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6 overlooked vacation spots in the Pacific Northwest

By Steph Grimes, Contributor | Posted - May 15th, 2018 @ 12:50pm

VACATION CITY — Seattle and Portland may be the first Pacific Northwest destinations that come to mind when you're thinking of a trip, but these areas will make you wish you never had to leave.

1. San Juan Islands, Washington

(Photo: Bureau of Land Management, Flickr, Creative Commons)

For a laid-back trip with plenty of time in the outdoors, head to the San Juan Islands, an archipelago of more than 150 islands, rocks and pinnacles in the northern Salish Sea about three hours northwest of Seattle. Park at the Anacortes ferry terminal and take the ferry to the island of your choice.

Visit Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island, the most populated of the bunch, in May through September for what is widely considered to be some of the best orca-watching on Earth. You can also make time to explore the island's historic lighthouse or visit the 19th-century lime kiln after which the island was named. Entrance to the state park costs $10 a car.

Make sure to pay a trip to Friday Harbor, the only incorporated town on the island, if you're not already staying there. Grab breakfast at a café before strolling through the town's streets filled with antique stores, used bookstores and specialty shops.

The San Juan Islands were made a national monument in 2013.

2. Snoqualmie, Washington

(Photo: f/stop, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Snoqualmie, about a half hour east of Seattle, is best known for the gorgeous 286-foot waterfall that draws 1.5 million visitors every year.

Go for a hike or have a picnic at one of the tables dotting the path to the falls. Once you reach the overlook, you'll realize why the Snoqualmie Indians believed the falls to be a spiritual place.

The parking lot and viewing area at the falls are free, and open every day from dawn until dusk.

Back in town, pay a visit to the Northwest Railway Museum, an art gallery or even visit spots around town where "Twin Peaks" was filmed.

3. La Conner, Washington

(Photo:sea turtle, Flickr, Creative Commons)

La Conner, a waterfront town on the Swinomish Channel about an hour north of Washington, is well-known for its arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest. The town has a population of less than 1,000 and has been known for decades as a place of respite for artists, musicians and writers.

The biggest draw of La Conner is the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which is held every spring and brings hundreds of thousands of people to the tiny community. The monthlong festival changes constantly as tulip fields come into bloom at different times, and there are a variety of events (including a parade) to take part in when you get your fill of wandering through the flowers.

If daffodils are more your vibe, head to La Conner in March and check out the daffodil festival.

4. Newport, Oregon

(Photo: Sandy Weaver, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Newport is an idyllic beach town about 2.5 hours southwest of Portland. It's best known for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where visitors can check out all sorts of wildlife.

The town is more than just the aquarium, though. For sightseeing, pay visits to the historic Yaquina Bay Bridge and Yaquina Head Lighthouse or just wander around enjoying the low-key beachy kitsch.

5. Olympic National Park, Washington

(Photo: andy porter, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Olympic National Park flies below the radar in the extreme Northwest, but it's worth the trip. The park, home to glacier-capped mountains, stunning waterfalls, rugged cliffs and even a temperate rainforest, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Olympic National Park is a wilderness park, so although it's accessible from many points by car, you won't be able to drive through it. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes if you plan to visit.

Ferrying and driving from Seattle will take you about two hours or you can drive up from Olympia and shave an hour off your time. You'll pay $25 a car for a week's access to the park.

6. Cannon Beach, Oregon

(Photo: Dave Morrow, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Cannon Beach, about 90 minutes northwest of Portland, offers some of the most picturesque sights you'll find in Oregon.

The coastline at Cannon Beach is long and sandy, perfect for a relaxing walk or to let kids play. But what Cannon Beach is most known for are the Haystack Rocks, which are accessible by foot during low tide. Cannon Beach has kept its small-town feel by putting strict regulations on chain stores and restaurants, so your trip is bound to allow you to experience plenty of local offerings.

Editor's note: This story initially said the San Juan Islands are roughly three hours northeast of Seattle. That has been corrected to "northwest."

Steph Grimes is a writer and editor based in Las Vegas., or follow her on Twitter: @stephgrimes.

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