The Pacific Northwest is one of the best scenic places in the country, so it’s no surprise that numerous people plan a road trip to the Pacific Northwest year after year. Whether you’re exploring Idaho, Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia, there are so many things to do in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve lived in Seattle for decades and have checked off a good number of items off my bucket list for Washington, but have also started creating a list of the best places to visit in the Pacific Northwest. I tried to include a variety from each region so you can get a sense of what those areas have to offer.
Take notes on this post and write down where all the fun things to do in the Pacific Northwest – you might want to do all of these activities after reading through the list!
1. Take a Dip in Scenic Hot Springs
The Pacific Northwest is famous for its cold winters. During this time, most people just think about Northwest vacations that involve a ski resort, but that’s not all that’s available.
If you head deep into the Cascade Mountains towards the small town of Stevens Pass from Seattle, you will find a hidden gem – Scenic Hot Springs. This stunning destination will leave you in awe if experienced at the right time of the year.
After the scenic two-mile hike to get to the top, you will be rewarded with the three tubs, each filled with natural spring water. There is a limit of 10 visitors per day, so please book online on the Scenic Hot Springs website.
2. Drive to the Breathtaking Snoqualmie Falls
Many of the best waterfall hikes near Seattle require some sort of hiking. One of the main reasons why people consider Snoqualmie Falls one of their favorite places to visit in the Pacific Northwest is because of its easy access.
Park directly above the falls, where you will find the gift shop, small cafe, and an excellent observation deck. Here you can watch the water tumble 286 feet into the river below.
We recommend taking the extra time to walk down to the base of the falls, where you will get a much better appreciation of its grandeur. Wheelchair users can also visit this accessible tourist destination.
3. Take a Road Trip Along the Oregon Coast
Portland is a great spot for starting many Pacific Northwest outdoor adventures, including an exploratory trip to the coast. Head west for a day trip from Portland when looking for places to see in the Pacific Northwest and enjoy many popular stops like Cannon Beach, Pacific City, and Lincoln City.
Beaches, nature areas, and incredible ocean vistas all make up the beautiful views of this route. The Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Reserve is one stop that you should definitely consider when planning this day-trip.
One of the most beautiful Washington State scenic drives will fall under the Three Capes Scenic Route, which includes Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda. No matter where you stop, this area is great when you need family vacation ideas in the Pacific Northwest.
4. Bask in the Glory of Shoshone Falls
When looking for cool things to do in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll want to stop at Shoshone Falls. This incredible waterfall is, without a doubt, one of the most awe-inspiring stops on the list. Known as the ‘Niagara of the West,’ Shoshone Falls is found in Idaho, just north of Twin Falls city.
It is a magnificent sight, but one that needs to be timed according to the season. The best time to visit is during late spring or early summer. Later than this and the falls may not be as impressive due to the Snake River being diverted for irrigation purposes.
5. Walk Amongst the Wildflowers at Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier National Park is a tourist hotspot all year round – with over 2.5 million visitors stopping by yearly when looking for things to do in the PNW. Almost half of them visit during August when the wildflowers are in full bloom.
There’s nothing quite like walking along a mountain trail while taking in the hundreds of different colors lining the magnificent meadows. The best places to view these flowers are the Paradise, Sunrise, and Chinook Pass trails.
At the same time, there are plenty of other fun things to do in this Pacific Northwest park. You can visit a waterfall, take a train ride, or participate in their Citizen Ranger Quest. With so many fun things to do, planning a day trip to Mount Rainier is undoubtedly one of the best Pacific Northwest things to do
6. Hike to the Top of Mount St. Helens
Adventure seekers will love this hike and find it one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest. Not only will you be able to experience some majestic Washington backcountry, but you will also be able to visit an active volcano.
That’s right – Mount St. Helens is a volcano that erupted as recently as 1980. Since then, there has been minimal activity, and there isn’t anything to worry about with modern technology.
Although the Mount St. Helens hike is only five miles, you will be climbing 4,000 feet in elevation to reach the summit. This trek is a considerable trip, even for experienced hikers, so make sure that you come prepared with enough food and water to last the day. You’ll also need a permit to hike here, so it’s important to plan ahead.
7. Go Wine Tasting in Oregon
Wine tasting should be at the top of your list when you need things to do in the Northwest. There are so many farms scattered across the states that you will be spoiled for choice. If you find yourself in Oregon, it would be a shame if you didn’t travel south of Portland to enjoy one of the many wonderful wine tour options.
The Oregon Wine Lab, Iris Vineyards, and King Estate Winery are three great places to start. You can’t go wrong with any of these choices but don’t stop there. With over 700 wineries and 1,000 vineyards to choose from, you are going to need a more detailed list of things to do in Willamette Valley.
8. Take the Ferry to Bainbridge Island
If you’ve ever visited Seattle, you would probably have noticed the islands across the water. One of the most notable tourist destinations is Bainbridge Island, and it helps solve the problem of what to do in the Northwest for an afternoon. To reach it, you could take the long drive around or just take a short (and scenic) ferry ride.
There are two ferries to choose from, either from central Seattle or a bit further north in Edmonds. Whichever ferry you choose, you won’t need to make a reservation because they operate on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Once arriving on the island, you will have plenty to do without needing your car. Day trips to Bainbridge often include hikes through the Grand Forest, trips to a local wine farm, or an entire day tour of the island.
9. Spend a Few Days Exploring Mt. Hood Territory
When most people think of Mt. Hood, they think of skiing and hiking. Although these are two of the best things to do, the actual Mt. Hood territory is so large that you couldn’t possibly see it all in one day.
I recommend spending a few nights in the area if you truly want to take it all in. There are plenty of great places to stay, but the Whispering Woods Resort is a great choice if you’re going to stay close to all the action. This Pacific Northwest travel itinerary has everything you need when planning your trip here.
10. Plan a Northwest Getaway to Astoria
Astoria is a town sitting on the Oregon side of the Columbia River mouth. What started out as a small fishing village in the 1800s has now become a popular tourist destination. There are so many things to do that it’s best to enjoy this spot when you are planning an Astoria weekend getaway.
Natural, historical, and cultural attractions are plentiful, and the coastal location provides a great contrast between forest and ocean life. It’s only a short 10-minute drive across the massive Astoria-Megler bridge, which connects Washington’s neighboring state.
11. Explore the Yakima Valley
Yakima is a city located in central Washington, on the Eastern side of Mountain Rainier National Park. If you’re traveling from Seattle, it’s only a 2.5-hour drive to reach this beautiful part of the state.
Most people visit Yakima due to its beautiful valley surroundings. Here you will find plenty of fun things to do in the Pacific Northwest as well as many wine farms, breweries, and apple orchards. It’s a great place to recharge and experience a part of the Northwest United States that many people forget about.
12. Go Skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb
The Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort is one of the biggest ski resorts in North America and one you’ll want to visit. If you are an avid skier or snowboarder, you should visit this Pacific Northwest travel destination during winter. You’ll also love the drive from Vancouver to Whistler, which is one of the most scenic ones I’ve ever been on.
It’s a fun town with plenty of things to do when you plan a weekend trip to Whistler. The main skiing attraction is the Peak-2-Peak gondolas that connect Whistler and Blackcomb’s neighboring mountains (where this resort gets its name). If skiing isn’t your thing, you’ll love exploring the many shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes in the village instead.
13. Rent a Hot Tub Boat in Seattle
Yes, you read that correctly. If you’re interested in a unique Pacific Northwest experience, then this is one for you. Hop on a boat in the heart of Seattle and relax in a stunning hot tub.
You will need to reserve your boat in advance from the Hot Tub Boat company. Up to six people can enjoy the trip together.
Winter is a great time to try this out because of the contrasting warm water and cold air temperatures. However, the service is available all year round, so even if you plan a summer Washington vacation, you should remember to include this fun excursion.
14. Take a Short Walk to Kirkham Hot Springs
Idaho is famous for its hot springs, so your trip to this Pacific Northwest state wouldn’t be complete without a quick stop. Luckily, many of these destinations do not require a lot of hiking – like at Kirkham Hot Springs. You’ll be hard-pressed to find things to do in the Pacific Northwest that are more relaxing than this.
Travel through the Boise National Forest along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway until you reach the springs. All you need to do is park alongside the river and take a short walk down to the waters below.
Luckily these pools are quite large – more than large enough to accommodate the many tourists that flock to visit this exceptional part of Idaho.
15. Spend the Day at Whidbey Island
Seattle is a great city to explore, but it’s hard to stay still for too long when there are so many nearby attractions. Just across the waters, in Puget Sound, you will find Whidbey Island. You’ll love planning a day trip to Whidbey Island in this beautiful area.
Two state parks, plenty of local Whidbey wineries, and some picturesque towns are all on offer as far as things to do in Northwest Washington. You can get to the island via the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry, but it is recommended that you bring your car along for the journey. This is, after all, the longest island in Seattle and is much easier to explore with your own set of wheels.
16. Take a Train Trip Through the Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley in Oregon is a famous tourist destination with so many unique things to do. One of the best ways to explore this part of Oregon is by using the train that runs from Seattle in the north to Eugene in the south.
The train was initially known as the Willamette Valley Express but has since been incorporated into the Amtrak Cascades corridor. The one-day trip from Seattle to Eugene will allow you to experience the beauty of the Willamette Valley without needing to drive yourself around during one of the top things to do in the Pacific Northwest.
17. Visit a Moon-Like Landscape
Despite the name, Craters of the Moon National Monument is on Planet Earth. You will find this unique destination in the Snake River Plain in central Idaho. It is a geologically active area that offers a setting unlike any other you’ve ever seen before.
The massive 400 square miles protected area is covered in flood basalt and is one of the best-preserved lava fields in the continental US. The landscape was shaped by two significant eruptions, occurring 15,000 and 2,000 years ago.
Apart from the above-ground attractions, there are also a series of underground caves to explore when visiting the area.
18. Hunt for the Famous Oregon White Truffles
As the name suggests, these world-famous truffles are found in Oregon – but can also be found throughout the Pacific Northwest. Only described to science in 2010, these truffles are famous for their taste and beautiful marble-tan coloration.
The ideal place to hunt for these edible prizes is in Eugene. Every year, at the end of January, these truffles mature. This is the best time to go looking for them, and it even coincides with the amazing Oregon Truffle Festival. Here you can enjoy a wide range of truffle delicacies as well as learn a thing or two about these unique local delicacies.
19. Catch Some Waves in Washington
The Pacific Northwest might not be as famous for surfing as California, but that doesn’t mean it’s without charm. There are plenty of great surfing beaches in Washington for you to enjoy when staying in this part of North America. Surfing is a popular thing to do in the Pacific Northwest particularly during the summer season.
The closest surfing beaches to Seattle are in Westport. Here you can visit “The Jetty,” Halfmoon Bay, or (if you’re more experienced) Pacific Beach. If you’re interested in seeing other spots, you should consider visiting Long Beach, which one of the best places to surf in Washington.
20. Spot Orca and Humpback Whales
Whales are some of the most majestic creatures in the ocean, so why not go to one of the best whale-watching areas in North America? The waters between Vancouver, BC, and Seattle, WA are teeming with opportunities for things to do in the Pacific Northwest that get you close to sea life.
The best time of year to go is between April and October, when you are almost guaranteed to see an Orca, Humpback, or both.
21. Enjoy a Summer Paradise in British Columbia
British Columbia is one of my favorite places to visit in the summer, particularly the area between Squamish and Whistler. You’ll want to take a ride on the Sea to Sky Gondola to see a stunning view of the area and be able to walk over a suspension bridge.
Whistler is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Pacific Northwest, and once you’ve been there, you’ll understand why. This Northwest vacation hotspot is an excellent option for both summer and winter vacationing in the Pacific Northwest.
Although skiing and other snow-related activities are incredible, exploring Whistler during summer is a must-do experience. Head out into the mountains on the many trails, go mountain biking at the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, or just relax in one of the many spas, restaurants, or cafes in the area.
22. Fly in a Hot Air Balloon Above the Willamette Valley
In Oregon, the Willamette Valley is home to another Pacific Northwest bucket list excursion – a trip in a hot air balloon. What better way to view the surrounding landscape than from high up in the sky? This is one of the ultimate things to do in the Pacific Northwest if you’re looking for amazing pictures.
Whether you want to plan a romantic trip, join a ballooning rally, or even learn how to operate these incredible crafts, there are plenty of Willamette Valley Balloons to choose from. If you schedule your trip properly, you will have plenty of time to stop at one of the places you spotted from the air.
23. Float Along the Boise River
Boise is the capital of Idaho and a popular tourist destination. However, this particular attraction is not tied to the city itself but rather the river running through it.
The Boise River is a side branch of the famous Snake River and runs directly through the city. A few miles from downtown, you can access the river at the Boise River Park. Here you will be able to get your favorite raft and just float along the river for a fun-filled and relaxing day in the sun.
If you are here on an NW vacation and didn’t bring your raft along, you can use the raft rental service available at the park.
24. Spend the Weekend on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is a great place to explore if you are visiting the Pacific Northwest. As the name suggests, it is very close to Vancouver but driving there isn’t an option. You will either need to travel via ferry or plane when looking for adventurous things to do in the Pacific Northwest.
Once on the island, you can visit many great places, including British Columbia’s capital – Victoria. Other must-see spots include the Strathcona Provincial Park, where you can find the tallest peak on the island, Campbell River, and Parksville.
This island has too many adventurous things to do in one day, so make sure to plan ahead and book off an entire weekend for a road trip on Vancouver Island. It’s well worth the boat trip or plane ride to get there.
25. Camp in Sawtooth National Recreation Area
This is an outdoor lover’s dream and a great spot to go camping in the Pacific Northwest. Located inside the Sawtooth National Forest of Central Idaho, this recreation area is filled with fun things to do in the Northwest.
There are plenty of camping spots available, which you can use as the base for your Northwest adventures. During the day, head out to the various alpine lakes, ascend one of the 40 peaks or hike along the 700 miles of trail available.
During the summer months, this Pacific Northwest getaway is home to many beautiful spots to go fishing, and you can also bring your mountain bike along for a cycle. In winter, you can go for a cross-country ski or snowmobile ride.
26. Hike to the Highest Waterfall in Canada
Canada has over 1,000 waterfalls – many of them not even charted. So when it comes to seeing the highest one of them all, it’s something worth considering. Della Falls, British Columbia, features a staggering 1,440-foot drop to the waters below.
Although it might sound tempting to see this natural wonder, it isn’t for the faint-hearted. This advanced hike should only be tempted by those with enough experience (and endurance) to go the distance.
Starting in Strathcona Provincial Park, you will first need to travel 20 miles on the lake before reaching the start of the trail. This can either be done using a water taxi or kayak. Only then will your 18-mile hike to reach the waterfall begin. You’ve been warned, but it is well worth the effort and arguably one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest.
27. Experience a Spooky Idaho Ghost Town
Central Idaho has quite a few ghost towns lining its barren landscape, so you’ll want to add this to your list of things to do in the Pacific Northwest if you like visiting places like this. One of the most noteworthy stops is the Bayhorse Ghost Town found in the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park.
This once-thriving mining town (500 inhabitants) was abandoned in 1915 after the silver vein became unproductive. Nowadays, tourists visit the area to travel back in time to an era long forgotten.
There are some unique attractions still standing, like the kilns used to make charcoal and the old mill standing at the top of the hill. There are plenty of information boards scattered around to help guide you along.
28. Reach the Gods at Mount Olympus
No, this is not the Greek god Zeus’ home, but the name might make you think otherwise. Mount Olympus is one of the peaks found in the Olympic National Park – a must-see Pacific Northwest destination. While this is a challenging multi-night backpacking trip to reach the top, you can take photos from the base.
This Pacific Northwest trip will take you a 3-hour drive from Seattle, tucked away in Washington’s northern peninsula. It takes up most of the area with extensive forests, lakes, and dramatic mountain peaks.
There are quite a few entrances to the park, and depending on what you want to do, you should carefully plan out your one day in Olympic National Park. One spot you shouldn’t miss is the Hoh Rain Forest, a unique climate that receives up to 170 inches of rain each year. You can also check out some of the best hiking trails in Olympic National Park while you’re here.
If you’re looking for a longer trip, I recommend going on an Olympic National Park road trip so you can fully see the park.
29. Explore Salem and its Surroundings
Salem is the capital of Oregon and is a must-see during your Pacific Northwest travels. Although the city itself has a lot to offer, many Salem outdoor attractions bring most people to the area. Hiking and kayaking are popular things to do in the Pacific Northwest in this area.
There are quite a few wineries in the area, but you are in luck if you are looking for something a bit more rustic. The Silver Falls State Park and Opal Creek Trail are two excellent choices for anyone looking to experience the area’s natural beauty.
30. Head North to the Sunshine Coast
If you still want to know what to do in the Pacific Northwest, you should consider the Sunshine Coast. It is a large stretch of land across the Georgia Straight from Vancouver Island. Despite being geographically quite close to Vancouver City, you can only access this area of British Columbia via ferry or plane.
It is well worth the visit, and once there you will be able to enjoy plenty of natural activities. If you’re interested in forests, rivers, kayaking, hiking – then this should definitely be included as a Vancouver weekend trip.
It doesn’t stop there. The Sunshine Coast has the most artists per capita in Canada, so make sure to enjoy one of the many art galleries, music festivals, and events in the area.
How many ideas do you have after reading this post for things to do in the Pacific Northwest to add to your list? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!