best time to road trip pacific northwest

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The Wandering Queen

The Ultimate Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Even though I have lived in Washington for over two years, I cannot get enough of exploring this stunning area. This area is my favorite place in the world, and I can’t wait to show you my version of the perfect Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary. This itinerary is filled with waterfalls, breathtaking mountains, lakes, rivers, food, restaurants, beaches, and more! I hope after exploring this area you love it just as much as I do!

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission (for which I am very grateful for) at no extra cost to you. 

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About this 2 week pacific northwest road trip.

After exploring this area for almost three years, I have come up with the perfect itinerary for you! Below I jotted down the most significant views of each area, and I also have links to blog posts that go into more detail about each site.

I recommend flying into Seattle and then flying out of San Francisco. You also need a rental car, and I suggest renting one from here .

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Map

Below is a map showing the route for 14 days. I have also pinpointed the area on Google Maps. You can download this map for your trip.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary map

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: 14 days

Day 1-2: north cascades national park.

diablo lake

Accommodation:

  • The Rolling Huts: They are not located inside the park but near it. It is difficult to find accommodation near North Cascades, so this is a good option. >>>Check It Out Here

My favorite national park in Washington is North Cascades National Park. This place is highly underrated! The bright blue turquoise color of the lake and the mountains in the background make this one of the best viewpoints in the state of Washington. Many people do not visit this national park because the trails are challenging, making it harder for families with small children to see.

I still think it is worth it to stop here even if you are traveling with small children. Some of the more accessible trails include Blue Lake and Thunder Knob, and two of the best viewpoints are Diablo Lake Vista Point (shown in the photo above) and Washington Pass Observation Site.

More strenuous hikes for avid hikers are Maple Pass Loop, Thornton Lakes, Cutthroat Pass, Cascade Pass, and Hidden Lake.

Read My North Cascades National Park Guide: The 7 Best Hikes In North Cascades National Park From A Local

maple pass loop trail

Day 3: Seattle

best time to road trip pacific northwest

  • Hotel Four Seasons Hotel Seattle : The view here is probably some of the best you can find in a hotel in Seattle and it is so close to Pike Place Market, the most popular activity in the city. >>>Check It Out Here

I lived in Seattle for years, and it is still one of my favorite cities in the United States! The food is so good, and I love walking around and exploring this one-of-a-kind place. The mountains in the distance with the Pudget Sound next to it makes Seattle one of the most breathtaking cities I have seen.

Download my Washington Hiking Checklist!

Some of the most popular things to do are to see Pike Place Market, The Needle, The Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, Olympic Sculpture Park, Discovery Park, Golden Gardens Beach, The Seattle Troll, Gas Works Park, or the Seattle Great Wheel. You only need a day or two to explore most popular activities. Seattle is great, but what makes Washington unique is everything outside of the city. The outdoor scene in Washington is probably some of the best in the United States. So make sure you don’t spend most of your road trip in Seattle.

Read More On Washington: The Most Incredible Washington Road Trip Itinerary: 7-14 days

Day 4-5: Olympic National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

  • Olympic Lodge: I stayed at the Olympic Lodge for one weekend, and it’s one of the city’s best hotels. It isn’t a five-star hotel, and I feel like the lighting needs some major updating, but it is the best hotel on the Peninsula. Also, the hotel is located close to Hurricane Ridge.    >Click Here To Check Pricing

Read More: Where to Stay in Olympic National Park – 10 Best Cabins & Rentals

Olympic National Park is one of the most popular areas in Washington. The reason is because this place is so diverse as it has mountains, lakes, waterfalls, beaches, and rainforests! It has it all! Olympic National Park is an outdoor lovers paradise! Since it has so much to offer, there is so much driving to do, and it is best to explore here for two days minimum.

I recommend lumping the west side of the park for one day and the northern part for another day. The most popular things in the north area include Mount Storm King, Marymere Falls, Hurricane Ridge, and Sol Duc Falls.

The western side has beautiful beaches like Ruby Beach, Shi Shi, and Second Beach. Also, the Hall Of Mosses is so green and lush, and it is perfection! You don’t want to miss that.

Read More On Olympic: The 21 Best Hikes In Olympic National Park

Day 6-7: Mount Rainer National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

  • Alexander’s Lodge:  This cute historic Lodge was built in 1912! It features a restaurant, fireplace, and little outdoor yurts.  >Check Prices Here

Mount Rainier is the most well-known mountain in the state of Washington. You can see it from Seattle, even though it is located over 3 hours away! Hiking in the National Park is a must when you visit this state. The best and most popular part is the Paradise area, and I love exploring it! The best things to see there include Skyline Trail, Nisqually Vista Trail, Reflection Lakes, and Comet Falls.

If you head over to the Sunrise area, Fremont lookout and Naches Loop are my favorite trails! Naches Loop is magnificent in the Summer when all the wildflowers are out.

Read More On Mount Rainier: The 16 Absolute Best Mt Rainier Hikes

Day 8: Portland

portland

  • The Mark Spencer Hotel : An excellent hotel a few minutes away from Powell’s Bookstore and the Japenese Garden.  >>>Book Here

Portland is such a fun city to explore for the day! The food here is exceptional, and there are many breweries to try out. Some of the popular things to do here include:

  • Drinking a beer at Deschutes Brewery
  • Visiting Powell’s Bookstore
  • Eat At Voodoo Doughnut for breakfast
  • Checking out the International Rose Test Garden
  • Check out the Portland Japanese Garden

Read More About Oregon: The Perfect 10 Day Oregon Road Trip Itinerary

Day 9: Columbia River Gorge

best time to road trip pacific northwest

  • Hood River Hotel:  Hood River Hotel is the oldest hotel in Hood River, Oregon, and has been updated with a cute modern style. There is a restaurant on-site, and it is pet friendly. >>>Book Here

Columbia River Gorge is a waterfall lovers paradise. There are so many waterfalls that it is overwhelming to list them all. Every single one of them is so magnificent! Some of the most popular ones include Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls, Ponytail Falls, and Dry Creek Falls.

Waterfalls are not the only thing to see here. The views of the Columbia River Gorge are stunning, especially at the Hood River Waterfront Park. There are also many wineries and fabulous restaurants near Hood River City. I especially loved the Solstice Wood Fire Pizza.

Read More: The Ultimate Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls Road Trip

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Day 10: Mount Hood

mount hood

Mount Hood is a beautiful area near the Columbia River Gorge, so it is best to stay at Hood River City for another night. Mount Hood has so many farms and vineyards as well as some incredible hikes! Some of the most popular hikes in the area include Tom Dick and Harry Trail , Trillium Lake Loop , Tamanawas Falls , and Ramona Falls .

Day 11: Bend

smith rock

  • Hotel SpringHill Suites by Marriott Bend:  We stayed at this hotel, and I loved it. It was clean, close to many restaurants, breweries, and had a nice bar.  >>>Book Here

My favorite city in Oregon is, of course, the city of Bend! There is so much to do in this cute city. I have been here many times, but I feel like I did not see enough every time I left. I always left wanting to explore even more. They have many breweries, wineries, and outdoor activities. Some of the popular hikes in the area include  South Sister Summit , and  Green Lakes Trail . There is also Smith Rock (pictured above), which is located near Bend. Smith Rock is probably my favorite outdoor area at Bend, primarily because you can rock climb.

Read More: Amazing Things to Do in Bend, Oregon | 20 Top Activities & Attractions

Day 12: Crater Lake

crater lake national park

  • Crater Lake Lodge:  One of the few hotels located in the National Park.   >>>Book Here

Crater Lake National Park is the only national park located in Oregon. It is breathtaking, and the color of the bright emerald blue water is truly spectacular. I recommend stopping by and taking a look at the lake from one of the many viewpoints. Watchman Overlook, Phantom Ship Overlook, and Cloudcap Overlook have the best viewpoints. You can also hike to the water and swim in it. The only trail with access to the lake is Cleetwood Cove Trail .

Read More: 14 Best Things To Do at Crater Lake National Park

Day 13: Oregon Coast

Natural Bridges

  • Tu Tu’ Tun   Lodge (Gold Beach):  This place is fantastic and nestled in a beautiful forest area. >>>Check It Out Here

My favorite part of the Oregon Coast is the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor located in the southern area. It is so dreamy! The one shown in the picture above is called the Natural Bridges. Be careful in this area as the trail is very sketchy and dangerous. Wear good hiking shoes.

The Oregon Coast is a lot more than Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, and you can spend weeks at the coast. If you want to do more than the scenic corridor, check out my blog post below, where I list out even more activities.

Read More: The Best Things To Do On The Oregon Coast

Day 14: Redwoods National Park

Redwoods National Park

  • Hotel Holiday Inn Express Redwood National Park, an IHG Hotel : There are no official hotels in the national park, but this one here is quite nice. >>>Book Hotel Here

The last national park on this list is the Redwoods National Park. It is located in California, and I have been here multiple times. Some of the best things to do are hiking Stout Grove, discovering the Lady Johnson Grove, and exploring Fern Canyon. The trees are so big and tall, and the area’s fern seems to go on forever.

Read More Here: Redwood National Park Advice

Other Pacific Northwest Itineraries

Fourteen days is plenty enough to explore the PNW, but you can also do it in 10 or 7 days. Below are my recommendations.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip 7 days

Pacific northwest road trip 10 days, all the best views in the state, 100+ wa hikes.

Embark on Washington’s best trails with our eBook! Inside, find top hikes, expert tips, and stunning views, making every adventure unforgettable. Dive into the beauty of Washington’s outdoors now!

Best Time For A Pacific Northwest Road Trip

After living in Washington for a few years, I know when the best time for this road trip is, and it is the summer months. This includes the months of July, August, and September. Many people ask me about June, but June is usually too early. The best places are generally under snow during this time. November-March is also very rainy and snowy, so I would not recommend this itinerary during this time.

I will warn you that the summer months tend to bring fires, so you might have to adjust this itinerary to avoid fire and smoke.

What To Pack For A PNW Road Trip

  • Sunscreen:  Super important and it is part of the ten essentials!   >Buy Sunscreen
  • Chapstick:  This one has SPF so your lips won’t get burned!  >Check Out This Chapstick
  • Hiking Boots/Shoes:  If you use tennis shoes, you can easily hurt your toes hitting a rock by accident (Trust me, I have done it so many times before).  >Check Out My Hiking Shoes
  • Hiking socks:  Having the correct socks helps you prevent getting blisters. Smart Wool is probably my favorite brand out there.   >Buy Hiking Socks
  • Water Reservoir:  Water reservoirs help prevent me from getting dehydrated while hiking. The great thing about this reservoir is that it doesn’t have the plastic taste.  >Here Is My Water Reservoir
  • Water:  Stay nice and hydrated.
  • Sunglasses:  It can get sunny, so make sure to pack some sunglasses.  >Check Out These Sunglasses
  • Snacks:  The best snacks are jerky, nuts, and energy bars.  >>>Love These Snacks Here
  • Camera:  The Sony A6000 was one of the first cameras I started traveling with. The Sony A6000 is an excellent camera for people that want to start improving at travel photography.    >Buy Sony Camera Here
  • First Aid Kit:  This is one of the first things I bought when I first started going on adventures. It is super portable.  >Buy This Awesome First Aid Kit Here
  • Day Pack to carry all your things:  To carry all your gear, water, and food, you need a good backpack. Osprey is known to have some of the best backpacks in the market.  >Buy This Great Quality Backpack
  • Headlamp:  A headlamp is an absolute must in case you get stranded in the dark! It is a lot more portable and easier to use than a flashlight.  >Buy A Headlamp Now
  • Leggings or Hiking Pants:  I always wear leggings while hiking because it is what I feel most comfortable with!  >Click For My Favorite Hiking Leggings
  • Breathable sweat-wicking shirts : Cotton shirts soak up your sweat when hiking, so make sure to wear something breathable.  >Check out this awesome breathable shirt here.
  • Mid Base Layer:  It can get chilly in Oregon even in the summer.  >Check Out My Sweater Here
  • Sports Bra:  For women.  >Check This One Here
  • Jacket:  I always have a jacket in my backpack, even if it is hot. I do it just in case of an emergency.   >Buy My Favorite Jacket
  • Rain Jacket:  The worst feeling in the world is being wet and cold while hiking. You can get hypothermia, so always carry a poncho or a rain jacket when you hike Oregon.  >Check Out My Rain Jacket Here
  • Tripod:  This is an optional item, but it is excellent for getting the ideal sunset pictures.  >Check out this tripod
  • Knife:  I always carry a knife in my backpack just in case.  >Check Out My Knife Here

best time to road trip pacific northwest

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Final Thoughts On Pacific Northwest Road Trip Ideas

Thanks for reading all about my Pacific Northwest vacation guide. Make sure to check out some of my other PNW blog posts:

  • 25 Cozy Cabins In Washington State
  • 25 Amazing Oregon Waterfalls You Need To See Today
  • 17 Breathtaking Easy Hikes In Washington State
  • 25 Best Waterfalls In Washington State
  • The 12 Best Washington Fire Lookouts
  • 35 Best Things To Do In Washington State
  • The Perfect Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary

best time to road trip pacific northwest

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Thank you so much for putting this itinerary together. It gives me a lot to look into and research! I do have a question, though. If we added a 1-day fishing trip (for the boys) and an anything other than fishing (for the girls), where would you insert that into the trip? Thanks!

This is the best PNW road trip I’ve seen! We’ve done the Washington half of it a few years ago, now doing Oregon and the Redwoods this upcoming year. This one has everything we want to see – Redwoods, Oregon Coast, Crater Lake, Mt Hood, and Columbia River Gorge. Was wondering if all of this would be doable on one trip, but glad that I’m not the only ambitious one!

Can I please get your opinion about our itinerary? This trip is in late June/early July. Two families traveling in a passenger van we’re renting when we leave Seattle. We’re flying into and out of Seattle. So far we have booked 2 nights in Seattle 2 nights in Ashford 3 nights in Seaside, OR We have 4 more nights not including the night before our flight. We want to stay somewhere somewhat close to SeaTac. Not sure if we should spend 1 or 2 nights in Forks, P.A., should we go to Victoria for 2 nights? We can’t take the van to Canada. We’d have to get passports unless a birth certificate and drivers license is sufficient. Thanks for your help!

I would do Forks. Victoria is in Canada and that Ferry can be a pain.

What time of year did you do this trip? Thinking of going late June/early July and wondering if that’s a good time to go or not. Thanks!

I live here and the best time to do this is July to avoid the snow.

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The World Was Here First

The Perfect 5 to 7 Day Pacific Northwest Itinerary

Last Updated on January 11, 2024

by Audrey Webster

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we may make a small commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, see our privacy policy.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The Pacific Northwest should be on your radar for a number of reasons. Within the region, you have access to mountains, forests, and coastline along with unique and vibrant cities. The PNW generally includes Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. However, for your 5 to 7-day Pacific Northwest itinerary, we’re going to look specifically at Washington and Oregon.

Should you have more time to spend in the area, extend your trip to visit Idaho and BC. We’ll include a combination of urban and natural areas, as well as destinations that are a bit more off the beaten path.

Table of Contents

Best Time to Visit the Pacific Northwest

The best time to visit the PNW is in the summer. Summers tend to be mild–they are warm and comfortable. During this time of year, you can plan to pack sandals, shorts, and a light jacket. Always have a rain jacket on hand as the PNW is known for brief and sudden downpours before returning to beautiful blue skies.

Keep in mind that a visit in August or September might force you to travel around wildfires. Eastern and central Washington and Oregon experience their highest number of wildfires during these months, so it might be the case that some trails or forest areas are off-limits to visitors. 

Summer may be the best time to visit, but you can still visit during other months. Visiting national parks or state forests during the fall provides the opportunity to witness the stunning changing of the leaves.

In October, it’s usually still warm enough to camp and you can enjoy the orange and yellow leaves. The winter months in Washington and Oregon are cold and wet, but if you enjoy winter sports, consider paying a visit to the PNW during this time.

There are several ski resorts as well as opportunities for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. 

As a general rule of thumb, never visit the PNW without a rain jacket or umbrella. The area is known for being flush with green all year round, but this is only possible due to large amounts of rain. Make sure you pack carefully for whichever season you plan to visit. 

The Oregon Coast is a highlight of the Pacific Northwest

5 to 7-Day Pacific Northwest Itinerary

If you’re lucky enough to have a full 7 days to spend in the PNW, take this itinerary to guide your travels. We also have options for a 5-day itinerary that will take you to some of the PNW’s best places.

If you need to rent a car for this trip, then you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices across a number of companies. Alternatively, you can also consider renting an RV or a campervan from Outdoorsy.

Day 1 – Seattle, Washington

Beginning your travels in Seattle, Washington is the perfect way to kick off your itinerary. You can visit the city in one day, but it’s ideal if you can spare more than that.

Seattle is most well known for the Space Needle, museums, and Pike’s Place Market, where you’ll find delicious seafood, outstanding views of Puget Sound, and the original Starbucks coffee.

The Chihuly is a blown glass museum that tends to be a fan favorite. You must also make sure to pay the famous gum wall at Pike’s Place a visit. 

Spending a day in Seattle can give you a great taste for the city before continuing onto the rest of your PNW itinerary.

Where to Stay in Seattle

The Mediterranean Inn – Situated within walking distance of the iconic Space Needle, this hotel is a great option for staying in Seattle. You can choose from a range of rooms including some with self-catering facilities and there is a 24-hour reception.

Inn at the Market  – Located close to the iconic Pike Place Market, this boutique hotel is a great option if you’re not worried about your budget. There are a range of comfortable rooms to choose from and a great rooftop bar with spectacular views of Seattle.

HotelHotel Hostel — If you’re travelling on a budget or are solo and looking for a social atmosphere, then this hostel is a great choice! Centrally located in Seattle, they offer both private rooms and dorms with good common areas as well!

Private Rental — If you’d prefer to have your own place to stay in Seattle, then it’s worth considering a private apartment for your stay. There are a number of great properties to choose from, from a basic one-bedroom apartment to unique stays like this urban treehouse .

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Seattle!

Seattle's Iconic Skyline

Day 2 – Olympic National Park & Rialto Beach

For day two, head northwest toward Olympic National Park . If you sat on the waterfront in Seattle and looked west, you most likely saw a mountain range–this is Hurricane Ridge on the Olympic peninsula. Here you’ll find forests, mountains, and beaches to explore.

At the furthest tip of the peninsula is the stunning Cape Flattery. There’s a road that goes around the outskirts of the park, but you should make sure to venture into the mountains and rainforests, namely the Hoh Rainforest. 

One of the most popular areas of the Olympics is Rialto Beach. It’s near La Push, made famous because of the Twilight movies filmed there. Rialto is unique for its stacks of driftwood and ecosystems, a combination of beach and coastal forest.

If your itinerary allows, try to visit during sunset. On a clear summer evening, set up a blanket and watch the gorgeous sunset over the ocean. Those who aren’t interested in Olympic NP, consider staying inland and spending this day in Mount Rainier National Park , instead.

Hall of Mosses in Olympic National Park

Where to Stay Near Olympic National Park

Olympic Lodge – Located in Port Angeles, this is one of the top options if you’d prefer a luxury accommodation to come back to after exploring the National Park. They have a number of great rooms and great facilities such as a swimming pool and a restaurant on site.

Emerald Valley Inn – Also situated in Port Angeles, this inn is located near the park entrance making it convenient for those who want to start exploring early! They have a range of rooms available including some with a patio and there is also a restaurant on site.

Greenhouse Inn by the Bay – Located in the town of Sequim, this bed and breakfast is the perfect cosy place to rest your head after a day of exploring the park. They have a range of comfortable rooms to choose from, with breakfast included in the nightly rate and a nice garden to relax in.

Private Rental – Another great accommodation option near Olympic National Park is a private rental. There are several options near the park that will give you more privacy and let you cook your own meals. For instance, this charming cottage in Port Angeles is an excellent option for a base!

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other places to stay in Olympic National Park!

Beautiful Rialto Beach

Day 3 – Oregon Coast

The cute and quaint coastal town of Astoria is a favorite getaway for a quiet weekend — it is actually the oldest city in Oregon, founded in 1811.

The Astoria Column is one of the most famous sites. It sits atop a hill overlooking the town. The column is covered in historical depictions of the region. For another look into local history, stop at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

The Columbia River divides Washington from Oregon and was a critical part of the area’s economy many years ago. The museum details local fishing, shipping, and military history. 

No road trip through the PNW is complete without exploring the coast, so make sure to pay Cannon Beach a visit on your way to Portland . Cannon Beach is home to Haystack Rock, one of the most iconic sites along the coast. Take a hike through Ecola State Park or visit Arch Cape.

These are areas that will get you away from the crowds as Cannon Beach does tend to see a lot of visitors, especially during the summer months. Make sure to try local seafood to round out your Oregon coast visit . 

Plan to spend your third day driving down the coast to Portland, where you’ll spend your next two nights. As another major tourist destination in the Pacific Northwest, there are countless places to rest your head in this hip city.

Beautiful coastline in Ecola State Park

Where to Stay in Portland

The Society Hotel – Centrally located close to all the major attractions of the city, this hotel is a perfect mid-range option. There are several rooms to choose from and there is also a restaurant and bar on site.

Kimpton Riverplace Hotel – If you’d prefer luxury accommodation during your stay in Portland then this hotel is a fantastic option. Located on the banks of the Willamette River, they offer a range of luxe rooms with all the amenities you would expect.

Private Rental — If you would rather have a bit of privacy and be able to cook your own meals, then a private apartment might be a good option for you. There are a number of great properties to choose from, like this quaint, centrally located cottage .

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Portland!

Day 4 – Portland, Oregon

Portland is the other main city in the Pacific Northwest and well worth a visit. Though spending two days in Portland is probably most ideal, you can still cover quite a bit of ground in just one day, as well.

The city’s mantra “keep Portland weird” rings true as you explore everything the city has to offer. Food and hikes are local favorites. There are neighborhoods throughout Portland that have the best food and nightlife, so make sure you research them before choosing where to spend your time.

Powell’s bookstore, Pittock Mansion, the Japanese Gardens, and more are excellent ways to spend a day. If you’re looking for a quiet way to spend an afternoon, consider a picnic in Laurelhurst Park. 

Portland comes alive at night!

Day 5 – Mt. Hood & Bend

If you drive just east of Portland, you’ll quickly arrive at Mt. Hood National Forest. You most likely saw Mt. Hood from Portland if it was a clear day, you might’ve also caught a glimpse of Mount St. Helens. Mt. Hood National Forest is filled with hikes of varying difficulty and camping.

The historic Timberline Lodge is worth a visit even if you’re not staying the night. Take a short hike to Trillium Lake or tackle a more strenuous hike up the side of the mountain. During the winter, Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline are two popular ski areas. 

Bend, Oregon is a great place to stop, refuel, and restock your snacks while exploring a central Oregon city – and there are also plenty of places to explore when driving from Portland to Bend .

Bend is known for its breweries, so take your pick and have lunch at one. The Deschutes River runs through the city and offers a much-needed relief from the heat during the summer.

During winter, Mt. Bachelor is a favored spot for outdoor activities. During your time in Bend, you can choose to stick to the city shops and restaurants or venture out to Pilot Butte or Smith Rock State Park for some time outside. 

You also could use this day to explore the highlights along the Columbia River Gorge, including the beautiful Multnomah Falls.

Driving towards Mount Hood

Where to Stay in Bend

Hampton Inn & Suites – If you’re after a basic clean hotel, then this is certainly a great option. Offering a range of different rooms in a central location, they have breakfast included daily and a hot tub and fitness centre for guests to use.

Oxford Hotel – This locally run and eco-friendly boutique hotel is an excellent option for spending the night in Bend. They offer several different types of rooms in a central location with great facilities. A superb breakfast is available each morning.

Private Rental – If you value your privacy and would rather stay in a private rental in Bend than a hotel, then are several options such as this historic home in central Bend .

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Bend!

City of Bend with Mt Hood in the background

Day 6 – John Day Fossil Beds, Painted Hills & Umpqua National Forest

The John Day Fossil Beds are filled with striped hills and ancient remnants of many years ago. These colorful rock formations capture the history of the region. It’s one of the richest fossil beds in North America and a fun spot to visit for those traveling with small children.

Sit at an outlook to enjoy the view or tie up your hiking shoes to take a walk through these rolling hills. You can learn how creatures that once walked the earth here as well as climate changes while you explore. 

The Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds go hand-in-hand. Oregon’s Painted Hills are one of three units of John Day and perhaps one of the most recognizable. It’s hard to miss the towering hills striped with reds, browns, and yellows–colors that look like they’ve been painted on.

In total, the area is 3,132 acres, giving you ample space to explore and step away from the crowds if you desire. The Painted Hills are listed as one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, so maybe you want to challenge yourself to visit as many wonders as possible during your trip. 

Next, head to the Umpqua National Forest. Within the forest, you’ll find waterfalls — we recommend paying Toketee Falls a visit, and several trails.

The forest covers 983,126 acres across three southern Oregon counties. Camping here during the summer is highly recommended.

There are several campgrounds that you can book in advance as well as many that are first come first serve, so they can better fit in your Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary. Take a break from the crowds and cities by spending a day exploring Umpqua National Forest. 

Day 7 – Umpqua Hot Springs & Crater Lake National Park

Seated in the Umpqua National Forest are the river’s hot springs. Visitors park in a designated parking lot before hiking a short and steep hike to the pools. Each pool is about the size of an average adult, making them ideal for lounging.

They are carved into the side of a hill and the stone around the pools do tend to get slippery, so make sure you wear proper shoes and remain cautious of where you’re stepping. The crowds at the pools tend to be a hit or miss. A weekend day usually draws more crowds than a midweek visit, so try to build your itinerary according to your preferences.

The Umpqua Hot Springs provide a nice place to rest and relax toward the end of your PNW road trip. 

Finally, it’s time to head to Crater Lake . As the only national park in Oregon, Crater Lake is a must-see during your road trip through the Pacific Northwest. Nearly 8,000 years old, a volcanic explosion rocked the area. The result was a 6,173-foot lake filled with crystal clear water that makes it appear a vibrant blue.

It’s worth visiting the park any time of year, but winters bring intense snowpack that may close roads and summer risks wildfires that can close the park. However, on a clear summer day, Crater Lake is unlike any place you’ve visited before. 

Beautiful Crater Lake

Have More Time?

We highly recommend venturing into Idaho and western Montana, or even into British Columbia – in fact, there are plenty of place to visit on the drive from Seattle to Vancouver .

If you have more time, try spending an extra day or two in the national parks and cities like Portland or Seattle . There is a lot to see during your 7-day Pacific Northwest road trip, so be sure to plan a trip that works for the speed you want to travel at. 

Take a look at a few highlights to add to your itinerary should you have some time to spare.

Yamhill-Carlton 

Here is a recommendation for those who enjoy wine tasting. The Yamhill-Carlton area is a rising player in the wine industry. Wineries here are specifically known for their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

Spend a day exploring a few local wineries and enjoying the lush green rolling hills of Yamhill-Carlton. There are also several wine festivals throughout the summer that are worth the visit if your itinerary aligns. 

The Enchantments

If you’re looking for a challenging hike to round out your time in the PNW, look no further than the Enchantments. You can get permits to camp at the top of the pass, but they are highly competitive. Many people opt to thru-hike the area.

If you’re not interested in a 20-mile day hike with substantial elevation gain, you can hike up to Colchuck Lake to take in the bright blue water and snowy peaks. It’s the most picturesque section of the hike and a favorite by those who make the trek up to see. 

North Cascades National Park

“The North Cascades are calling!” Located just north of Leavenworth are the North Cascades . These impressive mountains are loaded with hikes and vantage points that welcome visitors wholeheartedly.

With more than 3,000 glaciers, bright blue lakes, and snow-kissed peaks, these mountains are well worth the visit. Make sure to explore which hikes you’re interested in doing prior to arrival as some require permits.

The North Cascades are paradise for backcountry hikers. Winter severely limits which parts of the park you can access, so visiting during summer is recommended. Early summer avoids the late summer heat waves and there’s still some snow on the mountains. 

Stunning North Cascades National Park

Whether you have five days, seven days, or more, the Pacific Northwest has a little something for everyone. With so much natural space to explore, unique cities, and geological wonders, it’s hard to decide what to visit first.

Use this route to guide your road trip decisions, but remember to create a trip that caters to your interests and you’re certain to have an unforgettable Pacific Northwest itinerary. 

Are you planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Related Posts:

Paradise Overlook in Mount Rainier

8 Best Stops on the Seattle to Portland Drive

Toketee Falls: Stop on the San Francisco to Seattle Drive

20 Best Stops on a San Francisco to Seattle Road Trip

Rocky coastal of Friday Harbor

The Perfect Seattle to San Juan Islands Day Trip Itinerary

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About Audrey Webster

Audrey Webster is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an Oregon native who has visited countries across the globe and currently spends her weekends exploring the Pacific Northwest and surrounding states. Her approach to traveling combines exploring famous tourist sites and wandering off the beaten path to discover new destinations.

Thank you. We like your Pacific Northwest Itinerary, Seattle to Portland and plan to visit our grandson in Eugene on this trip and want to link to scenic route including Mt. Rainer, Mt. St. Helen’s, Crater Lake, Mt. Hood and more. If there is a planning group to contact to help plan a route this would be helpful with hotels and b&b’s in our budget. 3-4 weeks duration.

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Wheatless Wanderlust

How to Plan an Incredible Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Looking to plan an amazing Pacific Northwest road trip? You’re in the right place. We live in Portland, Oregon, and we regularly venture north from our home base in Oregon to explore every corner of the Pacific Northwest (some corners more than others). 

Some of our favorite memories from the past few years (including when we spent the better part of a summer living in a van road tripping around Oregon and Washington) were made in the northwest corner of the US. 

In this detailed guide, we’re going to go over a perfect road trip itinerary that takes you to a bunch of our favorite places in the Pacific Northwest over the course of 14 magical days. 

Have more or less time than that? Have no fear, we’ve got ideas on how to structure a trip with more and less time below the main itinerary, and you can use the details in the main itinerary to help you plan out your trip. 

In this complete guide to planning your Pacific Northwest itinerary, we’re going to give you the logistics you need to know – when to visit and our recommended route – along with a mini guide to each place on the itinerary. 

That mini guide will have information like what to do and where to stay – all based on our own experiences exploring the Pacific Northwest – along with links to more in-depth content we’ve written on the destination. 

In each “where to stay” section, we’ll give you options for camping (which is what we usually do) and not camping, which we recognize is what the vast majority of people prefer. 

Finally, at the end, we’ll give you some ideas on how to shorten or lengthen the itinerary to fit your particular trip. 

Sound good to you? This guide is super detailed, full of our tips and favorite places based on our extensive experience exploring the Pacific Northwest, which means it’s LONG. 

Strap yourself in, grab a cup of coffee (or beer or wine, no judgment here), and let’s get to exploring!

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

How Many Days Do You Need to Explore the Pacific Northwest?

First of all, there’s something you need to know before we get into this guide. The Pacific Northwest is BIG. 

Did you know that Oregon is the 9th largest state by area in the United States? We live here in Oregon, and that fact surprised us when we first came across it. 

From the southern border of Oregon up to Vancouver, B.C., it’s a ten hour drive. Which means you’re going to have to make some choices on what to see and skip, which is why we’re here!

For the purposes of this guide, we’re only talking about Oregon, Washington State, and British Columbia, which means we’re excluding Idaho, which is usually included, but doesn’t make sense from a travel time perspective. 

To tackle the itinerary as written below, which is our version of the “best” itinerary with limited time, you’re going to need 14 days at a minimum. 

Even with two full weeks, you’re going to be hard pressed to fit everything in, and are going to need to save some places for a return trip. 

If you have seven days or less , we’d strongly recommend focusing your time on EITHER Oregon or Washington. Lucky for you, we have guides to planning an Oregon road trip and a Washington State road trip to help you plan those trips. 

If you have 10 days , we’d focus on the corridor between Seattle and Portland, including Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park in Washington, and the Columbia River Gorge and Oregon Coast in Oregon. 

If you’re blessed with more time, we have plenty of ideas on what to add in the “with more time” section below the main itinerary.

Our top recommendation if you have three weeks is to add a week between Seattle and Vancouver , which was a tough thing for us to cut because we love that stretch. You can find that in the “with more time” section below. 

Our goal here is to give you the information you need to make the most of your limited time, which means making some hard choices on what to do (and what not to do). 

In the road trip itinerary below, we’ve done our best to make choices on what to see and what to skip based on our own experience and knowledge of the Pacific Northwest. 

For example, we’ve dedicated two days to the Paradise region at Mount Rainier, and relegated the Sunrise region to the “more time” section because it’s too time-consuming to get between them.

Where to Start and End Your Road Trip?

First, you should know that there are three main airports in the Pacific Northwest – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Portland International Airport (PDX) , and Vancouver International Airport (YVR) .

Since we’re focusing on Washington State and Oregon in this guide, it makes the most sense to fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and out of Portland International Airport (PDX).

To make the most of your time, for this itinerary we suggest flying into one of those and flying out of the other so that you don’t have to waste time driving back to the airport you flew into. 

We’ve chosen to have you fly into Seattle and out of Portland here, but you can easily flip it around and do it the other way if that happens to work better for you.

The other option, which makes sense if you’re including Bend on your trip, would be to fly into Seattle and out of Redmond Municipal Airport (RDM) , which services the Bend area. 

There are pros and cons to that approach – there will be fewer flight options, they will be more expensive, and they will likely have a connection (in either Portland or Seattle). 

If you do choose to do that, you’d just move Portland and Mount Hood up before Bend, which is totally doable. It would go Rainier – Portland – Columbia River Gorge – Mount Hood – Bend. 

What is the Best Time to Do This Road Trip?

We normally put this section down below the detailed itinerary, but we’ve had enough people ask us about the weather and conditions in the Pacific Northwest that we realized this needs to be up front. 

The best time to do this road trip as written below is between July and October. 

The reason is that the unique geography of the Pacific Northwest means that there is a very specific “best time” to do this road trip as written.

Because many of the places we’ve mentioned are in the Cascade Range – the mountains that form the spine of Washington and Oregon – some pieces of this itinerary are essentially inaccessible for large chunks of the year. 

Between late October and June (though exact timing depends on the year), the following areas will be largely inaccessible: Mount Rainier National Park, Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, and Mount Hood (plus North Cascades National Park, which are in the “more time” section). 

If you’re planning to visit outside of that timeframe, we have some good news. There are plenty of places worth visiting in the Pacific Northwest outside of the summer season. 

You’ll still be able to use the itinerary below (plus the “more time” section below it) to put together a pretty incredible road trip, though you’ll have to skip some of the places in the mountains. 

The Road Trip Route

The main issue you’re working against here when you’re planning your route is that the Seattle to Portland corridor – which is where the region’s two main airports are located – is a relatively small part of the broader two states we’re talking about. 

That, combined with the fact that both states are bigger than you think, means that there are going to be some long drives in your future no matter which way you slice it. 

For example, Portland to Crater Lake is somewhere around a five hour drive, depending on traffic and conditions. 

Here is how we’d spend your time. There will be some long days of driving, but that’s going to be the reality if you want to make it to some of these places. 

  • Day 1: Arrive in Seattle
  • Day 2: Seattle 
  • Day 3: Olympic National Park (Lake Crescent + Hurricane Ridge)
  • Day 4: Olympic National Park (Pacific Coast + Hoh Rainforest)
  • Day 5: Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise) 
  • Day 6: Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise)
  • Day 7: The Columbia River Gorge + Hood River
  • Day 8: The Columbia River Gorge + Hood River
  • Day 9: Bend 
  • Day 10: Bend
  • Day 11: Mount Hood
  • Day 12: Mount Hood
  • Day 13: Portland
  • Day 14: Portland + Fly Home

Here’s what that meandering route looks like on a map so you can visualize what we’re talking about. 

Of course, that’s just the base itinerary that we’d recommend. The exact route you take is going to depend on your particular interests, what time of year you’re visiting, and more factors than we can possibly take into account here. 

We have ideas for shorter and longer itineraries below the main itinerary if you have more or less time. 

One note on the balance of cities vs. nature . We’ve intentionally slanted this itinerary towards nature because that’s what we think makes the Pacific Northwest special. However, you could just as easily cut one or two nature destinations to give yourself extra time in Portland and Seattle, which are both well worth at least 2-3 days, given unlimited time. It depends on what you’re into!

How to Plan an Amazing 14 Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Now that we’ve covered the important logistics, let’s get into the detailed itinerary!

We’ll do our best to give you all the information you need to plan YOUR road trip through the Pacific Northwest, but if we miss something or you have more questions, leave us a comment below and we’ll do our best to either answer your question, or point you to someone who can.

Days 1-2: Seattle

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Any way you slice it, your trip is most likely going to start in Seattle, even if it’s just to snag your rental car and immediately head out to the wilderness. 

Now, we recognize that you’re likely coming to the Pacific Northwest to experience its natural beauty. Which is why you’ll find that this itinerary is slanted heavily towards the outdoors. 

However, allow us to make a suggestion for your trip. We highly recommend bookending your trip with 1-2 days in Seattle and Portland – which are beautiful cities full of greenery, mountain views, and great food and drinks. 

Seattle is set right on Elliott Bay, with views of the snow capped peak of Mount Rainier (which you’ll get to see up close later in the road trip!) from various vantage points. 

I, Matt, grew up in the Seattle area, went to college in Seattle, and lived there for a few years before taking a brief detour to California with plans to return to the Pacific Northwest. 

I still spend a fair amount of time in Seattle – my entire family lives there – and am consistently flabbergasted by how different the city looks today than, say, 20 years ago. The development and amount of wealth that has flowed into Seattle with the rise of the tech industry is astounding, and the city is experiencing the associated growing pains (like traffic and a housing crisis). 

I know I’m biased, but Seattle is a beautiful city with a diverse food scene and great cultural attractions that is well worth a couple of days of your limited time. 

What to Do in Seattle

You’re going to have somewhere between one and two days in the city, and we’d roughly split your time in half, spending half of your time in the downtown core where the main tourist attractions are (Pike Place Market and the Seattle Center), and half of your time exploring Seattle’s neighborhoods (like Capitol Hill and Ballard), which are where we think the city really shines. 

Here are some of our favorite things to do in Seattle, in no particular order. 

Experience Pike Place Market: There are certain tourist attractions around the world – like the Colosseum in Rome or the Louvre in Paris – that are very, very popular, and we’d say that it’s worth braving the crowds for the experience. That’s how we feel about Pike Place Market. Is it “touristy?” Certainly, yes. Is it a key element of any Seattle itinerary ? Also yes. It’s worth coming relatively early to beat some of the crowds. We’d skip the gum wall, which is downright disgusting if you really stop to think about it, and instead spend your time on the food and drink vendors in and around the market. Walk through the market and check out the vendors selling everything from candied nuts to flowers, and of course, the flying salmon. Stop by Rachel’s Ginger Beer , Beecher’s Cheese (their flagship cheese is one of my top three all time favorites), and Ellenos Frozen Greek Yogurt while you’re there. To go a level deeper, take this awesome guided tour of Pike Place with a Local Chef .

Seek out the Best View in Seattle: No, it’s not the Space Needle. In fact, we don’t think you should go to the top of the Space Needle. It’s a nice view, sure, but it’s ridiculously expensive AND it’s missing the most distinctive element of the Seattle skyline…the Space Needle. Instead, head just up the hill to Kerry Park, a free public park with a show stopping view of Seattle’s skyline, including the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, and Elliott Bay. You can find it here on Google Maps.  

The Museum of Pop Culture: Formerly the Experience Music Project (EMP), this is where Matt had his senior prom wayyyyy back when. It’s a cool space, and the focus is still mostly on Seattle’s influence in the global music scene with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, along with some Jimi Hendrix thrown in. There are als sections of the museum focused on other mediums, like movie production and sci-fi and fantasy. It’s a little pricey, but it’s our favorite attraction at the Seattle Center. 

Learn About Seattle’s History in a Unique Setting: A little quirky and offbeat, kind of like Seattle, the Underground Tour is worth doing while you’re in Pioneer Square. The tour guides are funny, and you get to learn about the history of Seattle from a slightly different perspective. 

Wander Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill is the most convenient of Seattle’s cool neighborhoods, sitting just across the freeway from downtown Seattle. It’s packed full of interesting spots to stop in, whether you’re looking for vegan ice cream or a unique boutique selling who knows what. Pound-for-pound, it’s probably the best place to eat and drink in the city. 

Explore Ballard: Ballard is a little less convenient than Capitol Hill, but we think it’s worth the journey and it’s the neighborhood where we find ourselves drawn to most often when we’re in Seattle. The highlight, by far, is the Ballard Farmers Market on Sunday mornings – if you’re in town on Sunday, absolutely do not miss it. We love Root Plants for coffee, Miro Tea for tea (it’s Alysha’s favorite spot in Seattle), and 8oz Burger for food, among a myriad of other fun spots.  Ballard Ave NW is where most of the action is. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Where to Stay in Seattle

If you’re only in town for a couple of nights, we’d make sure to stay centrally, which means staying somewhere in the downtown core of Downtown Seattle , Belltown , or South Lake Union . 

Keep in mind that if you’re renting a car, street parking is nonexistent. 

You’ll need to either park at your hotel and pay a premium, park at a parking garage in downtown Seattle near your hotel (ask the hotel if they have any recommendations – do not leave ANYTHING in the vehicle ), or wait to rent a car until you’re on your way to your next stop. 

Given limited time, it probably makes the most sense to pony up for parking for a couple of days to streamline things. 

We have stayed at – and recommend – the CitizenM in South Lake Union . 

It’s within walking distance (~15 minutes to Pike Place Market or Seattle Center) to most of the sights you’re going to want to see, the rooms are modern and comfortable, and the staff are super friendly. We’ve stayed in three different CitizenM hotels in the past year, and love them. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

If you’re interested, you can read more about our stay at the CitizenM South Lake Union . 

Some other hotels we’d recommend are the Ace Hotel Seattle (the original Ace Hotel – we stayed there a few years back and it’s a great location), the State Hotel (a boutique hotel around the corner from Pike Place Market), and Hôtel Ändra (a Scandinavian-inspired boutique hotel in Belltown). 

Days 3-4: Olympic National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Drive Time & Distance: 2 hours and 23 minutes // 82 miles

Situated at the northwestern corner of the contiguous United States, Olympic National Park is the most diverse of the three national parks in Washington State in terms of landscapes. 

Within the park, which sprawls out over the Olympic Peninsula, you have several distinct ecosystems, including alpine sections, rocky beaches, and the world-famous coastal temperate rainforests that thrive in the mild, wet weather in this part of the world. 

One note here: We’d strongly recommend you take the Bainbridge Island Ferry – which is a car ferry – across the Puget Sound from Seattle. It’s faster than driving around, and more importantly, it’s 1,000 times more scenic (though it does cost more). On a nice summer day, you can see Rainier, Baker, and the Olympic Range from the deck of the ferry.  

Here’s a view from that ferry ride to convince you. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Before we get into what to do in Olympic National Park, we need to take a second to talk about the park’s geography. 

There are four main regions of the park that we’d recommend that you take the time to explore. 

  • Hurricane Ridge & Lake Crescent – This region features towering mountains on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s easy to get to from all points east, like Seattle, and it also sits just 17 miles south of Port Angeles. Don’t miss Sol Duc Falls, Marymere Falls, and Hurricane Hill.
  • La Push Beaches – Rialto, First, Second, and Third Beach will all provide you with million-dollar sunsets and views onto the sea stacks with cliffs rising up from the sea. Make sure to look up too! You might spot the elusive bald eagle waiting patiently for its next meal (we saw two on our recent trip).
  • Hoh Rainforest – This is the moss-covered rainforest region that features sphagnum moss, wildlife, old-growth Sitka spruce, ferns, banana slugs, and wildlife of all kinds.
  • Lake Quinault – This is a region in the western part of the park that features the stunning Lake Quinault, located within the extraordinary Quinault Rainforest.

Normally, we recommend at least three days for an Olympic National Park itinerary . However, we’re working with limited time here, so we’re cutting that to two and focusing on the highlights. 

Given limited time, we think you should focus your time on Hurricane Ridge, the Pacific Coast, and the Hoh Rainforest, which is more than enough to fill a couple of days in the park.  

To make the most of your time here, you’ll want to make a counter-clockwise loop starting with Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent, moving west to Forks and the Pacific Coast, and ending with a drive south along the coast, with a few beach stops along the way.

This will also set you up nicely for your drive to Mount Rainier National Park, your next stop. 

It also makes sense to split your time in terms of where you stay, staying one night in the northern region of the park, and one night out on the coast near Forks.

You’ll want to spend your first night near Port Angeles , a good home base for Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent, then spend the next night in Forks (yep, that Forks) to do the Hoh Rainforest and Pacific Beaches. 

One other thing: There are no two ways about it – getting from the Olympic Peninsula to Mount Rainier National Park requires some driving, so be prepared for a long drive at the end of this leg.

What to Do in Olympic National Park

Here are some of our favorite things to do in Olympic National Park. We’ve ordered them in the order you’ll encounter them on your counter-clockwise loop around the tip of the Olympic Peninsula (from Port Angeles, to Forks, to Lake Quinault). 

Hurricane Ridge: Your first stop is Hurricane Ridge, which is at the northeastern corner of the park. To get up to the ridge – the highest point in the park that you can drive to – you’ll climb a steep, windy road (that closes in the winters for somewhat obvious reasons). Once you’re there, hike Hurricane Hill for excellent sweeping views of Western Washington. Then, drive out to Obstruction Point for more great views of the Olympic Range. If you want a longer hike, the hike to Grand Lake leaves from the end of Obstruction Point Road. 

Lake Crescent: Lake Crescent is the second deepest lake in the state, and you’ll find it about 20 miles west of Port Angeles along Highway 101. There are a couple of things to do and see here. First is the Lake Crescent Lodge , which is a historic lodge right on the lake (as you might imagine) that would be a great place to grab a drink and a snack after a morning of exploring (bonus points if you sit in the adirondack chairs on the lakeshore). Second are the hikes to Marymere Falls (short and easy stroll through the forest to a waterfall) and Mount Storm King (tough hike straight up to a nice view over the lake). 

Sol Duc Falls: Our favorite waterfall in the park, this is a little bit of a detour from Lake Crescent. We encountered it on our hike on the High Divide , a great backpacking trail that leaves from the same trailhead. It’s a very short, mostly flat stroll through the woods to a wooden bridge over the falls. 

Rialto Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall: If you made us choose, this hike is in our top three when it comes to hikes in Olympic National Park . It’s a flat stroll along the beach (hiking in the sand does suck, so be prepared for that) out past towering sea stacks, tidepools, and bald eagles sitting in the trees to a rock formation with a hole in it. We got super lucky on our first ever trip with perfect weather at sunset, which is the best time to do this hike, but your experience may vary (we’ve since been here twice in the summer, and it has been gray and raining both times). 

The Hoh Rainforest: The most famous of the coastal temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest, the Hoh Rainforest is lush, ferny, and mossy. It’s also busy, so we’d recommend trying to structure your itinerary here to make sure you’re parked and on the trail by 9am at the latest to avoid the long lines that form at the entrance station. Once you’re parked, do the short Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature Trail , and if you’re up for a relatively easy walk, do the first portion of the Hoh River Trail , which sees a fraction of the people that those first few trails see and is a very pleasant walk. 

Ruby Beach: Ruby Beach is one of our favorite beaches on this stretch of coast, and it’s a short walk away from the parking lot, and makes a nice stop between the Hoh Rainforest and Kalaloch (which is the last beach in the park before you head to Rainier). It’s everything you want in a coastal beach in Washington State – driftwood, sea stacks, and abundant bird life. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Where to Stay in Olympic National Park

Given the context of this trip, where you’re coming from Seattle and your next stop is Mount Rainier, we’d recommend spending your first night in Port Angeles at the northern end of the park, and your second night in Forks (again, yes, that Forks) near the Pacific Coast and rainforest.  

That’ll make a nice counterclockwise loop around the Olympic Peninsula, leaving you in a good position to make your way east to Mount Rainier. 

By the way, we have a whole, much more detailed guide to where to stay in Olympic National Park , which has our picks for the best places to stay in each region (Port Angeles and Forks, mainly) along with what you need to know about camping. 

Days 5-6: Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise)

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Drive Time & Distance: 5 hours // 248 miles

If you didn’t already know, we spent almost two years living in a converted Honda Odyssey on a never ending road trip around the western United States starting in 2020. During that time, we hit every national park in the west, except for the Channel Islands. 

Mount Rainier National Park is in our top three, and we revisit it every chance we get (which usually means a few days once or twice every summer and fall). 

Before we get to what to do and see at Mount Rainier, let’s quickly cover the geography of the area. 

There are three main areas of Mt. Rainier National Park: Paradise, Sunrise, and Mowich Lake . 

Here’s a quick summary of each. 

  • Paradise – Best for first-time visitors: Paradise is the most popular area to visit, located on the southern side of the Mountain, and home to some of the best wildflower meadows and lakes in the park. 
  • Sunrise – Best for epic hikes: Sunrise, which is on the east side of the park, is the highest point in Mount Rainier National Park that you can drive to. Several of our favorite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park leave from the big parking lot at the visitor center. 
  • Mowich Lake – Best for peace and quiet: Mowich Lake, on the northwestern side of the mountain, is the quietest area of the park. It is free from the tourist hype of Paradise and Sunrise, and the long and arduous bumpy gravel road to get there cuts the number of visitors significantly. 

The problem with Mount Rainier is that it takes a LONG time to get between those different areas. Paradise and Sunrise are roughly 90 minutes apart (one way), which makes it a long journey for a day trip with limited time. 

If it’s your first time and you only have a couple of days, we’d recommend basing yourself for your two days in the Paradise area. 

Paradise is our favorite part of the park with the best diversity of scenery (wildflower meadows, alpine lakes, and waterfalls) with plenty to do and see to fill a couple of days. 

It also happens to be the most convenient place to access your next stop on this road trip, which will take you south down to Oregon. 

What to Do in Mount Rainier National Park

Here are our favorite things to do in Paradise. 

Hike the Skyline Trail: The Skyline Trail is one of the best hikes in Washington State . From the lush subalpine wildflower meadows, to the rocky alpine terrain and up-close-and-personal view of Rainier’s face, to the sweeping views out over the Tatoosh Range and Mount Adams, it’s spectacular from start to finish. And we didn’t even mention the marmots and mountain goats yet! It’s a difficult hike, and you need to be prepared for a fair amount of climbing and lots of sun exposure. We have an entire guide dedicated to hiking the Skyline Trail – including logistics like which direction to hike and a complete trail guide – which you should read for more detail. 

Go chasing waterfalls: One of our favorite parts about Paradise is the great waterfalls. There are four main falls, and one of them – Myrtle Falls – is on the Skyline Trail. There are two that are accessible with a short walk from the parking lot – Christine Falls, framed by a picturesque stone bridge – and Narada Falls, which are on the road up to Paradise. The last is Comet Falls, which is the most impressive of the bunch and requires a quick hike to reach (you can read about it in our Comet Falls trail guide ). 

Capture a perfect reflection at Reflection Lakes: Reflection Lakes is one of our favorite views in the park, especially at sunrise or sunset. On a clear day, there’s a near-perfect reflection of Rainier’s glaciated peak in the water. BEWARE: the bugs here in the summer are intense. Matt is a magnet for mosquitoes and flies, and he braved the swarms of them to get some photos at sunrise and sunset on our last few trips. 

Tackle some other hikes near Paradise: While the Skyline Trail is our favorite of the bunch, there are several other hikes that are worth your time here. The first we’d recommend is Bench and Snow Lakes , which we overlooked ourselves until our last foray into the park, and want to help you avoid making the same mistake. It’s a great pair of lakes, and the hike in is tough enough to discourage most of the crowds, but easy enough for most people to make it out to both lakes. Second is Comet Falls , which is the most impressive waterfall in the park. Third is Pinnacle Peak , a tough climb up to a saddle with great views of Rainier. 

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Where to Stay near Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park

You’re going to want to base yourself near Paradise, which is on the south side of Rainier near the Nisqually entrance and the town of Ashford. 

If you’re camping , Cougar Rock Campground is a great home base for exploring this part of the park. It’s where we camp when we visit, though it’s tough to get reservations for summer weekends. More information here , including how to reserve a site. 

If you’re not camping, the town of Ashford is the best option. 

Sitting just outside the Nisqually Entrance, Ashford has a couple of nice hotels and a range of cabins in the woods if you’re looking for more space and a little more privacy. It’s the best location both in terms of accessing Paradise, and getting out to the I-5 corridor for your next stop. 

For more detail, make sure to read our guide to the best places to stay at Mount Rainier . 

Days 7-8: The Columbia River Gorge and Hood River

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Drive Time & Distance: 4 hours // 210 miles

After Rainier, you’ll be making your way south and crossing the Oregon border – which is the Columbia River (the one that Lewis and Clark traveled up to “discover” Oregon) – bringing you right into our own backyard. 

The Columbia River Gorge is nearly as impressive as the two national parks you’ve already seen, but in a different way. Millions of years of water running down the Gorge, combined with ample volcanic activity, have formed this massive chasm that separates the two main states in the Pacific Northwest. 

The Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, which is shaded by the walls of the Gorge, is lush, wet, green, and full of a stunning array of impressive waterfalls. 

The Washington side of the Gorge, which gets more sun exposure with its south facing hillsides that makes it drier and a paradise for wildflower hunters in the spring, features some of the best views of the Gorge from various hikes along the river.

Hood River sits at a unique point in the Gorge, and is a good home base for your explorations over the course of a couple of days. We say unique because of its geography. Head in any direction and the geology and topography changes drastically. 

East of Hood River deeper into the Gorge, you start to get into the High Desert. South of Hood River, you pass through the fertile Hood River Valley before climbing up into the Cascade Range. And west of Hood River is the lush Oregon side of the Gorge. 

The Gorge and Hood River is our favorite day trip from Portland , and we take almost every visitor that comes to see us in Portland out to experience the natural beauty that exists roughly 30 minutes from our front door. 

What to Do in the Columbia River Gorge & Hood River

Like we mentioned, we spend a lot of time exploring the Gorge and Hood River because they’re so accessible from our home in Portland. Here are some of our favorite things to do. 

Waterfalls in the Gorge: The best concentration of waterfalls exists on the Oregon side of the Gorge. Try to get to Multnomah Falls ( here on Google Maps), which you’ve undoubtedly heard of and seen pictures of, early in the morning to beat the crowds and tour buses that make it a zoo starting at around 10am. We really like Horsetail and Ponytail Falls ( here on Google Maps) and the short hike to Wahclella Falls ( here on Google Maps) which are a great bang-for-your-buck in terms of beauty to effort ratio. 

The Best Views of the Gorge: For some of the best views of the Gorge, there are a couple of viewpoints on the Historic Columbia River Highway that are worth a stop – the Vista House ( here on Google Maps) and the Women’s Forum Viewpoint ( here on Google Maps). In terms of hikes with a nice view, we love Angel’s Rest , which is a moderate climb to a rocky outcropping with great views up and down the Gorge. There are also some great views from the Washington side from Beacon Rock , the Hamilton Mountain Trail , and the Dog Mountain Trail . 

The Fruit Loop: The Hood River Fruit Loop refers to a particularly fertile section of the Hood River Valley that features fruit trees as far as the eye can see and excellent views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams, depending on which direction you’re looking. We love stopping at the fruit stand at Draper Girls (they also do u-pick fruit in the summer) and the Gorge White House for a drink in a nice location. For a great view of the valley and Mount Hood from above, head to Panorama Point ( here on Google Maps). 

Tamanawas Falls: This is a beautiful hike, and is equally as impressive as some of the waterfalls in the Gorge for a very reasonable effort. It’s about 30 minutes south of Hood River, and the trailhead is right off of Highway 35 on the way towards Mount Hood. 

Wine Tasting near Hood River: Hood River is a good place to go wine tasting because it’s more low key than the Willamette Valley – one of the premier wine regions on the west coast – but still has a baseline quality of wine. We prefer the wineries on the Washington side of the Gorge, and Loop de Loop is our favorite of the bunch. Other good ones that have been recommended to us by various locals are Savage Grace and AniChe (which are near Loop de Loop). On the other side of the Gorge, it’s worth driving a bit further east to hit Annalemma Wines . 

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Here are our Columbia River Gorge guides for more on what to see in this lovely part of the world. 

  • 15 Incredible Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge
  • What to Do in Hood River: A Complete Guide for First Timers
  • The 16 Best Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge
  • How to Hike the Hamilton Mountain Trail in the Gorge
  • Hiking the Gorgeous Wahclella Falls Trail in the Gorge

Where to Stay in the Columbia River Gorge & Hood River

Generally speaking, you basically have two options here. Stay right in town (or close to it), or stay somewhere more secluded and private. 

If you want to be walkable to town, we’d look at the Best Western right on the Marina, which has some rooms that have kitchens. 

If you want something more secluded and private, we’d look across the river to the charming little town of White Salmon . 

We have personally stayed at and loved the RubyJune Inn , which is a B&B in the truest sense (and the breakfast is fantastic, sourced from local bakeries). No kids, no pets allowed, and the two owners are a wealth of knowledge about what to do, see, eat, and drink in the area (especially wine). 

Days 9-10: Bend

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Drive Time & Distance: 2 hours and 50 minutes // 143 miles

Bend, similar to Hood River, is in a unique geographical location. It sits at the turning point between the alpine and subalpine environment in the Cascades and the high desert that’s nestled in Central Oregon between the mountain ranges on either end of the state. 

Plus, volcanoes! There’s lots of volcanic activity here that has shaped the landscape. 

That diversity has meant that Bend has become a little slice of paradise for adventure lovers over the past several years, and has gained nationwide notoriety with lots of media coverage recently. Though it has always been on the map of most adventure-loving Pacific Northwest residents. 

If you’re an astute reader and you’ve been following along on a map (or just looked at the one above), you’ll notice that heading out to Bend actually represents a little bit of a detour because your next stop (Mount Hood) is actually pretty close to Hood River. 

In order to get down to Bend, you’ll head south from Hood River, passing through the eastern foothills of Mount Hood to get to Bend. Then, you’ll double back and hit Mount Hood on your way back to Portland. 

First of all, that detour is absolutely worth it, and you should definitely make an effort to include Bend as a part of your road trip. Both because of Bend itself, and because of the diversity of landscapes you’ll find just outside of Bend. 

Second of all, we have it structured this way (rather than doing Hood then Bend) to maximize your time on the way back to Portland . Going up to Hood and then over to Portland means you avoid the I-5 corridor south of Portland, which is known to be a traffic-filled nightmare on most days of the week. 

Anyway, we love Bend and we just spent a full week there exploring recently, which opened our eyes to the diversity of things to do and see within about an hour of the city. 

What to Do in Bend

Bend is a big city by Oregon standards – and growing FAST – and there’s plenty to do to fill a full week (or a full month, or year, you get the idea). 

With limited time in and around Bend, here is what we’d focus on. 

Smith Rock State Park: Smith Rock is one of the destinations that is most emblematic of the stark contrast between the wetter, greener part of the state that we live in (west of the Cascades) and the high desert on the east side of the mountains. It looks like it belongs in Utah, not the lush Pacific Northwest! But the Pacific Northwest is more than evergreen forests. The best trail in the park is the Misery Ridge Trail, which has two route options (after the brutal climb up to aptly-named Misery Ridge) – the shorter, flatter River Trail and the longer, more difficult Summit Trail . It’s between Bend and Mount Hood, so you can stop on the way in or out of Bend (we’d try to go early, because it does get hot and there’s very little shade).  

The Deschutes River: The Deschutes runs right through the center of town – and is one of the biggest reasons why Bend is located where it is. Today, it isn’t really the lifeblood of the city, but it is full of recreation opportunities. There’s a long trail that follows the path of the river south from Bend, and we love doing a short portion of it as part of any visit to Bend (here’s the rough route that we usually do when we’re in town). The other thing you should try to do – as long as it’s summertime – is get out on the water! You can float the river from Drake Park down to Riverbend Park. Rent a tube from Tumalo Creek and use the Ride the River service, which shuttles you to the entry and exit from the river. 

The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: This is one of our favorite places in the entire state. It’s a corridor that runs west out of Bend into the Cascades into a land of pine trees, gorgeous lakes, and great hikes. Definitely stop by a couple of the lakes – Sparks Lake and Elk Lake are our favorites. It’s well worth spending a day exploring this part of the state, and there are a nice range of hikes to choose from. Here are three of our favorite Bend hikes : 

  • Green Lakes (9.1 miles // 1,174 ft. elevation gain): A nice, relatively easy (but long) creekside stroll through the forest out to a series of lakes backed by the South Sister and Broken Top. Lovely hike!
  • Tumalo Mountain (4.1 miles // 1,423 ft. elevation gain): Short and sweet, this hike climbs straight up to the top of Tumalo Mountain where you’ll have sweeping views out over the valley and surrounding peaks. Particularly nice at sunrise or sunset!
  • Moraine Lake (5.2 miles // 1,476 ft. elevation gain): This was an unexpected delight last fall! It starts with a climb through the forest, and a couple of miles in you burst forth from the forest out into a basin with great views of both the South Sister and Broken Top before you head down to the lake (which is tucked right at the base of the South Sister). 

Newberry National Volcanic Monument: This is the volcano that shaped the high desert in Central Oregon, and it’s almost a mini-Crater Lake in terms of how it was formed and how it looks today. There are two parts of the monument, and they’re about 30 minutes apart. The first you’ll encounter heading south from Bend is the Lava Lands Visitor Center , which is where you’ll find the Trail of the Molten Land (walk through a lava field!) and Lava Butte. Continue South to Paulina Lake and the Newberry Volcano , where you’ll find a large lake, the hike up to Paulina Peak (which features incredible views over the surrounding landscape, including the vast lava fields), and Paulina Falls . 

Tumalo Falls: A nice waterfall just outside of town. There’s a longer hike that you can do that follows the creek, or you can drive right up to the lower viewpoint and follow the short trail up to the upper viewpoint (which would be our strong recommendation). 

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Where to Stay in Bend

With only a couple of days in town, you have two choices when it comes to where to stay. Stay right in town, or stay on the outskirts in a more quiet locale.

For the purposes of this trip, we’d recommend staying in town so you can be within walking distance (or a short drive) from the breweries and restaurants in Bend. 

The Oxford Hotel is right in the heart of Downtown Bend, and is walkable to all of our favorite spots in that area. 

We always like having a kitchen so we can cook for ourselves (Matt has Celiac Disease) and we’ve had our eyes on Wall Street Suites , which is about a block from the downtown area. 

Days 11-12: Mount Hood (Government Camp)

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Drive Time & Distance: 2 hours and 10 minutes // 106 miles

Matt grew up in the Seattle area, where Mount Rainier is the resident snow capped peak towering over the skyline. 

In Portland, that role is played by Mount Hood, which sits at the northern edge of the state and is actually visible on a clear day from the Skyline Trail at Rainier. 

The best part about Mount Hood? It’s 90 minutes from our front door to the trailheads for some of our favorite hikes (or, the ski resorts in the winter). 

The best area to focus on here is the area around Government Camp on the south side of Hood, which is where the vast majority of trailheads and activities are located. Though there are definitely some worthwhile spots on the eastern and western flanks that are worth a quick detour. 

What to Do at Mount Hood

Here are our favorite things to do and see at Mount Hood.

Most of our favorite things to do involve hiking, so you should head over and read our guide to hiking at Mount Hood for a more detailed look if waterfalls, spectacular mountain views sound like something you’re into.

Sunset at Trillium Lake: Trillium Lake is one of our favorite photo spots in the state because, on a clear, calm day, you get a near-perfect reflection of Hood on the surface of the lake. For that reflection, you’ll want to go to the southeastern corner of the lake (roughly here on Google Maps). There are lots of great photo spots along the lakeshore. 

Ramona Falls: Ramona Falls is a fun contrast to the towering waterfalls in the Gorge. Rather than being a big drop from a rocky ledge high off the ground, Ramona is a wide, sweeping cascade that is tall, but less powerful and more elegant, if that makes sense. It’s a relatively easy hike to reach (~7 miles) with a somewhat treacherous river crossing early in the season. 

McNeil Point: The McNeil Point trail is one of our favorite hikes in Oregon , but it’s a beast of a climb up to one of the closest viewpoints of Mount Hood that you can get to without actually climbing Hood. It’s a long, tough climb, though it’s particularly beautiful for the last half or so once you’re above the treeline and you have views of Hood and the other peaks int he Cascade Range. If that hike sounds like too much, there is a shorter version from the Lolo Pass Trailhead to Bald Mountain (our favorite view in Oregon). We did it in June, and the trail was lined with blooming rhododendrons (but the viewpoint at the end was obscured by thick fog). 

Visit the Timberline Lodge: The Timberline Lodge is an iconic piece of history here, and is not to be missed. If you’re looking for a good hike that leaves from Timberline Lodge, you can hop on the Pacific Crest Trail and follow it to Zigzag Canyon (or further up into Paradise Park ), where you’ll have great views of Hood. 

Sahale and Umbrella Falls: This hike is another unexpected gem, leaving from the parking lot for Mount Hood Meadows (our favorite ski resort at Hood in the winter) on the eastern side of Hood (so we’d consider doing it on the way from Hood River to save a little bit of driving). It’s a loop that starts with a beautiful waterfall (Umbrella Falls) and ends with a walk across the ski slopes with nice views out to the (very flat) land to the east. It’s worth noting that you don’t actually get a good view of Sahale Falls from the trail – the best view is from the bridge here , which you can drive to before or after the hike. 

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Where to Stay near Mount Hood

The town of Government Camp is the best home base for your explorations of Mount Hood. It’s on the south side of the mountain, and it has the widest selection of places to stay, greatest number of amenities (restaurants, grocery store, etc), and the closest location to most of the trailheads for hikes here. 

If you’re up for camping, the Trillium Lake Campground is our pick. We’ve camped there multiple times at this point, and will probably camp there again multiple times in the future. It’s walkable to Trillium Lake, which is one of our favorite photo locations in the state. 

If you’re not up for camping, the options are somewhat limited. We’d either stay at the Best Western right in Government Camp, or find a nice cabin in the woods near the town of Rhododendron to use as a home base for a couple of days. 

Days 13-14: Portland, Oregon

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Drive Time & Distance: 1 hour and 10 minutes // 57 miles

We live in Portland, and we think it’s a fitting end to your epic trip through the Pacific Northwest. In many ways – mostly food and drinks – we’re saving the best for last here. 

Portland also offers a nice contrast from Seattle. Portland is much more compact than Seattle, and feels a little bit more down-to-earth with the absence of the tech scene that Seattle has and all the money that brings. 

A couple of days in Portland doesn’t really leave you with all that much time, but it’s enough to see some of the highlights (and start putting places on your list for a return trip).

Broadly speaking, we usually recommend spending a day exploring the downtown core (the west side of the Willamette River, which runs north/south through the middle of Portland), and a day east of the river exploring the neighborhoods on the eastside (where we live and think Portland is at its best). 

What to Do in Portland

There are far too many things to list for Portland, so we’re going to go with our top recommendations here. 

Powell’s City of Books : We bring every visitor to Powell’s, the largest independent bookstore in the world. Specifically, the multi-story downtown location. Matt is incapable of walking out of that store without at least 2-3 new books. 

Hit the Markets! The PSU Farmers Market , which is also on Saturday mornings (8:30am – 2pm) down at Portland State University’s Campus, is a must-do. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk from Downtown, and it’s the biggest farmers market I’ve ever been to. The Portland Saturday Market , which focuses more on arts and crafts, is also worth a stop. Both ONLY happen on Saturdays, but are worth prioritizing if you happen to be here on a weekend. 

The International Rose Test Garden: Portland is known as the City of Roses (which was essentially created as a marketing slogan for the city after the timber industry took a hit). And this is the most convenient place to see them. 10,000 of them, in fact. They bloom between June and October (ish), and we also come here often during that timeframe to see the roses of all shapes, colors, and sizes. In the fall (call it late September through mid-October), it’s also worth going to the Portland Japanese Garden to see the brilliant fiery hues of orange and red with the Japanese Maples (it’s also just a lovely place to spend an hour – we’re members!). 

Eat some Doughnuts (Donuts?): First thing’s first, somehow Portland became famous for its donuts, and the conversation around the “best donuts in Portland” is fairly contentious. We think the best way to decide is to try them all – here are three spots that consistently rise to the top. If you’re really into donuts, then you should probably hop on the Underground Donut Tour , which takes you to five of the best stops for donuts in the city.

Note : These aren’t gluten free (NOT EVEN CLOSE), but if you are looking for some of the best gluten free donuts we’ve ever had, head to Petunia’s Pies and Pastries on the weekends – they’re 100% gluten free AND vegan. 

  • Voodoo Doughnut is the Insta-famous spot and their location in Downtown Portland has a line around the corner most mornings. Come here for the novelty donuts, like donuts topped with Cap’n Crunch. However, the donuts certainly aren’t the best that Portland has to offer (though it’s a fun experience). We’d also recommend going to the location across the river ( here on Google Maps) which is both less busy and a more pleasant location. 
  • Blue Star Donuts , who are expanding outside of Portland to cities like Los Angeles now, is the pick for the actual best donuts in Portland according to Alysha, her mom, my mom, my brothers, and my friends who came to my bachelor party – but they’re not cheap. They’re “artisanal” so you’ll need to budget $4-5 per donut. They have some fun flavors, like Blueberry Bourbon Basil and Mexican Hot Chocolate, so get a couple of different ones to try and split them with your group. “Get the apple fritter” says Alysha.
  • Pip’s Original Doughnuts and Chai not only makes Alysha’s favorite chai in Portland, but also makes fried mini doughnuts that are fried fresh to order. They’re a little further out, but it’s worth the journey. Plan on waiting in line if you come on a weekend, but the warm mini doughnuts will make it all worth it in the end. 

Explore the Eastside: East of the Willamette River, you’ll find a much more residential part of the city, which is where we think Portland really shines. There are two broad areas we’d prioritize; Northeast Portland (Alberta and Mississippi, where we used to live) and Southeast Portland (Belmont, Hawthorne, and Division, where we currently live). Refer to our 3 day Portland itinerary for what to do, see, eat, and drink in those areas (and for links to more detailed guides). 

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Where to Stay in Portland

We’d stay somewhere central, either in Downtown Portland or the Northwest District . 

In Downtown Portland, shoot for somewhere in the southern end near the PSU Campus like the Heathman Hotel or the Paramount Hotel . 

We also really like the Hyatt Centric as a slightly more affordable option, which is about as central as it gets. 

In the Northwest District, there are only a few options, and the Inn at Northrup Station is the clear winner (we think) in terms of location and value. 

For more information (and A LOT more detail), read our guide to the best places to stay in Portland . 

What to Do with More Time in the Pacific Northwest

If you happen to have more time for your trip to the Pacific Northwest, here are our recommendations on what to add (in order of our preference). 

The Drive from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. (+7-10 Days) 

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If you only have a limited amount of time, you’re going to have to choose between the stretch between Portland and Seattle (our recommendation and the focus of the main itinerary above) and the stretch between Seattle and Vancouver B.C.

With an extra 7-10 days, the first thing we’d add is the stretch between Vancouver and Seattle, which is also a magical place. It will require a slight restructuring of your trip (you’d want to fly into Portland, do the main itinerary above backwards to end in Seattle, and then continue north). 

Along the way, make stops in Leavenworth, North Cascades National Park, and Bellingham en route to Vancouver. 

Because we think the best place to stay for visiting North Cascades National Park is in the eastern foothills of the Cascades, we think you should head east out of Seattle up and over Snoqualmie Pass and over to Leavenworth, which is absolutely worth your time in its own right. 

But the real reason we’d include Leavenworth is to access the magical Alpine Lakes Wilderness . This is one of our favorite hiking destinations in the PNW, and though its popularity has exploded over the past decade or so, it’s well worth braving the crowds for the hike to Colchuck Lake . 

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If you want a slightly less trafficked trail with a similar (though notably less spectacular) payoff, look at the Snow Lake Trail near Snoqualmie Pass (which is on your way over to Leavenworth).

It’s worth noting that if you only have a day or two to add to your Pacific Northwest itinerary, you can absolutely just add 1-2 days in Leavenworth and skip the drive further north . 

Once you’re east of the Cascades, you can hug the foothills up to Winthrop , the best home base for North Cascades National Park, before making your way back across the mountains to the charming college town of Bellingham just south of the Canadian border. 

From there, it’s a quick drive up to Vancouver.   

Here’s a map of what that route might look like. 

Note: We had to use bike directions because Google Maps won’t let you change the season on multi-stop routes, which means there are road closures that have it very confused. It’s more like 12-13 hours of driving. 

Reminder: Adding this piece to your itinerary means you’ll need to either fly in or out of Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to make the timing work. If you’re renting a car, you may not be able to rent a car in one country and drop it off in another – it varies by agency, and you’ll need to check. 

Here are the stops we’d make along the way. 

Leavenworth

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The Alpine Lakes Wilderness has become a sensation over the past few years thanks to the fact that the Enchantments , which is a series of crystal clear lakes backed by rocky peaks, look great on Instagram and TikTok.

While it’s essentially impossible to secure an overnight permit to backpack here, there is one great – albeit very popular – hike that takes you out to one of the many lakes here, Colchuck Lake. And the gateway to this incredible source of natural beauty is the pseudo-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, which sits in the eastern foothills of the Cascades.

If you want to hike to Colchuck Lake , which is only accessible in the summer, we’d suggest spending two days in the area because you’ll need to get to the trailhead no later than 7am (no, we’re not joking) to get a parking spot. Stay in Leavenworth the night before your hike and the night after.

If you’re in town in the winter or spring when the hike is not accessible, or you just aren’t into hiking 9 miles, then we’d recommend a night in Leavenworth (you could even do it as a day trip from Seattle , though it’s a long day). 

Read More: What to Do in Leavenworth (for First Timers)

North Cascades National Park

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If you want to check off the last of the three national parks in Washington State , you’ll have to journey a few hours north of Seattle to the North Cascades. This is by far the least visited of the three, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular.

The season here is painfully short (basically late July through the first week of October), but it’s a magical mix of alpine lakes, rocky peaks, and wildflowers/fall color (depending on the season).

It’s home to a couple of our absolute favorite hikes in the world, and we have an entire guide dedicated to hiking in North Cascades National Park that you should read for inspiration. 

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Bellingham makes for a lovely stopover on your way between North Cascades National Park and either Vancouver or Mount Baker (depending on the itinerary you’ve built).

At its core, it’s a college town, but it’s set right on the water with the Cascades as a backdrop, and has a surprisingly good food and drink scene for its size thanks to the fertile farmland that sits right outside of town. That plus a handful of nice green spaces makes it worth a stop. 

Mount Baker (only with 10+ Extra days)

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Mount Baker is our pick for the most underrated hiking destination in Washington State. If you’re into hiking, this stop is worth your time (it’s probably not worth it if you’re not looking to hit the trail).

It’s another case of being a tragically short season – it’s so far north that it’s basically on the Canadian border, which means August and September are the only reliable months for snow and ice-free trails.

There are a bunch of amazing hikes packed into this relatively small area, and you can read all about them in our guide to the best hikes at Mount Baker . Our absolute favorite of the bunch is Yellow Aster Butte , particularly in late September when the fall color arrives. 

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We’ve fallen more in love with Vancouver over the past year or so, which has taken us up to British Columbia’s biggest city twice for a good amount of time on each trip. Before then, we had visited multiple times, but had basically only spent time in the downtown core.

We’re here to tell you that the real magic in Vancouver happens outside of that core in places like Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, where you have streets lined with independent shops and restaurants.

Vancouver is worth a couple of days (here’s our guide to 2 days in Vancouver !), and more if you want to do some day trips to places nearby. 

Putting it all Together

Putting it all together, here’s what that extra 7-10 extra days might look like.

  • Day 1: Leavenworth
  • Day 2: Leavenworth + Colchuck Lake
  • Day 3: North Cascades National Park
  • Day 4: North Cascades National Park
  • Day 5: Bellingham
  • Day 6: Vancouver
  • Day 7: Vancouver + Fly Home

If you’d like to add on Mount Baker, here’s what that 10 day addition looks like.

  • Day 6: Mount Baker
  • Day 7: Mount Baker
  • Day 8: Vancouver
  • Day 9: Vancouver 
  • Day 10: Vancouver + Fly Home

In both of these scenarios, you’d want to start your trip in Portland, Oregon, and do the main itinerary above in reverse from Portland to Seattle . From there, you could add on the two mini itineraries above to put together a pretty unbeatable introduction to the Pacific Northwest. 

Day Trip to Sunrise at Mount Rainier (+1-2 Days)

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While a couple of days gives you a good amount of time to explore the Paradise side of Rainier – that’s the western flank of the mountain – this 14 day itinerary doesn’t really give you enough time to spend the extra time to get over to Rainier’s eastern side, where you’ll find the Sunrise Visitor Center. 

This is the highest point in the park that you can drive to, and an absurd number of our favorite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park leave from this very parking lot. Because of that altitude, it’s also only open in the peak summer and early fall (roughly June to October, but it depends on the year). 

Unfortunately, it’s not particularly convenient to go between Paradise and Sunrise, which has been exacerbated by road closures in recent years. And there’s basically nowhere to stay within 30 minutes of the Sunrise Visitor Center (aside from one VERY popular campground). 

If you have the time and you’re around in the summer, it’s well worth a trip. It’ll take a while to drive there and back (plan on about 90 minutes each way), but we think it’s probably worth it for the amazing hiking. 

A perfect day over here looks like this: start with an early morning (we’d say sunrise) at Tipsoo Lake, then head up to the Sunrise Visitor Center to get an early start on one of the three great hikes here: the Mount Fremont Lookout (a hike to a historic fire lookout on a ridge facing Rainier), Berkeley Park (great wildflowers in the early summer – late July-ish), or Burroughs Mountain (the hardest, but the best way to get into the rocky high alpine territory).

On the way home, consider stopping at Ohanapecosh Visitor Center to walk the shaded path along the river to Silver Falls and Grove of the Patriarchs , an Old Growth Forest ( NOTE : The bridge on Grove of the Patriarchs washed out recently, and the trail is closed until construction happens in…2027). 

A Detour to Crater Lake National Park (+1-2 Days)

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Full disclosure, we have somewhat mixed feelings on including Crater Lake National Park on this itinerary for a few reasons. 

First, it’s pretty far out of the way, near Oregon’s southern border. Second, it’s only really accessible for a small slice of the year (you can only circumnavigate the lake from roughly July to October). 

Though, as we’ve noted above, that’s the best time to do this road trip anyway (and it’s the only time you can actually get to most places on this list).   

However, if you’re already down in Central Oregon in the area around Bend, you’re within striking distance and you should do it as a side trip from Bend. 

So if Crater Lake is on your bucket list, that’s probably as close as you’re going to be to Crater Lake without a dedicated trip to it and you might as well make the trip! 

There are three things we think you should focus on with your time at Crater Lake. 

  • Drive the rim road all the way around the lake: This is the best way to see the lake from all angles, and it’ll take you a couple of hours, including stops at the various viewpoints along the way. Start at the Visitor Center on the southern rim, walk a portion of the Discovery Trail from there, and then hop in the car. 
  • Hike to the highest and lowest points in the park: Mount Scott is the highest point in the park, while Cleetwood Cove is the lowest point in the park, and is the only place where you can get down to the water level. We’d hike both!
  • A sunset hike to Garfield Peak: Garfield Peak is right next to the Visitor Center, and makes an excellent place to watch the sunset because you’ll be looking north, where you’ll be able to see the setting sun to the west, and the soft golden light illuminating the eastern rim of the crater. 

The other big challenge with Crater Lake is that there’s really not that many places to stay nearby . You’ve basically only got the (very expensive and competitive) lodges and cabins inside the park if you’re not up for camping. 

There’s the Crater Lake Lodge , which is the fancy option that sits right on the rim road and has some rooms that have lake views. Then down below the rim there’s the Mazama Village Cabins , which are less convenient but more affordable. 

If you’re camping, there’s one campground in the park at Mazama Village . We’ve stayed there, and it’s “meh.” 

For more affordable options, you’ll have to head outside the park to Klamath Falls, which is about an hour south of the southern entrance. We have our eye on the lakefront Fairfield Inn and Suites . 

The San Juan Islands (+1-3 Days)

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The San Juan Islands are a group of islands off the coast northwest of Seattle, and they are one of our favorite summer getaways from Seattle. Every summer growing up, Matt’s family would pack up the car and go camping out on San Juan Island (which, to be clear, is one island out of the many that make up the “San Juan Islands”). 

The geography here is pretty unique, and there aren’t a whole lot of places that we can think of that are similar to these islands. 

The weather is slightly cooler and sunnier thanks to the rain-shadow effect of the Olympics (which get ALL of the rain), and it’s a great time to get out on a kayak and explore the islands, which we were lucky to do a few summers ago. 

Though, the waters are treacherous thanks to all the currents that meet here, and you’ll need to do a guided trip because it’s too dangerous for 99% of people to do solo. 

Plus, the orca whales tend to pass by right off of the western coast of the islands in the summer! 

The two main islands are San Juan Island, home to Friday Harbor and the Lime Kiln Lighthouse (where to go to see orcas from shore), and Orcas Island, home to Mount Constitution and some good hiking. There’s also Lopez Island, which is more quiet and low key. 

One island can be done in one day / one night, both will take three days / two nights. Obviously, you could easily spend more time (we spent a full week between San Juan Island and Orcas Island last summer). 

As you might have guessed, we have guides to the best things to do on San Juan Island , where Matt used to spend a week every summer growing up, and guides to Orcas Island .

What to Do with Less Time in the Pacific Northwest

With less time in the Pacific Northwest, you’re REALLY going to have to focus your time. 

With 10 Days

As we mentioned above, with 10 days in the Pacific Northwest, we’d focus your time on the corridor between Seattle and Portland, which would include Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. 

Depending on how much time you want to be spending in the cities themselves (we’d recommend at least one day in each, though two would be better), you could also fit in a day trip or two from Seattle or Portland. 

Here’s what that might look like. 

  • Day 2: Seattle
  • Day 3: Olympic National Park
  • Day 4: Olympic National Park
  • Day 5: Mount Rainier National Park
  • Day 6: Mount Rainier National Park
  • Day 7: Hood River + the Columbia River Gorge
  • Day 8: Hood River + the Columbia River Gorge
  • Day 9: Portland
  • Day 10: Portland + Fly Home

With 7 Days

With just 7 days, we’d strongly recommend focusing on the drive from Seattle to Portland, with stops in Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park on the way.

It’s going to be quick, but you’ll get to pack in two national parks and two great cities, hopefully leaving you with the desire to make it back ASAP. 

  • Day 7: Portland + Fly Home

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Matt is the founder and main writer behind Wheatless Wanderlust, which he started back in 2018 as a way to share his gluten free travel guides with his fellow Celiac travelers.

Since then, Matt and his wife Alysha have visited 18 national parks, spent three months in Europe and six weeks in Colombia, and have explored every corner of the Pacific Northwest, which is where Matt grew up.

He writes super detailed guides to the places they visit, bringing together personal experience and historical context to help YOU plan an amazing trip.

Where are the restaurants listed that we’re supposed to eat at when we go visit these places? I mean this is a great itinerary for a non Celiac who can eat anywhere, But I would expect to have a list of restaurants to eat at at each stop which would be helpful for somebody who is gluten-free or celiac. I’m a bit disappointed… 🤷‍♀️🤦🏼‍♀️🤯 or am I missing something?

Hey Connie!

Unfortunately, the (sad) reality is that there just aren’t that many gluten free restaurants outside the main cities (Portland, Seattle, and Bend) on this itinerary with the notable exception of Nourish Sequim (which you should visit!). On road trips to places where there aren’t many options, we’re usually cooking for ourselves (either camping, or staying in a place with a kitchen) because there just aren’t that many gluten free options in more rural areas like Rainier, Olympic, or Mount Hood.

However, we do have guides to eating gluten free in Seattle and Portland, which you can read for some good gluten free options (along with options in cities nearby).

Hope that helps. -Matt

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Best Pacific Northwest Road Trips (and When to Take Them)

Updated : June 14, 2024

AAA Travel Editor, Katie Broome

Everything you need to know about taking a Pacific Northwest road trip , including scenic drives in Oregon and Washington plus day trips from Seattle and Portland.

The Pacific Northwest States

By definition, the “Pacific Northwest” is the northwestern region of the United States near the Pacific Ocean. For our purposes, the Pacific Northwest region includes the following states:

• Washington

People sometimes include Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, in the Pacific Northwest. But we cover these areas in separate AAA road trip guides. (See for drives in Idaho and surrounding states. See Western Canada Road Trips for drives through British Columbia.)

Best Pacific Northwest Road Trips for Scenic Views

best time to road trip pacific northwest

If you’re planning on taking a road trip in the Pacific Northwest, you may be overwhelmed by the options. Active volcanoes, dramatic ocean cliffs, towering waterfalls and temperate rainforests are just a few things to see. There’s a wide range of geography to marvel over in this region.

If you have a full day or more to spare, consider one of these popular scenic drives. (Click the links for a sample road trip itinerary and interactive maps.)

• Grand Pacific Northwest Road Trip - A scenic loop through northern Oregon and southern Washington. The trip includes Portland, the Historic Columbia River Highway, Multnomah Falls, Yakima Valley and Mount Rainier National Park.

• Northern CA & Southern OR Coast Road Trip - A one-way journey that starts in the Central Valley of California and includes driving Oregon’s coast. You'll have views of state parks and quaint beach towns along the way.

• Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Oregon Coast Road Trip - A one-way trip up Oregon’s coast on the Oregon Coast Highway (US 101). The route features some of the best whale watching opportunities in Oregon. You'll see the Heceta Head Lighthouse, the Sea Lion Caves, Haystack Rock and other noteworthy sights.

• Olympic Peninsula Road Trip - A scenic loop from Seattle that circles the Olympic Peninsula and the lush rain forests of Olympic National Park. Stops include Tacoma, Olympia, Port Angeles and Port Townsend. A great northwest national park road trip.

Best Time of Year for a Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Figuring out the best time of year to visit the Pacific Northwest largely depends on what you want to see. It also depends on what sort of weather conditions you can handle. The climate can vary widely across the area, so it’s best to be prepared for all types of conditions.

In areas west of the Cascade Range near the Pacific Ocean, the climate is mild, with sunny and dry summers and wet, cloudy winters.

Rainy season typically starts in October and lasts through March in this part of the Pacific Northwest. But clouds, fog and a light drizzle can linger along the coastline year-round. If you don’t mind a drizzle, the rainy season could be a good time for a road trip, as hotel rates may be cheaper and crowds are lighter.

In areas east of the Cascade Range, the climate is much drier, but seasonal temperature swings can be more dramatic.

What to Know About Winter Road Trips

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The first snowfall of the season can arrive as early as October in Oregon and Washington. From the first snowfall through April or May, expect road closures on mountain roads and around some national parks. After a heavy snowfall, snow plows typically work on the areas near ski resorts first. Some mountain passes in the Cascade Range are open year-round.If you want to experience the Pacific Northwest mountains in winter, the is a great option. The route is accessible year-round and offers views of Mount Rainier.To see Oregon’s Mount Hood up close, consider the .

How to Tour Washington and Oregon Wine Country

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Did you know that Oregon’s leading wine region is just south of Portland? Explore the wineries of the Willamette Valley — they number more than 500 — on a scenic drive through the Oregon countryside. Here are two road trips in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley that are close to wineries and vineyards:

• Willamette Scenic Highway - See a historic covered bridge and venture into Willamette National Forest. The trip ends at the foothills of the Cascade Range.

• Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway Road Trip - Begin near Roseburg, home to many wineries. Then travel into the mountains of Umpqua National Forest before stopping near Crater Lake.

In Washington state, you’ll find the most wineries and vineyards in the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys. The best way to explore this region is on the , which takes you through Kennewick, Richland, Prosser, Yakima, Zillah and other cities with wineries.

Inspiration for a National Park Road Trip

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Whether you want to go hiking or just admire the scenery from your car window, national parks make great road trip destinations. Visit the parks in spring or summer to see wildflowers in full bloom. Or plan your trip during the fall for plenty of leaf peeping opportunities.To see Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, consider the or the Chinook Pass Scenic Byway Road Trip . (Note that the latter is closed in winter.)Olympic National Park is best explored on the . The best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula is in July when you can see colorful fields of lavender near Sequim.Considered one of the most beautiful drives in the United States, the cuts through North Cascades National Park on SR 20. The road passes mountains, forests and glacial lakes.If Crater Lake National Park is on your vacation itinerary, take the . The trip begins in Roseburg, Oregon, and ends near Diamond Lake.

Quick Day Trips from Seattle

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Here are a few ideas for scenic road trips that would be an easy day trip from Seattle, Washington:

• Drive along the Hood Canal to see mountain peaks on the Hood Canal Scenic Route Road Trip and Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Hood Canal Area Road Trip .

• Take a ferry ride across the sparkling waters of Puget Sound on the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way Road Trip .

• Explore ice caves in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on the Mountain Loop Scenic Highway Road Trip .

• Check out horse country and see snowcapped Mount Rainier on the Chinook Pass Scenic Byway Road Trip .

Scenic Road Trips from Portland

best time to road trip pacific northwest

If you’re visiting Portland, Oregon, and have a few hours to spare, consider heading out on one of these scenic road trips:

• See Mount Hood from across the Columbia River on the North Shore Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Byway .

• Travel deeper into Mount Hood National Forest on the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop, Hood River County Tour Route Road Trip .

Start Your Next Vacation with AAA

AAA Travel provides peace of mind for travelers — from the first mile of the journey to the last. Get inspiration for your next road trip with AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner , or browse pre-planned road trip itineraries on AAA.com/RoadTrips or in the AAA Digital TourBook® . Estimating fuel costs is easy with the AAA Gas Cost Calculator , and if your car needs a quick tune-up before the trip, find a AAA Approved auto repair facility near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair . For printed maps, AAA TourBook guides and trip planning advice, visit your local AAA office .

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The Mandagies

Berty Mandagie planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest

How To Plan A Trip To The Pacific Northwest (10 Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary)

Post Summary: How To Plan A Trip To The Pacific Northwest

You did it!

You are starting to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest! Get ready for wild waterfalls, dramatic coastlines, and some of the best alpine lakes you’ll ever encounter.

But how in the world do you begin to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest? It can be quite daunting to know where to begin, but that’s why we’re breaking this epic region down into bite-sized pieces for you.

In this post, we’re sharing Pacific Northwest trip ideas for first-time visitors. This means we’re spilling all the details on the highlights, but also sprinkling in some secret locations and hidden gems along the way, too.

From quick  weekend trips from Seattle to iconic west coast road trip routes , we promise that once you experience it for yourself, you’re not going to want to leave. (You’ve been properly warned.)

What To Wear In The Pacific Northwest - Emily Mandagie wearing rain jacket

How To Plan A Trip To The Pacific Northwest (First-Timer’s Guide)

This post may contain affiliate links, vetted and chosen by yours truly!

So, What Is The Pacific Northwest Region?

If you are someone who wants to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest, you might wonder…what are the Pacific Northwest states? What area does this region occupy?

Depending on who you ask, the borders can look different. We like to draw a blurry border that surrounds Washington , Oregon , Idaho, and British Columbia. Others can also include Northern California , Western Montana, and even northwestern Wyoming and Alaska!

Looking at the PNW through this lens, you can expect this blog post to cover everything from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide .

Plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest - Cape Flattery

Getting Around / Where To Stay / Best Times To Visit

Consider us your personal Pacific Northwest trip planner. With so many things to do in the PNW , it can easily be overwhelming to know where to start. This is why we’re breaking down this post into easily digestible regions, with our favorite suggested activities!

Keep scrolling to find maps, our favorite trails, unique PNW experiences, and catered tips for each location! You plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest in no time!

How To Get Around The Pacific Northwest

The best way to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest is to travel by car . Many of these epic PNW destinations require quite a drive, so you’ll have a lot more freedom if you decide to rent a vehicle for your trip. Here are some of our recommended modes of transportation below:

Regular Car: Getting around in a regular car can give you the best of both worlds . You can easily fit into any city parking lot, but also trick it out with these car camping hacks so you can find free camping spots and sleep in your car on the road !

Camper Van: If you’re looking for a cool camper van rental for your trip in the Pacific Northwest, we suggest renting one through Outdoorsy. Think of it like Airbnb but for cool cars! You can rent anything from vintage VW Westfalia vans , full-length RVs, and even Airstreams for a picturesque PNW adventure.

Getting Around The Pacific Northwest By Car

Camping In The Pacific Northwest

One of the coolest ways to experience the Pacific Northwest is by going camping! There’s nothing better than breathing in the smell of fresh pine trees in the morning, enjoying your cup of coffee lakeside, or even just having a backcountry road all to yourself!

Don’t forget to add a few nights of camping when you plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest!

To find the best campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest , we’ve got a few essential resources for you:

  • Our Guide To Camping In The PNW
  • How To Find Free Campsites In The Pacific Northwest
  • Using The Dyrt Pro to find campsites along the way. We use this web/phone app to find free campsites on the go with their offline search feature , and connect all our favorite spots together with their Road Trip Planner tool as well.

The Dyrt gave us a code for you, our epic reader, to try the pro membership for 30 days free! Click here and use the code  Mandagies  to unlock your 30-day free trial!

Camping In The Pacific Northwest

When Is The Best Time To Visit The Pacific Northwest?

When you want to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest, any time of year is a great time to visit – it just depends on what kind of activities you’re into!

Here’s a quick overview of each season, and what you might expect from visiting during these times of the year:

Crystal Peak Lookout - TheMandagies.com

Winter in the Pacific Northwest

  • Skiing at several mountain resorts (Mt Baker, Mount Hood , Crystal Mountain, Whistler/Blackcomb, Mount Washington, and many others).
  • Staying overnight in a fire lookout or snowshoeing to a backcountry yurt in Idaho .

Wallace Falls Trail - Winter Hikes In Washington State - TheMandagies.com

Spring in the Pacific Northwest

  • Visiting the cherry blossoms, specifically in Portland, OR and the University of Washington in Seattle.
  • Discover the powerful forces of Washington waterfalls and Oregon waterfalls .

Summer in the Pacific Northwest - jumping in lakes of Glacier National Park

Summer in the Pacific Northwest

  • Road Trip Season! The most iconic being The Pacific Coast Highway and the Oregon Coast road trip .
  • Multi-Day Backpacking Trips and Thru-hikes (Pacific Crest Trail).
  • Discovering the Washington national parks and BC parks – this is the season they are fully open!
  • Driving the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Fall in the Pacific Northwest

  • Visiting Oregon’s covered bridges in the fall, especially as fun day trips around Eugene .
  • Taking amazing Washington scenic drives to experience the rich autumn colors and many orchards at harvest time.

Cape Flattery - What To Pack For The PNW

What To Pack For A Trip To The Pacific Northwest

What do people wear in the Pacific Northwest ? As a traveler to the PNW, you may desire to blend in, or at least not stick out! One way to do that is to brush up on what the locals wear. We’re here for that.

Each region of the Pacific Northwest has its own unique climate, but there are a few things you should be packing for the PNW that span all areas. They mostly cover rain gear, but keep reading as we will dive deeper into specific packing items below!

Want a downloadable/printable list? Read our Complete Pacific Northwest Packing List Post Here!

A Sturdy Raincoat. If there ever was an iconic piece of Pacific Northwest clothing, it’s the rain jacket . You’ll very likely wear this piece every day, so make sure your raincoat is something you absolutely love! We’re huge fans of Stutterheim and although they are a bit pricey, they are virtually impenetrable to the rain! We choose to invest in a super well-built rain jacket because we live here, but do what’s best for you!

Hiking Pants. In order to really enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings, we encourage you to plan a least a few PNW hikes during your first time in the Pacific Northwest. Choose a pair of hiking pants that are stretchy and comfortable. Pockets are a super great bonus – we love these ones from Fjallraven !

Thermal Layers. Many months out of the year, the Pacific Northwest can be cold and wet. To best keep warm and dry on your Pacific Northwest activities, we suggest that you follow the three-layer rule: Sweat-wicking inner layer , thermal mid-layer , and then waterproof outer-layer . For more information on how to layer clothes properly, read here !

Waterproof Boots. When hiking in the Pacific Northwest , packing waterproof boots is always a good idea. Look for materials labeled “Gore-tex” for some solid waterproof boots ! Right now, we are loving the Vasque St Elias GTX series boots and they’ve been awesome!

Birkenstocks and Tevas. It’s everyday fashion at its most casual and comfortable. It’s also a common occurrence to see people rocking their Teva sandals or Birkenstocks with socks here in the PNW. Yes, you heard us right – dad fashion is IN in the Pacific Northwest!

No matter what, when you plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest – always pack a rain jacket.

Accessories

Gaiters. Gaiters are barriers that strap around your boots and the bottom of your pants that protect you from rain and snow.

Dry Bag. Depending on the type of activities you want to do, a dry bag is important for keeping gear from the elements! It’s especially important if you’re looking to take a canoe or kayak out on the water. We like this one by Sea To Summit !

Water Bottle. Yes, it rains here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get thirsty on those epic Washington hikes or trails to waterfalls in Oregon .

Beanie. Used for function AND style, beanies are nearly always worn in the Pacific Northwest. Bonus points if your beanie matches with your outfit!

Waterproof Backpack. In order to keep your things dry on those epic hikes in the Pacific Northwest , choose a backpack that easily sheds water, or is made of waterproof material.

Map of The Pacific Northwest

Map of the Pacific Northwest (What We’re Covering In This Post)

In this post, we’re breaking down the Pacific Northwest into digestible regions , to better assist you in deciding where to go in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve broken the PNW down into three sections:

The Core ( Washington , Oregon, British Columbia)

The Border States/Provinces  (Idaho, Montana, Northern California, and Alberta)

The Outliers (NW Wyoming, and Alaska)

Keep scrolling to discover our favorite adventures to take in each section of the Pacific Northwest!

THE CORE STATES (WA, OR, BC)

(Washington, Oregon, British Columbia)

Colchuck Lake - Hiking In The Pacific Northwest - TheMandagies.com

Washington State

When you plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest, Washington is likely the first state that comes to mind!

Known For : Temperate rainforests, incredible alpine lake hikes, rainy Washington beaches . In the city of Seattle, visit Pike Place Market, Kerry Park, and the Space Needle.

Washington is sooo diverse, but it’s mostly known for its three stunning national parks. Home to Olympic National Park , North Cascades National Park , and Mountain Rainier National Park, this is a great place to begin if you love seeing famous locations.

Must-See Places To Visit In Washington : Olympic National Park , Palouse Falls , Leavenworth, Mount Rainier National Park, The Tree Of Life, San Juan Islands. Don’t forget these gorgeous scenic drives in Washington to make the journey just as much part of the adventure!

Pacific Northwest Trips - Washington State

Where To Start In Washington: Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to explore the west side OR fly into Spokane International Airport (GEG) to explore the east side.

Best Season To Visit Washington: All seasons. Washington has a temperate rainforest that’s accessible all year long! However, summer ( June-September ) is when nearly all attractions are fully open, and high-elevation backpacking trips are *nearly* free of snow.

Our Favorite Washington Adventure Picks:

  • Best Scenic Drives In Washington State
  • Whale Watching in the San Suan Islands
  • Hiking Trails Near Seattle
  • Long-Weekend Road Trip Around The Olympic Peninsula
  • One Week Itinerary For Olympic National Park

Places To Visit In The Pacific Northwest - Oregon Waterfalls

Oregon State

Known For : EPIC waterfalls, amazing Oregon coast hiking trails , and beer!

Oregon is famous for its absolutely stunning waterfalls and unique Pacific Northwest getaways. It’s also one of the top searched places when people plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest. The Oregon Coast commands most of the attention, with its stunning coastline and hundreds of public beaches .

However, don’t overlook Eastern Oregon when you plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest – places like Leslie Gulch in the Owyhee Wilderness make this area an adventurous spot  for risk-takers and explorers. 

Must-See Places To Visit In Oregon : The Oregon Coast, Portland (for foodies!). The Blue Pool, and Multnomah Falls on a drive down the Columbia River Gorge . For the more adventurous traveler, check out Smith Rock State Park , the Painted Hills , and the Wallowas on an Eastern Oregon road trip route!

Where To Start In Oregon: Fly into Portland International Airport (PDX), and rent a car for the duration of your trip.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon Coast

Best Season To Visit Oregon: Spring season ( April, May, June ) is when the waterfalls are their fullest. Come during this time for epic falls, rainforest hikes, and don’t forget to pack your raincoat for your road trip around Oregon ! Summer is also the best time to visit Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake!

Our Favorite Oregon Adventure Picks:

  • Visiting Sisters, Oregon Near Bend
  • Epic Day Trips From Eugene , Oregon
  • Hiking God’s Thumb on the Oregon Coast
  • Discovering Hidden Spots around Coos Bay
  • Going deep into the Alvord Desert for some dreamy hot springs

Big Lonely Doug, Nearby Port Renfrew, British Columbia

British Columbia

Known For : Giant mountains, incredible backpacking, and stunning lakes.

British Columbia has the perfect mix of refined cities and bold expeditions, all within driving distance from one another. If you’re looking for a perfect mix of luxury and wilderness, consider British Columbia. 

Must-See Places To Visit In British Columbia : Whistler Mountain, Capilano Suspension Bridge , Golden Ears Provincial Park, The Kootenay Rockies, Vancouver Island .

Where To Start In British Columbia: Fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and drive to your western province destinations. For exploring the eastern part of the province, consider flying into Calgary, Alberta and driving east or flying into Spokane, Washington, and driving north across the border.

For a Vancouver Island road trip , consider flying into Victoria, BC, or Vancouver, BC, and taking the ferry across to the island.

Pacific Northwest Weekend Getaways - Tonquin Beach Trail

Best Season To Visit British Columbia: Summer. Summer in British Columbia is when most backpacking and hiking trails are open. It’s also when wildlife is at their busiest, so be prepared and keep your eye out for bears, moose, elk, and more!

Our Favorite British Columbia Adventures:

  • All the Best Things To Do In Tofino, Vancouver Island
  • Plan The Best 3 Days in Tofino (Long Weekend Itinerary)
  • The Best Places To Stay in Tofino (camping, budget + luxury options)
  • 10-Day Vancouver Island Road Trip
  • How To Spend 24 Hours In Vancouver, BC
  • Hot Springs Cove Near Tofino, BC
  • Explore Pacific Rim National Park
  • 13 Epic Hikes in Tofino

THE BORDER STATES (ID, MT, Nor Cal, AB)

(Idaho, Montana, Northern California, Alberta)

Cabin in Idaho - Pacific Northwest Weekend Getaways

Idaho State

Known For : Amazing backcountry hot springs , peaceful forests, rustic cabins, backpacking trips.

Idaho is comparatively unknown to the rest of the Pacific Northwest, making it a wild and intrepid destination. If you love gorgeous backcountry hot springs, remote forests, and log-cabin vibes, this is your destination. Plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest in Idaho is you love seclusion and peace!

Must-See Places To Visit In Idaho : Burgdorf Hot Springs , Idaho backcountry yurts , Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail , and The Sawtooth Mountains.

Where To Start In Idaho:  Fly into the Boise Airport (BOI) and rent a car to start your journey in the southwest, or take Interstate 90 East and begin a North Idaho road trip from Coeur d’Alene!

Emily Mandagie in Pacific Northwest Hot Springs - Burgdorf, near McCall, Idaho

Best Season To Visit Idaho: Idaho has amazing destinations that can be enjoyed year-round! Here are some places to consider visiting during different times of the year:

  • Winter – Skiing in Sun Valley, Snowshoeing to backcountry yurts
  • Spring – Twin Falls area to explore the waterfalls
  • Summer – North Idaho road trip camping and hiking
  • Autumn – Greeting the crisp fall mountain air in McCall or Stanley, soaking in remote hot springs

Our Favorite Idaho Adventures:

  • Overnight Camping in a Backcountry Yurt
  • One Week North Idaho Road Trip
  • A Forest Soak in Burgdorf Hot Springs
  • 12 Incredible Things To Do In Twin Falls, Idaho

Emily Mandagie in Glacier National Park

Western Montana

Known For : Wild and rugged adventure; huge mountains; vast, unexplored land.

Montana is the perfect place to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest filled with a huge variety of outdoor adventures. Raft down the North Fork River, hike to Hidden Lake Overlook , or explore gorgeous hot springs near Bozeman, Montana! No matter what you choose, you’ll leave wanting more.

Must-See Places To Visit In Montana : Hiking in Glacier National Park , Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge , Bowman Lake.

Where To Start In Montana: Fly into Bozeman, Montana to explore the Hyalite Area and make the quick trip down to Yellowstone National Park . Alternatively, fly into Kalispell, Montana to start your Montana adventure in Glacier National Park .

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Best Season To Visit Montana: The best time to visit Montana is in the summer or winter season. Montana has drastically different activities for each season. You can come again and again and have a completely different experience each time!

Our Favorite Montana Adventures:

  • Driving the Going To The Sun Road
  • Planning a 1-Week Trip in Glacier National Park
  • Winter Activities To Do In Bozeman, Montana

Driving Through the Redwood National Park - Pacific Northwest Road Trips

Northern California

Known For : Rugged adventure, giant redwood trees, wild coastline.

Northern California is known for its huge trees, dense forest, and endless opportunities for camping, fishing, and road-tripping. From the famous Redwoods , the deep waters of Shasta Lake and hidden waterfalls, a Northern California road trip is the perfect route for anyone looking for a rugged adventure.

When you plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest in Northern California, consider camping in the many state and national parks!

Must-See Places To Visit In Northern California : Lassen Volcanic National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore , McArthur-Burney Falls, Avenue of Giants in the Redwood National Park . Don’t forget the epic things to do in San Francisco , too!

Where To Start In Northern California: Fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK), rent a car, and begin your journey.

Emily Mandagie - Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Shark Fin Cove

Best Season To Visit Northern California: Spring and Fall. Summer is always great, but the California national parks tend to bring huge crowds between June-August. If you come in April/May or alternatively September/October, you’re likely to get better deals on hotels, and enjoy fewer crowds on these amazing hiking trails!

Our Favorite California Adventures:

  • The Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary (10 Days of Adventure!)
  • An Iconic California Coast Road Trip Itinerary (45 stops!)
  • Explore Sark Fin Cove near Davenport, California
  • How To Spend 1 Day In Big Sur State Park

Banff National Park - Moraine Lake

Known For : Huge mountains, wildlife viewing opportunities, and Gatorade-blue lakes.

You’ve probably seen Alberta, Canada on a postcard at some point in your life. This area of Canada ( Banff and Jasper especially) has one of the largest concentrations of iconic outdoor destinations, all within driving distance of one another! The Canadian Rockies can cater to all types of travelers – from bougie resort dwellers to campsite dirtbags, Alberta is a choose-your-own-adventure type of trip!

Must-See Places To Visit In Alberta, Canada : Banff National Park , Lake Louise , Jasper National Park , and the Icefields Parkway.

Where To Start in Alberta, Canada: Fly into the Calgary International Airport (YYC), rent a car, and drive west to the mountains.

View from Banff Gondola, Banff National Park - TheMandagies.copm

Best Season To Visit: Summer and Winter. Alberta, similarly to Montana, provides a completely different experience depending on the time of year you plan a visit! Expect to enjoy places like Lake Louise by ice skating in the winter, and canoeing the same lake in the summer!

Our Favorite Alberta Adventures:

  • The 10 Easiest Hikes In Jasper National Park
  • Experience the Banff Gondola (We took one of our most famous photos here!)
  • All The Best Things To Do In Banff During The Summer

THE OUTLIERS (AK, WY)

(Alaska, Wyoming)

Things To Do In Fairbanks - Denali National Park

Known For : Glaciers, wild animals (moose and bears!), once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Alaska, often referred to as The Last Frontier, is the quintessential trip for checking off epic bucket list items. From epic backpacking trips like the Bomber Traverse to seeing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, visiting Alaska is full of unique adventures.

If you want to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest that’s exciting, remote, and wild – Alaska is your spot!

Must-See Places To Visit In Alaska : Denali National Park, Exit Glacier, Matanuska Glacier, Fairbanks (The Northern Lights!)

Where To Start In Alaska:   Fly into Anchorage and rent a camper van to begin your road trip around Alaska . Alternatively, you can fly into Fairbanks and spend the majority of your time in the Interior part of the state. OR, make Anchorage your home base and just take day trips from Anchorage every day.

Pacific Northwest Vacation ideas - Denali National Park

Best Season To Visit Alaska: Summertime is the easiest season to visit Alaska. If you are hoping to experience the Northern Lights, come during February or March to have the best chance of seeing them!

Our Favorite Alaska Adventures:

  • The Perfect 10-Day Alaska Road Trip
  • 10 Epic Things To Do In Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Renting a Vintage VW Van Around Alaska

Glacial lakes below Grand Teton range - TheMandagies.com

Northwest Wyoming

Known For : The Teton Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, open cattle ranges, lots of wildlife!

Canyons, mountains, forests, hot springs, and don’t forget the super-volcano! Wyoming is home to some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States – Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. While it isn’t always a location people consider when they plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest, it’s still a location worth considering!

Must-See Places To Visit In Wyoming : Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole

Where To Start In Wyoming:   Fly into Jackson Hole, Wyoming to start your adventure and make the town your home base.

Emily talking a photo of Gibbon Falls in Yellowstone

Best Season To Visit Wyoming: Summer and Fall. The warmer weather brings out the wildlife, and these seasons will allow the most access to national parks and off-road adventures.

Our Favorite Wyoming Adventures:

  • Visiting The Boiling River Hot Springs
  • Hiking String Lake in Grand Teton National Park
  • 30 Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Routes

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Want to plan the ultimate Pacific Northwest vacation and string all these locations together? It’s quite the feat, but we can almost guarantee that it will be the most epic trip of your lifetime!

There are many different versions of Pacific Northwest road trips that take you to plenty of amazing spots in the area. Below, we’re sharing three different iterations of Pacific Northwest tours, so you can choose which one fits you are your group best.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - 10-Day Itinerary

10-Day Pacific Northwest Itinerary

  • Day 1: Seattle, WA to Port Angeles, WA
  • Day 2: Exploring Olympic National Park Day 3: Olympic National Park to Cannon Beach, OR
  • Day 4: Cannon Beach Coos Bay
  • Day 5: Coos Bay to Eugene, Oregon
  • Day 6: Eugene to Hood River, OR
  • Day 7: Hood River to Mount Rainier National Park
  • Day 8: Spend Day at Mount Rainier
  • Day 9: Mount Rainier to North Cascades
  • Day 10: North Cascades to Seattle for departure

Two-Week Pacific Northwest Itinerary

Looking for a Pacific Northwest road trip route that covers the most locations?

We’re sharing our two-week PNW road trip itinerary below, giving you the most variety in climate, states, and land/water features! Consider this a highlight trip, where you get a little taste of each place, in preparation to return to your favorite spots in more depth next time!

Pacific Northwest National Park Road Trip

Love Canadian and US national parks? There are more than 18 represented national parks in the Pacific Northwest, and exploring all of them would make one epic PNW road trip route! To narrow down your options, we’re listing the parks here:

  • Washington: Olympic National Park , North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park
  • Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
  • California: Redwood National Park , Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Montana: Glacier National Park
  • Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park
  • Canada: Pacific Rim NP , Gulf Islands, Banff National Park, Jasper National Park , Kootenay National Park, Yoho National Park, Glacier National Park (Canada), Mount Revelstoke National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Plan A Trip To The Pacific Northwest

What is pacific northwest cuisine.

Pacific Northwest food includes fresh seafood, local wines, and fresh fruit. The prominent agricultural places in the PNW include the Willamette Valley (orchards and vineyards), Eastern Washington (grains and orchards), and the coastal regions (seafood).

You’ll also find a huge coffee culture in the Pacific Northwest. Being the birthplace of Starbucks, you can find one on nearly every street corner, but for a more local experience, ask around for neighborhood cafes and artisan shops instead.

What is the Pacific Northwest Famous For?

So what makes the Pacific Northwest unique? One might say it’s pretty iconic for its rugged coastline, rain, and perpetually foggy weather, but there’s so much more than that!

The Pacific Northwest is known for big tech businesses like Amazon, REI, Boeing, as well as logging companies, and outdoor brands. It’s also socially acceptable to wear socks and sandals together and wear plaid to work on the regular.

We hope this post could help you plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest! For more information about the area, feel free to browse our categories page to find specific hikes, hotel reviews, car camping trips, and so much more to elevate your journey!

Do you live in the PNW? What would you suggest to a first-time visitor who wants to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest? Share your tips in the comments below!

Ready to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest but don't know where to start? We're breaking down region by region to help you figure out where to start your Pacific Northwest Road Trip, and PNW Getaway ideas in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, British Columbia and more! #washington #glaciernps #olympicnationalpark #mountrainier #PacificNorrthwest #PNW #PNWroadtrip #oregon #photography #landscape #mountains #USA

Holy cow! The Pacific Northwest has always been on my travel list but this makes me want to go so badly! I feel like our own country is the one we always take for granted as travelers. This is a good reminder of all the beauty there is!

Hi Alanna! Thanks so much for your sweet comment! The USA has so many hidden gems, We feel like we could not leave our whole like and still have more to explore!

  • National Parks
  • Tiny Houses

Ultimate Itinerary: The Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Posted by Arthur McMahon August 31, 2020 Updated May 21, 2024

The Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip is an epic journey that showcases the PNW’s most iconic scenery as well as a number of hidden gems.

This trip has it all. Get ready to embark on a grand tour of the region encompassing all that makes the Pacific Northwest a special place beloved by adventurous people. The coast, the Cascades, the desert, the rainforest, and every town along the way all add to the magic of the PNW. It’s time to see it all for yourself.

Related Read: The 10 Best Scenic Drives in Oregon

The Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Traversing the most epic territories within Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, this road trip leaves plenty of room for customization. This is an excellent route broken down into several sections. For each section, you’ll find highlights, interesting side trips, places to stay, plus some place where you can save some time if you’re on a tight schedule.

This epic PNW road trip includes:

  • 54 Hours of driving
  • 14 National Forests
  • 4 National Monuments
  • 4 National Parks

The journey as we put it together starts and ends in Seattle, but the road also passes through other urban areas including Portland, Boise, Bend, and Spokane. You can start this loop from wherever you’d like.

Take a look at the complete route on Google Maps  to follow along as you read the guide below. At a comfortable pace, the entire journey will take about two weeks. Make it your own, though, and enjoy the ride.

Related Read: The Ultimate Portland to Seattle Road Trip Itinerary

PNW Road Trip Section by Section

seattle washington pnw roadtrip

Seattle to Spokane

This first stretch of the Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip starts off in the skyscraper canyons of downtown Seattle. Our chosen route travels northward along the eastern edge of the Puget Sound and then turns east as it winds through the magnificent Northern Cascades.

Once you’re done exploring the evergreen mountains, you’ll drop down to the Columbia Plateau and cross over an early stage of the grand Columbia River at Chief Joseph Dam before arriving at The Lilac City of Spokane.

Related Read: 14 Vanlife Hacks: How to Make Van Living Easier

north cascades pnw road trip

North Cascade National Park

The rugged mountain landscape and heavy snowfalls of North Cascades National Park severely limit winter exploration of the area, but the roadside views are spectacular throughout the year. The entire park is mostly protected as wilderness. There are wondrous hikes and backpacking trails aplenty for the most intrepid of explorers.

Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Ross Lake is a popular recreation destination in the Northern Cascades. It’s a 23-mile long reservoir that extends beyond the national border into Canada. There are camping and hiking opportunities galore, and the lake is renowned for its stellar fishing. You can also opt to spend some time at the unforgettable floating Ross Lake Resort.

lake chelan pnw road trip

Lake Chelan

Certainly worthy of its own mention, Lake Chelan is the largest lake in the state of Washington and is the 26th deepest lake in the world with a maximum depth of 1486 feet. Visitors can stay at the remote tourist town of Stehekin which can only be accessed by long-distance hikers, such as those that arrive via the Pacific Crest Trail or by boat. The Lady of the Lake passenger ferry is a relaxing and romantic trip that carries travelers across the lake.

Where to Stay

  • 6 Romantic Seattle Houseboat Vacation Rentals
  • 9 of the Best Airbnbs in Seattle, Washington

Spokane to Boise

white bird grade idaho

Incredibly scenic and remote, this section of the Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip starts with a short drive to the beautiful lakeside town of Couer d’Alene. Leaving the city behind, the road turns south and hugs the Salmon River as it threads its way between three different national forests.

Our route loops out to eastern Idaho to include the Sawtooth Mountains and the Craters of the Moon National Monument . Though these are stupendous places worthy of a visit, this part can be easily cut out to save a full day or more of driving by rerouting directly to Boise.

Related Read:   10 Scenic Drives in Washington State That’ll Blow Your Mind

craters of the moon idaho

Coeur d’Alene

The waterfront district of Coeur d’Alene is a delightful place to grab a meal or stay the night. The marina, golf course, restaurants, and parks allow for hours or even days of entertainment. Tubbs Hill is a fantastic urban hiking area along the waterfront with easy trails and excellent views of both downtown and the lake.

Take a Hike: Guide to the Best Hikes Near Spokane

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Craters of the Moon is an awe-inspiring destination. It is literally a vast ocean of lava rock. Here you can explore 410,000 acres of basalt floodplain filled with lava caves, gigantic cinder crags, and, of course, plenty of extraordinary volcanic craters.

Wallowa Whitman National Forest

Full of hiking and backpacking trails, the Wallowa Whitman National Forest stands out because of its sky-high granite peaks and the lush diversity of its flora and fauna. It’s an expansive forest that includes the Eagle Cap Wilderness within its borders, a hidden gem of the Pacific Northwest reminiscent of California’s Sierra Nevada.

Wallowa Lake oregon

Wallowa Lake

Taking a detour a Lewiston, Idaho will lead you toward Joseph, Oregon and Wallowa Lake, as well as the primary entrance into the grand Eagle Cap Wilderness. The town of Joseph is named after Chief Joseph, of the Nez Perce Tribe . The area is rich in indigenous history. The lake is gorgeous, and there is a spectacular tramway that can take you straight to the mountain tops.

Save Time: Stay the course due south on Highway 55 and head straight to Boise.

Boise to Bend

oregon trail baker city or

This is an arid trek through Eastern Oregon with many geological oddities to see and plenty of pioneering history to explore. The route we chose travels north to Baker City and cuts through John Day. The southern Highway 20 is a quicker route, but the northern passage is much more interesting.

You’re on the historic Oregon Trail now, and there are plenty of points of interest in the early stages of this section for history buffs to discover. Most of the towns on this road have the look and feel of the Old West, and that’s because some of these places haven’t changed much in the last 100 years.

baker city historic district

Baker Historic District

Located smack dab in the middle of downtown Baker City, this district is rife with artifacts and properties that date back to the 1800s. The Baker Heritage Museum is a treasure trove of interesting stories to absorb, and the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center lies just 5 miles down the road.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is actually divided into three sections, two of which are on this route. The Sheep Rock Unit features a mesmerizing canyon drive and an awesome fossil museum filled with animals that no longer exist which were discovered in the nearby John Day Fossil Beds. The Painted Hills Unit is another spectacle deserving of a pit stop.

Smith Rock State Park

Lake Owyhee State Park

If you’re interested in a remote, lightly-visited state park to spend some time exploring, Lake Owyhee is a gorgeous place to stay. It’s a long lake that fills a deep canyon, the walls of which are vibrant with colorful volcanic rock. Bighorn sheep frequent the area, and there are several varieties of fish to catch in the reservoir.

Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock is known as the birthplace of rock climbing, but you don’t have to scale the cliff faces here to enjoy their beauty. This is a relatively small park with a 4-mile loop trail that covers most of what there is to see, but it is absolutely stunning. There are often dozens of climbers at a go which can be just as interesting to observe as the lovely scenery.

  • Oregon’s 17 Best Lake Camping Destinations
  • The 18 Best Camping Spots Near Bend, Oregon

Bend to Crescent City

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Outdoor lovers could easily spend a week or more in Bend without running out of fun things to do and places to explore. From backpacking around the Three Sisters to skiing to slopes of Mount Bachelor and kayaking the white water of the Deschutes River, the recreation opportunities are truly endless.

Yet there is so much else out there between Bend and the coast that you’ll have to whittle down your options to make the most of your time. Your mind will be blown the first time you see Crater Lake in person, Cave Junction has awesome spelunking tours, and a walk through the Northern California redwood forests can be a life-changing experience.

crater lake road trip

Crater Lake National Park

Oregon’s crown jewel, Crater Lake ‘s sapphire waters are breathtaking to behold. This is the only national park in all of Oregon. It is a natural wonder that one could see from every possible angle without growing tired of its presence. There are trails and roads all the way around its rim to explore.

Take a Hike:  Guide to the Best Hikes in Crater Lake National Park

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

For as much time as you spend looking down at Crater Lake, you’ll be spending an equal amount of time looking up at the mighty redwoods at Jedediah Smith . These behemoths are a world apart from any other type of tree on this road trip, and they are a marvel that can only be truly experienced in person with your own eyes. This park contains 70% of all the old-growth redwood trees remaining in the entire world.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

If you chose to skip over Craters of the Moon, you still have miles upon miles of lava to explore just outside of Bend. This monument features the Newberry Caldera, a large walk-thru lava cave, two lakes, the Deschutes River, and many hiking trails. Here you’ll also find the High Desert Museum which succinctly encapsulates the area’s geological and biological diversity.

Oregon Caves National Monument

Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve

Near the Oregon town of Cave Junction lies the Marble Halls of Oregon. There is a massive marble cave to check out, parts of which are family-friendly, ADA-accessible, well lit, and offer interpretive signage. Cave tours are given by rangers. Within the cave lies the River Styx, the only designated subterranean Wild and Scenic River, which was named after the underground river from Greek mythology.

Save Time: Head northwest from Crater Lake toward Eugene and cut over to the coast at Florence, or head straight up to Portland.

Take a Hike:  Guide to the Best Hikes Near Eugene, Oregon

  • 9 Beautiful Free Camping Spots in Oregon
  • 11 Best Campgrounds Near Eugene, Oregon

Crescent City to Portland

oregon coast road trip pnw

The Oregon Coast is special not only for its pacific beauty, but also because all 362-miles of coastline are designated as public land. From the sea up to the existing line of vegetation, all ocean beaches in Oregon are open to the public. This scenic coastal drive is made all the better by the fact that you can pull over at any of the countless waysides to dip your toes in the sand and surf.

And each town along the coast offers its own unique experience to travelers. Coastal towns are welcoming to tourists because tourism is a large part of the coastal economy. There are dunes for off-roading all up and down the coast, lighthouses and state parks aplenty to visit, and numerous charming seaside shops and restaurants to try with excellent seafood fare and cute beach town gifts.

astoria oregon

At a glance, most people who see Astoria on a map would assume it’s just another coastal town, but it’s not actually on the pacific coastline. Astoria is a historic port town set on the southern bank of the Columbia River Delta. Nearby Fort Stevens State Park is a popular beachside park and campground, and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park is another historic park worth a visit.

The big city has its appeal too, and it’s a nice change of pace after a long trip up the laid back coast. Portland has its own vibe, and it’s generally a pretty friendly city to explore on foot. If you’ve still got the itch to get outside and hike, though, you’ll want to take a look at our article on the best hikes in and around Portland .

The Beach, Everywhere

No two stretches of beach are the same in Oregon. Some are riddled with dazzling agates to collect, others are home to mini-ecosystems like tidepools and sea caves, while others are loaded with piles of driftwood, broken apart by freshwater streams, or adjacent to lively boardwalks. You’re sure to find something special about each beach you visit along this route.

shore acres state park

Shore Acres State Park

Once a lavish estate of a wealthy timber baron, Shore Acres State Park is a beautiful combination of both natural and human-made wonders. Much of the park rests atop tall sandstone cliffs above the raging ocean where waves crash against upturned strata. A large, manicured botanical garden is maintained on the property, and there are multiple magical beach coves to discover.

Take a Mailboat up the Rogue River

This is less of a side trip and more of a thing to do, but you can turn this into an overnight or multi-day excursion. The Wild and Scenic Rogue River is mostly accessible only to hikers, rafters, and these mailboats. You can take a ride over 100 miles long and stay at a remote lodge far upriver from civilization and deep within the Wild Rogue Wilderness.

  • 12 Stunning Oregon Coast Cabin Rentals
  • 18 Best Camping Spots on the Oregon Coast
  • 21 Best VRBO Rentals on the Oregon Coast

Portland to Seattle

historic columbia river highway

It’s all about those snow-capped Cascade peaks, baby! This final stretch of the Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip winds through the region’s tallest mountains. Starting with a scenic drive up the Columbia River Gorge, the road skirts past awe-inspiring Mount Hood and then crosses the river to weave between Washington’s regal giants.

Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier are the climax of this grand tour. But the final leg of the journey sweeps back over to the coast for one last glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and a tranquil ride through the temperate rainforests of Olympic National Park before arriving back at the Seattle Metropolitan Area.

olympic national park wa

Columbia River Gorge

A scenic drive unlike any other, the Historic Columbia River Highway follows the gorge upriver as the scenery transitions from temperate rainforest to arid grassland. Attractions along this road include dozens of plummeting waterfalls , volcanic geological oddities, and the ever-present looming peaks of Mount Hood and Mount Adams.

Mount Adams and Goat Rocks Wilderness

Driving by Mount Adams, you may not be able to help yourself from finding a trail to hike. There are several popular paths up to sky-high trails on Mount Adams and within the neighboring Goat Rocks Wilderness . Here, on a clear day, you’ll find alpine lakes, wildflowers, goats, marmots, and epic views of the surrounding mountains.

Olympic National Park

Return once again to the coastal beauty and dark rainforests of the Pacific Northwest’s coastline, but crank all of it up to 11 here at the national park. Olympic National Park is a verdant wonderland set just outside of Seattle. It’s wet, wild, and everything is covered in green. Moss and lichen abound, as do the terrific ocean views.

Take a Hike:  Guide to the Best Easy Hikes at Olympic National Park

christine falls mt rainier

Mount Hood and the Timberline Lodge

You’ll miss much of the majesty of Mount Hood by bypassing it along the Columbia River Gorge. If you have a spare day, we suggest heading up to the mountain from the town of Hood River. The lodge is quite an interesting place, and it provides access to year-round ski slopes as well as the Timberline Trail which circumnavigates Mount Hood.

Take a Hike: Guide to Best Hikes at Mount Hood

Mount Rainier National Park

The pinnacle of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Range, Mount Rainier reigns above the region and can be seen from all across Washington and Oregon on a clear day. The national park provides a closer view of this iconic monolith. The mountain is what you make of it. There are miles of trails, suburban tourist attractions, scenic gondola rides, and so much more to discover on this mountain’s slopes.

Take a Hike: Guide to the Best Hikes at Mount Rainier

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Known for its destructive eruption from a few decades past, Mount St. Helens offers a unique experience for adventurous folks who seek to climb or hike around the active volcano. You can experience first hand the remnants of the recent lava flow, the newly formed glacier, and numerous lava caves.

Save Time: Cut out either the mountains or the coast, or both, by heading up I-5 directly to Seattle.

  • 7 Epic Treehouse Rentals in Oregon
  • 10 Best Campgrounds Near Portland

Enjoy the Pacific Northwest

13 Outdoorsy Things to Do on the Washington Coast

Top 5 Pacific Coast Trail Section Hikes in Oregon and Washington

Hit the Trail on These 12 Epic Waterfall Hikes in Washington

17 Best Lake Camping Spots in Oregon

8 Stunning Waterfall Hikes Throughout Oregon

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Arthur McMahon avatar

Posted by Arthur McMahon

Arthur loves to walk. It’s as simple as that. Whether it be in the mountains, on the beach, or along the city streets — he believes walking is the best way to experience the world. Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was his first backpacking foray, and he hasn’t stopped crushing miles since. Arthur and his wife now regularly travel into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest seeking new trails to hike.

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Coastal History: A Guide to the Oregon Coast’s Lighthouses and Historic Sites

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10-Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

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The Pacific Northwest is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful regions in the United States. Washington and Oregon have a little bit of everything — impressive mountain ranges, pristine beaches, spectacular national parks, cool cities, quaint small towns, wine regions, lush forests, charming islands, and everything in-between. What’s not to love?

With so much to see in the Pacific Northwest, it’s best to plan a Pacific Northwest road trip to explore as much of this gorgeous region as possible. In this post, we’ve outlined the ideal ten-day Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary with things to do, places to eat, and where to stay, to help you plan the perfect road trip to the Pacific Northwest. Are you ready?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links, meaning that I earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase at no additional cost to you. This helps me keep the content on my website free for you to enjoy!

When Is the Best Time to Go on a Pacific Northwest Road Trip?

The best time to go on a Pacific Northwest road trip is from June to October . During the summer and fall months, you can usually count on sunny, dry weather, clear roads, and ideal conditions for enjoying the spectacular outdoor adventures in Washington and Oregon, like hiking, waterfall spotting, fruit picking, and going to the beach.

Usually, prices will be more expensive in the summer months (especially July and August). The end of September and beginning of October is a great time to visit if you want to see fall leaves and for cheaper prices and fewer tourists. Just be sure to plan your visit before the first snowfall in November or December — driving in unpredictable rainy or snowy conditions can make the logistics of this Pacific Northwest road trip more of a challenge.

Where Should I Start and End My Pacific Northwest Road Trip?

I recommend starting and ending your Pacific Northwest road trip in Seattle .

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the most accessible airport in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s convenient to drive in a loop from Seattle to Leavenworth to Portland and back to Seattle (which is exactly how this itinerary is laid out for you!). Plus, you can also book a round-trip ticket from Seattle, which is really convenient. However, once you arrive in Seattle, read through this list of Road Trip Essentials to ensure you have everything you need before hitting the road.

Recommended 10-Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Seattle, washington.

Once you arrive at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it’s time to begin exploring Seattle!

Seattle is a fabulous city with so many things to see and do (and tons of excellent food!), but it is also a great launching point for several amazing day trips to national parks, cities, and natural attractions in the surrounding area. We recommend spending two days exploring all that Seattle has to offer, and at least one day on a day trip from Seattle!

Top Things to See & Do in Seattle

  • Chew a piece of gum and “stick” your contribution to The Gum Wall.  
  • Stop by the Original Starbucks to snap a photo at this iconic spot. 
  • Take a guided or self-guided food tour through the iconic Pike Place Market . 
  • Explore Waterfront Park and consider riding the Seattle Great Wheel for stunning views of the city or paying a visit to the marine animals at the Seattle Aquarium. 
  • Ride all the way to the top of the Space Needle on a clear day to see panoramic views of Elliot Bay, Mount Rainier, and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. 
  • Marvel at the glass sculptures and artwork in the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum , featuring artwork from famous glass artist, Dale Chihuly. 
  • Enjoy a unique coffee beverage, cocktail, dessert, or meal from the Starbucks Reserve Roastery — one of only six in the world! 
  • Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and go on a hike or walk around Discovery Park . 
  • Hop in the car and take a day trip to one of Seattle’s three national parks — Olympic National Park , Mount Rainier National Park , or North Cascades National Park . Check out some of the best hiking trails while you are at these parks, like the Skyline Trail in Mt Rainier and Hurricane Hill Trail in Olympic National Park.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Top Places to Eat & Drink in Seattle

  • Savor a cup of craft coffee at Storyville Coffee in Pike Place Market. 
  • Make reservations at The Pink Door for delicious Italian food, memorable entertainment, and stunning views of Elliot Bay from the patio. 
  • Order some cheesy mac ‘n’ cheese or grilled cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese — a staple in the Pacific Northwest! 
  • Get a thick, creamy Greek yogurt that tastes like dessert from Ellenos . 
  • Order handmade pasta at Pasta Casalinga in Pike Place Market (my personal favorite!). 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Where to Stay in Seattle

  • Hotel Theodore — The lobby at Hotel Theodore is beautiful, and the hotel has a complimentary cocktail hour in the evening, and there is a coffee shop in the lobby. You can even rent bikes to ride around downtown. 
  • Thompson Seattle — This stunning hotel offers a rooftop bar and a terrace with views of Elliot Bay and the Olympic Mountains. The rooms are extremely luxurious, so if you are looking for an upscale stay in Seattle, this is the perfect spot for you! 
  • The Paramount Hotel — This hotel is just a ten-minute walk away from Pike Places Market and the Space Needle is just one mile away. You’ll find sleek furniture and modern furnishings in this gorgeous hotel. 

Read More on Seattle

  • Jam-Packed Itinerary for One Fun Day in Seattle  
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  • Pike Place Market Guide: What to See & Eat at Seattle’s Iconic Market  
  • 19 Must-Do Day Trips from Seattle    

Bainbridge Island, Washington

Before leaving Seattle, take the ferry from the Seattle Ferry Terminal to Bainbridge Island for one day. This ferry ride costs less than $10 per person, and you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views of Elliot Bay and the city’s skyline on the short 35-minute journey to this beautiful island.

These are some of the best things to do on Bainbridge Island to include on your Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary. We aren’t including any hotel recommendations, because we recommend visiting Bainbridge Island as a day trip from Seattle.

Top Things to See & Do in Bainbridge Island

  • Ride the bus to Blodel Reserve — a gorgeous nature preserve filled with landscaped gardens, forests, and a stunning reflecting pool. 
  • Explore the local shops and boutiques on Winslow Way, including Eagle Harbor Book Co. and Lively Olive Tasting Bar . 
  • Admire contemporary artwork from local artists around the Puget Sound at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art . 
  • Take a scenic walk along the Bainbridge Island Waterfront Trail and enjoy beautiful views of Eagle Harbor and Hawley Cove. 
  • Purchase some local fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and other goodies on Saturdays from 10 AM – 2 PM at the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market . 
  • Learn about the fascinating history of Bainbridge Island at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum . 
  • Go wine tasting at one of the many wineries on Bainbridge Island, including Fletcher Bay Winery and Bainbridge Vineyards . 

A woman standing in front of a tree with fall leaves on Bainbridge Island, one of the best stops on a Pacific Northwest road trip.

Top Places to Eat & Drink in Bainbridge Island

  • Sit down in Pegasus Coffee House to enjoy a coffee and pastry (and take a photo of the charming greenery outside too!). 
  • Enjoy British-style fish and chips, as well as other delicious seafood, like lobster rolls and fish tacos, at Proper Fish . 
  • Make reservations for a nice dinner at Seabird — an island-inspired restaurant serving seafood, including oysters, scallops, and mussels. 
  • Fill up on the delicious surf ‘n’ turf menu at Islander , featuring organic produce, locally sourced meat, and sustainably sourced seafood. 

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Read More on Bainbridge Island

  • Ultimate Guide to Spending the Perfect Day on Bainbridge Island  

Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth is a charming Bavarian-themed town in the Cascade Mountains that is worth spending some time in during your Pacific Northwest road trip. It’s only a two-hour drive east of Seattle, so it’s pretty easy to get here from the city.

Not only is the town itself fun to explore, but the surrounding area is filled with tons of adventurous activities — from hiking to white-water rafting. Check out all the best things to do in Leavenworth for two days!

Top Things to See & Do in Leavenworth

  • Go shopping at the local boutiques in Downtown Leavenworth to find fun souvenirs. 
  • Visit during select dates in September, October, November, or December to experience Oktoberfest or the Christkindlmarkt . 
  • Ride horseback through the gorgeous scenery with Wild at Heart Horse Rides . 
  • Spend a day hiking in the Enchantments on Colchuck Lake Trailhead or stay closer to Leavenworth by hiking the Icicle Gorge Nature Loop or Icicle Ridge Trail . 
  • Sample local beer or wine at local breweries or wineries, including Icicle Brewing Company , Leavenworth Cider House , or Silvara Cellars . 
  • See Santa’s reindeer at the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm . 
  • Go on a white-water rafting adventure down the Wenatchee River in the warm summer or early fall months. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Top Places to Eat & Drink in Leavenworth

  • Grab a craft coffee, breakfast sandwich, and delicious pastry at Argonaut Coffee & Biscuits to fuel up for a big day of exploring. 
  • Sit outside at the beer garden while enjoying a pretzel, brat, or beer at München Haus . 
  • Cozy up with an artisanal bone broth soup made from scratch at Yodelin Broth Company — this is perfect for the chilly fall or winter months! 
  • Enjoy a sit-down dinner at Watershed Café , a chef-owned, farm-to-table restaurant that focuses on the ingredients and flavors of the Pacific Northwest. 
  • Try some traditional German fare at the Andreas Keller Restaurant . 
  • Sample a flight of beers at Icicle Brewing Company or a flight of ciders at the Leavenworth Cider House . 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Where to Stay in Leavenworth

  • Posthotel Leavenworth — This adults-only hotel is by far the most luxurious property in Downtown Leavenworth. Here, you will be able to enjoy a European-style breakfast included in the cost of your stay as well as steam rooms, saunas, plunge pools, and other luxurious amenities for guests. 
  • LOGE Leavenworth Downtown   — This down-to-earth hotel has an outdoorsy and relaxed “camp” feel with a cozy coffee shop in the lobby, fun hammocks hanging in each room, helpful gear rentals, and city cruisers that are free for guests.  
  • Bavarian Lodge  — This hotel in Downtown Leavenworth provides guests with spacious rooms (cozy fireplaces included!), a heated swimming pool, an outdoor hot tub, and complimentary breakfast. What more could you ask for? 

Read More on Leavenworth

  • Ultimate Guide to Leavenworth in the Fall  
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Portland, Oregon

Two Days  

After spending the first half of your trip in Washington, it’s time to drive down to Oregon. It only takes about three to four hours to arrive in Portland from Leavenworth, and the drive is pretty easy. You’ll even be able to get a sneak preview of the Columbia River Gorge!

We recommend spending two days in Portland, so you can take one full day to explore the city and another full day to explore the wineries in the Willamette Valley. These are our best recommendations for what to see and do in Portland and the surrounding wine country!

Top Things to See & Do in Portland

  • Get lost in the endless shelves of books in Powell’s City of Books — the world’s largest independent bookstore. 
  • Browse the Portland Saturday Market at Tom McCall Waterfront Park and take a photo in front of the famous Portland White Stag Sign. 
  • See thousands of beautiful roses in bloom in the late spring, summer, or fall in the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. 
  • Wander through the Portland Japanese Garden, also in Washington Park, to see the Natural Garden, Strolling Pond Garden, Tea Garden, and more. 
  • Dive into the history of Portland at Pittock Mansion — a house museum that tells the story of how Portland evolved from a pioneer town to a modern, industrialized city. 
  • Plan a wine-tasting adventure in the Willamette Valley by visiting wineries like Brick House Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Domaine Roy & Fils. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Top Places to Eat & Drink in Portland

  • Go on a coffee crawl to Portland’s top craft coffee roasters, including Coava Coffee Roasters , Good Coffee , and Stumptown Coffee Roasters . 
  • Try an adults-only donut flavor, like Cointreau Crème Brûlée and Blueberry Bourbon Basil at Blue Star Donuts (it’s way better than Voodoo Doughnuts!). 
  • Check out some of the top local breweries in Portland for a brew and lunch, including Von Ebert Brewing & Kitchen and Little Beast Brewing Beer Garden . 
  • Treat yourself to a nice dinner at Noble Rot , a restaurant in Downtown Portland that grows all its own vegetables and offers wine flights with dinner. 
  • Make reservations to enjoy a six-course meal at one of the most famous restaurants in Portland, Le Pigeon , where you can enjoy French-inspired fare. 
  • Grab an ice cream cone at Salt & Straw — the innovative flavors from this West Coast ice cream chain were dreamed up right here, in Portland. 
  • While you’re in wine country, grab a quick lunch at Red Hills Market in Dundee to fill up between wine tastings, or head into McMinnville for more options. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Where to Stay in Portland

  • Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel  — This beautiful hotel provides guests with rooms, apartments, and suites in a riverfront setting overlooking the Willamette River. At the property, you can also enjoy refined dining, a fabulous happy hour, and complimentary wine hours. 
  • Canopy by Hilton Portland Pearl District   — This chic and modern hotel in Portland’s hip Pearl District offers a restaurant, rooftop gym, and spectacular city views. Guests have commented that the staff and amenities are exceptional.  
  • Woodlark Hotel  — This boutique hotel is in the center of the city and offers a refined restaurant, cocktail bar, and event spaces. Their coffee shop in the lobby, Good Coffee, is also one of the best coffee shops in Portland! 

Read More on Portland

  • Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Portland, Oregon  
  • 10 Best Wineries to Visit in the Willamette Valley (+ Map & Helpful Tips)  

Oregon Coast, Oregon

One Day  

The Oregon Coast is only an hour or two away from Portland, so it’s the perfect day trip away from the city! If you have more time in Oregon (especially if you’re visiting in the summer or early fall, when the weather is nice), I even recommend finding a hotel on the Oregon Coast and staying an extra night. There is a lot to do and see along this scenic coastline!

However, even if you only have one day, you can still squeeze in the “best of the best” of the Oregon Coast by hanging out around Tillamook and Cannon Beach. Here is what to enjoy on the Oregon Coast in one day on your 10-day Pacific Northwest road trip!

Top Things to See & Do on the Oregon Coast

  • Take a photo in front of Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach. 
  • Walk around the quaint Downtown Cannon Beach and check out some of the shops, including Cannon Beach Book Co. and Bruce’s Candy Kitchen. 
  • Spend some time hiking in Ecola Beach State Park for beautiful coastal views. Popular trails include Clatsop Look Trail and Crescent Beach Trail. 
  • Embark on another hike at Oswald West State Park, where forested greenery meets coastal views. Cape Falcon Trail and Elk Falls Trail are the most popular trails here. 
  • Visit the aquarium, golf course, amusement park, and other fun attractions at Seaside — the most “touristy” town on the Oregon Coast. 
  • Go on a tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Oregon (the tour is free and includes free cheese samples!). 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Top Places to Eat & Drink on the Oregon Coast

  • Grab a coffee and fresh-baked pastry at Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters . 
  • Sit down for casual lunch or dinner and enjoy a locally crafted beer at Pelican Brewing Company at Cannon Beach. 
  • Make reservations for an upscale dinner, featuring fresh-caught seafood and craft cocktails, at The Wayfinder Restaurant & Lounge . 
  • Try some cheesy and dairy-filled treats at the food court at the Tillamook Cheese Factory , including cheese curds, mac ‘n’ cheese, ice cream, and more. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Read More on the Oregon Coast

  • Perfect Cannon Beach Day Trip from Portland  
  • Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour: Tips, Tricks & What You Need to Know  

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

The Columbia River Gorge is my personal favorite day trip from Portland, Oregon. This scenic stretch along the Historic Columbia River Highway is only a 30-minute drive from Portland and is filled with stunning waterfalls, beautiful hikes, fruit orchards, wineries, and other attractions!

Be sure to get an early start from your hotel in Portland, so you can maximize your time exploring the Columbia River Gorge before heading back home. Here is everything you should do while you’re on this portion of the Pacific Northwest road trip!

Top Things to See & Do in the Columbia River Gorge

  • Hike to the top of Bridal Veil Falls , where you can snap a photo of this iconic waterfall before making the journey back down. 
  • Stop and snap a photo of the iconic Multnomah Falls . You can hike to the bridge for a closer view of the falls, and hike even further if you have time. 
  • Spend a few hours hiking to Wahclella Falls . This waterfall is lesser known than other stops along the Columbia River Gorge and is easily just as beautiful! 
  • Pick apples, peaches, cherries, pears, or whatever fruit is in season at Mt. View Orchards or Draper Girls Country Farm on the Hood River Fruit Look. 
  • Find a winery, like Mt. Hood Winery or Marchesi Vineyards & Winery , where you can go wine tasting while enjoying the gorgeous scenery! 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Top Places to Eat & Drink in the Columbia River Gorge

  • Savor breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Multnomah Falls Lodge , where you can watch this iconic waterfall tumbling down outside while enjoying your meal! 
  • Order a delicious pizza and a local wine, beer or cider at Grateful Vineyards while enjoying stunning views of Mount Hood. 
  • Enjoy a burger, sandwich, noodle bowl, or other delicious meal at Thunder Island Brewing Co. , while also enjoying views of the Willamette River. This restaurant also serves locally brewed beers. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Read More on the Columbia River Gorge

  • Scenic Columbia River Gorge Day Trip from Portland  

FAQs: Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

What is the best month to visit the pacific northwest.

The most popular months to visit the Pacific Northwest are June , July , and August . The summer months bring limited rain and sunshine to Washington and Oregon. However, September and October are generally also great months to visit — usually, the weather is still fantastic, but you can score cheaper prices and won’t have to deal with as many tourists at popular locations.

What is the best way to visit the Pacific Northwest?

The Pacific Northwest has tons of unique hidden gems, beautiful natural landmarks, national parks, and cool cities to explore. That’s why a road trip is the best way to visit the Pacific Northwest — you’ll be able to see as many of the popular sites in this region of the country as possible, even in a limited amount of time.

Is Oregon or Washington prettier?

Overall, there are more mountainous regions and scenic coastal spots in Oregon than in Washington, although Washington has more national parks. Both states are filled with plenty of natural beauty, so I recommend visiting both to decide for yourself!

Is the Pacific Northwest expensive?

The Pacific Northwest is known for being expensive, but you shouldn’t feel the pain of the higher costs too much as a tourist. Try to fill up on gas outside the big cities, and budget a little extra money for food, coffee, and meals. However, the real “expense” in the Pacific Northwest is the cost of living (renting, buying a home, etc.), so you’ll be fine as a visitor!

Let’s Hit the Road with This Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

If you give this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary a try, you’ll have to let me know what you think! We loved exploring Oregon and Washington with this itinerary, and I’m already itching to go back to explore more of this stunning region of the United States. 

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Save This Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary for Later

best time to road trip pacific northwest

About the Author

Brittany Sawyer

Hi, I'm Brit! I'm a writer from Phoenix, AZ who loves coffee, golden retriever puppies, and obviously, travel! I help ordinary women (like me!) dream, plan, and do extraordinary travel experiences.

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The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Exploring the Pacific Northwest

If you’re planning a Pacific Northwest road trip, you’ll be glad to know that there are dozens of spots to stop during your trip.

With all of the towering mountains, beautiful ocean coastline, deserts, and so much more, the PNW is an outdoor lovers paradise. With a road trip, you’ll be able to explore some of the diversity that is found in this region of the United States.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

In this post, I’ll cover some of the best road trips in the PNW, so you can plan your trip around the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Best 14-Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: seattle.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The best option for your road trip is to fly into Seattle and explore Washington’s largest city before leaving. Just one day in Seattle will give you enough time to enjoy the city’s best activities.

Start the day by exploring Pike Place Market and grabbing a cup of coffee at the Original Starbucks. Then wander along the Seattle Waterfront or take a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel.

Other things to do in Seattle include heading to the top of the Space Needle, seeing the skyline at Kerry Park, and visiting the many museums. 

Day 2: North Cascades National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

After spending time in Seattle, head slightly north to North Cascades National Park. This is one of Washington’s three national parks.

The towering mountains within this park will leave you breathless, and if you’re able to hike in them, you’ll love them even more!

A few of the most popular hikes are Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop, which can both be done in half a day.

For the rest of the day, visit Diablo Lake and Washington Pass Overlook. These are found along the scenic road, which also showcase the amazing beauty of this park.

Days 3-4: Olympic National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

For days three and four, head into Washington’s most diverse park, Olympic National Park. Found on the Olympic Peninsula, this park has rainforests, ocean coastline, and a mountain range. 

Even with two days here, you won’t even come close to covering this park. So you’ll want to pick and choose the things that interest you most.

I recommend for sure adding the Hoh Rainforest to your itinerary, since there aren’t many rainforests in the United States. Other amazing things within the park include Hurricane Hill in the Olympic Mountains, Sol Duc Falls, and Ruby and Rialto Beaches.

As for hiking, check out Mount Storm King, Marymere Falls, and the Hall of Mosses. Some of these are even great hikes for winter in Washington !

If you have extra time, check out the small towns of Forks and Port Angeles before continuing to your next stop.

Days 5-6: Mount Rainier National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Washington’s third and final national park is home to the state’s tallest mountain, Mount Rainier. This 14,000-foot volcano is the defining characteristic of the park and people come from all over to see it.

Mount Rainier towers into the sky in the center of the park, and everywhere you go, you’ll have incredible views of it.

There are two main sections of Mount Rainier; Paradise and Sunrise. Both of these locations offer great hiking trails, a visitor center, and of course, views of the mountain. If you have two days here, spend one day at each location.

A few of the best hikes in the park include Naches Peak, the Skyline Trail, and Mount Fremont Lookout. All of these are day hikes.

Day 7: Portland

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Starting with its largest city, Portland, you’ll be crossing over into Oregon as you reach the halfway mark of your Pacific Northwest road trip.

This city is renowned for the myriad of things to do and see in Portland . A few are its expansive green spaces, pizza and donuts, and for being ‘weird.’ After all, the saying goes, ‘Keep Portland Weird.’

best time to road trip pacific northwest

While in Portland, be sure to check out these green spaces, including the Portland Japanese Garden and Washington Park.

The city also has several great food truck parks, where you can get delicious food. Portland is known for being a foodie destination . They have delicious pizza, and they also love their donuts. Grab a few to try at Voodoo Doughnuts.

Portland also acts as the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood, while you’ll get to see on the next few days of your trip.

Day 8: Columbia River Gorge

best time to road trip pacific northwest

After exploring the best of Portland, head slightly east into the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. This stunning area is known for its waterfalls and great viewpoints.

The Columbia River cuts through the land between Washington and Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. In the Columbia River Gorge, you can see this firsthand and enjoy the beauty that surrounds it.

Hiking trails are found on both the Washington and Oregon sides of the river. You can find nearly 100 waterfalls on the Oregon side ! Some are found just off of the road, while others need to be hiked to.

One important thing to note here is that during certain times of the year, you will need a permit to enter the waterfall corridor in the Columbia River Gorge.

Day 9: Mount Hood National Forest

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Your next stop should be the Mount Hood National Forest. Mount Hood is Oregon’s tallest mountain, which you can occasionally spot from Portland. It towers high above the land at over 11,000 feet. 

Within the national forest, you can find dozens of things to do. During the summer months, hiking is the most popular thing to do. Tamanawas Falls, Trillium Lake, and McNeil Point are the most popular.

Once winter rolls around, skiing and snowboarding are very popular. There are three ski resorts in the Mount Hood National Forest with Timberline Lodge Ski Area being the most popular.

The small town of Government Camp is also worth wandering through, as there are small shops and places to check out during your visit.

Day 10: Oregon Coast

best time to road trip pacific northwest

On the next day of your road trip, spend some time exploring the Oregon Coast. While you won’t be able to explore it all in just one day, you can see some of the best places.

The coast here is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway, and you can enjoy it on your trip.

A few of the best stops on the trip include Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor and Sunset Bay State Park.

If you have some extra time earlier in the trip, you may want to zig-zag to parts of the northern coast. Up north, you’ll find Cape Kiwanda, Thor’s Well, and Astoria to check out.

Days 11-12: Willamette & Umpqua National Forests

best time to road trip pacific northwest

As you continue to make your way south, make a few stops in Willamette and Umpqua National Forests. These popular forests are home to dozens of waterfalls, hot springs, and mountains. You could spend weeks in the forests and still have more to do!

But with days 11 and 12 of your PNW road trip, spend some time exploring the most popular stops.

In Willamette National Forest, check out Tamolitch Blue Pool, Sahalie and Koosah Falls, Cougar Hot Springs, and Proxy Falls. Then head into Umpqua National Forest where you’ll find Umpqua Hot Springs, Toketee Falls, Watson Falls, and Twin Lakes.

While reaching all of these require a bit of drive time, they’re all such great additions to your road trip, and I highly recommend planning them into the itinerary! 

Days 13-14: Bend

best time to road trip pacific northwest

For the last two days of your Pacific Northwest road trip, head to Bend. This is the best place to fly out of to avoid having to drive back north.

Bend is home to some of Oregon’s desert, as well as some of the best mountains in the state. You’ll find Mount Bachelor right in Bend, which is one of the best places for skiing nearby. The Three Sisters Wilderness is also nearby, which is a very popular place for hiking in the summer.

Just south of Bend, you’ll find Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which houses the largest volcano in the Cascade Mountain range. 

And just north of Bend is Smith Rock State Park. This park has beautiful hiking trails near Bend to climb above the land and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and desert area.

Bend is also known for its breweries and food, so during your last few days, be sure to try out a few local restaurants!

Extra Stops For Your Road Trip

If you have a little bit of extra time on your PNW road trip, check out these additional stops to add on!

Sawtooth Mountains

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Since Idaho is a bit further from the best things to do in Washington and Oregon, it can be hard to reach. But if you have some extra time, consider visiting the Sawtooth Mountains in Southern Idaho.

This beautiful area is popular for hiking and backpacking during the summer months, and seems to be highly underrated when it comes to amazing PNW mountains.

The Sawtooths are home to almost 400 alpine lakes, has great trails for mountain biking, and has almost 60 mountain peaks to admire.

Idaho Panhandle National Forests

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Another great place to stop in Idaho are the national forests that make up the Idaho Panhandle. There are a few national forests that make up the land in the Panhandle, and you can explore them by car, hiking, biking, or otherwise.

A few of the top things to see include Farragut State Park, Couer d’Alene National Forest, and biking the Hiawatha bike trail.

Mount Baker National Forest

best time to road trip pacific northwest

This national forest is found in far Northern Washington and is home to the fascinating Mount Baker. This massive mountain is sure a site to see, and it shouldn’t be missed if you have some extra time! It’s tough to get to, which is why you’ll need a few extra days to see it.

Just like the other mountains in the PNW, hiking and skiing are popular around Mount Baker. Artist Point is one of the best places for hiking, which showcases some of the most incredible mountain views you’ll ever see.

There’s also a ski area near Artist Point, known as the Mount Baker Ski Area, for winter travel.

Wallowa Whitman National Forest

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Something to add onto your trip in Oregon is the Wallowa Whitman National Forest. Found all the way in Eastern Oregon along the Idaho border, this forest is stunning.

It’s home to a range of underrated mountains that most travelers skip over. But if you’re up for the drive, you’ll get to enjoy them with fewer crowds than you would at some of the other mountains. Hells Canyon Overlook is one of the best viewpoints, and Eagle Cap is the most popular mountain to check out.

Also read: How to visit all the 50 states in just 50 days

Best Time to Take a PNW Road Trip

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The Pacific Northwest is beautiful any time of year, but when you visit should depend on what you like to do. 

If you like skiing and snowboarding, winter may be best for you. But if you like to hike, then summer is your best bet.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The weather is at its best during the months of June through September, but in higher elevations, snow may not melt until mid-July. Fall is also beautiful because the leaves change and create a colorful mural of trees.

To choose when you go, take a look at what you’re wanting to do and see when that activity is best done.

How Many Days Do I Need for a Road Trip in the PNW?

best time to road trip pacific northwest

If you want to really take advantage of your trip and see the very best of the PNW, I’d recommend having at least one week. But having even more is your best bet!

With just one week, you’ll need to pick and choose between some of the best things and you’ll need to spend more time driving.

With longer trips, such as 10 or 14 days, you can spend more time at each place and relax a bit more.

Wrap-Up: Pacific Northwest Road Trip

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Planning a Pacific Northwest road trip is one of the best ways to enjoy all of the beauty that this region of the United States has to offer.

With snow-capped mountains to the Pacific coastline and bustling cities, the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho come together to make one of the best adventure areas in the country.

Pairing them together to plan one epic road trip will be one to remember!

Keep reading: Looking for epic journeys? Check these 5 iconic railways in the States

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The Ultimate Pacific Northwest Road Trip: How to Spend 1, 2, 3, or 4 Weeks

The Ultimate Pacific Northwest Road Trip: How to Spend 1, 2, 3, or 4 Weeks

The Pacific Northwest is where I find I spend a lot of my time vacationing and exploring because it is one of the most beautiful areas in America. Towering volcanoes, exquisite beaches, lush rainforests, plunging waterfalls, wildlife abundance…the list goes on and on! These four 1-week Pacific Northwest Road Trip ideas can be explored independently, or they can be combined into 2-, 3-, or 4-week epic adventures! If you choose to discover the full 4-week PNW itinerary, you will have traveled through most of Washington and Oregon, northern California, and parts of British Columbia, Canada.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links so if you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we might earn a small commission (but don’t worry, it’s no extra cost to you).

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Free PNW Road Trip Itinerary

Where to start your pacific northwest road trip.

The simple answer is Seattle or Portland. Weeks 1 and 2 are entirely in Washington, so Seattle is the obviously starting point. Conversely, Weeks 3 and 4 are in Oregon, so it makes sense the starting point would be Portland. You can rearrange your weeks to start and end at whichever starting city you choose.

Itinerary Summary and Map for Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Best time of year for your pacific northwest road trip.

The best time for your Pacific Northwest Road Trip is Spring through Fall when roads are open and most sights are open. Also, during these months, days are longer meaning you can pack more exploring into your day. Some of the higher elevations such as Mount Rainier will be often closed in the winter and spring due to heavy snowfalls. July through August are the busiest times of the year due to summer crowds, but they do offer the best weather for your trip.

Fees for Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip

A 7-day  Olympic National Park Pass  is $30 per non-commercial vehicle, and if you plan to visit often, an annual pass is $55. Mount Rainier National Park and Crater Lake National Park are the same pricing as Olympic National Park. There are several other National Park Services lands in these Pacific Northwest Road Trip itineraries such as Willamette National Forest, Siuslaw National Forest (Oregon Coast), and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests. You may want to consider ordering an  America the Beautiful  U.S. Park Pass, which gives access to all National Park Services sites for a full year.  This interagency pass only costs $80 and will save you money on this Pacific Northwest Road Trip.

You still may have to pay some fees for other sights such as Washington and Oregon State Parks. Washington has an annual Discover Pass for $35 that may be advantageous to purchase. Likewise, Oregon has a State Park Annual Pass that can be purchased for $30. Otherwise, you will have to pay daily use fees for each state park, which are typically $5 per day.

What to Pack

  • Water!! Whether you use a  hydration backpack  or carry  bottled water , make sure to pack plenty of water when outdoors!
  • Bug Spray  – Keep those pesky bugs away!
  • Sunscreen  – Protect your skin from the sun, and do not forget to reapply.
  • Hat  – More sun protection to block the sun from your face
  • Hiking shoes /boots – Here are the  men ‘s version of the hiking shoes I love.
  • Hiking socks  – The best way to prevent blisters is by keeping your feet dry. Moisture-wicking socks are the best way to do that.
  • Backpack  – A backpack is a necessity when hiking to carry your water, snacks, sunscreen, etc. that you may need on your longer hikes.
  • Hiking Poles  – Hiking poles help relieve some of the energy used by your legs when hiking.
  • RTIC Soft-Sided Cooler  – Keep your drinks and sandwich stuff cool in this cooler.
  • Packing Cubes  – Keep your stuff organized in your luggage with these packing cubes.
  • Rain Jacket – Rain can (and probably will) occur at some point while in Washington, so make sure to pack your  men’s  or  women’s  rain jacket.
  • Jacket – Even in warmer months, the temps can be cool so pack a light  men’s  or  women’s  jacket.

Week 1: Olympic National Park – Victoria – Seattle

Olympic national park.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Start this week of your Pacific Northwest Road Trip in Seattle, and drive towards the Olympic Peninsula. Spend the first three 3 days exploring Olympic National Park. On Day 1, as you make your drive from Seattle, stop at towns like Port Townsend and Sequim . Spend the afternoon exploring the pristine Lake Crescent and hiking to Marymere Falls .

On Day 2, drive up to Hurricane Ridge for panoramic views of the national park. Then, hike the easy trail to Sol Duc Falls after checking out the Sol Duc Hot Springs & Resort . Next, head to La Push and Second Beach for tide pools. Make sure to arrive during low tide to see the marine life in the pools at their finest.

Begin Day 3 by hiking the easy Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest . Next, head to Neah Bay and hike to Cape Flattery , the northwesternmost point on contiguous United States. Spend the night in Port Angeles so you can catch the early ferry to Victoria the following morning.

For a more detailed itinerary, visit How to Spend 3 Days in Olympic National Park .

Victoria, British Columbia

best time to road trip pacific northwest

On Day 4 of Week 1, catch the very first ferry of the day from Port Angeles to Victoria , Canada. These ferries can sell out, so I advise you get your tickets early, and do not forget your passport! When you arrive, board an afternoon whale watching tour to see orcas, other whales, sea lions, and other marine life. Spend the rest of the day checking out the Fairmont Empress and the rest of downtown Victoria .

Begin the morning of Day 5 of your Pacific Northwest Road Trip at Butchart Gardens . Arrive when the gardens open when the flowers are dewy and just opening. Allow yourself at least 3-4 hours to explore the gardens. Catch the late afternoon or evening ferry back to Port Angeles.

For more on your time in Victoria, visit 8 Epic Activities To Do in Victoria, British Columbia .

best time to road trip pacific northwest

When you wake up on Day 6 of Week 1, start driving back towards Seattle . Spend today and the next day discovering the city. Pike Place Market is one of the top things to do in Seattle and is a great place to get fresh produce and flowers for you to enjoy on your Pacific Northwest Road Trip. Space Needle , Seattle Aquarium , and Chihuly Garden and Glass are just a few of the amazing sights to see. It may be worth buying the Seattle CityPass depending on how many of these sights you plan to visit. My favorite tour of the city is the Seattle Underground Tour .

Plan your time in Seattle by visiting 13 Perfect Ways to Spend a Weekend in Seattle .

If this is the end of your Pacific Northwest Road Trip, then you can fly out of Seattle. But if you are continuing to the second week of this itinerary, you will continue to North Cascades National Park.

Week 2: North Cascade NP – Snoqualmie – Mount Rainier – Mount St. Helens

North cascade national park.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Begin the first day of Week 2 walking the short, easy Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk , which is the first trail you come to after entering the park from Seattle. Spend the rest of the day by doing pullouts and short hikes throughout the park on Highway 20. Next, stop will be Gorge Creek Falls followed by Thunder Knob Trail . Stop at Diablo Lake Overlook for gorgeous views of the uniquely green colored lake nestled in the Cascade Range mountains. Your last stop is the Washington Pass Overlook before driving to Winthrop , a Western-themed town.

Your second day in North Cascades will be spent doing a long hike. There are several to choose from, but I really loved Maple Pass Loop . Take the short detour toward the end of the hike to Rainy Lake . Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach of Lake Diablo . Check out The Ultimate 2-Day North Cascades Itinerary for a more detailed plan.

On Day 3, begin your drive towards Snoqualmie via the east side of the Cascade Loop . Stop at Lake Chelan and farmer’s markets along the way. Spend most of the day exploring Leavenworth , a German-themed town. Stop at Franklin Falls on your way to Snoqualmie.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

On Day 4 of Week 2, begin the morning at Snoqualmie Falls before it gets crowded. There are two viewpoints, so make sure to see them both. If you are willing to hike a little, Twin Falls is another impressive waterfall near Seattle . Stop at  Snofalls Lavender  Farm and pick your own bundle of lavender. Head downtown for cute boutique shopping, try a flight of wine at Sigello Cellars , or grab a beer at Snoqualmie Falls Brewery . Visit 15 Thrilling Things to Do in Snoqualmie for a more comprehensive list of how you can spend your day here.

Mount Rainier

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Your next couple days will be spent at Mount Rainier National Park . Spend the morning hiking the Skyline Trail Loop , a 5.6-mile loop that is ranked the best hike in the park. The beginning of the hike has great views of Myrtle Falls . On a clear day, you can see Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens from Panorama Point on the hike. Rest for a while before going to Reflection Lake , the best place to view Mount Rainier and its reflection.

On Day 6 of Week 2, continue exploring Mount Rainier. Comet and Christine Falls is one of the best waterfall hikes in all of Washington state. Nisqually Vista Loop , which has great views of Nisqually Glacier, and Bench and Snow Lakes Trail , which leads to two vibrant blue lakes, are both easy hikes within the park.

Mount St. Helens

The last day of Week 2 should be spent at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument . Stop at the Johnston Ridge Overview for the best views of Mount St. Helens. Visit Coldwater Lake which has only existed since 1980 due to mudslides creating a natural dam and created the lake. Spend the rest of the day hiking the park. If you want to reach the summit of the volcano, hike the long and difficult Mount St. Helens Summit via Ptarmigan Trail , which is 8.5 miles.

If this is the end of your Pacific Northwest Road Trip, then you can head back to Seattle to fly home. But if you choose to continue on to Week 3 of this itinerary, plan on driving to Portland this last day of Week 2.

Week 3: Columbia River Gorge – Hood River – Bend – Crater Lake – Redwoods

Columbia river gorge.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Begin the third Week of your Pacific Northwest Road Trip in the Columbia River Gorge. If you are doing this week’s itinerary as a stand alone trip, start your road trip by flying into Portland the night before.

The Waterfall Corridor falls along the Historic Columbia River Highway and features Oregon’s tallest waterfall, Multnomah Falls. Other can’t-miss, roadside waterfalls to see along this corridor include LaTourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Shepherd Dell Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Horsetail Falls . If you are willing to do a short 2-mile hike, Wahclella Falls is my favorite in this area and worth the easy walk. Visit The Best Hikes in Columbia River Gorge to see your options for this day.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Hood River  is a small town on the banks of the Columbia River in Oregon located about an hour east of Portland. My favorite way to spend time in Hood River is to drive the Fruit Loop and stop at all the fruit stands, vineyards, and lavender farms. Next, drive to  Trillium Lake  for the best views of  Mt. Hood . When the lake is still, you can see a perfect reflection of the volcanic peak. Drive up to the top of Mt. Hood to see one of the few places you can ski year round. While here, check out  Timberline Lodge . Visit  The 18 Best Things to Do in Hood River  for ideas to plan your day.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Bend is a cute town located in central Oregon where the terrain starts to flatten out and become more desert-like. I recommend spending 2 days in Bend and its surrounding areas. Begin your time in Bend at Smith Rock State Park . The rock here is made from compressed volcanic ash formed 30 million years ago. The park hosts over a thousand bolted routes for rock climbers as well as miles of hiking and biking trails. Next, visit Tumalo Falls . Located just 12 miles from Bend, this waterfall is a nice escape from the bustling town. Spend the rest of the afternoon shopping in  Downtown Bend  or  Old Mill District . Visit one or two of the local breweries or wineries, and get a flight.

On the fourth day of Week 3 of the Pacific Northwest Road Trip, see the waterfalls on the McKenzie Highway. Sahalie and Koosah Falls  are roadside waterfalls and are very dramatic and impressive. Each waterfall has its own parking lot, but you can hike from one to the other along the  McKenzie Rive r. The McKenzie River empties into a stunning, vibrant blue pool that you can swim in. The roundtrip hike to  Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool)  is 3.9 miles which may seem daunting, but the hike is pretty easy most of the trail. Spend the afternoon shopping and walking around the town of  Sisters . This cute, quaint town was named for the  Three Sisters , which are three very close volcanic peaks.

Crater Lake National Park and Umpqua National Forest

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Crater Lake National Park  is Oregon’s only national park and will take up your entire Day 5. This pristine lake is the deepest in America and was formed when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed. Spend the day driving the rim and pulling out at one of the 30 named and unnamed pullouts. The  Rim Drive  is generally open mid-July to mid-October. The lake has two islands,  Phantom Ship  and  Wizard Island , which you can take a  boat tour  to explore. While the lake has many hikes to viewpoints of the lake, you can also hike to  Plaikni Falls  or  Pinnacles Valley  to see something other than the lake. If you want to touch the water, the only way to do so is to hike the steep switchbacks of Cleetwood Cove Trail . For more to do, visit  9 Things to Do at Crater Lake in the Summer .

One Day 6, stop at waterfalls on your way to Crescent City along the N. Umpqua River. Start with 2 roadside waterfalls  Clearwater Falls  and  Whitehorse Falls . Next, stop at  Watson Falls , which is the tallest waterfall in Southwest Oregon. Next highway stop is  Toketee Falls . This is the most popular waterfall on North Umpqua River and is truly impressive. Other waterfalls you can stop at include  Fall Creek Falls  and  Susan Creek Falls . Continue driving to  Crescent City  which is a scenic drive the entire way.

Redwoods National and State Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

On the last day of Week 3, visit the Redwoods National and State Parks. Two short hikes not to miss are  Stout Memorial Grove  and  Grove of the Titans . Both these hikes are on  Howland Hill Road  which is a 10-mile scenic drive that winds between the giant trees.  Coastal Drive Loop  and  Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway  are two other scenic drives you should explore. While near Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, stop at  Prairie Creek  and  Elk Meadow  for a great chance to spot a resident herd of Roosevelt elk. Do one last easy 1.5-mile nature walk,  Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail .

From here, you can end your Pacific Northwest Road Trip by driving back to Portland or Seattle. But at this point, if you have made it through 3 weeks, you might as well finish the 4th week.

Week 4: Oregon Coast – Willamette Valley – Portland

Oregon coast.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Spend the next 4 days driving up the coast of Oregon from Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor to Astoria. On the first day, drive the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor and pullout at all the stops along the way. The highlights of this drive include Whalehead Cove , Natural Bridges , Secret Beach Trailhead , and Arch Rock . Check out the Oregon Sand Dunes along the drive to Florence , where you can see the Sea Lion Caves .

On Day 2 of Week 4, head to Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and see Thor’s Well , a collapsed sea cave where water shoots up during high tide. You can walk right up to the well, but be careful as the sea can be unpredictable. Travel northward on the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, and stop at the historic  Newport Bayfront  for some seafood and shopping. Next, stop at the  Yaquina Head Lighthouse  which is the tallest on your Pacific Northwest Road Trip. Make stops at Devil’s Punchbowl and Depoe Bay on your way to Pacific City .

The first part of Day 3 will be spent exploring the ocean side of the  Three Cape Scenic Loop  which consists of  Cape Kiwanda ,  Cape Lookout , and  Cape Meares . Walk down the trail towards the  Cape Meares Lighthouse  which was first lit in 1890. This stubby lighthouse is the shortest on the Oregon Coast. Stop at Tillamook Creamery and do the self-guided tour. Next, visit Cannon Beach , a cute town that is known for its infamous landmark, Haystack Rock . Just north of Cannon Beach, drive the windy road through lush green forests to explore  Ecola State Park .

best time to road trip pacific northwest

On the morning of Day 4, drive straight to  Fort Stevens State Park  and the  Wreck of Peter Iredale . Finish the coastal part of your Pacific Northwest road trip in  Astoria . Climb the  Astoria Column , a 125-foot monument that sits atop  Coxcomb Hill . Make sure to visit other Astoria sights such as the  Astoria Riverwalk ,  Flaval House Museum , and   Columbia River Maritime Museum .

For a more detailed itinerary of the last 3 days on the Oregon Coast, visit How to Spend 3 Days on a Dream Oregon Coast Road Trip .

Willamette Valley and Silver Falls State Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Spend Days 6 and 7 in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon. Willamette Valley is Oregon’s main wine region and hosts over 700 wineries. This region is best known for their pinot noirs and is so vast that it is split into several subregions. For this itinerary, I recommend you pick between one of the following subregions:

  • Chehalem Mountains
  • Dundee Hills
  • Eola-Amity Hills
  • Ribbon Ridge
  • Laurelwood District

Located in Oregon’s  Silver Falls State Park , the  Trail of Ten Falls  is a moderately difficult hike where you get to witness ten breathtaking waterfalls. In order to see all ten waterfalls, you will have to hike the full trail, 7.4 miles. This length may be too challenging for some visitors, so there are several ways you can see waterfalls by shortening the hiking length or just walking from a parking area. Visit  8 Hiking Options for the Trail of Ten Falls  for several ways to see the waterfalls.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Stop at the original  Voodoo Doughnut  in  Old Town  for breakfast for truly unique donut designs and flavors. Your day in Portland won’t be complete unless you visit  Powell’s City of Books  and the  International Rose Test Garden . If you want to see a spooky sight, hike through a dark forest to Portland’s  Witch’s Castle .

If you have made it through all 4 weeks of the Pacific Northwest Road Trip, congratulations! You have seen the best this region of the country has to offer! If you only managed to do parts of this itinerary, save this blog for another time. Even if it takes you years to complete, these itineraries are ones you need to experience in your lifetime.

You May Also Be Interested In

8 Epic Activities for a Victoria Day Trip, British Columbia

The Ultimate 2-Day North Cascades Hikes Itinerary

The Most Impressive Easy Hikes in Washington

10 Breathtaking Waterfalls near Seattle

15 Thrilling Things to Do in Snoqualmie, Washington

14 Activities That Will Convince You to Visit Winthrop, WA

How to Hike Maple Pass Loop in North Cascades NP

The Best Hikes in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

How to Spend 3 Days Trekking Columbia River Gorge Hikes

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How to Plan Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip | USA

How to Plan a Pacific Northwest Road Trip + Itineraries

SUGGESTED PACIFIC NORTHWEST ROAD TRIP ITINERARIES

A Pacific Northwest road trip may not have the notoriety of Route 66. It doesn’t have the Big Surs of the great California coast or the Zions of a Southwestern road trip .

To be honest, it’s a lot of time spent between towns with names you’ve never heard of. Single lane highways that snake beside pine trees and glacial streams. Yellow road signs share straightforward messages, like “ROCKS”with a jagged pictogram that you’re left to assume is a rock.

Roadside diners where people wear camouflage cargo pants and wait for bottomless cups of coffee while their loaded crossbow waits in the front seat of their car. Breakfast of the day is always a greasy cheese omelet and a slice of Marionberry pie.

Cherries sold by the bag and life-sized wooden signs shaped like ice cream cones inviting you to stop by for soft serve. Public high schools that “Welco_e the Class of 2020” on a giant signboard outside even though they lost the letter “m” more than a decade ago.

But the absolute best part of a Pacific Northwest road trip is exactly those things. Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia are hospitable and fiercely local. And it doesn’t hurt that you’ll find brilliant lakes, hot springs, glaciers, alpine forests, and a shockingly high craft brewery: population ratio.

Ready to go on an adventure? Here’s a big ol’ guide to planning your Pacific Northwest road trip including everything from route planning to suggested itineraries to making reservations to costs.

BEFORE YOU GO

Choose your pacific northwest road trip route.

The Pacific Northwest refers to the Northwestern stretch of the USA bound by the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. By all definitions, it includes Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. That can sometimes also include Idaho, Montana, Northern California, and Alaska. I’m going to be fast-and-loose with the term to make sure you plan the best damn road trip! 

So, where should we begin? Before you plan your Pacific Northwest road trip, start by putting together a list of the cities, towns, and parks you want to see while you’re out there. Grab a guidebook  or check out some of our featured City Guides and National Park Guides . Destinations with buttons below link to a more detailed article.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Recommended Time: 3-5 days

An Outlandish Guide to Crater Lake National Park

Recommended Time: 1-2 days

San Juan Islands

Recommended Time: 2-3 days

PDX Carpet

Recommended Time: 2-4 days

Photo of Vancouver

Best Cities & Towns: Portland, OR ● Bend, OR ● Willamette Valley, OR ● San Juan Islands, WA ● Seattle, WA ● Bellingham, WA ● Vancouver, BC ● Victoria, BC

Best Parks & Wilderness: Crater Lake National Park, OR ● The Oregon Coast, OR ● Mount Hood, OR ● Mount Rainier National Park, WA ● Olympic National Park, WA ● North Cascades National Park, WA ● Ross Lake National Recreation Area, WA

It helps to narrow your scope to one place at a time. Check out photos, watch videos, or explore things to do to see if it sounds like your speed. Choosing stops can be easy if you already know where you want to go, and very daunting if you don’t. If you fall into the second camp, ask yourself: how long do you have? What type of experience are you looking for? What season are you traveling in? What’s your overall budget for the trip? And go from there.

PACIFIC NORTHWEST ROAD TRIP MAP

To get you started, we made a Pacific Northwest Road Trip Map with some of our favorite points of interest, sample road trip itineraries, and driving directions.

A quick disclaimer : Sample itineraries are based on maximizing time in nature and seeing as much as you can in just a week or two. If this style and pace of travel is not your thing, take a look at some of the individual destinations listed below and plan your own route.

One Week Road Trip Itinerary

With just one week, you can start to experience the relaxed vibe the Pacific Northwest is so famous for. You’ll spend a lot of time on the road (up to 5 hours per day), but as a result, you can experience National Parks like Crater Lake and Olympic, the rugged Oregon coast, and have some time leftover to experience Portland and Seattle.

Suggested Route (from Portland):  Portland > Crater Lake National Park > Bend > Cannon Beach > Olympic National Park > Olympic National Park > Seattle

Two Week Road Trip Itinerary

Two weeks is when you can really start to enjoy your Pacific Northwest road trip. Here’s an itinerary that makes the most of your two week trip.

Suggested Route (from Portland):  Portland > Portland > Crater Lake National Park > Mt Hood > Cannon Beach > Olympic National Park > Olympic National Park > Seattle > North Cascades National Park > North Cascades National Park > San Juan Islands > San Juan Islands > Vancouver

Pacific North Road Trip

Other Suggested Road Trips

Photo of Glacier National Park

MAPPING IT OUT

Google My Maps is a huge asset for road trip planning. By dropping points of interest onto your map, you’ll be able to see which spots are closest together and which are seriously out of the way. From there, it’s simpler to add or cross things off your itinerary based on how much time you have and what you want out of your road trip.

Before finalizing any of your travel arrangements, test out drive times to make sure it’s a realistic (or desirable) amount of time to spend in the car. What looks like the shortest drive won’t always be the shortest route, so this is pretty important. Figure out where your park entrances are and campsites are. Think about when you’ll really need a shower or when you’ll want a short drive and take account of that.

Spend some time on this!

Tip: Before you go, make sure that all the maps you need are available offline. Service is often limited or non-existent in rural areas and you’ll always want to have your driving directions accessible.

Ross Lake Recreation Area near North Cascades National Park

HOW TO START PLANNING

A Pacific Northwest road trip is best planned 6 months ahead of time, though of course, you can plug things in as you go. Reservations for NPS campsites and lodges almost all open 3-6 months in advance. If you’re planning backcountry travel, these permits are also up for grabs 3-6 months out. Reservations for the most popular campsites and hikes sell out within seconds of going online (no exaggeration!). So, if you have you’re really set on something, be sure to book early.

Already late?  Some parks have walk-up campsites and permits available for that very reason. There are also plenty of campgrounds and hotels outside of the park boundaries and hikes that don’t require backcountry permits. You should always be able to find a hike and a campsite, even if they’re not the exact ones you had in mind.

Read more:   How to Plan a US National Park Road Trip

ROAD TRIP RESOURCES

Cover Photo - Road Trip

Like most places, the  PNW National Parks  and nearby cities are hugely popular during the summer, especially between June and August. But as you also might know, the Pacific Northwest is notorious for rain that falls pretty relentlessly between October and March. After living in Seattle for the last year, I can confirm that sh*t is TRUE.

To get the fewest crowds and best weather, plan your Pacific Northwest Road Trip in May or September. The only drawback traveling in the shoulder season is that some roads and trailheads will be closed for snow and nights can get cold.

Fall Foliage at Olympic National Park

BUDGETING & COSTS

A Pacific Northwest road trip may cost more than you think (especially if you spend any time in expensive cities like San Francisco, Seattle, or Vancouver).

Some costs you’ll want to factor in for your own road trip are park entrance or your  America the Beautiful Pass , vehicle costs, gas, food & drink, entertainment, gear, campsites & accommodation, and permits. For the sake of example, we spent about $50 per day on our Pacific Northwest road trip in 2019. This was mostly camping and self-prepared food with a few motel nights and 3-4 meals out each week. Within this budget, we stayed with friends and cooked at home when we visited the cities; if you plan to pay for hotel stays or specialty cocktails, budget at least $150 more per night. We also had the benefit of traveling with our own vehicle and splitting many of our costs in half.

Read More:   How Much Does a US National Parks Road Trip Actually Cost?

Own vs Rental Car

If you own a car…

There’s no doubt you’ll be putting a lot of miles on it. Before leaving on your Pacific Northwest trip, schedule to have your vehicle serviced. Get the tires rotated, the oil changed, the fluids topped, the brake pads tested, and everything else you can think of. You’re guaranteed to be in remote areas on parts of your trip, and you’ll want your car to be in the best possible shape to survive it.  Just to be on the safe side, you might want to upgrade your insurance policy, get a AAA membership, and gear up your car with a roof box and emergency supplies.

Campsite in North Cascades National Park

If you’re renting a car …

While it’s totally possible to do this trip with a regular car, there are some rugged trailheads and roads. Set yourself up for the best kind of trip with a 4WD or high-clearance vehicle so you don’t have to worry about it. Other things to keep in mind when choosing a vehicle for your Pacific Northwest road trip are that you have plenty of space to stash your gear (and enough to cover it up when your car is left unattended) and adequate tires for the potential rain. If you’re traveling during winter, you also might need to have traction tires or approved chains.

Hertz has 40 locations in Oregon, 50 in Washinton, and several more in British Colombia (rentals start from about $60 per day). Check prices and availability on hertz.com.

Escape Campervans offer fully equipped campervans which can be a really fun way to travel! While they don’t have 4WD or get as good of gas mileage, you might be able to save by having an indoor spot to sleep on the nights you may have splurged on a hotel.

Before booking your rental car, be sure to ask about total cost (incl. airport fees, additional drivers, mileage, etc.) and insurance coverage. Give it a scan to check for any existing damages and be sure to return the car with a tank of gas to avoid the surcharge.

Every state has its share of bad drivers, but Oregon and Washington are considered some of the worst. Other drawbacks of driving in the Pacific Northwest are high gas costs, poor roads, and high accident rates.

As is true in every state, stick to the right lane except when passing. The norm is to drive the speed limit, and more than 5 mph over can be grounds for a ticket.

Road etiquette on single track roads is to pull over and let someone pass if they’re trailing too close behind you. And if you want to look at something, and use your turn signal long before dipping into a pull off.

Be sure to travel with a full tank of gas, gallons of water, and emergency supplies. There will be long stretches of road without much development or passing cars, so it’s good to be as self-sufficient as possible.

Mapping out directions on our Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Another important note is that you must have a valid driver’s license to drive in the US. This can be a state drivers license, or if you’re a foreign driver, your valid driver’s license and passport are sufficient. You’ll only need an International Drivers Permit (IDP) if you plan to drive for more than 3 months.

HITTING THE ROAD

The best part about mapping out your Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary ahead of time is that all the hard parts are over by the time you finally go. The adventure of this kind of trip then changes with the weather. The detours. The wildlife sightings and road closures. You do your best to prepare, then whatever the hell happens will happen.

Got questions about your Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary? Ask me in the comments below! And if you’re traveling in the Pacific Northwest…

best time to road trip pacific northwest

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Taylor record.

I'm Taylor and this is Travel Outlandish. I’m an independent traveler kind of like you. I believe we deserve better than crowds of people and manufactured experiences when we explore. Whether you're going into the wild on a backpacking trip or planning a weekend in a foreign city, you'll find everything you need to plan something awesome on Travel Outlandish. Thanks for stopping by!

Hey, since fire season started rather early last year in the Pacific Northwest, would April be a good time to go? I’m trying to avoiding rain/flooding and fire. I’m looking to go the 3rd week of April. Thank you!

Hey Kristin. Sorry for such a late reply! If you’re planning any high altitude hikes, you’ll have to wait for July in the Pacific Northwest. That said, it’s when the weather starts to turn and it’s a beautiful time to travel there!

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pacific northwest road trip mount rainier

The perfect 14-day Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary

Last summer I made a fantastic road trip through the American Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest does not have any official boundaries, but from what I’ve been told the American part includes Washington and Oregon and the Canadian part covers pieces of British Columbia. Since I had already been to the Canadian part twice before, I decided that during this Pacific Northwest road trip I’d only visit Oregon and Washington, a long time dream of mine come true. In this blog you will find my two-week Pacific Northwest itinerary, combining bustling cities with scenic nature. Enjoy this post with a long Oregon and Washington road trip itinerary.   Also read: more tips for your North West USA road trip   This post was first published in 2018 and fully updated in 2021  

Table of Contents | Inhoudsopgave

Day 1. Arrival in Seattle

icelandair to seattle

Day 2. SeaTac – Portland – Columbia River Valley

columbia river valley pacific northwest road trip

Day 3. Portland

Today I was meeting friends from Canada and Los Angeles. After picking up my friend Melissa from Portland Airport, we drove into the city for breakfast at Pine Street Market. After this we walked through the city and in the afternoon we visited the Rose Garden. This is located on a hill from where you have amazing views of downtown Portland and Mount Hood in the distance. As I was visiting Portland on a Sunday, many of the food trucks which the city is known for were closed, so if this is one of the main reasons for you to visit, it’s better to pick another day of the week.  

portland pacific northwest road trip

Day 4. Portland – Crater Lake National Park

pacific northwest road trip crater lake

Day 5. Crater Lake National Park – Redmond

pacific northwest road trip crater lake national park

Day 6. Redmond – Mount Hood

Mount Hood is a stratovolcano and the highest point in Oregon. Right on its wings you will find the Timberline Lodge , a beautiful hotel that was used to feature in the movie The Shining as The Overlook Hotel. From here there are numerous hikes, I decided to head out on the famous Pacific Crest Trail for a while. After my hike I sat down on the lodge terrace for a drink and I spent the afternoon looking around in Government Camp Village. Unfortunately all campsites in town were fully booked, but eventually I found a camping spot on the shores of a pretty lake.   Also read my travel guide to 24 hours in Mount Hood !   Overnight on Clear Lake Campsite Accommodation near Mount Good is limited, so I suggest to book well ahead. Go here to see availability and prices!  

pacific northwest rondreis mount hood

Day 7. Mount Hood – Pacific Coast

pacific northwest road trip oregon coast

Day 8. Pacific Coast – Olympic National Park

pacific northwest road trip olympic national park

Day 10. Olympic National Park

pacific northwest road trip in olympic national park

Day 10. Olympic National Park – Mount Rainier National Park

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Day 11. Mount Rainier National Park – Leavenworth

pacific northwest roadtrip mount rainier road trip

Day 12. Leavenworth – North Cascades National Park

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Day 13. North Cascades National Park – Seattle

Unfortunately the next morning the haze has only gotten worse. After I inquire with the Visitors Center, I decide to head back to Seattle since it may stay like this for days. I visit fellow Dutchie Inge where I sleep on her couch and we have dinner at Salty’s Seattle in the evening, with an amazing view over the bay and the Seattle skyline.  

Day 14. Seattle

As I arrived back in Seattle one day earlier than planned, I decide to give the city a thorough visit. Even though it’s still smokey, I get up with the Space Needle. I visit the first Starbucks in the world and walk around Pike Place Market and the Waterfront. By the end of the afternoon I drive back to Seattle Airport, where I’ve booked night at Motel 6 South again. I drop off my rental car and head to bed early, because the next morning at 06.00 am I’m flying to Alaska for another amazing adventure. My Pacific Northwest road trip has come to an end.   Overnight in Motel 6 Seattle SeaTac Airport South  

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Additional travel tips for your Pacific Northwest road trip:

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Solo female travel in the USA

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Conclusion and disclaimer

I hope you found this blog useful for planning your Pacific Northwest 2 week itinerary. If you want to know more or if you have any additional questions, feel free to leave them below or send me a message. As I traveled solo I have probably done less miles than I would have with a partner, since I didn’t want to spend all the time driving. However, I’d have loved to spend more time in the national parks, so I’m sure you can make that work. Enjoy your trip planning and eventually your Pacific Northwest road trip as well!   Note that this blog contains affiliate links. In case you make a reservation or purchase through any of those links, I may earn a small commission at absolutely no extra cost to you.  

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14 Comments

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Ryan Biddulph

Wow what mountain views! Brilliant. I love those snow-capped hills and this region rocks to being with. I have a few readers in Oregon. Pure paradise. Low-key vibe out in those parts too.

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They like in true paradise indeed, lucky them 🙂

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I am old and don’t hike well due to leg and foot pain. Are any of the places you have been Accessible?

Yes many of them are! Your car can take you up right to Mt Rainier and Mt Hood and the lighthouse at Meares Point has a paved path if I’m not mistaken. Same goes for Crater Lake. You should definitely be able to enjoy it all with little walking!

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Hi, this is so helpful for planning my itinerary for a similar trip! I’m just curious how much you budgeted for the 2 weeks? Did you find food and petrol etc was expensive?

Hi Pam, happy to hear! Since I think you are from the UK (seeing your email address) I think that you will find prices similar to Europe. I guess the budget also depends on whether you are camping and cooking your own meals, or staying at hotels and going out for dinner each night. As for dinner, if you just grab a pizza or mexican it’s not expensive, if you wish to take a 3 course meal each night it is. I guess it all depends on your preferences but generally, it’s similar compared to Europe!

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From living in the Pacific northwest.. the term refers to Washington, Oregon and Idaho.. rather than including Canadian areas.

Your trip was truly beautiful.. but visit Idaho too.. many equally beautiful areas.

Ahh good to know. I keep on hearing various ways of explaining it .. I’d love to visit Idaho one day!

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How did you feel about the outdoor cultural vibe of your fellow hikers in the area around Portland vs. Seattle? Crater lake is awesome though I always feel a little frustrated when I’m looking from the top that I can’t go for a swim below easily.

I loved it in both cities to be honest!

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In the Pacific Northwest, disbursed camping is allowed in most of the US Forest lands, which are all through the area. There are certain restrictions regarding fires, distance from developed areas and off-road moterized travel, and the Forest boundaries can be 20 miles inland from the highways, but if you don’t mind camping alone (I don’t, and I’m female and in my 60’s), it can be very peaceful…and free. Check with the Forest Service offices that are usually located in small towns along your route. There are 19 National Forests in this area, National PARKS are different, and usually don’t allow disbursed camping.

Thanks for the add on, much appreciated!

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I’d love to do a trip to northwest as I have a conference in Vancouver. I’d be taking my husband and two young kids. What would be an ideal itinerary for northwest with Vancouver for 3 days at the end? I’m thinking 10 days total. Thanks!!

I’d take out the Oregon section of my itinerary and add Vancouver towards the end, I think you can easily drive there from Seattle. Best of luck with your trip planning!

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Pacific Northwest road trip: The San Juan Islands and Olympic National Park

Andrew Collins

Virtually everywhere you set foot in this region that spans northwestern Washington state, water plays a starring role in what you see.

From the jagged shoreline of both the mainland and the islands, you can nearly always glimpse the rippling waters of the Salish Sea, the collective name given to the interconnected bodies of water also commonly referred to as Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada's Georgia Strait since 2008.

As you curve around the western side of the Olympic Peninsula, home to stunning Olympic National Park, you'll encounter miles of driftwood-strewn beaches lapped by the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean and punctuated by dramatic sea stacks, some of them rising more than 50 feet above the sea.

Even in the interior, temperate rainforests and — rising to elevations of nearly 8,000 feet above sea level — the snowcapped peaks of the Olympic Mountains are crisscrossed by rushing streams and dotted with gurgling hot springs and pristine lakes.

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A road trip through this bewitching region offers opportunities for viewing incredible natural scenery, from the beaches to the mountains, as well as eye-popping wildlife. At any time of year, you might spy hulking orcas, along with migratory humpback and gray whales seasonally, from shore or a ferry boat — or, better yet, on a cruise devoted to observing these graceful giants.

Also keep an eye out for sea otters, Steller sea lions, harbor and elephant seals, Dall's porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins, along with an amazingly diverse mix of both resident and migratory birdlife. Bald eagles, great blue herons, least sandpipers, American wigeons and double-crested cormorants are common sightings.

Related: The best US national parks you should visit at least once (or twice)

This is an ideal road trip for recreation seekers. You'll discover fantastic hiking trails virtually right outside your door in even the area's largest cities, plus scenic — if sometimes steep — terrain that's ideal for both leisurely and rigorous bike rides. Beachcombing and tidepooling are engaging activities for every age and fitness level. Not to mention, this is a boater's paradise. You can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. book guided paddles throughout western Washington or set out on guided fishing and sightseeing cruises and sailing adventures.

The region also abounds with sophisticated restaurants and cafes — many of them focused on locally harvested and raised seafood, meats and produce — and discerning shops and galleries stocked with crafts and artwork that reflects the Pacific Northwest's enthusiastic embrace of maker culture.

Planning advice

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Although some communities have walkable downtowns, you'll need a car to explore this swath of sometimes very secluded areas, especially within Olympic National Park.

Not including time spent in the gateway city of Seattle, give yourself at least six days to experience this itinerary. That gives you enough time to spend three nights in both the San Juan Islands and on the Olympic Peninsula. If you can budget up to 10 days, even better.

Crossing the US-Canada border

Bear in mind that if you're planning to combine this adventure with a trip to Canada's Vancouver Island, every traveler in your party will need a passport .

Car rental agencies in Washington state and British Columbia typically allow renters to drive vehicles across the border, but always confirm this policy in advance and let the agency know about your plans to spend time in both countries when you pick up your rental car.

Be aware of U.S. and Canadian customs limits when taking the ferry or driving across international borders. For example, you may be responsible for paying duties on wine or liquor that you've purchased during your trip.

Entry fees and ferry reservations

The entry fee for Olympic National Park is $30 per private vehicle and is valid for seven days. It can get pricey traveling with your car on the region's ferries.

Approximate one-way fares for standard-size vehicles (including a driver and one passenger) during the summer high season are $94 from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and $100 from Port Angeles, Washington, to Victoria, British Columbia.

Although reservations aren't required, if you're taking a car on any of these ferry routes, it's a good idea to reserve your crossing in advance (at least several days ahead, if you can, during the summer high season).

Start and endpoints

Including time spent on the ferry, it's only a few hours' drive from Seattle to reach the islands and towns on this itinerary. If you rent a car, however, you'll have to return your vehicle to the same country that you picked it up. To save on exorbitant one-way surcharges, it's best to return your car to the same location from which you rented it.

This road trip begins in the San Juan Islands, although you could easily drive it in reverse. Either way, it makes the most sense to fly into Seattle and rent a car there, then drive 90 minutes north to Anacortes, where you catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands.

Best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula

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From mid-September through mid-June, rain and mist frequently cast an eerie — and sometimes downright soggy — aura upon the region. But the areas due east and north of the high peaks — Sequim and the San Juan Islands — lie in the so-called banana belt and often receive sunshine and warmer temperatures when the rest of the Pacific Northwest feels waterlogged.

Naturally, the drier summer months are when most visitors flock here. If you're seeking blue skies, driving this itinerary during these months is your best bet. But keep in mind that the high season can bring considerable crowds — hotels charge significantly more at this time, and especially on weekends and holidays, rooms often fill up well in advance.

For the best selection of accommodations during the high season, try to book at least three months in advance or even further ahead if you're looking to stay in one of the lodges at Olympic National Park.

Related: Booking the perfect Pacific Northwest summer vacation with points and miles

Ferry travel can also require more planning and patience in summer. Fares are generally higher during the busy months, and the wait for boarding ferries can be long, especially on Fridays and Sundays. To avoid long lines, try to reserve your ferry trips online and well in advance in high season.

There are plenty of great reasons to make this journey from fall through spring, even in the middle of winter. Fewer crowds and lower prices make for an easier and less costly trip, and in this part of the world, even inclement weather has its charms.

Spectacular winter storms can be a lot of fun to watch from a cozy hotel room, and from winter through spring, the area's copious waterfalls look especially dramatic as they swell with snowmelt and excess rainfall.

The surrounding rainforests radiate with misty ferns and dripping cedar, hemlock and spruce — there's no better time for contemplative forest bathing. Meanwhile, snow sports enthusiasts can ascend to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park to test their skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing skills.

Whatever time you choose to visit this part of the world, try not to let rainy skies prevent you from venturing out on a hike. As the saying goes in the Pacific Northwest, there's no bad weather, only bad gear.

San Juan Islands, Washington

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This temperate, laid-back archipelago in the Salish Sea is composed of around 175 islands and lies less than 10 miles offshore from both the Washington mainland and the southeastern tip of British Columbia's Vancouver Island.

Traveling by car, you can reach these islands by way of the Washington State Ferries system, with boats departing from the picturesque fishing town of Anacortes, a 90-minute drive north of Seattle; until 2020, ferries also connected the islands with Victoria, British Columbia, but this service has been discontinued indefinitely.

Lopez Island

This itinerary focuses on the two most popular islands: San Juan (which is also the most populous) and Orcas (which is the largest in the area). Also serviced by Washington State Ferries, Lopez Island is a bit smaller and more rural with fewer services, but it's incredibly peaceful and ideal for seekers of solitude and those who wish to commune with nature — there are several enchanting beaches and miles of hiking trails.

Just keep in mind that Lopez has only a few small inns (along with a number of Airbnbs), and the island's accommodations tend to fill up early during the peak summer season. Even if you don't spend the night, it's worth venturing over to Lopez for at least an afternoon and perhaps enjoying an early dinner at one of the handful of excellent restaurants — Ursa Minor and Haven Kitchen & Bar are both terrific.

This relatively flat island is also ideal for a leisurely bike ride, so you could leave your car back on whichever island you're coming from and rent a bike — one of the rental shops on the island, Edenwild Island Adventures , even issues bikes at the ferry terminal.

San Juan Island

With around 8,700 full-time residents, San Juan Island stands out for its bustling main village, which is where the ferry terminal is located. It's a walkable, salty-aired downtown filled with lively shops, romantic inns, fine art galleries and a mix of exceptional restaurants. Be sure to check out the small but informative Whale Museum, which provides a helpful overview of these enormous creatures that inhabit the surrounding waters.

You can drive a near circuit around San Juan Island in a little over an hour, but try to set aside a full day in order to see the key attractions. First head south to visit the American Camp section of San Juan Island National Historical Park, which chronicles an 1859 boundary dispute between the U.S. and Great Britain, both of which had laid claim to the San Juan archipelago. No human lives were lost during the confrontation, although a pig belonging to a British resident was killed.

American Camp is laced with pretty hiking trails that lead past the remains of old forts and down to some pebbly beaches. From here, continue up the western shore of the island, which is famous for watching orca whales — Lime Kiln Point State Park , with its oft-photographed 1919 lighthouse, offers some of the best views. Worth a stop along this route are Pelindaba Lavender Farm (order a scoop of lavender ice cream) and Krystal Acres alpaca farm.

At the north end of the island, you can visit the English Camp district of San Juan Island National Historical Park , which is more compact than its American counterpart and contains barracks, a commissary and other outbuildings.

Then, slip over to Roche Harbor, stopping to stroll among the 20 acres of large-scale installations at San Juan Islands Sculpture Park & Nature Preserve before grabbing a bite to eat at historic Roche Harbor Resort. From here it's a relaxing 10-mile drive back to town along the northeastern side of the island.

Related: 5 national parks to visit before your kids leave the house

Orcas Island

With its dramatically hilly landscape and inlet-dotted shoreline, butterfly-shaped Orcas Island is a favorite of hikers and kayakers.

The ferry terminal is on the southwestern side of the island, about a 20-minute drive through breathtakingly beautiful meadows to the Orcas's main village, Eastsound, which is home to several intriguing galleries and shops, a highlight being Girl Meets Dirt , with its house-made gourmet goods and gifts.

In town, you can savor freshly caught seafood at the romantic Inn at Ship Bay and sip on craft cocktails and savor bar snacks at The Barnacle . A highlight for trekkers is hiking up to the 2,409-foot-tall summit of Mount Constitution at Moran State Park , which is on the eastern of the island's two lobes and is also home to a few tranquil lakes, one of which offers boat rentals.

On the drive from Eastsound to the park, stop to check out the outstanding locally produced paintings, woodwork, glassware and jewelry at Orcas Island Artworks . The adjacent Lascaux Cafe serves delicious breakfast and lunch fare. Farther east, Doe Bay Cafe is another enchanting spot for a meal and perhaps spying sea otters and sea lions swimming offshore.

Also set aside time to drive around the western lobe of the island, which is home to one of the oldest and most impressive ceramics galleries in the Pacific Northwest, Orcas Island Pottery . More great hiking awaits at Turtleback Mountain Preserve , where the moderately challenging trek up to Raven Ridge and Turtlehead Point rewards hikers with splendid vistas toward Canada's Gulf Islands.

Afterward, continue to colorful Deer Harbor for delicious barbecue at Matthew's Smokehouse or pizza overlooking the marina on the wooden deck at Island Pie .

Where to stay

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If you do wish to spend a night or two on Lopez Island, a wonderful, centrally located choice is The Edenwild Boutique Hotel (rates start at $230), which is in the heart of Lopez Village and contains nine simply but cheerfully furnished rooms, many of which look out at the surrounding colorful gardens. Note that rates fluctuate greatly here between winter and summer.

San Juan Island offers the greatest number of lodging options in the archipelago, with a number of spots right in the lively main village, steps from the ferry terminal. Among these closer-in properties, Friday Harbor House (rates start at $279) earns rave reviews for its sun-filled, smartly designed rooms with huge windows overlooking the boat- and ferry-filled waterfront. All of the rooms have gas fireplaces and jetted tubs, and the acclaimed Restaurant at Friday Harbor House is one of the island's leading venues for farm- and sea-to-table dining.

On the northwest side of the island, Snug Harbor Resort (rates start at $299) comprises nearly 20 sleek glass-and-wood modern cottages with full kitchens, decks and gas grills overlooking a sheltered bay. Guests have complimentary use of kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and bikes, and there's a cute coffeehouse dispensing light breakfast fare.

At the very northern tip of San Juan Island, you'll find the alluring Roche Harbor Resort (rates start at $269), which sprawls across the site of what was the West Coast's largest lime quarry and plant from the 1880s through the 1950s (you can still view the abandoned lime kilns and other memorabilia from this colorful history). The 4,000-acre resort contains a wide range of accommodations, many of them sleeping six or more guests and outfitted with kitchens, making this a favorite for family vacations and extended stays. There's plenty to keep you busy on-site, including a marina (that's home to a whale watching and kayak tour outfitter), a pool, tennis and bocce courts, and a full-service spa, and there are four restaurants to choose from.

With a handy location on the water that's just steps from Eastsound's colorful galleries and eateries, the dapper Outlook Inn on Orcas Island (rates start at $296) offers 40 rooms with chic, unfussy decor and plush bedding. For a splurge, treat yourself to one of the stylish Water's Edge Suites, which have balconies that are perched literally over the edge of Fishing Bay, as well as electric fireplaces and heated bathroom floors. Superb locally sourced brunches and dinners are served in the romantic New Leaf Cafe, which has a covered verandah that looks across the street toward the water.

On Orcas Island's Cascade Bay, the imposing 1909 former estate of shipbuilding magnate Robert Moran has been transformed into Rosario Resort & Spa (rates start at $179), a hilly 40-acre waterfront tract offering both traditional hotel rooms and condo-style units with multiple bedrooms. Amenities include an exceptional fine-dining restaurant and cozy lounge, a soothing spa, a marina and three pools.

With one of the most peaceful and remote settings on the island, funky Doe Bay Resort & Retreat (rates start at $170) is a favorite of artists and free spirits. Nestled on a quiet bay, this 38-acre hillside retreat comprises several distinct room types, from no-frills (and no bath) rustic cabins to higher-end cabins with private baths and kitchens, as well as unique yurts and domes. A yoga studio, outdoor hot tubs and massage services are offered, and the wonderful cafe serves healthy breakfasts and lunches.

Whidbey Island to Port Angeles, Washington

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After ferrying back to Anacortes, follow state Route 20 over the majestic 180-foot-tall bridge through Deception Pass State Park to Whidbey Island, a narrow 37-mile-long landmass with an irregular shoreline that curves through the heart of Puget Sound.

Once you pass the more densely populated U.S. Navy town of Oak Harbor, the island feels quainter and more agrarian. Stop for a ramble around Coupeville, with its colorfully painted ice cream parlors, art galleries and gift shops.

Walk out to the end of the wharf for a clear view of Penn Cove, which is famous for its sweet and fleshy mussels — they appear on menus all over North America. Excellent places in town to sample them include divey Toby's Tavern and the more upscale Oystercatcher .

It's a short drive south, beyond the picturesque beaches of Fort Ebey and Fort Casey state parks, to board a ferry for the picturesque half-hour ride to Port Townsend, one of the main gateways to the Olympic Peninsula.

Related: 6 best road trips for visiting national parks

Port Townsend

Established in 1851, this vertiginous town on the tip of the Quimper Peninsula abounds with stately red brick Victorian buildings that date back to the period when its founders had hoped it would grow into a major city connecting the Northern Pacific Railroad with the Strait of Juan de Fuca (and thus the entire Pacific Rim). These plans never materialized (the railroad stopped in Seattle and Tacoma), and so Port Townsend today has barely more than 10,000 residents, many of whom chose to live here for its splendid seaside setting, vibrant arts scene and unpretentious vibe.

As you stroll among downtown's indie-spirited shops and cafes, stop by the Northwest Maritime Center , where you'll often see craftspersons at work building boats; this airy contemporary building with a shop stocked with maritime gear and a cool little coffeehouse hosts the popular Wooden Boat Festival in September.

Then, make the short drive to 432-acre Fort Worden Historical State Park , whose regal late-19th-century military buildings appeared in the 1982 hit movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." Some buildings are now available as overnight accommodations, and park attractions include the engaging Port Townsend Marine Science Center, as well as several hiking trails, one that leads out to the 1913 lighthouse at the tip of Point Wilson.

End your day sampling locally sourced and crafted drinks at Finnriver Farm & Cidery , which is surrounded by an 80-acre apple orchard on the south side of town. The restaurant serves first-rate gastropub fare.

U.S. Route 101 continues across the northern Olympic Peninsula through the pretty farming town of Sequim, which is celebrated for its lavender farms (and its popular Sequim Lavender Fest in July).

For an enjoyable coastal adventure, pick up a to-go lunch at Pacific Pantry market or Salty Girls Seafood and head north to Cline Spit County Park for a picnic with views across the bay of narrow Dungeness Spit, part of a migratory bird refuge that curves 5.5 miles out around the coast. The bird-watching is best here during the spring and fall months, and from the rugged cliffs perched atop the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, you can soak up fantastic views of mountainous Vancouver Island, just 15 miles away.

West of Sequim's picturesque downtown, stop by the Dungeness River Nature Center , a contemporary building framed by beautifully carved native woodworking installations and surrounded by gardens planted with flora indigenous to the surrounding Dungeness River Watershed. Behind the building, a walking-biking trail runs across a stately 730-foot-long iron former rail bridge decorated with more local artworks.

Port Angeles

Continue your drive west into the peninsula's largest city, Port Angeles (population 20,200), a busy lumber and fishing town that's also the headquarters for Olympic National Park.

Take a walk on the City Pier, stopping by the small Feiro Marine Life Center to visit the kid-friendly touch tanks, and browse downtown's mostly old-school restaurants and retailers. Port Angeles is also where you'll return after exploring the national park to catch the ferry to Canada.

In the heart of downtown Port Townsend, The Bishop Hotel (rates start at $235) occupies a handsome red brick building that dates back to 1890; it's undergone a steady upgrade and update since new owners bought it a few years ago. Many of the spacious rooms have kitchenettes, and there's a smart cafe specializing in Northwest wines, ciders and espresso drinks, as well as a fragrant garden and patio behind the building.

All four rooms in the brick-red, Queen Anne-style Old Consulate Inn (rates start at $185), which overlooks Port Townsend Bay, are individually — and gorgeously — appointed, and rates include a decadent gourmet breakfast, as well as homemade cookies and espresso, tea or cocoa in the afternoon.

Opened in 2020 by the Jamestown S'Kallam Tribe at the foot of Sequim Bay, 7 Cedars Hotel & Casino (rates start at $199) has some of the largest and most attractive rooms in the region and makes a nice base for visiting not only the northeastern sections of Olympic National Park but also downtown Sequim and even Port Townsend, just a half-hour away. The five-story property adjoins the tribe's casino, but rooms are well insulated from the sounds of slot machines, and common spaces are hung with beautiful paintings and carvings from the Northwest Native Expressions gallery, just down the road. There's also a restaurant and a deli market.

The stylish Olympic Lodge by Ayres (rates start at $169) is a short drive from downtown Port Angeles and the main Olympic National Park Visitor Center. The spacious rooms are decked with leather beds, sofas and armchairs, and amenities include a pool, a restaurant and a gracious lobby with a fireplace and massive floor-to-ceiling windows. Ask for a room that faces the golf course and hills behind the hotel.

Olympic National Park, Washington

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Hurricane Ridge to Lake Crescent

From downtown Port Angeles, it's just a five-minute drive inland to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center , an excellent place to snag maps and ask for advice about exploring this majestic 1,442-square-mile wilderness of snowy mountain peaks, mossy temperate rainforests and driftwood-laden beaches.

Former President Teddy Roosevelt designated Mount Olympus National Monument, the early version of today's present national park, in 1909. It's made up of two noncontiguous sections, including the main and much larger inland one, which contains the snowcapped mountains — including the highest, 7,980-foot Mount Olympus — that are visible throughout Puget Sound, from Seattle to Victoria. The second section is a narrow 73-mile-long stretch of breathtaking, undeveloped Pacific Ocean coastline.

The first area to explore as you approach the park from Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge, which sits a mile high in elevation and is reached from the Olympic National Park Visitor Center by a winding 17-mile park road. It's maintained year-round, but in winter you can only drive it Friday through Sunday (chains are required) when the recreation area at the top offers downhill skiing, snowboarding, tubing and snowshoeing.

From April through October, Hurricane Ridge is popular for picnicking and hiking among wildflower-carpeted meadows. A favorite trek is the 3.2-mile, round-trip hike up to Hurricane Hill, with its 360-degree view of the peninsula and surrounding waters.

Related: TPG's favorite national parks: A month-by-month guide

Back in Port Angeles, continue west along U.S. Route 101, which runs counterclockwise around the peninsula, and stop by the inviting Lake Crescent Lodge, a 1916 jewel with a pine-paneled restaurant and giant windows overlooking the tranquil lake for which it's named. You can rent a kayak or paddleboard for a spin along the shore, or go for a walk along one of the several nature trails fringing the lake.

If you have time — allow a few hours for this — detour south through an emerald river valley to the park's Sol Duc Hot Springs area, where you can hike through groves of Douglas firs to the roaring cascades of photogenic Sol Duc Falls and soak in one of the three roughly 100-degree sulfuric springs.

Forks to Quinault

U.S. Route 101 meanders west from Lake Crescent and leaves the park boundary before turning south and passing through the historic lumber town of Forks, whose dewy green meadows and fern-fringed valleys are the setting of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series — an entire cottage industry has developed in town around these teen-adored novels.

Claiming to be the soggiest town in the lower 48, Forks receives more than 110 inches of rain annually, plus several dustings of snow. Although home to only a smattering of accommodations and casual restaurants, Forks is an excellent base for visiting the western side of Olympic National Park.

Worth a quick visit is the Forks Timber Museum , where memorabilia and vintage equipment tell the story of one of the Pacific Northwest's most prominent industries.

From Forks, it's just a 15-mile drive west on U.S. Route 110 to the Quileute tribal community of La Push, which offers access to stunning beaches. Stop for a salmon burger or a bowl of seafood chowder at the River's Edge Restaurant, then go beachcombing across the Quillayute River on Rialto Beach, with its mammoth piles of driftwood and towering sea stacks (vertical rock columns that rise from the sea).

Speaking of dramatic rock formations, you may have seen photos of the incredible sea stacks at Shi-Shi Beach, which lie at the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Although this is part of Olympic National Park, getting here from the main U.S. Route 101 corridor entails a full-day side trip. If you have the time, this is a tremendously rewarding adventure.

On the drive, you'll pass through the Makah tribal community of Neah Bay, with its superb Makah Cultural & Research Center and the trailhead for the short but stunning hike to rugged Cape Flattery.

From Forks, the drive to the Shi-Shi Beach Trailhead is about 90 minutes each way, then it's a 4-mile, round-trip hike to the beach and another 4 miles round trip to the iconic Point of the Arches sea stacks and tidal pools.

Back in Forks, follow U.S. Route 101 south to the turnoff road that leads nearly 20 miles to the parking area and visitor center for the Hoh Rain Forest , which has earned a reputation as the most serene spot on the continent. Indeed, about all you'll hear as you amble along the forest's iconic Hall of Mosses Trail is the occasional pine cone dropping from a lofty moss-draped limb. Old-growth maples, alders, hemlocks and spruce form a verdant canopy overhead. It's truly a magical place.

Continue on U.S. Route 101 along a thrilling stretch of Pacific coastline. You can access the shore from several short trails located just off the highway, with Ruby Beach and Kalaloch Beach among the highlights. At the latter, consider breaking for lunch or dinner — or maybe just a dish of blackberry cobbler — at the Kalaloch Lodge's cozy Creekside Restaurant .

The road continues south a short way to Queets and then cuts sharply inland and upland through the mountains and to one final enchanted park setting, Lake Quinault, where you can view what's considered the "World's Largest Sitka Spruce" and stop either for a dinner, an overnight stay or a stroll among the gardens at the handsome Lake Quinault Lodge . The placid 4-mile Quinault Loop Trail provides an easy and enjoyable way to view both the deep and dark pristine lake and the surrounding verdant rainforest.

From here, if you're planning to continue your road trip across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to explore Vancouver Island, return to Port Angeles the way you came, via U.S. Route 101—it's about a 2.5-hour drive without stops. Or, from Lake Quinault, you could return to Seattle by continuing south down U.S. Route 101 to Aberdeen, heading east on state Route 8, eventually rejoining U.S. Route 101 toward Olympia and then taking Interstate 5 north. This drive takes about three hours.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Inside Olympic National Park

Each of the four properties within sprawling Olympic National Park has its own distinct personality and setting, and the two best for road-tripping — as they're all on or near U.S. Route 101 — are also arguably the prettiest.

The 1916 Lake Crescent Lodge (rates start at $210) is closest to Port Angeles and has some of the park's most economical rooms (these have shared baths). It's situated on the shore of the rippling lake it's named for and offers both historic hotel rooms, newer motel rooms and rustic cabins. The dining room has tall windows overlooking the water and mountains, and canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals are available.

Perched on a bluff on a stunning beach, Kalaloch Lodge (rates start at $340) was built in the '50s and is less architecturally distinctive — but wow, the setting. Accommodations are in weathered-wood cabins along a coastal bluff, inside the unpretentious main lodge building and inside the motel-style Seacrest House.

The two other park properties, the Log Cabin Resort (rates start at $124), which is on the more secluded north shore of Lake Crescent, and the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort (rates start at $334), located in an old-growth forest valley about a half-hour south of U.S. Route 101, are a bit more rustic but still have their own charms. The biggest draw of the latter is staying just steps from spring-fed thermal mineral pools.

Outside Olympic National Park

Located on the edge of the national park near Lake Crescent and about 10 miles west of Port Townsend, the quiet and economical Emerald Valley Inn (rates start at $99) offers a cottage and several motel rooms, all of them spotlessly maintained and cheerfully furnished. There are car- and tent-camping sites, too, and on-site Granny's Cafe serves up hearty diner classics and homemade pies.

In the lush and rainy timber town of Forks, the romantic Miller Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast (rates start at $210) occupies a stately vintage farmhouse with eight individually appointed rooms. Rates include a generous breakfast. This is a great choice for exploring the western side of the national park, including Rialto and Ruby beaches and the Hoh Rain Forest.

With its glorious alpine waterfront setting and steep shingle roof, the 1920s Lake Quinault Lodge (rates start at $232) connects directly with trails into an old-growth forest and has an inviting lobby warmed by a huge fireplace. Although it lies technically outside the park boundary (but still within the surrounding Olympic National Forest), it has the unmistakable rustic grandeur and seclusion of a national park lodge.

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Anna Everywhere

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

The Pacific NorthWest is the perfect route for a road trip . It’s right up there on the list of best road trips along with the ultimate Utah road trip in the US or the Pacific Coast highway in California.

Planning the perfect trip from start to finish can reduce a lot of last-minute stress.

Starting with mouth-watering street food in Portland and ending with wildlife in Cascades National Park, here’s the perfect itinerary for a road trip through the Pacific Northwest.

What is the Pacific Northwest PNW region?

It really depends on who you ask. More or less from very northern California, through Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in Canada. Some people also include parts of Idaho and Montana into PNW.

The core of the Pacific Northwest Region is Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Highlights

  • Experience Portland’s food trucks
  • See Cascades National Park
  • Explore busy Seattle
  • Warm up in hot springs
  • Stay in an A-cabin
  • Get impressed by waterfalls
  • Hike through the rainforest in Olympic National Park
  • Spot Thor’s Well
  • Get up close with wildlife

Ultimate Pacific Northwest Itinerary for 2 Weeks

Most itineraries say you can do it in a week and while you can, I really think you’d be better off spend at least 2 weeks in the region . Otherwise, you would barely scrape the surface. You can spend a month alone in each Oregon and Washington and still have plenty more to see and experience.

Many itineraries suggest a day at Olympic National Park for example and let me tell you – it’s a piece of bad advice. Especially if you’re driving from Seattle – you’ll experience about 6h of driving minimum and you’ll be able to do one hike and maybe a viewpoint. Try to save a few days for the park, more if you can.

Day 1 : Fly into Portland

Day 2: columbia river (multnomah falls) & portland night.

Day 3 : The Oregon Coast (Thor’s Well + White Wold Sanctuary)

Day 4: Umpqua Hot Springs + Crate Lake National Park

Day 5: Mount Rainer National Park

Day 6: Mount Hood +Bagdy Hot Springs

(you can add an extra day to Mount Hood + Mount Rainer Parks because driving takes a long time)

Day 8: Seattle

Day 9: national forests around seattle (cabin or treehouse stay), day 10-11 : olympic national park.

Stay in one of many cabins on the way up north.

Day 13 : North Cascades National Park + Leavenworth

Day 14 : drive back and fly out of Seattle or continue to cross the bord into Canada

If you’re on your “Great American Road Trip” you can easily combine this trip with Southern California , then the Pacific Coast Highway itinerary and Northern California (to start with), then continue onto Montana & Idaho all the way to Utah .

Is This Trip Family Friendly?

You bet! This itinerary can be enjoyed as a solo traveler, couple, and also with kids. We actually did this with a 5-month-old baby and a 2-year-old toddler.

road trip with kids

How to Get Around the Pacific Northwest?

The best way to travel around the Pacific Northwest is  by car . Although in cities like Portland or Oregon you can ditch the car because public transportation works just fine.

If you’re driving an electric car, don’t worry. We found chargers everywhere on the way.

You can also travel by campervan as there are many free and paid camping spots.

Can You Visit Pacific Northwest Without a Car?

While it’s more convenient with the car you definitely can enjoy PNW without a car. You can take a bus or train between Portland and Seattle and day trips from there.

When to Visit The Pacific Northwest?

Famous for its rainy winters and sultry summers , you can go from sunny to rainy weather and back in a matter of a few miles. But the best time to visit the Pacific Northwest is usually between the months of May to October.

Since the vagaries of the weather keep you on your toes, it’s best to carry summer dresses and rain jackets at the same time. But visit during September, and you might just have perfect weather throughout.

But really, the time you choose to visit PNW also depends on what you plan on doing there . If you’re a snow person who loves skiing and staying in chalets and making snow angels, then winter is the best time to visit.

If you love hiking and camping under the stars, or just taking scenic drives along scented pathways, summer from June to August will be perfect for you! Autumn is good for drives too! And if you’re one of those people who love taking pics of autumn leaves or swimming in cool lakes, fall will be perfect for you to visit!

Your Pacific Northwest PNW Roadtrip Itinerary

Fly into Portland and start your trip by renting your car . If you get in early, you can spend the day admiring the cherry blossoms or visit the Portland International Rose Test Garden which is home to over 10,000 roses of 550 types. The garden also features amazing views of Mount Hood and Downtown Portland.

Get in a day early and you can go mountain biking in Forest Park, hiking on the Wildwood Trail, or exploring the Columbia Gorge by air.

If you’re a museum aficionado, you can’t miss the Pittock Museum and the Portland Art Museum. There’s a lot to do in Portland, and you could easily spend a few days exploring the bridges and bicycle paths of Oregon’s largest city .

Portland is known as a foodie city, so you can’t leave Portland without trying its street food and local brews with a local guide . If you have kids with you, opt for the underground donut tour and taste the best of Portland’s donuts .

portland oregon

Other Important Info About Portland

  • The cherry blossom trees Portland were a gift from Japan for the dedication of the Japanese American Historical Plaza in 1990 , much like the cherry trees in Washington were planted in 1912 as a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan.
  • The city’s founders Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove tossed a coin to name the city. If Lovejoy had won the toss, the city would have been named Boston instead of Portland.
  • Inspired by the Austin, Texas slogan, Portland’s slogan is ‘ Keep Portland weird’ .
  • The smallest park in the world is in Portland. Called Mill Ends Park, it’s a small 2 ft circle with a total area of 452 sq and has only one tree.
  • The Portlandia Statue is the second largest copper statue in America , the first being the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Where to Stay In Portland, Oregon

The Benson Portland, Curio Collection by Hilton – Grand and centrally located.

Dossier – Perfectly located and pet-friendly!

Sentinel, a Provenance Hotel – Luxury hotel close to the waterfront and city center.

The Heathman Hotel – Local-inspired minibars and lovely onsite library.

Drive along the Columbia River Gorge and stop at the main attraction, the Multnomah Falls. With over 2 million visitors every year, it is the most visited natural site in the United States .

The springs are fed by the underground springs from the Larch Mountains and the waterfall dropping 620 ft over 2 tiers of basalt cliffs is the tallest waterfall in the State of Oregon .

oregon road trip

The   Multnomah Falls Lodge  was built by Albert Ernest Doyle between 1915 and 1925 and the area surrounding the falls was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 .

You can visit the falls on your own or join one of many groups tour going to the falls, and head back to spend the night in Portland.

  • Mount Hood Wine and Waterfalls Full-Day Tour
  • Columbia Gorge Waterfalls 40-Minute Scenic Flight
  • Vista House & Columbia River Gorge 3-Hour Small Group Tour

Other Important Info About The Columbia River

  • Multnomah Falls is accessible via Interstate 84 .
  • Depending on the route you take, hiking to the top can take from a few hours to the entire day.
  • The flow at Multnomah Falls is higher in winter and spring.
  • According to a Wasco legend, the daughter of Chief Multnomah sacrificed herself to the Great Spirit from the top of Multnomah Falls.

Day 3 : The Oregon Coast (Thor’s Well + White Wolf Sanctuary)

Drive down the Oregon coast towards Yachat’s Oregon to see Thor’s Well. Why do they call it Thor’s Well? This well is named after the Norse God of thunder and lighting because it looks like a gigantic sinkhole that the water from the Pacific Ocean pours into.

Also called the Drainpipe of the Pacific , the well is the collapsed top of a sea cave that water rushes into . Powerful and breathtaking, it’s particularly beautiful and looks like something out of a movie featuring ancient Roman and Greek gods.

After gasping at the wonder of the ocean, drive inland to the Whitewolf Sanctuary . Founded in 1999 close to Tidewater, this sanctuary covering 35 acres is home to 12 wolves that are allowed to live as freely as possible while being cared for.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Other Important Info

  • The best time to visit Thor’s Well is about an hour before high tide so that you see the well without water and then see the power of the water fill it.
  • Thor’s Well is only 20 feet or 6 meters deep.
  • The area around the well is known for sweeping away unsuspecting visitors. So be careful.
  • If you have more time near Thor’s Well, see the Spouting Horn at Cook’s Chasm.
  • You must contact the Wolf Sanctuary in advance to book tours .
  • Entrance to the sanctuary is $75 for adults and $25 for children under 12 years.

Where to Stay Near The White Wolf Sanctuary (Tidewater) & Thor’s Well (Yachat)

The Loft at Bob Creek – Large spacious apartment for a private stay.

Guinevere’s Cottage – Cosy cottage just across the river in Yachats, Oregon.

Sanderling Sea Cottages, Unit 9 – Stay in a lovely seaside cottage on Big Stump Beach.

Day 4: Umpqua Hot Springs + Crater Lake National Park

About 175 miles south of Thor’s Well are the Umpqua Hot Springs. These two to three small geothermal hot springs along the North Umpqua River are a short 0.3 mile (0.5 km) hike off-road.

Sitting right on the edge of the cliff, the mineral waters of these pools are soothing at about 43 C (110 F) to 44 C (112 F) warm. The pool at the top is the hottest , and the water gets cooler as it flows down to the other pools and into the North Umpqua River below. Clothing is optional here, so come prepared to answer questions if traveling with kids.

hot springs in washington

The deepest lake in the US , Crater Lake in Oregon was formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama collapsed during a violent eruption. Now surrounded by what is Crater Lake National Park sitting atop the Cascade Mountain Range, the beautiful lake is a must-visit.

You can stay at the historic Crater Lake Lodge that was built in 1915 in Rim Village and is open from May to October.

To get your fill of the beautiful landscape do the Crater Lake Rim Drive between May and November ; and stop for a look at the Devil’s Backbone, Pumice Castle Overlook, Discovery Point, Vidae Falls and more.

And take a boat tour to Wizard Island to swim, hike and explore the island.

  • The closest campground to the Umpqua Hot Springs is the  Toketee Lake Campground.
  • The hot springs might be difficult to access during rainy or cold weather.
  • Entrance to the hot springs is $5 a day or with a NorthWest Forest Pass .
  • The trail to the pool is steep. Wear good hiking shoes .
  • The best hiking spots in Crater lake are Plaikni Falls and Garfield Peak.
  • You can stay at Mazama Campground and Village and Lost Creek Campground while at Crater Lake.

Where to Stay in or near Crater Lake

Klamoya Sleep Inn & Suites – Featuring an onsite casino.

Crater Lake Resort – Spacious cabins close to Fort Creek.

Eagle Crater Lake Inn – Studios and suites at this Inn in Chemult are the perfect base for visiting Crater Lake National Park.

Day 5 / 6: Mount Hood + Bagby Hot Springs

Mount Hood is surrounded by amazing ski resorts that are perfect for skiers or all levels. It’s also home to beautiful lakes and hiking trails. If you’re an Instagrammer , you can also visit Trillium Lake which is a popular spot for shots with reflections of the sky.

The Timberline Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum must be added to your visit. If you don’t have enough time, you could take an aerial tour of Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge while you’re in Portland. (This is on Day 1)

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The Bagby Hot Springs at the Mount Hood National Forest are natural hot springs within the Cascade Mountains.

Surrounded by fir trees, these Bagby hot springs are accessed by a 1.4-mile (2.25 km) hike with spectacular views . The three hand-hewn log bathtubs and open deck round tub are reflective of the primitive forest facilities.

  • Mount Hood is also a popular ski destination in winter .
  • There are three popular resorts in Mount Hood.- Mt. Hood Meadows, Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood Skibowl.
  • The Bagby hot springs are clothing optional, but clothes are required in all other areas.
  • The soaking fees at Bagby are $5 per person.

Where to Stay In Mount Hood

Cooper Spur Mountain Resort – Lovely resort with comfortable and clean cabins and mountain views.

Whispering Woods Resort, a VRI resort – About 3.1 km from Wildwood Recreation Site , this resort in Welches has large suites perfect for families or goups.

BW Premier Collection, Mt Hood Oregon Resort – Featuring a 27-hole golf course, 2 restaurants and an outdoor swimming pool, this resort offers rooms of all sizes.

Day 7: Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier rises to 14,410 feet above sea level in Washington. An active volcano, the peak is the most glaciated in the US and gives rise to 5 rivers.

The Mount Rainier National Park with its resplendent wildlife is perfect for hiking and climbing with over 30 popular trails covering over 260 miles (420 km). Peaceful lakes, forests, and streams are perfect for exploring on your own or with friends.

For shorter day hikes choose the Trail of the Shadows, Rampart Ridge Trail, Pld Mine Trail, Chenuis Falls Trail, and the Twin Firs Loop Trail.

If you wish you can join a small group tour of the National Park or join a group tour that includes lunch at a popular cafe in Mount Rainier.

pacific northwest itinerary

Where to Stay near Mount Rainier

Nisqually Lodge – About 8 km from the park with good forest views.

Mountain Meadows Inn – This quiet inn close to Ashford OCuntry Park offers traditional suites, studios, and 3-edorom homes.

Bonus Tip: It’s best to add an extra day to Mount Hood and Mount Rainer Parks because driving takes a long time.

The largest city in the state of Washington, Seattle is surrounded by mountains, forests, and lots of water. From the iconic Space Needle to the blend of modern and rustic attractions, there’s a lot to do in Seattle – even with kids.

Take a foodie tour of Pike’s Place market or go on a cruise in Puget Sound . Explore the underground passageways of the historic Pioneer Square.

There’s a lot to see in Seattle, from the world’s first Starbucks to the Chihuly Garden and Glass, to the Ballard Locks and Elliot Bay. Get an amazing view of Kerry Park from the Space Needle, or soak your feet in the tidepools at Golden Gardens Park.

Take pictures of the amazing houseboats in the marina or eat seafood at Alki Beach. There’s so much to do in Seattle , you can easily spend a few days here.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Other Info About Seattle

  • Take pics with the Fremont Troll under the George Washington Memorial Bridge.
  • Pike Place Public Market is the oldest continuously-operating market in the US.
  • Take a walking chocolate tour with tastings to discover the importance of chocolate to Seattle.
  • A three-hour city highlights tour is the perfect way to get to know the city of Seattle.

Where to Stay In Seattle: more suggestions on neighborhood here .

The Mediterranean Inn – The rooftop patio at The Mediterranean Inn offers panoramic views of the Seattle Skyline, Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains, and Elliot Bay.

Warwick Seattle – Offering uniquely decorated rooms just a short walk from Pike Place Market.

Mayflower Park Hotel – Set in a historic hotel with traditional furnishings that was built in 1927 .

Seattle has the 7th-most-highest density of trees in the world, and it’s second only to Sacramento in the US .

Seattle is within driving distance of Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, North Cascades National Park, Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest, EC Manning Provincial Park, Cougar Mountain Regional Wineland, and Mt Baker Snoqualmie National Forest. These lush forests and woodlands are perfect for exploring on your own at a slow pace.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

But if you’re only spending the day here, you can choose from a variety of tours that show you the highlights of the forest in a day or half-day. Here are a few top choices.

Popular Park Tours Around Seattle

  • Go on a 3-mile hike of Mt. Rainier National Park followed by a picnic lunch and visit to vineyards in the Yakima Valley.
  • Drive past Lake Washington to see the breathtaking Snoqualmie Falls followed by a visit to three award-winning boutique wineries.
  • Visit the St Helens National Monument and hear tales of its tragic May 1980 eruption that changed many American lives.

Where to Stay In Lodges, Cabins or Treehouses

Cottage Lake Bed and Breakfast – Suites at this cottage have beautiful lake views, and guests also have access to the onsite library and kayaks.

Moon River Suites   – A townhouse with 2 bedrooms, and a fully equipped kitchen located on the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River with perfect views of Mount Si.

The Cabins at Beaver Creek – Beautiful cabins where you can sit on the porch and listen to the river.

The vistas in the Olympic Peninsula are jaw-dropping. Olympic National Park covers an area of 922,000 acres , and although it’s included in the list of national parks above, it deserves a special mention.

It’s home to Hurricane Hill, a paved 1.6 mile (2.6 km) trail that offers views of the surrounding mountains and seas. Klahhane Ridge is another popular trail with a 2.8 mile (4.5 km) hike.

pacific northwest itinerary

The Hoh Rain Forest and Hoh River Trail require a good amount of energy to tackle.

If you want to see all there is to see in a short time, take a small group tour of the World Heritage Olympic National Park, explore Lake Crescent and drive up to Hurricane Ridge for amazing views of Strait of Juan da Fuca, and San Juan Islands.

Other Important Info About Olympic National Park

  • The diverse ecosystem also includes over 70 miles of coastline.
  • There are around 800 lakes and 4000 miles of rivers in the Olympic National Park that offer some of the most extensive runs of wild salmon, trout, and char in the PNW.
  • A free Washington State catch record card  must be acquired if fishing for salmon or steelhead.
  • The tidepools at Mora’s Hole in the Wall and Kalaloch’s Beach 4 are some the most popular.
  • Be careful of the sneaker waves while visiting the tidepools .

washington state itinerary

Where to Stay Near Olympic National Park

Olympic Lodge by Ayres – This classy lodge at the base of the Olympic Mountains offers complimentary Rain Shadow Coffee daily 6 am to 10 am.

Super 8 by Wyndham Port Angeles at Olympic National Park   – This traditional hotel in Port Angeles offers rooms, suites, and studios.

Hoh Valley Cabins – Well-equipped bungalows in Forks that exceed every expectation.

Day 12: Stay in one of many cabins on the way up north.

There are so many charming cabins in the forested around Seattle , you’ll be spoilt for choice on which to pick. Choose something that’s nested in nature but close enough to groceries and attractions that you need to visit.

Luxurious Log Cabin at White Pass – Large spacious cabin with mountain views and barbecue facilities perfectly located near excellent skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, boating, paddleboarding, and swine/beer tasting venues.

Alpine Thyme Cabin – A short walk from the fish lake in Leavenworth, this cabin has a boat dock nearby and is perfect for hiking, skiing, fishing, and kayaking.

Large Cabin Style Home with Hot Tub and Sauna – This beautiful 306 m² cabin is a short walk from the beach and hiking trails. Featuring a spacious deck, sauna, and outdoor jacuzzi it’s perfect for a fancy rustic vacation.

Day 13 : Cascades National Park + Leavenworth

Another National Park within the Washington State Area, the North Cascades National Park is about 3 hours drive from the north of Seattle or about 8 hours drive if you go from Olympic National Park via Tacoma and Leavenworth to North Cascades.

The rocky forested valleys are perfect for hiking or snowshoeing against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks. You can take hours or weeks to explore it.

While traveling from Olympic Park to North Cascades, make sure you stop awhile at Leavenworth. This Bavarian-style village in the Cascade Mountains is home to Alpine-style buildings and restaurants serving German food and beer.

Considered a gateway to neighboring ski towns , Leavenworth is perfect for wintertime adventures such as skiing and sleigh rides, or summertime activities such as camping, biking, horse riding, river tubing, fishing, climbing, and more.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

  • Leavenworth is popular for birding and watching migratory birds in spring.
  • You can visit the Icicle Brewing Company and the Doghaus Brewery which is located in the former morgue of the Cascade Sanitarium.
  • There are many popular eateries in Leavenworth, from Visconti’s authentic Italian food to Andreas Kellers schweinshax’n , to Mozart’s Steakhouse, La Javelina Texas Kitchen, and Leavenworth Cider House.

Where to Stay In Leavenworth

FairBridge Inn & Suites – A short walk from the town center, this hotel features an indoor pool.

Der Ritterhof Inn – Large spacious rooms with traditional decor close to love cafes and restaurants.

Linderhof Inn – Another bavarian-styled inn filled with beautiful flowers in the springtime and serving the most delicious cheesy hash browns and cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

Day 14 : Drive back and fly out of Seattle or continue to cross the border into Canada

Spend the last day driving back to Seattle and picking up last-minute gifts and trinkets for the loved ones there. If you want to spend a few days here, the hotel suggestions are the same as earlier.

  • The Mediterranean Inn  offering panoramic views of the Seattle Skyline, Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains, and Elliot Bay.
  • Warwick Seattle  – Offering uniquely decorated rooms   just a short walk from the famous Pike Place Market.
  • Mayflower Park Hotel  – Set in a historic hotel with traditional furnishings that was built in 1927.
  • Silver Cloud Hotel – Seattle Stadium  – Contemporary suites and fantastic rooftop pool right across the street from the T-Mobile park.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip

From here you can fly out of Seattle to return home or cross the border into Canada and continue your adventures.

Any questions about this itinerary, comment and let me know!

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Monday 22nd of May 2023

Thanks so much for this post! I'm traveling to PNW and I'd thought I would need to spend MUCH more time planning. You've done it for me! Thanks.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

The Ultimate Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip

By: Author Bram Reusen

Posted on Last updated: May 2, 2024

One of America’s most diverse regions, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is home to massive volcanoes, pristine temperate rain forests, high desert plains, sea stack-lined coasts and spectacular mountain ranges.

The amazing national parks of the Pacific Northwest reflect its diversity beautifully.

In this post, I talk about the many must-visit Pacific Northwest national parks and offer a couple of suggested road trip itineraries, based on my many trips around the PNW.

Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip

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Edith Creek, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

First of all, though, let me start by clarifying the definition of “Pacific Northwest” I’ve used here. There is, after all, not a single clearly outlined conception of this region in the North American northwest .

The most common definition considers the Pacific Northwest to consist of the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho (as well as Canada’s British Columbia). Broader definitions may also include southeastern Alaska, northern California and even western Montana and Wyoming.

Quinault Rain Forest, Graves Creek Nature Trail in Olympic National Park, Washington

For the purpose of this Pacific Northwest national parks road trip post, I chose the following states as making up the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon and northern California.

This is basically the span of the Cascade Mountains in the United States—the Pacific Northwest is sometimes also referred to as “Cascadia”—and makes for the most convenient road trip opportunities. Washington, Oregon and northern California also have similar landscapes, natural features and ecosystems.

The vast majority of the national parks in the Pacific Northwest are either in the Cascade Range or along the Pacific Coasts of Washington, Oregon and northern California. This offers amazing opportunities for one-way road trips or longer loops.

No matter how much time you have—whether it’s a week or a month—you can explore several, if not all, of the Pacific Northwest national parks on a world-class road trip.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake, Oregon - National Parks in the Pacific Northwest

This Pacific Northwest national parks road trip post contains affiliate links. You can read more about our Terms of Use / Disclosure here .

12+ National Parks in the Pacific Northwest

The following overview of the national parks of the Pacific Northwest is roughly from north to south, from Washington, through Oregon, to northern California.

Note that this is not necessarily the precise order in which you’ll want to do your road trip, though. You can find a couple of specific road trip itinerary suggestions after the descriptions of the individual parks.

Also, a few of the destinations below are not managed by the National Park Service, but by the U.S. Forest Service.

The reason I decided to include them is because they’re both amazing places to visit in the Pacific Northwest and part of America’s extensive national public lands system.

  • Highlights: Alpine peaks, temperate rain forests, rugged coastal scenery, waterfalls, lakes, and abundant wildlife
  • How long to stay: 4 days

Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park, Washington - Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Olympic National Park is a pristine wilderness unlike any other on the planet. Known as “three parks in one”, the park’s ecological variety is of such importance that it’s both an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the heart of the park stands 7,980-foot Mount Olympus, dominating the mountain ranges in the interior of the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle.

Glaciers radiate down from its slopes toward primeval pine forests, lush rain forests and wide valleys. Rivers and waterfalls abound in this rugged region, while glacial lakes dot lower areas.

A wide range of wildlife and iconic American bird species thrive here as well, most notably large herds of Roosevelt elk , black bears, bald eagles and marmots.

Elk cow and calf at Bunch Fields, Olympic National Park, Washington

There is enough natural beauty in the Olympic Mountains alone to make it worthy of being a national park on its own. Yet, Olympic National Park’s diversity doesn’t end there. Arguably the park’s most extraordinary feature is its temperate rain forests.

On the western slopes of the mountains, thick blankets of moss drape towering trees. Carpets of ferns cover the forest floor. Mist lingers in the air.

This is one of only a few temperate rain forests left in the world. Moreover, the combined areas of the Hoh, Bogachiel, Queets and Quinault Rain Forests make up the largest rain forest of its kind on Earth.

You can learn much more about the beautiful temperate rain forests of Olympic National Park here .

A number of easy hikes in Olympic National Park ‘s rain forests allow you to immerse yourself in this stunning environment.

Coast of Olympic National Park, Washington

And then there’s the park’s third ecosystem, separated from the two above: the wild Pacific Northwest coast.

A narrow 73-mile-long (117 kilometers) strip of coastal forests, sandy beaches, huge sea stacks, tidepools and headlands, this is the one of longest undeveloped stretches of coastline in the contiguous U.S.

It’s known appropriately as “ The Wilderness Coast .”

  • Highlights: Historic sites, beautiful coastal views, and orca watching
  • How long to stay: 1 day

San Juan Island, Washington - Unsplash

One of the greatest National Park Service sites near Seattle , San Juan Island National Historical Park offers superb outdoor activities and fascinating history.

In 1859, the United States and Great Britain almost started a war over possession of San Juan Island, a crisis that got started by—of all things—the death of a pig.

Important sites in the park commemorate the 12 years of American Army and British Royal Navy presence on the island, located near the United States-Canada border, most notably American Camp and English Camp.

Nowadays, San Juan Island is as peaceful as can be, featuring great views, beautiful shores and, above all, fantastic orca viewing opportunities.

In fact, this park may just be the best place in the entire United States to see killer whales, which is why it’s a must-visit destination on any Pacific Northwest national parks road trip.

  • Highlights: Solitude, turquoise glacial lakes, spectacular mountains, wildlife, boating and hiking
  • How long to stay: 2 days

Cascade Pass Trail wildflowers, North Cascades National Park, Washington

Even though it’s only three hours by car from downtown Seattle , North Cascades National Park boasts some of the most spectacular and remote wilderness areas south of Canada and Alaska.

In this park, finding adventure and solitude is a piece of cake.

North Cascades is also among the least-developed national parks in the U.S., crossed only by scenic Route 20 and home to only a few small towns.

This park encompasses over 300 glaciers, a third of all glaciers in the lower 48 states! This massive amount of ice feeds countless rivers and lakes, occupying upper slopes and flowing through lower valleys.

The landscapes in North Cascades National Park are also beautifully diverse. They include towering mountain peaks, as well as also thundering waterfalls and old-growth forests.

Attracting fewer than 30,000 visitors each year, this park, despite its accessibility, is all about isolation and solitude.

A weekend exploring its landscapes , enjoying scenic drives and hitting a couple of trails is perfect to get a real feel for this wilderness park.

Maple Pass Loop hiker Bram, North Cascades, Washington State

The main features of the North Cascades are endless series of sawtooth-like peaks, stunningly blue alpine lakes, and lots of wildlife.

In fact, this is one of only a few national parks that have grizzly bears in the lower 48 states. That said, though, the North Cascades grizzly bear population is really small and sightings are extremely uncommon.

Other high-profile mammals that call these mountains home include gray wolves, black bears , mountain lions, elk and mountain goats.

Dawn at Diablo Lake, North Cascades Scenic Highway 20, Washington State

This vast national park complex consists of North Cascades National Park itself, but also comprises of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

  • Highlights: Tallest mountain/volcano in the Pacific Northwest, massive glaciers, spectacular wildflowers, old-growth forests, still alpine lakes, and world-class hiking
  • How long to stay: 3 days

Sourdough Ridge Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington - National Parks of the PNW

Rising 14,410 feet toward the often-cloudy Pacific Northwest sky, Mount Rainier dominates the landscape in central Washington State. This national park is roughly halfway between Seattle and Portland and easily accessible from both major cities.

Moreover, this mighty active volcano is so prominent—the highest peak in the Cascade Range —that it’s an integral part of the skyline of Seattle. It’s also visible from certain viewpoints near Portland.

Hiking trail in Mount Rainier National Park - Best National Parks for Backpacking

Mount Rainier National Park encompasses everything from old-growth forests to gorgeous subalpine wildflower meadows to spectacular waterfalls. While Rainier itself might be the star attraction, I highly recommend exploring some of its other ecosystems as well.

The huge, ancient trees in the Grove of the Patriarchs, for example, are absolutely worth seeing, while the summer wildflowers in the Paradise area are nothing short of breathtaking.

Hiking the Skyline Trail Loop , which starts at the historic and rustic Paradise Inn , is the best way to explore this wonderful alpine area. As you walk this fantastic trail, you’ll have amazing up-close views of Mount Rainier almost the entire way.

Other highlights along the Skyline Trail Loop include gorgeous meadows, beautiful Myrtle Falls and occasional wildlife sightings, such as mountain goats and black bears.

Myrtle Falls, Mount Rainier National Park Skyline Trail Loop, Washington - Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip

I recommend dedicating three days to this glorious Pacific Northwest national park. That way, you’ll have much more time to explore other areas in the park and hit some of the Mount Rainier trails .

Make sure to explore Tipsoo Lake and the Sunrise Area, too. Both areas are especially spectacular in the fall .

  • Highlights: Volcanic crater, aftermath of a volcanic eruption, spectacular views, and wildflowers
  • How long to stay: ½ day

Sunset at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA - Pacific Northwest National Parks

Established in 1982 and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was the first monument of its kind in the United States.

It was created after the massive 1980 eruption of the volcano, which is still the most devastating volcanic event in U.S. history—in terms of both number of deaths and economic destruction. The purpose of this national volcanic monument is multifold, including research, education and recreation.

Because it was protected, the area around Mount St. Helens was able to respond to this natural disaster in a natural way.

Nowadays, you can still see thousands of fallen trees on slopes and floating on lakes, while evidence of enormous landslides and pyroclastic flows is visible all around.

The view of the blown-away crater from the Johnston Ridge Observatory is spectacular. If you’re there in late-spring or early-summer, an amazing display of wildflowers will cover the fertile valleys, slopes and ridges.

If you’re up for a half-day hike, I highly recommend the 8.5-mile round-trip Harry’s Ridge Trail.

Hiker on the Boundary Trail, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

It may not technically be a “national park”—as in, managed by the National Park Service—but this public park is absolutely worth visiting on your Pacific Northwest national parks road trip.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument lies conveniently between Mount Rainier National Park and Portland, Oregon. In fact, the mountain’s flattened summit is clearly visible from many places in and around Portland.

  • Highlights: Full-scale replica of a 19 th -century Hudson’s Bay Company fort
  • How long to stay: 2-3 hours

Fur Store interior at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver, Washington

Situated on the Columbia River’s northern bank in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland, Oregon, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site highlights the story of pioneers, settlers, Native Americans and explorers.

The closest National Park Service unit to Portland, it’s located at the site of the 19 th -century headquarters of the Columbia Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This former frontier fur trading post grew into a powerful military fort.

Named after Captain George Vancouver, it was an important crossroads of multiple trade routes, including those coming overland from the East Coast, ships from places as varied as Britain and China, and several Native American trails.

Nowadays, the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site has a full-scale replica of the fort, including buildings like a carpenter shop, bakery, blacksmith shop and kitchen.

  • Highlights: Spectacular waterfalls, abundant wildflowers, lush forests, and great views

Columbia River Gorge view, Oregon

Just like nearby Mount St. Helens, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Carved through the Cascade Mountains by the mighty Columbia River, the Gorge is home to lush forests and myriad gorgeous waterfalls , including famous Multnomah Falls.

Its verdant western part starts just past Portland’s eastern boundary and runs to charming Hood River, while the eastern part, situated in the mountains’ rain shadow, is characterized by much drier landscapes and canyons.

The eastern Gorge is famous for its spectacular wildflowers in spring . Between April and May, its hills, plateaus and meadows attracts thousands of hikers, photographers and other nature lovers.

The Columbia River Gorge is a super-popular day trip from Portland , but also makes for the perfect transition from Oregon’s vibrant largest city to its high desert interior.

Wahclella Falls and hiker in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, USA

Drive the Historic Columbia River Highway for the best views and scenery, and access to waterfalls and trailheads. I’d recommend planning your visit to this area on a weekday. Weekends and holidays get extremely crowded in this beautiful area.

Alternatively, if you’re after more mountain scenery, you could opt to drive the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway through Mt. Hood National Forest. This brings you right past towering Mt. Hood , as well as lakes, forest scenery and some amazing Mt. Hood hiking trails . The Columbia River Gorge, however, would be my personal first choice.

  • Highlights: Rich fossil deposits, spectacular multi-colored hills, and extraordinary desert scenery

Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon - PNW National Park Service Sites

Just like the Columbia River Gorge and Crater Lake (see below), John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon .

It’s unlike anything you might imagine when you think about Oregon national parks —which is most likely wild coasts, thundering waterfalls, rain clouds and evergreen forests.

There’s also an entirely different side to this large state in the American West, though. Located in north-central Oregon, 4.5 hours by car from Portland , this landscape of canyons and cliffs, desert plains and multi-colored badlands is absolutely spectacular.

As its name implies, it’s preserved mainly for its rich fossil deposits. Its fossil record spans no fewer than 40 million years and includes fossils of countless plants and animals, as well as evidence of ancient climate change.

Sheep Rock Overlook Trail at Sheep Rock in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The most popular unit in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is home to the famous Painted Hills of Oregon , which features stunning multi-colored hills.

Other units are the Clarno Unit and Sheep Rock Unit . Each unit has trails that allow you see these amazing landscapes from up close and learn more about the fossils found here. This is a worthwhile detour on the way from Portland to Crater Lake on your Pacific Northwest national parks road trip.

  • Highlights: Beautiful alpine lakes, scenic drives, all kinds of outdoor activities, and volcanoes, including the largest volcano in the Pacific Northwest

Pacific Northwest Parks: Sparks Lake in Deschutes National Forest, Oregon

A sprawling national forest in central Oregon, Deschutes National Forest preserves huge tracts of forests, lakes, volcanoes and mountains south(west) of Bend. It’s a dream destination for hikers, kayakers, rock climbers and other adventurists.

Located partially in four Oregon counties—Deschutes, Jefferson, Klamath and Lake—on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range, this national forest comprises no fewer than 1.8 million acres (7,300 km 2 ).

It’s also home to five designated wilderness areas, all of which also extend into other, adjacent national forests.

It’s amazingly diverse, featuring shimmering lakes and scenic rivers, cinder cones and sweeping summit vistas.

While there are several different areas to explore in Deschutes National Forest, I recommend focusing on the following two. They’re easily accessible from  Bend , as well as gloriously beautiful and filled with attractions.

  • Cascades Lakes Area (west of Route 97): A series of glorious alpine lakes linked together by the fantastic Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, great for hiking and boating.
  • Newberry National Volcanic Monument (along and east of Route 97): The Newberry Volcano is the largest volcano in the Cascade Range, home to two caldera lakes, cinder cones, lava flows and other awesome volcanic features.

Paulina Peak view of Newberry Caldera, Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Oregon

If you decide to make Deschutes National Forest a part of your Pacific Northwest parks road trip, I suggest doing it justice and not simply driving through.

Both the Cascade Lakes Area and the Newberry Volcano deserve at least one full day of your time. You can read about the best things to do in Deschutes National Forest here .

  • Highlights: America’s deepest and clearest lake, scenic drive, and stargazing

Wizard Island in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake National Park lies in the southern part of the state. An awe-inspiring, glorious park, it’s centered on eponymous Crater Lake.

This water-filled caldera was created after the massive eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama, once a mighty volcano in the Pacific Northwest, about 7,700 years ago. Although its origins are undeniably violent, Crater Lake is now a prime example of peacefulness and tranquility .

Dependent entirely on rainfall and snow melt as its water sources, the lake has some of the cleanest, and clearest water of any North American lake.

Blue water in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Additionally, it’s also the deepest lake in the U.S.—it’s average depth is 1,943 feet (592 meters). The water surface is usually perfectly still, too, which results in stunning reflections of the caldera walls around it.

That ripple-less water often reflects a blue sky, making it “the bluest lake on earth”, while at night it twinkles with the lights of a thousand stars .

Crater Lake National Park is also super-easy to explore. The scenic Rim Drive encircles the entire lake, offering access to Crater Lake viewpoints and hiking trails .

Pacific Northwest National Parks: Crater Lake and Wizard Island, Oregon

The historic Rim Village is home to the amazing Crater Lake Lodge , while Mazama Village down the road below has cabins, a store, gas station and a large campground.

  • Highlights: Beautiful marble caves in the Siskiyou Mountains, wildlife watching

Oregon Caves National Monument, Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip - NPS Credit

Located deep within southern Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains lie the renowned Oregon Caves.

These “Marble Halls of Oregon” are home to spectacular marble formations and passageways , a major tourist attraction in this remote part of the Pacific Northwest.

Cave tours are the obvious top attraction here and you can go on Discovery Cave Tours, Candlelight Cave Tour, and Kids and Family Tours. Experienced speleologists can go on off-trail tours, too. Other popular activities at the Oregon Caves are hiking and wildlife watching.

  • Highlights: Some of the world’s largest trees, abundant wildlife, scenic drives, (mountain) biking, and camping

Damnation Creek Trail forest, Del Norte Redwoods State Park, California

Redwood National Park could be considered one of the most remote national parks on the U.S. West Coast. There aren’t any major cities nearby.

The drive from San Francisco to Redwood National Park is about 5.5 hours, while the nearest other major city, Portland is also approximately 5.5 hours away.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Redwood National and State Parks are certainly a place worth visiting. They’re an essential destination on a Pacific Northwest national parks road trip.

This amazing park complex consists of four parks :

  • Redwood National Park
  • Jedediah Smith State Park
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
  • Del Norte Coast State Park

Together, the Redwood National and State Parks protect no less than 45% of all remaining old-growth coastal redwood ( Sequoia sempervirens ) forests in the world. These massive trees are some of the tallest, most voluminous and oldest on the planet.

Stout Grove Loop Trail redwood hiker, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California

There’s a lot more than redwoods to be discovered here, though. In addition to the coastal redwood forests, the parks preserve huge expanses of prairie, oak forests, wild rivers and streams, and almost 40 miles of spectacular coastline.

Wildlife abounds in these pristine forests, coasts and grasslands, and is often seen from the many hiking trails in Redwood National and State Parks . High-profile animals range from Chinook salmon and Steller’s sea lions to black bears, Roosevelt elk, mountain lions and river otters.

Roosevelt Elk at Elk Prairie in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, Pacific Northwest

The abundance of animals in Redwood National and State Parks, combined with its extraordinary flora, is a main reason this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Popular activities include the classics, such as camping and hiking, but also road cycling on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and other park roads.

If you’re camping, I strongly recommend the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, which is my all-time favorite national park campground .

Additionally, Redwood is also one of very few U.S. national parks where backcountry mountain biking is allowed .

  • Highlights: Volcanic landscapes, including all four types of volcanoes on Earth, hydrothermal areas, stargazing and hiking

Bumpass Hell Boardwalk in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Situated at the meeting point of the Great Basin desert, the Sierra Nevada mountains and the volcanoes of the Cascade Range, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers natural thrills unlike anywhere else in California.

Just over 500,000 people visit Lassen Volcanic annually, making it one of the quietest national parks in the Pacific Northwest and California.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a place of shimmering lakes, cinder cones and age-old lava beds. The namesake and star attraction of the park is Lassen Peak , the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range.

In fact, Lassen Peak is one of America’s most active volcanoes . It’s also the biggest plug dome volcano on the planet, a massive natural landmark surrounded by many smaller volcanoes, fumaroles, boiling mud pools, pristine lakes, hot springs and wildflower-filled meadows.

Brokeoff Mountain summit hiker Bram, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California - Pacific Northwest National Parks

This park is exceptional for various reasons, but the most interesting one is that you’ll find every existing type of volcano here. Composite, plug dome, cinder cone and shield volcanoes are all present in this underrated park in the very southern part of the Pacific Northwest.

Because of that exceptional volcanic diversity, Lassen Volcanic National Park is the only American national park that comes (relatively) close to Yellowstone in terms of hydrothermal features.

There’s plenty of great camping, boating, cycling and hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park . Additionally, the night sky is amazing, too.

Moreover, the park is also open in winter , offering all kinds of fun winter adventures.

  • Highlights: A massive shield volcano, Native American rock art, hundreds of caves, colorful dunes, and desert landscapes

Lava Beds National Monument, California - National Park Service

Arguably the least known of all these Pacific Northwest parks, Lava Beds National Monument lies in northeastern California.

This is yet another volcanic park in the Cascade Range, home to Medicine Lake Volcano, a massive shield volcano with a surface area of over 770 square miles (2,000 km 2 ). In terms of sheer volume, it’s the biggest volcano in the Cascades!

Volcanic eruptions have occurred on and off for 500,000 years here. Unlike Mount St. Helens, however, these eruptions were fairly gentle, covering the flanks of the volcano by layer after layer of basaltic lava.

These geological events created a landscape of various volcanic features.

At Lava Beds National Monument, which occupies the volcano’s northeastern side, you’ll find no fewer than 800 caves, historic battlefields, spectacular high desert wilderness and Native American rock art sites.

You can visit caves like Crystal Ice Cave and Fern Cave, go for scenic drives and hikes, and camp at one of the Pacific Northwest’s most underrated National Park Service units.

Lava Beds is key destination on the National Park Service’s fantastic Circle of Discovery Tour . This scenic loop drive around southern Oregon and northern California takes in the region’s seven NPS sites, including above-mentioned Crater Lake, Oregon Caves, Lassen Volcanic and Redwood, too!

Best Pacific Northwest National Parks, Monuments and Forests Map

Suggested Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip Itineraries

You’re free to connect these amazing national parks in the Pacific Northwest as you want.

Generally speaking, however, there are two main clusters of parks in the region: (1) the parks around Seattle in northern and central Washington, and (2) the parks in southern Oregon and northern California.

You can either start this epic road trip in Seattle and finish in Portland, or pick Portland as both your start and end points.

For a loop drive, I recommend Portland because it is roughly in the middle of the Pacific Northwest region.

Additionally, my suggested Portland itinerary also allows you to drive Route 101 along the coasts of both Washington and Oregon. This is a phenomenal bucket list-worthy drive.

Feel free to play around with possible itineraries, though!

Cascade Range in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington - Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip

  • Olympic National Park, WA
  • San Juan Island National Historical Park, WA
  • North Cascades National Park, WA
  • Mount Rainier National Park, WA
  • Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA *
  • Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, WA
  • Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, OR *
  • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, OR
  • Deschutes National Forest, OR *
  • Crater Lake National Park, OR
  • Lava Beds National Monument, CA
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
  • Redwood National Park, CA
  • Oregon Caves National Park, OR
  • (Pacific Coast Highway Route 101 north to Portland)

* = Not a National Park Service site, but managed by the U.S. Forest Service

  • (Pacific Coast Highway 101 south through Washington and Oregon)
  • Oregon Caves National Monument, OR

Have You Ever Been on a Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip? What Were Your Favorite Parks in the PNW? Share Your National Parks Experience Below!

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Sunday 22nd of August 2021

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10 amazing stops on a pacific northwest road trip (+ 2 itineraries) (2024).

pacific northwest road trip itinerary

One of the best parts of living in the Pacific Northwest is jumping in the car and driving to explore a new area anytime you want. There is nothing more I love than going on a Pacific Northwest road trip, and I try to do at least one a year to explore new areas (and get new ideas to share with all of you!). We have so many options in this region, which is why I love living in Seattle so much.

I have dozens of articles based on all the fantastic cities I’ve visited over the years, so picking where to stop for a Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary was tough. My day trips from Seattle post is one that’s often referenced, but I wanted to write an extended itinerary that took you through some of my favorite parts.

While I have a post on ideas for a road trip from Seattle , this itinerary will take you through all the Pacific Northwest national parks, which are some of the best parts of the region. You’ll also stop in a few major cities along the way so you can see everything the area has to offer. I made sure to include my personalized recommendations of places to visit within each stop.

I’ve done numerous road trips around the Pacific Northwest, including most recently in June 2023. Based on my experience, the road trip planning mistakes I’ve made, and how much I know and love living in the PNW, here’s my suggestion for the best Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary

This post was first written in 2020 and was last updated in June 2023.

Table of Contents

Tips for a Pacific Northwest Road Trip

edmonds beach me

Here are some tips to help you with your PNW national park road trip.

  • Buy the America the Beautiful Pass – It normally costs about $30 per national park for the entrance fee, so you can save money by buying this pass that will get you into all the US parks for one year for only $80. This is a must for your Pacific Northwest road trip.
  • Take your time – Some people love to pack as much as possible into their trip, but it’s more relaxing to take your time and not feel rushed. This is just a suggested PNW road trip itinerary, so you can make it your own based on what works for you.
  • Check the weather – Some of the national parks in the Pacific Northwest, like Mount Rainier and North Cascades, close multiple entrances in the winter due to ice and snow, so you’ll want to plan your trip accordingly. I recommend going late spring through late summer for ideal weather or reading my guide to visiting Mount Rainier in the winter to prepare.

I love using Roadtrippers for all my road trips because they show you all the fun stops to make along the way. You can get $5 off if you sign up with my code BTR5QTP .

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Map

This map gives you an overview of your Pacific Northwest trip itinerary so you can start to plan out where you want to stop, such as some of the scenic drives in Washington . You can see that the Washington stops are closer together, and the Oregon ones are a little farther apart. You’re able to save this map to use if you want.

7 Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

You can pick and choose from any of these Pacific Northwest road trip stops to make your own itinerary. Maybe you have time to see them all, or maybe you’re more interested in going on a Pacific Northwest national parks road trip.

You can also check out my Washington bucket list or list of things to do in the Pacific Northwest to see places you might want to add to your itinerary.

If you really want to extend your trip and go international, check out my weekend getaway ideas from Vancouver article, or even go on a road trip from Vancouver to Whistler . Another beautiful road trip idea is going on a drive around Vancouver Island .

For a shorter drive, you can do a road trip from Seattle to Vancouver to explore this fun city.

Depending on how much time you have, you could visit the Washington national parks, or you could just pick the PNW national parks that appeal to you the most.

While this is a dog-friendly Pacific Northwest vacation , you should be aware that dogs aren’t allowed in certain parts of national parks. That means you may have to skip some hikes in the park they can’t go on.

Here is a suggested itinerary based on a one-week Pacific Northwest itinerary.

10-Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

Have more time? You’ll love being able to see more of the Pacific Northwest on this 10 day PNW road trip itinerary.

Need help planning out your road trip? I’ve been using Roadtrippers for years to see exactly how long it’ll take from one point to the next and find new places to add to my itinerary!

10 Incredible Stops on a Pacific Northwest Road Trip

The Pacific Northwest national parks boast many beautiful things to see, from steamy volcanic terrain and icy vistas to alpine wonderlands with roaring waterfalls. There are three Washington national parks alone, so I encourage you to visit all of them if you have time.

Discover jewel blue lakes or challenge yourself to a stunning summer hike  amongst rocky terrains. Or relax and enjoy some spectacular sites right from the comfort of your vehicle on your road trip around the Pacific Northwest, especially seasonal visits such as Portland in the fall .

You’ll come to find the hustle and bustle of cities boasting a variety of different cuisines and cultures to serene monuments and mountainsides. Let’s look at where to stop on a Pacific Northwest road trip for 7 days (or 10 days if you have the time!).

You never know what the weather will be like in the area, so it’s best to review the best rain gear for t he Pacific Northwest first.

1. North Cascades National Park

cutthroat lake hike

Kick off your Pacific Northwest national parks road trip by exploring the North Cascades National Park, one of my favorite national parks. You’ll see the Cascades’ stony teeth, snow-covered mountains, and around 300 magnificent glaciers as you drive through America’s version of the Alps. 

The park boasts some remarkable and remote wilderness areas, where you’ll find adventure and solitude with all the things to do in North Cascades National Park . The landscapes are beautifully diverse, from towering peaks and thundering waterfalls to old-growth forests. 

When hiking season finally opens up in the summer in Seattle , I usually run up here to try to get as many hikes in as I can. There are plenty of North Cascades day hikes to do that are filled with an assortment of waterfalls and wildlife, from bald eagles to grizzlies.

Make sure you have your America the Beautiful Pass ! For only one price, you can visit all the national parks over and over throughout the year. I renew mine every year.

One factor that makes this park stand out from the others in the state are the infamous Washington larches that pop up for only 2-3 weeks out of the entire year. I keep a close eye on trail reports beginning in mid-September and head up here as soon as I read that larches are showing. Some of my favorite larch hikes include Heather-Maple Pass, Goat Peak Lookout, and Blue Lake.

heather maple loop pass hike

You should note that the main road into the park is closed during the winter and most of the spring, so check out the official website before you plan your Pacific Northwest national parks trip.

Where to Stay :

  • Winthrop has the closest hotels, and one of my favorites is  Hotel Rio Vista , which is right on the river. (rates start at $99 per night)
  • For a vacation rental, this Charming Cedar Chalet with Hot Tub  has two bedrooms and an outdoor hot tub.  (rates start at $200 per night) 

pike place market marissa

Distance from North Cascades: 107 miles

Travel Time: 2 hours

Before you embark further on the next part of your Pacific Northwest roadtrip, take some time to recharge and explore Seattle. Some people tend to skip major cities on road trips, but as a long-time local, I’m here to tell you there’s so much worth seeing on your Pacific Northwest road trip.

I’ve created the perfect itinerary for one day in Seattle to help you maximize your time if you’re only doing a 7 day Pacific Northwest itinerary (or a 3 day Seattle itinerary if you have more time).

You can indulge in fresh seafood (I recommend Ivar’s ), taste amazing coffee (try Storyville Coffee Pike Place ), go sea kayaking, and much more. Whether you’re visiting Seattle on a budget or looking for what to do on a rainy day in Seattle , you’ll find plenty to do on this stop of your Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary.

You can visit the world’s first Starbucks at Pike Place Market but prepare for a long line if you actually want to order coffee from here. I recommend taking a photo and moving on (their coffee tastes exactly the same as the dozen other Starbucks nearby, trust me). It’s also worth it to take some time and walk around the market as it’s filled with history.

original starbucks

You also won’t want to miss Seattle’s museums, such as the rotating exhibits at the Seattle Art Museum . The waterfront is another good place to stroll around and one of the best places to stay in Seattle . You can also take the ferry over to Bainbridge Island for part of the day.

seattle ebook cover 2

Looking for the ultimate Seattle travel guide written by a local that tells you all the best places to go and what to see? My new ebook is now live, so  click here  to buy your copy!

Seattle has ample green spaces to enjoy as well, such as the Waterfall Garden Park in Pioneer Square and the impressive Discovery Park . If you’re looking for dramatic panoramic views, take a trip to Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill, which is one of my favorite Seattle Instagram spots .

The city is a vibrant stop-off between exploring the wild and incredible national parks. Relax and unwind before heading to your next stop on your Pacific Northwest national park road trip – Olympic National Park. 

Where to Stay:

  • Hotel Max  is a beautiful hotel with affordable prices and a convenient location.  (rates start at $125 per night)
  • This  waterfront condo has stunning views of Seattle and Puget Sound.  (rates start at $250 per night)

3. Olympic National Park

mount Ellinor best hikes in Olympic National Park

Distance from Seattle: 83 miles

Travel Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

You’ll want to reserve some time to visit Olympic National Park exclusively on your Pacific Northwest national parks road trip. One of the best national parks in Washington State, Olympic provides a broad diversity of ecosystems and landscapes all around. It’s topped with glaciers, old-growth woodlands, temperate rainforests covered with moss, miles of coastline, hot springs, and trails. 

I love this park because you can do it year-round, as opposed to the other ones that have snow half the year. I recommend going on a few Olympic National Park hiking trails to experience the rainforest and the beautiful landscapes ( Marymere Falls and Sol Duc Falls are my favorites).

marymere falls easy washington hikes

Hurricane Ridge  is one of the most incredible tracks in the park, standing at an elevation of around 5,200 feet. It also provides great ski terrain in wintertime, which is rare in the Northwest national parks.

Book a guided tour  to explore Hurricane Ridge if you have time on your road trip around the PNW and you can stop by the visitor’s center while you’re there. I’ve been here numerous times but always learn something new from the rangers stationed there.

After your hike, take a dip in one of the natural geothermal pools at Sol Duc Hot Springs . This area is also a popular Pacific Northwest family vacation idea , as my kids loved it when we went a few years ago.

Olympic is one of the most unique national parks in the PNW in that it has mountains, a rainforest, and an ocean in it. If you have time to extend your 2 week Pacific Northwest road trip, I recommend staying here for a few days so you can see all of the Olympic Peninsula loop .

  • Lake Crescent Lodge  – This is one of the few places you can stay that’s actually in the park. There’s no better place to rest your head during your Olympic National Park vacation than this lodge on a beautiful lake.  (rates start at $139 per night )
  • Charming Port Angeles House  – This cute house is close to downtown Port Angeles, has a hot tub, and has three bedrooms.  (rates start at $200 per night)

I also have a more detailed post on the best places to stay in Olympic National Park .

Although this isn’t officially on the itinerary, this is a great part of your trip to head east and go on a road trip from Seattle to Glacier National Park to a stunning park in Montana.

4. Mount Rainier National Park

hiking mount rainier

Distance from Olympic: 161 miles

Travel Time: 4 hours

Home to one of the tallest mountains in the United States, Mount Rainier National Park is an alpine wonderland. It’s filled with roaring waterfall hikes , meadows carpeted in flowers, lush forests, and beautiful glacial views, and you will find me here almost every week in August, exploring new trails.

During your time in the park, hop aboard the antique steam train at the Mount Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum . You’ll take a ride along the Upper Nisqually River to Mineral Town.

Along the way, you’ll get to see some picturesque views and majestic mountain peaks at what many people consider one of the best national parks in the Pacific Northwest and essential for your Pacific Northwest travel itinerary.

While you’re here, take a trail to explore the surroundings of this beautiful park. Hiking is my favorite thing to do here, so it’s hard for me to pick just a few to recommend.

The 5.5-mile Skyline Trail is one of my favorite hikes at Mt. Rainier that goes along the Nisqually Glacier up to Panorama Point. This is on the Paradise side of the mountain, where you’ll also find easy Washington trails you can do as well.

Whether you’re taking a day trip to Mount Rainier or have more time, you’ll love your time here.

dege peak hikes mt rainier

Note: Rainier’s meadows erupt in color around midsummer and show off one of the most exquisite floral displays. If you can time your Pacific Northwest road trip for late July or early August , you’ll be in for a treat. Mount Rainier is also one of the most famous Pacific Northwest national parks, so you’ll want to start your day early. You should also note that many entrances are closed during the wintertime in Seattle , so plan accordingly.

  • Treat yourself to a night at National Park Inn , a beautiful historical lodge.  (rates start at $212 per night )
  • Creekfront Cabin  has large chalet-style windows that overlook Big Creek and Osborne Mountain.  (rates start at $168 per night)
  • I also have an entire article on the best cabins near Mt. Rainier to stay at for more options.

5. Mount Saint Helens

mt st helens hiking

Distance from Mount Rainier: 60 miles

Travel Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

There’s no other place quite like Mount St. Helens, so you’ll want to put this on your list if you’re doing a 10 day Pacific Northwest itinerary. This is an active volcano that last erupted in 1980 and still has steam coming from it today. The volcano attracts over half a million people every year, with miles of beautiful trails to be discovered, boasting breathtaking views of the crater rim. 

If you time your trip right, you may be able to go on a wildflower hike in Washington , which makes for beautiful pictures. An ideal hike to do for this one is Harry’s Ridge , which is about 8 miles roundtrip.

Those brave enough can even hike Mount St. Helens to go all the way to the top. This is one of the top experiences I’ve ever done, but I did train and plan for it (it’s not a hike you can just decide to do the next day).

mt st helens summit

Also, permits are required for anyone looking to climb above 4,800 feet, which is the part outside of the forest. (I’m always happy to give advice on prepping for this hike if you want to send me a message!)

Once you have completed your tour of Mount St. Helens, head on further south into Oregon and discover what Portland is all about (you can compare Seattle vs. Portland if you’re debating between the two).

One of the closest hotels to the mountain is Timberland Inn & Suites , so you’ll love the convenient location. (rates start at $89 per night)

6. Portland

portland road trip

Distance from Mount St. Helens: 103 miles

Portland is the perfect place to relax and unwind, and it’s a favorite amongst many Seattle locals who often travel to Portland for a  Seattle weekend getaway . I’ve been here so many times for bachelorette parties, birthday parties, or just a quick vacation.

While summer in Portland is a fun time to visit, you will also find plenty of things to do in Portland in the winter . The city boasts a divine selection of cuisine, and you can explore it for 3 days in Portland if you have more time.

A definite must-try would be at one of the many food trucks seen driving around the town or parked near the parks, one of the top things to do in Portland . If you spot one of them, try out a tasty meal or two to refuel during your Pacific Northwest vacation itinerary – you won’t be disappointed. A few of my favorites are Titos Taquitos for tasty taquitos or Stretch the Noodle for amazing stir-fry.

Portland is also the home of craft beer (which definitely rivals Seattle’s craft beer scene ), offering an array of breweries, such as Baerlic Brewing Company or Ecliptic Brewing . Pop over to the Portland Japanese Garden and walk around in peace and tranquillity if you have some time. 

There are also plenty of  day trips from Portland  you won’t want to miss, so book a night or two and enjoy these before carrying on to the next park. There are also many fun weekend trips from Portland if you want to extend your trip.

You can also decide to go on a road trip to the Oregon coast from here if you want to see the ocean, or even go on a Portland to San Francisco drive (or add onto it with a drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles ).

Curious what’s the difference between here and Seattle? You can compare Seattle and Portland to see.

The AC Hotel  is nearby many restaurants and attractions in downtown Portland. (rates start at $127 per night)

7. Florence

old town florence

Distance from Crater Lake: 176 miles

Travel Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes

During my Oregon coast road trip in July 2022, I stumbled upon Florence, a charming coastal town that I had never been to before. I was immediately drawn to its relaxed atmosphere and the abundance of activities both in the town and surrounding areas.

I love lighthouses, and Heceta Head Lighthouse did not disappoint me. The hike up to the lighthouse was short but provided breathtaking views of the coastline. I learned about the area’s history by talking with a staff member at the lighthouse, and they even pointed out some birds that were nesting nearby.

heceta head lighthouse

One of the more unique things we did was explore the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area . Rather than opting for ATVs, we chose to walk up and down the dunes for a more relaxing experience. The stunning views were awe-inspiring, and it was fun to start our morning there.

I also loved visiting Old Town Florence, where the charming streets were lined with cute shops, galleries, and restaurants. I also went to the impressive Siuslaw River Bridge , which boasts stunning views and an art deco-style design.

One of the more famous things to do in the area is to visit the Sea Lion Caves . This natural cave system is the habitat of numerous sea lions, providing an exceptional wildlife encounter. While I will warn you it smells pretty bad (as my kid pointed out multiple times), it was fun to take an elevator down to their cave to see them up close.

sea lion caves

If you just want to relax, you’ll have a ton of options for beaches to visit. Among them, Heceta Beach and Baker Beach were my top picks as they had an assortment of captivating driftwood, shells, and agates.

We had a ton of good food in Florence, as this was our base for a few days. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Waterfront Depot: I treated myself to a delicious seafood dinner at Waterfront Depot, located in Old Town Florence. Their crab-encrusted halibut is amazing, and the views of the Siuslaw River set the perfect mood.
  • Homegrown Public House & Brewery: This cozy pub was a fantastic place to unwind after a day of exploring. They serve a great selection of locally brewed beers and offer a tasty menu of pub fare, like fish and chips, and burgers.
  • Bridgewater Fish House and Zebra Bar: Another fantastic option for seafood lovers, Bridgewater Fish House & Zebra Bar offers a diverse menu in a vibrant atmosphere. Their clam chowder and fish tacos were particularly tasty.

Driftwood Shores Resort is a beachfront hotel that offers stunning ocean views and comfortable accommodations. (rates start at $155 per night)

8. Crater Lake National Park

crater lake me

Distance from Portland: 183 miles

Travel Time: 3 hours

Crater Lake National Park is a stop you won’t want to miss on your national parks trip and one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest . The park is known for its large body of water, created by a massive eruption that left a hole in the earth’s surface. Crater Lake is one of the most scenic national parks in the United States and the only national park in Oregon, so it’s worth it to plan at least a day in Crater Lake .

Crater Lake provides some fantastic viewpoints, with some of the best hiking trails around the lake and down near the water’s edges. We did Cletwood Cove Trail on our road trip and loved being able to actually walk down to the lake and see how clear it was in person. This is one of the best PNW road trips if you love hiking.

cleetwood cove crater lake

You’ll also get spectacular views of the island within the lake, named Wizard Island, which is one of the best things to do in Crater Lake almost anywhere you go on the Rim Drive.

To experience the most from this majestic blue lake, take the one-day drive around the rim during your Pacific Northwest tour itinerary. There are also camping options available here to put on your Pacific Northwest trip itinerary.

As with most national parks, there are plenty of hiking opportunities if you feel in the mood to stretch your legs. Just note that this area also gets snow into late spring as well, so either prepare for that with microspikes or snowshoes or plan your hikes later in the summer.

If you’re looking to extend your Pacific Northwest national parks itinerary, consider booking a spectacular tour from Portland and enjoying a guided trip through Crater Lake during your Pacific Northwest road trip for 7 days.

Best Western Crater Lake Highway White City/Medford will have you right next to the freeway, so you’re ready to go the next day. (rates start at $88 per night)

9. Redwoods National Park

armstrong redwoods sonoma

Distance from Florence: 339 miles

Travel Time: 5 hours

Located on California’s northern coast, the collection of national and state parklands is home to some of the world’s largest trees. You’ll find trees towering over, up to 350 feet high, so you’ll want to stop here on your Pacific Northwest national parks road trip.

Although these trees don’t boast as much girth as the Sequoia trees found in California, they have a large diameter – big enough to drive a car through. You won’t find any trees like that in any of the other Northwest national parks.

To fully enjoy the park and its beastly beauties, the great Redwoods, join one of the beautiful paths through the forest. I was in complete awe the first time I saw these in person.

If you’re into biking, you can rent a bike to explore the surroundings on your Northwest national parks road trip. A popular route takes you through 10 miles of peaceful redwoods in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park on the paved Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.

Trinidad Inn is a cute, rustic inn by the water that you’ll love staying in for the night. (rates start at $135 per night)

10. Redding

redding california sundial

Distance from Redwoods: 131 miles

Before you end your trip on your PNW road trip, spend a day exploring Redding. Here, you’ll find a complete paradise boasting beautiful lakes and an assortment of mountains, perfect for hiking.

If you’re short on time, you may want to skip this stop, as it’s a bit out of the way. However, if you’re taking a 10 day Pacific Northwest road trip, take the time to visit this area.

I didn’t know much about this town before I visited, but I ended up really enjoying my time here. Redding is also an excellent place to drop off your rental car and fly home if you’re doing a one-way trip.

There’s an array of things to do here, from olive oil tasting at Lucero Olive Oil to seeing Sundial Bridge that goes over the Sacramento River. If you’re feeling festive, make your way to Downtown Redding to enjoy street performances, public art shows, and a fun music scene. 

Once you’ve worked up an appetite with the number of things to see and do around Redding, stop over at Moonstone Bistro , they have a stunning selection of meals, and best of all, they use fresh and organic ingredients.

Stay the night in one of the city’s hotels so that you’re fresh and ready for your flight the next morning.

TownePlace Suites Redding is a comfortable place to stay and is close to the freeway and highway. (rates start at $125 per night)

If you want to continue exploring California, check out this Big Sur day trip itinerary to see another gorgeous part of the state.

You can also head down to check out what to do in Huntington Beach if you feel like being near the ocean.

Other Tips for a Pacific Northwest Road Trip

I tend to get the same questions from readers over and over for their PNW trip, so I added this section to help address some common questions.

What is the best time of year to visit the Pacific Northwest?

The best time of year to visit the Pacific Northwest is typically from late spring to early fall, between May and September . During this period, the weather is generally mild and sunny, making it ideal for outdoor activities and sightseeing. However, be warned that the summer months of July and August can be more crowded and expensive due to the peak tourist season.

What is the best way to tour the Pacific Northwest?

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about bus tours to see the Pacific Northwest, but I’ll be honest – you can’t beat taking a car. There are so many amazing stops that you can’t see on a scheduled bus tour, so it’s definitely worth it to rent a car and explore all the little places along the way.

Are there any safety concerns or road conditions I should be aware of while driving in the Pacific Northwest?

Besides traffic in the summer, there aren’t too many issues you’ll run into. However, the Pacific Northwest loves to do construction work on the roads during this time of year since it’s finally dry, so I do recommend checking out WSDOT ahead of time to plan for any potential delays.

The winter is a different story – the North Cascades Highway is completely closed, and many roads leading into other parks, like Mount Rainier or Crater Lake, are also closed due to the snow, so you’ll have to plan alternate routes.

What to bring on a Pacific Northwest road trip

I have a whole post on  what to bring on a road trip , but here are some of the basics I recommend:

  • You’ll need an  emergency roadside kit  to help you out just in case something happens during your travels.
  • This seems simple, but always bring a refillable  water bottle  (I prefer this brand because it keeps the water cool). It’s really easy to get dehydrated on a trip, so ensure you drink enough water.
  • Another basic but essential is a good pair of  sunglasses  – you never know when the sun might pop up, and you want to be able to see! These are my favorite travel sunglasses.

Hopefully, by now, you’ve planned your own Pacific Northwest road trip! Whether you decide to do all the stops or visit the Pacific Northwest national parks, you’ll have a chance to see a beautiful part of the country.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Marissa Pedersen

Marissa is a Seattle local who's obsessed with exploring all things Pacific Northwest, especially hiking, road trips, and national parks. She's been to hundreds of places all over the region and started this website to help others discover the beauty of the area and create their own trips.

1 thoughts on “ 10 Amazing Stops on a Pacific Northwest Road Trip (+ 2 Itineraries) (2024) ”

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kiki la gringa | Solo Female Travel & Outdoor Life

  • 10 Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip For Solo Travelers

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I have lots of friends in the PNW, so I’ve made a Pacific Northwest road trip a few times in the last few years.

I made a trip out there in Winter 2023 to go snow shoeing with my friends , and I went out there Fall 2023 in my Rav4 for summer hikes and outdoor restaurants.

I’m creating this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary as if you’ve never been to this region of the country before. It will get you into the most notorious areas of the Pacific Northwest, whether in the lush forests in most popular national parks or the fun city center highlights.

See my other US road trip ideas 😇

Pro Tips For Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip

  • Best Time to Travel: The best time to embark on this road trip is during the late spring to early fall, as you’ll experience milder temperatures and fewer rainy days, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey.
  • Book A Rental Car: Ditch the wear and tear on your car and book a rental car for your road trips.

PRO TIP : Get around and see things off the beaten path on your trip. Book your affordable car rental here .

10 Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

I did all of this while car camping , opting for rentals when I was in the city (or crashing with friends). Here’s what I would recommend.

Day 1: Seattle

Arrive in Seattle. Visit Pike Place Market, take a ride to the top of the Space Needle, and explore the Museum of Pop Culture.

seattle public market

I have a few friends in Seattle and my mom travels to Seattle a lot for work, so I love meeting up with people in Seattle a few times a year. I just love this city. There is so much to do and all of it is surrounded by water or forest. It’s a multicultural city that offers a little taste of cultures from all around the world.

For a first-timer, here’s how I recommend you begin.

  • 8:00 AM: Start your day with a hearty breakfast at a local café. Consider visiting The Crumpet Shop in Pike Place Market for some delicious crumpets and tea.
  • 9:00 AM: Head to Pike Place Market , one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the U.S. Wander through the various stalls, watch the famous fish-throwing spectacle, and don’t forget to visit the original Starbucks store.
  • 12:00 PM: For lunch, consider grabbing a bite at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese , known for its mouthwatering mac & cheese.
  • 1:00 PM: Take a leisurely walk through the Downtown and Belltown neighborhoods. These areas are bustling with shops, art galleries, and street performers.

space needle seattle

  • 3:00 PM: Visit the Space Needle . Tickets are about $60 for adults, with discounts available for seniors and children. The panoramic views of the city, Puget Sound, and Mount Rainier are breathtaking. More Info & Tickets
  • 5:00 PM: Explore the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) . The museum offers a blend of pop culture, music, and sci-fi exhibits. Tickets are around $30 for adults. More Info & Tickets
  • 7:00 PM: For dinner, consider dining at The Pink Door , an Italian-American restaurant in Pike Place Market known for its romantic ambiance and delicious cuisine.
  • 9:00 PM: Take a leisurely stroll along the Seattle Waterfront , enjoying the evening lights and the serene ambiance of Elliott Bay.

What to Expect: Seattle is a vibrant city with a mix of modern skyscrapers and historic architecture. The weather can be unpredictable, so it’s advisable to carry an umbrella or rain jacket. The city center itself is also quite walkable, but there’s a good public transportation system if you prefer.

Where to Stay: Book a hotel in Seattle or a cozy rental home .

Online Resources: For more detailed information about attractions, events, and other travel tips, consider checking out Visit Seattle , the city’s official tourism website.

Day 2: Seattle

Spend your second day in Seattle visiting Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Seattle Aquarium, and taking a sunset cruise around Elliott Bay.

  • 8:00 AM: Kick off your day with a delightful breakfast at Café Campagne in Pike Place Market, known for its French-inspired dishes.
  • 9:30 AM: Head to the Chihuly Garden and Glass . This museum showcases the studio glass of Dale Chihuly. Wander through the eight galleries, the lush garden, and the stunning Glasshouse. Tickets are typically around $32 for adults. More Info & Tickets
  • 12:00 PM: For lunch, consider Lola , a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant offering delicious kebabs, tangy tzatziki, and other delightful dishes.
  • 1:30 PM: Make your way to the Seattle Aquarium . Dive into the marine life of the Pacific Northwest and get up close with sea otters, seals, and even touch a few sea creatures in the touch tanks. Adult tickets are usually priced at $34.95. More Info & Tickets
  • 4:00 PM: Take a leisurely stroll along Pier 59 , where you can enjoy the views, shop for souvenirs, and maybe grab a coffee or ice cream.
  • 6:00 PM: Board a sunset cruise around Elliott Bay . Sunset cruise companies offer scenic tours that provide stunning views of the Seattle skyline, the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, and the serene waters of Elliott Bay. Prices vary but expect to pay around $80 – $100 for an adult ticket.
  • 8:00 PM: For dinner, consider Six Seven Restaurant located on the waterfront. They offer Pacific Northwest-inspired dishes with a view that’s hard to beat.
  • 10:00 PM: Wind down your day with a walk along the Seattle Waterfront Park , enjoying the shimmering city lights reflecting on the water.

What to Expect: Day 2 offers a blend of artistic inspiration, marine exploration, and scenic beauty. Seattle’s waterfront area can get a bit chilly in the evening, so it’s advisable to bring a light jacket.

Find the perfect accommodations for your upcoming trip here ✈️

Day 3: Olympic National Park

Take a day trip to the Olympic National Park, where you can hike through rainforest trails and visit stunning coastline vistas. The Olympic Peninsula, a gem in the Pacific Northwest, captivates with its stunning diversity, from the lush rainforests of the Hoh and Quinault to the rugged, wave-battered coastlines of Rialto and Ruby Beach. This unique region, crowned by the majestic Olympic Mountains, offers a serene escape into nature’s embrace, where ancient forests whisper tales of the earth’s primordial past.

  • 7:00 AM: Depart early from Seattle to make the most of your day in Olympic National Park. The drive is approximately 2.5 hours to the park’s main visitor center.
  • 9:30 AM: Arrive at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles. Here, you can gather maps, check trail conditions, and get expert advice on the best spots to visit.
  • 10:00 AM: Begin your exploration with the Hoh Rain Forest , one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S. Walk the Hall of Mosses Trail, a short 0.8-mile loop that showcases the lush, green beauty of the forest.
  • 12:30 PM: Enjoy a packed lunch amidst nature. There are several picnic spots in the park where you can relax and savor your meal.
  • 1:30 PM: Head to Ruby Beach , one of the most famous beaches in Olympic National Park. Marvel at the sea stacks, driftwood, and often misty coastline.
  • 3:30 PM: Explore Lake Crescent , a deep, glacially carved lake known for its brilliant blue waters. Consider taking a short hike to Marymere Falls or simply relax by the lake.
  • 5:00 PM: If time permits, visit Sol Duc Valley . The Sol Duc River runs through the valley and is home to the Sol Duc Falls, a picturesque multi-tiered waterfall.
  • 7:00 PM: Begin your journey back to Seattle. Consider stopping in Port Angeles for dinner. C’est Si Bon is a local favorite, offering French cuisine in a cozy setting.

What to Expect: Olympic National Park is vast, with diverse ecosystems ranging from rainforests to coastal areas. The weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers and waterproof gear. Entry fees for the only national park, are $30 per vehicle, valid for seven days. More Info & Fees

Where to Stay: Book a hotel near Olympic National Park or a cozy rental home near Olympic National Park .

Online Resources: For detailed information about the park, trail conditions, and any alerts, visit the official Olympic National Park website .

Day 4: Mount Rainier National Park

best time to road trip pacific northwest

Head out for a day trip to Mount Rainier National Park, explore the Paradise area, and try some hiking. I stopped in Mount Rainier on my way from Portland to Seattle when I was visiting my friends over the summer. Someone had recommended I make the trip out there and so I allotted half a day to exploring.

I regret treating it so casually.

I could easily spend a few days exploring Mount Rainier National Park, even weeks if I had it my way. I recommend taking a look at the different trails and views to see what is within your abilities. 

mt rainier

  • 7:00 AM: Begin your day early to maximize your time at the park. Pack a picnic lunch, snacks, and plenty of water for the day.
  • 8:30 AM: Arrive at Mount Rainier National Park. The entrance fee is typically around $30 per vehicle, but prices may vary. More Info & Fees
  • 9:00 AM: Start your exploration in the Paradise area , known for its breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, wildflower meadows, and well-maintained trails.
  • 12:00 PM: Enjoy your packed lunch at one of the picnic areas in Paradise, surrounded by the beauty of the park.
  • 1:00 PM: Embark on a hike. The Skyline Trail is a popular choice in the Paradise area, offering panoramic views of the mountain, meadows, and even some wildlife.
  • 3:30 PM: After your hike, take a leisurely drive through the park, stopping at various viewpoints and visitor centers. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center in Paradise is a great place to learn more about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife.
  • 5:00 PM: If time permits, consider exploring other areas of the park or taking a shorter trail.
  • 7:00 PM: As you exit the park, consider dining at a local eatery in the nearby town of Ashford. Copper Creek Inn is a popular choice, known for its hearty meals and famous blackberry pie.

What to Expect: Mount Rainier National Park is vast and offers a diverse range of experiences. The weather can be unpredictable, especially at higher elevations, so dress in layers and be prepared for sudden changes. Trails can range from easy to challenging, so choose one that matches your fitness level.

Where to Stay: Book a hotel near Mt. Rainier or a cozy rental home near Mt. Rainier .

Online Resources: For detailed information about trails, road conditions, and other park-related queries, visit the official Mount Rainier National Park website .

Day 5: Portland

Drive to Portland. Spend your day exploring Powell’s City of Books, International Rose Test Garden, and taste some unique local doughnuts at Voodoo Doughnut.

downtown portland

I have some very good friends in Portland so I’ve had the absolute pleasure of visiting them a few times now. I also have visited Portland over the years being from Cali and all. I’ve never been too impressed with any particular thing. It’s more like a place for fluttering around and seeing what you can find around you. Wherever you are, you will find cool shops, luscious parks for walking, and interesting food options.

  • 8:00 AM: Begin your day with a breakfast at Tasty n Alder , a downtown favorite known for its diverse and delectable breakfast menu.
  • 9:30 AM: Head to Powell’s City of Books , the world’s largest independent bookstore. Spanning an entire city block, this literary haven offers over a million new and used books. Dive into the rare book room or join one of the daily tours that provide an in-depth look at the store’s history and unique architecture.
  • 12:00 PM: For lunch, try Lardo , a sandwich shop that celebrates all things pork, or if you’re vegetarian, Harlow offers delicious and healthy options.
  • 1:30 PM: Visit the International Rose Test Garden located in Washington Park. With over 10,000 rose bushes of approximately 650 varieties, it’s a sensory delight. The best time to see the roses in bloom is from April through October, with peak bloom in June.
  • 3:30 PM: Stroll through the Pearl District , known for its art galleries, boutiques, and urban parks. The area is a blend of modern architecture and historic buildings, giving it a unique charm.
  • 5:00 PM: Time for a sweet treat! Head to Voodoo Doughnut and try their eclectic range of doughnuts. The “Portland Cream” is a must-try, but if you’re feeling adventurous, the “Bacon Maple Bar” is a popular choice.
  • 7:00 PM: For dinner, consider Andina , a Peruvian restaurant that offers a fusion of traditional and Novo-Andean cuisine. Their tapas are a highlight.
  • 9:00 PM: End your day with a walk along the Willamette River at Tom McCall Waterfront Park . The view of the city lights reflecting on the water is a serene way to conclude your Portland exploration.

What to Expect: Portland, often dubbed the “City of Roses,” is known for its eco-friendliness, microbreweries, and coffeehouses. It has a laid-back vibe, with a mix of nature and urban sophistication. The city is also quite pedestrian and bike-friendly.

Where to Stay: Book a hotel in Portland or a cozy rental home .

Online Resources: For more detailed information about attractions, events, and other travel tips, consider checking out Travel Portland , the city’s official tourism website.

Day 6: Portland

Visit the Portland Japanese Garden, then take a tour of some of the city’s unique microbreweries in the evening.

best time to road trip pacific northwest

  • 8:00 AM: Begin your day with a delightful breakfast at Tasty n Alder , a downtown Portland staple known for its innovative dishes and cozy atmosphere.
  • 9:30 AM: Head to the Portland Japanese Garden located in the West Hills of Portland. This garden is renowned as the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of its various sections, including the Natural Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, and the Flat Garden. Admission is around $18.95 for adults. More Info & Tickets
  • 12:30 PM: For lunch, venture to Nong’s Khao Man Gai , a popular spot known for its delicious Thai chicken and rice dish.
  • 2:00 PM: Spend your early afternoon exploring the Pearl District , a vibrant neighborhood filled with art galleries, boutique shops, and historic architecture. Don’t miss the iconic Powell’s City of Books , the world’s largest independent bookstore.
  • 4:00 PM: Take a leisurely stroll along the Willamette River via the Tom McCall Waterfront Park . Enjoy the views of the city skyline, historic bridges, and perhaps even a riverside festival or event. I have my friends to take me around on little hikes throughout Portland, so I recommend you book a hiking tour of Portland for a similar experience!
  • 6:00 PM: Dive into Portland’s renowned craft beer scene. Start your brewery tour at Deschutes Brewery for some classic Pacific Northwest brews.
  • 8:00 PM: Continue your beer journey at 10 Barrel Brewing Co. , where you can enjoy a rooftop setting along with your brews.
  • 10:00 PM: Conclude your evening at Cascade Brewing Barrel House , known for its sour beers. Pair your drink with some local snacks or charcuterie.

What to Expect: Portland, often dubbed the “City of Roses,” is known for its eco-friendliness, vibrant arts scene, and a plethora of microbreweries. The city is bike-friendly, so consider renting a bike if you’re up for some cycling. The weather can be a mix of rain and shine, so packing a light rain jacket is advisable.

Day 7: Willamette Valley

Spend the day in the Willamette Valley wine country, where you can tour vineyards and enjoy wine tastings.

  • 9:00 AM: Begin your day with a delightful breakfast at a local café in the valley. Consider Red Hills Market in Dundee for a farm-to-table experience.
  • 10:30 AM: Start your wine journey with a visit to Adelsheim Vineyard , one of the region’s pioneering wineries. Enjoy a guided tour of the vineyard and learn about the winemaking process.
  • 12:30 PM: Head to Stoller Family Estate for a wine tasting paired with a gourmet lunch. The estate offers panoramic views of the valley, making it a perfect spot for a midday break.
  • 2:30 PM: Continue your wine exploration at Domaine Serene , renowned for its exquisite Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Opt for a seated tasting experience in their elegant tasting room.
  • 4:00 PM: Visit Argyle Winery in Dundee, known for its sparkling wines. Take a tour of their tasting house and indulge in a flight of their best bubbles.
  • 6:30 PM: For dinner, dine at The Painted Lady in Newberg. This restored Victorian-era house offers a fine dining experience with dishes crafted from local ingredients.
  • 8:00 PM: Take a leisurely stroll in the town of Newberg, soaking in the serene ambiance of the valley at dusk.

What to Expect: The Willamette Valley is famed for its world-class Pinot Noir. The region boasts a cool climate, making it ideal for viticulture. Expect to meet passionate winemakers, learn about the valley’s unique terroir, and savor wines that are a true reflection of the land.

Where to Stay: Book a hotel in Willamette Valley or a cozy rental home .

Online Resources: For more detailed information about wineries, events, and other travel tips, consider checking out Willamette Wines , the official website dedicated to the valley’s wine scene.

Day 8: Columbia River Gorge

Take a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge. Visit Multnomah Falls and try some windsurfing in Hood River.

  • 8:00 AM: Kickstart your day with a hearty breakfast. If you’re starting from Portland, consider stopping by Broder Café for some Scandinavian-inspired dishes.
  • 9:30 AM: Begin your journey to the Columbia River Gorge . The drive itself offers picturesque views of the river and surrounding landscapes.
  • 11:00 AM: Your first stop is the majestic Multnomah Falls . As Oregon’s tallest waterfall, it’s a sight to behold. There’s a viewing platform at the base, but for a closer look, you can hike up to Benson Bridge. The hike is relatively short but can be steep, so wear comfortable shoes.
  • 1:00 PM: For lunch, head to Hood River , known for its vibrant food scene. Solstice Wood Fire Cafe & Bar is a great spot for pizzas and has views of the river.
  • 2:30 PM: Experience the thrill of windsurfing in Hood River , often referred to as the windsurfing capital of the world. There are several rental shops and schools like Big Winds where beginners can take lessons.
  • 5:00 PM: Explore the town of Hood River. Wander through its quaint streets, visit local boutiques, and perhaps stop by a local brewery like Full Sail Brewing Company .
  • 7:00 PM: Dine in Hood River. Celilo Restaurant and Bar offers Pacific Northwest cuisine with a focus on local and organic ingredients.
  • 9:00 PM: As you drive back, take a moment to pull over at one of the scenic overlooks and enjoy the serene beauty of the gorge under the evening sky.

What to Expect: The Columbia River Gorge offers a mix of natural beauty and adventure. The weather can be quite variable, so it’s advisable to check forecasts and pack accordingly. If you’re planning to windsurf, be prepared for strong winds and chilly waters.

Where to Stay: Book a hotel near Columbia Gorge or a cozy rental home .

Online Resources: For more detailed information about attractions, events, and other travel tips in the region, consider checking out Travel Oregon , a comprehensive guide to exploring the state.

Day 9: Mount Hood

Spend your day on Mount Hood national forest where you can enjoy hiking, and breathtaking views.

  • 8:00 AM: Begin your day with a hearty breakfast at Government Camp , a small town located at the base of Mount Hood. Huckleberry Inn is a popular spot known for its huckleberry pancakes.
  • 9:00 AM: Head to Timberline Lodge , a National Historic Landmark located on the southern flank of Mount Hood. The lodge offers breathtaking views of the mountain and is a great starting point for various hiking trails.
  • 12:00 PM: For lunch, consider grabbing a bite at Timberline Lodge’s Cascade Dining Room . Enjoy a meal with panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
  • 1:00 PM: Embark on a hike. The Timberline Trail is a popular choice, circling the mountain and offering diverse terrains and vistas. For a shorter hike, consider the Trillium Lake Trail , known for its iconic view of Mount Hood reflecting in the lake.
  • 3:00 PM: Visit the Mt. Hood Cultural Center & Museum in Government Camp to learn about the history, culture, and geology of the region.
  • 5:00 PM: If you’re into winter sports, consider skiing or snowboarding. Mount Hood is unique in offering year-round snow activities, thanks to the Palmer Snowfield .
  • 7:00 PM: Dine at Charlie’s Mountain View , a local favorite in Government Camp, known for its comfort food and cozy ambiance.
  • 9:00 PM: Relax and stargaze. The clear skies around Mount Hood offer a mesmerizing view of the stars, making it a perfect way to wind down your day.

What to Expect: Mount Hood offers a blend of recreational activities, from hiking and skiing to simply relaxing and taking in the views. The weather can be quite chilly, even in summer, so pack layers and be prepared for sudden weather changes.

Where to Stay: Book a hotel near Mt. Hood or a cozy rental home .

Online Resources: For more detailed information about attractions, activities, and other travel tips, consider checking out Mt. Hood Territory , the official tourism website for the region.

Day 10: Return to Seattle

Drive back to Seattle for your departure.

  • 8:00 AM: Begin your day with a breakfast stop at Top Pot Doughnuts . Indulge in some of the city’s best hand-forged doughnuts and a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
  • 9:00 AM: Start your drive back to Seattle. If you didn’t get a chance earlier, consider taking a detour to Snoqualmie Falls , a majestic 268-foot waterfall located just 30 minutes outside of Seattle.
  • 12:00 PM: Arrive in Seattle and head to Fremont , the city’s quirky and artsy neighborhood. Grab lunch at Fremont Brewing , where you can enjoy a variety of craft beers and local food trucks.
  • 1:30 PM: Take a leisurely walk to the Fremont Troll , an iconic sculpture hiding beneath the Aurora Bridge.
  • 3:00 PM: If you have some time before your departure, visit the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) . Explore a diverse collection of art pieces ranging from ancient to contemporary. More Info & Tickets
  • 5:00 PM: Head to Kerry Park for one last view of the city. This park offers one of the most stunning views of Seattle’s skyline, with the Space Needle standing tall and Mount Rainier in the backdrop.
  • 7:00 PM: For your farewell dinner, consider dining at Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard. Enjoy fresh seafood with panoramic views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
  • 9:00 PM: Prepare for your departure. Depending on your plans, you might be heading to the airport, train station, or perhaps a local hotel for the night.

What to Expect: As you wrap up your road trip, take the time to soak in the city’s ambiance. Seattle’s evening lights, combined with the natural beauty of the surrounding landscapes, offer a tranquil setting.

Online Resources: For last-minute details, updates on events, or other travel tips, refer to Visit Seattle , the city’s official tourism website.

Other Notable Places In The Pacific Northwest

Like I’ve mentioned, I’ve visited the Pacific Northwest a lot in my life. There are some things that I’ve done that don’t really fit into a 10-day itinerary because they’re slightly “out of the way”. Here are a few spots in the Pacific Northwest region that might be worth adding to your road trip if you’re up for an improvised (and gorgeous) Pacific Northwest road trip.

winter gear for women

  • North Cascades National Park : My god, this is truly my favorite area of the Pacific Northwest region. I went snowshoeing in Leavenworth, which is just south of North Cascades National Park. If you’re more into the outdoors scene than the city scene, then a jaunt over to the Cascade mountains could replace a visit to Portland. Even if you can’t spend much time exploring the national park, the North Cascades highway itself is worth the drive.
  • Crater Lake National Park: If you want to head a little further south and maybe start your road trip from Portland, then a visit to Crater Lake National Park, the deepest lake in the US, is worth the drive. It’s absolutely gorgeous and kicks your ass on the way up, making it a great hike as well as view.
  • Washington and Oregon Coast Road Trip: I’ve mostly laid out an itinerary for the mountains in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re more of those gloomy and magical coastal vibes the West Coast is notorious for, then adjust your itinerary to run along the Pacific Coast. You’ll find lots of cute coastal towns with damn good food.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you enjoy this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary, or at least find some inspiration for your own road trip. There are plenty of lush forests to explore along the Pacific Ocean and breathtaking scenic vistas along the mountains of Washington state. No matter where you find yourself, your will discover endless beauty all around you.

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Epic National Parks Road Trips – Pacific Northwest Road Trip

LAST UPDATED: 2/3/24 – National Parks Road Trip – Pacific Northwest Road Trip

When it comes to travel, there are few things more American than epic road trips and national parks.  Americans have been hitting the open road on their family vacations for decades. And when they do, the most popular destinations are the country’s beautiful national parklands.

In the spirit of both of these American cultural mainstays, I have put together a series of road trip itineraries. These road trips are certain to bring your family together to make memories that will last for a lifetime.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Olympic National Park

In this five-part series, I will lay out a series of road trips for you to explore. These road trips take you through some of the most stunning national parklands in the country. If you are looking for a mountain adventure, there is an itinerary that will be right up your alley.

For those looking for a desert escape, I have an itinerary that will blow your mind. And for those looking to explore America’s incredible coastline, there is an itinerary you will never forget. The beauty is, there is an itinerary for everyone to enjoy! From the incredible Rockies to the magnificent canyons of Utah, to the coast of Oregon, these have it all.

Check Out My National Park Road Trips Series

You may also like these detailed utah\arizona park itineraries.

If you are looking for some more detailed national park itineraries to follow, I have created two in-depth guides for touring one of my favorite regions of North America. The national parks in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are legendary and I have trips all mapped out for you in these detailed itineraries.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Mount Rainier National Park

In the fourth part of my road trip series, I take you into the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Be prepared, because this national parks itinerary visits some of the most breathtaking parklands and coastlines in North America. If you weren’t aware, the Pacific Northwest is known for its rugged coastline and beautiful mountains. These are the areas you will be visiting, so be prepared to be amazed.

The Trip Will Start in Seattle, Washington

To start, you will fly into the beautiful city of Seattle, Washington . After taking some time to explore the city, you will head to the nearby Olympic National Park . Located on the Olympic Peninsula, the park is renowned for its temperate rainforests.

Most of the year you will see stunning moss-covered trees throughout the park. In addition, Olympic National Park is also known for its beautiful mountain vistas, such as Hurricane Ridge. With so much to see and do, you will want to spend a full day exploring the park.

Once you have explored Olympic National Park, you will head East into the Rocky Mountains. Your next destination is the incredible North Cascades National Park in Washington State. Prepare to be amazed because the North Cascades is one of the prettier sections of the American Rocky Mountains. While visiting the park, you will take amazing hikes and enjoy stunning mountain vistas. For those who are into climbing and hiking, this stop may be the highlight of your trip.

You Will See the Breathtaking Mount Rainier

Having seen some of the prettier mountains in the Rockies, you will head South to Mount Rainier National Park .  At 14,410 feet (or 4,392 meters), it is the 5th tallest mountain in the continental United States. Not surprisingly, it is one of the favorite mountains for climbers.  Make sure you bring your hiking shoes with you. Mountain Rainier has some of the best hiking trails in the US National Parks System.

If you think the destinations on this itinerary have been impressive so far, we are just getting warmed up.  As soon as you are finished exploring Mount Rainier, you will continue south to the infamous Mount Saint Helens . 

The Incredible Mount St. Helens Will Take Your Breath Away

If you didn’t know, Mount St Helens is a volcanic mountain that last erupted in 1980. This eruption covered much of the Pacific Northwest in ash and killed 57 people.  Today you can see the crater that the explosive eruption created. Not only that, but you can still see where the areas that were damaged by the eruption.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Crater Lake National Park

When you have finished touring Mount St. Helens, you will say goodbye to the state of Washington. The next phase of your road trip will take you to Oregon.  Your first stop in Oregon will be the beautiful Multnomah Falls . This stunning waterfall is conveniently located just East of the city of Portland.  Not only is it one of the prettier waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, but it may also be the prettiest in America. Believe me, you won’t want to miss it.

The Beauty of the Oregon Coast Will Mesmerize You

After touring the falls, you will head to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Here, you will enjoy some of the most amazing ocean views you will see in the continental United States.  As you head South along the coast, I would strongly suggest checking out Cannon Beach . Without a doubt, it is one of the prettiest beaches in North America.  

Your next official stop on this itinerary will be the beautiful Heceta Head Lighthouse . Located on the Pacific coast, it is roughly a three-hour drive South of Portland. This is one of the most beautiful lighthouses in North America. If you have the time, you won’t want to miss it.

You Will Explore North America’s Deepest Lake

When you are finished exploring the lighthouse, you will turn East and begin heading inland toward the next stop on the itinerary, which is Crater Lake National Park .  One of the most underrated national parks in the United States in terms of beauty, Crater Lake is one of the gems of the US National Parks System.  With a depth of 1,949 feet (594 meters), it is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest lakes in the world.

Finally, You’ll Gaze Upon the World’s Tallest Trees

From the deepest lake in the United States, you will next head to some of the biggest trees in the United States when you visit Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California.  With trees that are so big, you can drive a car through them, you will be absolutely astonished when you see the size and the beauty of the California Redwood trees. 

As soon as you are finished marveling at their height and beauty, you will head back North to Portland where you will return your rental car and catch your flight home.  If you have some extra time before you leave, Portland is a pretty amazing city in its own right and is really fun to explore.

Recommended Trip Time

The Pacific Northwest is a very large area, and with a total drive time of 34 hours, you cover a lot of ground on this Pacific Northwest Road trip.  For that reason, I would strongly recommend that you schedule 10 to 14 days to complete this trip.  You will feel very rushed if you try and complete the trip in less than 10 days.  Below you will find an itinerary that I have designed for a 12-day trip through the Pacific Northwest to some of the area’s most beautiful national parks and public lands.

Day 1 – Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington

You will begin your trip in the city of Seattle, Washington, but you will complete your trip in Portland, Oregon.  So when you book your flight, you will want to make sure you select a multi-destination flight.  You will want to do the same with your rental car, with a pick-up location of Seattle, but a return location of Portland.

As soon as you land in Seattle, you can either take some time to explore the city or head straight for Olympic National Park to do some sightseeing.  It really depends on how much time you are taking on your trip and how much time you would like to spend in Olympic National Park.

Drive Time:   2-hour drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park

Day 2 – Olympic National Park

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Olympic National Park

The second day of your trip will be reserved exclusively for exploring Olympic National Park.  Olympic is such an amazing place with such a wide variety of landscapes and habitats that you will want to make sure you see it all. 

The beautiful moss-covered trees in the park’s temperate rainforests are absolutely amazing and the views from on top of Hurricane Ridge are breathtaking.  After you have spent the day exploring the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park, you will want to head Northeast into the Rocky Mountains to North Cascades National Park.

Drive Time:   4-hour drive from Olympic to North Cascades National Park

Day 3 – North Cascades National Park

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - North Cascades National Park

With beautiful mountain passes, crystal blue rivers, and some of the best hiking in the American Northwest, North Cascades National Park is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.  You will get to see the American Rockies at their most beautiful and have a chance to hike and climb in one of the most stunning landscapes in the continental United States. 

When you are finished checking out all of the amazing trails and viewpoints, you will need to head South to Mount Rainier National Park, which is another beautiful mountain park.

Drive Time:   3-hour and 30-minute drive from North Cascades to Mount Rainier

Days 4-5 – Mount Rainier National Park

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Mount Rainier National Park

Centered around one of the tallest mountains in the continental United States, Mount Rainier National Park is full of breathtaking beauty.  With numerous viewpoints and miles of alpine hiking trails, you will quickly fall in love with Mount Rainier National Park. 

I would suggest that you spend a few days in the park exploring, especially if you would like to do an overnight hike or do some climbing.  When you are finished exploring Mount Rainier National Park, you will continue heading South to Mount St. Helens.

Drive Time:   3-hour drive from Mount Rainier to Mount St. Helens

Day 6 – Mount St. Helens

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Mount Saint Helens

There is nothing else quite like Mount St. Helens in the United States and few places like it in the world.  This large volcano last erupted in 1980 and you can still see the impact of that eruption on the landscape around the mountain to this day.  With some amazing viewpoints and a learning center that teaches you exactly what happened on that fateful day when the volcano erupted, Mount St. Helens is a must-do stop on your way South.

As soon as you have completed your tour of Mount St. Helens, you will head further South into the state of Oregon and then turn East when you get to Portland.  Just East of Portland you will find the beautiful Multnomah Falls.

Drive Time:   2-hour drive from Mount St. Helens to Multnomah Falls

Day 7 – Multnomah Falls and the Oregon Coast

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Multnomah Falls

If you are a fan of waterfalls, then you are going to absolutely love the Multnomah Falls, which is located just East of Portland.  This beautiful, two-tier waterfall is one of the prettier waterfalls in North America.  There is an observation deck that you can get to via stairs for a close-up look at the falls, so make sure you make the hike up to check that out. 

When you are finished enjoying the falls, you will turn West and head towards the coast of the Pacific Ocean.  The first stop on the coast will be the stunning Heceta Head Lighthouse, which is located about four hours South of Portland.

Drive Time:   3-hour and 45-minute drive from Multnomah Falls to Heceta Head Lighthouse

Day 8 – The Oregon Coast and Heceta Head Lighthouse

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Heceta Head Lighthouse

There are not many lighthouses in North America, if not the world, that is as pretty as the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  Located on the edge of steep ocean cliffs with a beautiful forest just behind it, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is a photographer’s dream. 

Make sure you stop at the multiple viewpoints approaching the lighthouse so that you can get some stunning ocean shots with the lighthouse like the one I took above.  After enjoying the Heceta Head Lighthouse, you will turn back inland and head East towards Crater Lake National Park.

Drive Time: 3-hour and a 45-minute drive from Heceta Head Lighthouse to Crater Lake

Days 9-10 Crater Lake National Park

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Crater Lake National Park

Not only is Crater Lake the deepest lake in the United States, but it is also one of the clearest lakes you will ever see.  This makes the deep blue waters of the lake look almost magical when the sunlight hits the water.  Appropriately, the island in the center of Crater Lake is named Wizard Island and looks a lot like an old, abandoned sea ship stranded in the middle of the sea. 

There are some amazing viewpoints around the lake and some really nice hiking trails that take you around the lake and down by the water.  I would suggest spending the good part of a day at the park exploring.  When you are finished, you will head South into California to see Redwood National and State Parks, which is your last park stop on this Pacific Northwest Road trip.

Drive Time:   4-hour and 35-minute drive from Crater Lake to Redwood

Day 11 – Redwood National Park

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - Redwood National and State Parks

The last, but certainly not the least beautiful, park stop on this itinerary is Redwood National and State Parks.  This collection of national and state park lands is home to some of the biggest trees in the entire world.  These behemoth Redwood trees can reach heights of over 360 feet, which makes them the tallest trees in the world.

They don’t have as much girth as the Sequoia trees that are also found in California, but they do get pretty big in diameter.  In fact, they can get so wide that you can drive a car through some of them.  Just outside the national parkland, you will find a tree that you can drive through, as you can see in my picture above.  What a surreal experience this is.

When you are finished exploring the Redwood National and State Parks, you will head back up North to Portland to finish your trip.  This is the longest stretch of driving that you will do on this trip, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to make it back without stressing.

Drive Time:   6-hour drive from Redwood National Park to Portland, Oregon

Day 12 – Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

You will wrap up your trip in Portland, Oregon, where you will return your rental car and catch your flight home.  If you have some extra time, I would recommend taking some time to explore the Portland area.  The Columbia River area has some really scenic areas and Portland has some excellent restaurants and shopping.

Best Time to Go

I would strongly recommend that you make this Pacific Northwest Road trip between May thru October.  It can be quite cold in the Pacific Northwest during the Winter months of December thru February and the early Spring months of March thru April and the late Autumn months of November can be quite unpredictable in terms of weather. 

Pacific Northwest Road Trip - The coast of Oregon

If you are up for outdoor winter activities like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, then winter might be right up your alley.  However, I would make sure you are prepared for cold temperatures and possibly poor road conditions.

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Published by Josh Hewitt

Avid traveler and photographer who loves to see new places, meet new people, and experience new things. There is so much this world can teach us, we just need to explore! View all posts by Josh Hewitt

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20 comments ›.

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Great read, I visited a few of these last summer but some I’ll have to go back to. You definitely get better temperatures but that’s somewhat balanced out by forest fires which hit much of Washington, Oregon and California. Or certainly last summer anyway.

Definitely a trip worth taking though. It’s such a pretty region 🙂

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Thank you! I 100% agree. Such a gorgeous area!

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Amazing post! I am planning to rent a car in San Jose and make a roadtrip across California.

Awesome!! I am actually writing up a California parks itinerary as we speak. Have fun on your trip!! 👍

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Olympic National Park looks and sounds amazing, would love to visit one day 😀

It is beautiful!! The moss covered trees in the temperate rainforests are breathtaking!

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Can you suggest places to stay? Planning this trip with a group of 4 women artists for next august

Hi Janis! You bet. Are you planning on doing the whole trip I outlined? How many days?

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I’m planning to do this entire trip! Do you have places to recommend staying? RV or no RV? Thank you!

Hi Kristin! If you look at my location specific guides that I link to in this itinerary, they have both camping and hotel recommendations. Hope this helps! Super excited for you. This is such an incredible road trip!

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My wife and I are thinking of taking this epic trip in late March or early April 2021. I realize weather can be pretty unpredictable on this time and would hate to experience road closure, but wanted to hear your thoughts on our odds. Summer seems to be the best time to visit a ton of places and we’re trying to squeeze in trips and the Spring.

We don’t care about it being cold and rainy, but just don’t want to not be able to explore a park due to road closure.

Hi Andy! You will definitely be able to get into all of the parks in March, but in parks like Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades, the roads at higher elevations may be closed if there is a lot of snow. For instance, tire chains are required on some roads in Mount Rainier NP from Nov-May each year.

I would recommend targeting late March or early April if you want to visit in early Spring. However, if you can wait until late April or early May, you should avoid most of the road issues.

Hope this helps! 😄

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Great guide! I did want to share that the Cascades are not part of the Rockies though! They’re two different mountain ranges 🙂

Thank you so much for the kind words and for pointing that out Valerie!! I will make an edit as soon as possible! 😄👍

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Sounds like a great trip. We can’t wait for ours! Can you give suggestions on places to stay and things to see? There will be 3 adults and 3 kids (5yo, 3yo, and 8mo) and are going for 9 days in June. Our route will be fly in to Seattle, North Cascades, Mt Rainier, Portland area, Olympic, fly out of Seattle. Trying to figure out the best way to see everything without it being too hard on the little kids.

Sounds like an amazing trip! I can absolutely provide some suggestions. Olympic National Park is incredible. Lots to do in the area and I have a guide on my blog with fun things to see and do. I have guides to a lot of the stops on the Oregon coast near Portland too. You will definitely want to visit Canon Beach and the Hecteta Head lighthouse on the Oregon Coast. The Northern Coast of Oregon is breathtaking. Just outside of Portland is the Multnomah Falls, which are beautiful. I have a guide on that as well. Its one of the prettier falls in the whole US. Definitely don’t miss that. Also, make sure you stop and see Mount St Helens. It’s incredible to see the crater from the explosion and learn about it. They have kids exhibits too. I hope you have a great trip!

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Great reading your bloog post

Thanks you so very much!!!

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Hello, I am so thrilled that I found your site. We are planning a trip in Sept/Oct of 2024. We like to stay and rent a house. I am hoping you can suggest a town or two to stay in and just take day trips. We are to old to stop and stay and stop and stay in different places all week. Last time we stayed in Tacoma and visited Mt Rainer, Port Angeles to whale watch and there was a waterfall but I cannot remember the name of it and hoped to get to Oregon parks but never got a chance. We are going for 2 weeks we can break up the trip and stay one week in one area and another week in another. We want to go back to Mt Rainer also. Any suggestions? I really appreciate your help and just the beginning of reading all your tips. I hope this makes sense? Planning on flying into Seattle Thank you and have a blessed day, Clara

Thank you for the kind words Clara!! What do you want to see on your trip besides Rainier? The Oregon Coast? Olympia NP? Crater Lake NP?

Let me know what you are thinking and I would be happy to recommend some cities to use as base camps.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words!

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Nice blog information with well narrative information. Thank you for sharing

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Thank you so much for the comment and the suggestions! I didn’t get a chance to explore the trails to…

Great tip!! Thank you so much for your insightful comment!

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Boat pier near the Riverwalk Inn, Astoria, Oregon. Image credit Victoria Ditkovsly via Shutterstock

  • 8 Loveliest Small Towns to Visit in The Pacific Northwest This Summer

There is a reason in every season for a Pacific Northwest (PNW) escape, but the summertime is particularly refreshing through this luring region. Maybe it's the breezy beaches, forested mountain trails, and wild islets, not to mention camping under some of the best stargazing skies in the US. The rugged coastline—so dreamy—is different from your typical Florida resort destination. The Oregon Central Coast town of Florence is just a hop to dune expeditions and ancient forests to choose the voyage of the great unknown, while Astoria, snug against the border of two states on the Columbia River, is just a hop to the Pacific .

Along the slice of the same river that was nearly fateful to Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s, Hood River is home to the brick-faced downtown and the riverside Mike's Ice Cream—worthy of spoiling your appetite on a hot summer. Among other lovely towns, Lake Stevens is sandwiched between the county's largest lake and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, one of the US's largest. Each small town in the Pacific Northwest inspires a summer escape out of the ordinary with all the comforts, entertainment, and historical sites to feed the curious world-trotter in you.

Astoria, Oregon

Overlooking Astoria, Oregon.

Welcome to the PNW "coastal heart," a stateline town with Washington across the vast Columbia River , just a thin land barrier away from the Pacific Ocean. In Astoria, where every attraction feels more pronounced, a day trip will not suffice, and even a weekend can feel too short. So clear your schedule to clear your head from the heights of the Astoria Column, which has lured visitors since its establishment in 1926 for its 125-foot-high stance and murals on Oregon's history on the way to the panoramic views of Astoria and the Columbia River from the observation deck. Just north, the ancient towering trees along the Richard Fenscak Cathedral Tree Trailhead impart wisdom and the freshest air on a hike to see their king, the 300-year-old Cathedral Tree.

Starting each day right at the local chain Pig 'N Pancake over a hearty homestyle breakfast, nearby, the world-class Columbia River Maritime Museum displays an astounding 30,000-object collection, with everything from fishing and shipping to military history, in a harborfront building. Grab a casual lunch at Rogue Pier 39 Public House in the most unconventional setting on the waters before hopping off to other historical landmarks and museums. The Oregon Film Museum attracts cinephiles, while Flavel House is a real architectural gem. McClure Park and Pigeon Steps offer top-view scenery of the waterfront, where the evocative microbrewery and brewpub, Buoy Beer Company, in a former cannery building, pours suds, pairing its craft beers with American bites.

Blaine, Washington

A quiet harbor in Blaine, Washington.

Home to just over 6,300, perched on the cusp of Drayton Harbor, Blaine is the last stop before leaving the country through the coastal PNW. Plenty of people breeze through, but its lovely, unique shape lends open views to explore the unobscured coastal scenery. From the river-like Dakota Creek hugging in the south, follow the coastal railway along Peace Portal Drive, a couple-minute drive north to the Peace Arch. This only international gateway in the interest of peace marks the US/ Canada border as a touchstone of the 1812 treaties. Discover Pass holders can stroll under it within serene park lawns and gardens, including flower beds that depict the nations' flags and outdoor sculptures. Attracting thousands of water fowl, Blaine hosts the annual Wings Over Water Birding Festival in March, while Semiahmoo Spit is the best park anytime for birdwatchers.

Stretching into the bay like a baseball bat, Semiahmoo Park features a flat parkway with beaches, panoramic views, and a seasonal cannery museum. Visitors can dine at Packers Kitchen on lamb burgers, flatbreads, or beer-battered fish and chips at the tip and stay at the popular, 300-acre resort by Wyndham, which overlooks a fishing pier and the popular Blaine Harbor Boating Center. Complete with Blaine Public Pier and Marina, Blaine Marine Park packs a punch, including Blaine Marine Park-Amphitheater, a 2-mile waterfront trail, and benches overlooking Boundary Bay and Semiahmoo Bay all the way to Point Roberts, White Rock, and even the San Juan Islands . This town between Surrey, BC , and Bellingham has a love for putts with open views, and it is rare to find a more beautiful nautical-themed playground than here, with gorgeous views of Canada.

Coos Bay, Oregon

Cape Arago State Park, Coos County, Oregon

Coos Bay is an ideal small town to visit this summer if you enjoy maritime history, photography, and romantic oceanside sunsets on a stroll. Offering easy access via Highway 101, the renowned Boardwalk is a great place to stretch your legs on a stroll into the ocean after the ride or relax over a picnic, with many scenic areas along its jutting length. Dive deep into the sea, the indulging seafood scene, or the intriguing past at the Coos History Museum, with exhibits, displays, and artifacts for every age. Just beyond, Cape Arago State Park is one of the region's best for adventures.

The Shore Acres State Park of Coos Bay defines PNW's rugged shores along the Pacific Coast for scenic hikes, lonely views, and picture-perfect moments one-on-one with the sea. You will meet friendly sea lions, among other marine wildlife, in the nearby coastal waters, a habitat for a wide array of sea-dwelling creatures and various species of transient whales. Just a hop from the riverfront is Coos Art Museum, and the tree-topped Mingus Park offers to escape the heat via its lakeside walking trails, with a scenic red bridge and a Japanese garden, as well as a playground and an outdoor pool.

Florence, Oregon

The riverwalk and boats lined along the Siuslaw River banks in Florence, Oregon.

With quick access from Eugene and just north of Siuslaw National Forest , this charming coastal town with a big-city name is a must-visit at least once in the PNW, particularly in the summer. Nestled between Newport and Coos Bay, Florence is more than a rest stop for a classic coastal road trip—taking hold of the adventurers and leaving a feel of nostalgia after. Just a hop away from dune expeditions and ancient forests, choose the voyage of the great unknown to suit your taste. A dozen pristine lakes pepper the region, offering a great day by quaint waters and returning for local craft beer and the freshest seafood.

The dunes are like an undulating form of wilderness, with views to the horizon via a dune buggy, ATV, or sandboard. With the Siuslaw River through Florence's heart, Florence Old Town, think of all the nature as you explore history while browsing for lodging, quaint shops, and fascinating galleries, plus a marina and incredible dining, snacking, and drinking scenes. Home to its own slew of sunny beach miles for kiteboarding and surfing, the sandy South Jetty offers Sand Camping Access, while the North Jetty Beach is right by the most popular Harbor Vista County Campground and Park.

Hood River, Oregon

Exterior of the Egg River Cafe in Hood River, Oregon.

Brimming with fun and relaxing pursuits, Hood River is a summertime playground for kiteboarding and windsurfing by the once-raging Columbia River, whose waters posed a threat to the lives of Lewis and Clark on their 1805 canoe expedition around these parts. Surviving only thanks to an enslaved man, today the charming town by the tamed river with three locks and four dams is a favorite escape from Portland, a scenic hour's drive, and a detour at Multnomah Falls and the aptly named Bridge of the Gods. Stretch your legs along the lush banks, where the Native Americans "watched the white men drown themselves," before lunching at Brigham Fish Market by the Cascade Locks.

The 35-mile Hood River Fruit Loop meanders through the Hood River Valley, with many fruit stands, farms, and orchards for cherry or apple picking. After Hood River Lavender Farms for fresh-picked lavender and products for sale, relax over a glass against the best views overlooking the town from Grateful Vineyard. At the same time, Gorge White House offers the best cider over delicious bites. The brick-faced downtown is alive with shoppers, from bookstores to unique gift shops and the riverside Mike's Ice Cream—worthy of spoiling your appetite on a hot summer day. Choose seafood or sausage pasta at the 3 Rivers Grill on a deck above the waters, while the century-old Hood River Hotel serves a Scandinavian breakfast at its Broder Ost.

Lake Stevens, Washington

Looking towards the northeastern shores of Lake Stevens in Lake Stevens, Washington

For an uncrowded destination, sandwiched between water pursuits and forest adventures, look no further than this charming town along the shores of the county's largest Lake Stevens and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest at the backdoor. Relinquishing the area's deep heritage at the nearby Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, visitors can discover fascinating insights into the earliest Asian settlers and how they planted the seed of the town.

Just a short drive away, the Lake Stevens Historical Museum relinquishes the secrets of the sparkling fable itself and its connection to the water-centric town. From wild forest hikes to the paved walking trails through Lake Stevens Park, North Cove Park offers shade to escape the summer heat into an isolated sanctuary feel and relax waterfront or enjoy recreation. For fun under the sun by the waters, the sandy North Lakeshore Swim Beach is the place to indulge, including the views of the nearby Cascade Mountains .

Olalla, Washington

Beautiful Sunset in Olalla, Washington.

The hamlet of Olalla in the heart of Kitsap County feels like night and day from the weary summertime urbanity. A mystical gem at first meet, hidden snuggly amid thick woods, its quirkinness, a bond with nature, and welcoming vibes community, all in a tranquil ambiance, capture and melt your heart. The locals, who preach chickens as more than just a delicious protein part of dinner, host the infamous “chicken crossings.” And these are not the only wild encounters awaiting the curious, because there must be a reason lurking around the surrounding wilderness, behind the common mentions of Bigfoot sightings among the townsfolk.

Fable or not, welcome to the wonderful little community of Olalla during the famous Polar Bear Plunge or the Olalla Americana Music Festival. Home to the best-selling author Gregg Olsen, Olalla is a perfect summertime escape to cozy up with a book or a glass of wine over at Olalla Vineyard & Winery. Offering easy access to the sunlit part of Washington , the South Kitsap Peninsula, the rustic town inspires fairytale charm amidst a lush canopy of trees and weathered barns and feels like a dream along the waterfront overlooking Olalla Bay, Puget Sound, and Vashon Island.

Seaside, Oregon

Boat rental at Necanicum river in the city center, Seaside, Oregon.

Located along the state's North Coast, Seaside flaunts many attractions, making it a beacon for vacationers since the 1870s. The grand oceanfront promenade is a spectacular stop to stretch the legs on a leisurely stroll overlooking the coastline and the Pacific Ocean after a nearly direct drive along Highway 26 from Portland. There are countless ways to experience the family-friendly vibes succumbing to the charms of Oregon’s first seashore resort community this summer. Like many self-respecting PNW towns along the coast, there is a river feeding into the ocean through the heart, and Seaside is no exception, spanning the Necanicum River.

Broadway Street takes you down a unique lineup of restaurants, pubs, and cafes across the river and all the way to the beachfront promenade for kayaking, beachcombing, razor clamming, and kite flying without an ever-crowded feel. Just a hop from central Seaside Beach, Dooger's Seafood & Grill is the headquarters of a small chain of classic fish houses known for chowder and crab cakes, but first detour to the Seaside Aquarium. Opened in 1937, it may be small but is incredibly popular for close marine life interactions, with seals, an underwater exhibit, and a touch tank. Don't miss the illustrious Painted Rock Beach just south for a contemporary touch on nature, and perhaps stop to pay respects at the nearby Sailor's Grave.

From the rugged coastlines to the peaks of Olympic National Park and all the state parks in between, these lovely PNW towns beckon visitors to escape both the heat and the ordinary. Coos Bay attracts maritime fans and photographers for romantic oceanside sunsets with calm waters and a cultural heart. Seaside, Oregon, is the state's first seashore resort town with its Painted Rock Beach and a small aquarium, while Olalla, Washington, proudly marches to its own beat along the rugged PNW coast.

Just picturing Blaine's open coastal views can induce a dopamine surge, transporting you into the sunny vibes along Semiahmoo Park or the serene park dedicated to peace between the nations. In every other town, there is so much nostalgia to savor, like Florence or Astoria, which are full of unconvential architecture like historic column and cannery-building restaurant. The rustic fairy tale charm of Olalla spellbinds at the gateway to South Kitsap Peninsula on a dreamy waterfront stroll under a lush tree canopy.

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best time to road trip pacific northwest

Top 5 Stops Along Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip

I f you’re looking to add some adventure to your life, one of the best ways to spice things up is by taking an impromptu road trip. When traveling by car, you get the chance to have complete control of your itinerary and explore a variety of sights and sounds.

One of the most scenic routes out there is through the Pacific Northwest, starting in Portland, Oregon and making your way through Washington state and is the perfect Pacific Northwest road trip.

Anytime you travel by car, you should consider renting a vehicle. By renting, you might be able to save some money on gas by picking something with great fuel efficiency.

You can also avoid putting an excessive amount of miles on your personal car. If you do opt to rent, first look into purchasing car rental damage insurance from a reputable source.

5 must-see stops throughout the Pacific Northwest

Portland, oregon.

Whether you’re from the nearby area or you are flying into Portland International Airport, Portland is the perfect starting point for your journey. This city is known for its quirky atmosphere, friendly people, and overall charm that brings tourists from all over the country and the world.

Start off early by chowing down at one of the local breakfast hotspots, like Voodoo Doughnut in Old Town . Then wash it down with a fresh cup of coffee from the famous Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

Another Portland hotspot is Powell’s City of Books , which has over 2 million books lining its shelves. If you look at the book store’s pillars, you can see those famous writers from the past and present have signed their names.

So if you need some reading material for your road trip, definitely check it out. Other must-see spots throughout Portland are the Portland Saturday Market (only open from March to December), the Art Museum, Washington Park, and Portland Japanese Garden.

Willamette Valley in Eugene, Oregon

Willamette Valley is a spot where nature lovers and wine drinkers come together to experience Oregon’s most cherished vineyards. This area is known as Oregon’s Wine Country, and is home to the popular vineyard King Estate Winery .

You can either sign up for a tour of the winery and vineyards, or just hang out for a tasting. Tastings run from 11am to 8pm and tours start at the beginning of every hour until 5pm.

During your tasting, you’ll get the opportunity to try the classic King Estate wines as well as new creations, and you’ll learn about the history behind the estate during the tour.

Other notable wineries in Willamette Valley are Eyrie Vineyards , Evesham Wood , Brooks Wine , and Teutonic Wines . You could actually spend a good amount of time road tripping through Oregon’s wine country, so be sure to set expectations for how long you want to stay in Willamette – you might find it difficult to leave!

Once you are satisfied with the amount of wine you’ve tasted, it’s time to get back on the road. But before you leave the area, be sure to head to the Oregon Coast – just west of Eugene – to get in some beach time.

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington

Washington State is known for its many mountains and volcanoes that offer an abundance of hiking opportunities, and Mount Rainier National Park is a significant reason for this. Mount Rainier is an impressive 14,410 feet above sea level, and this active volcano is America’s most glaciated peak.

The park is a must-see stop for avid hikers and nature lovers, and camping should definitely be a part of your plan here (but keep in mind that camping overnight requires a permit). During the springtime, tourism peaks in the national park for the blooming season of the many species of wildflowers.

Seattle, Washington

Chances are Seattle is already on your list of destinations for you Pacific Northwest drive. It is Washington’s largest city, but it is an ideal spot for both city lovers and those travelers hoping to get in touch with nature.

Not only do you get to experience the hustle and bustle of Seattle’s downtown streets, there are plenty of opportunities for mountain and water sports. With the nearby mountains and waters of Puget Sound, Seattle caters to every kind of traveler.

For 360 degree views of the city, ride up the iconic Space Needle – this landmark is what comes to most people’s minds when they think of Seattle, and it has been featured in many photographs, television shows, and movies over time.

It was built in the 1960’s and continues to be the most visited spot in the city by tourists and locals alike. The observations deck is over 500 feet off the ground, and there is even a restaurant that rotates throughout your meal so your view is constantly changing.

Another spot you should check out before leaving the city is the Pike Place Market , which is one of the oldest farmers markets in the country. It is by far the best place in the city to find vibrant produce and fresh seafood. You can also leave with a handcrafted souvenir made by a local artisan.

After perusing through the market, grab a coffee at the original Starbucks just down the street. The city is home to many famous coffee roasters in addition to Starbucks, so make a day out of sipping coffee while exploring the downtown streets.

San Juan Islands in Anacortes, Washington

San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful ending point for your trip; it is a destination where you can easily enjoy some peace and quiet. Getting to the islands requires some effort, but it will be well worth it. San Juan is a chain of 172 small islands northwest of Seattle in the Salish Sea.

It is a protected area since it is home to a wide variety of marine life, birds, and mammals. When you take the ferry from the mainland to reach the islands, you might even see Orcas swimming near the boat, so bring your camera and a pair of binoculars.

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PIN TOP 5 STOPS FOR A PACIFIC NORTHWEST ROAD TRIP TO PINTEREST

If you’re looking to add some adventure to your life, one of the best ways to spice things up is by taking an impromptu road trip. When traveling by car, you get the chance to have complete control of your itinerary and explore a variety of sights and sounds. One of the most scenic routes out there is through the Pacific Northwest, starting in Portland, Oregon and making your way through Washington state and is the perfect Pacific Northwest road trip. Anytime you travel by car, you should consider renting a vehicle. By renting, you might be able to save […]

COMMENTS

  1. The Ultimate Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

    Table of Contents. About This 2 Week Pacific Northwest Road Trip. Pacific Northwest Road Trip Map. Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: 14 days. Day 1-2: North Cascades National Park. Day 3: Seattle. Day 4-5: Olympic National Park. Day 6-7: Mount Rainer National Park. Day 8: Portland.

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  6. Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: What to See & Do in 7 Days

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  10. The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Exploring the Pacific Northwest

    Day 1: Seattle. The best option for your road trip is to fly into Seattle and explore Washington's largest city before leaving. Just one day in Seattle will give you enough time to enjoy the city's best activities. Start the day by exploring Pike Place Market and grabbing a cup of coffee at the Original Starbucks.

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    10-Day PNW Road TripDay 9- Drive to Portland. On day nine of your 10-day Pacific Northwest road trip leave Crater Lake and drive to Portland. The drive to Portland will take about 5 hours. After you arrive in Portland and get checked in head out for dinner. Tonight, wander around downtown Portland.

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    Itinerary Summary and Map for Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip. Week 1. Days 1-3: Olympic National Park : Days 4-5: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada : Days 6-7: Seattle ... The best time for your Pacific Northwest Road Trip is Spring through Fall when roads are open and most sights are open. Also, during these months, days are longer meaning ...

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    HOW TO START PLANNING. A Pacific Northwest road trip is best planned 6 months ahead of time, though of course, you can plug things in as you go. Reservations for NPS campsites and lodges almost all open 3-6 months in advance. If you're planning backcountry travel, these permits are also up for grabs 3-6 months out.

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    In this blog you will find my two-week Pacific Northwest itinerary, combining bustling cities with scenic nature. Enjoy this post with a long Oregon and Washington road trip itinerary. Day 1. Arrival in Seattle. If you are flying, your Pacific Northwest road trip will usually start in Seattle or Portland.

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    Distance from Portland: 183 miles. Travel Time: 3 hours. Crater Lake National Park is a stop you won't want to miss on your national parks trip and one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest. The park is known for its large body of water, created by a massive eruption that left a hole in the earth's surface.

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    Pro Tips For Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip. Best Time to Travel: The best time to embark on this road trip is during the late spring to early fall, as you'll experience milder temperatures and fewer rainy days, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey. Book A Rental Car: Ditch the wear and tear on your car and book a rental car for your ...

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    Some of the best Pacific Northwest road trips include Olympic Peninsula, Salmon River Scenic Byway, Oregon Coast, Umpqua National Forest, and McKenzie River Valley, Cascades Loop, and Columbia River Gorge. Spring is the most ideal time for these road trips to avoid crowds. We are a leading travel blog, committed to providing the most accurate ...

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  26. Top 5 Stops Along Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip

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