The Pacific Northwest, a welcomed surprise! ❤️
Updated: Jun 5, 2022
This blog is a rarity for me as I am sharing my recent domestic trip to the Pacific Northwest. My travel destinations are more typically international in nature but with Americans having earned the shameful status of 'Covid-19 pariahs', thereby being BARRED from nearly every country in the WORLD, my husband and I embarked on a domestic getaway. After flying into Seattle, Washington for a couple of days, we rented a car and drove west, traversed the Puget Sound via ferry to Olympic National Park, south to Cannon Beach, Oregon, then stopped in the Willamette Valley for some fabulous wine tasting before flying home from Portland. All in one week! It was short, sweet, and BEAUTIFUL! I revamped this trip "on the fly" as our planned trip, originally concentrated along the full length of the Oregon coast and the Willamette Valley wine region, needed to be re-routed due to the wildfires significantly affecting Oregon State, and the entire west coast to varying degrees, for that matter. While smoke clouded the sky and created a gloomy haze across the wider region, in the locations where we were, it rarely felt uncomfortable and never difficult to breathe. In fact, it was infrequent that we even smelled smoke.
Seattle was our first stop. There we stayed along the waterfront within walking distance to Pike Place Market. Although we were on the waterfront, the view was very poor due to the smoky haze. The abundant quantities of vivid, fresh-cut flowers sold throughout the market, however, contrasted the grey monochrome sky spectacularly. They offered so many varieties of flowers that I don't typically see in Louisville. I was a bit envious of the lack of such a market in my home city. We visited the ORIGINAL Starbucks and dined on much seafood, such as chowder, cioppino, Pacific salmon, and fresh sushi.
The highlight of Seattle for me, without any question, was the Chihuly Garden and Glass center. I have seen Chihuly's glassworks several times in a variety of locations but seeing SO MANY of his pieces and garden installations all together was exquisite!!! For Chihuly lovers, like me, there is no better place to view his collection than in Seattle. I have previously featured Chihuly's works in one of my earlier blogs if you are interested in reading more about him. We had pre-purchased the combo ticket to also ascend the adjacent Space Needle. This, of course, turned out to be quite disappointing as there was NO VIEW from the top, again due to the poor air quality. It felt like we were standing in the center of a cloud.
Thereafter we crossed the Puget Sound by ferry to reach the western peninsula of the state. This was a pleasant experience, despite the 2-hour delay awaiting the fog to lift. I looked for whales but didn't spot any ... although September is not the season for their migration. Apparently, the winter months from December-February and the spring months from March-May yield the best chances to see whales in that area.
We then ventured to Olympic National Park which was absolutely amazing! I didn't know that we had rainforests in the USA. The thick tree canopy overhead prevented smoke from penetrating the dense forest floor beneath. One day we hiked in the Sul Duc Valley. This was beautiful terrain through old forest growth. The 0.8-mile easy Sol Duc Falls trail from the trailhead to the cascading waterfalls was lovely, but what was truly exceptional was the longer 6-mile loop called the Lover's Lane trail. (Although my husband certainly wasn't feeling the love when we were only halfway through and he learned that we still had 3 miles to go! 🙄He should have done his research. 🤓) This remote trail, often paralleling the Sol Duc River, was far less traveled and consisted of dense landscape lush with pine trees, draping moss, climbing ivy, colorful mushrooms, and numerous ferns. Along this narrow, winding trail, one could really appreciate the quiet, the solitude, and feeling in harmony with nature. It was quite extraordinary!
The next day we explored the Hoh Rainforest section of Olympia National Park. This is located in a stretch of the Pacific Northwest Rainforest which historically spanned the Pacific coast from Alaska to California and remains one of the finest examples of temperate rainforest in the United States. Here we "hiked" just two short loops. One was the 1.2-mile Spruce Nature trail which hugged the Hoh River in areas. The other was the 0.8-mile Hall of Mosses trail. While the lush vegetation, throughout, was certainly very picturesque, the trails themselves were far less spectacular to me. The broad, flat, groomed trails were casual "nature walks" rather than "hikes" and the volume of people on these loops was significant, which detracted much from the overall ambiance of the locale. (Even my husband thought these "hikes" were a bit lame and he evolved to reflect APPRECIATIVELY on the 6-miler from the prior day. 😉)
Thereafter we ventured along the Pacific coast road in Washington, traveling south toward Oregon. After several stops, we arrived at the iconic Astoria-Megler Bridge. This bridge stretches for 4.1 miles across the mouth of the Columbia River and connects Washington to Oregon State. As we traversed its long span, it felt very surreal for we were shrouded in a mystical amalgam of fog, haze, and smoke throughout its entire length.
We continued southward to Cannons Beach, Oregon. This is one of the most famous and beautiful beaches on the west coast. Unfortunately, the hazy, smoky air made it difficult to fully appreciate the beauty of this beach. Let's just say that despite staying at a beachfront resort, on the first day we couldn't even SEE the ocean. When we walked out onto the beach along the ocean edge, we could barely see back to the resort. That aside, we made the best of it. Fortunately, overnight the winds changed and the next day brought MUCH clearer skies. This beach is famous for its monstrous Haystack Rock formation. In the morning the tide was very low and we could walk up to and around this large outcropping and observe its surrounding marine ecosystem. We were able to observe numerous sea creatures in their natural habitats, which was quite amazing!!
There, we again took the opportunity to hike, in Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach. That, too, was astounding and was my second favorite hike. It provided a wonderful balance of dense rainforest and pine trees, with frequent viewpoints onto the ocean revealing breathtaking views of cliffs, rock formations, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, and surf. We hiked the 2.5-mile Clatslop Loop Trail beginning from Indian Beach Point at sea level and ascending 800 ft. to Hiker's Camp and then looped back down. A segment of this trail was the former Lewis and Clark trail from 1806.
Upon leaving Cannon Beach we stopped at several vineyards in the Willamette Valley, famously known for their Pinot Noir wines. A boutique estate that we stumbled upon and particularly loved is named Couer de Terre. They offered wine tasting, by appointment, on their gorgeous estate. Their wines tasted earthy and more full-bodied than typical Pinot Noirs. Of course, we took advantage of their wine club so that we can enjoy shipments of their pinots, as well as memories of this trip, once we return home and settle back into our routines. We visited two other vineyards, Holloran and Youngberg Hill, again on beautiful estates and featuring tasty wines. Youngberg Hill Winery had a charming inn associated with it that would be lovely to stay at during a future visit to the Willamette region.
Our trip came to a close in Portland, Oregon where we stayed at the Benson Historic Hotel in the downtown area. The hotel itself was beautiful, but we didn't have any time to really look around the city, for we consumed too much of our time sampling wine in the Willamette Valley. We flew home from Portland the next day.
I titled this blog 'The Pacific Northwest, a welcomed surprise!' That it was!! To be honest I was rather reluctant about this trip. I entered it with LOW expectations but was very satisfied with the outcome. I didn't anticipate the terrain to be so beautiful, lush, and green. If the sky was less smoky and the air more clear, it would have been even more picturesque. But even as it was, it was quite impressive. So despite my disappointment with the many overseas trips that we canceled this year, the Covid-19 situation forced us to explore a part of the USA that we have never seen before.