The abundance of outdoor recreational activities is one reason why people choose to live in Washington. With mountains and beaches within an hour's drive of major metropolitan areas, there are many choices for active vacationers.
The San Juan Islands, with their winding country roads and Puget Sound vistas, are the most popular bicycling locales in the state. Of the four main San Juan Islands (San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw), Lopez has the easiest and Orcas the most challenging terrain for bikers. Here you can pedal for as few or as many days as you like, stopping at parks, inns, and quaint villages.
Other popular road-biking spots include Bainbridge and Vashon islands, with easy access to Seattle; the Olympic Peninsula, with scenic vistas and campgrounds; and the Long Beach Peninsula, with miles of flat roads. Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, and Yakima also have easy paths for bicycle riding.
The state's premier mountain-biking destination is the Methow Valley, where cross-country ski trails are opened to bicycles in the summer. The region's national forests have logging roads and single-track trails for mountain biking.
If you're interested in participating in an organized bicycle tour, Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710-1800 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), offers road bike trips in the San Juan Islands. Tour prices range from $1,998 to $2,698. Bicycle Adventures, P.O. Box 11219, Olympia, WA 98508 (tel. 800/443-6060 or 360/786-0989; www.bicycleadventures.com) also offers biking trips in the San Juan Islands and to the volcanoes of Washington. Tour prices range from $1,292 to $2,886.
With a wide variety of habitats, Washington has many excellent bird-watching spots. Each winter in January, bald eagles flock to the Skagit River, north of Seattle, to feast on salmon. Birders can observe from shore or on a guided raft trip. Outside the town of Hoquiam, migratory shorebirds make an annual spring stop at Gray's Harbor Wildlife Refuge in the Bowerman Basin area. One of Washington's best birding excursions is a ride through the San Juan Islands on one of the state-run ferries. From these floating observation platforms, birders can spot bald eagles and numerous pelagic birds.
Public and private campgrounds abound all across Washington, with those in Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park being the most popular. North Cascades National Park also has campgrounds. North Cascades National Park Complex and Olympic National Park each have one campground that accepts reservations; at Mount Rainier National Park, two campgrounds take reservations. To get information on outdoor recreation in Washington's national parks and forests, contact the Outdoor Recreation Information Center, Seattle REI Building, 222 Yale Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98109 (tel. 206/470-4060; www.nps.gov/ccso/oric.htm). The Forest Service's regional Web page (www.fs.fed.us/r6) is a good source, too.
Washington also has more than 80 state parks with campgrounds. Moran State Park on Orcas Island and Deception Pass State Park have two of the most enjoyable campgrounds. For information on Washington state parks, contact Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, 7150 Cleanwater Dr. (P.O. Box 42650), Olympia, WA 98504-2650 (tel. 360/902-8844; www.parks.wa.gov).
For state campsite reservations, contact Washington State Parks Reservations (tel. 888/226-7688; www.parks.wa.gov). To make campsite reservations at national forest and national park campgrounds, surf to Recreation.gov (tel. 877/444-6777 or 518/885-3639).
One economical way to tour the Northwest is with a recreational vehicle. You can rent one for a weekend, a week, or longer. In Washington, you can rent RVs from Western Motorcoach, 19303 Hwy. 99, Lynnwood, WA 98036 (tel. 800/800-1181; www.westernrv.com).
For information on freshwater fishing in Washington, contact the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia, WA 98501 (tel. 360/902-2200; http://wdfw.wa.gov); mailing address: 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.
Hiking & Backpacking
Washington has an abundance of hiking trails, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs along the spine of the Cascades from Canada to the Oregon state line (and onward through Oregon and California to Mexico). In the Olympic National Park, you'll find hikes along the beach, through valleys in rainforests, and through alpine meadows. At Mount Rainier National Park, you can hike through forests and the state's most beautiful meadows (hikes from Sunrise and Paradise are the most spectacular). In North Cascades National Park, there are hiking trails through the state's most rugged scenery. The Alpine Lakes region outside Leavenworth is breathtakingly beautiful, but so popular that advance-reservation permits are required. The hike to the summit of Mount St. Helens is another popular, though challenging, hike that is sometimes closed to hikers when the volcano is active. Lesser known are the hiking trails on Mount Adams in Washington's southern Cascades. In the Columbia Gorge, the hike up Dog Mountain is strenuous, but rewarding. For general information on hiking in the Northwest and for information on the Northwest Forest Pass, which is required at most national forest trailheads in Washington, contact Nature of the Northwest, 800 NE Oregon St., Suite 177, Portland, OR 97232 (tel. 503/872-2750; www.naturenw.org).
If you'd like to hike the wild country of Washington state with a knowledgeable guide, check out the course offerings at North Cascades Institute, 810 State Rte. 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284 (tel. 360/856-5700, ext. 209; www.ncascades.org).
Sea kayaks differ from river kayaks in that they are much longer, more stable, and able to carry gear, as well as a paddler or two. Few places in the country have better sea kayaking than the waters of Puget Sound and around the San Juan Islands, and, therefore, this sport is especially popular in the Seattle area. The protected waters of Puget Sound offer numerous spots for a paddle of a few hours or a few days. A water trail called the Cascadia Marine Trail even links camping spots throughout the sound. For more information about this trail, contact the Washington Water Trails Association (tel. 206/545-9161; www.wwta.org).
The San Juan Islands are the most popular sea-kayaking spot in the region, and several tiny islands, accessible only by boat, are designated state campsites. In the Seattle area, Lake Union and Lake Washington are both popular kayaking spots. Willapa Bay, on the Washington coast, is another popular paddling spot.
If you'd like to explore Puget Sound or Seattle's Lake Union in a sea kayak, contact the Northwest Outdoor Center, 2100 Westlake Ave. N., Suite 1, Seattle, WA 98109 (tel. 800/683-0637 or 206/281-9694; www.nwoc.com). This center rents kayaks and also offers various classes and guided trips. Day trips are $70 and 3-day trips are $325.
In the San Juan Islands, San Juan Kayak Expeditions (tel. 360/378-4436; www.sanjuankayak.com) offers multi-day kayak trips, charging $420 for a 3-day trip and $520 for a 4-day trip. Orcas Outdoors (tel. 360/376-4611; www.orcasoutdoors.com) offers a 2-day trip for $279 and a 3-day trip for $429. Crystal Seas Kayaking (tel. 877/732-7877 or 360/378-4223; www.crystalseas.com) runs kayak camping trips ranging from 2 days ($309) to 6 days ($819), and inn-to-inn trips ranging from 2 days ($780) to 6 days ($2,280). Sea Quest Expeditions/Zoetic Research (tel. 888/589-4253 or 360/378-5767; www.sea-quest-kayak.com), is a nonprofit organization that sponsors educational sea-kayaking trips through the San Juans. The 3-day trips are $459 and 5-day trips are $699.
Skiing & Snowboarding
Washington has about a half-dozen major ski areas and about the same number of lesser areas. The major ski areas are located in the Cascade Range and include Mount Baker, a snowboarding mecca near Bellingham; Mission Ridge, located near Wenatchee and known for its powder snow; Stevens Pass, near the Bavarian-theme town of Leavenworth; the Summit at Snoqualmie, less than an hour from Seattle; Crystal Mountain near the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park; and White Pass, southeast of Mount Rainier National Park. Tiny ski areas with only a handful of runs include Hurricane Ridge, in Olympic National Park; Loup Loup, near Winthrop; and Echo Valley, near Lake Chelan. Heli-skiing is available in the Methow Valley.
Many downhill ski areas also offer groomed cross-country ski trails. The best cross-country areas in Washington include the Methow Valley (one of the largest trail systems in the country), Leavenworth, the Summit at Snoqualmie, White Pass, and Stevens Pass.
Orca whales, commonly called killer whales, are a symbol of the Northwest and are often seen in Puget Sound and around the San Juan Islands, especially during the summer. Dozens of companies offer whale-watching trips from the San Juans. You can also spot orcas from San Juan Island's Lime Kiln State Park. On the Washington coast, migrating gray whales can be seen from March through May. In the town of Westport, there are both viewing areas and companies operating whale-watching excursions.
Plenty of rain and snowmelt and lots of mountains combine to produce dozens of good whitewater-rafting rivers, depending on the time of year and water levels. In the Washington Cascades, some of the popular rafting rivers include the Wenatchee outside Leavenworth, the Methow near Winthrop, the Skagit and Skykomish rivers north of Seattle, and the White Salmon River near the Columbia Gorge. On the Olympic Peninsula, the Queets, Hoh, and Elwha rivers are the main rafting rivers. Rates generally range from about $55 to $90 for a half-day of rafting.
Many companies offer trips on several different rivers. Among these companies are Alpine Adventures (tel. 800/RAFT-FUN; www.alpineadventures.com), DownStream River Runners (tel. 206/906-9227; www.riverpeople.com), North Cascades River Expeditions (tel. 800/634-8433; www.riverexpeditions.com), Osprey Rafting Company (tel. 800/743-6269; www.ospreyrafting.com), River Riders (tel. 800/448-RAFT; www.riverrider.com), and Wildwater River Tours (tel. 800/522-WILD; www.wildwater-river.com).