Which states belong to the Pacific Northwest?

The next time you're at a dinner party and there's a lull in the conversation, ask the group. It doesn't matter if you're in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, or good ole British Columbia, the question will undoubtedly solicit an index of differing opinions.

Photo by josh ludahl on Unsplash
Photo by josh ludahl on Unsplash

Pacific Northwesterners: are you okay?

When it comes to what constitutes the Pacific Northwest, Idahoans and Pacific Northwesterners themselves struggle to agree on the exact boundary.

If you ask us, it sounds more like an identity crisis than a regional geography conundrum 😳



Some say the PNW is limited to Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Others, like the folks at the University of Idaho, say southeast Alaska and western Montana are roped in, while Jaunty Everywhere throws Northern California and Wyoming into the hat.

Photo by Nate Foong on Unsplash
Photo by Nate Foong on Unsplash

Why do people debate Idaho's membership in the PNW?

Despite the fact that the WorldAtlas and U.S. Forest Service cartographers recognize Idaho as the second largest PNW state, we've heard dozens argue to the contrary.

The majority, if not all, hang their hats on the watershed factor. A watershed, if you're unfamiliar, is a regional drainage basin like a reservoir that local streams and rainfall pour into.


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The watershed crowd might argue that Coeur d'Alene, a northern Idaho laketown, has more claim to the PNW than say, Boise, because of the five+ lakes and smaller tributaries that drain into Coeur d'Alene Lake.

Photo by Mike Newbry on Unsplash
Photo by Mike Newbry on Unsplash

Idaho belongs to the PNW.

That's are our story, and we're stickin' to it. Okay, by "our story," we actually mean the U.S. Department of Agriculture's story. To the best of our knowledge, no other agency defines the geographical characteristics of the PNW as completely and succinctly as the USDA PNW Almanac. 

The Pacific Northwest Region includes the rugged-mystical Pacific Coast, temperate Coastal Mountain rainforests, emerald green river valleys, imposing volcanic snow-capped mountains, and an expansive, arid, and sunbathed high desert. The Pacific Northwest is also characterized by an abundance of mountain ranges, including the Coast Mountains, the Cascades Range, and the Blue Mountains.

Native or transplant, any Idahoan worth their salt knows that description captured every aspect of the Gem State's landscape. As far as we're concerned, Idaho sets the bar for what qualifies a state as PNW or not.

What do you think? Email your opinions to ryan.valenzuela@townsquaremedia.com.

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