The Pacific Northwest

The world's largest ocean, North America's highest peak, and some of its grandest rivers paint a picture of superlatives in the states of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

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Pacific Northwest

Shelley Metcalf

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Standard references to the Pacific Northwest cite Oregon and Washington. But the vast land of Alaska, separated by about 500 miles of Canada, completes the realm of this region. Superimposed over the Lower 48, Alaskan boundaries would range from Minnesota to Georgia to California, making the 49th state the nation's largest. The Inside Passage dominates Southeast Alaska, where Juneau, the waterbound capital, is located; Southcentral Alaska includes Anchorage, the state's most populous city; and the Arctic Coast and the Aleutian Islands make up the far north and southwest, respectively. In coastline miles, Alaska leads with 6,640, Washington has 171, and Oregon totals 362. Like Alaska, Washington's coast is blessed with islands, inlets, and vistas of dramatic white-shouldered mountains, along with rain forests and dense woodlands. Oregon unfolds along broad sweeps of beaches, capes, and dunes, and this state is less interrupted by deep bays and coves than its Pacific Northwest partners.


Residents of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon typically cite wilderness and scenic beauty as the top draws for living in the Pacific Northwest. That sentiment applies in little towns such as Yachats, Oregon; small, isolated communities such as Valdez, Alaska; or cities such as Bellingham, Washington. A Juneau, Alaska, local notes the boat ramp, airport, post office, and glacier are each five minutes from his house. A Seattle resident treasures having water, mountains, and artistic culture all in one place. A Pacific City, Oregon, entrepreneur loves being able to beachcomb one day and easily drive to Mount Bachelor's ski slopes the next. Washington's infamous rain nurtures lush year-round greenery. Alaskan towns such as Petersburg take pride in having less violence than cities in the Lower 48, and in their strong sense of community. All along the coast, local foods such as fish, berries, and wild mushrooms are unparalleled. And in Washington, there's the coffee.


Here, deficits often are the complement to the region's greatest appeals. A Gustavus, Alaska, resident cites the pleasures of no tall buildings, no stoplights, no ATMs, no bars, no shopping centers, no police, no cell-phone service, and no movie theaters. Would-be transplants to Juneau frequently change their minds upon realizing the state capital is reachable only by air or water. Darkness prevails over Alaska much of each day from fall until spring, and Washington's long spells of drizzle get depressing. Washington and Northern Oregon face increasing traffic congestion, while limited nearby medical care causes concern in isolated outposts. Pacific Northwesterners must remain prepared to deal with the unpredictable, such as mud slides in Oregon or storms that delay boats or bush planes in Alaska. And if you live here, you must be handy with repairs―the plumber may be out fishing.

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