Gateway to Washington
Discover new facets of the Evergreen State along I-5
Every year, thousands of travelers make the journey north into Washington along Interstate 5, which crosses the Columbia River border with Oregon and stretches into the heart of the Evergreen State. The region’s beautifully lush forests, towering mountains and interesting historical attractions are an ideal sampling of all that Washington offers.
If you’re driving up from the south, the first city you will hit is Vancouver, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. This quaint little city is a great place to begin your Washington discoveries. Discover a charming and compact downtown with lots of independent restaurants, microbreweries and coffee shops, plus a lovely waterfront with a mix of restaurants and residences, not to mention the five-mile-long Waterfront Renaissance Trail, popular with runners and cyclists.
Those with an interest in history won’t want to miss the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, the site of the original Hudson’s Bay Company Columbia Department trading post. This 336-acre expanse on the banks of the Columbia features lots to see, with a historic village featuring a blacksmith, a trading shop and even an old-fashioned kitchen. On nice days, there are plenty of lovely trails and fields surrounding the fort, including the Vancouver Land Bridge, a paved trail spanning 3,800 feet.
Just north of Vancouver, the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge provides hiking and wildlife watching along the east bank of the Columbia River. Check out the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a replica of a Chinook structure that contains historical artifacts from the indigenous people.
Visitors who want to deepen their understanding of local history should also pay a visit to the Clark County Historical Museum, housed in the 1909 Vancouver Public Library. Displays showcase Native Pacific Northwest crafts along with locally relevant exhibitions.
Once you’ve had your fill of history and dining, continue north along Interstate 5 to Castle Rock. The de facto gateway to Mount St. Helens, this attraction is named for a soaring 190-foot-high rock that was once used as a local navigation landmark. From here, a detour to the state’s most famous volcano, Mount St. Helens, 50 miles to the east, is in order. Mount St. Helens made headlines around the world in 1980 when it dramatically erupted, destroying much of its immediate surroundings in the process and spewing ash for miles, clear down to Portland and beyond.
Today, this mountain in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest attracts tons of visitors, many of whom come to hike on the volcano’s blown-out crater or simply learn more about geology at the visitors’ center. The Ape Cave Interpretive Site — a two-mile-long lava tube — is a great option for families, as is the nearby Treehouse Island Zip Line Adventure on Silver Lake. This attraction offers exhilarating views from high above the region.
Continue north up Interstate 5, taking your next break up at Centralia, which has been a popular stopover for travelers making the journey from Portland to Seattle for ages. In fact, stagecoaches used to stop here back in the frontier days, and it attracts thousands of bicyclists every July during the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. Other notable summer events include the Hub City Car Show and Antique Fest.
Centralia has managed to preserve a lot of its historic charm while infusing some modern-day amenities, including a sports complex, a downtown winery and a vibrant arts community showcasing theater, music and dance.
Main points of interest here include Centralia Outlets, a large discount mall featuring major brands ranging from Nike to Coach. Centralia Train Depot gets plenty of visitors because it serves as the local Amtrak train station, but the 1912 building is worth a visit for its lovely interiors replete with painstakingly crafted woodwork.
Those who feel like hanging out in the area for a while may also want to schedule a break at Fort Borst Park, which features a lovely lake and lots of trails and green space, along with a replica homestead and one-room schoolhouse.
Olympia: Cool Capital City
Continue north up to Olympia, the state capital and a great final stop before continuing your journey to Seattle and beyond. This great little city offers so much for visitors, from the beautiful Washington State Capitol to a world-class children’s museum. It’s also a great base for exploring the region, from the Chehalis Western Trail, which runs through Thurston County, to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a popular place for hiking and bird-watching, with a mix of trails and tide flats. Walk the shores of Capitol Lake for beautiful views. While in town, don’t miss the Olympic Flight Museum, which features historic planes and helicopters. In August, the annual Olympia Brew Fest brings the finest beer makers to the city.
For More Information
Washington Tourism Alliance