15 Seriously Underrated Destinations in the Pacific Northwest

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The Pacific Northwest is home to world-renowned sites like Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle, Crater Lake National Park, Pike Place, and more. But this region is also home to countless underappreciated gems that are uncrowded and are definitely worth a visit.

From small coastal towns to towering mountains that are home to more wild horses than people, these destinations around the PNW are a great way to get off the beaten path and have a more intimate experience with everything the region has to offer.

So pack up the car and get ready to hit the road as we tour some of the most underappreciated locations around the Pacific Northwest.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Hiker at sunset in North Cascades National Park
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The North Cascades National Park is arguably the prettiest national park in the entire Pacific Northwest, but because of its lack of amenities and out-of-the-way location up against the United States/Canada border, it only sees a fraction of the visitors as compared to the other national parks in the region.

If you’re looking for an authentic wilderness experience with stunning hikes, glaciated peaks, remote lakes full of paddle-in camping spots, and a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, then this park is a must-visit.

Astoria, Oregon

Astoria Riverwalk trail stretches along the city’s waterfront, following a portion of the Astoria and Columbia River Railroad.
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Astoria is Oregon’s oldest city, having been founded way back in 1811. This maritime hub is home to stunning Victorian architecture, a waterfront that has masterfully blended its history as a cannery hub with its future as a tourist destination, and one of Oregon’s most famous movie locations in the Goonie house.

A visit to this charming city nestled along the mouth of the Columbia River is a must-visit for anyone looking to stay in a boutique waterfront hotel, eat seafood from an old fishing boat turned fish and chips restaurant, and sample incredible beers from the impressive number of breweries that call this city home.

Olympic National Park, Washington

Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park in Washington
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Dominating the Olympic Penninsula and adjacent coastline, Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse national parks in the country. In the center of the park, you will find towering glaciated peaks, untouched wilderness, and some of the best backpacking opportunities on the West Coast. Head to the edges of the park, and you can walk through towering, moss-covered forests that give you the feeling of walking through a prehistoric world.

But it doesn’t end there. The park also encompasses some of the most beautiful and rugged stretches of coastline on the entire west coast. Here, you can walk amongst towering sea stacks, peek through natural caves, and walk amongst tidepools teeming with wildlife.

Methow Valley, Washington

Skiers on trail in the Methow Valley near North Cascades National Park - Washington, USA
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Located just to the east of the Washington Cascades, Methow Valley is home to a series of quaint towns and is known as one of the top cross-country skiing destinations in the country.

When the North Cascades Highway opened in 1977, locals in the Methow Valley saw the opportunity to build a tourism hub and decided to focus on building a world-class cross-country skiing trail system. This required working with over 100 private landowners, but that work paid off; today, the network consists of over 200 kilometers of groomed trails.

But you don’t have to cross-country ski to enjoy this area, as it also serves as the hub for mountain biking, trail running, and hiking

Joseph, Oregon

Red barn near Wallowa Mountains in Oregon
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Joseph is one of the most charming towns in Oregon, but because of its location, it sees only a small fraction of the tourists who make their way to more popular Oregon locations like Bend and the coast.

This charming Northeastern Oregon town is located well off the beaten path at the base of the towering Wallowa Mountains. From Portland, it is a 5 1/2 hour drive that deadends at this western-style town that is home to charming eateries, incredible hiking, and one of the most unique lakes in the entire state.

Mt. Adams, Washington

Mt Adams and aspen trees in autumn and a grazing field
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Mt. Adams is one of the string of volcanic peaks that stretches in nearly a straight line from Mt. Shasta in Northern Califonia to the Three Sisters in Central Oregon to Mt. Hood in Northern Oregon up to Mt. Rainier in Washington. A trek up to the top of nearly any of these peaks on a clear day offers stunning views of the rest of the line of mountains to the north and south.

Mt. Rainier, along with Mt. Jefferson in Oregon, are two of the least visited of these peaks due to their remote location and lack of infrastructure around the mountain. Getting to Mt. Adams requires driving along rocky forest service roads and camping without many amenities. But if you choose to make the journey you’ll be rewarded with a climbing experience full of solitude and incredible views.

Hood River, Oregon

Red barn among apple orchards below a snowy mountain, Hood River Valley, OR
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Hood River is one of Oregon’s most ideally located towns. Situated in the Columbia River Gorge, it is close to hiking on Mt. Hood, incredible farms and wineries, dozens of waterfalls, and weather that tends to be drier than Portland (although it can get breezy).

Visitors to the area flock to the Fruit Loop, which is a drive from Hood River, up into the apple and pear orchards that dominate the region. Pack a picnic and spend a day wandering through these gorgeous farms that perfectly frame nearby Mt. Hood.

Yachats, Oregon

Usa, Oregon, Yachats. Thor's Well, Waves Crashing into Thor's Well
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One of the things that makes the Oregon coast such an incredible place to visit is how diverse the towns can be. They range from tourism-focused communities like Cannon Beach to working-class towns like Coos Bay to sleepy towns that perfectly blend the two. One of our favorites in the latter category is Yachats, Oregon.

This town of only 1,000 people isn’t home to any big resorts or flashy tourist activities. What it is home to are incredible natural sights like Thor’s Well, beaches perfect for finding a gorgeous Oregon agate, and plenty of spots to cast a line in the water in the hope of catching a delicious rockfish or lingcod.

Tacoma, Washington

Mt. Rainier from Tacoma, WA
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Tacoma has long been the butt of jokes when it comes to cities along the Puget Sound. In years past, drivers along I-5 would hold their noses as they made their way past this mill town. But today, the city has seen a renaissance as residents priced out of Seattle have set up shop in this historic community and built up an amazing collection of restaurants and shops to go along with the jaw-dropping views of both the sound and Mt. Rainier.

Take a walk through the Proctor District to see some of the city’s beautiful homes, or head down to the waterfront, where you can walk or bike the Ruston Way Trail.

Steens Mountains, Oregon

View on Wildehorse Lake from the top of the Steens Mountain, in the background you can guess the Alvord Desert
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Located deep within the wilds of eastern Oregon, the Steens Mountains rise from the high desert and offer some of the state’s most remote and rugged hiking and exploring opportunities. There are very few places to stay aside from the odd B&B or campground, so the area sees very few visitors annually.

Once you’re done with the mountains, head down to the east side of the range, where you can explore the otherworldly Alvord Desert and soak in the adjacent Alvord Hot Springs.

Ashland, Oregon

Aerial view of Ashland, Oregon
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This southern Oregon town is one of the last stops along I-5 before you make your way into California. This charming city is surrounded by hills full of hiking and biking trails, and once you’re ready to take a break, you can take a break at any number of the town’s charming coffee shops and bakeries.

The town is also home to the world-famous Shakespeare Festival, which features daily performances of some of the writer’s best-known works.

Owyhee Wilderness, Oregon

Beautiful desert scene of the Owyhee Canyon River in spring
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Located on the far eastern edge of Oregon, the Owyhee River Wilderness area is home to rugged stretches of canyon, one of the most beautiful drives in the state, and remote backcountry hot springs that may only see a few dozen visitors per year.

This area is not for the faint of heart as you are far from civilization with limited services and generally zero cell service. But those who dare to venture deep into the wilds are greeted with stunning night skies free of light pollution, backcountry hiking through otherworldly landscapes, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Port Angeles, Washington

Port Angeles Harbor at sunrise in Washington State.
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Port Angeles has long been a pass-through town for those catching the ferry to nearby Victoria, British Columbia, or venturing to the western sides of the Olympic Peninsula. In recent years, though, visitors have started to take notice of this ideally located town that offers incredible access to both the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the nearby Olympic National Park.

The town offers up a little bit of everything for visitors, with coffee shops, charming eateries, and fun shopping sprinkled throughout its small downtown.

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment lighthouse waves crashing over the drift wood at Cape Disappointment State Park
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Located on the far southwestern tip of Washington, Cape Disappointment State Park sits on the northern side of the mouth of the Columbia River. The park is home to stunning sandy beaches, two beautiful lighthouses, campgrounds, and numerous trails that crisscross the park’s hills and coastlines.

Its location just across the river from nearby Astoria makes it a great opportunity to pop over the stunning Astoria-Megler Bridge to learn more about the region’s history at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

Mt. Jefferson, Oregon

At 10,492 feet high, Mt Jefferson is Oregon's second tallest mountain.
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Mt. Jefferson is one of Oregon’s pretties mountains with its jagged peak dominating the skyline throughout Central Oregon. Yet it is also one of the least visited as there are no roads leading to the mountain, and most hikes require at least a 10-mile round trip to get anywhere close.

Those willing to make the hike are rewarded with stunning alpine lakes and fields of wildflowers that perfectly frame this incredible volcanic peak.

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