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Pacific Northwest


  1. Idaho
  2. Bend and Sunriver
  3. Oregon Coast
  4. Olympic Peninsula
  5. Orcas Island


Landing at the small airport in the town of Hailey on an overcast Friday evening, I was reminded of just how beautiful Idaho’s mountains and valleys are. I hadn’t visited the state since a backpacking trip in 2004. That trip had been further north, in a much more remote region. This time I visited the charming town of Ketchum, near Sun Valley Resort.

The next day we took a short drive to the Adams Gulch Trailhead in Sawtooth National Forest. We hiked along the trail through the forest and got some nice views of the surrounding mountains. Then we had a lovely lunch at the Sun Valley Club and went trap shooting at the Sun Valley Gun Club. I’d never been shooting before; armed with my 20-gauge shotgun, I got off to a hot start before cooling and missing several in a row. Then we returned home for a delicious barbecue dinner.

Adams Gulch Adams Gulch

The following morning we drove about an hour northeast to a spot on the Big Lost River near the Mackay Reservoir. We spent most of the day fly fishing, trying to catch steelhead trout and mountain whitefish. I’d never really been fly fishing before, and I struggled a bit. I got the casting down pretty quickly, but once I hooked a fish and set the hook, I had a lot of trouble reeling them in. The steelhead were big and strong, and our hooks didn’t have barbs, so the wiley fish often slipped off the hooks or broke off my lines.

Our final day in Ketchum dawned sunny and beautiful. We walked around Ketchum’s downtown, exploring the shops and restaurants. After a quick lunch, we drove from the house where we were staying to a point where the highway crosses the Big Wood River. We ambled down to the river, where we grabbed inner tubes and started downriver. It’s usually a calm, easy float. But this was a low water year, and the low water exposed several gnarly rapids that the river usually washes out. As a result, our float was much more of an adventure than we anticipated. A couple of bumps and bruises and a few escaped tubes (and people) later, we reached the backyard of the house where we were staying and stumbled gratefully out of the river and into a warm hot tub.

Drying off, we piled into a rental and departed Ketchum for Boise. The most direct route follows Highway 20 most of the way and takes about two and a half hours. We opted for the longer scenic route, which winds north through the Sawtooth Mountains and offers incredible views of the mountains and the Payette River. We arrived in Boise in the early evening. There didn’t seem be much to downtown Boise, but we had a great dinner at Fork, a farm-to-table restaurant offering Northwest cuisine and tasty cocktails.

The Sawtooth Mountains The Sawtooth Mountains

Bend and Sunriver

In the morning we breakfasted at Bacon, then set out for another long day of driving. Reaching Bend, Oregon late in the afternoon, we sampled some fantastic beers at Crux Fermentation Project. Then we checked into our lodgings, a cozy cabin in the nearby town of Sunriver, and ate a delectable dinner at Drake.

The next day we hiked to Green Lakes. It’s a beautiful trail that winds along Fall Creek for about four and a half miles to reach the Green Lakes, which lie in a gorgeous basin between South Sister and Broken Top mountains. Returning to our car, we drove back to Bend and had some excellent beers at Monkless Belgian Ales and Silver Moon Brewing. Then we barbecued salmon for dinner at our cabin.

South Sister from Green Lakes South Sister from Green Lakes

Much of the next day we spent on the river. Lauren and I took stand-up paddle boards, and Jeff a kayak. We floated down the Deschutes River for about six miles, stopping for a sandwich lunch on the way, as well as to swim from a rope swing and jump from rocks above the river. Then we drove out to Elk Lake, where we barbecued sausages and corn for dinner on the shores of the lake as the sun set over the mountains.

Me leaping into the Deschutes River Me leaping into the Deschutes River

Before departing Bend the next morning, we strolled through Drake Park and visited some of the shops in downtown. We paused briefly for lunch in the charming town of Sisters, stopped at the headwaters of the Metolius River, then pressed on to Portland. We had one of our best meals of the trip at Oui Wine Bar.

Oregon Coast

We left Portland the next morning and drove into the beautiful Willamette Valley. We tasted at three wineries—Vidon Vineyard, Bells Up Winery, and Utopia. All of them were great, but Bells Up was our favorite. It’s a relatively new winery, run by a husband and wife team. They offer tastings only by private appointment, and David, the winemaker, will sit with you and take you through your tasting. And, of course, the wines are excellent.

From the Willamette Valley we drove northwest to the coast. We stopped in Cannon Beach, where we strolled along the coastline. Then we grabbed drinks at Cannon Beach Hardware and Public House, a hardware store that also sells creative cocktails, draft beers, and tasty food. We ate dinner at Pelican Brewing, then drove north to the town of Seaside, where we stayed the night.

The next day we pushed north to Lewis and Clark National Park. We stopped at Fort Clatsop, the site of the expedition’s camp during the winter of 1805-06. It features a reconstruction of the fort based on diagrams and notes from Clark’s journals, some living history actors, and hiking trails. We continued to Astoria, a beautiful town near the mouth of the Columbia River. We checked out the farmers market and ate lunch before continuing north across the river into Washington.

Olympic Peninsula

After lunch we stopped by Lake Quinault, a gorgeous lake nestled in the temperate rainforest. We checked out the beautiful lodge on the lake and then did a short hike into the forest above the lake. Turning back to the coast, we entered Olympic National Park and walked along the spectacular Ruby Beach. Then we pressed on to the town of Forks, where spent the night at the cozy and delightful Misty Valley Inn Bed and Breakfast.

We began our exploration of Olympic National Park after a delectable breakfast at the inn. We drove out to the Sol Duc Trailhead and hiked to Deer Lake. It’s part of the intense 19-mile High Divide Seven Lakes Basin Loop, which looks like an amazing backpacking trip (unfortunately we didn’t have the time). The hike to Deer Lake was a slog, but it was interesting; we watched the forest around us shift from temperate rainforest to a more alpine biome, then had lunch at the lake.

Returning to our car, we drove on to Hurricane Ridge. I don’t think I really understood Olympic National Park until we drove to Hurricane Ridge. The park offers a number of dead-end roads that stop at trailheads, and most of the trails are intense uphill hikes out of valleys into the mountains. But the hikes don’t offer great views of the Olympic Mountains unless you go quite a long way. Hurricane Ridge is the opposite. You can drive to a spectacular spot with incredible views of the Olympics, the Strait of Juan De Fuca, and Canada beyond. From Hurricane Ridge, most of the hikes are steeply downhill, though there are few that go futher up.

A deer grazes on Hurrican Ridge, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance A deer grazes on Hurrican Ridge, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance

Tearing ourselves away from the views, we drove on to Port Ludlow. We’d intended to stay Port Townsend (about half an hour north of Port Ludlow), but we were able to book the beautiful Resort at Port Ludlow on points. We weren’t disapopinted; our room had a balcony with a spectacular view of the Port Ludlow marina, and the onsite restaurant, The Fireside, was excellent.

The view from our balcony at Port Ludlow The view from our balcony at Port Ludlow

The next morning we set out to climb Mount Storm King. It was about an hour and a half drive back the way we’d come the day before, and we’d been doing a lot of driving, so we weren’t sure it would be worth it. By the end of the day, we didn’t have any lingering doubts. The hike was a relentless uphill climb on steep switchbacks. But the surrounding forest offered both welcome shade and interesting scenery; as we climbed, the pines and spruce mixed with manzanitas and madronas. After about two miles the maintained trail ends, and the route becomes a slippery, exposed track. Set ropes allowed us to pull ourselves up the trail.

Finally we crested a ridge and reached the summit. Crescent Lake was spread out beneath us, and beyond the lake to the north we got breathtaking views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada in the distance. There’s a boulder at the summit of the mountain that provides a perfect photo spot. We took pictures and ate lunch before descending to the parking lot and driving back to Port Ludlow.

Lauren on the summit of Mount Storm King Lauren on the summit of Mount Storm King

After a quick break at the hotel, we drove into Port Townsend. A lovely town perched above Townsend bay, Port Townsend boasts a beautiful collection of Victorian buildings, some great food, and neat shops. We walked around the town, took in the views from the pier, and then had an excellent dinner at Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar.

In the morning, we packed our bags and drove back to Port Townsend, where we caught the ferry to Coupeville, on Whidbey Island. The Washington State ferry system was purchased by the state as a stopgap measure until bridges could be built connecting the many islands of Puget Sound. That was in 1951. The ferry remains the only way to take a vehicle to most of the islands, and it’s designated as part of the state highway system.

Coupeville is a neat seaside village. We tasted some wines at the Vail Wine Shop & Tasting Room, grabbed lunch at the Front Street Grill, and then drove north to Anacortes, where we planned to catch another ferry. Unfortunately, there’s only one main road across the island, for some reason traffic was terrible. And the ferry system for the San Juan Islands works a little strangely: a limited number of reservations are released 2 months, 2 weeks, or 2 days in advance. There’s no charge for a reservation—which is not a ticket—but there’s a $10 no-show fee. And the Department of Transportation recommends arriving 45-60 minutes prior to your sailing time because if you’re not through the ticket booth 30 minutes before sailing, they give away your spot, and you have to get in the standby line even if you booked a reservation.

We drove quickly across the island and didn’t have time to stop and admire the remarkable Deception Pass, a small strait separting Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands where shifting tides force seawater through the narrow gap at high speeds. We reached the Anacortes ferry terminal about 25 minutes prior to our sailing time, and, sure enough, they’d given away our reservation and sent us to the stand-by line. Maddeningly, just a few minutes after we arrived, an annoucement on the PA system told us the ferry would be an hour late.

Strolling along the beautiful beach abutting the ferry terminal, we fretted about whether we’d make it on board. When the ferry finally sailed (closer to an hour and a half late), we were among the last five cars on the boat. It was a long trip (the ferry made two stops before ours), but beautiful ride through the straits and islands of Puget Sound, until we pulled into Orcas Island and disembarked.

Orcas Island

We checked into our lodgings (the beautiful Cabins on the Point) and drove into town to find dinner. Many places had already closed (it was a weeknight), and most of the others required reservations. We found a spot at Mijitas Meixcan Kitchen and had some tasty tacos.

In the morning we drove into Eastsound, the main town on Orcas Island. We breakfasted on pastries from the fantastic Brown Bear Baking and strolled around town, checking out the shops (we really liked Darvill’s Book Store). Then we returned to our cabins for lunch and took a pair of kayaks out into the West Sound. We paddled around Skull Rock and traversed the sound. We tasted some beers at Island Hoppin’ Brewery, then drove into town to buy some delicious fresh salmon to grill for dinner.

Our cabin on the point at night Our cabin on the point at night

The next morning we grabbed coffee Darvill’s (the book store houses a coffee shop) and drove to Deer Harbor, where we boarded a whale watching boat. We were initially disappointed when the guide told us that some orca whales had been spotted to the south, but that high winds and six-foot seas might prevent us from reaching them. As we motored out of the harbor, however, we received word that the pod had moved north into much calmer seas. Sailing around the northern tip of San Juan Island and through Mosquito Pass, we soon caught sight of the whales off the island’s west coast.

These were salmon-eating orcas, rarer and more endangered than their seal-eating relatives. As a result, strict regulations prohibit boats from getting closer than 400 yards from the majestic creatures. We still got some amazing views as the females hunted close to shore and the males hunted further out to sea.

An orca executes a "spy hop" to survey the ocean around her An orca executes a "spy hop" to survey the ocean around her

After about 45 minutes with the whales, we steamed back towards Orcas Island. We stopped by Spieden Island to see some bald eagles and seals. Back on Orcas, we stopped by the Boat House Cider Works, where we sipped some tasty ciders while eating a bread and cheese lunch on the cidery’s deck overlooking the sound. We drove into Eastsound and went to The Barnacle, where we tasted some of the best cocktails we’ve ever had, and picked up some fantastic pizza for dinner at Hogstone.

We stopped for breakfast again at Brown Bear Baking the next morning, then walked around town and checked out the Saturday farmers market. We drove around to the eastern side of the island and stopped briefly by the beautiful Rosario Resort and Spa, then continued on to Mount Constitution. At 2,399 feet, Mount Constitution is the highest point in the San Juan Islands. A windy road leads to a picnic area at the summit, which offers spectacular views of Puget Sound and its islands, as well as mainland Washington and Canada.

Mainland Washington from Mount Constitution, with Mount Baker in the background Mainland Washington from Mount Constitution, with Mount Baker in the background

Descending to Mountain Lake, we did the short hike to Twin Lakes. Then we drove out to Orcas Island Pottery, a remarkable collection of beautiful ceramics produced by local artists. For our final dinner on the island, we had an excellent meal at the Kingfish Inn. Then it was time for a bonfire on the beach and some stargazing before retiring for the final night of our trip.

Our last morning began with our final trip to Brown Bear Baking and a drive back to the Orcas ferry terminal, where the boat took us back to Anacortes. From there it was about a two-hour drive to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to catch the flight home.