The lush Pacific Northwest is home to volcanic vistas, an abundance of orchards and vibrant urban areas. A road trip is an ideal way to catch all of the amazing sights this region is famous for. In the span of just a few days, you can experience everything from wine tasting to whale watching to sightseeing — all while enjoying the freedom of the road.
Starting Point: Portland, Oregon
Start your tour of the Pacific Northwest by flying into Portland, Oregon’s international airport. Here, rent a car and start exploring this unique U.S. city, which draws foodies and culture fiends in droves. Fuel up with a pastry from Voodoo Doughnut in Old Town and a fair-trade latte from Stumptown Coffee Roasters before you explore the city. Head to the Lan Su Chinese Garden to witness an ancient tea ceremony or to the Portland Art Museum to view the more than 1,800 Japanese works. Don’t forget to peruse Powell’s City of Books (which covers a full city block and holds more than 1.5 million volumes) and the boutique shops in the Pearl District before you leave. Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax, which makes souvenir shopping even more rewarding. On weekends the city’s waterfront park hosts the Portland Saturday Market, a massive open-air crafts market where you can purchase everything from clothing to delicious treats.
Vineyards And Beaches: A Perfect Pairing In Oregon
More than 400 wineries dot the hills west of Interstate 5 between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, about 180 kilometres south. It’s here, in the Willamette Valley, that some of the country’s best Pinot Noir is produced and bottled, making this a worthwhile detour on your Pacific Northwest road trip. At the south end of the valley, King Estate Winery offers tastings among territorial views near Eugene. Before heading back north, you might want to make a detour west to the Oregon Coast where you’ll find pristine beaches framed by rugged cliffs and charming beach towns.
Climb Mountains In The Pacific Northwest
After your tour of Oregon’s wine country, head about 300 kilometres northeast to Mount Hood for a hike along the Mount Hood Trail, which leads to the top of the mountain. Near the summit, veer from the path and take a jaunt on the Pacific Crest Trail, near where Reese Witherspoon’s character famously hurled her boot into a ravine in the movie Wild. Nearby, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area offers more opportunities to hike as well as plenty of scenic waterfall views.
Head north of Mount Hood to reach the border of Washington State. Volcanic mountains pierce the horizon throughout this beautiful state, but none as dramatically as Mount Rainier. Standing more than 4,300 metres above southern Washington, Mount Rainier is the tallest and most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. It’s also home to more wildflowers than one can imagine, making Mount Rainier National Park an ideal springtime destination. In summer, the park offers hikes among ancient giant trees in the Grove of the Patriarchs and stunning waterfall views, while winter brings opportunities for a ranger-led snowshoe tour.
See And Savour Seattle
Less than 115 kilometres from Mount Rainier National Park, Washington’s largest city, Seattle, sits at the edge of the picturesque Puget Sound. Punctuated by lakes, the city core is surrounded by dynamic neighbourhoods. Park the car and catch a glimpse of them from the Space Needle observation deck, nearly 160 metres above ground.
While you’re in Seattle, be sure to stop by Pike Place Market, the oldest farmers market in the USA. With views of ferries plying Puget Sound, the market is worth a visit for the fish throwing, produce and flower stalls, edibles from local purveyors, and the chance to get a cup of coffee at the original Starbucks. More great restaurants, coffee shops, nightlife and bookstores can be found in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood. Pop into Bauhaus Books & Coffee for pours and poems; hit Espresso Vivace, which is known for its devotion to java perfection; or head to Victrola Coffee and Art for live music and an art show.
Discover Washington’s Natural Beauty
Hop back in the car and head north past sailboat-speckled bays, towering mountains, verdant forests and charming coastal towns (plus the Tulalip casino) to Bellingham, Washington, located near the Canadian border. Bellingham is full of boutiques and restaurants — many of them housed in the bustling Fairhaven Historic District — and home to the lovely waterfront Boulevard Park and nearby Whatcom Falls Park, which features waterfalls and nature hikes.
End Of The Road: The San Juan Islands
From Bellingham, retrace your route back toward Seattle to pick up Highway 20 west to Anacortes, where you can set sail on a Washington State Ferry (reservations can be made in advance) for the scenic San Juan Islands. These wild islands dotting the Salish Sea are home to breathtaking beaches, lush forests and plenty of wildlife. Spend a day touring San Juan Island from the treetops, via Zip San Juan, or from the water. Kayak-rental companies abound, charters such as All Aboard Sailing offer tours of the Salish Sea, and companies like Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours that offer wildlife viewing — all of which depart from quaint Friday Harbor.
After your excursion to the San Juan Islands, head south back to Seattle, where you can drop off your rental car and catch a flight home from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
What you’ll need: a camera, sturdy hiking boots, plenty of light layers and an appetite for adventure.
Basic Route Information