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.
Here are some tips for the best Pacific Northwest road trip, as well as a suggested itinerary for it (add and subtract to it as you wish!).
This post was first written in 2020 and was last updated in April 2023.
Tips for a Pacific Northwest Road Trip
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.
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.
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.
This Pacific Northwest itinerary map gives you a better idea of how all the stops connect.
Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: 7 Days & 10 Days
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 are a few suggested itineraries based on a one week Pacific Northwest itinerary and a 10 day Pacific Northwest trip itinerary.
7-Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary
Here is where I suggest you stop if you have 7 days for a Pacific Northwest trip itinerary.
|Day 1||North Cascades National Park|
|Day 3||Olympic National Park|
|Day 4||Mount Rainier National Park|
|Day 5||Mount St. Helens|
|Day 7||Crater Lake National Park|
10-Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary
|Day 1||North Cascades National Park|
|Day 3||Olympic National Park (explore the rainforest)|
|Day 4||Olympic National Park (explore the coast)|
|Day 5||Mount Rainier National Park|
|Day 6||Mount St. Helens|
|Day 8||Crater Lake National Park|
|Day 10||Redwoods National Park|
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.
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 the Pacific Northwest first.
1. North Cascades National Park
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.
One factor that makes this park stand out from the others in the state are the infamous 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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
Where to Stay:
- 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
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 waterfalls, 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 short 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.
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 winter, so plan accordingly.
Where to Stay:
- 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
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).
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).
Where to Stay:
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)
Distance from Mount St. Helens: 103 miles
Travel Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
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 road trip – 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, 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.
Where to Stay:
The AC Hotel is nearby many restaurants and attractions in downtown Portland. (rates start at $127 per night)
7. Crater Lake National Park
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.
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.
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.
Where to Stay:
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)
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.
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.
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 were 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.
Where to Stay:
Driftwood Shores Resort is a beachfront hotel that offers stunning ocean views and comfortable accommodations. (rates start at $155 per night)
9. Redwoods National Park
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.
Where to Stay:
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)
Distance from Redwoods: 131 miles
Travel Time: 3 hours
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.
Where to Stay:
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, 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.
Hopefully, by now, you’ve planned your own Pacific Northwest road trip! Whether you decided 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.
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Do you know of drivers that would take drive us along the coast and mountains of Oregon and Washington state?