The Northwest Parks and Wildlife tour begins in Portland, known for its quirky characters, artisanal restaurants, endless food trucks, microbreweries and doughnuts. In fact, no visit to the “City of Roses” could ever be complete without a visit to world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts which serves items like the Voodoo Doll, a sinfully indulgent raised yeast, raspberry-filled doughnut that’s topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake, and the Grape Ape, featuring vanilla frosting, grape dust and lavender sprinkles. As Portland is home to more than 30 breweries, you might want to sample a fine brew or two in the evening as well.
Overnight: Jupiter Hotel Portland (or similar)
Next you’ll visit Mount St. Helens, which you might have spotted while flying into Portland as it sits just across the border in Washington’s Skamania County. It’s easy to recognise, as the 1980 eruption destroyed it’s once nearly perfect symmetrical cone – today, it looks like its lid was literally blown off, and it was, leaving a horseshoe-shaped crater in its place. Despite the devastating damage, nature continues to endure as the surrounding landscape is being transformed from a stark, barren wasteland to one that’s increasingly filled with life. Once there, you’ll take a hike on the 7.4-mile out-and-back Butte Camp trail where you’ll be able to see colourful wildflowers, birds, gorgeous scenery and more.
Overnight: Hotel accommodation in the Mount St Helens area, WA
Day 3 & 4
From Mount St. Helens, you’ll journey to Mount Rainier, the iconic volcano that looks over Seattle and the Puget Sound. The massive mountain’s more than 14,000-foot-high peak is always snow covered, and its slopes are made up of the largest single peak glacier system in the U.S., covering 36 square miles with sheer ice. Most visitors come to hike its miles and miles of trails that wind through the diverse terrain, from old growth forest to subalpine meadows, and watch for wildlife like black bear, elk and Columbian black-tailed deer that roam free here in the wild.
Enjoy a short, gentle stroll through old growth forest along the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, where you’ll feel small next to the ancient giant hemlocks, cedars and Douglas fir trees, some that are nearly 40 feet in diameter and stretch to more than 300 feet tall. In the morning, you’ll head out on one of the other multiple trails, like the Nisqually Vista trail that literally wanders through Paradise – the Paradise region of the park, that is. It offers panoramic vistas of Mount Rainier, Nisqually Glacier and Nisqually River via a relatively flat 2.2-mile loop. Keep an eye out for deer and fox along the way.
Two nights: Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier (or similar)
Day 5 & 6
Moving north and west to Olympic National Park, which spans nearly a million acres on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, expect to see everything from towering mountains and lush rainforests to driftwood-strewn beaches, countless waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife. Its diversity and astounding amount of precipitation is what makes this park one of the most unique in all of North America. Stepping inside, you might think you’ve walked into a “Lord of the Rings” film set, with the dense trees and exceptionally lush canopy in all shades of green. The mosses and fern that blanket it all make it particularly alluring.
After a peaceful night’s rest, it’s time to visit Rialto Beach on the park’s wild Pacific coast, where countless pieces of driftwood line the shores, and unique rock formations known as “sea stacks” dot the choppy waters. You’ll hike a two-mile trail along the beach to Hole-in-the-Wall, crossing over logs and watching for sea lions, otters, and whales offshore as bald eagles perch in the forest upslope or soar overhead. When the tide is out, you can peek through the rocky arch for panoramic views, and even scramble through to peer into the tide pools that are often teeming with marine life like colourful star fish, sea anemone and hermit crabs.
After dinner, enjoy soaking in the warm waters of Sol Duc Hot Springs, soothing sore muscles after your full day of exploring the park.
Two nights: Lake Crescent Lodge (or similar)
Leaving the beautiful Olympic Peninsula behind, you’ll journey by ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle to experience some of the Emerald City’s most iconic attractions. Begin at Pike Place Market, the oldest continually operating farmers’ market in the nation, founded in 1907, by watching the fishmongers toss the fresh catch of the day through the air and then ordering a coffee at the world’s very first Starbucks, which was birthed right here. Next, check out Seattle’s iconic landmark, the Space Needle. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, you can ride the glass elevator 520 feet to the observation deck which boasts 360- degree city views. On a clear day, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and numerous islands can all be seen.
Overnight: Clarion Hotel Seattle (or similar)
In the morning, depart Seattle by ferry to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. This picturesque harbour city on Vancouver Island is a gateway to multiple pretty small towns, inlets and coves as well as wild ocean scenery. Considered one of the most British cities in North America, it’s filled with tea rooms, galleries and antique shops, and enjoys an impressive mix of English Edwardian, First Nations and some unique Chinese-style buildings – in fact, it was home to the very first Chinatown in Canada. Embark on a driving tour to get familiar with it, and then come back during your free time to explore some of your favourite sights, perhaps Butchart Gardens, one of the most brilliant display gardens in the world.
Overnight: The Strathcona Hotel (or similar)
Day 9, 10 & 11
It’s time to drive up the coast, before heading inland and to the west side of the island to Tofino, located in Pacific Rim National Park, facing the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by wild, spectacular scenery that includes ancient rainforest, lakes and inlets.
Your first day in Tofino is all about bears, though you’re likely to see bald eagles and whales on your tour aboard a Zodiac. This scenic boat excursion across the waters of the Clayoquot Sound will bring you to protected wilderness beaches that are home for many of the island’s black bears, which feed on shellfish and crustaceans from late spring through October. The Zodiac allows you to get close enough for fantastic pictures, without disturbing the animals or their natural feeding patterns. You may even see mothers teaching their young cubs, and watch them play along the sand or climb the trees.
Whale watching is up next, an unforgettable trip aboard a Zodiac tour where you’ll enjoy a half-day visiting gray whale feeding areas near Tofino while travelling through Clayoquot Sound, taking in the breathtaking scenery and wildlife that not only includes the majestic gray whale, but orca whales, sea lions, seals and porpoise. The area is also renowned for its variety of sea birds, including tufted puffins, so be sure to keep an eye out for the adorable creatures, as well as the many bald eagles that are often spotted overhead or in the trees.
Three nights: Lodge accommodation in the Tofino area
Travel south and east again to the town of Nanaimo for a scenic ferry ride to the mainland across the Salish Sea, gazing at the small islands, watching for whales and other sea creatures, as the magnificent panorama of Vancouver comes into view. Surrounded by mountains and water, this city may be cosmopolitan, but it’s surely one of the most beautiful in the world. Conclude your amazing trip by taking a scenic drive through 1,000-acre Stanley Park, a lush green wonderland with totem poles and stunning views – stop at Prospect Point for an incredible vista that includes Lions Gate Bridge, North Vancouver and West Vancouver, before making your way to the airport. NB please make sure that your departing flight is after 21.00 or perhaps you could book a night to stay in this lovely city.