The eco-friendly, liberal and ruggedly independent Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon are well known as the wet green pocket in America’s upper-left corner, similar in climate, topography and environmental politics, and with a passion for farm-to-table produce, organic wineries and local microbreweries. Oregon is especially progressive, with no sales tax, an easy-going lifestyle, and “urban-growth boundaries” around its larger cities. Yet that’s not that whole story. Both states are split by the great north–south spine of the Cascade Mountains; on the west side lies the Pacific Northwest of popular imagination, forming a cultural block with hippie northern California to the south, but to the east, the conservative farmers of the arid, ranching badlands of both states have more in common with Idaho and Montana than their liberal cousins on the coast.
The region only contains two big cities, Seattle and Portland, but visiting the Pacific Northwest is really about the great outdoors; you can hike, bike, kayak and climb in some of the nation’s most mesmerizing national parks. From the isolated rainforests and hot springs of the Olympic Peninsula and the stately peaks of North Cascades to the vast massif of Mount Rainier and the still lava-scraped landscapes of Mount St Helens, Washington seems especially blessed with jaw-dropping vistas, at least when it’s not raining. And while few states are so set up for mountain biking as Oregon, just rounding the rim of Crater Lake and peering down on that perfectly blue cone is a truly magical experience.
While the Vancouver, Seattle and Portland corridor is well covered by public transport, you’ll need a car to explore the parks, mountains and more isolated eastern parts of the region.