The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Exploring the Pacific Northwest

brown wooden bridge over river surrounded by trees. Deception Falls, WA, United States

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

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

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