Meet Outdoors in the Pacific Northwest


Rachel Carter
Published September 14, 2016

In the Pacific Northwest, the outdoors are at your doorstep: salty waves of the Pacific Ocean or wild wetlands of coastal marshes, the gritty sand of seaside dunes or the rocky slopes of mountainsides, towering redwoods in dense forests or fruit orchards at family-owned farms.

In Washington, Oregon and northern California, planners have a plethora of ways to bring the outdoors into their meetings and events.

Eugene, Oregon

Lane County embodies some of Mother Nature’s most impressive extremes, stretching from sea-level sand dunes along the Oregon coast to the soaring peaks of the Cascade Range.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area encompasses 40 miles of the Oregon coast, but people driving by can’t grasp the impressive expanse — or the height — of the dunes, some of which are 500 feet high. Both Sand Dunes Frontier and Sandland Adventures offer tours in smaller “sand rails” for four to eight people, and larger groups can tour the dunes in buggies that can seat 20 people. Although the big buggies are slower than the sand rails, they still deliver plenty of gritty thrills when cresting the dunes. Sand Master Park is a 40-acre commercial sandboarding park in Florence, where team building can include sandcastles and sand sculpting, sandboarding lessons and sand sledding, as well as dune buggy tours.

When the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons brought its annual meeting to Eugene last summer, most of the doctors brought their families. The group loaded up on outfitter-led activities, including whitewater rafting, a fly-casting class, a cycling tour and a guided hike, said Angie Riley, digital marketing manager for Eugene, Cascades and Coast, the Lane County CVB. Group hikes and walking tours allow visitors to explore the Cascades, including any of the region’s “Seven Waterfall Wonders.” Although it’s challenging to reach some falls, the dramatic Sahalie Falls observation deck is wheelchair accessible, and an easy 2.6-mile loop takes people to Koosah Falls.

During the National Institute for Direct Instruction’s 42nd annual conference in Eugene this summer, the group did a geocaching tour and held its opening picnic at Skinner Butte Park, which sits on the Willamette River and is “perfect for group picnics and outdoor dinners,” Riley said.

Snohomish County, Washington

The saltwater of the Puget Sound, the dense forests of the Cascade mountains and, in between, the lush farmland of Snohomish Valley: Although Snohomish County is just north of Seattle, close enough for some to consider its cities suburbs, it encompasses a spectrum of spectacular nature.

On the sound side, groups can take in a range of wildlife, including bird- and whale-watching boat tours. Sea kayaking outfitters along the coast can take smaller groups onto the sound. In the coastal city of Edmonds, groups can explore Edmonds Marsh on interpretive trails, and docents will lead group tours at the Northwest Stream Center in Everett. The city of Everett also operates a free ferry in the summer to Jetty Island, where visitors can enjoy beaches and nature trails, said Brad Zorich, Snohomish County Tourism Bureau group sales manager.

On the county’s mountain side, the Outdoor Adventure Center is snuggled into the foothills and offers guided river-rafting, biking, hiking, kayaking and horseback riding, and has an outdoor area that works well for tented events. The outfitter is located in the tiny town of Index, which “is on the river, and the mountains are hanging over you, and it’s amazing,” Zorich said, and is also home to a restaurant with indoor meeting space for 40 people. Several other outfitters lead rafting trips on the Sauk, Skykomish and Snohomish rivers.

In the valley between, several farms offer function space: modern event halls and rustic barns with indoor-outdoor areas, mountain views, space for tents and lawns for games. In the fall, groups can set up picnics at or buy out one of seven pumpkin farms where they can pick pumpkins, wander in corn mazes and bump along on hayrides.

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