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Great ways to see the Northwest other than by car

Get out and explore - on everything but four wheels

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad. Photo credit: Kristin Kendle

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The Pacific Northwest is an amazing part of the country - filled with lofty evergreens, rolling hills that lead the way to towering mountains, expanses of water, and plenty of wildlife to check out along the way. Driving the area's scenic byways will take you through forests and oceans alike, and yet as easy as driving can be, it's not the only way to see the Northwest. In fact, there are many ways to delve into this region - and often they add an extra edge to seeing what the Northwest is all about.

Tram at NW Trek
Northwest Trek is a wildlife park located in Eatonville, which is less than an hour from most parts of Tacoma. While you do have to drive to the park, you'll only be able to get to most of the vast park by tram (one ride is included with admission). The tram takes you through forest and open plains where you'll see wildlife native to the region living not in cages, but in its natural habitat. A guide drives the tram and will teach you a bit about the animals, as well as native plant-life. 11610 Trek Dr. E., Eatonville,

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad
If you've got kids, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad is a guaranteed hit. Trains depart out of Elbe, which is near Mount Rainier, and meander (at about 10 mph so this is not the best way to see the Northwest if you're a speed demon) through forests and over streams to Mineral, Washington. On clear days, you'll catch views of Mount Rainier. At the end of the line, you get to explore a museum filled with trains and history of the Northwest. 54124 Mountain Highway E., Elbe,!

Horseback at Ocean Shores
The Northwest is also known for its shoreline, which tends toward rugged and wild with patches of seaside hotels and boardwalks. The closest ocean town to Tacoma and Olympia is Ocean Shores, which is one of the ocean towns where you can take a horseback ride along the surf. Sure, you can walk boardwalks in Long Beach, Washington, or Seaside, Oregon. You can even drive on some stretches of sand in Ocean Shores. But there's no more majestic way to experience the shoreline than on horseback. You'll find companies that offer horseback tours stationed right on the beach near Shilo Inn usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Just off of Ocean Shores Blvd. and E. Chance A la Mer,

Crystal Mountain Gondola
Located at the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, the Crystal Mountain Gondola is a relaxing (and pretty thrilling) way to see Mount Rainier and the Cascades from up high. You'll soar over meadows that may be filled with wildflowers if you time your visit right. At the top is Summit House Restaurant, the restaurant with the highest elevation in Washington - so it's not so bad for views itself. Whether you dine or not, you'll be at 6,856 feet at the top, and on a clear day you'll see Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, Mount Baker and Glacier Peak. 33914 Crystal Mountain Blvd., Enumclaw,

The Amtrak Cascades line runs between Vancouver, BC, and Eugene, Oregon, and is an amazing way to sit back and watch the Northwest go by. The entire Cascades journey takes 10 and a half hours, but going between Tacoma and Portland takes about three and is an excellent slice of the Northwest - with a dining car featuring Northwest foods and microbrew to top it off. Another option is the Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles and also boasts stunning views of the Cascade mountains.
There are Amtrak stations in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia.

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