Washington is known as the “Evergreen State” because of its green beauty and scenic splendors. Home to eight national forests, Washington sits in the northwestern corner of the United States, encompassing more than 68,000 square miles of land that features enough geographic diversity to serve as a microcosm of its country. It is no surprise that Washington has long captured the intrigue of explorers, pioneers, entrepreneurs, and outdoor recreationists. In addition to its verdant rainforests, Washington boasts a wonderland of rivers, rugged mountains, majestic lakes, inviting harbors and sounds, wind-battered inlets, archipelago islands, active volcanoes, coastal beaches, rolling vineyard hills, pastoral valleys, and desert canyons. These natural features create a host of opportunities for outdoor recreation that, each year, lure millions of tourists and their $9 billion to the state.
Washington was originally inhabited by various Native American tribes whose way of life revolved around whaling, salmon fishing, and the carving of canoes and totem poles. The first Europeans to explore the state were the British and the Spanish. British explorer Captain George Vancouver ventured into the Puget Sound region in 1792 and Fort Vancouver was established as a trading post for the British fur industry. In the 19th century, Washington became part of the U.S. after the 49th parallel was established as the border between Canada and the U.S. The territory of present-day Washington was part of the Oregon Territory until 1853 when it separated to become the Washington Territory. It became a state in 1889 and its early years revolved around farming, logging, and mining. After WWI, aviation became a cornerstone of the state’s economy with the founding of Boeing. The Great Depression ushered in a period of public projects, including the building of various hydroelectric dams highlighted by the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. Today, Washington is a diversified economy that draws not only on traditional industries like canning, logging, petroleum refining, tourism, and the manufacturing of aviation equipment, but also on more innovative sectors like biotechnology and computer software development.
Perhaps no other state in the U.S. has a climate that instills as much love-hate as Washington’s. While heavy rainfall besets much of its western regions often putting a damper on people’s outdoor plans, it is this same rain that gives the state’s vegetation the deep lush green we all find beautiful. And while grey clouds seem to loom quite often, a depressing sight for some, they help nourish the region’s green landscape and create the crisp, cool air we all enjoy.
Geographically, Washington is divided into different regions – the coast, west, east, and the Cascades – each with its own personality and climate. The coastal region is dominated by the Olympic National Park and its vast tracts of forests. The highlights, attraction-wise, include the charming Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, the Hoh Rainforest with its spruces and Douglas Firs hosting owls, elks, cougars, bears, and deer, the Hurricane Ridge and its spectacular views, and the glacial Lake Crescent with its beaches, trails, boating ramps, and its amazingly clear blue waters that teem with unique fishes. The coast also offers miles of scenic coastline, graced by otters and leap-frogging whales.
Western Washington, on the other hand, lies along the corridor of the Interstate 5 highway and features the state’s populous urban centers, Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, where you can experience the state’s more cultural and amenity-based offerings. It is also fringed by Puget Sound, the setting of yachters, boaters, and ferry-riders. The region’s northwest also includes Bainbridge, Whidbey, and the San Juan Islands, which boast 250 days of sunshine every year along with charming towns and restaurants that feed visitors with some of the best seafood in the Pacific Northwest.
The Cascade mountain ranges serve as a bridge western Washington with eastern Washington. It is highlighted by Washington’s most popular attraction, Mount Rainier, a volcanic mountain with the highest peak in the range. It is also home of the infamous Mount St. Helens whose eruption in 1980 created a huge crater, spewing ashes as far south as Oklahoma and killing 57 people along with thousands of animals. The Cascades provide visitors with the richest array of outdoor activities, offering opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, camping, and mountain climbing.
Eastern Washington is a dry and sunny expanse in stark contrast with western Washington. Still, it boasts fertile regions like the Yakima Valley and the Walla Walla Valley. The Yakima is the fifth largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the country, most famous for its apples and potatoes. The Walla Walla Valley is home of several award-winning wineries and Washington’s answer to California’s Napa Valley. In the northeast stands the Roosevelt-commissioned Grand Coulee Dam, which is one of the largest dams ever built. Harnessing the power of the Columbia River, the dam provides irrigation to millions of acres of otherwise desert land and draws campers to the lake reservoirs it has created.