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Washington state, nicknamed “The Evergreen State,” anchors the furthest northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest. Western Washington’s temperate rainforests typify the state in many folks’ minds. Misty and drizzly most of the year, summers are sunnier and drier. This westernmost part of the Olympic Peninsula is the wettest place in the 48 contiguous states. At high altitudes, more than 200 inches of snow per year fall on some of the western faces of the Cascade Mountains.

The Cascade Range divides the western portion of Washington, where the majority votes Democrat, from the east, where Republicans predominate. Each region asserts its own distinctive character. The agricultural eastern side is semi-arid, producing greater extremes in temperature than in the west. The differences are so stark that proposals to create a 51st state in Eastern Washington have been put forth as recently at 2005.

Washington’s Pacific Ocean beaches feature rough waves and cold water. The various sandy, rocky or muddy beaches are conducive to flying kites, walking, bird-watching, clamming, surfing and sea kayaking.

Tourist hotspots include the state’s largest city, Seattle, along with the nearby Olympic Peninsula and coastal islands. The centerpiece of Seattle is the bustling and historic Pike Place Market, a hangout for visitors and locals alike. Tours are available Wednesdays through Saturdays. Many opt to take a ferry ride to explore one of hundreds of islands; charming Bainbridge Island is a favorite, and there visitors can take advantage of free bikes to borrow for getting around.

Get out of town to Mount Rainier National Park, in the Cascade Mountains southeast of Seattle. The 14,411-foot Mount Rainier is the state’s highest peak and the nation’s most-threatening volcano. The park’s spas, shops and restaurants complement a slate of outdoor activities and year-round special events. Enjoy the unique Elk Bugling Tour or beer- or wine-themed tours on the scenic railroad, which also offer views of bison, moose and bighorn sheep.

For close encounters with over 200 different animals, try the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Tacoma. Observe wildlife in their natural habitats or in exhibits, or get a personal introduction via a Trailside Encounter hosted by a park animal keeper.