Washington is the north-western most state of the contiguous United States. Its northern border lies mostly along the 49th parallel, and then via marine boundaries through the Strait of Georgia, Haro Strait and Strait of Juan de Fuca, with the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north. Washington borders Oregon to the south, with the Columbia River forming the western part and the 46th parallel forming the eastern part of the southern boundary.
To the east, Washington borders Idaho, bounded mostly by the meridian running north from the confluence of the Snake River and Clearwater River (about 116°57' west), except for the southernmost section where the border follows the Snake River. To the west of Washington lies the Pacific Ocean. Washington was a Union territory during the American Civil War, although it never actually participated in the war.
Washington is part of a region known as the Pacific Northwest, a term which always includes Washington and Oregon and may or may not include Idaho, western Montana, northern California, and part or all of British Columbia, Alaska, and the Yukon Territory, depending on the user's intent.
The high mountains of the Cascade Range run north-south, bisecting the state. Western Washington, from the Cascades westward, has a mostly marine west coast climate with mild temperatures and wet winters, autumns, and springs, and relatively dry summers. Western Washington also supports dense forests of conifers and areas of temperate rain forest. Washington also is home to several other mountain ranges, the most prominent of which are the Olympic Mountains, far west on the Olympic peninsula; the Kettle River Range in the northeast; and the Blue Mountains in the southeast.
In contrast, Eastern Washington, east of the Cascades, has a relatively dry climate with large areas of semiarid steppe and a few truly arid deserts lying in the rainshadow of the Cascades; the Hanford reservation receives an average annual precipitation of between six and seven inches (178 mm). Farther east, the climate becomes less arid, increasing as one goes east to 21.2 inches (538 mm) in Pullman. The Palouse southeast region of Washington was grassland that has been mostly converted into farmland. Other parts of eastern Washington are forested and mountainous.
The Cascade Range contains several volcanoes, which reach altitudes significantly higher than the rest of the mountains. From the north to the south these volcanoes are Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Mount St. Helens is currently the only Washington volcano that is actively erupting; however, all of them are considered active volcanoes. The state is also home to Mt. Rainier, a volcano 50 miles (80 km) south of the city of Seattle, from which it is prominently visible. The 14,411-foot (4,392 m)-tall Mt. Rainier is considered the most dangerous volcano in the continental U.S., due to its proximity to the Seattle metropolitan area. It is also listed as a Decade Volcano.
Washington's position on the Pacific Ocean and the harbors of Puget Sound give the state a leading role in maritime trade with Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Rim. Puget Sound's many islands are served by the largest ferry fleet in the United States.
Washington is a land of contrasts. The deep forests of the Olympic Peninsula, such as the Hoh Rain Forest, are among the only temperate rainforests in the continental United States, but the semi-desert east of the Cascade Range has few trees. Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in the state, is covered with more glacial ice than any other peak in the lower 48 states.
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