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Washington State, not to be confused with Washington, D.C., is a state in the extreme northwest of the country, bordering Canada to the north, Oregon to the south and Idaho to the east. Its coastline borders the Pacific Ocean. Covering over 71,000 square miles, around 6 million people live in the state, most of them in cities like Seattle, the capital Olympia or Spokane. Much of the rest of the state is covered by mountains, volcanoes, forests, lakes, rivers, glaciers and waterfalls.
Washington is the northwestern most state of the contiguous United States. Washington borders British Columbia, Canada to the north, Oregon to the south. To the east, Washington borders Idaho, bounded mostly by the meridian running north from the confluence of the Snake River and Clearwater River, except for the southernmost section where the border follows the Snake River. To the west of Washington lies the Pacific Ocean. Washington is part of a region known as the Pacific Northwest, a term which always includes Washington and Oregon and may or may not include Idaho, western Montana, northern California, and part or all of British Columbia, Alaska, and the Yukon Territory.
The high mountains of the Cascade Range run north-south, bisecting the state. Western Washington supports dense forests of conifers and areas of temperate rain forest. Washington also is home to several other mountain ranges, the most prominent of which are the Olympic Mountains, far west on the Olympic peninsula; the Kettle River Range in the northeast; and the Blue Mountains in the southeast.
In contrast, Eastern Washington, east of the Cascades, has a relatively dry climate with large areas of semiarid steppe and a few truly arid deserts lying in the rainshadow of the Cascades. The Palouse southeast region of Washington was grassland that has been mostly converted into farmland. Other parts of eastern Washington are forested and mountainous.
The Cascade Range contains several volcanoes, which reach altitudes significantly higher than the rest of the mountains. From the north to the south these volcanoes are Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Mount St. Helens is currently the only Washington volcano that is actively erupting; however, all of them are considered active volcanoes. The state is also home to Mount Rainier, a volcano 80 kilometres south of Seattle, from which it is prominently visible. The 4,392-metre-tall Mount Rainier is considered the most dangerous volcano in the continental USA, due to its proximity to the Seattle metropolitan area.
Washington's position on the Pacific Ocean and the harbors of Puget Sound give the state a leading role in maritime trade with Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Rim. Puget Sound's many islands are served by the largest ferry fleet in the United States.
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Mount Rainier is an active and massive stratovolcano in the state of Washington, 87 kilometres southeast of Seattle. It is the highest peak of the Cascade Range with 4,392 metres. Mount Rainier and the surrounding area were declared a national park which is known under the name: the Mount Rainier National Park. With 26 major glaciers Mount Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the USA, if you would exclude Alaska. In the past large scaled mudflows caused devastation in the area of the volcano. The last major eruption was in 1894. A trip to the top of the mountain can only be made by people that have experience is climbing on glaciers and snowfields. The ascent takes two to three days. On clear days the mountain can be seen from as far as Portland and Seattle. Mount Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, and it is on the so-called Decade Volcano list, which refers to the 16 volcanoes identified by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) as being worthy of particular study in light of their history of large, destructive eruptions and proximity to populated areas. . Because of its large amount of glacial ice, Mount Rainier could potentially produce massive lahars that would threaten the whole Puyallup River valley.
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Mount St. Helens is best known for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980, which caused 57 deaths and many homes, roads, bridges and railroads were destroyed. This volcanic event also caused the summit to shrink by no less than 400 metres. After that eruption, the summit has been replaced by a 1,500-metre-wide volcanic crater. The mountain is located between the cities of Seattle and Portland. Mount St. Helens is located on the Cascade Range (of which Mount Rainier at 4,392 metres is the highest), which is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire - the most volcanic active part of the world. The volcano is well known for its ash explosions and pyroclastic flows.
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North Cascades National Park is a U.S. National Park. The park is the largest of the three National Park Service units that comprise the North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Several national wilderness areas and British Columbia parkland adjoin the National Park. The park features rugged mountain peaks and protects portions of the North Cascades range. Sitting on the border of the United States and Canada, the North Cascades National Park covers an area of over 500,000 acres and ranges between 300 and 3,000 metres above sea level. Much of the park is designated as "wilderness," and there are few areas with developed facilities. It is quite close to Bellingham and Seattle, however, providing easy access from urban areas. The park is divided into two non-contiguous sections to the north and south of the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20). Non-hikers are limited to the view from the highway, and a few side roads.
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Olympic National Park is a national park located in the state of Washington, USA. The park has four basic regions: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the west side temperate rainforest and the forests of the drier east side. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt originally created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909. It was designated a national park by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 29, 1938. In 1976, Olympic National Park became an International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1981 it was designated a World Heritage Site. In 1988, Congress designated 95% of the park as the Olympic Wilderness.
Washington's climate varies greatly from west to east. An oceanic climate (also called "west coast marine climate") predominates in western Washington, and a much drier semi-arid climate prevails east of the Cascade Range. Major factors determining Washington's climate include the large semi-permanent high pressure and low pressure systems of the north Pacific Ocean, the continental air masses of North America, and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. In the spring and summer, a high pressure anticyclone system dominates the north Pacific Ocean, causing air to spiral out in a clockwise fashion. The western parts have a marine climate with generally mild but wet winters (December-March), temperatures averaging around or slightly above zero most of the time. It is comparable to the climate of the southwest of Brisith Columbia, Canada (Vancouver for example). Summers (June to September) are generally warm and dry, averaging between 20 °C and 25 °C, though occasionally more to the south and east temperatures can hit 40 °C here as well. The average annual temperature ranges from 11 °C on the Pacific coast to 4 °C in the northeast. The lowest temperature recorded in the state was -44 °C in Winthrop and Mazama. The highest recorded temperature in the state was 48 °C at Ice Harbor Dam. Both records were set east of the Cascades. Western Washington is known for its mild climate, considerable fog, frequent cloud cover and long-lasting drizzles in the winter, and sunny and dry summers. The western region occasionally experiences extreme climate. Arctic cold fronts in the winter and heat waves in the summer are not uncommon. In the Western region, temperatures have reached as high as 44 °C in Marietta and as low as -29 °C in Longview.
Rainfall in Washington varies dramatically going from east to west. The western side of the Olympic Peninsula receives as much as 4,100 mm of precipitation annually, making it the wettest area of the 48 conterminous states and a temperate rainforest. The western slopes of the Cascade Range receive some of the heaviest annual snowfall (in some places more than 5 metres) water equivalent) in the country. East of the Cascades, a large region experiences strong rain shadow effects. Semi-arid conditions occur in much of eastern Washington with the strongest rain shadow effects at the relatively low elevations of the central Columbia Plateau—especially the region just east of the Columbia River from about the Snake River to the Okanagan Highland.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (IATA: SEA, ICAO: KSEA) serves the cities of Seattle and Tacoma and is the main gateway to Washington. Also known as Seattle-Tacoma Airport, it is located south of Seattle, about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) from Interstate 5. The major airlines using this airport are Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Northwest Airlines. In total, there are about 25 airlines serving the airport, with main destinations being Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Paris, Atlanta, Anchorage, Boston, Chicago, Cancun, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Honolulu, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., San Diego, New York City, Seoul, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Memphis, Detroit, Osaka, Salt Lake City, Taipei, Reykjavik, Frankfurt, Seoul, Albuquerque, Baltimore, Nashville, St. Louis, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Charlotte.
To/from the airport
The Amtrak Cascades (Multiple Departures Daily, 10 hours 25 minutes) links Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada with Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Salem and Eugene, thus linking it with the state of Oregon as well.
Other trains to Washington State include:
A number of Amtrak train travel between Seattle and other cities in the USA and Canada. These include:
Interstate 5 and the Peace Arch crossing is the main land port-of-entry to Washington from Canada. However this is only one of five land crossing points between the Lower Mainland region of BC and the Northwest Cascades region of Washington.
Interstate 5 (and Interstate 205) provide access from the greater Portland area. Interstate 82 / US 395 provides access from eastern Oregon to the tri-cities area of Eastern Washington. For a more scenic entry, try taking US Route 101 along the Washington and Oregon coast, but be aware for the numerous speed traps in the small cities.
Interstate 90 is the main route in via Coeur D'Alene, but US 2 provides access to the northern parts of Idaho and Washington.
Getting around by train on Amtrak is likely to be quite a hassle, especially with infrequent departures, slow travel times, inconvenient schedules and limited routes. For those who still wish to take trains to get around Washington, these are the main routes:
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
Washington has a number of National Scenic Byways which offer a great way to explore the state crossing beautiful landscapes. Mostly, there are lots of national parks, state parks or monuments along the way and it's generally a better alternative than the faster but boring Interstate Highways.
Several bus companies offer services throughout the state including Greyhound.
The Puget Sound region is one of the most popular places for cruising on small craft in the United States offering 100's of miles of protected coastlines and dozens of remote islands to explore. Many cities and towns were built around their harbors and are well suited to cater to visiting boaters. The Strait of San Juan De Fuca, the Pacific coast and even the Columbia River are also excellent areas to travel by boat with a wide variety of ports and possibilities for visiting boaters.
The Pacific Northwest is best known for its salmon, but a large variety of other seafood is available in the area. Oftentimes seafood comes in short bursts with seasonal migrations available for only short amounts of time so watch closely for seasonal specials in restaurants and markets.
Shellfish are the prized resources of the Puget Sound. The cool, clean waters provide some of the finest shellfish habitat in the world. Washington State is the nation's leading producer of farmed bivalve shellfish (clams, mussels and oysters) but other specialties like Geoducks are sometimes available for the more adventurous.
The Dungeness Crab is a popular seafood prized for its sweet and tender flesh and high ratio of meat. Its common name comes from the port of Dungeness, Washington where the first commercial harvesting of the crab was done. The Dungeness Crab is a commercially important crab in the state of Washington's territorial waters and was the first shellfish harvested commercially in the area but other crab species are also common.
The area's mild climate, rich soil and abundant water resources have created a bountiful climate for the many varieties of fresh produce available across the region. Farmers' markets are common in both urban and rural areas and a great way to experience local culture as well as local foods.
Apples are one of Washington State's biggest exports with over 100 million boxes of apples picked every year and shipped across the globe but a wide variety of other crops are grown in abundance every year from wheat and potatoes to nuts and vegetables making fresh local produce abundant.
Few, if any, American regions can challenge the Pacific North West's love of coffee. According to a group of industry market researchers, there were an amazing 1,640 coffee shops in the Puget Sound region in 2011, ranking it the most popular coffee region in the country but coffee is popular all across the region. It is not surprising that such coffee giants such as Starbucks have exported the Pacific Northwest's coffee culture across the globe.
High quality Arabica coffee beans roasted with greater emphasis on taste and freshness, brewed with dripped water or "espresso" steam) arguably has its birthplace here. Starbucks and Tully's are apparent brands that most associate specialty coffee with Seattle. However, many small local companies are the ones that have paved the way (and continue to do so) in pioneering the specialty coffee industry. When you visit Seattle, be sure to check out these renowned coffee roasters (in no particular order): Cafe Allegro (Seattle's original espresso bar, tucked away in an alley in the U-District), Espresso Vivace, Caffe Vita, Zoka Coffee, Victrola Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, Caffe Appassionato, Caffe Umbria, Caffe Fiore, Fonte Coffee, Pura Vida, Vashon Island Coffee, Lighthouse Coffee, Caffe D'Arte, Tony's Coffee/Caffe Ladro, Top Pot Donuts & Coffee, Batdorf & Bronson, Mukilteo Coffee, Moka Joe Coffee, Pioneer Coffee
Microbreweries and beer in general are a Northwest specialty, and the area has many to offer for beer enthusiasts. In 2012 Washington had 158 craft breweries making it second only to California in the number of micro breweries. The larger brewers, like Redhook and Pyramid, distribute their products regionally or nationally like their coffee cousins, while other brews can only be found in local stores or bars (some notable brewers don't even bottle their product). Ask your servers for local beer recommendations and search out regional microbrews in stores. Hops are the key ingredient in beer making and Washington State's fertile Yakima Valley is by far the biggest exporter of hops in the US giving area brewers another edge in making the best beers.
Eastern Washington is known for its wines. Walla Walla alone boasts over one hundred wineries – including some of the area and nation's best cellars – with tasting rooms conveniently located downtown this area is popular for winery tours. But don't expect the stodginess of elitist wine areas elsewhere; eastern Washington has many affordable and welcoming communities with small town roots.
There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:
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