Depending on whom you ask, it gets defined in a few ways, but at least includes the states of Washington, Oregon, and the lower regions of British Columbia, Canada. Some people regard portions of Idaho, Montana, and even Alaska to be part of the Pacific Northwest.
It is bounded on the west by the rugged and scenic Pacific coastline. Inland are deep wooded forests, mountains of the Coast, Cascade, Olympic, Columbia and Rocky Mountain ranges, as well as rolling farmlands, prairies, and high semi-desert regions.
The majority of the population is clustered in the corridor from Vancouver, British Columbia, down to Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore. About nine million live in this concentrated “megalopolis.”
Outside of the denser areas, population is comparatively sparse, and can be found in many out-of-the-way towns interconnected by tons of rural twisty roads lacing past national parks, other natural resource preserves, wilderness areas and waterways.
Weather can be challenging depending on where you are in proximity to the ocean and mountains. While some areas are typecast as rain zones, the region around Seattle, for example, receives less annual precipitation than Miami. Light drizzle and mist, however, does cover this area and others at various times during the year.
Recommended therefore is not only good rain gear, but also warm clothing if traveling at altitude. The peak elevation of Oregon’s Mount Hood, for example, is 11,249 feet (3,429 meters), and Washington’s Mount Rainier is 14,411 feet (4,392 meters).
For the high country especially, the effective riding season is May through October. In the winter some roads are closed due to frequent snow.
Following are samplings of some favorite road routes, although this region is prime for dual sport riders as well. These routes were selected from among hundreds of possibilities to at least give you a small taste, and inspire ideas to look into further.
This scenic ride is famous to car and RV travelers, as well as riders, and is widely considered one of the most breathtaking in North America. Along its 440 miles, you can see just about every kind of topography and geography Washington offers, including diverse terrain, wild natural areas, quaint towns and incredible views.
You start in Everett (about 28 miles north of Seattle), and head over Stevens Pass (Highway 2) through the Cascade Mountains to Bavarian Leavenworth. From there you can enjoy the semi-arid Columbia River Valley along Highway 97A. You’ll also want to explore glacier-fed Lake Chelan before heading North on Highway 153, which twists its way through the Methow Valley to Old West Winthrop, the “gateway” to the North Cascades National Park. The North Cascades Highway 20 offers stunning high mountain vistas, and if you want to get off and explore, plenty of trails. From here you follow the rushing Skagit River Valley all the way down to the Puget Sound, an extensive and prized inland marine ecosystem. Here you will want to visit quaint Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island.
A 20-minute ferry ride takes you from Whidbey Island back to Everett. For more information, or a free travel guide, visit: CascadeLoop.com.
Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (Mount St. Helens)
This trip begins in Washington and finishes in Oregon. Beginning on I-5 from near Longview, it takes you about 50 miles out to the former blast zone of the volcano that erupted with nuclear-bomb-equivalent force in 1980.
Almost 30 years later, you can see how nature is recovering, while signs of the devastation are still evident.
Returning, you can take Highway 4 west. From Longview heading toward Cathlamet, you follow the massive Columbia River, past quaint logging towns of Deep River, Grays River and Naselle.
Connecting with Highway 101, you’ll pass through Long Beach, a tourist area near where the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803-1806 ended its westward stride.
In Longview is a drive unlike anything else you’ll find on the West Coast. It involves a 21-mile ride along a hard-packed beach sand road. The Pacific surf is only several few feet away, and riding along, the salt air and spray from the ocean will wash across your face as you travel looking at dunes on one side and the ocean on the other.
After this, you can head back to the road, and onward through the former commercial fishing towns of Ilwaco, and Chinook, toward the four-mile-long Astoria-Megler Bridge into Oregon. Underneath this massive and steeply inclined bridge, cargo and container ships pass. Once back on land, you can take Highway 30 east for a couple-hour trip to downtown Portland. There are plenty of fun things to do there, no matter what your tastes.
This route features the incomparable Oregon Coast, with lots of possibilities for side routes and deviations to other points.
Beginning high north in Washington, you link up with 101 which goes not only to and through Oregon, but links to California’s Pacific Coast Highway as well.
But before you get that far, from the town of Port Angeles, Wash., you can branch up a side route that increases in elevation within just 21 miles from sea level up to over one-mile high. It heads through the Olympic National Forest and its famous Hurricane Ridge.
The views are amazing, but watch out for deer and other critters crossing the road, and make sure you have warm gear at this altitude.
Heading back down to 101, head south where you’ll pass through towns with names like Forks, Queets, Quinault and Humptulips on to the Quinault Indian Reservation. The trees line the roadway in these parts for miles and miles.
Continuing south, the road passes through Raymond and South Bend to a “T” in the road, where turning left takes you toward a former logging town called Naselle.
Taking a right on Highway 401, you would head toward the Columbia River into Oregon.
On this route, you also have a choice to branch toward the shoreline of Willapa Bay, past a national wildlife refuge there and on to Long Beach if you have not been already, or want to do it again.
From Long Beach, after washing the saltwater and sand out of your face, you can head south east thru Ilwaco, then cross over the Columbia River into Astoria, Ore., continue south on 101 thru Seaside and Tillamook the entire time seeing some of the most spectacular coastline views anywhere.
This Canadian route was recommended by the Greater Vancouver Motorcycle Club’s Wes Jamison and Wally Klammer. It’s so-called because it crosses through the area in British Columbia called “the Kootenays.”
You can do this in four “nice but long days,” but be prepared for any weather from wind and rain to overwhelming heat. Wes recommends you ride early, getting off the road by 1 or 2 p.m. at which time you can stop, choose your lodging, explore, or get something to eat.
There are plenty of good restaurants along the way, and accommodations are everywhere. Tenting is an easy way to cut costs, but nights can be cool.
Also, Wes says watch out for cops with radar in the twisties.
Coming from Seattle, the fastest route is I-5 north. You could get off at Bellingham and head north on the Guide Meridian Road to the Aldergrove, British Columbia border crossing about five miles north of Lyndon, Wash. It’s less touristy here, than, say the Blaine, Wash. crossing.
Note: You will need a passport to re-enter the U.S. so apply in advance for one, if you need to.
Once past Aldergrove, head east onto Highway 1. From here, the town of Hope is one hour away, “unless the weekend warriors are out,” Wes says.
Hope is a small town that in the gold rush days served as a jumping off point for the miners and freighters going north.
Without getting off of 1 stay right and merge onto Highway 3 toward Princeton. The drive between Hope and Princeton takes about two hours, and is one of the most scenic mountainous areas of lower British Columbia.
Along Highway 3, about half way between Hope and Princeton, you’ll come across the federally operated Manning Park.
You can camp in one of the gorgeous spots nearby. If you prefer to lodge, make sure you call ahead for reservations.
From Manning you continue toward Princeton, an old mining and supply town for other smaller towns like Coalmont, only a 20-minute side trip to the west, and worth the detour.
Leaving Princeton, take the highway to Hedley and Keremeos and head toward Osoyoos.
Keremeos is a nice little village. It’s in the southern Canadian Okanagan district, a desert plains area shared by the U.S. and Canada, and home to farms for fruit and other crops.
The Okanagan district contains many unique species of animals, insects and reptiles found elsewhere only in the Sierra Mountains of California.
Taking a right out of Keremeos will lead you to a beautiful little resort town of Osoyoos along a lake with a few small estate wineries nearby.
(Note: This is also a great entry point to Canada if you wish to go east from Seattle instead of north.)
Oroville, Wash., is nearby and fruit growing and farming dominate here as well.
Leaving Osoyoos, you’ll head east into the Kootenays, an area of big mountains that includes several small British Columbian towns such as Grand Forks, Nelson, Kaslo and New Denver.
If so inclined, you can take a side loop from Nelson, past hot springs in Ainsworth, en route to Kaslo.
In Ainsworth, the natural hot springs are a major attraction. If feeling adventurous, you can swim through little caves there.
Heading on, just about seven or so miles before New Denver, watch for the sign pointing to Sandon. This is an old ghost town from the silver mining era now being reclaimed with a little museum of old things from yesteryear. Wes says, you “have to check it out.”
From new Denver head to the town of Nakusp, then south to Farquar, a little town in a picturesque area called The Needles. There’s a free ferry there to cross the lake.
Once across, you’ll ride to Lumby then Vernon. From Vernon, you head south to Kelowna, which is a lot like San Diego in climate.
From Kelowna you’ll take Highway 97C, also known as the “Coquihalla Connector,” over Mount Pennask to the small town of Merritt. The elevation will warrant a good jacket here.
From Merritt, Highway 8 goes over the Spences Bridge, then left through the mighty Fraser Canyon to Hope, British Columbia.
From here, to return to Seattle, you can reverse course and head the way you came.
For a fictional tour of these very real roads, scenic towns and abandoned mines, Wally is the writer of A Rally in Falkland.
It might get you stoked to go and have your own adventure here.
As it is, the Pacific Northwest offers so many great routes; it’s impossible to do justice to it with only words or pictures. The profound feelings this region can evoke have to be experienced.
It really is the kind of place tourists regularly say they wish they had more days to see, and mention returning in the future as soon as they are able.
With so many options to choose from, we thought it best just to arbitrarily give you a sampling of some routes and places along the way, and hope you will follow up on your own.
Many riders will also ask local motorcycle rental shops about the best routes possible and the best times of year to ride them.
Some, like EagleRider, can help you with this, and offer the additional convenience of multiple Pacific Northwest locations, so you could start your trip in one state and drop off the motorcycle in another.