Encompassing a diverse swatch of land from the Pacific Coast to Washington's eastern border, the Southern Cascades serve up some of the most beautiful and most varied land in America. The focus is, not surprisingly, the Cascade Range, where you'll find Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and a slew of national forests.
Many people don't realize that Mount Rainier has a vertical rise comparable to that of Mount Everest. Visitors should also know that the shoulders of this enormous mountain are accessible by car most of the year. Maintained trails amid wildflowers eventually give way to snowfields, then glaciers on the way toward the summit. Stay in a lodge on the mountain, or in one of the scenic towns nearby.
The year 2000 marked the 20th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, which created the greatest landslide in recorded history. Visitors to the mountain can now see the green of rebirth emerging from the ash amid a surreal moonscape of forests blown over in the blast. Many miles of trails and several informative visitor centers give you different perspectives on the mountain, and on the unbelievable forces that coincided that Sunday morning, May 18, 1980.
While the Southern Cascades are definitely Volcano Country, this is an area of wide scenic diversity. You can explore old-growth stands of fir and cedar one day and tackle sprawling summit glaciers the next. On Washington's southern border with Oregon, the Columbia River has carved a great gorge, thousands of feet deep in spots, through the Cascade Range.
All of this lies in close proximity to urban centers, from Portland to Puget Sound. Train for a climb in the Himalayas or resolve to start a hi-tech business. Find a new restaurant or a hidden waterfall. The Southern Cascades offer you the best of both worlds.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication