The PNW is full of majestic views, magical landscapes, and a little something extra you can’t just put your finger on. It’s like stepping into another world up here, especially in summer. Thanks to long days, near-perfect weather, and more adventures than you can count, heading out on a PNW road trip is a bucket list opportunity!
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A Guide to An Amazing PNW Road Trip
Let’s dive in shall we?
What you need to know when planning your PNW road trip
What is the best time of year to visit the Pacific Northwest?
July through September is an incredible time up here in the Pacific Northwest. The highs range in the 70’s, the blue sky hardly disappears, and the daylight lasts until almost 10 pm.
The only downside to this time frame is our wildfire season is not great in August, when the sky can get smoky. However, there are ways to avoid it (like going to the Olympics), and it’s never terrible around Seattle.
What is a PNW road trip?
A PNW road trip is a car adventure in Oregon or Washington, where you check out unique locations that connect you a bit closer to nature and the world around you. Put your phone on airplane mode and drive!
What is the best road trip from Washington state?
I love heading out to the Olympic Peninsula and checking out the forests, ocean and coast, mountains, and stunning lakes. It’s a magical spot, and everyone who visits loves it. Another great PNW road trip is heading to Mt. Baker and exploring Artist Point and the surrounding peaks.
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8 Places to Explore in the PNW
Explore Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier is a must-visit destination for its towering, snow-capped peak and pristine wilderness. Hike through ancient forests and wildflower-filled meadows, or take a scenic drive for breathtaking views. The national park’s diverse ecosystem offers wildlife spotting opportunities, including marmots, black bears, and even elusive mountain goats.
Visit the iconic Paradise area for a glimpse of the subalpine wonderland, and if you’re feeling adventurous, consider hiking up to Camp Muir. Mount Rainier is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities like camping, rock climbing, and snowshoeing in the winter months. It’s an incredible PNW road trip spot.
How Many Days: 3-5
Best Places to See: Paradise Visitor Center, Myrtle Falls, Skyline Loop Trail; Sunrise Visitor Center, Fremont Lookout, Burroughs Mountain, Tolmie Peak, High Rock Lookout
Where to Stay: Ashford, Enumclaw, Tacoma
Travel throughout Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park boasts incredible biodiversity, from the rugged coastline along the Pacific Ocean to temperate rainforests like the Hoh Rainforest. Explore the stunning Ruby Beach with its sea stacks and tide pools, or hike the Hall of Mosses trail to immerse yourself in a mystical forest filled with moss-covered trees.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see the beautiful Sol Duc Falls or take a scenic drive up Hurricane Ridge for panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains. Wildlife enthusiasts will love spotting bald eagles, Roosevelt elk, and sea otters in this diverse and ecologically rich national park.
How Many Days: 2-4
Best Places to See: Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, Hoh Rainforest, Cape Flattery, Tree of Life, Rialto Beach,
Where to Stay: Forks, Port Angeles, Neah Bay
Head up to the North Cascades
The North Cascades National Park Complex is a rugged paradise for backcountry adventurers, offering remote wilderness experiences and challenging hiking trails. The lakes right off Highway 20, such as Diablo Lake and Ross Lake, are renowned for their vivid turquoise waters and make for excellent kayaking and canoeing destinations.
The dramatic mountain scenery, with jagged peaks and glaciers, provides a stunning backdrop for photography and exploration.
How Many Days: 1-4
Best Places to See: Maple Pass, Blue Lakes, Diablo Lake, Ross Lake, Cutthroat Pass, Cascade Pass
Where to Stay: There is not a lot of lodging around the park. There are options in Mazama and Twisp.
Enjoy quiet on the San Juan Islands.
The San Juan Islands offer a peaceful retreat amidst nature’s beauty, with idyllic landscapes and a slower pace of life perfect for relaxation. Explore charming towns like Friday Harbor and Orcas Village, where you can savor fresh seafood, visit artisan shops, and take strolls along the waterfront.
Or, for those looking to get on the water, kayak through the island’s pristine waters, spotting seals, porpoises, and even orcas on guided wildlife tours. Whether seeking serene beaches, lush hiking trails, or a tranquil escape, the San Juan Islands deliver an enchanting and rejuvenating experience.
How Many Days: 2-4
Best Places to See: Book a kayaking trip, Friday Habor, Whale watching, Bellingham, Deception Pass State Park
Where to Stay: Friday Harbor, Anacortes, Orcas Island
Get a little slice of Bavaria in Leavenworth
Leavenworth transports you to a Bavarian fairy tale with its picturesque alpine architecture, lively beer gardens, and vibrant calendar of cultural festivals. Stroll through the charming village center, lined with timber-framed buildings adorned with colorful window boxes, offering a delightful European ambiance.
But it’s not just shopping and the town that makes it magical. The Enchantments and miles and miles of hiking and adventures are right around the corner, too. Visiting Leavenworth is like a whimsical journey to Bavaria, making it a unique and unforgettable Pacific Northwest road trip stop.
How Many Days: 2-3
Best Places to See: Lake Wenatchee, Lake Chelan, Enchantments, Leavenworth, Steven’s Pass
Where to Stay: Leavenworth
Go Chase Waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge is a waterfall lover’s paradise, featuring a plethora of stunning cascades, including the iconic Multnomah Falls, towering at over 600 feet. Hike along picturesque trails that lead to various waterfalls, immersing you in lush, moss-covered forests and offering breathtaking views of the gorge.
The scenic Historic Columbia River Highway provides a scenic route, allowing you to quickly access several waterfalls while taking in awe-inspiring vistas. The sheer diversity and grandeur of the waterfalls in this region make it a captivating destination for nature enthusiasts and photographers alike.
How Many Days: 2-3
Best Places to See: A dozen waterfalls on the Waterfall Corridor are about 35 minutes outside Portland. This guide can help.
Where to Stay: East side of Portland
Explore the High Desert of Bend
In the High Desert of Oregon, Bend offers a unique blend of outdoor adventures, craft breweries, and stunning landscapes. Try mountain biking on world-class trails, rafting on the Deschutes River, or embarking on a scenic hike in the nearby Cascades. It’s a perfect PNW road trip destination.
Discover the vibrant craft beer scene with numerous breweries to explore and enjoy, offering a perfect après-adventure experience. The stark beauty of the high desert, with its volcanic landscapes and clear skies, makes Bend an enchanting and adventurous destination for travelers seeking outdoor thrills and natural wonders.
How Many Days: 2-4
Best Places to See: Smith Rock State Park, Sparks Lake, Mt. Bachelor, Tumalo Falls, Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Where to Stay: The Town of Bend is perfect!
Drive the Oregon Coast
Embarking on a road trip along the Oregon Coast is a captivating journey filled with awe-inspiring vistas, dramatic cliffs, and pristine beaches that will leave you spellbound. Follow the iconic Highway 101 as it winds along the rugged coastline, providing endless opportunities to pull over and witness breathtaking seascapes.
Explore charming coastal towns like Cannon Beach, known for its iconic Haystack Rock, and Newport, where you can visit the renowned Oregon Coast Aquarium. Revel in the serenity of secluded coves, watch migrating whales from viewpoints, and experience the magic of tide pools teeming with marine life – all while indulging in the charm of the Pacific Ocean’s edge.
Driving the Oregon Coast promises an unforgettable journey through nature’s coastal wonders, making it a road trip that beckons adventure and relaxation in equal measure. You won’t forget this PNW Road trip.
How Many Days: 4-7, depending on where you go and what your starting point is
Best Places to See: Canon Beach, Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, Lincoln City, Thors Well
Where to Stay: There are a lot of small towns along the coast. Plan to make sure you get a spot.
PNW Road Trip Final Thoughts
Embarking on a PNW road trip through the Pacific Northwest is an unforgettable experience that allows travelers to immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of this region.
From the towering mountains and lush forests to the picturesque coastline and vibrant cities, there is something for everyone to enjoy along the way.
Whether you explore iconic destinations like Seattle or venture off the beaten path to discover hidden gems, a PNW road trip promises adventure, exploration, and memories that will last a lifetime.
So pack your bags, hit the open road, and prepare for an unforgettable journey through one of America’s most scenic regions.