Pacific Northwest

Pacific Northwest
Doug Flag
Largest metropolitan areas
The Pacific Northwest from outer space.
This visualization shows a sequence of Landsat-based data in the Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific Northwest (PNW), sometimes referred to as Cascadia,[1] is a geographic region in western North America bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and (loosely) by the Cascade Mountain Range on the east. Though no agreed boundary exists, the most common conception includes the Canadian province of British Columbia and the U.S. states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Broader conceptions reach north into Southeast Alaska and Yukon, south into northern California, and east of the Continental Divide to include Western Montana and parts of Wyoming. Narrower conceptions may be limited to the northwestern US, or to the coastal areas west of the Cascade and Coast mountains. The variety of definitions can be attributed to partially overlapping commonalities of the region's history, culture, geography, society, and other factors.

The Northwest Coast is the coastal region of the Pacific Northwest, and the Northwest Plateau (also commonly known as "the Interior" in British Columbia[2] and the Inland Empire in the United States) is the inland region. The term "Pacific Northwest" should not be confused with the Northwest Territory (also known as the Great Northwest, a historical term in the United States) or the Northwest Territories of Canada.

The region's largest metropolitan areas are Greater Seattle, Washington, with 3.7 million people;[3] Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, with 2.5 million people;[4] and Greater Portland, Oregon, with 2.4 million people.[5]

A key aspect of the Pacific Northwest is the US–Canada international border, which the United States and the United Kingdom established at a time when the region's inhabitants were composed mostly of indigenous peoples. The border—in two sections, along the 49th parallel south of British Columbia and the Alaska Panhandle west of northern British Columbia—has had a powerful effect on the region. According to Canadian historian Ken Coates, the border has not merely influenced the Pacific Northwest—rather, "the region's history and character have been determined by the boundary".[6]


None of the multiple possible definitions of the Pacific Northwest is universally accepted. This map shows three possibilities: (1) The shaded area shows the historical Oregon Country. (2) The green line shows the Cascadia bioregion.[7] (3) The labeled states and provinces include Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia.

Definitions of the Pacific Northwest region vary, and even Pacific Northwesterners do not agree on the exact boundary.[8][9] The most common conception includes the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia.[6]

Broader definitions of the region have included the U.S. states of Alaska and Idaho, parts of the states of California, Montana, and Wyoming, and the Canadian territory of the Yukon[6][10][11].

Definitions based on the historic Oregon Country reach east to the Continental Divide, thus including nearly all of Idaho and parts of western Montana and western Wyoming. Sometimes, the Pacific Northwest is defined as being the Northwestern United States specifically, excluding Canada. Note that these types of definitions are often made by government agencies whose scope is limited to the United States.[12]

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