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Here’s Your Camping and Outdoor Guide for the Pacific Northwest

Add These Spots to Your List of Must-See Areas in the PNW

Few places on Earth offer an outdoor lover’s paradise quite like the Pacific Northwest. From forests to deserts, mountains to islands, and beaches to alpine slopes, just about every type of landscape is represented. There’s even a rainforest. And whatever outdoor activity you prefer, whether it is hiking, cycling, snowboarding or skiing, swimming, fishing, hunting, camping, or virtually anything else, you can enjoy it in the Washington-Oregon-British Columbia trifecta.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best outdoor opportunities in the Pacific Northwest for camping, hiking, and more. Perhaps I should amend that. “Best” is hard to define. Instead, let’s just say that these are some of the “greatest” and leave it at that. So without further ado, here are some of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest outdoor destinations.

The North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Located in the north-central region of Washington state, the North Cascades National Park offers a staggering abundance of gorgeous scenery and just about every outdoor activity you can imagine. One of the most common activities involves simply driving along the 5-hour round-trip loop through the mountains, stopping every once in a while to take in the sprawling expanse of mountains. Your best place to start is at Ross Lake, where you can camp and hike at Colonial Creek Campground, hike Thunder Knob Trail, or take a small watercraft over the lake.

San Juan Islands

At the heart of Washington state are the San Juan Islands. To reach them you need to take a ferry that circulates between the islands, then once you arrive, you find a wonderland of tide pools, wildlife, stunning beaches, and gorgeous sunsets. The islands of San Juan and Friday Harbor also offer an array of charming shops to peruse, while Lopez Island is famous for its cycling. This clutch of islands is also renowned for its sailing opportunities.

A ferry in the San Juan Islands

The Olympia Peninsula

Washington’s peninsula offers several microclimates — from the beaches along the coast and Puget Sound to the alpine peaks of the Olympia Mountains — all of which are within just a few hours’ drive of one another. Most notably, the peninsula’s Hoh Rainforest has the distinction of being the largest rainforest in the United States. In the rainforest, you’ll find an outright Lord of the Rings vibe, while in coastal towns like Ocean Shores or Westport, you can enjoy plenty of family-friendly entertainment. There are lots of camping opportunities throughout the region, ranging from RVing to wild backpacking to glamping.

An ATV in Dunes City

Dunes City

Tucked in the southern coastal corner of Oregon, Dunes City feels like another planet. With miles upon miles of Saraha-like, rolling dunes, it’s decidedly the most un-Pacific Northwest place in the entire region. Here, you’ll find plenty of campgrounds, many of which allow you to camp directly on the dunes. Arguably the most popular recreational activity here involves renting an ATV and then blasting over the sand at full speed.

The Painted Hills

On the eastern side of Oregon stands one of the West Coast’s most unique natural features: The Painted Hills. Famed for its colorful striped appearance because of its many exposed sedimentary layers, this is a supremely magical place to spend the golden hour before sunset and take photos. There are also a number of scenic Old Western and ghost towns to explore, such as Mitchell and Horse Heaven. If you’re into prehistory, keep an eye out for the many opportunities to explore fossils.

A view of Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park

In south-central Oregon, you’ll find the deepest lake in the U.S. — Crater Lake. With its crystal clear waters, it looks like virtually no other place on Earth. Translation: It’s an incredible photo opportunity. It’s also located alongside the Umpqua National Forest, which is about as lush and green as they come, boasting plenty of hiking and camping opportunities. The Umpqua/Crater Lake region is somewhat far from any major cities, so you’d be smart to experience them both while you’re in the area.

Mount Hood National Forest

Visible from the nearby city of Portland, Mount Hood is extraordinarily picturesque. With countless camping opportunities, fishing lakes, hiking trails, and glamping resorts, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. Here, you’ll also find the Timberline Lodge, which you might recognize as the Overlook Hotel in the movie The Shining. It’s only moderately haunted, we promise.

A view of Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park

During a clear day, Seattleites have a saying: The Mountain is out. The mountain they’re referring to is Mount Rainier, which looms off in the distance. While there are plenty of easy-to-reach campgrounds scattered around its base, if you’re feeling particularly hike-enthused, you can always summit the mountain via a one- or two-day, which is a moderately strenuous trek. While you don’t have to be an expert to undertake this endeavor, it’s not exactly for newbs. There are a number of mountaineering schools located on the mountain that will provide the training necessary to up your hiking game.


If you’re looking to head further north, drive about an hour upward of Vancouver and you’ll find one of British Columbia’s outdoor gems: The mountain town of Squamish. The town and region around it offer lots of hiking and camping, and it’s becoming increasingly popular among mountain bikers, thanks to its abundance of trails designed for a wide range of skill levels.

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Nick Hilden
Nick Hilden is a lifestyle and culture writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Afar…
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