Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Four Seasons, One Big Playground

The Pacific Northwest region thrives all year with an abundance of seasonal group activities and memorable venues

By Teresa Bergen

Experienced meeting planners know what kind of venue makes for a successful event: convenient location, excellent audiovisual tools, and plenty of hotel rooms. But helping
visitors connect with the destination itself adds that special memorable touch to a meeting, and moving beyond the confines of a typical boardroom to have meaningful experiences together helps to forge lasting relationships between attendees. So, when you’re planning your meeting, consider what Pacific Northwest destinations can offer meeting-goers during every season of the year.

Fruit orchards in full bloom with Mount Adams in Hood River, Oregon || Photo by Danita Delimont, courtesy of Adobe Stock


What’s the payoff for rainy Northwest winters? Springtime blooms. Planners can incorporate wildflower viewing and orchard visits into meetings and events as a counterbalance to indoor time.

In Hood River, Oregon, the Best Western Plus Hood River Inn provides the city’s most comprehensive and traditional meeting and events options right along the Columbia River. On the more intimate end of the spectrum, Hood River Hotel’s 10-person bunkhouse offers a cost-effective retreat for your smaller gathering. All the venues work with group tour companies, including Martin’s Gorge Tours, which features group waterfall and wildflower hikes. Nearby Mountain View Orchards has an event space where up to 160 meeting-goers can socialize among apple and pear trees and fields of flowers—all with a stunning view of Mount Hood. “Mountain View Orchards offers front row outdoor access to the Fruit Loop and Mount Hood,” says Katie Kadlub, CEO of Visit Hood River. The Hood River Fruit Loop is a collection of farm stands, wineries, breweries, flower fields, cideries, and more that are available for groups to tour.

Farther north, planners can incorporate wildflowers into a meeting in Spokane, Washington, by planning a group hike at Dishman Hills Conservancy. Peak bloom season at Dishman Hills is typically early April to late May. Your group can fly into Spokane International Airport, headquarter your event at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Spokane Valley, and book a private bus charter with Pacific Crest Bus Lines for your wildflower hike.

Up in the Okanagan area of British Columbia, Canada, eventgoers might enjoy a more desert-like, scrubland landscape in the heart of the Okanagan Desert—the only semiarid scrubland in Canada. Spring comes early around the city of Osoyoos, which is located at the south end of the desert and is home of Spirit Ridge Resort. Spirit Ridge has 13,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space—with opportunities to dine in the desert or enjoy cocktail hour on a rooftop overlooking the vineyard—and 226 all-suite units. Pink and white apricot and plum tree blooms burst across the region in late March. Attendees can visit the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre’s Nk’Mip Cellars, North America’s first Indigenous-owned and -operated winery. “Groups can arrange directly or be referred to these offerings to experience interpretive walks through the desert that surrounds the resort, the vegetation, wildlife, history of the land, and learn about the Indigenous peoples [who] settled here,” says Mark Nichols, Spirit Ridge’s director of sales and marketing. “Award-winning wine tastings and vineyard tours can be booked at Nk’Mip Cellars. Both facilities are operated separately from the resort but are located steps from our main lobby.”

Kayaking on the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon || Photo by Greg Robeson, courtesy of Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon and Washington have a combined tidal shoreline of 4,436 miles. Add in British Columbia’s coastline and all the Pacific Northwest’s lakes and rivers, and you have countless ways to get your group on the water while the days are warmest.

The recently renovated Coeur d’Alene Resort in northern Idaho raises the standard of lake life. From this waterfront venue, your group can charter a relaxing lake cruise or zoom over rapids while rafting the nearby Spokane River. For a fun but competitive team-building activity, the resort offers the Keep Your Boat A-Float Challenge. Your team will build a boat out of plastic, cardboard, and other not-quite-seaworthy materials—and then try it out. This will be a memorable (and probably wet) experience.

Fancy a corporate cruise? In Seattle, Washington, Argosy Cruises’ fleet of five ships is available to charter. The largest, Spirit of Seattle, accommodates up to 350 attendees. Private charter participants can work with Argosy’s list of caterers and book their own entertainment, like DJs or magicians. Argosy can also help coordinate details with third-party vendors.

If planners are looking to keep their event on land but still along the water, look to Vancouver, British Columbia. As a coastal seaport, Vancouver has many waterfront lodging options. The Fairmont Waterfront is king, with peerless views, 24,000 square feet of event space, a grand ballroom, a rooftop pool, and a staff of professional event planners. It’s also easy to book group water activities in Vancouver. Harbour Cruises helps you arrange floating seminars, brainstorming sessions, or client networking get-togethers, and its event planners can set up group transportation from your Vancouver hotel or meeting venue. If you want something zippier, your group of up to 24 can dress up in bulky red windsuits and dart around the city in Zodiac boats with Vancouver Water Adventures. Plan a short skyline tour or a three-hour jaunt up to Granite Falls and back. Takaya Tours offers special cultural canoe expeditions led by First Nation guides who sing songs and tell legends of the Burrard Inlet while participants paddle.

The brick red Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa sits perched at the end of a 600-foot pier jutting out into the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. It’s one of the Pacific Northwest’s most picturesque venues for small corporate or nonprofit retreats. “Every room has a view of the Columbia River, including our meeting spaces, to stimulate creativity and productivity,” says Christina Caudillo, area director of sales for Cannery Pier Hotel &
Spa and Surfsand Resort in Cannon Beach, Oregon. “Having an event in Astoria is ideal because it’s a historic town with so much charm and provides a host of arts and culture activities year-round.” The cannery’s history may also inspire in attendees the desire to fish. Lance Fisher Fishing can arrange a fleet of small boats to take up to 30 people.

The Teton Range in Wyoming || Photo by Snehit Photo, courtesy of Adobe Stock


Mid-September through mid-October is the safest bet for catching fall leaves at their most glorious across the region. Along with a backdrop of stunning autumn colors, consider planning your event around harvest season or Halloween fun.

The Bronze Buffalo Ranch at Teton Springs is a 20-minute drive west of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the foothills of the Teton  Range. Your group can stay in its 36-room all-suite hotel, or book a combination of condo and vacation home rentals. The ranch’s Bronze Buffalo Canopy event tent offers views of the nearby national forest in all it’s falltime glory. Attendees can enjoy small group activities, including a one-hour trail ride on horseback, fly fishing, and skeet shooting sporting clays with shotguns. “Fishing and skeet shooting can be set up to be more of a team-building activity with friendly competition,” says Hannah Ceja, director of membership services at Bronze Buffalo. “Horseback riding is more of a leadership experience as each individual learns how to communicate and lead the horse to move together.” For a special early fall evening, take your group to nearby Linn Canyon Ranch for a trail ride, or for special group dinners year-round. Other top Jackson Hole venues for groups include the Four Seasons Hotel in Teton Village, The Lodge at Jackson Hole in the town of Jackson, and Hotel Terra in Teton Village.

Autumn is wine harvest season in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Dozens of vineyards have event spaces on-site, including Eagles Nest Reserve, which hosts private tastings, meetings, and events in a renovated timber-frame barn. For Portland meetings, Amaterra Winery is a gorgeous venue on the outskirts of the city. The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg is especially known for wine activities and beautiful facilities. “Autumn is the perfect time to visit Oregon’s Willamette Valley as visitors can really enjoy the fruits of our labor, literally,” says Percy Brandon, general manager of The Allison Inn & Spa. Your group of 12 or more can reserve a private event space with a wine director for an educational pairing experience. “Or check out our extensive art collection during a walking art tour, with glass in hand,” Brandon suggests. Nearby off-site activities include visits to farms and pumpkin patches.

In Alaska, fall means the return of aurora borealis viewing. At Chena Hot Springs Resort, 61 miles northeast of Fairbanks, your group can ride in a military-style vehicle up to a mountaintop for a 360-degree view of the night sky. You’ll stay warm inside a heated yurt, drinking cocoa while waiting for the dancing lights to appear overhead.

Fat tire biking in Whitefish, Montana || Photo by Elise Giordano


If your group doesn’t mind snow and lower temperatures, there’s a lot to love about winter meetings. “Overall, winter at Mount Rainier gives groups more privacy and a whole different set of activities for team building than in the high-traffic summer months,” says Matt Wakefield, chief marketing and data officer for Travel Tacoma-Mount Rainier Tourism and Sports. “Plus, rates on lodging and space rentals are usually more enticing, although the cozier cabins and lodges do end up getting booked fairly early.” So, be sure to plan ahead. The Pack Forest Conference Center, owned by the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, sits in Mount Rainier’s foothills and offers apartments, cabins, and dorms. “[There’s] nothing like camp-style lodging to build a team,” Wakefield says. He also recommends a snowshoe hike on the mountain’s Trail of the Shadows. “It’s flat, easy, historic, and scenic.”

Leavenworth is another Washington destination that excels at winter. The Bavarian-inspired village is known for its holiday displays—which are beautiful, but draw big crowds—so you might want to plan your meeting for January or February for less crowding and likely cheaper rates. Winter team-building activities include snowshoeing and snowmobiling tours, riding an alpine coaster, sleigh rides, and snow tubing. Animal lovers will enjoy hand-feeding reindeer at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm.

Over the border in British Columbia, Whistler is an iconic ski town with a relaxing pedestrian-only village. Attendees can fly into Vancouver International Airport, and bus or shuttle airport tranfers to Whistler Blackcomb ski resort are available to book. The large resort features several on-mountain lodging options for groups of 20 or more alongside activites including heli-skiing, backcountry skiing, snowmobile tours, and dog sledding. The Whistler Conference Centre offers 65,000 square feet and excels in green meeting planning, such as recycling name badges and serving fair trade coffee.

To the southeast, Whitefish, Montana, features easy airport access from Glacier Park International Airport, or visitors can take the Amtrak, disembarking downtown. Small- to medium-size groups can step outside and right into skis at the slopeside Kandahar Lodge. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake welcomes groups of all sizes with more than 15,000 square feet of meeting space. Grouse Mountain Lodge is located on Whitefish Lake Golf Course—which turns into Glacier Nordic Center in winter with 7 miles of groomed Nordic skiing trails—and Whitefish Mountain Resort is perfect for group skiing with discounts on lodging, lessons, and rentals for groups of 20 or more. “Whitefish is a fabulous spot to host a wintertime meeting,” says Dan Hansen, director of marketing and sales for Explore Whitefish. “From horse-drawn sleigh rides to Nordic skiing to snowmobiling to a top-ranked ski resort, there is no shortage of experiences to reinvigorate yourself. And don’t forget about the 1-million-plus-acre Glacier National Park right in our backyard.”

Over in the Beaver State, winter activities abound. Groups meeting in Bend or Sunriver, Oregon, can take group skiing or snowboarding lessons at the nearby Mt. Bachelor Ski & Snowboard Resort. Mount Bachelor is located in the Deschutes National Forest, surrounded by 2 million acres of forested wilderness. Whatever time of year your group chooses to meet, think about what seasonal activities will add to the fun and create lasting memories. We owe it to our meeting-goers to make the most of what the beautiful Pacific Northwest has to offer.