The Pacific Northwest is a remarkably scenic corner of the continental United States. The striking coastal ranges of Washington and Oregon offer dramatic vistas, temperature (if often damp) weather, and dozens of outdoor activities within a few hours' drive.

Now those drives can be done in electric cars, courtesy of the country's first scenic byway and tourism route designed specifically for electric cars.

Washington State and several businesses together plan to install a series of charging stations along U.S. Route 2, starting in Everett (just outside Seattle) and reaching 120 miles over the Cascade Mountains to Wenatchee, in the north central area of the state.

The state and the private EV Project are already building a network of charging stations within Seattle and in the surrounding region of greater Puget Sound. The new route is a linear extension from the urban and suburban concentration through less populated areas, albeit areas that are consistently popular with visitors.

2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station

2011 Nissan Leaf at quick-charging station

Many businesses along the route are coordinating to install quick chargers, reasoning that the 30 minutes tourists will spend in their establishments are likely to generate revenue many times the cost of the electricity they provide.

And at rates as low as 3 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from clean hydroelectric sources, those businesses pay some of the nation's lowest rates for green power.

Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth, Washington, is one of the businesses planning to install a air of charging stations. More than half a dozen others are expected to participate by the time the charger network is up and running this spring.

Among the participating businesses are auto dealers who sell electric cars, including Town Nissan of Wenatchee. It will let members of the public use its 240-Volt charging station, including drivers with plug-in vehicles other than the 2011 Nissan Leaf battery electric car.

Tom Goodfellow, Town Nissan’s New Car Sales Manager, says EV drivers will just have to come inside the dealership and ask permission to use the publicly accessible charging station.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

As well as the chargers installed by private businesses, funds from last year's Federal Recovery Act will pay for two or three DC quick-charging stations along the route that will be installed by the State of Washington by the end of the year, perhaps earlier.

Such fast chargers will let a 2011 Leaf--or, for that matter, a 2012 Ford Focus Electric and other battery vehicles--to recharge to 80 percent capacity in roughly half an hour.

Two or three such charges would permit a Leaf to make it all the way over the mountains, depending (of course) on driving style, weather conditions, and a few other factors.

The Route 2 journey is known nationwide for its beautiful scenery, with the stretch from Everett to Wenatchee renamed the Stevens Pass Greenway.and designated a National Scenic Byway.

More than 3 million travelers a year pass along the route, where fishing, winter sports, camping, hiking, rafting and kayaking, hunting, and winery tours proliferate.

If you're tempted by the prospect of an emissions-free trip through scenic Washington State, the region helpfully maintains a website to let you sort through these diverse activities.

[Plug-In Center]