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recommendations on exploring the Pacific NorthWest (PNW)?
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Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
recommendations on exploring the Pacific NorthWest (PNW)? on 02/15/2012 09:30:51 MST Print View

My wife and I have never been to the PNW. We have a time window in late May to early June to take a 2 to 3 week trip and would like to check out some nice area(s) in the PNW.

I hike a lot. She used to hike a lot, now not nearly as much, but she is in good overall shape and is willing to tweak her training. However she is not interested in a deathmarch or pushing her limits to the max.

I know the BPL crowd has lots of PNW experts and locals. Can you guys recommend some beautiful, not-so-crowded areas of the PNW where we could enjoy deep forests, cool mountains, and such where dayhikes and uncomplicated overnights would be accessible? We would be flying in from the East coast, so a location's proximity to major airports is a factor, and we would likely want to ship our gear ahead of time.

We are very willing to check out areas that are awesome but not typified by the overcrowded, over-regulated National Park scene.

It's a very big place, I just don't know where to start, and I don't want to waste vacation time. I don't get a lot of that.


Edited by El_Canyon on 02/15/2012 09:34:10 MST.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
recommendations on exploring the Pacific NorthWest (PNW)? on 02/15/2012 11:43:57 MST Print View


Are you going to rent a car and drive to multiple places? Or, are you looking for one place to go for a few weeks?

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 02/15/2012 11:58:44 MST Print View

We'd like to rent a car and drive to more than 1 place, but not a dozen of them, i.e. we don't want to have a huge hit list and only spend 1 day at each spot.

Matthew Perry
(bigfoot2) - F

Locale: Oregon
PNW spots. on 02/15/2012 12:10:49 MST Print View

Eagle Creek trail near Portland, Oregon.


Justice Baker

Locale: Central Oregon
I second eagle creek on 02/15/2012 13:40:41 MST Print View

Eagle Creek is awesome, definatley check it out.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: recommendations on exploring the Pacific NorthWest (PNW)? on 02/15/2012 13:56:42 MST Print View


First, consider flying into either Portland or Seattle and flying out of the other. I don't know how much more this will add to the price of airline tickets and rental cars, but it would free you to move slowly in one direction w/o having to dramatically backtrack.

The PNW will be pretty but will also still have rainy days in late May and early June. Also, even though there should not be any additional snow at that time, PNW trails melt out very slowly. I grew up in the South and late spring here is always a little frustrating, as we wait for major trails to clear. However, that shouldn't stop you or make you change your trip.

Olympic National Park: you should be able to do many of the low valley trails as out-and-backs, hiking up though amazing scenery until you hit snow near any pass. Highlights include Enchanted Valley from Lake Quinault (where there is also a nice lodge), Sol Duc and Seven Lakes Basin (might be snowed in) and the famous Hoh Valley trail. Also, part of Olympic NP is the coastline, where you can do an out-and-back, maybe from Rialto Beach. Just keep in mind that the Olympic peninsula is large, and takes 6-7 hours to drive around, even without much stopping.

Link to trip report(s) in Enchanted Valley:

North & East of Seattle: North Cascades NP and Alpine Lakes Wilderness are two fantastic destinations but I haven't spent enough time there in spring to know what's open (maybe some WA folks can comment). Leavenworth and Ellensburg are smaller towns where you could stay to check the surrounding mountains and central plains.

Heading south from Seattle:
Mt. Rainier NP: not sure what trails will be open, but there is a reason Paradise is the most crowded part of the Park. Don't let the people scare you off; it doesn't much walking to get somewhere scenic and have the crowds disappear. I like Sunrise too, which usually opens early July and is the highest road you can drive in the Park.

Mt. St. Helens: there are great places to hike in MSH, but you could just drive to the main visitor center and check out the views.

Eagle Creek (Matthew mentioned above) is the quintessential Columbia Gorge trail. Easy to get to from Portland and you pass by Multnomah Falls, which is definitely worth a stop (you only need about 30 minutes or so). You could hike Eagle Creek and then head a little farther east to Hood River to eat at a brew pub and maybe get to watch the kite boarders and wind surfers on the Columbia river. Dog Mountain on the WA side of the Gorge is also a classic gorge dayhike.

South of Portland:
The two places I'd look at would be Silver Falls State Park (east of Salem) and Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area/Jefferson Park (if it isn't still snowed in, too). A great driving loop would be to drive Salem to Sisters and then back to Eugene over the MacKenzie Pass (again, dependent on snow). Great places to hike and lots of beautiful National Forest campsites to choose from.

Two good PNW hiking resources:, (Washington Trails Association).

Good luck planning!

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: recommendations on exploring the Pacific NorthWest (PNW) on 02/15/2012 14:09:30 MST Print View

What I do when visiting a new place is to buy a bunch of trail guide books (used on Amazon marketplace or Ebay) and give them to my wife. She does all the research and figures out where to go.

I lived in Seattle for eight years and go back often. There is virtually an unlimited number of great places, most covered in guide books. You can't go wrong by just picking an choosing from the books. True you may miss some great places, but given just a few weeks you are going to miss hundreds of great places, so no big deal (an excuse for return visit!).

General highlights (WA centric), many possibilities in each: Olympic coast, Olympic rain forest, Olympic Mountains, North Cascades, South Cascades and Alpine Wilderness, Mt. Rainier, other volcanoes in WA and OR. East of the Cascades it is mostly flat and mostly desert except for the northern parts, interesting if you are so inclined.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
Olympic Peninsula on 02/15/2012 14:14:20 MST Print View

The river walks will be open at that time of year, probably not the high country. Favorites are Camp Handy, Tubal Cain, Duckabush River, Enchanted Valley, North Fork Skokomish. Hamilton Mountain on the Gorge is nice, often crowded on sunny days, Lewis River very easy. I tend to stay on the east side of the Olympics at that time of year, as it will be (marginally) drier. Haven't been able to explore the southern Cascades much yet, so no recommendations there.

Stephen Adams
(stevemkedcom) - MLife

Locale: Northwest
Leavenworth Washington on 02/15/2012 14:28:04 MST Print View

Take a look at Leavenworth Washington. It is a Bavarian style tourist town on the east side of the cascades 2 1/2 hour drive from Seattle. It has plenty of places to stay and hundreds of hikes with in a 45 minute drive. Though there will be plenty of tourists in town you can drive 20 minutes west into the mountains and hike all day and not see a sole. May may be a bit early as there will still be snow above 3,000 ft but so far the snow pack is not much. You can also go 40 minutes East and do some desert hikes.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
recommendations on exploring the Pacific NorthWest (PNW)? on 02/15/2012 15:57:47 MST Print View

At that time of year (late May to early June) you are pretty much stuck with the lower altitude trails. Unless we have a dry spring and early meltout, you will mostly have to stay below 4000 feet, although this will vary (lower or higher) by terrain and whether east or west of the Cascades. Definitely the higher Cascades will still be under snow, regardless of the snowpack depth and meltout rate.

The Columbia River Gorge has a number of beautiful trails besides Eagle Creek. Check out the Field Guide:

For Washington, check:
for a trail guide similar to the Field Guide.

The valley hikes in Olympic National Park, especially Enchanted Valley, will be awesome.

In early May, you may want to start checking reports on these two local hiking forums (the first from the Portland area, the second from the Seattle area) to find how the snow melt is progressing.
There is usually a "snow level" thread on each forum as well as trip reports. Every year is different! Last year, the meltout was at least a month later than normal over most of the western US. We hope that doesn't happen again!

I'd suggest making inquiries on the above two forums. Be sure to mention the time you'll be here!

Edited by hikinggranny on 02/15/2012 16:05:07 MST.

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Re: recommendations on exploring the Pacific NorthWest (PNW)? on 02/15/2012 17:03:59 MST Print View

+1 for the WTA ( - one of the best trail organizations I've seen, and I've found the info to be spot on. I just moved here in August and, as others have said, there is a dizzying amount of amazing trails. You almost can't go wrong by throwing a dart at a map.

Cody Croslow
(Graelb) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Nobody suggested southern Oregon! on 02/17/2012 00:15:57 MST Print View

Sounds like all of the suggestions so far are of the northern part of the PNW, but there are some really pretty areas more south! I'd check out the sky lakes wilderness, and even the redwoods down in northern California on the coast. The "state of jefferson" (Southern OR, and very northern CA) has some very very beautiful areas, backpacking or just hiking. If you were to check these out, you'd probably want to fly into Medford.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
Washington trip suggestions on 02/17/2012 09:44:20 MST Print View

2-3 weeks in PNW, April May:

The season eliminates a lot the best country, all the mountain high country.

Definitely go to Mt. Rainier. Stay at a lodge as high on the hill as possible. It it more than a big mountain. It is GINORMOUS! Do whatever day hikes are possible, possibly in the Tatoosh Range which will have great views of the rock pile.

In Seattle, visit Pike street market, all the nearby shops, and go up the Space needle, and ride the monorail. Also visit the shops on the waterfront.

Take the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, even if just for lunch, and return. Its part of the Seattle experience.

If you hit a stretch of fair weather, an easy trip worth doing is to drive out to Lake Ozette on the Olympic Penninsula, hike 3 miles to the coast on a cedar puncheon sidewalk, camp on the beach. Hike 3 miles south on the beach, inspecting indian carvings in the rocks, and camp on the beach a second night. From there, hike 3 miles back to Lk Ozette, completing a triangle. If the sun is out, you got lucky and it will be spectacular. If it is overcast and misty, that is not unusual, and enjoy it anyway. Check on permit requirements as its a popular hike. Hit the hot springs at Sol Duc on the way back to Seattle.

Visiting Leavenworth is a great diversion. The apple orchards will be blooming and the valleys beautiful. Depending on the snow level, day hikes to Colchuck lake, Stuart Lake, Eight Mile Lake, Rat Lakes, are all good day hikes. Permits are required for overnight stays, I believe.

A great trip would be to drive to Chelan on the East side of the Cascades, take the boat to Shehekin, stay at a bed and breakfast, and do day hikes out of Stehekin. Lake Chelan is a 60 mile long, 1-2 mile wide glacial carved lake. If you want to make a hike out of it, have the boat drop you off at Prince Creek, and walk to Stehekin, which will take about 3 days.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Southern Oregon on 02/17/2012 11:22:53 MST Print View

Sky Lakes won't be melted out in May, and when it does melt out it's a mosquito nightmare for several weeks. That area and other plateaus with lots of lakes, such as the southern Three Sisters Wilderness, Olallie Lakes, Indian ("Mosquito") Heaven Wilderness and the southern part of the William O Douglas Wilderness (Mosquito Valley) are best done in late August or, even better, September right after Labor Day, when the bugs are normally gone and the huckleberries are ripe.

However, there are the Rogue River Trail and Illinois River Trail which are fine in May, before the weather gets too hot. The Rogue River Trail is written up in the Field Guide. For the Illinois River Trail, check with the Siskiyou NF, because it may be that not all the trail has been maintained since the 2002 Biscuit Fire. Also the southern Oregon coast--IMHO the most spectacular section of the whole Oregon coast is the southernmost, between Gold Beach and Brookings, which you can hike via the Oregon Coast Trail.

If you go to southern Oregon, dip down into northernmost California to explore the redwoods.

Edited by hikinggranny on 02/17/2012 11:30:36 MST.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 02/19/2012 22:06:31 MST Print View

Super info, thanks everyone.

Sounds like my time window is a bit early in the season for the PNW. Would going south to NorCal be the answer, perhaps?