Top 15 Must-Visit Destinations in the Pacific Northwest: Unforgettable Vacation Ideas

Renowned for its breathtaking views, rugged coastlines, and vibrant cities, the Pacific Northwest is jam-packed with so many amazing vacations. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast eager to explore the expansive trails of national parks, a foodie looking to indulge in the freshest seafood and local delicacies, or a history buff interested in the region’s rich heritage, the PNW has something for everyone. Here are the 15 best Pacific Northwest vacation ideas.

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Where is the PNW?

The Pacific Northwest is a region that sparks friendly debate about its exact boundaries. While Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are usually included, some also consider Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and British Columbia.

Positioned in the northwest corner of the United States, it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. For the scope of this article, we’ll be covering must-do activities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia (my home province).

Pacific Northwest Vacation Ideas for Nature-Lovers

From hiking through the Hoh Rainforest to road-tripping to scenic waterfalls, there are so many nature-filled adventure getaways in the Pacific Northwest.

1. Inside Passage Ferry to Prince Rupert, BC

  • Number of days needed: 4 days (for just Prince Rupert and the Inside Passage Ferry) or 10+ days for an entire Northern BC road trip
  • Recommended stay: Cassiar Cannery
  • Best time of year to visit: June to September

A ride along the Inside Passage Ferry is an excellent way to start any PNW vacation. Departing from Port Hardy, this 16-hour ride is met with amazing views, wildlife spotting, and ease. After deboarding in Prince Rupert, you’ll be met with a wide array of adventurous experiences.

Prince Rupert is a quaint coastal town surrounded by the rugged Great Bear Rainforest. During your time here, I highly recommend immersing yourself in the history of the town’s indigenous heritage as well as exploring the great outdoors.

If you have extra time in this corner of the PNW, you can continue exploring Terrace and The Nass Valley, Stewart, and/or Kitimat.

2. Olympic National Park, WA

  • Number of days needed: 2+ days
  • Recommended stay: Hoh Valley Cabins
  • Best time of year to visit: May to September

Washington is home to so many amazing national parks. From the spectacular views at Mount Rainier to the rugged mountains and alpine lakes at North Cascades National Park, it’s hard to choose a favorite. However, if you only have time for one, I recommend planning a Pacific Northwest vacation to Olympic National Park, as it has a bit of everything!

It’s just over 2 hours from Seattle, but you’ll feel a world away. During this getaway, you can choose between hiking through the famous Hoh Rainforest, exploring the tide pools, or relaxing on the sandy beaches.

3. Idaho Hot Springs Road Trip

  • Number of days needed: 7+ days
  • Recommended stay: Campervan if possible!
  • Best time of year to visit: Mid-September to February

Did you know that Idaho is home to the most soak-able natural hot springs in the United States?! This state is oftentimes overlooked by its neighbors. However, it deserves a spot on this list of best Pacific Northwest vacations.

With over 140 usable natural hot springs, this road trip could last for weeks. Some highlights include Pine Flats, Kirkham Hot Springs, Sunbeam Hot Springs, and the famous Boat Box. Each spring has different rules, fees, and hiking difficulty, so it’s important to do research before arriving at each hot spring.

4. San Juan Islands, WA

  • Number of days needed: 6+ days to explore each island
  • Recommended stay: This will differ depending on the island you choose to explore.
  • Best time of year to visit: May to September

The San Juan Islands make for one of the very best places to visit in all of Washington state. Visitors can reach the islands via a ferry ride from Anacortes Ferry Terminal.

Each island has its unique charm; Lopez Island is known for its friendly community and gentle bike-riding terrain, Orcas Island offers a more hilly landscape with the stunning Moran State Park, and San Juan Island is rich in history and culture with its bustling harbor town of Friday Harbor.

5. Columbia River Gorge, OR

  • Number of days needed: 2 to 3 days
  • Recommended stay: Skamania Lodge
  • Best time of year to visit: April to June

Calling all waterfall lovers! The Columbia River Gorge will quickly become your favorite getaway. Stretching 80 miles from the Deschutes River to Portland, you’ll find over 90 waterfalls. You can start this PNW vacation by flying into Portland and then driving 30 miles to your first waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls.

Then, continue driving east with stops at Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, and the famous Multnomah Falls. Continue the road trip another 13 miles along the Columbia River Highway to Cascade Locks (saving time for more waterfalls along the way). This is an excellent place to grab dinner and spend the night.

Pacific Northwest Vacation Ideas for Beer and Wine-Enthusiasts

Although California is known for producing the most wine, the Pacific Northwest also has some not-to-be-missed wine regions! Don’t worry; I threw in a great beer destination as well!

6. Willamette Valley, OR

  • Number of days needed: 4 to 7 days
  • Recommended stay: Will differ depending on the region you choose to explore
  • Best time of year to visit: September to early November (Harvest season)

It doesn’t get much better than a wine vacation to the Willamette Valley! Willamette Valley stretches over 150 miles from Portland to Eugene. Throughout the region, you’ll find over 700 wineries. Yep, 700!

During your getaway, I recommended taking the time to explore each of the four regions. North Willamette Valley is known for its intimate family-owned wineries and delicious Pinot Noir. South Willamette Valley has a rustic charm, a warmer climate, and less crowded wineries. The eastern region is closest to Portland and home to urban wineries, while the western region is best known for its wild and natural beauty.

In addition to wine tasting and touring vineyards, you’ll also find a plethora of outdoor activities, quaint shops, and vibrant events.

Check out my articles on the best wineries near McMinnville Oregon and Where to Stay in Eugene Oregon.

7. Walla Walla, WA

  • Number of days needed: 3 days
  • Recommended stay: The Wesley Walla Walla
  • Best time of year to visit: April to June

Although not as expansive or popular as the Willamette Valley wine region, Walla Walla is a great stop for wine lovers in Washington state. This region is quite the hidden gem; however, you’ll still find over 130 wineries and almost 3,000 acres of planted vineyards.

This area is particularly known for its Cabernet, Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, so there’s sure to be a wine for everyone. After checking out a few tasting rooms, be sure to save some time to stroll down the quaint downtown, where you’ll find charming boutiques and farm-to-table restaurants.

You might enjoy my article on the best Wineries in the Washington.

8. Okanagan Valley

  • Number of days needed: 2 to 3 days
  • Recommended stay: The Cove Lakeside Resort
  • Best time of year to visit: July to August

Heading further north into British Columbia, you’ll find one of BC’s top-producing wine regions. Okanagan Valley is known for its dry, sunny climate and fertile soils, creating ideal conditions for vineyard cultivation.

In addition to its 180+ wineries, visitors will also find adventurous activities such as boating on Okanagan Lake, hiking along the many miles of trails, or picking some fruit at the many U-Pick orchards.

You might enjoy reading my article on the best things to do in Surrey BC.

9. Bend, OR

As promised, if wine is not your thing, Bend is an excellent destination in the Pacific Northwest for beer lovers. Bend, OR, is nestled at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and has rapidly gained a reputation as a haven for beer enthusiasts. It’s sometimes even called “Beer City USA” and has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon.

During your trip to this mountain town, I recommend stopping at the Bend Visitor Center to pick up a free