Washington Travel Guide

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Hell's Canyon - Located along the Snake River, with Idaho on the East and Washington/Oregon on the West, this gorge is the deepest in all of North America, plunging 7800 feet (2800 meters) at its lowest point. Explore the canyon with its stunning wild lands and scenic vistas by jet boat departing out of Clarkston.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument - Mount St. Helens is slowly recovering from the 1980 volcanic blast that turned one of the Cascades' most beautiful peaks into a scarred landscape of fallen trees and fields of ash. Several visitor centers relate the events of the eruption and what has been happening on the mountain since.

Eastern Washington - Big, dry and hot, eastern Washington has little in common with the green, western side of the state. Faded olive-colored sagebrush covers many acres, and massive red rocks loom over the prairies, while huge bare patches of basalt and torn-away groundcover give the area the unattractive geological moniker of the "channeled scablands." Further south, the lower Yakima Valley is a vast agricultural belt with miles of orchards and farms that flank the Yakima River. With over 300 sunny days a year, this region is the largest producer of apples in the world. This has also become one of the Northwest's major wine regions. The area towns are agricultural and commercial centers, and only Spokane has any degree of cultural life. Some are excellent bases for winery tours or outdoor activities such as rafting, fishing, hiking, paragliding and skiing.

Seattle - Curved around the shore of Elliott Bay, with Lake Washington behind and the snowy peak of Mount Rainier hovering faintly in the distance, Seattle has a magnificent setting. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Boeing airline corporation was crucial to the city's wellbeing, booming during World War II and employing one in five of Seattle's workforce by the 1960s. The prosperity that Boeing and more recent success stories, such as Microsoft and internet shopping site Amazon.com, have brought the city is obvious, reflected in a restored old center, a nationally acclaimed arts scene with vibrant movie and music industries, and a flood of coffee houses and excellent seafood restaurants. No longer overshadowed by the two big California metropolises, Seattle now regularly tops magazine surveys of desirable places to live, attracting migrants across the social and economic spectrum.

Beaches

Alki Beach - Located in West Seattle, this is the closest Washington comes to a Southern California-style beach scene. There is a sandy beach and a paved path crowded with in-line skaters, walkers, and cyclists. Across the street from the sand, visitors will find lots of cheap restaurants and places to buy sunglasses.

Deception Pass State Park Beaches - This is the most popular state park in Washington, mainly because the many miles of beach, spread out on two sides of Deception Pass, are among the prettiest in the Puget Sound area. The beaches can be located on Whidbey Island.

Dungeness Spit - With 6 miles of windswept sand stretching out to a lighthouse in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Dungeness is a hikers' beach. The reward for hiking several miles out this narrow strip of sand is the chance to see some of the area's resident harbour seals. It is a secluded beach and perfect for those visitors wanting privacy.

Rialto Beach - This beach can be found in the Olympic National Park outside Forks. It is located on the north side of the Quillayute River, and this beach is the southern terminus of a 29-mile-long stretch of wilderness beach. However, most visitors simply walk a mile up the beach to Hole in the Wall, a huge monolith through which the ocean's waves have bored a tunnel. This is a scenic beach and ideal for those who are into taking lots of vacation photographs.

Second Beach and Third Beach - These beaches are also found in the Olympic National Park outside Forks. It is difficult to pick the best beach in the national park, since they are almost all ruggedly beautiful, but these two beaches just outside the community of La Push are local favourites. Here visitors can listen to the calls of the eagles and gulls, and contemplate the sheer vastness of the Pacific.

Outdoors

The San Juan Islands - Forested mountains rise up from the cold waters north of Puget Sound to form the archipelago known as the San Juan Islands. Here, bald eagles wheel overhead while orca whales dive for salmon below. All this natural beauty is a powerful magnet and, despite the hordes of tourists in the summer, the San Juans remain the state's best summer vacation spot.

Olympic National Park - This park contains the only rainforests in the contiguous United States, and they comprise a fascinating ecosystem. Living plants stake out almost every square inch of space, from towering Sitka spruce trees to mosses and lush ferns. The park also preserves miles of pristine, fog-shrouded beaches and beautiful alpine and sub alpine scenery dotted with lush meadows.

The North Cascades National Park Complex - Actually comprised of one national park and two national recreation areas, this remote and rugged region is among the least explored in the state. Most visitors view the park from the North Cascades Scenic Highway, from which there are stupendous views on clear days, but which is closed by snow for nearly half the year.

Mount Rainier National Park - With its glaciers and easily accessible alpine meadows, Mount Rainier is Washington's favourite mountain. Sunrise and Paradise are the two best vantage points for viewing the massive bulk of Mount Rainier, and in these two areas of the park, visitors will also find some of the best hiking trails.

Moving around

Seattle is well served by both trains and buses. Amtrak runs its Coast Starlight train once daily south to LA, while its Cascades line runs four times per day south to Eugene, Oregon, and north to Vancouver in British Columbia. Amtrak's daily Empire Builder route heads east, just as Greyhound provides bus service east across the Cascades to Spokane and beyond, with other routes to Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Yakima and Walla Walla. Areas not covered by Greyhound are usually accessible on local buses, though this can be time-consuming and inconvenient.

Getting to and along the coast is more difficult and requires some planning. Ferries from Seattle shuttle across to Winslow, on Bainbridge Island, from where Kitsap Transit services link with Jefferson Transit for access to Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Olympic National Park. In the Seattle and Puget Sound area, ferries are a reliable and enjoyable method of getting to such places as Whidbey Island and the San Juan Islands. There are also long-distance services, to Canada from Seattle, Anacortes and Port Angeles, and to Alaska from Bellingham.

National festival and holidays

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival - Northwest Washington's Skagit Valley comes alive with brilliant colour each spring. Acres and acres of daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilies entice visitors to the towns of La Conner and Mount Vernon. They come to take in the pastoral beauty, and to enjoy the annual festivities. The flower-viewing season begins with dainty yellow daffodils in mid- to late-March, a rainbow of tulips takes the stage in April. Irises and lilies follow, providing colour well into the month of May. The fields of flowers are grown in order to produce bulbs, a major industry in the Skagit Valley. In addition to viewing and photographing the fields, visitors will enjoy visiting a number of different display gardens, and garden centers in order to learn about bulb gardening and purchase bulbs of their own.

Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival - The Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival is held annually on the last weekend of September, through the first full weekend of October. The Festival is truly an original "town" festival beginning before the formation of the Bavarian theme, celebrating the turning of the leaves, a successful harvest and a last event before the winter season. Funds for the Festival and its promotion activities are provided by sales of Festival pins, buttons, two cookbooks, and commemorative clothing.

Northwest Folklife Festival - Northwest Folklife, founded in 1972, is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes the cultural heritage of Pacific Northwest communities. Supported through individual donations, grants and sponsorships, Northwest Folklife is the most visible advocate of the traditional arts in the Northwest region. It presents the annual Memorial Day weekend Northwest Folklife Festival, education programs and other public programs. In addition, Northwest Folklife produces recordings, publications and exhibits and provides research and consulting services.

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