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Ice-crowned peaks cradle Seattle—the Pacific Northwest’s urban epicenter—a city full of evergreen-ringed coves and waterways (not to mention hipsters, tech geniuses and ill-advised man buns). The most glorious mountain remains the stratovolcano of Mount Rainier: This 4,392-meter (14,410-foot) snow cone has 27 glaciers, making it the most heavily frosted region of America’s lower 48. Besides featuring on Washington State’s license plates, on a clear day, Rainier hunkers over the Seattle skyline. Also visible are the mountains of the Cascade Range, along with the jagged outcrops of the rain forest–fringed Olympic National Park.
The Puget Sound fills the notch of western Washington’s mitten shape, and goes more formally by the name Salish Sea, since the ecosystem stretches up into the San Juan Islands and British Columbia’s neighboring Gulf Islands. With luck, visitors will see pods of endangered orcas here—pods that have been enjoying a 2015–16 baby boom. Also keep an eye out for humpback whales bubble-net feeding: Teams of whales spiral upward around prey, blowing cyclones of air. When the panicked fish crowd into a column, the predators launch toward the surface en masse—pleated throats wide open—to suck in as many as possible.