Pacific Northwest

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Darker red states are always part of the Pacific Northwest. The lighter pink areas around them are sometimes included.
Darker red states are always part of the Pacific Northwest. The lighter pink areas around them are sometimes included.

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is an area often defined as northwestern corner of the continental United States. Its boundaries are imprecise: the Pacific coast states of Washington and Oregon are always included, with northern Idaho and northern California a common addition, although extreme eastern Oregon near Boise may be excluded because of the Rocky Mountain influence. Montana west of the Continental Divide, esp. the extreme west near Missoula is sometimes also included.

A multinational view of PNW leads to the inclusion of coastal British Columbia as well as the Alaska Panhandle. This broader view may relate to the region's modern origins in the former Oregon Country, and also the shared history and similar weather and culture, especially on the Coast. Another common factor throughout the region is the dynamic civilization of the Northwest Coast peoples, who despite very different languages shared a fairly common artistic and mythical context, as well as what is known as a Sprachbund.

In ecology, the PNW is restricted to the coastal region from Kodiak Island in Alaska south to northwest California, but not extending more than 50-100 km inland. That region, sometimes called Cascadia, is characterized by high rainfall and an oceanic climate with mild winters.



Landscape in Oregon Country, by Charles Marion Russell.
Landscape in Oregon Country, by Charles Marion Russell.

During the colonial period, various claims to the Pacific Northwest were made by Russia, Spain, and Great Britain. The United States established a claim following the exploration of the region by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. From the 1810s until the 1840s, modern-day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana, along with most of British Columbia, were part of the Oregon Country, which was jointly administered by the United States and Great Britain after the Treaty of 1818. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, headquartered at Fort Vancouver was the de facto local political authority for most of this time.

This arrangement ended as U.S. settlement grew and Polk was elected on a platform of "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight"; after a war scare with the United Kingdom, the two nations negotiated the 1846 Oregon Treaty, partitioning the region along the 49th parallel and resolving most (but not all) of the border disputes.

The mainland territory north of the 49th Parallel remained unincorporated until 1858, when a mass influx of Americans and others during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush forced the hand of Colony of Vancouver Island's Governor James Douglas, who declared the mainland a Crown Colony, although official ratification of his unilateral action was several months in coming. The two colonies were amalgamated in 1866 to cut costs, and joined the Dominion of Canada in 1871. The U.S. portion became the Oregon Territory in 1848; it was later subdivided into territories that were eventually admitted as states, the first of these being Oregon itself in 1859. See Washington Territory.


The Pacific Northwest is dominated by several mountain ranges, including the Coast Ranges, the Cascade Range, the Columbia Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. Because many areas have plentiful rainfall and a relatively low population density, it has:

The major cities of Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle all began as seaports supporting the logging, mining, and farming industries of the region, but have developed into major technological and industrial centers (such as the Silicon Forest), which benefit from their location on the Pacific Rim.

The region has four U.S. National Parks: Crater Lake in Oregon, and Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades in Washington. Other outstanding natural features include the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. St. Helens, and Hells Canyon on the Snake River between Oregon and Idaho. The only Canadian National Park that is identifiably in the Pacific Northwest is Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Also in British Columbia are Mount Revelstoke National Park, Glacier National Park and Yoho National Park, but these are sufficiently away from the coast and the PNW cultural ecumene as to be perhaps considered outside the area.

Miscellaneous facts

Geographic regions of the United States
Central | Coastal States | Deep South | East | East Coast | Gulf Coast | Mid-Atlantic | Midwest
Mountain States | New England | North | Northeast | Northwest | Pacific | South | South Atlantic
South Central | Southeast | Southwest | Upper Midwest | West | West Coast
Multinational regions: Border States | Great Lakes | Great Plains | Pacific Northwest

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