15 Exhilarating Outdoor Adventures in the Pacific Northwest

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The Pacific Northwest is an outdoor lover’s playground, with hundreds of miles of beaches, majestic mountains ready to be explored, and coastal waters perfect for wildlife watching and paddling. Rain or shine, residents and visitors to the PNW are known for their enthusiasm for getting outside and enjoying nature.

Whether you are spending a weekend on the wild coast of Washington or exploring the Oregon outback there is a little something for every kind of outdoor enthusiast.

So, if you’re looking to get outside in the Pacific Northwest this year, these are some of the essential activities to try.


Moss covered basalt at Tunnel Falls, Oregon
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The Pacific Northwest is home to thousands of miles of hiking trails that range from short jaunts through local parks to multiday backpacking trips that will take you over and around some of the region’s most imposing peaks. Whether you’re looking for scenic vistas and majestic waterfalls or just want to go for a relaxing walk in the woods, there is something for everyone.

Quintessential PNW Hike: The Skyline Loop Trail on Mt. Rainier shows off the best of the best of this iconic PNW mountain.


Woman Relaxing in a Hammock Overlooking the Water
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One of the things that makes the Pacific Northwest so great is that so much of the land is protected and open to use by all. This means that there are public campgrounds nearly anywhere you go, as well as thousands of backcountry spots perfect for pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars.

Whether you’re a family looking for the perfect car camping spot, a van lifer needing full hookups, or a self-reliant adventure junkie looking to boondock, the Pacific Northwest has you covered.

Quintessential PNW Camping Spot: Wallowa State Park in Joseph, Oregon, where you will sleep at the base of the majestic and often overlooked Eagle Cap Wilderness.

Whale Watching

Water Stream off Gray Whale Tail as it dives down to search for food
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Each spring, visitors flock to the Oregon coast in hopes of seeing whales making their annual migration from the winter grounds in Mexico to the rich waters of Alaska. Numerous whale-watching locations are staffed with volunteers who help visitors spot their first whale as they travel offshore.

Keep an eye out for the telltale sign of a passing whale by looking for the sprays of mist rising into the air as the whales take a breath to prepare for their next dive. If you’re lucky, you may even see a whale breaching, which is a sight you will never forget!

Quintessential PNW Whale Watching Spot: Depoe Bay is widely considered the whale-watching capital of Oregon, and while you’re there, you can visit the Oregon Whale Watching Center.


Kayaking at Sunset Through the San Juan Islands of Washington State. A kayaker paddles past Orcas Island in the Salish Sea during a beautiful sunset.
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The Pacific Northwest has waters that are perfect for every level of paddler. From tranquil rivers and lakes where you can stay close to shore to epic adventures at sea where you can camp on deserted islands and paddle amongst the local sea life.

Many towns on the water, both ocean and inland waterways, are home to kayak rental centers that can show you the ropes or even take you out on guided tours to help get your feet (or paddles) under you.

Quintessential PNW Kayaking Spot: The San Juan Islands offer both challenging paddles between the islands as well as easy access for first-timers within its protected bays. If you’re comfortable with a longer paddle, definitely head up to Sucia Island Marine State Park, where you can explore the island’s miles of trails and undisturbed coastline.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbers are climbing Monkey Face at Smith Rocks State Park, with Mt Jefferson in background
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Whether you’re looking to summit a vertical rock face or are scrambling up craggy peaks, there are countless rock climbing opportunities around the Pacific Northwest. Central Oregon is home to some of the best climbing in the region but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to be found elsewhere.

The sport is so popular here that even during the rainy winter months, you can find plenty of climbing opportunities at the numerous climbing gyms that can be found in almost every larger town across the region.

Quintessential PNW Climbing Spot: Smith Rock in central Oregon is generally regarded as the birthplace of modern sport climbing in America. The park offers nearly year-round access, provided you’re comfortable being a little chilly in the winter.

Wildlife Viewing

Mother Black bear looks for her cubs as she walks along the Wonderland Trail inside Mount Rainier National Park.
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One of the highlights for visitors to the Pacific Northwest is the opportunity to see one of the region’s large mammals in their natural habitat. Provided you’re in the right area, you can see elk, black bears, deer, whales, orcas, wolves, moose, and, possibly soon, grizzly bears.

There is plenty of forestland and coastal waters to try to spot wildlife, so pick a trail and head out with some binoculars to try your luck!

Quintessential PNW Wildlife Viewing Spot: Mt. Rainier National Park is home to numerous animals, from black bears all the way down to the tiny and adorable pika.

Skiing and Snowboarding

The snow covered Cascade Mountains and frozen trees at sunrise in winter
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The Pacific Northwest is home to over 30 ski resorts, ranging from expansive options with terrain for every level of skier to small hills perfect for first-timers to get their feet under them.

Mt. Baker in Northwestern Washington is legendary for its potential for massive amounts of snow, while resorts on the eastern side of the state allow skiers and snowboarders to escape the dreaded cascade concrete snow that shows up when the weather warms up to near freezing even during the deepest days of winter.

Quintessential PNW Skiing and Snowboarding Spot: Mt. Bachelor is home to the most skiable acres in the Pacific Northwest and its elevation means that it stays in the snow when many other resorts in the region are getting rain.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking the world famous trails of Oakridge, Oregon
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If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at mountain biking, there is no better region than the PNW to get started. Cities like Bend, Oregon, and Bellingham, Washington, have invested significant amounts of time and money into building world-class mountain biking trail systems that have trails that are perfect for every skill of rider.

Many of the region’s ski resorts have also added mountain biking networks during the summer months for adrenaline junkies who want to try their hand at downhill riding without worrying about pedaling uphill.

Quintessential PNW Mountain Biking Spot: Bend, Oregon’s mountain bike trail system started out as a single handbuilt trail in the woods and has since expanded to include hundreds of miles of trails with flow lines, jumps, and everything in between. Nearby, Mt. Bachelor provides the perfect downhill experience during the summer months.


woman beachcombing on the oregon pacific coast
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The Pacific Northwest’s miles of uninterrupted coastlines that are directly exposed to the wild Pacific Ocean mean that every walk down the sand means you have a chance of stumbling upon a treasure that the waves have washed ashore. From highly prized glass floats to a myriad of other knickknacks, there are plenty of opportunities to find some coastal treasure.

Oregon beaches are also well known for their highly prized agates, which can be found in various locations throughout the state. These translucent rocks can be hard to spot at first, but once you get an eye for them, you can quickly build up an outstanding collection.

Quintessential PNW Beachcombing Spot: The aptly named Agate Beach in Newport, Oregon, is a great spot for first-time beachcombers to try their luck at hunting down some of these gorgeous rocks.


A close up of male Dungeness crabs in a crab trap sitting on a dock in Oregon
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One of the most popular and famous local foods in the Pacific Northwest is the succulent Dungeness crab. These crustaceans often spend their lives in the shallow bays and estuaries that can be found up and down the coast of the Pacific Northwest, and they can be surprisingly easy to catch.

Towns along the Oregon coast will rent out skiffs and crab pots by the hour so you can try your hand at catching a pot full for dinner. There are even locations where you can throw a pot directly from a bridge or dock, so no boat is required!

Quintessential PNW Crabbing Spot: Garibaldi, Oregon, provides access to the popular and productive Tillamook Bay, where you can rent a boat or try your luck directly from the local dock.

Hot Springs Soaking

Hot springs pool on the Owyhee River in Oregon, USA
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The volcanic peaks that dot the skyline up and down western Washington and Oregon provide some insights into the extent of volcanic activity that is still occurring throughout the region. And where there are volcanoes, there are often also hot springs that are perfect for soaking after a long day of adventuring.

These hot springs can range from remote and rustic with a single rock-walled pool next to a river to built-up resorts that still incorporate the perfect hot spring vibe.

Quintessential PNW Hot Spring Spot: Crystal Crane Hot Springs in Central Oregon provides all the amenities for a perfect soak session, and its location in the Oregon outback makes it a quintessential stop on a trip through this remote part of the state.


A Mountain Goat Passes Tent Camp
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There is no better way to experience the remote scenery of the Pacific Northwest than on a multiday backpacking trip. From weeklong trips around Mt. Rainier to overnighters that take you past a dozen waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge to North Cascade excursions that will bring you face-to-face with resident mountain goats, there is an option for everyone.

Despite the region’s reputation as being rainy year-round, the summer months are actually extremely warm and dry, so a trip to the outback can leave you sleeping under the stars without having to worry about packing up a wet tent each morning.

Quintessential PNW Backpacking Spot: The Enchantment Lakes region is a bucket list trip for many local backpackers. The permit system keeps the number of backpackers low, which means if you are one of the lucky few to draw a permit, you’ll be able to enjoy this stunning region in solitude.


Washington Pass Along the North Cascades Highway During the Autumn Season. Larch trees and snow on the hills signal the approach of winter in the North Cascade Mountain range.
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With jaw-dropping mountains, hundreds of waterfalls, and dozens of lighthouses up and down their coast, the Pacific Northwest is a photographer’s dream. The best part is that phone cameras have gotten so good in recent years that you don’t even need to bring out bulky camera gear to capture a shot that will wow audiences on social media.

Quintessential PNW Photography Spot: Take a visit to the riverside town of Astoria, where you can photograph shipwrecks, soaring bridges, Victorian-style architecture, and canneries turned brewpubs and hotels that dot the waterfront.


A group of edible mushrooms, Golden chanterelle fruit bodies growing in a late summer forest
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The forests of the Pacific Northwest come alive with mushrooms and berries that are ideal for the first-time forager. During the spring months, you’ll find the forests crawling with foragers looking to uncover the elusive and delicious morel mushroom. Come late summer you’ll find Pacific Golden Chanterelles, Porcini, and all the huckleberries you can eat up in the alpine meadows of the Cascade Range.

Quintessential PNW Foraging Spot: Virtually any forest in the Pacific Northwest provides foraging opportunities so grab your favorite plant identification book and go explore the woods.


The deep blue lake has enjoyed the company of the galaxy night after night for about last 7,700 years.
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Once you pass over to the east side of the Cascade Range, you’ll find wide open spaces with towns few and far between. This means that the night sky is often darker than anything you can find in most places around the world. In fact, a large swath of Oregon was recently named the largest dark sky preserve in the entire world!

Once you’ve experienced staring up at the Milky Way under a perfectly dark night sky, you’ll never want to go back to living in the city again.

Quintessential PNW Stargazing Spot: Set up camp on the Alvord Desert, where you can enjoy unencumbered 360-degree views of the night sky without a hint of light for hundreds of miles.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest