pacific Northwest.
Your adventure might remind you of your childhood, so why not take some PB&J along for the ride, too? Despite the fact that the combo is delicious and nostalgic, it’s also a great and portable power food, making it perfect for hiking. Even better, peanut butter and jelly tastes good on more than just bread — it’s great on rice cakes and crackers, too.
Nobody wants to deal with a mess while adventuring, so stick to fruits like berries and grapes that don’t leave pits or cores. Your car will stay cleaner, and it will be easier for you to leave no trace while out on the trail.
Stay hydrated, but avoid sugar crashes, by bringing along seltzer waters, whether in the car the or in your pack. Refreshing, delicious, and guilt-free, these sweet drinks will save you from craving sodas or Big Gulps when you stop by the gas station.
You can always buy a classic trail mix, but we think it’s more fun to get creative and make your own. Choose a few of your favorite nuts, and throw in delicious dried fruits (like dried Rainier cherries), and voila! A sweet, salty, and healthy snack.
You’ll find wild huckleberries all over the Northwest, so go ahead and treat yourself to this unique snack — huckleberries mingling with popcorn.
OK; we all know we can’t be healthy all the time. And if you’re on an adventure, hey — you’re probably on vacation, too. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself to your favorite guilty pleasure, whether it’s a bag of sour gummy worms from the gas station or an ice cream cone from the next fast-food joint.