The Pacific Northwest is truly a wonderland for outdoor adventure that is unmatched in terms of its diversity: From the miles and miles of coastline to the drenched coastal rainforests, from the volcanic peaks of the Cascades to the dramatic granite uplift that defines the ranges in Idaho and Eastern Oregon, from the fecund agricultural lowlands to the arid high desert plains, the Pacific Northwest is a microcosm that holds within it aspects of almost every other state in the country.
For this reason, the PNW is more than just a home for the adventurous soul, it is a frame of mind. Sea kayak on a sound searching for orcas on a Saturday, hike on the West Coast's tallest volcano on Sunday; harness the Columbia River winds on a kiteboard, then hit the nearby backcountry on a splitboard; float through thrilling rapids in some of the nation's most pristine wilderness, then grab your mountain bike for endless singletrack descents (and climbs!). The proximity of wonder inspires passions, plenty of sick days and long weekends, and ridiculous collections of gear. With so many opportunities for outdoor exploration in so many different environments, the Pacific Northwest understandably tends to engender a sense of awe and appreciation among its fans.
But if you really want to get to know this corner of the country, your best bet is to strip everything down to the basics. Good footwear, a good pack, and a good trail are all you need to build your own unforgettable experience in the Pacific Northwest. Whether you're in and out in a day or you're up for an epic multi-day traverse, hiking provides the most intimate connection with your environment, by far. Leave the roof rack in the garage. Grab a few maps and some friends and start surveying this massive area from the comfort of your kitchen table. Identify a trip length and time frame that will work for you, and let the planning begin! To help the brain storming, consider some of these favorite hikes in the Pacific Northwest.
When it comes to Olympic National Park, visitors are faced with some tough choices. Few national parks include such a broad range of bioregional diversity. For a tour of the high country, however, it is hard to do any better than the High Divide Loop. The route allows for some exposure to Olympic old-growth before heading up into the alpine for wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and views for miles. At 18 miles, this is a great multi-day adventure.
This 9.5-mile route is a fantastic way to experience the coastal region of the Olympic Peninsula, and it is level enough to be an option for younger hikers as well. Whether you commit to the full hike in one day or you can swing a night out on the trail (permits are required), the Ozette Triangle Loop delivers with a boardwalk through old-growth, beautiful coastal segments, and even some petroglyphs near Wedding Rocks.
Visitors to Mount Rainier National Park can enjoy staggering views of the mighty Tahoma from this 6.3-mile loop that leads to the summit of neighboring 7,402-foot Burroughs Mountain. The views from here include Emmons Glacier, which is Mount Rainier's largest, and Little Tahoma, a volcanic vent that tops out at 11,138 feet. If you have the time and energy, you can enrich this excellent hike with a return on the Sunrise Rim Trail.
Mount Rainier National Park gets a lot of attention, and it is easy to see why, but it is worth remembering that the terrain surrounding the national park can be equally impressive. The loop that leads through Dewy and Anderson lakes is a case in point. In 10.5 miles you'll enjoy big views of Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks (an area that is also well worth exploring), wonderful camping opportunities near subalpine lakes, and side hike opportunities that can get you up above the Douglas firs.
This one is an epic. The Three Sisters Loop is 56 miles and almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain, so it is a commitment. But it is a commitment that will reward you with snowfields, alpine lakes, verdant meadows, jagged lava fields, and clear, starry nights. There is no other route in Oregon that is quite like it. The route incorporates the Pacific Crest Trail in addition to a handful of other trails, and it can be hiked in either direction. Note that certain sections require permits for hikers who aren't committing to a full PCT thru-hike.
One of the most unique hikes along the Oregon coast, the John Dellenback Trail bisects the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which is one of the world's largest temperate dune areas. The route starts at a trailhead that is surrounded by typical coastal vegetation, and within a few hundred yards it transports visitors into another world. Mountains of sand tower over the individual hiker, and the terrain becomes eerily uniform and indistinct. Indeed, be sure to avoid the hike when heavy fog is in the forecast, for it is easy to become disoriented and lose the route. The trail leads to a beach that is a nesting habitat for the western snowy plover, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the policies and regulations that are in place to protect this threatened species.
The Strawberries are a mountain range located near the center of the state, and their isolation translates to a wonderful experience for hikers willing to put in the travel time and the miles on trail. For those who are looking for a longer tour in this relatively low-trafficked area, look no further than the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Loop. This 20-mile loop makes for a perfect long weekend. Hikers will enjoy expansive views from the summit of Strawberry Mountain and plenty of fishing and camping opportunities around Strawberry Lake, High Lake, and Slide Lake.
One of the country's premiere whitewater rafting trips is also one of the best ways to experience Idaho's Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness by foot. The views from the trail are just as spectacular as they are from the river, and you'll have much more time to enjoy them...not to mention the hot springs and cabins that make this area such a unique place. You'll have to arrange a shuttle, but that's a cinch given the popularity of the float. Because the trail follows the river, you'll be losing elevation throughout, and you're never far from a water source. You may even be able to arrange a hiker-support trip in which a raft carries your gear downstream from camp to camp!
This challenging 20-mile hike leads into magnificent Sawtooth country, including the dramatic canyon carved by Baron Creek. There are three alpine lakes to help motivate you along your steep climb, and from these lakes several side hikes are possible. This area is worth several days of exploration if you can manage it, and once you hike in, you'll want to make the most of your effort.
This is a perfect option for accessing some of the Sawtooth backcountry with a moderate distance and elevation gain. At 7.6 miles round trip, you can easily make this a day trip, yet the terrain is rich and varied enough to support a long weekend of exploration. Goat Creek Falls and Goat Lake are highlights along this route, not to mention the towering granite peaks that surround the route throughout. This is a modest hike that is highly rewarding, and it shouldn't be overlooked.
Each month, Eddie Bauer's panel of judges will select 25 semifinalists who will receive a $100 Eddie Bauer gift card and be entered into the competition to win the grand prize.
At the end of the contest period, one grand prize winner will choose between a trip to Kauai, Yosemite or Whistler, BC, for an all-expenses paid hiking adventure of a lifetime. Read the full details and rules here.