The American Northwest is another favorite vacation area for both residents and foreigners. The area has spectacular scenery, several national parks, and some fascinating cities. Here are descriptions of my favorite places in the region. Look for the photo album which will be coming soon.
1. Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park, in the northwestern corner of Washington, is a park with something for everyone. It has snow-capped mountains; it has wild, unspoiled beaches; it has eerie and unusual Temperate Rain Forests; and it has abundant wildlife because so much of the park is truly wilderness. The best way to visit is by car, a significant day trip from Seattle or, better, an overnight stay on the peninsula. Route 101 which loops around most of the park and allows access to the best sights, is, itself, around 300 kilometers (200 miles), so leave early and plan to be gone for the entire day.
Hurricane Ridge in the northern area of the park offers views of striking snow-capped peaks and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. There are a number of walking or hiking trails available as well.
Ruby Beach, on the western edge of the park, is wild and strange, with its many sea stacks and driftwood. It’s not a beach for swimming, but just to stroll and admire the photogenic scenery or to explore tidal pools to observe the many small sea creatures which inhabit them, such as pacific coast sea anemones, sea urchins, and starfish.
The Hoh Rain Forest, inland from the Ruby Beach area, invites the visitor to observe an extremely uncommon ecosystem, a temperate Rain Forest. Don’t be surprised if it rains during the visit, since this area gets 150 or so inches of rain (almost 400 cm) per year. This environment is characterized by mosses which drape the tree branches and give them an otherworldly look.
Take the Hall of Mosses Trail, an easy self-guided walk, to experience the lush, eternally green Sitka Spruce Forest.
2. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crater Lake National Park, in southern Oregon, contains America’s deepest lake (almost 700 meters or 2000 feet in depth) which is known around the world for its beautiful, deep blue color. The crater is actually the caldera of Mount Mazama which erupted about 7,700 years ago leaving this steep-sided bowl which eventually filled with water. A 53 km (33 mile) road (Rim Drive) encircles the lake and offers numerous overlooks and access to walking trails. Boat rides to Wizard Island, an attractive, conical land mass within the crater, are available during the summer season and leave hourly from Cleetwood Cove. However, access to the boat dock requires a very strenuous walk from the parking area.
Head for “The Watchman” overlook for breathtaking views of the lake, Wizard Island, and the surrounding countryside.
3. Seattle & Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Seattle, Washington is an exciting city in the northwestern corner of the USA. The waterfront area of the city is the location of the majority of tourist sights, although Seattle Center, a short distance from the harbor, also houses many attractions.
The Space Needle, the symbol of Seattle, is located in Seattle Center, the remnants of the 1962 World’s Fair. It is 300 meters (605 feet) tall, with an observation deck at the 175 meter (520 feet) level. It provides the visitor with a dramatic, 360 degree panoramic view of the Seattle Skyline, Puget Sound, the Cascades, and the Olympic Mountains. There is also a revolving restaurant. In the area are several museums and other children’s activities. There is even a monorail which connects to other parts of the city.
The Pioneer Square Historic District is an area of restored homes and businesses, rebuilt following Seattle’s great fire of 1889. There are numerous shops and restaurants.
One of the most beloved attractions in Seattle is the Pike Place Market. It opened as a Farmer’s Market in 1907. It is still a popular destination for shoppers and curious tourists, as well as Seattle residents. The fish market is known for its workers who fling fish around as if they were footballs. The area has expanded to offer arts and crafts and flowers, as well as shops and restaurants. A short distance from the waterfront, pedestrians can take the Pike Place Hill Climb, a skywalk with elevators and stairs, to the market which has been transformed into a major tourist stop.
Fans of the movie, Sleepless in Seattle, may want to have lunch at the “Athenian”, a restaurant in the Pike Place Market complex, which was featured in the movie, and which has tremendous views of Puget Sound, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains, beyond.
Sometimes there are special exhibits and programs at the observation deck of the Space Needle, such as aliens who frolic in and out of the framework.
Be sure to taste the Rainier cherries, which are usually very expensive except in the area. They are fantastic!
From the harbor, there are ferries to the Olympic Peninsula, some of the islands within Puget Sound, as well as harbor cruises and whale-watching boats, among others.
Probably the most popular excursion from the city is southeast to Mount Rainier National Park. It forms a dramatic backdrop for the city when seen from the north or west and offers a comforting presence for both residents and visitors alike. Comforting may be a misleading word since Mt Rainier is an active volcano and certainly has the potential to devastate the Seattle-Tacoma area. However, scientists feel that warning signs will be detectable well before any eruption.
The national park preserves the entire mountain and some of the surrounding area. Mount Rainier is snow-capped year round because of the many glaciers which cover the surface, and, although the glaciers seem to be receding, they are still extensive enough. There are several Visitor Centers and a number of entrances into the park. Information can be obtained about the activities of the day as well as weather conditions, etc. The mountain is frequently cloud-covered or fog-enshrouded so a visit may be a hit or miss thing. There are many walking trails, with varying levels of difficulty. Rainier is also a popular mountain-climbing destination. Check with the Park Service about permits.
A lengthy but possible excursion from Seattle is to travel northeast to North Cascades National Park, in north-central Washington state, a wilderness park which preserves a portion of the Cascade Mountain Range, “America‘s Alps“. The area has been shaped by extensive glaciations and over 300 glaciers remain from the most recent Ice Age. Outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping are available. The only highway access within the park is SR 20, which is closed during the winter.
4. Mount St Helens National Monument, Washington, & Portland, Oregon
Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, located in southwestern Washington, preserves the area in and around the volcano which last erupted on May 18, 1980 in an incredible display of geology, blowing off the top 350 meter (1000 or so feet) of the summit of the mountain and much of the north face. Mud and lava flows devastated the surrounding area. Since the eruption, scientists have benefited from this living laboratory and have been able to study firsthand the extent of the destruction as well as the resiliency of the landscape to return. A visit to Mt St Helens awes the individual with how precarious and vulnerable life is to nature’s fury. The area around the base of the mountain still shows the scars. The dead trees of the forests are a testament to the power of the eruption. Yet, despite the carnage, the visitor can see signs that life is returning to the area. There are a number of observation areas and several Visitor Centers. Be aware that highway access is limited to secondary roads so travel times should be calculated conservatively.
Probably the best place to stay in order to visit the monument is the delightful city of Portland, Oregon, located at the junction of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, in the northwestern part of the state. It enjoys a picturesque setting near the base of Mount Hood, a snow-capped volcanic peak, just to the east. Portland became a Mecca for “hippies” and other alternative-living Americans, back in the 1960’s, and has retained an avant-garde lifestyle since then. One sees evidence of this heritage in the Portland Saturday Market (under the Burnside Bridge) and in the dress of some of the locals.
In the western part of the city is Washington Park, which has several notable attractions. Here, the visitor will find the International Rose Test Gardens, which display row after row of beautiful roses, in various colors and varieties. Also in the vicinity, higher up on the hill, are the Japanese Gardens, an oasis of solitude and contemplation.
The view from Washington Park’s Rose Garden of Portland’s skyline, with Mount Hood in the distance, is spectacular.
Multnomah Falls & Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area are located east of Portland on the border between Oregon and Washington. The Historic Columbia River Highway offers access to the area’s attractions. Perhaps the most dramatic of these is Multnomah Falls, the highest waterfall in Oregon, and one of the highest in the United States, at 310 meters (620 feet). An interpretive center at the base of the falls provides information and displays regarding the entire area. There is a trail which allows access to the falls and a bridge which traverses the gorge created by the falls, about halfway up. This unusual situation provides some interesting photo opportunities.