Favorite Pacific Northwest Places

11 Destinations We Can’t Wait to Explore Again

We all have favorite destinations — places we dream of visiting again and recommend to our friends and family. Here is a list of favorite places recommended by our travel gurus, editors and experienced writers. We hope the following recommendations inspire you to plan a future trip or relive your own experiences in these amazing destinations.

Because of COVID-19, please take recommended safety requirements, check road closures, and practice social distancing if you are planning a future trip. 

Grand Coulee

Grand Coulee. Photo by Getty Images.

1. Grand Coulee, Washington

North-Central Washington’s Grand Coulee is one of the Northwest’s most dramatic geological features. Ice Age floodwaters carved this ancient watercourse, which today is lined by basalt cliffs towering above a string of blue lakes. The 50-mile-long canyon is divided into Lower and Upper Grand Coulee, with Coulee City in the middle. Highway 17 runs through Lower Grand Coulee between Soap Lake and the junction with U.S. Hwy. 2, passing Lenore, Blue and Park lakes. Be sure to stop at the visitor center at Sun Lakes–Dry Falls State Park, just west of Coulee City off Hwy. 17. It overlooks the site of gigantic cataract that formed during the Ice Age floods.

Hwy. 155 traverses Upper Grand Coulee north to Grand Coulee Dam, along the eastern shore of Banks Lake, the reservoir whose waters irrigate a million acres of Central Basin farmland. For a great view of Banks Lake and its coulee setting, hike the 1-mile trail to the flat-topped summit of Steamboat Rock, located in Steamboat Rock State Park, which offers camping, swimming and boating. The best times to visit are spring through fall. Be sure to bring insect repellant. —JK

Palouse

The Palouse. Photo by Getty Images.

2. Pullman/Moscow, Washington

Why not be in two states within minutes? Each Saturday, between May and October, downtown Moscow, Idaho is home to my favorite farmers markets in the Northwest. The market features a wide variety of local produce and baked goods, plus unique crafts from local artisans. On the way to Pullman, you can see grizzly bears at the Washington State University (WSU) Bear Center. I’d also recommend booking a tee time at Palouse Ridge Golf Course, the home course for WSU’s golf teams. One of my favorite stops on any visit is Ferdinand’s, the WSU dairy, which offers award-winning ice cream and that famous Cougar Gold cheese. You can’t go wrong with a juicy burger at Cougar Country Drive Inn. Tip: Ask for the Cougar Special, which comes with a slice of smoked ham. The Marriott Residence Inn offers comfortable lodging, right on the WSU campus. —JS

Beach in Tofino

Tofino, BC. Photo by Getty Images.

3. Tofino, British Columbia

At the end of provincial Highway 4, about 125 miles west of Nanaimo, Tofino, British Columbia, sits quietly hidden on a thin strip of land between the mighty Pacific Ocean and Vancouver Island’s remote west coast. Touched by temperate rainforests, deep fjords and the rocky coastline of Pacific Rim National Park, this enclave is a not-so-far-away escape of epic proportions. Here is where “Storm Watching” became a recreational pursuit. An outdoor enthusiast’s dream, visitors can surf, comb the beaches, kayak or fly above nature’s beauty in a seaplane. Springtime brings 20,000 gray whales on their journey from Mexico to Alaska. It’s also home to the AAA Four Diamond Wickaninnish Inn; one of B.C.’s premier lodging properties is set on a rocky ocean outcrop overlooking the Pacific’s churning expanse. —TN

Because of COVID-19, travel to Canada has been restricted. Please check for updates before you plan your travel.

Man walking in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park. Photo by Getty Images.

4. Olympic Peninsula

I’ve taken a liking to the Olympic Peninsula, because it allows you to experience three settings — rainforest, lake and beach — all at once. In Olympic National Park, Hall of Mosses in Hoh Rainforest is an easy 0.8-mile loop that just about anyone can do, and afterward, you can drive over to the beaches near La Push, which was made famous by the Twilight book series. (You can take selfies at the Treaty Line, on the road to La Push’s beaches, and with Bella’s truck, at the visitors’ center in Forks.

I’d recommend a stay at the Lake Quinault Lodge, with dinner in its Roosevelt Room (remember to check COVID-19 restrictions.) My children are the pickiest of eaters, but we all cleaned our plates. Afterward, you can pick up a S’mores pack from the gift shop and roast marshmallows on the beach. The staff starts a campfire each night (please keep physical distancing from other guests). —ER

Mount St. Helen

Mount St. Helen. Photo by Getty Images.

5. Mount St. Helens, Washington

I was in preschool the year that Mount Saint Helens erupted. At the time, my grandmother was living just 25 miles away from the volcano in Morton, which was in the path of the ash cloud. Her house survived the blast, but her entire community was hit with steamy mud bombs and coated with several inches of fine volcanic dust. My parents took me to visit her just a week after the eruption, and it looked like everything was covered by a soft layer of gray baking powder. I still remember trips into blast zone, where groves of mature evergreen trees were knocked over in a single direction, as if combed by a giant.

More than four decades later, the scope of destruction caused by the eruption is wowing a new generation of visitors. Ravaged forest and pumice plains are still evident—although now the story is as much about regeneration as it is about destruction. The Johnston Ridge Observatory is the best place for your first glimpse into the gaping hole on the north face, but the mountain is surreal from almost any perspective. Viewpoints along the trails to Windy Ridge and Norway Pass are my favorites, because they offer views of Spirit Lake, which is still clogged by a huge raft of floating trees.

On the southern “backside,” the mountain’s crest looks like a broken snaggletooth, and you can venture 1.5-miles with a flashlight into the Ape Cave lava tube (currently closed because of COVID-19). The strenuous, 5-mile Monitor Ridge Route leads to the crater rim, at 8,365 feet. Tip: The nonprofit Mount St. Helens Institute offers guided hikes and snowshoe walks, led by geologists. —JL

Bainbridge Island

Overview of Bainbridge Island. Photo by Getty Images.

6. Bainbridge Island, Washington

As a Puget Sound–area resident, the reason I love Bainbridge Island so much is because you can quickly jump on the ferry at a moment’s notice and head on over for a day of antiques shopping, sidewalk browsing and lunch or dinner, and leave your car behind. Just me and my significant other, or with the kids on a family day. It’s amazing how quickly you can decompress on the ferry. It’s like getting out of town, only much simpler. —CW

Read more things to do and see at Bainbridge Island.

Northern Lights seen in Fairbanks, Alaska

Northern Lights in Fairbanks. Photo by Getty Images.

7. Fairbanks, Alaska

I love Fairbanks in winter. It’s cold outside, but when you ride in the yellow school bus that serves as a “chairlift” at Moose Mountain Ski Resort, you are toasty warm, and the snow is excellent: light, dry powder.

I get a kick out of the unique ice-fishing, aurora-viewing attraction cooked up by local outfitter Reini Neuhauser. Relaxing inside a woodstove-warmed shack on Chena Lake, you can fish for landlocked salmon under the 4-foot-thick ice and dash out in -10 weather to admire 100-mile-wide views of the Northern Lights, dancing green and gold overhead. Local outdoors enthusiasts ride fat-tired bikes hundreds of miles through the mountains in the dead of winter. I prefer to hop on one for a shorter jaunt around the hard-packed Nordic trails at Creamers Field, a vast wildlife preserve inside the city.

One of the truly amazing things about Fairbanks is that all these places and activities are just as amazing in midsummer — but 80 degrees warmer. Instead of riding fat-tire bikes around Creamers Field, you can walk a quiet boardwalk through cinema-worthy birch woods. Instead of ice fishing, you can ride a paddleboard down the Chena River through the heart of town, and even stop for a swim at a sand bar along the way. The best way to top off any day is with a platter of the bacon-wrapped elk meatloaf at the Pump House Restaurant. It’s not diet food, but calories are welcome after a day in Fairbanks, summer or winter. —EL

Chuckanut Drive

Chucnanut Drive. Photo by Getty Images.

8. Shellfish Off Chuckanut Drive, Washington

Taylor Shellfish Farm’s Samish Bay location, off Chuckanut Drive in Bow, is my happy place. It’s located off a hairpin turn along Chuckanut Drive that leads down to the water. The farm is right on the shore, with picnic tables and grills. You can buy a variety of fresh oysters (and other seafood) and shuck them yourself, or ask one of the friendly employees to show you how. They have covered tables to keep you dry when it rains, but clear days offer the best views of the nearby islands and passing ships. —KR

Editor’s note: Please check for restrictions on indoor dining because of COVID-19.

Whitefish, Montana

A dock in Whitefish. Photo by Getty Images.

9. Whitefish, Montana

In addition to being a gateway to Glacier National Park (which is another fantastic destination), Whitefish, Montana has a lot to offer on its own. In summer, the Tuesday night farmer’s market is easy walking distance of downtown’s restaurants, shops and bars. By day, you can ride the chairlift at Whitefish Resort to the summit and hike or ride a mountain bike back down, while taking in awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains and wildflowers. After the hike, head over to Les Mason State Park for a dip in the clear, blue-green water of Whitefish Lake. Back in town, Bonsai Brewing Project stands out for its house-made beer and lively patio. For breakfast, you can’t go wrong with a sweet or savory crêpe at Amazing Crêpes. —KW

Mulltnomah falls

Multnomah Falls. Photo by Getty Images.

10. Hood River, Oregon

My family and I love the drive to Hood River on the Columbia River Scenic Byway, which passes Multnomah Falls and Cascade Locks. We usually pack a picnic and stop at one of the state parks. We always stay at the Best Western Plus Hood River Inn. The hotel is near great hiking trails, and its Riverside Restaurant offers panoramic views of the Gorge from its dining room and huge outdoor deck. —NH

Spundnut Shop in Richland

Richland’s Spudnut Shop. Photo by Getty Images.

11. Tri-Cities, Washington

I have developed a fondness for Tri-Cities, because it offers convenient access to many of the things I like to do, including golf, watersports, hiking and wine tasting. For me, the perfect day would begin with a visit to the Spudnut Shop, a local favorite whose airy donuts are made with potato flour, followed by the short, steep hike up Badger Mountain for views of a dramatic stretch of the Columbia River and, on clear days, out to Mount Adams and Mount Hood. So far, I’ve only golfed at Columbia Point and Canyon Lakes (there are nearly a dozen public courses in the area), and the fairways and greens have always been in great shape.

Benton City’s Red Mountain is only about 20 minutes away, and spring through fall, Red Mountain Tours offers guided bike tours to select Red Mountain wineries (they also offer horseback and horse-drawn wagon tours). Back on the Columbia River, Northwest Paddleboarding has gained a following by offering equipment rentals and a wide range of tours and lessons from May through September, plus super-friendly customer service. —RB

Find more things to do and see in Tri-Cities.

–Written by AAA Washington Staff and Contributing Writers.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey, and was updated in November 2020.

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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