Health in Action: Lauren Braden of Northwest TripFinder
Why should you make your next vacation a Northwest excursion? According to Lauren Braden of Northwest TripFinder, there are many reasons to travel a bit closer to home, such as helping out the local economy and it being generally more affordable. Plus, with the plethora of adventures to experience right outside our doorsteps, really, why would you ever want to leave?
We sat down with Lauren to learn why she thinks the Northwest is “one of the most beautiful places in North America” and what inspired her to start Northwest TripFinder.
ANW: What is it that you love about the Northwest?
LB: The vast amount of public land, for starters. I grew up in the Midwest where public land was scarce and not particularly wild. From the moment I arrived in Seattle in the mid-90’s, I became a hiker. I have since hiked and camped all over Washington and Oregon and am still amazed at how pristine our public lands are and how diverse the wildlife habitat is.
I also love the idea of combining seasonal foraging with your Northwest getaways. Just the other day I packed applesauce in my kid’s school lunch that I had made from apples we picked on a trip to Skagit County. At the end of June, we’ll be picking cherries in a Yakima Valley orchard. In August, you can pick and eat mountain huckleberries on your hikes in the North Cascades.
ANW: Why should locals travel within the Northwest?
LB: I always say that when you live in the Pacific Northwest, you don’t need to leave to take a great vacation. There are countless things to do and see right here in our backyard – from the coastlines to the islands, or from the hiking trails to the ski areas.
Plus, local getaways actually make a positive difference right here at home. Local travel is the backbone of our region’s tourism economy, and tourism is one of our region’s biggest economic engines. Many small towns in the Northwest could not exist without tourism dollars coming in. A town like Forks on the Olympic Peninsula used to be sustained by logging old-growth trees, and they’ve been able to replace that with the tourism dollars that come in when folks visit the nearby Hoh Rain Forest (editor’s note – or come looking for vampires). That’s a very positive and sustainable thing for them and for the whole region.
ANW: What is your favorite outdoor adventure in Washington and Oregon?
LB: I love to hike. It’s so difficult to pick favorites, but I’d have to say that my favorite hiking trail in Washington is Marmot Pass, a beautiful, gradual climb up to a stunning viewpoint on the east side of the Olympic Mountains. I recommend hiking this trail when the wildflowers are in full bloom in early July. I’m also a birdwatcher, so my favorite outdoor adventure in Oregon is a spring or autumn visit to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the southeast part of the state. The landscape is wide open and so beautiful, and there are more than 300 species of birds on the refuge, including some birds I rarely see elsewhere, like Black-necked Stilts and Burrowing Owls.
ANW: How do you come up with trip ideas?
LB: I prefer trips to be unique and off the beaten path a bit, rather than following a cookie cutter itinerary. I don’t want to take the exact same trip as everyone else! I first find inspiration for trips from typical sources – travel guidebooks, magazines like Sunset (which I love) and websites like the Washington Trails Association for hikes. Then I create an itinerary by combining different ideas. Last fall, my family camped for a few days in a yurt at a Snohomish County Park, then we took day trips from there to Padilla Bay for a nature walk among the eagles and up Chuckanut Drive to sample oysters.
I always make an effort to search out local finds, too. One of the best ways to get a restaurant recommendation in a small town is to stop someone on the street and just ask them where you should eat. I also try to be flexible and leave extra time for those unexpected experiences. I would have never found the Northwest’s most authentic Oktoberfest in the small town of Mt. Angel, Oregon had I not randomly driven past it on my way somewhere else. I made the choice to change my plans for the day so I could spend the afternoon there and it was awesome.
ANW: Have you road tested all of the trips featured on Northwest TripFinder?
LB: Most of them, yes. I’ve lived in the Northwest for 18 years and have traveled and hiked year-round for all of those years, so I’ve been fortunate to have covered a lot of ground. Most of British Columbia’s mainland is uncharted territory for me, and I’ve visited Idaho just a handful of times, so I feel there is still plenty of new local travel in my future. There are places I go back to again and again, though, and some trips are worth taking every single year. The San Juan Islands, Willamette Valley and the trails near Leavenworth are annual trips for us. And I will never, ever tire of the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula.