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Top 10 must-see places to visit

While stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

The stunning views at Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. (Photo by Marguerite Cleveland)

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The natural areas surrounding Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) are stunningly beautiful. There are three National Parks, rocky beaches, rushing waterfalls, historic towns and even a foreign country all within a short drive from the base. This list is compiled from an informal survey of military families and are the places mentioned over and over again that you must see during your time here.

1. Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula. This giant peninsula, over 350 miles to drive around, has the Olympic National Park dropped down right in the middle of it. Quaint little towns and scenic drives surround the natural scenic beauty of the park. The popular Twilight books were set in Forks and the movie An Officer and A Gentleman was filmed at Fort Worden near Port Townsend. Must-see natural sights include the drive to Hurricane Ridge where on a clear day you can see to Canada and the Hoh Rain Forest with its serene Hall of Mosses.

Members of the Pacific Northwest Explorers enjoy a trip to Tumwater Falls. (Photo by Marguerite Cleveland)
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2. Tumwater Falls and the Salmon Run. Tumwater Falls is beautiful any time of year but it really shines during the Salmon Run in September. This epic struggle for the salmon to return to their birthplace to spawn is a must-see activity. Children and adults alike are fascinated watching salmon attempt over and over again to swim upstream against a rushing current or climb a waterfall. At peak times, the river is filled with salmon resting in pools before they continue their journey. A bonus is it is just a short drive from JBLM.

3. Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a section of the river and the surrounding areas in Washington state and Oregon that have unique scenic, natural, cultural and recreational attributes making it well worth a visit. Incredible vistas, epic hikes, wineries and a National Park-worthy lodge make this a popular area with JBLM families. Explore the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition, learn about hydroelectric energy at the Bonneville Dam, hike to the top of Beacon Rock with its numerous switchbacks for a stunning view of the Gorge and drive the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon for mile after mile of waterfalls.

4. Mount St. Helens and the Ape Caves. There are two ways to explore Mount St. Helens and both are worth their own trip. For the first trip, head up Hwy. 504, the Spirit Lake Highway, and follow these tips for the best experience. This is a very popular destination, so to beat the crowds, head all the way up to Mount St. Helens National Monument and the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the top. Don't stop at the other visitors' centers on the way up, as you will visit them when you head back down. This little tip helps you have a less crowded experience. Enjoy your time at the top and the incredible views of the volcano. Stop at the Coldwater Lake Picnic area, not far away, and then on the way home, visit the Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center and the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, as each is unique. The second trip is to the Ape Caves. This over-a-mile-long lava tube is fun to explore. Just make sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp and a backup.

5. Victoria, British Columbia. This fun town is reached by ferry from Port Angeles or Seattle and makes a long day trip or a weekend visit. Kids will love the bright red double-decker buses, and the British Columbia Museum, one of the top museums in the world. Renowned gardens and high tea are also popular activities.

Cannon Beach, Oregon, one of the many beautiful Pacific Coast beaches near JBLM. (Photo by Marguerite Cleveland)
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Other must see stops include: 6. The San Juan Islands, with each island having its own personality; 7. Mount Rainier National Park, with its volcano that dominates the area; 8. Pick a Pacific Coast beach in Washington state or Oregon with their rough, rocky beaches, haystacks and the experience of storm watching; 9. Point Defiance is a Tacoma favorite with hiking, a beach, zoo, fort and a five-mile scenic drive; 10. Seattle, and its iconic sights, such as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market.

For more information on these areas, visit: northwestmilitary.com. Click on "Travel" and you will find a variety of articles on exploring the local area. There are multiple articles on the top 10 locations. If you like the author's travel style, click on their name to view other articles they have written. If you are more into social media, check out Travelers from JBLM on Facebook -- lots of great advice from your peer group on getting out and exploring. Time flies while you are stationed here, so start working your way through your PCS bucket list before you are reassigned. You don't want to miss any of these iconic locations.

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