Cascade Range: Can’t-Miss Attractions In The Pacific Northwest

Lofty slopes dusted with snow soar above emerald fields graced with purple and pink wildflowers.

Here are four can’t-miss attractions in the Cascade Range, a sweeping mountain chain that extends from northern California to British Columbia.

Crater Lake

Can’t-Miss Attractions In The Pacific Northwest
Can’t-Miss Attractions In The Pacific Northwest

Soft sunlight envelops the peaks around Crater Lake, bathing the summits in a hazy glow and illuminating the vivid blue water that is a hallmark of this hidden Oregon gem. The crown jewel of the Cascades, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States with an average depth of 1,943 feet (592 m). Crater Lake’s royal blue surface hides the far-off floor from view, obscuring the elusive depths in a sapphire shroud of secrecy.

To immerse yourself in the beauty of the forest that surrounds the lake’s sparkling water, head to Crater Lake Lodge for a relaxing stay in a rustic villa. During your stay, take the nearby Rim Village Walking Tour for spectacular views of the tree-lined hillsides overlooking Crater Lake. After your hike, hop in the car to enjoy a 33-mile scenic ride along Rim Drive. Make sure to stop at turnouts along your drive to soak in the sight of snowcapped peaks framing the azure lake.

Wizard Island

Wizard Island
Wizard Island. Photo by Crater Lake National Park on Facebook

Wizard Island lies in the middle of Crater Lake, looking like a magician’s pointed hat floating on top of the water. A dark green forest covers this tapering peak, crowding its slopes with so many trees the island appears black from a distance. Wizard Island was born 7,700 years ago when a system of overlapping volcanoes known as Mount Mazama collapsed, creating the cinder cone that lies partially submerged in the lake today.

Experience Wizard Island up close on a boat tour, a day trip that includes a two-hour excursion around the lake as well as a three-hour visit to the island where visitors can fish, swim and hike to the top of the peak. To reach the summit, hike a 2.2-mile roundtrip trail along a moderate path that takes roughly two hours to complete. Other points of interest during the boat ride include Phantom Ship, a small island that looks like a ghostly vessel from afar, and the Old Man, a log that mysteriously bobs upright in the water with three feet of wood exposed above the lake’s surface. Bring water, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat on your trip since as the boat lacks an overhead canopy to shield you from the glaring sun.

Garfield Peak

Garfield Peak Trail
Garfield Peak Trail. Photo by Theresa Detwiler Wilbank on Facebook

For stunning views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island, hike to the top of Garfield Peak and watch deep blue water lap against the base of towering tan cliffs far below. Survey the majestic panorama of fluffy clouds hovering over the lake’s watery expanse from your perch on Garfield’s rocky summit. You will gain 1070 feet in elevation along this 3.4-mile roundtrip trail, so get ready for a steep climb with the ultimate reward of a breathtaking view.

Bring a backpack filled with water and snacks and lace up your hiking boots when you set out to conquer this second-highest peak in the park. Plan to spend about two hours navigating slick paths on this moderately challenging adventure. Winter’s icy fingers do not easily loosen their grip on the Cascade Range—snow typically covers the trail from October to early July and the upper segment of the trail can be slushy until late July, so walk cautiously as you take in the splendor of Crater Lake.

Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens. Photo by Mount St Helens Institute on Facebook

After soaking in Oregon’s rugged beauty, head north to Washington State and visit Mount St. Helens, a formidable peak whose slate-gray surface all but disappears beneath a thick sheet of white snow during the winter. While the volcanic mountain is peaceful now, it has a violent history. The powerful earthquake and subsequent landslide that shook Mount St. Helens before its eruption on May 8, 1980 were grim harbingers of the impending disaster—a volcanic blast that destroyed 10 million trees and killed 57 people. The eruption choked the air with thick gray smoke and stripped vegetation from the landscape, leaving behind scarred hillsides and gritty ash heaps.

To grasp the enormity of the devastation the blast wrought on the mountain, head to Johnston Ridge Observatory, an overlook whose unmatched views of the barren wasteland underscore the powerful effects of Mount St. Helens’ explosion. While on the observation deck, gaze at the volcano and the desolate region surrounding it—inhospitable territory whose stark appearance is only occasionally brightened by spurts of greenery sprinkled amongst an otherwise bleak landscape of scarred gray foothills.

Experience the beauty of the Cascade Range by visiting these must-see destinations.

Hannah Larson

Contributing Editor

A southern California native, Hannah is a traveler and thrill seeker whose love of writing is matched only by her passion for adventure. From ziplining alongside Niagara Falls to paddleboarding in Lake Itasca, she is always on the lookout for exciting experiences in beautiful places. Her favorite national parks include the Great Smokies, Sequoia and Glacier because of the spectacular mountain views.

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