Central & Eastern Washington
If states were delineated purely by geography, Washington east of the Cascade Mountains would be a separate entity. While the west breeds evergreen trees, liberal cities, perennial rain and gourmet coffee, the east is the opposite: a land of sunbaked hills and big blue skies stuffed with private vineyards, rodeo towns and huge Native American reservations.
Olympic Peninsula & Washington Coast
The Olympic Peninsula is an unblemished wilderness of the highest order, with an interior that brings to mind a unicorn fantasy novel and an end-of-the-continent coastline that makes Big Sur look positively calm. Then there's the precipitation. While Seattleites whine about a little winter drizzle, the Hoh Rain Forest is drowning in up to 200in of rain a year.
Northwestern Washington & the San Juan Islands
Between Seattle, the Cascade Mountains and Canada lies Washington's most archetypal region, a 'greatest hits' of the Pacific Northwest with all the sights and sounds outsiders traditionally associate with the land of pure air and West Coast hedonism.
Grafted onto one of the more temperamental segments of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Washington Cascades are a rugged, spectacular mountain range capped by five potentially lethal volcanoes: Mt Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt Rainier, Mt Adams and – fieriest of all – Mt St Helens.
Cut off by water on three sides, the remote Olympic Peninsula exhibits all the characteristics of a separate island. The region's main population centers are in the northeast and include Port Angeles, Port Townsend and drier, balmier Sequim, now a budding retirement community. As the region's protected climatically by the Olympic Mountains, outdoor activities abound here.
Caught in the foothills of the grandiose Cascade Mountains, central Washington is a geographic crossroads where dramatic alpine peaks fold with eerie suddenness into a barren steppe-like desert broken only by the winding presence of the Columbia River and its irrigating dams.
Bordered by Canada to the north and Idaho to the east, northeastern Washington is dominated by the understated yet populous city of Spokane, and is internationally famous for producing one of the 20th century's greatest engineering marvels: the gargantuan Grand Coulee Dam.
The stretch of Washington coast from Ocean Shores down to Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River, with its expansive beaches and locally run oyster farms, is the state's maritime playground. Free of the wild coves and stormy sea stacks common further north, this is where the whole of Washington (and beyond) comes to sail, fish, fly kites and hang out.
Parched, remote, and barely served by public transportation, southeastern Washington is the state's loneliest corner and is characterized by the dry volcanic plateaus and denuded lava flows of the inhospitable 'Scablands' region, exposed by the Missoula floods at the end of the last ice age.
More rounded and less hemmed in than their saw-toothed cousins to the north, the South Cascades are nonetheless higher. Their pinnacle in more ways than one is 14,411ft Mt Rainier, the fifth-highest mountain in the lower 48 and arguably one of the most dramatic stand-alone mountains in the world.