Bucket list travel updates in the Western United States for the new year, Part 2

Crater Lake's azure blue waters frame Wizard Island at the lake's southwest corner.

Western US travel “musts”, update your bucket list for the new year, Part 2

Over the last two weeks we have offered 12 ultimate travel destinations in California and half a dozen additional western state’s destinations, suggested month by month. Here are the final six suggestions for the western US:

Mount St. Helens thunders into the Washington sky on May 18, 1980.

August, the Volcano tour: Take in the “ring of fire” with Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park and Mount Hood, then cross the mighty Columbia for Mount St. Helens National Monument and Mt. Rainier National Park. There are just a few places I rate as “jaw-droppers” for stunning scenery in the west: Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Glacier Park – and Crater Lake National Park and Mount St. Helens rank right up there.

Crater Lake filled the collapsed Mt. Mazama volcano’s caldera some 7,700 years ago and is the bluest blue you’ll ever see.  The lake, 5 miles across, and 6 miles long, features two islands, Wizard Island, the larger, and Phantom Ship, at the lake’s north end. Tour the 33 mile Rim Drive, by auto, or by bicycle. Surrounding park and National Forest lands offer campsites and classy lodges for overnighting in any of the four volcano showplaces. Crater Lake is just 400 miles and 7 hours from Stockton, Mt. Hood adds another three hours, Mount St. Helens about three additional. They are awe-inspiring as well as “hot properties”!

The rugged Oregon coast is almost all public lands, so access is outstanding for hiking, camping and beach-combing.

September, Oregon Coastal tour: Oregon has set aside most of its coast in public trust, making access unbeatable compared to California or Washington. Heading north, stop at Harris Beach State Park on the northern edge of Brookings, OR (a town with an active fishing harbor, tourist amenities and great seafood). Further north, stop by Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (the historic lighthouse now part of a Coast Guard station), where gray whales, up to 53 feet in length, are spotted just off-shore. Pass scenic Haceta Head Lighthouse, and just south of Newport on Yaquina Bay, overnight at South Beach State Park, another pristine park, with hiking along the ocean beach and nearby harbor seals bellowing throughout the night! All of these towns offer plenty of motels and B&Bs for those not into camping.

Newport offers a dynamic fishing fleet, scores of shops and restaurants and the original, iconic Mo’s and Mo’s Annex Restaurants (on the harbor). Space precludes insight on other coastal towns headed north, like Florence, Yachats, Lincoln City and Depot Bay; each will land a special place in your heart.

Cape Flattery, a typical rainy day, on the Olympic Peninsula, is the US's most northwestern point for the contiguous 48 states.

October, Olympic Peninsula and National Park, WA: Make this a week-long drive trip, or fly into Seattle and rent a car and journey to the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States, Cape Flattery, on the Olympic Peninsula. South down the wild and untamed national park is Kalaloch Lodge, just south of Kalaloch Campground offering 170 camp sites right on the ocean. The Park also offers historic Lake Quinault Lodge and the Lake Crescent Lodges, both exuding history and cozy accommodations. On peninsula, prep for rain; it’s one of the wettest places in the US. From the peninsula, take the Bainbridge Island Ferry right into the heart of Seattle to cap your trip!

November, Grand Coulee Dam and Dry Falls in eastern WA: this is the “sleeper” of my suggestions. Some 13,000 years ago, near end of the last great ice age, ice dammed water inundating much of western Montana, reaching the capacity of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined. When the dam broke a 200 foot high wall of water thundered through eastern Washington, carving the Columbia River Gorge and creating a waterfall four times the size of Niagara Falls. See Grand Coulee Dam, the US’s largest concrete structure and hydroelectric plant, impounding the mighty Columbia. Just south, tour Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park and be awed by the massive former waterfall. The cosmopolitan town of Spokane, just east, is worth a visit in its own right!

Dry Falls in north central Washington was once four times the size of Niagara Falls.

The Giant Logs Trail in Petrified Forest National Park.

December/California and Arizona desert: December visits to S. California desert parks like Death Valley or Joshua Tree National Parks or Anza Borego State Park, or Arizona destinations  like Sonoran Desert National Monument south of Phoenix, Saguaro National Parks, Tucson, and Petrified Forest National Park in north-central Arizona promise balmy weather and other-worldly plantlife and wildlife. Plan early, since others have discovered these “beat winter” destinations!

January, Yellowstone Park in winter:Of all our trips over the last 10 years, a winter trip into Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful area was the most memorable. You’ll have park virtually to yourself; often bison and elk will outnumber humans! It does take a bit of planning.  You can reach West Yellowstone, the north entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs or south entrance near Teton National Park by car. Only in Mammoth Hot Springs can you drive miles into the park, including the Lamar Valley, home to wolves and other wildlife. From West Yellowstone or the south entrance, with internal roads closed, you must take either snow coach or snowmobile into the park, requiring pre-planning. I still remember our first evening at Old Faithful; on  a 10-below but clear evening, we watched the sun set behind Old Faithful Geyser as it thundered into the sky – seen by my wife and I, one other human and a lone coyote on the snow-covered boardwalk. Breathtaking!

Old Faithful Geyser erupts into a cold, clear Wyoming sky in January.

For the first six suggested western states travel destinations, see my blog from last week!

For more information: Crater Lake, nps.gov/crla/; Mount St. Helens, fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot/; Oregon, traveloregon.com; Washington, experiencewa.com; Olympic National Park, nps.gov/olym/; Grand Coulee Dam, usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/; Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, parks.state.wa.us/298/Sun-Lakes-Dry-Falls/; California, visitcalifornia.com; Arizona, visitarizona.com; Yellowstone Park, nps.gov/yell/.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the west!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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