As a travel writer, I’ve been lucky to visit amazing places all over the country and world, from the wine vineyards of New Zealand to the dusty sand dunes of Namibia to the honky-tonks of Tennessee. As much as I love to see places afar, there’s just something about the Northwest that’s captivating. Every year, I make sure to set aside time to explore the area, lest I get so caught up in hopping on a plane that I miss the wonders in my own backyard.
Choosing a favorite spot is impossible. I’ve probably written most about Mount Rainier (a trend I continue in this issue; see page 46!), whose beauty I can’t do justice in words. I never tire of dropping by Pike Place Market, and I find the beaches of La Push to be completely magical. The deep blue water of Crater Lake is an enduring memory from my childhood. Vancouver is one of my favorite big cities, and Victoria is as adorable as it gets, with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
That’s really just the beginning. To uncover more gems, I turned to the experts—my colleagues in travel writing—to see where they love to visit in the Northwest.
“Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is a foggy fairy-tale world of empty stretches of sand strewn with bull kelp as thick as rope. Old-growth rain forests morph into twisted miniature trees along the boggy shoreline, where wolves and bears roam. Watching the storms roll in and whip the waves into a frenzy is an oddly enchanting experience, and it makes Tofino my favorite place in the Pacific Northwest.” —Amy Watkins, Vancouver-based freelance journalist for outlets such as Mail on Sunday, The Guardian and Condé Nast Traveller
“The seemingly infinite Pacific Ocean. Harvestable razor clams on the beaches, fish in the rivers and off-season solitude on the trails leading to snow-capped mountain peaks. The Olympic Peninsula of Washington State is, for me, the most beautiful place in the Pacific Northwest.
Sure, there’s probably a semblance of sentimentality in my decision. After all, I was born and raised on the Peninsula. But at a time in my life where traveling to (almost) any spot in the world is financially doable, I still find myself retreating on the Peninsula several times each year. When I go, I drag as many people along with me as I can so they, too, can drink the addictive clean-air Kool-Aid.” —Jeff Burlingame, Tacoma-based author of Moon Olympic Peninsula and editor in chief of 425 Business
“It took traveling the world for me to realize that Seattle is one of the prettiest cities on Earth. On every visit home, I spend at least one evening at Alki Beach. I take a deep breath of ocean air and watch as a glowing pink sun paints the sky with Crayola colors before slipping behind the Olympic Mountains. Turn 90 degrees and the lights of the skyscrapers sparkle across the surface of the Puget Sound.” —Auburn Scallon, Prague-based freelance writer for outlets such as the Brisbane Courier-Mail, Cosmopolitan, and EatingEuropeTours.com
“Sun Valley, Idaho, definitely has a permanent place as one of my top 10 favorite destinations. I like that shop owners close and put ‘gone skiing’ signs on their door. Work will always wait, but enjoying the magnificent outdoors should be a top priority. It’s also lots of fun to see if you can spot celebrities. People leave them alone here, so they like the area.” —Heather Larson, Tacoma-based freelance writer and owner of DiscoverWashingtonState.com
“Recharging, for me, means getting off the grid and reconnecting with myself and my source. One of my favorite places to do this is Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River, which flows through the guts of the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. As rivers go, the Wild and Scenic–designated Middle Fork is unfairly stacked: fun Class IV white water, ancient art dating back 8,000 years, prodigious hot springs, and a canyon replete with bighorn sheep and other Rocky Mountain wildlife. After 25-plus years as an international river guide, I’m often asked my favorite river—the Middle Fork makes the short list.” —Bridget Crocker, California-based contributing author for Lonely Planet and writer for publications such as Outside and The Best Women’s Travel Writing
“I’m a fisherman at heart, so Haida Gwaii, which sits off the northern British Columbia coast and within sight of Alaska, is one of my favorite places to visit. Formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii offers great saltwater fishing for king salmon, halibut and rockfish and is equally productive inland where fly fishing for steelhead on the Yakoun River and other smaller streams can be phenomenal. But you don’t have to fish to enjoy Haida Gwaii—its two main islands, Graham and Moresby, offer a vibrant art scene with displays of native coastal art to be found in front yards, in quaint galleries and at the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate.” —Greg Thomas, Montana-based editor of Fly Rod & Reel and owner of AnglersTonic.com
“In Whistler, I can zip-line (winter or summer!), white-water raft, bungee jump, snowmobile, rock climb, bobsled down the Olympic track, hike on two mountaintops (via the Peak 2 Peak Gondola), put my sandal-clad feet in glacial snow and, of course, ski and snowboard. My favorite spot to stay is Summit Lodge Boutique Hotel, which makes even a jaded travel writer like me feel happy and special.” —Johanna Read, Vancouver-based freelance travel writer/photographer and owner of TravelEater.net
“In the far northeastern corner of Oregon, Wallowa County is a stunning destination for outdoor recreation (backpacking, river rafting, fishing, hunting, skiing, bird-watching) and also offers choice spots for sampling local foods, brews and spirits. But I fell in love with the area—and subsequently moved here—during a road trip to the remote north end of the county.
Highway 3 from Enterprise leads to an overlook of Joseph Canyon, where the Nez Perce once wintered, and then points to a turnoff for the near-ghost town of Flora. From there, those with plenty of time and a tolerance for steep and windy roads should follow signs down to Troy on the Grande Ronde River. Most of the road is gravel, but it’s well graded and maintained. Depending on the season, you might find refreshments at the small cafe or the Sunday farmers’ market in Troy. Drive west along the river to explore swimming holes and picnic spots and to look for bighorn sheep and other wildlife. At Boggans’s Oasis, connect back to the paved highway that returns to Enterprise.” —Elizabeth Enslin, Oregon-based author of While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal
“A perfect day in Ballard is working in the sunny corner window at Miro Tea, yoga at Shakti, pho for lunch, wandering the botanical garden, one of many happy hours, and molten lava chocolate at Hot Cakes.” —Dara Bramson, Seattle-based creator of Hyperlocalist Guides, a series of neighborhood travel guides
“When I want to escape the city, I usually hit the coast and head to Westport, Washington, to walk the tidal flats, read amongst the sand dunes, watch the nesting plovers and, if I’m feeling game, surf the waves. It’s a great place to unwind and write from the heart. Something about the salty air and great expanse of the sea always reinvigorates me.” —Kristen Gill, Seattle-based owner of Kristen Gill Media and freelance writer/photographer