I had a discussion with my friend, Nicole, the other day about the Pacific Northwest (PNW). We were talking about how each of us defines the Pacific Northwest and found that we did not totally agree about which states were included in the PNW (don’t worry there wasn’t any hair pulling or name calling over this disagreement). I did a little further research as I was curious about what the “all knowing” internet would say about the Pacific Northwest. According to many sites, there is no true agreement on what is considered the PNW. Some say it is just Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Others sites included Northern Idaho and Western Montana (which I agree with). While others sites include parts of Wyoming (I don’t necessarily agree with that – not that I don’t like Wyoming or anything).
So for the purpose of this post, I am including the states that I think are part of the Pacific Northwest, which are Washington, Oregon, Northern Idaho and Western Montana. You are welcome to disagree, however, I do ask that you not pull my hair or call me names… unless you want your hair pulled back and to be called somethin’ special. Your choice 🙂
So now that we know what states I am going to be telling you about let’s get on to the fun stuff. Or make that free stuff! That is what this post is about after all, free things to do. Below are my recommendations for free activities listed by each state in the PNW area.
Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility, Vantage Washington
I am rarely impressed by things. It is annoying because my friends can become upset with my simple shrug of the shoulders when they are excited about something and I am not so much. Add in my mono-toned voice and you’d probably think I’ve never been excited about anything… ever. This all changed when I visited the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility. I have always been fascinated by the windmills you see along the highways in Washington State. They are huge, make that massive, in size and do something so simple, yet amazing: they create energy from the wind. At Wild Horse, you tour the facility where you learn about the windmills and the solar panels that provide energy to about 70,000 to 80,000 homes each year in the Puget Sound area (Seattle). At this farm, as of 2013, there were 149 windmills, with plans to expand. Funding comes mostly from private firms with a small drop of cash from the Federal Government. The cost of a windmill is not cheap, around $3 million USD each, taking an average of 7 to 13 years to pay off (depends on how windy it is on how fast it is paid off). There is plenty more information on this tour that is both informative and fascinating. Want to check out this free tour for yourself? The Wild Horse and Solar Facility can be found at 25901 Vantage Highway, about 17 miles east of Ellensburg Washington. They are open 7 days a week from 9 am to 5:30 pm April 1st to November 30th. Remember to bring closed toed shoes as they are required for the tour.
Pike Place Market, Seattle Washington
If you have been to Seattle, you most likely have made a stop here at Pike Place Market. Maybe you watched the impressive fish tossing or perused the eclectic mix of goods for sale. The market is free to attend but you will most likely leave with some sort of treasure, whether that be fresh fish, produce, flowers or paintings from artists. With a rich history, the market officially opening on August 17th, 1907. The market was developed as a way to control the cost of goods between the farmers and consumers, getting the goods directly to the consumer without having the pesky wholesaler get in the way. It has been a successful venture and weathered many hard times in the United States’ history including wars and the depression. Pike Place Market is located on 1st Ave and Pike Street. They are open daily and opening times vary based on markets. While you are there be sure to visit another piece of history, the original Starbucks, located at 102 Pike Street.
In the heart of downtown Spokane is the 100-acre Riverfront Park. The name is appropriate as the Spokane River meanders its way through the park giving you a pleasant sanctuary. While at the park be sure to check out the Falls Viewing Points, located throughout the park. Although the falls are active all year, Spring is a great time for viewing as the rushing waters of spring run off make the falls extra amazing! Be sure to also check out the free sculpture walk, inclusive of the Red Wagon by Ken Spiering. There are walking trails around the park along with a suspension bridge that takes you out to Canada Island. There are also several historic landmarks that are worth checking out. The first landmark is The Butterfly, located north of the North Howard Bridge. The Butterfly was used to mark one of the entrances for the 1974 World’s Fair Expo that was held in Spokane. Also left behind after the World’s Fair is the Pavilion. Although it no longer has it’s canvas cover you can still view the impressive 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of cable that make up the pavilion. Another classic part of the park is the clock tower, leftover from the Great Northern Railroad Depot. The clock tower stands at an awe-inspiring 155 ft (47.2 m). If you want to visit Riverfront Park it is located at 507 N Howard Street. There is a small fee for parking in downtown Spokane.
Take a quick 30-minute drive east from Portland and you will find Multnomah Falls. The falls greet you as you walk through the tunnel from the parking lot. The total height of the falls is 611 feet (186 m), however, the falls are actually broken into two different falls, with the tallest at 542 feet (165 m) and shortest at 69 feet (21 m). You can view the falls from the bottom or if you are feeling adventurous you can take the trail up to the bridge. Patience will be needed if you want to obtain a photo without a random person standing on the bridge either with you on the bridge or from the base of the falls. It can be done but a quick erase with Photoshop may be more time effective! For any pet owners, dogs are allowed on leash at the falls. Want to check out Multnomah Falls? From Portland, they are located at exit 31 off of I-84, note that it has a left side exit ramp, a rarity in the United States.
Deschutes Brewery Tour, Bend Oregon
Do you love beer? Do you love hoppy beer? If you answered yes to either of those I recommend stopping off at the Deschutes Brewery for a tour in Bend Oregon. Actually, now that I think about it, even if you don’t like beer I still recommend stopping off at the brewery for a tour. Everyone should see a brewery tour at least once in their life! On this brewery tour, you will make all the major stops, viewing the mash tuns, fermenting room, bottling room and most importantly the tap room. The 45-minute tour is free and includes tastings for the 21+ crowd at the end of the tour because they most likely don’t want you stumbling around their brewery 🙂 Reservations are recommended as tours can fill up fast. Deschutes Brewery is located at 901 SW Simpson Ave. They also have a brewpub located at 1044 NW Bond Street in Bend. Check out their menu of tasty beer inspired foods.
image credit: Another Believer
Free Oregon State Parks
It is rare to find things for free nowadays and probably even more rare to find parks for free but Oregon has quite a few state parks that are still free as of May 2014 (most of these parks do offer camping for a small fee as well)
Alfred A. Loeb State Park: offers fishing and hiking.
Catherine Creek State Park: offers picnicking, fishing and hiking.
Collier Memorial State Park: offers picnicking, fishing and hiking, horse trails and kayaking
Deschutes River State Recreation Area: offers picnicking, fishing and hiking, horse trails, a boat ramp, wildlife viewing and a bike path
Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area: offers picnicking, hiking, horse trails and wildlife viewing. Pet-friendly facilities if you are camping.
Goose Lake State Recreation Area: offers picnicking and wildlife viewing
Hilgard Junction State Park: offers picnicking, wildlife viewing and fishing.
Jackson F Kimball State Recreation Area: offers picnicking, fishing, hiking, kayaking and wildlife viewing.
Jasper Point: offers picnicking, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and a boat launch.
Joseph H. Stewart State Park: offers picnicking, fishing, hiking, a bike path, a boat launch/marina, swimming and a playground.
LaPine State Park: offers picnicking, fishing, a boat ramp, hiking, and pet-friendly facilities if you are camping.
Memaloose State Park: offers a playground and viewpoints.
Minam State Recreation Area: offers picnicking, fishing and wildlife viewing.
North Santiam State Recreation Area: offers picnicking, hiking and fishing.
Prineville Reservoir State Park: offers picnicking, fishing, swimming and a boat launch. Pet-friendly facilities if you are camping.
Red Bridge State Wayside: offers picnicking and fishing.
Saddle Mountain State Natural Area: offers picnicking, hiking and viewpoints.
Succor Creek State Natural Area: offers hiking, wildlife viewing, and free camping.
Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor: offers wildlife viewing and fishing.
Valley of the Rogue State Park: offers picnicking, fishing, boat launch, hiking, and pet-friendly facilities if you are camping.
Snow Creek Falls, Bonners Ferry Idaho
Located in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is the hidden gem Snow Creek Falls. There are two sets of falls, the more impressive upper falls, and the less impressive lower falls. The lower falls are still worth a look, however! From the photos above you can see a significant difference in water flow based on what time of year it is – so if you like a rushing waterfall hit this spot up earlier in the year. This trail is dog-friendly while it takes you deep into the forest as you meander around the paths leading you to the falls. Be aware that the hike out will be all up hill! If you would like to visit Snow Creek Falls head south of Bonners Ferry on Idaho State Highway 95, turning at the golf course 2.5 miles out of town. Turn right on to Moravia Road (there will be a brown sign for Snow Creek Falls) This road will meet up with Forest Service Road 417. Turn right and follow for about 2 miles. Take road 402, a left off of 417, for about 1.5 miles. There is no traditional parking, but there is lots of traffic on this road so make sure you pull completely off the road. If you are hungry after your hike stop by the local favorite, Northwoods Tavern for some tasty pizza. Don’t let it’s rustic look deter you 🙂
Heavens Gate, Riggins Idaho
Located in Hells Canyon on the Idaho side is Heavens Gate (no, not that Heavens Gate) . The drive to Heavens Gate is a commitment but you will be happy you made the effort. There are a few hiking options here once you get to the parking lot. Boomer and I took the hike to the fire lookout tower. At the tower, we were given stunning panoramic views overlooking the mountains. The site has light usage, however, during the summer months, the lookout is manned by a forest ranger. Want to check out Heavens Gate for yourself? Leaving Riggins Idaho take a right onto Seven Devils Road (becomes forest service road 517). Follow the road for about 18 miles. The road is not recommended for trailers or low clearance cars. Expect washboards.
Idaho State Capitol Building, Boise Idaho
While in Boise be sure to take in the beauty of the Idaho State Capitol Building. The exterior of the building may look like most capitol buildings, but it is the inside that sets this building apart from the rest. The walls of the interior are lined mostly in stunning marble with a sprinkling of scagliola, a composite of gypsum, granite and marble dust. The scagliola was used to help keep the cost of marble down. Although it is not all marble, an unknowing observer would never know (sorry I but I had to tell you!). The building was built in 1905 using inmate labor and has received several facelifts over the years but the classic details still remain. Self-guided and guided tours are offered. If you wish to join a guided tour be sure to reserve a spot 2 weeks in advance. The capitol building is located at 700 W Jefferson St in Boise Idaho. The building is open 7 days a week.
Flathead Lake Scenic Drive
Montana has a lot to offer but one of my favorite spots is the Flathead Lake in Western Montana. Take Montana Highway 93, north of Missoula Montana, and you will find this scenic drive that snakes along the lake’s shoreline. The lake’s beauty is breathtaking and will make you wish you could spend more time there. There are a couple of breweries along the way that I recommend stopping at if you’re interested in some handcrafted Montana beer, one in Polson Montana, Glacier Brewing and Tamarack Brewing located in Lakeside Montana. At Glacier Brewing give the Flathead Cherry Ale a try for a fun cherry infused beer and at Tamarack I recommend the Yardsale Ale – a beer that I describe as damn near perfection! This drive along Flathead Lake is about 28 miles long (45 km) and if you decide to take this drive have your camera ready. You will not want to go home without photos of this lake to show your friends!
Ross Creek Cedars, Highway 56
Do you like big trees? Well, Ross Creek Cedars has a great selection of them. This dog-friendly walk through a cedar grove is both peaceful and stunning. Some of the trees in this grove are as old as 400 years and reach 8 feet in diameter (2.4 m). There is a self-guided walk that is just under 1 mile (1.6 km) that takes you through the trees and provides you with informative signs about the history and flora of the area. This park was established in 1960 and is a popular stop for many. Picnic benches are located at the trailhead as well as vaulted toilets. Camping is prohibited however there is a nearby campground for a fee if you are looking to extend your time. Ross Creek Cedars can be found located off of Montana Highway 56. The nearest town is Troy on Highway 2 or on Highway 200 Heron or Noxon. From Highway 56 you will turn onto Forest Service Road 398 and follow that for about 4 miles until you will reach the parking lot. While in the area I also recommend taking the scenic Highway 56 drive along Bull Lake as well. If heading north this scenic drive will drop you off near my last recommendation: Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge.
Kooteani Falls and the Swinging Bridge, Libby Montana
Near the north end of Highway 56 is the Kootenai Falls. There are two reasons to stop here, the falls and the swinging bridge. The falls are beautiful, so much so that they made an appearance in the film, The River Wild. And my visit here has ensured my 6 degrees from Kevin Bacon! The swinging bridge is my favorite part of this stop and I secretly hope that Kevin Bacon did some Footloose dancing across this bridge. The bridge is a suspension bridge that crosses the Kootenai River. I’m not known for my bravery but I will partake in the fun of bouncing on this bridge as I walk across it (which I am sure you’re not supposed to but I’m a rebel like that). In addition to the ¼ mile trail to the falls and the bridge, there are many short trails leading you around the area if you are looking for hiking options. There are picnicking and bathroom facilities located near the parking lot as well as concessions available May through September. If you would like to visit the Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge they are located near milepost 21 on Montana Highway 2 between Libby and Troy Montana.
So have I convinced you to visit the Pacific Northwest? Or have you been to the PNW – what’s your favorite spot? Drop me a line in the comments!