You could spend a lifetime exploring the Pacific Northwest's natural beauty, but if you're planning a vacation, there are a few key places that should top your itinerary. These are the choice destinations that keep us dreaming for yet another trip to the area:
*Hoh Rainforest: With trees clad in shaggy moss, glades of ancient ferns and a thousand shades of green everywhere you look, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more atmospheric and beautiful place for a hike than the Hoh Rainforest. The Hoh is located within the boundaries of Olympic National Park in western Washington, and is one of the largest and best remaining examples of temperate rainforests in the United States. The park's annual precipitation totals, which average 140 to 170 inches (or 12 to 14 feet), provide the park with its lush blanket of greenery. Bring your rain jacket, because even if it's drizzling, you don't want to miss the opportunity to explore the forest.
*Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: This sandy wonderland, with 40 miles of wind-tossed, shifting dunes, flies in the face of expectations that the Pacific Northwest is always damp and rainy. The starkly stunning landscape lies along Oregon's west coast, inside the confines of the Siuslaw National Forest. There are lots of ways to get out and enjoy the unique landscape, from off-road vehicles and to hiking and horseback riding.
*Columbia River Gorge: This isn't so much one particular sight as it is a collection of jaw-dropping vistas and natural wonders. For road-trippers and rental car drivers alike, an excursion along the 80-mile-long gorge, which goes through both Washington and Oregon will be filled with ample opportunities to get out, hike and simply take it all in. Key attractions are Crown Point, Tom McCall Nature Preserve and Multnomah Falls, perhaps the most impressive of the many falls that can be found along the gorge.
*Mt. Rainier: One of America's most beautiful and geographically distinct mountains, Mt. Rainier is actually a volcano and has a summit elevation of 14,411 feet. Located not far from Seattle, outdoors enthusiast of all levels will find something to enjoy within Mount Rainier National Park. Go for a drive, hop out for a hike or test your rock climbing skills in this spectacular setting.
*Crater Lake: Famed for its depth, color and clarity, Crater Lake, located in Oregon, is a caldera lake, formed in what was once a volcano. The cliffs surrounding the lake, and the islands at its center, make it among the most photogenic natural sites in the Pacific Northwest, if not the entire United States. To fully enjoy it, go for a hike (or a snowshoe excursion in winter) and pitch a tent to camp. You can also swim, fish and go for boat tours.