The Pacific Northwest (PNW)
One of the most photographed regions of the United States, if not all of North America, the PNW has some of the most diverse and grand landscapes I have ever seen. From snow-capped mountains bordering a desert, to rocky coastlines hosting giant sea stacks with eagles nesting atop.
The mood is always set here and as a photographer, I was in heaven. On this trip, my wife and I were exploring the state of Washington, mainly the west of the Cascades. I’ve always heard stories of how rainy it is there, but during our visit we had plenty of dry weather and comfortable temperatures. There are days of heavy rain just like anywhere else, but the rain that happens most of the time tends to be more of a misty drizzle. It rains almost every day but only for a short time in the afternoon or early morning. It’s a much different story in the mountains (more on that later).
With that said, when packing for this trip, we had to include rain gear for our hikes. We’ve worn the Rohan Momentum rain jackets in some rainy hikes before as well as the Dry Requisite waterproof trousers and as it says in the name, they’ve kept us dry, so we knew these were essential for this trip.
If you have never hiked at any elevation before, it is a new experience for sure! The lack of oxygen makes every step that much harder. A lot of the hikes out here are in the mountains and are so high in elevation that snow is present even in the summer. Because of that, dressing in layers helps out with acclimatising. Make sure you pack light and take a rucksack like the Travel Light Packable Backpack.
This was my first trip to Washington. My wife and I have made it an annual tradition to visit every year for the past two years. Our first trip we explored the Columbia River Gorge area, this year we had Washington in our sights. Planning for this trip involved lots of research from friends, social media and blogs (like this one!)
It had to be some of the hardest planning I’ve had to make as a photographer, mainly because there is so much within a 4-hour radius of Seattle (our hub), that I couldn’t nail it down without feeling like I left something out. So, with that said, give yourself at least 7-10 days to really take advantage of this amazing place! But if you can’t snag that much time away from work, don’t stress, every place here is beautiful. It’s hard to take a picture and it not be jaw dropping!
Day 1: Lake 22
On our first day we decided to start with our heads in the clouds, literally! Lake 22 is a relatively easy 5-mile hike with outstanding views of an alpine lake retreat at the end.
The hike is filled with moss covered trees, views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls. It was this trail where we discovered how different the weather would be from just West of here in Seattle. Immediately the mist covered the area and the fog set the mood. Thankful for our Rohan gear, we hiked on in complete comfort and dryness.
As we neared to top, we began to hear the sound of rushing water, which only means one thing, a waterfall! It’s true when they say that a picture will never do this place justice, it’s surreal. Knowing we were close, we continued further up the trail.
Reaching the top, I couldn’t believe my eyes! I’ve seen the stars from 12,000ft up in the Colorado Rockies, and the sun setting on the African plains, but this place was straight out of your dreams. We literally sat in silence for about five minutes, just soaking it in. Even with the cloud cover and constant rain, the natural majestic beauty showed through.
Day 2: La Push
Our second day would be our longest drive from Seattle. As the crow flies, Seattle isn’t incredibly far from the coast, but with Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and heavy traffic, it can take around 4 hours to drive. If you are a photographer, or lover of beautiful sights, it will take you much longer than that. Give yourself an entire day to drive there and stop as often as you want. You can fill your SD card up just from the drive alone!
Our final destination was La Push. This tiny little village set in the far Northwest of the state has some of the most iconic PNW beaches you’ll ever see. I suggest Second Beach (actual name). When we arrived in La Push, we stopped for some lunch at the only restaurant we could find, Rivers Edge which is the perfect place to grab some fresh seafood and watch the bald eagles fly right by your window seat.
Feeling refreshed, it’s only a 5-minute drive to Second Beach Trail. I suggest taking the first parking spot you see as there is limited parking close to the trail. There is overflow parking just south of the main lot, but it adds about 1/2 a mile to your hike each way. The hike is short, making it easily accessible and busy, but there’s plenty of beach to spread out on.
If you can plan your day right, try to be there for sunset. That’s when the light show begins. We were there early evening and had poor light. But poor or good, the scenery still is outstanding. The beaches in the PNW are so different than any other beach I’ve seen. They almost appear to have a glass surface at low tide. This makes the sea stacks appear twice as large and even more impressive to witness.
Day 3: Rattlesnake Ledge
On our last day of the trip we met up with some friends for our final hike and one of the best sunsets of the entire experience.
Rattlesnake Ledge is a 5.1-mile in-and-out trail with a 1,469 feet elevation gain. It’s about 90 minutes South East of Seattle and right on the Eastern edge of the Cascade Mountain range. This trail is a sunrise or sunset hike – we decided to make it a sunset hike due to the 8+ hours of driving the day before. I’d give yourself a good two hours before sunset to start the hike. It’s virtually up the entire trail with about 10-15 switchbacks and very little level sections. It should only take about 45-60 minutes to reach the top, but the first viewpoint has a large outcropping of rocks perfect for a picnic once you reach it.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect with this hike. It was a suggestion from our friends who live out there and have hiked just about everything out there. So, if they recommended it, it had to be good, and boy were they right! This is one of those views where you see everything. Looking East, you see straight into to Cascade Range, North you see the entire town of North Bend. South is the massive Chester Morse Lake. The sun sets behind you so you can’t see the actual sun set below the horizon unless you hike to the upper viewpoint. Here you’ll experience an unobstructed view of the fire in the sky.
Take note, once the sun goes behind the mountain, the winds kick up and temperatures drop quick, so remember to take a jacket. With our layers on, our Momentum rain jackets doubled as windbreakers and were perfect for fighting the chill.
I’ve been to Utah, Southern California, the Blue Ridge Mountains and Africa – all are amazing and worth visiting, but I highly recommend the PNW be at the top of your list. This is one of the most surreal locations with so much diversity in the landscape. I will be back!
Josh is a freelance lifestyle/landscape photographer living in Ohio and has a passion for telling stories through his camera lens. He travels wherever life takes him, making every photo a visual diary of his life.