The Pacific Northwest
What is the Northwest?

Relief map of the NorthwestRelief map of the Pacific Northwest of America

There is a region of the North American continent known as the "Northwest", or more affectionately as the "Great Northwest". These terms are used primarily as a geographic designation, but of course have cultural connotations as well; revealing something of people's attitudes to themselves, and to the land.

The term "Northwest" is used loosely. Take note of local usage and you will see the Northwest could encompass any combination of British Columbia and Alberta in Canada, and Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in the United States.

Arguably, the heart of the Northwest embraces the states of Washington and Oregon. In reference to these two, and sometimes also British Columbia, you are likely to hear the term "Pacific Northwest". This is a more specific definition of the Northwest that (usually, but not always!) includes only the states and province bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Geographical Boundaries

If you look at the above map of the north American continent, which is minus the political boundaries that divide it into Canada and the United States of America, and minus the provincial and state boundaries within these two nations, you might get an indication of the geographical features which distinguish this part of the world. The Northwest region is bound by the Pacific Ocean to the west, passes over the "Rockies" and extends east to the "Great Plains". The northern and southern extremities of this region might be identified as somewhere around the 51st parallel before reaching the subarctic zone of British Columbia, and somewhere around the 40th parallel before reaching the mild climate zone of northern California.

A Bioregion

The Northwest also has an identity as a bioregion, a unity of soil, watershed, climate, native plants, animals, and people. The Pacific Northwest bioregion, also known as "Cascadia", is defined as the watersheds of rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean through North America's temperate rain forest zone. Twenty of the 40 largest rivers on the continent are included in these waters. In this definition, the Northwest extends from northern California to southern Alaska, and from the coast to the continental divide, taking in Washington, most of Oregon and Idaho and part of Montana.

Go Northwest! Definition

For the purposes of Go Northwest!, we define the Northwest as being the coastal province and states of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, and the banner-gnwmap.jpg (3138 bytes) land bound states of Montana and Idaho. Yet still, this landscape is not so easily contained! You will find the scope of Go Northwest! sneaks over the latter two borders into Wyoming via Yellowstone National Park and Bighorn Canyon. We also extend over the British Columbian border into Alberta, to include Jasper National Park and Banff National Park.  Finally, we also follow the bounds of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park which encompasses the Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, and the Glacier National Park in Montana.

A Name and an Imaginative Place

If the above has given you the impression that a definition of the northwest is not very fixed, then you are arriving at an understanding of how the northwest is also a region defined by the imagination. The Northwest has connotations of the "Wild West", the classic definition being everything on the map to the left of the 100th meridian. "Northwest" portion of the "West" is a name and an imaginative place which, historically, traveled with the westward exploration and settlement of the United States. During the 1700s and early 1800s, places like what we know today as Chicago and the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota were commonly thought of as the "northwest"!

A Continuing Promise

Nowadays that name, with its connotations of wild landscapes and new horizons, has alighted upon the area described above. It is this continuing promise of opportunity and discovery which today sees the Northwest containing some of the fastest growing metropolitan regions of North America. We hope you come and find out for yourself what draws so many north-westwards!

More Reading

Culture and Economy
More insights about the Northwest region on Go Northwest!

Wild Inside
And another definition of the Pacific Northwest, with map.

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