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Pacific Northwest

Photo by Bob Wick, BLM

Pacific Northwest destinations

Bend and Central Oregon

Columbia River Gorge

Idaho

Kitsap Peninsula

Long Beach Peninsula

North Cascades Region

Olympic National Park

Olympic Peninsula

Oregon Coast

Oregon Wine Country and the Willamette Valley

Portland

San Juan Islands

Seattle

Spokane

Washington State Wine Country

Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest’s Cascade mountains, part of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire, are stunning high points leading you through the west coast states of Washington and Oregon. The Cascades include Mount Hood and Mt Rainier visible from the two exciting cities of the area, Seattle and Portland. While you’ll find adventure in the mountains, another major landmark, the Columbia River, winds through central Washington farm lands and along the border of the two states to the Pacific Ocean providing visitors with recreation, memorable views and Lewis and Clark history along the way.


Pacific Northwest: Oregon

The “Seven Wonders” of Oregon take you through the state from the snow-capped Wallowa Mountains and Oregon Trail in the east, through the multi-colored exposed earth of the Painted Hills. To visit Oregon is to see majestic Mt. Hood and the grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge. Hiking and sunsets to die for are yours on the romantic Oregon Coast. And then head to Bend and Central Oregon to climb Smith Rock’s towers of volcanic ash and gaze into the deep blue waters of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in America. After a day exploring the natural beauty of Oregon settle in to enjoy the pleasures of funky Portland, follow the Ale Trail in Bend or catch a Shakespeare performance in Ashland.


Pacific Northwest: Washington

The rugged coast of Washington from the Long Beach Peninsula through the Olympic Peninsula known for the rain forests of Olympic National Park is a playground for the outdoors-lover. Seattle, the sparkling city on the Puget Sound provides urban attractions with the backdrop of majestic Mt. Rainier. Or stop in to experience the beauty of Chihuly art glass in Tacoma. Continue north to the San Juan Islands for some whale watching. Head east into Washington’s wine country and you’ll find a more relaxed vibe. Washington’s Inland Empire is anchored by beautiful Spokane and the river and falls that run through the historic University town. Continue exploring and you’ll encounter lakes and forests of pine trees.


When To Go

Washington and Oregon are diverse states. While the coastal areas can be cool and misty, the interior is made up of plains or high desert. So, depending on where you are going, the best time to go will vary. Here are some ideas:

Oregon and Washington Coast – Best in spring, summer and fall but storm watching is great in the winter even though travel may be hampered by the weather from time to time.
Mountains – Ski in the winter and hike, sight-see and relax in the summer. Spring and fall are beautiful transitional seasons but watch the weather reports for late or early snowfall.
Columbia River Gorge – Best in spring, summer and fall. Winter may bring icy conditions.
Wine Country – The Oregon and Washington wine countries are usually enjoyable year-round. Watch for special wine dinners and activities.
The Cities – Seattle, Tacoma and Portland are fun year round if you don’t mind a bit of rain. Inland cities such as Spokane definitely have four seasons with snow in the winter.

Many destinations and attractions are seasonal.

How Much Time To Spend

Unlike some of the states on the east coast, Oregon and Washington cover a lot of territory and driving often requires going over terrain like mountain passes. Some roads, such as those on the coast, can be two-lane, and in high tourist season going can be slow due to the number of cars and the presence of trucks and RVs.

High and Low Season

Washington and Oregon are diverse states. While the coastal areas can be cool and misty, the interior is made up of plains or high desert. So, depending on where you are going, the best time to go will vary. Here are some ideas:

Oregon and Washington Coast – Best in spring, summer and fall but storm watching is great in the winter even though travel may be hampered by the weather from time to time. Summer is the high season.
Mountains – Ski in the winter and hike, sight-see and relax in the summer. Spring and fall are beautiful transitional seasons but watch the weather reports for late or early snowfall. Winter and summer are the high seasons.
Wine Country – The Oregon and Washington wine countries are usually enjoyable year-round. Watch for special wine dinners and activities. Spring, summer and fall are the high seasons.
The Cities – Seattle, Tacoma and Portland are fun year round if you don’t mind a bit of rain. Inland cities such as Spokane definitely have four seasons with snow in the winter. Summer is high season.

Weather and Climate

The weather in the Pacific Northwest is affected by both the large bodies of water and the mountain chains that run through  of the region. The Pacific Ocean, the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, and the Cascade Mountain  range all impact local weather conditions. Weather conditions that vary significantly from one location to  the next. You can encounter rain on the coast, sun in the inland cities and quite hot temperatures in central Washington and Oregon. The best thing to do is watch the weather reports for the areas where you plan to travel.

Events and Holidays

National Holidays Celebrated in the Pacific Northwest:

January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday):  Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday):  Presidents Day
May (last Monday):  Memorial Day
July (4th):  Independence Day
September (first Monday):  Labor Day
October (second Monday):  Columbus Day
(not the same as Native American Day, which is only celebrated officially in two states, on September 25th)
November (11th):  Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday):  Thanksgiving Day
December (25th):  Christmas

Time Zone

Pacific Time Zone (Daylight Savings Time is observed)

To check the local time in Oregon and Washington, click here.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second Sunday morning of March at 2 a.m.). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’

What To Pack and Wear

In general the Pacific Northwest is casual. You’ll find people wearing dressy casual at the best restaurants and jeans at many brew pubs and events. Needing a cocktail dress or men’s suit for dining or going to a show is a rarity. People tend to wear darker clothing colors.

When you visit the Pacific Northwest and expect to get out and do some hiking or exploring, you’ll need day hikers or hiking boots. Temperatures vary and weather can change from sun to rain quickly, especially in coastal areas, so layering is important. A final layer should be waterproof in case of rain

If you want to drive and sight-see without hiking or walking in the woods, on the beach or along rivers, be sure and wear walking shoes and layer your clothing as you’ll want to get out of the car and check out scenic overlooks, historical markers and soak in the natural beauty. Keep it casual for wine tasting, visiting a museum or lunching at a brew pub.

Are you adventuresome? Outdoor recreation from white water rafting to skiing and hiking requires gear and special clothing. So bring what you need for your adventurous side.

If it’s sold at REI or Columbia Sportswear you can probably wear it about anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

What it Costs

Portland is less expensive than Seattle. Outlying towns are less expensive than the larger cities. There is great variation in cost, but a wonderful vacation can be had on a budget in the Pacific Northwest.

Rent a beach home at Long Beach, Washington. Use AirBnB in Portland and stay in one of the quaint neighborhoods. Stay on the Kitsap Peninsula across from Seattle instead in the middle of the city. There are ways to make your vacation dollars go a long way.

The Pacific Northwest is very outdoorsy. Camping and staying in quaint cabins may be the way to go for a family on a budget. Taking a ferry across the Puget Sound or to the San Juan Islands (especially if you park your car and walk on)  is relatively inexpensive yet will get you out on the water for views and wildlife. Just walking through historic towns or in the countryside is enjoyable and is free.

Want the glitz and glamour of a large city? Seattle has five star restaurants, world class entertainment… all with a view of mountains and the Puget Sound. Portland is home to top chefs yet dining prices will be less than in large cities across the United States.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).

Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)

Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day. By the way, when renting in California, there are no additional driver fees by law.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework; check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:

Restaurants

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco — are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill, if you look closely for it.

Hotels

Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.

At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.

Other Costs

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees

In Washington, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 7.9% to 8.9%, depending on where you are. In general, cities have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated. Interestingly, Oregon does not have a sales tax.

Lodging tax also varies by location in Oregon and Washington. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.

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