Crater Lake. Multnomah Falls. The Space Needle. Pike Place Market. Sun Valley. Chances are excellent that you already know – or have heard of – these Northwest favorites. For those of you who have already visited or simply prefer to avoid their well-beaten paths, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite lesser-known regional gems that are also well-worth exploring – consider it your patriotic duty to explore the best of the most underrated attractions in the Northwest.
Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon
Multnomah Falls may be the tallest waterfall in the state but the rarely-visited Willamette Falls is the Northwest’s largest by volume. Located just 15 miles southeast of Portland, the 1,500-foot wide, 40-foot high horseshoe-shaped falls are created by a basalt shelf on the Willamette River’s floor. While you can see the waterfall from a variety of viewpoints, including on the bluffs of Oregon City and from the Oregon City Bridge, the best way to experience how impressive it is from the water, such as on a jetboat sightseeing tour through Willamette River Jetboat Excursion.
The Dee Wright Observatory, Central Oregon
Built out of craggy black lava rock in 1935, this unique observatory sits at the summit of McKenzie Pass in the center of a barren volcanic landscape that straddles Highway 242, also known as the Old McKenzie Highway. Climb to the top of the open tower to see wide-angle views of more than a dozen Cascade Mountain peaks, including Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and the Three Sisters. If time permits, be sure to explore the paved, half-mile trail that meanders through lava flows. Note: The highway is closed in winter, usually between November and June, depending on snowfall.
The Oregon Garden, Silverton, Oregon
Open year-round, this 80-acre botanical garden features more than 20 specialty and educational gardens that showcase the diverse flora found throughout the Pacific Northwest. It’s easy to spend a day strolling the Garden’s many paths, catching a narrated tram tour, picnicking on the grounds and browsing the visitors center. Not to miss is a guided tour of the Garden’s Frank Lloyd Wright Gordon House, the only building in Oregon designed by the famous architect. Note: Children and pets are welcome at the garden.
Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center, Prosser, Washington
Explore Washington State wine, food and agriculture at this innovative learning facility that actively engages visitors through its programs and special events. Located in the heart of the town of Prosser and the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, the center is named for the late Dr. Walter J. Clore, the “Father of the Washington Wine Industry.” You can take a wine education class, watch cooking demonstrations, attend a featured tasting and/or just sample a wide variety of wines from all over Washington State.
The Wallowa Mountains and Wallowa Lake, Eastern Oregon
Situated in the northeastern part of Oregon about one mile south of the town of Joseph, this ribbon lake’s serene, crystal-clear waters are surrounded by glacial-formed moraines and the stunning Wallowa Mountains. With 18 snow-tipped peaks over 9,000 feet and 31 over 8,000 feet, the Wallowas are America’s version of the Alpes. Stop at the north end of the lake to play along the shore in the county’s day-use area before heading to the lake’s southern tip, where you’ll find a variety of cozy lodges and fun outdoor activities, including the historic Wallowa Lake Lodge and the Wallowa Lake Tramway.
Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve, Tulalip, Washington
The first Tribal facility certified by the state of Washington, Hibulb is both an interactive cultural center and a natural history preserve, located about 35 miles north of Seattle. Inside the 23,000-square-foot facility, you’ll find high-quality exhibits dedicated to the Tulalip Tribes’ ancient and modern history as well as a replica longhouse, historic canoes and an on-site research library. The center’s grounds are a 50-acre natural history preserve.
Oak Creek Feeding Station, Naches, Washington
This winter, grab your binoculars and head to the Elk Creek Feeding Station just outside of Naches, Washington. This is where the supplemental feeding of the Yakima elk herd – up to 1,200 animals including 90 branched-antlered bulls – happens every year from mid-November to March. There’s a large parking and viewing area as well as a cozy interpretive center with exhibits and a kids’ corner. If time permits, sign up for a free 40-minute truck tour so you can see the daily elk feed up close. Note: Tours are available first come, first serve. Center staffers recommend signing up a half hour to an hour before feeding time at 1:30pm. January and February are the best months for viewing the elk. Children of all ages are welcome.
Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Washington
Situated on the northeast tip of Washington’s Victorian-era seaport, Port Townsend, Fort Worden State Park is a decommissioned US Army base comprised of over 400 acres of wooded hillsides, coastal wetlands and sandy beaches. Open daily to the public, the fort offers an eclectic collection of outdoor activities, educational museums and historic buildings. Along with camping, hiking and mountain biking, you can walk the expansive parade grounds, go inside coastal artillery bunkers, tour the Point Wilson Lighthouse and touch local marine life at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.
McCall Winter Carnival, McCall, Idaho
For over 50 years, this Idahoan mountain town – located approximately 100 miles north of Boise and home to one of the highest average snowfalls in the state – has celebrated winter with a festive, community-wide carnival. Usually held from the end of January to the beginning of February, signature events include a children’s torchlight parade, a local snow sculpture competition (creations dot the streets and some are over 20 feet tall!), snow sports, music, fireworks and more. Truly a great festival.
Bruneau Dunes State Park, Bruneau, Idaho
For the tallest freestanding sand dunes in North America (the highest reaches 470 feet), head to Idaho’s Bruneau Dunes State Park, located 64 miles south of Boise. Here you can camp, hike the surrounding trails and/or climb the dunes. For a quick trip down the dunes, rent a sandboard from the visitors center. (A word to the wise, sandboarding harder than it looks!) Or watch the night sky at the state’s only public observatory, Bruneau Dunes Observatory, located right in the park. Before going, check the park’s calendar for star parties and other guided activities.