By Hilary Meyerson
Photo at right: Sunset view from Lopez Village looking out toward Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island. Photo courtesy of Ann Palmer
Any time of year is great for a getaway in the Northwest. We have so many destinations to choose from, we’re downright spoiled. Our staff spent many hours sorting through our best trips in recent memory to come up with this list. Grab your calendar and start making some plans to visit!
Everyone has taken visiting relatives to Victoria, and with good reason. It’s a little slice of Europe sitting just a ferry ride away. You can speed over on the Victoria Clipper, but we like taking the Black Ball ferry line from Anacortes. Have tea at the famous Empress Hotel, but then get outside for a kayak tour of the Inner Harbor with Kelp Reef Adventures. And while it’s required to hit the Butchart Gardens, a more unique outing from May–September is the wild seaweed tours at Sea Flora, 40 minutes north in Sooke.
This town is the heart of artsy and outdoorsy Whidbey Island. For an idyllic weekend, book a room at the Boatyard Inn where the water laps at your private deck, a few feet from your bed. Swing by the Braeburn Restaurant for a decadent breakfast of Stuffed Apple Bread French Toast, then explore the island by bike or kayak with the Whidbey Island Kayaking Company. No matter what, mark your calendar for the Penn Cove Mussel Festival on March 3-4, which conveniently coincides with the Mussels in the Kettles Mountain Bike Poker Ride.
This seaside Oregon town is most familiar to Northwesterners headed down the coast, and it’s worth a stop. There is nowhere quite like the Sand Master Park, where you can try the unique sport of sandboarding. The famous Sea Lion Caves, just north of Florence, have been drawing tourists for years to gawk at the marine creatures lolling around by the hundreds. But the best thing about the Oregon Coast is, well, the Oregon Coast. Hit the beach with your kite or take a hike out to the Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Idaho is fast becoming a go-to destination for Northwest folks on the west side of the Cascades. A few hours by car gets travelers out to gorgeous Lake Pend Orielle for water fun in the summer, or swing by Silverwood theme park for some thrills and chills. Schweitzer Mountain Resort brings in the skiers, but has great summer biking too. The Western Pleasure Guest Ranch makes a great home base offering sleigh rides in winter and trail rides in summer. In town, stop by Eichardt’s Pub for tasty bison burgers and great local brews and music.
Nestled on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend’s stunning natural views and quaint Victorian vibe are worth the trip. Come for September’s annual Wooden Boat Festival or any time to explore the abandoned bunkers at Fort Worden. Camp along the beach or stay at the Bishop Victorian Hotel just off of scenic Water Street for a dose of small town hospitality. Water Street offers crafty local shopping as well as a variety of delicious food. Eat at Sirens for unique gourmet pub food, or stop by for a slice of Waterfront Pizza’s famous pies.
Bellingham is an outdoor-lovin’ town. It’s got epic hiking, fab skiing and a plethora of cycling, but might be best known as a kayaker’s dream town. No wonder it’s home to the annual Ski to Sea Race in May, a 100-mile relay of seven different sports, as participants ski, run, canoe, cycle, and kayak from Mount Baker Ski Area to finish in Bellingham Bay. Participants (and spectators) have earned a beer at the Boundary Bay Brewery after the event.
We’re cheating here by choosing a whole county, but that’s because there is so much to do. Plus, it’s so dang close to most Puget Sound area folks. We suggest yurt camping out at River Meadows, a 150-acre meadow and forested park along the Stillaguamish River. There is no end to hikes in the area—though we’re partial to Lake 22 or the Big Four Ice Caves. In Everett, Snohomish County’s county seat, no visit is complete without a visit to Jetty Island from early July to Labor Day. Take the (free) Jetty Island ferry or kayak over on your own.
There is hiking galore in this central Oregon outdoor mecca, but our favorite trail might be the Bend Ale Trail. Follow it from brewery to brewery, sampling fine craft beer along the way. Sleep it off at the Riverhouse for a deal of a room. In the morning, grab your mountain bike and hit the famous McKenzie River Trail. If you’re in town in July, sign up for the Tour des Chutes, whose various routes hit several of Oregon’s designated scenic bikeways. Mt. Bachelor’s year-round recreation is just around the, um, Bend. Fuel up at local bake shop, Baked or grab some pub grub at the Deschutes Brew Pub.
Columbia River Gorge
The mighty Columbia snakes between Washington and Oregon, and has created a gorge rich in geologic and recreational treasures. The natural wind tunnel has kiteboarders flocking to the region, and the Bridge of the Gods Kiteboarding Festival in August brings more spectators. On the Washington side, the Skamania Lodge is a heavenly place to rest your head (and enjoy some fine dining), then cross the river to Hood River, Ore. and play over there. Bike the Mosier Twin Tunnels Trail or hike one of the many gorgeous trails. Relax—you’ve earned your beer at the Full Sail Brewery.
You can’t help but have fun in this western-themed town 30 minutes north of Bend. It has views for days. In the summer, you can hike through Ponderosa pines to your heart’s content or paddle crystal clear lakes. We prefer pedaling through the Peterson Ridge Trail system. In the winter, there is endless Nordic skiing and local downhill ski area Hoodoo has an epic tubing park. For a splurge, stay at the Lodge at Suttle Lake and enjoy some Northwest luxury. In town, don’t miss the Sisters Bakery. There’s usually a line out the door, but it’s worth it.
They call themselves the Maritime City, and they live up to their name. You can’t go to Gig Harbor without getting on the water. Take a cruise with Captain Tom of Destiny Harbor Tours, and you may spot sea lions and harbor seals playing under the famous Narrows Bridge. Chow down with the locals at the Tides Tavern, which has been serving up its famous clam chowder for more than 30 years. After your adventures, lay your head down at the Maritime Inn, where you can get great views of the harbor and Mount Rainier.
There is no place quite like Leavenworth. This Bavarian-themed town just two hours from Seattle is Washington’s best four-season playground. Do some whitewater with Osprey Rafting in the summer, and hike the Icicle Ridge Trail for gorgeous views above town. Luxuriate at the Sleeping Lady Lodge for a base in winter for some unparalleled Nordic skiing outside your door. The Munchen Haus serves up the best Bavarian sausages and the Icicle Brewing Company has a host of brews for every palate. Leavenworth’s Oktoberfest is the gold standard of such festivals—it’s worth the drive over the Cascades.
Lopez Island, one of the four San Juan Islands served by the Washington State Ferries, is the most beloved of cyclists. The 15-mile long island is the flattest of the three, with jaw-dropping scenery ranging from beaches to farms to forest land. There are many places to stay, ranging from camping to the fine Lopez Islander Resort and Marina. Grab a bite to go at upscale deli Vida’s Wildly Delicious and get outside. Don’t miss the Tour de Lopez, which is always the last Saturday in April, and always sells out.
Just 30 minutes by ferry from Edmonds, Kingston is one of the Northwest’s best playgrounds. First stop should be Kingston Adventures, where you can gear up for all sorts of outdoor fun. For a thrill, try a headlamp mountain bike ride, where a guide will take you through a Kitsap Peninsula forest at night. On warm summer days, grab a sandwich at the Cup and Muffin, and cruise around Appletree Cove by stand up paddleboard. While you wait for your ferry, have some clams and a beer at the Main Street Ale House, where all the locals gather.
Southern Oregon has been relatively undiscovered, and many would like to keep it that way. But we can’t resist Medford. The 40-mile Rogue River Recreation Trail is a must-do for outdoor fans. Raft or hike for days along the scenic river. Grab the single suite at the White House Bed and Breakfast, and stroll through the idyllic town, which has a surprising array of food choices. Grab a burger at Jaspers or a biscuit sandwich at the Buttercloud Bakery. Or head to Crater Lake National Park—cycle the Rim Drive. You won’t regret it.
Trails, trails, trails. That’s what comes to mind when you think Methow Valley. It just depends on whether you tend toward mountain biking, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing or snow biking. We recommend staying at the North Cascades Base Camp, where you can do some environmental learning while getting your outdoor fix. Cruise into western-themed Winthop for a beer at the oldest legal saloon in Washington, Three Fingered Jacks or you can visit the Methow Valley Ciderhouse by foot, bike or horseback for some hard cider (by car too, if you must).
It’s visible from much of the Northwest—now it’s time to get up close and personal. In the winter, you can’t beat the National Park Inn at Longmire. If you’re lucky enough to get one of the rooms at the rustic 1920s lodge, you’ll have a great base for some ski touring or snowshoeing. In the summer, hike all or part of the famous Wonderland Trail. For an easier way up, take the gondola to the top of Crystal Mountain for great food and views at the Summit House. If you’ve got little ones, take them on the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad.
There’s lots to do at Mt. Hood, but skiing definitely tops the list. Between Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood Meadows and Mt. Hood Ski Bowl, you’ll have a hard time choosing. Bring a group of friends and book cabins or lodge rooms at the classic Cooper Spur Mountain Resort. When the snow is gone in June, grab your road bike and hit the Tour de Hood, for one of the Northwest’s best two-day rides. Mt. Hood Adventure in Government Camp (Guvvy Camp to the locals) is a great outfitter for tours and rentals year-round and the SkiBowl Adventure Park is always a hit with kids in summer.
Come for the caves, stay for the outdoor adventure. Thousands come every year (spring to fall season) to the Oregon Caves National Monument, a geologic marvel known as the “Oregon Halls of Marble.” Take a ranger-guided 90-minute caves tour and emerge breathless. Afterward, step across the street and stay at the Chateau at the Oregon Caves, one of the Great Lodges of the Northwest. Down the road, stop by the Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center to get up close and personal with injured or orphaned wildlife. For your Cave Junction stay, think about staying in a treehouse at Out ’n’ About Treehouses, which also has ziplines.
If you like cycling and wine, Washington County, just outside of Portland, should top your list of destinations. The quaint town of Forest Grove is a terrific home base for some pedaling for pinot. Budget-minded travelers can stay at the quirky McMenamin’s Grand Lodge, where you can catch a movie or enjoy a round of disc golf. After a quick breakfast at Maggie’s Buns, ride from winery to winery. Don’t miss Saké One, the sake brewery and Montinore Vineyards. Or, head over to the Banks-Vernonia State Trail for a dedicated bike path ride. Enjoy dinner at 1910 Main for classic Oregon farm-to-table fare. Is it time to go home already?
It’s less than an hour and a half from Seattle, yet a world away. Check out the views of Saratoga Passage from your room at the Camano Island Inn. Or, if you can plan ahead, book a 1930s-era beach-front cabin at Cama Beach State Park and take in a boating workshop at the Center for Wooden Boats while you’re there. Wanna play outside? Zipline over the treetops at Canopy Tours NW. Don’t forget a quick stop at the Diamond Knot Brewery to fill up your growler.
We can’t resist the best little Norwegian town this side of Oslo. Both the Poulsbo Inn and the Guest House Inn are great bargains for a stay, with breakfast included. Stop by the Poulsbo Historical Society and Museum to learn more about the rich history of this town on Liberty Bay. Don’t miss a stop at the famous Sluy’s Bakery, for a Viking Cup (a cinnamon roll/donut creation with cream cheese filling). From there, stroll down to the Poulsbo Marina and check out the eclectic shops and the Poulsbo Marine Science Center. Rent a kayak or paddle board at the Olympic Outdoor Center by hour or day. A dinner at Mor Mor Bistro, specializing in local Northwest cuisine, is a great way to end the day.
Hilary Meyerson is the editor of Outdoors NW. She is looking forward to finding new places to go in 2013 and revisiting some old favorites.