The mere mention of the Pacific Northwest conjures images of snow-capped mountains, orcas breaching, and crystal-clear waters and skies. From big cities to quiet towns, and from bustling marinas to cozy coves, the region has something for everyone. Here are six perfect Pacific Northwest destinations in Oregon and Washington to put on your must-visit list.
Did you know Portland has a huge population of sailboats? Boaters of all kinds cruise the Columbia and Williamette Rivers running through the city, too. On clear days, you can see the impressive Mount Hood. Try kayaking, either on your own craft or by renting from a local outfitter. Also check out Government Island in the Columbia River, just outside the city. It’s part of a state recreation area accessible only by boat, with wetlands supporting wildlife like salmon and turtles. If you’re hardy enough to cruise in the winter, catch the annual Christmas Ship Parade, a two-week affair.
Coos Bay, Oregon
Located in the southern part of the state, Coos Bay is among the best natural harbors between San Francisco and Puget Sound. It’s also part of Oregon’s “Adventure Coast,” named for the abundance of activities to pursue. Fishing fanatics head here, for instance, to catch chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead, a type of trout. Crabbing and clamming are popular, too. Shipwreck seekers, meanwhile, can check out the George L. Olson, a 223-foot-long lumber-carrying schooner from 1914 that ran aground in 1944. Its bow juts out of the water.
Hood River, Oregon
Both the name of the city and the waterway, Hood River, in the Columbia River Gorge, is renowned as the Windsurfing Capital of the World. Additionally, canoers, kayakers, rowers, kiteboarders, and stand-up paddleboarders enjoy the area. So do whitewater rafters, on the White Salmon River just a few minutes north of the city. Too energetic for you? No problem. Rent an e-bike and head for the car-free Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead and Twin Tunnels, offering scenic views of the river and access to wineries and eateries.
There’s nothing quite like seeing the skyline of the Emerald City, along with the Olympic Mountains, from the harbor. Puget Sound offers several marinas for boats of all shapes and sizes. Making Seattle special, you can head from salt water to fresh water via locks, too. The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a.k.a. the Ballard Locks, connect Puget Sound to Lake Union and onward to Lake Washington. You’ll see floating homes, seaplanes, pretty parks, and perhaps a Deadliest Catch vessel or two. Fun fact: The locks are on the National Register of Historic Places.
San Juan Islands, Washington
Located north of Seattle, the San Juan Islands are a boater’s paradise, with something for everyone—breathtaking mountain views and open sky, rich and diverse wildlife, good fishing, and plentiful anchorages—as well as marina resorts, lively harbor towns and beautiful state parks. Renowned for wildlife, especially the resident pods of Orca whales, the islands are also home to sea lions, porpoise, otters, bald eagles, great blue herons, and more. While cruising between islands to visit the villages, shops, galleries and restaurants is easy, if you’re looking for quiet getaway you’ll find hundreds of small, secluded coves to explore.
Strait of Juan de Fuca
The international border between the United States and Canada runs down the center of this body of water. (Note that Canada hasn’t fully restored non-essential travel as of this writing in the fall of 2021.) While conditions can be calm or rough, proper planning ensures an enjoyable voyage. Definitely check out pretty Sequim Bay, a favorite of the late actor John Wayne. He often cruised here aboard his yacht, Wild Goose, and his family donated 22 acres of land that now houses John Wayne Marina. Fishermen, take note: Excellent salmon and halibut grounds are here as well.