The Pacific Northwest of the United States is best known for its beautiful coastline, rainy weather and spectacular mountains. Although this megaregion has no geographical boundaries, it covers the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia. One might even consider Alaska to be its part, now that’s how vast the PNW is! No doubt it offers a cornucopia of destinations as varied as its topography. In my post, I have covered mostly the Oregon region. Of what little I have seen of the great PNW, it has mesmerized me. Here, I have chalked up a road trip itinerary which is a mix of urban charm and splendid nature.
Day 1 – Willamette National Forest, Portland
Willamette National Forest stretches for about 110 miles along the western slopes of the Cascade Range in western Oregon. The highway is almost engulfed by the forest while the McKenzie river flows on the side. As we drove down, I was enchanted by the picturesque view en route.
I would suggest you to take McKenzie-Santiam Scenic Byway which takes you through thick forests, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and volcanic lava flows. Just off Highway 126 you will find Sahali Falls (meaning heaven), a cascading waterfall with foaming water and a beautiful rainbow. With so much to offer, this forest is no less than a wonderland.
Now coming to the urban charm of PNW, the ideal way is to spend the evening in Portland getting oriented with the downtown area. It’s compact downtown has an interesting mix of buildings, parks, bridges and squares, like the Pioneer Courthouse Square. The well laid out paths for cycling allow you to take a tour of the city. But if you want to relax, there are ample of wonderful micro-breweries and coffee houses that the city is famous for. Portland’s charm lies in the fact that it is the kind of place where you need not make a list of attractions to see.
Day 2-3 Seattle
For your first day in Seattle, go straight to Museum of Flight. The museum showcases the Wright brothers’ experiments with wings, the original Boeing factory building, known as the Red Barn, Exhibits from World War I and World War II and much more. Even if you are not a aviation enthusiast (like me), you will love the collection of planes from vintage to modern. It is surely a treasure trove of history.
Next stop Pike Place Market, a public market in downtown Seattle overlooking the waterfront. This is no ordinary market, originally started with six farmers in 1907; now it has more than 200 vendors. Make sure you grab a coffee at the Original Starbucks and explore the nooks and corners of this 6 level market. It is easy to lose track of time and get lost in the rare treasures of these small shops. After visiting the market, walk to the Seattle Waterfront’s Pier 59 to spend the rest of the day.
Dedicate the next day to the art scene of Seattle that includes the Olympic Sculpture Garden and Chihuly Garden and Glass. The latter features glass work of renowned artist Dale Chihuly, the same artist whose ‘art blossom‘ features at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. Here you will find dramatic glass installations in floral forms or inspired by the sea. Each exhibit is unique and a feast for the eyes. Chihuly’s work and vision is par excellence and I highly recommend a visit.
From the museum you can walk up to the iconic Space Needle, here you can purchase tickets to go up to the observation deck for a 360 degree view of the city. Considering Seattle weather, go on a clear day to get your money’s worth. In all honesty, I am not into city views that include long lines and overpriced tickets.
Spend your evening at the Washington Park Arboretum and you will see why it is called the Evergreen State. It is a woodland retreat in the heart of Seattle and offers a beautiful respite. Even though I visited in late fall, the colors were so pretty.
Day 4 – Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Now I have saved the best for last. Just a short drive from Portland, the Columbia River Highway packs up a whole lot of stunning landscapes full of breathtaking vistas and abundant waterfalls mostly on the Oregon side of the Gorge.
Tip: In all practicality, one can explore the Columbia River Gorge before going to Seattle. My itinerary had to change due to weather conditions.
Once you cross the Bridge of the Gods, the scenery changes to that of a densely shaded damp forest where one waterfall after another will beckon you to pull over. Some of the easily accessible waterfalls being Bridal Veil, Wahkeena, Horsetail Falls and the star attraction Multnomah Falls.
Most waterfalls have viewing areas and bridges that take you closer to feel the mist. If you choose to hike, pay attention to the trail conditions as rain and snow can make it slippery and dangerous. I say this from personal experience after failing to reach the bridge at Multnomah and almost giving up on the trail to Wahkeena Falls. Although the snow made a mess of the hiking trails, it certainly enhanced the beauty of the picturesque surroundings.
While I enjoyed the city life of Portland and Seattle, visiting the Pacific Northwest is really about the great outdoors. The perfect amalgamation of urban city life and nature’s wilderness, is the great Pacific Northwest.
One thing to be wary of while visiting the Pacific Northwest is that the weather can change quickly, which I learnt very early into my trip. From pleasant summer it went to snow storm in a day. I had to make slight adjustments to my itinerary due to this sudden change in weather. So be flexible and take the nature’s call.
My trip to the Pacific Northwest was just a window into the wonderland. Like I said before, this mega-region has a lot to offer. Perhaps in my next trip, I will cover those places. Until then, I will content myself with what I have witnessed and loved.