Being a Seattle local, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the Seattle to Portland drive when heading down to Oregon. While I used to dread it (especially when I would have to leave after work on a Friday afternoon – the worst time to leave), I slowly started to explore some stops along the way to make it more doable. In fact, I now have over a dozen places I can stop when I need a break.
Unless you leave in the middle of the night, you will almost always encounter traffic in downtown Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. The Seattle to Portland drive time should only be about 3 hours long, but it’s easily taken me up to 6 hours by leaving at the wrong time. However, don’t make my mistake of being frustrated that I was stuck in the car and instead pick a few places to stop on a Seattle to Portland road trip.
I last did this drive in the summer of 2022 on my visit to Crater Lake National Park day trip and a road trip along the Oregon Coast, and I took my own advice. We spread out our drive both there and back and stopped about every two hours, which was lovely not to feel rushed or stressed for once.
I’ll give you my tried and true tips for driving from Seattle to Portland (again, the top one being not leaving Friday afternoon!) and give you a variety of places for you to stop when you and your passengers need to let out some energy or kill time until traffic dies down. There are actually a ton of places to explore along I-5, so my goal by the end of this article is to have you looking forward to your trip.
Tips for Planning a Seattle to Portland Drive
- If you don’t own a vehicle, you can rent one from RentalCars.com, which collects excellent rates from well-known suppliers.
- If you want complete flexibility, you can hire an RV from Outdoorsy, especially if you plan a longer vacation from Portland to San Francisco or Los Angeles.
- Unless you take a detour and cross the Cascades, you shouldn’t have to worry about closures due to rock blasting or snowfall along the main stretch. This is because the road conditions are generally acceptable. Having said that, if you want to drive from Seattle to Portland in the winter, check the Department of Transportation’s website or app before you leave to be sure.
- The traffic is the only drawback of traveling on such a busy road. Yet, this is only really a problem in the Seattle region. To avoid traffic on your Seattle to Portland journey, start before 7:30 a.m. or wait until around 11 a.m.
Don’t have time for both cities? Here’s how to choose between Seattle vs. Portland.
Seattle to Portland Drive Time
There are a few possible routes, with the quickest and most direct one via the I-5 through Olympia and Tacoma. If you only care about getting there quickly, you can travel 180 miles between Seattle and Portland in 3 hours.
Yet, there are several places worth visiting along that 180-mile line, and there are even more if you are willing to stray a bit further from the main stretch.
The direct route also passes via Vancouver (no, not the Canadian one), Castle Rock, and some fantastic opportunities for animal exploration only minutes off the highway.
Although it’s the quickest, there are other options as well. These include traveling along the coast through Westport and Cannon Beach or coming to Portland from the east on the Columbia River Highway.
I advise allowing at least two to three days for a genuinely delightful, gorgeous drive from Seattle to Portland if you want to make the most of your trip and experience everything it offers.
When is the Best Time to Drive From Seattle to Portland?
The summer months, from June to August, are the perfect time to go on your Pacific Northwest adventure. With longer daylight hours, you’ll have more time to explore the scenic drives near Seattle, the stunning scenery, and the vibrant cities of Washington and Oregon.
Seattle and Portland are especially buzzing in the summer, with plenty of outdoor festivals, concerts, and events. But be prepared for bigger crowds, as locals and tourists alike flock to the region to take in the natural beauty. From hiking in the mountains to lounging on the beach, there’s something for everyone in the Pacific Northwest during the summer months.
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.
Is It Worth Driving From Seattle to Portland?
Driving from Seattle to Portland is the best way to experience the Pacific Northwest. Each city has its personality, various man-made and natural attractions, and the distinction of being the birthplace of at least a few pop-culture icons. They are also in fierce competition, with inhabitants of each community quick to point out how their city is better.
The sights between Seattle and Portland are quite impressive, and you’ll miss out on some real gems unless you go on a road trip from one city to the other. So yes, a drive from Seattle to Portland is one hundred percent worth it. There’s a reason it’s one of the best scenic drives from Seattle.
Tips for Visiting Seattle to Portland Highway Attractions
Before jumping headfirst into your Seattle to Portland road trip (or Portland to Seattle drive – feel free to do this backward), here are some tips to help you have a successful trip.
Take Your Time
Don’t forget to do all the important stuff, like booking your accommodation, filling up your gas tank, and packing, well before the day of your trip. That way, you can take it easy on the morning of your journey and avoid rushing around stressed out.
Wake up nice and early, grab a coffee to get your energy level up, and take your time on the road. After all, this trip isn’t just about getting from A to B but also about soaking up all the sights and sounds along the way. Once you hit Portland, it’s go time for all the fun you have planned.
Pack the Essentials
Preparing for a road trip is essential; bringing snacks, sunscreen, and a water bottle is like having a secret weapon up your sleeve. Think about it: nothing can ruin a perfectly good adventure like hunger, dehydration, or a sunburn. And even if you’re traveling in the winter, don’t let the cold fool you – UV rays can be sneaky and cause skin damage on a cloudy day. So, slathering on some sunscreen before you hit the road is always a good idea.
Let’s talk about snacks. They’re not just an afterthought but a crucial component of a successful road trip. After all, no one wants to be stuck in a car with a hangry passenger (and we’ve all been there before). Pack some of your favorite munchies, and you’ll be glad you did.
13 Amazing Seattle to Portland Road Trip Stops
While planning your road trip itinerary from Seattle to Portland, you’ll want to make sure these spots are added to your map. You can also do the opposite way on this drive to go on a Portland to Seattle road trip.
1. Saltwater State Park, Des Moines
Distance: 19.5 miles from Central Seattle
Highlight: The gorgeous shoreline.
Cost: Day passes cost $10
Get ready for an aquatic adventure at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines, Washington, just before you reach Seattle. As you drive to the park, you’ll be greeted by a stunning 1,445-foot stretch of shoreline home to various marine life living in tide pools.
But that’s not all – Saltwater State Park boasts one of the only underwater artificial reefs in the United States, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling and diving. Take a refreshing swim in the protected marine sanctuary, explore the park’s forested trails, or soak up the sun on the beach.
2. Bridge of Glass, Tacoma
Distance: 33 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The Museum of Glass.
Cost: Free access to the bridge. Museum tickets are between $16 and $27. Kids under 4 get free admission.
The Museum of Glass, renowned Studio Glass pioneer Dale Chihuly, and the city of Tacoma collaborated to create the 500-foot-long Chihuly Bridge of Glass. This pedestrian overpass connects the Museum to Tacoma’s downtown and cultural district and is one of the most Instagrammable places around.
Along with Dale Chihuly, who oversaw the aesthetic concept, Arthur Andersson, the Washington State History Museum’s architect, created the bridge. It’s one of the best (and cheapest) things to do in Tacoma on your Seattle to Portland drive.
3. Point Defiance State Park, Washington
Distance: 39.1 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The Petting Zoo and Aquarium.
Cost: Free access to the park. Some admissions, like the Zoo and Aquarium, have entrance fees.
Point Defiance State Park can be the first destination on your Seattle to Portland itinerary. Point Defiance State Park, Washington’s third-largest city outside of Seattle, is a vast urban park with a sizable zoo, aquarium, rose and rhododendron gardens, and trails.
The park has beaches, a boardwalk, several pathways, and a petting zoo. The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is a favorite of adults and kids since it has many species, including Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, and pygmy owls.
4. Gig Harbor Waterfront, Washington
Distance: 44 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: Views of the waterfront.
Cost: Free access.
Picture this: the sun is shining, a gentle breeze is blowing off the water, and you’re strolling along the waterfront of Gig Harbor. And the best part? It won’t cost you a penny! Yes, that’s right, taking a leisurely walk around the waterfront is one of the most delightful and affordable things to do in this charming town on your Seattle to Portland scenic drive.
The route runs parallel to the lively Harborview Drive, where you’ll find many local shops, eateries, and attractions to explore. For an indulgent dinner, I recommend stopping at Brix 25 for local seafood. When you’re looking for breakfast, Netshed No 9 is one of my favorite places (and you need to get the giant cinnamon roll!).
As you go along the waterfront, you’ll pass by Skansie Brothers Park, where you can relax and enjoy the stunning scenery. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not rent a kayak or SUP board and take to the water? All around you, you’ll see the picturesque marinas, luxury yachts, and lush hills that make Gig Harbor a unique and enchanting destination and one of the best small towns in Washington.
5. Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Olympia
Distance: 52.5 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: Views of Mount Rainier.
Cost: Daily entrance fee is $3.
Just an hour’s drive from the city, this refuge is home to abundant wildlife and is the perfect place to get in touch with nature. When you arrive at the visitor center, make a beeline for the viewpoint overlooking the marshy lake. From there, you can catch a glimpse of the diverse array of wildlife that calls this refuge home.
There are also multiple trails in the area marked with signs showcasing the various flora and fauna, so you can continue your adventure at your own pace.
As you wander along the boardwalk that winds toward the marshes, you’ll come across a pavilion that offers stunning views of the majestic Mount Rainier and Puget Sound. It’s the perfect spot to take in the natural beauty of the area and soak up the peaceful surroundings before continuing your journey.
6. Olympia, Washington
Distance: 60.9 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The Capitol building.
Cost: Free access. Some sights in the city may carry an admission fee.
This vibrant city may not have the towering skyscrapers of Seattle, but it more than makes up for it with its unique charm and personality. I always stop here to get dinner when I’ve hit the road late on my Seattle to Portland drive, and places like Wicked Pies Pizzeria and Three Magnets Brewing Co. are always my go-to.
Have you ever heard of Sleater-Kinney or Bikini Kill? Major independent labels like Kill Rock Stars and K Records are located in the town, also the origin of the “riot grrrl” movement. Check out some local live music while you’re there if you have the time.
I recommend checking out the Capitol building, where you can go inside for a guided tour if you have the time. It’s a fascinating way to learn about the state’s history. If you’re short on time, you can take a walk around Capitol Lake for some exercise and stunning views (our kids love getting their energy out here).
As the capital of Washington State, it’s a hub of government activity, and the bustling neighborhood is also home to a thriving arts scene. From musicians and painters to writers and performers, artists of all kinds call Olympia home.
Whether you’re in the mood for politics or creativity, Olympia is the perfect place to explore on your Portland to Seattle road trip. This is also a popular stop to put on a Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary.
7. The Olympic Flight Museum, Tumwater
Distance: 66.4 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The vintage aircrafts.
Cost: Ticket prices are between $5 and $7.
The Olympia, Washington-based Olympic Flight Museum is a must-see for any aviation enthusiast. You will be able to observe more than 20 vintage aircraft, all of which have been meticulously maintained and range from military planes to historical helicopters. You should visit during the yearly air show at the museum when visitors from all around Washington come to view beautiful aircraft in flight.
8. Lewis and Clark State Park, Washington
Distance: 102 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The gorgeous forest.
When you need to stretch your legs, check out Washington’s 621-acre Lewis and Clark State Park, a unique setting amid an old-growth forest. There are over five miles of hiking routes to be enjoyed on foot or horseback, and visitors can experience the magnificence of the old trees, primarily Douglas fir and red cedar.
9. Mount St. Helens Visitor Center
Distance: 121 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The volcano.
Cost: Tickets are between $2.50 and $5. Kids under 6 get free admission.
In 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, shaking the region and flinging ash hundreds of feet into the sky. It spread from Castle Rock to Spokane in the east and to the Pacific Ocean in the west.
At the visitor center in Castle Rock, Washington, you can find out everything there is to know about this eruption. There are several different centers, each with a memorable and intriguing offering.
Everyone driving from Seattle to Portland must stop at the Forest Learning Center in Seaquest State Park on the Spirit Lake Highway. You can learn about the region’s geology, history, and the effects of the significant explosion. If you’re doing your trip during winter in Portland, just make sure to check all roads are still open.
If you have extra time, I highly recommend driving out to Mount St. Helens to do a few hikes. Harry’s Ridge is a moderate 8-mile hike with stunning views of the mountain, while the Johnston Ridge Observatory Walk is an easy ½ mile stroll.
Alternatively, if you have more time and plan ahead, you can read my guide to summiting Mount St. Helens, which was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.
10. Silver Lake, Washington
Distance: 123 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The water sports.
Cost: Free access.
Around 65 miles from Portland and 123 miles from Seattle, Silver Lake is en-route to Mount St. Helens.
It’s one of the best places to stop on the Seattle to Portland road trip and is an excellent resting spot. It’s a 3,000-acre, patchy high-desert lake where tourists can enjoy water sports like boating and fishing. Moreover, camping amenities are provided here.
There are also paths available for mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders if you want to go for a walk or a ride.
11. Lake Sacajawea, Longview
Distance: 132 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The Japanese Gardens.
Cost: Free access.
If you’re looking for a slice of paradise during your drive in the heart of Washington state, look no further than Lake Sacajawea. This stunning destination is a haven for outdoor lovers, boasting breathtaking scenery and 3.5 miles of picturesque pathways.
As you stroll along the winding walkways, you’ll be treated to stunning views of meticulously manicured landscaping, tranquil fountains, and vibrant gardens, all beautifully framed by graceful bridges. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try fishing, canoeing, or exploring the “Solar System Walk?”
In addition, be sure to set aside time to visit the Japanese Gardens, which are truly a sight to behold. With their stunning displays of natural beauty and meticulous attention to detail, these gardens are a must-see for anyone visiting Lake Sacajawea.
12. Vancouver, Washington
Distance: 165 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: Views of the Columbia River and plenty of food options
Vancouver, Washington, may not be as well-known as its Canadian namesake, but it’s definitely worth stopping at. This charming town is located along the banks of the Columbia River and boasts a variety of activities for visitors of all ages.
I’ve visited this town for years when doing a Seattle to Portland road trip and typically have lunch here, thanks to how many options there are. It’s also an easy day trip from Portland to check out, or you can extend your trip for a Portland weekend getaway here.
Foodies will love Vancouver’s culinary scene, featuring local farm-to-table eateries, breweries, and wineries on a Seattle to Portland drive. Try the seasonal dishes and craft beers at Heathen Brewing Feral Public House, or sip on award-winning wines at the Burnt Bridge Cellars tasting room. And don’t forget to check out the local farmers’ markets, where you can taste fresh, locally grown produce and artisanal products.
One of the must-visit attractions in Vancouver is the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Step back in time and explore the fur trade era, visit the reconstructed Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver, and learn about the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The Clark County Historical Museum is a must-see for art enthusiasts, featuring rotating exhibits showcasing the region’s cultural heritage. And if you’re looking for some outdoor fun, head over to the Waterfront Renaissance Trail, a beautiful paved walkway that stretches for over seven miles along the Columbia River, perfect for a leisurely stroll or bike ride.
13. Lan Su Chinese Garden, Portland
Distance: 173 miles from Central Seattle.
Highlight: The orchids.
Cost: Tickets are between $11 and $14. Kids under 5 have free admission.
The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a natural paradise in the middle of Portland, and especially beautiful during spring in Oregon or Portland summer. Suzhou, China, is Portland’s sister city, and you can find an imported piece of China here in the United States.
Visit this botanical park with impressive architecture, and you’ll undoubtedly discover a lot about nature. The most authentic Chinese garden outside China is thought to exist at the Lan Su Chinese Garden. It’s even called the “Garden of Waking Orchids.” It truly is one of the best places to visit in Portland and one of the most scenic things to do in the fall in Portland.
Ready for more? Continue on with a Portland to San Francisco road trip!
Where to Stay During Your Seattle to Portland Drive
There are many amazing hotels in both Seattle and Portland that will make your trip planning a lot easier. Whether you’re spending three days in Seattle or just one day in Seattle, it’s more convenient to have a hotel before you start your drive. Here are a few of my favorites.
- The Mediterranean Inn – This hotel is an excellent place to stay in Seattle because it is close to the famous Space Needle.
- Crowne Plaza Seattle, an IHG Hotel – This hotel in the heart of Seattle’s city center offers delightful amenities, including an on-site restaurant, and is close to locations like the iconic Pike Place Market.
- The Society Hotel – This is a great alternative for travelers looking for a tidy, cozy, and fashionable location to stay in this Oregon city.
- Kimpton Riverplace Hotel – This conveniently located hotel on the Willamette River offers a selection of luxurious rooms and a wealth of opulent amenities to ensure a great visit.
Which of these places are you most excited about on your Seattle to Portland drive?