Dangers & Annoyances
The Pacific Northwest is generally a friendly and safe place to travel, though crime does exist – mostly in bigger cities. Take the usual precautions:
- Don't leave valuables visible in your vehicle, whether you're in a busy downtown street or at a remote hiking trailhead.
- Use ATMs in well-trafficked areas. In hotels, use safe-deposit boxes or place things in a locked bag.
- Ask around for neighborhoods to avoid. If you find yourself in a questionable place, act like you know where you're going, even if you don't.
- Pan-handlers are a problem in any city. Many suffer from psychiatric problems and drug abuse, but most are harmless. It’s an individual judgment call whether to offer them anything – you might offer food if you have it. If you want to contribute toward a long-term solution, consider donating to a reputable charity that cares for the homeless.
- If you’re accosted by a mugger, always hand over the goods fast – nothing is worth getting attacked. Some people keep a 'false' stash of cash to placate a possible mugger.
Here are some tips on local livestock or wildlife:
- Drivers should watch out for loose cattle and horses in remote countryside areas.
- When camping in bear country, use bear containers/boxes or hang food correctly. While hiking in bear country, wear bear bells or talk loudly to avoid surprising them. Bears will generally avoid people when they can. Never feed bears or other wildlife!
- It's unlikely you'll even glimpse a mountain lion (also called a cougar or puma). Adult travelers aren't much at risk of an attack, but unattended children and pets can be. Loud noises and making yourself appear bigger (hold open your jacket) will usually scare them off.
- Rattlesnakes live in dry desert country and hikers can sometimes encounter them basking on trails. Give them a wide berth and they'll leave you alone. Wearing thick hiking boots offers some protection, as does staying out of thick underbrush.
If you plan on visiting many national or state parks, national forests or certain other recreation sites, consider getting a recreation pass to save money on admission or day-use fees (usually $5 or $10). There are several to choose from:
General information (www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/passes-permits/recreation)
National parks (www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm)
If you're a student, bring along your student ID, which can get you discounts on transportation and admission to sights and attractions. Many hostels in the Pacific Northwest are members of HI-USA (www.hiusa.org), which is affiliated with Hostelling International. You don't need a HI-USA card to stay at these hostels, but having one saves you a few bucks per night. You can buy one at the hostel when checking in.
For good lodging discounts, look for coupon books stacked outside highway rest stops.
People over the age of 65 (or sometimes younger) often qualify for the same discounts as students; any identification showing your date of birth should suffice. Folks 62 or older visiting national parks can get a Senior Pass (store.usgs.gov/pass/senior.html). For more information, contact the American Association of Retired Persons (www.aarp.org), an advocacy group for Americans 50 years and older and a good resource for travel discounts.
Emergency & Important Numbers
The following numbers apply to both the USA and Canada.
|International Access Code||011|
|Ambulance, Fire and Police||911|
|Local Directory Assistance||411|
Entry & Exit Formalities
US customs allows each person over the age of 21 to bring 200 cigarettes or 100 cigars (non-Cuban unless from an authorized Cuba trip) duty-free into the country, plus 1L of liquor. US citizens and permanent residents are allowed to import, duty-free, $800 worth of gifts from abroad, while non-US citizens are allowed to bring in $100 worth. US law permits you to bring in, or take out, up to $10,000 (cash, traveler's checks etc); greater amounts must be declared to customs.
Canadian customs in BC allows visitors 19 years and older to bring in 1.14L of liquor or 1.5L of wine or a case of beer (24 cans or bottles), plus 200 cigarettes and 50 cigars and 200g of loose tobacco, duty-free. You can also bring in gifts up to $60 in value without being taxed.
Requirements vary widely for entry to the US and Canada. Check https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html (USA) and www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit (Canada).
Entering the USA
Getting into the United States can be complicated, depending on your country of origin, as the rules keep changing. For up-to-date information about visas and immigration, check the website of the US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) and the travel section of US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov).
For the most part, all foreign visitors need a visa to enter the US. Exceptions include most citizens from Canada and Bermuda, certain NAFTA professional workers and those entering under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Visitors should carry their passport (valid for at least six months) and expect to be photographed and have their index fingers scanned.
Visitors to Canada from major Western countries need no visa, but citizens of more than 150 nations do. Visa requirements change frequently, so check Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp) before you leave.
Officially, US citizens don't need a passport or visa to enter Canada by land; some proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate along with state-issued photo identification, will ordinarily suffice. However, since the introduction of tighter border security, officials recommend that US citizens carry a passport to facilitate entry.
The Pacific Northwest is generally a very gay-friendly place. As elsewhere, gay life is most tolerated in urban centers while attitudes tend to be less accepting in the hinterlands. In the major cities of Seattle, Vancouver and Portland, and even some smaller towns, such as Eugene and Victoria, travelers will find everything from gay religious congregations to gay hiking clubs, while in the rural areas they may want to keep their orientation to themselves.
The Capitol Hill neighborhood is the center of gay life in Seattle. In Vancouver, the West End is gay-centric, while Commercial Dr is more lesbian-oriented. Queer-integrated Portland has no specific gay neighborhood (Sam Adams, Portland's mayor from 2008 to 2012, was the first openly gay mayor of a large US city).
- Seattle Gay News (www.sgn.org) A weekly newspaper focusing on gay issues.
- Proud Queer (www.pqmonthly.com) Online news serving Portland's gay community.
- Vancouver Pride Society (www.vancouverpride.ca) Check out the events link.
- Tourism Vancouver (www.tourismvancouver.com/vancouver/gay-friendly-vancouver) Resources for gay-friendly Vancouver.
If you are stopped by the police for any reason in the USA, there is no system of paying fines on the spot. Attempting to pay the fine to the officer may lead to a charge of attempted bribery. Most matters can be handled by mail.
If you are arrested for more serious offenses, you have the right to remain silent and are presumed innocent until proven guilty. There is no legal reason to speak to a police officer if you don't wish to. All persons who are arrested are legally allowed the right to make one phone call. If you don't have a lawyer, friend or family member to help you, call your embassy. The police will give you the number upon request. If you don't have a lawyer, one will be appointed to you free of charge.
You must be at least 16 years old to drive in Oregon, Washington or BC. Stiff fines, jail time and other penalties can be incurred for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs. It is also illegal to carry open containers of alcohol inside a vehicle. Containers that are full and sealed may be carried, but if they have been opened or are empty, put them in the trunk.
Possessing illegal drugs is always a bad idea, and if you're caught expect fines, lengthy jail sentences and/or deportation (if you're a foreigner). Both Oregon and Washington have now decriminalized marijuana use and possession for those over 21.
It's legal to buy recreational marijuana in Oregon and Washington, with some caveats. In both states, anyone age 21 and older can buy pot from a licensed dispensary. Adults are allowed to possess up to an ounce of dried marijuana (the limit when you're at home is 8 ounces and up to four plants). Taxes from weed sales go toward schools, state police, mental health and addiction services and other public programs.
Strictly speaking, you can only smoke weed in private, but a few minutes of walking around in Portland or Seattle will demonstrate that this rule is seldom enforced.
Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal. In Washington, there's a 5-nanogram limit on the amount of THC in a driver's blood; in Oregon, detecting intoxication relies on a police officer's observation. Convictions can mean up to a year in jail and fines of up to $1000.
Also, you can't take it with you: whatever you buy in either Oregon or Washington should be consumed (or left behind) before you leave the state.
Keep in mind that the federal rules haven't changed; smoking pot is still illegal at the federal level, which means don't bring it with you into national parks, for example.
NPR (www.npr.org) has a progressive yet impartial approach to news and talk radio.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards accepted at most hotels, restaurants and shops.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping for certain services is the norm in the US and Canada. If service is truly appalling, however, don't tip. Customary tipping amounts:
|bartenders||20% of the bill|
|bellhops, skycaps in airports||$1-2 per bag|
|housekeeping staff||$2 daily, left on the pillow each day|
|restaurant servers||20-25% of the pretax bill (no tax in Oregon)|
|taxi drivers||10-15% of metered fare|
For Sights, Activities and Information, we mostly list high-season hours. Mid- or low-season hours vary throughout the year.
|Type of business||Standard opening hours|
|post offices & banks||8am or 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, some 8am or 9am-2pm Sat|
|restaurants||7-11:30am breakfast, 11:30am-2:30pm lunch, 5-9pm dinner|
|shops||9am or 10am-5pm or 6pm (malls 9pm) Mon-Sat, noon-5pm Sun|
|supermarkets||8am-10pm, 24hr in large cities|
The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) and Canada Post (www.canadapost.ca) provide dependable, timely service.
Holidays falling on a weekend are usually observed the following Monday.
New Year's Day January 1 (USA and Canada)
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January (USA)
Family Day Second or third Monday in February (Canada)
Presidents' Day Third Monday in February (USA)
Good Friday Friday before Easter Sunday (Canada)
Easter Sunday in late March or early April (USA and Canada)
Easter Monday Monday after Easter (Canada)
Victoria Day Monday on or preceding May 24 (Canada)
Memorial Day Last Monday in May (USA)
Canada Day July 1, or July 2 if July 1 is Sunday (Canada)
Independence Day July 4 (USA)
Labor Day First Monday in September (USA and Canada)
Columbus Day Second Monday in October (USA)
Thanksgiving Day Second Monday in October (Canada); fourth Thursday in November (USA)
Veterans' Day November 11 (USA)
Remembrance Day November 11 (Canada)
Christmas Day December 25 (USA and Canada)
Boxing Day December 26 (Canada)
Smoking is banned in all indoor public spaces throughout the Pacific Northwest, including bars and restaurants. Some bars have patios where smoking is allowed.
The US and Canada use GSM-850 and GSM-1900 bands. SIM cards are relatively easy to obtain in both countries.
Oregon (except most of Malheur County, near the Idaho border), Washington and Vancouver, BC are in the Pacific zone (GMT minus seven hours in summer, minus eight in winter).
Oregon, Washington and BC have state and provincial tourist bureaus that offer glossy guides, maps and plenty of other pertinent travel information. Individual cities, towns and regions also maintain visitor centers, which are often run by the local chamber of commerce.
- Washington State Tourism (www.experiencewa.com)
- Oregon Tourism Commission (www.traveloregon.com)
- Destination British Columbia (www.hellobc.com)
Travel With Children
From aquariums teeming with sea life to cowhands riding bucking broncos, the Pacific Northwest will spark any child's imagination. Whether you head to the coast, the mountains or rolling farmland, you'll be greeted with kindness and patience – this is a culture that loves kids and knows how to treat families right, whether they're giving wee ones a glimpse of rural life (who doesn't like to milk goats?) or showing them public art that was designed to be scaled by the younger set.
Best Regions for Kids
Kids will love the Pacific Science Center, Children's Museum, Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo and Pike Place Market. Nearby, Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium boasts sharks and elephants.
Frolicking fountains, the world-class Oregon Zoo and hands-on museums, including the Children's Museum and World Forestry Center.
- Oregon Coast
Miles of beaches, plus the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, the less flashy Seaside Aquarium and Port Orford's dinosaur-filled Prehistoric Gardens.
- Vancouver, Whistler & Vancouver Island
Vancouver highlights are Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium and Granville Island's Kids Market. And what could be better than BC's Victoria Bug Zoo, home to millipedes and tarantulas?
Pacific Northwest for Kids
The Pacific Northwest – from the sun, sand and surf along the coast to the snow-covered slopes further inland – is a fun and exciting destination for families. Kids will love exploring the many child-oriented museums, amusement parks, zoos and animal safaris. National and state parks often organize family-friendly exhibitions or activities, and whale-watching can be a big hit. There are also plenty of kid-friendly hotels, restaurants, shops, playgrounds and even skateboard parks in the region. Finding things to do with your kids won't be a problem, but dragging them away from all that fun might be.
For general information, advice and anecdotes, read Lonely Planet's Travel with Children.
- Whale-watching all down the Pacific Northwest coast, from November to June.
- Tide pools!
- Sea Lion Caves on the Oregon Coast.
Sun, Sand & Sea
History & Science
Fun Food Frolics
Kids often get discounts on motel stays, museum admissions and restaurant meals; the definition of child, however, can vary from age zero to 18 years.
Supermarkets have a great choice of baby food, infant formula, soy and cow's milk, disposable diapers (nappies) and other necessities. In urban areas you'll find all manner of organic and dietary-restricted kids food in restaurants and natural markets. If you don't want to lug gear around for your whole trip, head to a baby equipment–rental company, such as http://new.happylittletraveler.com in Seattle, www.katelynscloset.com in Portland or www.weetravel.ca in Vancouver. Diaper-changing stations can be found in many public toilets, including ones inside the multitude of rest areas along highways and interstates. Online services including www.sittercity.com and www.care.com can help you find a babysitter.
When crossing the border from the US into Canada, be sure to bring birth certificates or passports for each child; if a child enters the country with only one parent, she or he must have a letter from the other parent saying it's OK for the child to enter Canada.
What to Pack
- Raingear and galoshes – important gear for the drizzly Pacific Northwest.
- Extra dry socks – whether you're camping or hiking, it's good to prepare for wet feet.
- Extra water and towels – muddy hikes and sandy beaches can make car rides messy.
- Binoculars for wildlife viewing – the region is filled with cool birds and other animals.
- Outdoor toys, including kites, Frisbees and beach things.
- Water gear – swimsuits, sunblock, safety vests and waterproof sandals.
- Bicycle helmets – smaller-sized helmets can be hard to come by at rental stores.
Most hotels accept children; a few offer babysitting services. Motels are even more family friendly, sometimes boasting a pool, a playground and/or kitchenettes. Larger campgrounds often cater to families; yurts in state parks are a great way for families to camp in some luxury.
Places that aren't as good for kids are youth hostels and B&Bs, which often don't take children under a certain age. Consider asking some questions when booking. Do kids stay for free? Are playpens, cribs or roll-away beds available? Is the pool indoor or outdoor? How far to the nearest park or playground?
In general, restaurants welcome children of all ages and have high chairs and booster seats. Many have children's menus and some even supply crayons. If you're planning a special, high-end meal, especially one that requires reservations, ask if children are welcome. Most places will gladly serve older, well-behaved children.
While most eateries in Seattle qualify as kid friendly, some excel at welcoming little ones, including Molly Moon's. Portland is also considered particularly kid friendly, and some restaurants – and even some brewpubs, such as the Laurelwood Public House – have a playroom. In Vancouver, families love Little Nest.
Parks with water features, coffeehouses with playrooms and a variety of classes are all ways that parents and kids can meet new people. Seek out activities through websites such as www.urbanmamas.com, which has a calendar listing all kinds of events in Portland as well as weekly summer camps (a good way to entertain kids during longer stays). Similar websites in Seattle and Vancouver are www.redtri.com/seattle-kids and www.bcparent.ca. Also, look for city pool classes and programs in larger towns and cities, or head to specialty children's stores, which will have fliers and advice about events.
Check out (and into) these places if you have young ones along.
- Kennedy School in Portland, OR. It's a former elementary school, but there's no homework – just rooms in old classrooms and a theater in the old gym (showing 'Mommy Matinees'!)
- Out 'n' About Treesort near Oregon Caves National Monument, OR. Ever stay in a tree house? Here's your chance! Ziplines, tree climbs and horseback rides are also available.
- Stehekin Valley Ranch in Stehekin, WA. Stay in various types of cabins, set in the beautiful North Cascades. Activities include hikes, horseback riding, mountain biking and kayaking.
- Seabrook Cottage Rentals in Pacific Beach, WA. Vacation rentals on lovely Pacific Beach. Fly kites, ride bikes, watch birds, go clam digging, build sand castles, collect seashells…
- Ocean Village in Tofino, BC. A cabin beach resort that supplies families with beach toys, boogie boards, campfires, games, crafts, kids' programs and a 50ft, indoor saltwater pool.
Child-restraint laws vary state by state and are subject to change, so always double check before traveling.
In Oregon, Washington and Vancouver, BC, child passengers under 40lb (18kg) must be restrained in an approved child safety seat. Children over 40lb (18kg; or who are at the maximum weight limit of their car seat's harness system) must use a booster seat until they are 4ft9in (145cm) or eight years of age (nine in Vancouver). A child over 4ft9in (145cm) or eight years of age (nine in Vancouver) must properly use the vehicle's seat belt. Infants under one year of age and under 20lb (9kg) must ride in a rear-facing child safety seat away from air bags.
Most car-rental agencies rent safety seats for infants and older children. Reserve in advance.
In Washington and Oregon, there are reasonably spaced rest areas along I-5.
Travelers With Disabilities
If you have a physical disability, travel within the Pacific Northwest won't be too difficult. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all public buildings in the US – including most hotels, restaurants, theaters and museums – to be wheelchair accessible. Most sidewalks in the Pacific Northwest are wide and smooth and many intersections have curb cuts and sometimes audible crossing signals.
Lift-equipped buses are the norm in Washington, Oregon and BC, and many taxi companies have wheelchair-accessible cabs. Some municipal bus networks provide door-to-door service for people with disabilities. Most car-rental franchises are able to provide hand-controlled models at no extra charge – but reserve well ahead. All major airlines, Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains allow service animals to accompany passengers (bring documentation for them). Airlines will also provide assistance for connecting, boarding and disembarking if requested with your reservation. Disabled travelers using Washington State Ferries should check www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/commuterupdates/ada for information on reduced fares and how to board.
Many state and national parks in the Northwest maintain a nature trail or two for use by travelers in wheelchairs. For a list of accessible trails in Washington state, see www.parks.wa.gov/adarec; for Oregon check www.traillink.com/stateactivity/or-wheelchair-accessible-trails.aspx. Meanwhile, BC has a good general website at www.hellobc.com/british-columbia/about-bc/accessibility.aspx.
The America the Beautiful Access Pass (previously known as the Golden Access Passport; these are still honored) is available free to blind or permanently disabled US travelers with documentation. It gives free lifetime access to US national parks and wildlife refuges and 50% off campground use. For more information see www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm.
- Rolling Rains Report (www.rollingrains.com) An advocate for inclusive travel. Interesting blog.
- Emerging Horizons (www.emerginghorizons.com) An online magazine, with much information on accessible travel.
- Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org) Runs educational exchange programs in the US and abroad.
- Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org) Useful links and information specifically about travel.