LAST UPDATED: 5/24/23 – National Parks Road Trip – Pacific Northwest Road Trip
When it comes to travel, there are few things more American than epic road trips and national parks. Americans have been hitting the open road on their family vacations for decades. And when they do, the most popular destinations are the country’s beautiful national parklands.
In the spirit of both of these American cultural mainstays, I have put together a series of road trip itineraries. These road trips are certain to bring your family together to make memories that will last for a lifetime.
In this five-part series, I will lay out a series of road trips for you to explore. These road trips take you thru some of the most stunning national parklands in the country. If you are looking for a mountain adventure, there is an itinerary that will be right up your alley.
For those looking for a desert escape, I have an itinerary that will blow your mind. And for those looking to explore America’s incredible coastline, there is an itinerary you will never forget. The beauty is, there is an itinerary for everyone to enjoy! From the incredible Rockies to the magnificent canyons of Utah, to the coast of Oregon, these have it all.
|Part 1 – The Badlands to the Rockies Road Trip|
|Part 2 – Ultimate American Southwest Road Trip|
|Part 3 – Desert Mountains and Caves Road Trip|
|Part 4 – Pacific Northwest Road Trip|
|Part 5 – Heart of California Road Trip|
Pacific Northwest Road Trip
In the fourth part of my road trip series, I take you into the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Be prepared, because this national parks itinerary visits some of the most breathtaking parklands and coastline in North America. If you weren’t aware, the Pacific Northwest is known for its rugged coastline and beautiful mountains. These are the areas you will be visiting, so be prepared to be amazed.
The Trip Will Start in Seattle, Washington
To start, you will fly into the beautiful city of Seattle, Washington. After taking some time to explore the city, you will head to nearby Olympic National Park. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, the park is renowned for its temperate rainforests.
Most of the year you will see stunning moss-covered trees throughout the park. In addition, Olympic National Park is also known for its beautiful mountain vistas, such as Hurricane Ridge. With so much to see and do, you will want to spend a full day exploring the park.
Once you have explored Olympic National Park, you will head East into the Rocky Mountains. Your next destination is the incredible North Cascades National Park in Washington State. Prepare to be amazed because the North Cascades is one of the prettier sections of the American Rocky Mountains. While visiting the park, you will take amazing hikes and enjoy stunning mountain vistas. For those who are into climbing and hiking, this stop may be the highlight of your trip.
You Will See the Breathtaking Mount Rainier
Having seen some of the prettier mountains in the Rockies, you will head South to Mount Rainier National Park. At 14,410 feet (or 4,392 meters), it is the 5th tallest mountain in the continental United States. Not surprisingly, it is one of the favorite mountains for climbers. Make sure you bring your hiking shoes with you. Mountain Rainier has some of the best hiking trails in the US National Parks System.
If you think the destinations on this itinerary have been impressive so far, we are just getting warmed up. As soon as you are finished exploring Mount Rainier, you will continue south to the infamous Mount Saint Helens.
The Incredible Mount St. Helens Will Take Your Breath Away
If you didn’t know, Mount St Helens is a volcanic mountain that last erupted in 1980. This eruption covered much of the Pacific Northwest in ash and killing 57 people. Today you can see the crater that the explosive eruption created. Not only that, but you can still see where the areas that were damaged by the eruption.
When you have finished touring Mount St. Helens, you will say goodbye to the state of Washington. The next phase of your road trip will take you into Oregon. Your first stop in Oregon will be the beautiful Multnomah Falls. This stunning waterfall is conveniently located just East of the city of Portland. Not only is it one of the prettier waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, but it may also be the prettiest in America. Believe me, you won’t want to miss it.
The Beauty of the Oregon Coast Will Mesmerize You
After touring the falls, you will head to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Here, you will enjoy some of the most amazing ocean views you will see in the continental United States. As you head South along the coast, I would strongly suggest checking out Cannon Beach. Without a doubt, it is one of the prettiest beaches in North America.
Your next official stop on this itinerary will be the beautiful Heceta Head Lighthouse. Located on the Pacific coast, it is roughly a three-hour drive South of Portland. This is one of the most beautiful lighthouses in North America. If you have the time, you won’t want to miss it.
You Will Explore North America’s Deepest Lake
When you are finished exploring the lighthouse, you will turn East and begin heading inland towards the next stop on the itinerary, which is Crater Lake National Park. One of the most underrated national parks in the United States in terms of beauty, Crater Lake is one of the gems of the US National Parks System. With a depth of 1,949 feet (594 meters), it is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest lakes in the world.
Finally, You’ll Gaze Upon the World’s Tallest Trees
From the deepest lake in the United States, you will next head to some of the biggest trees in the United States when you visit Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California. With trees that are so big, you can drive a car thru them, you will be absolutely astonished when you see the size and the beauty of the California Redwood trees.
As soon as you are finished marveling at their height and beauty, you will head back North to Portland where you will return your rental car and catch your flight home. If you have some extra time before you leave, Portland is a pretty amazing city in its own right and is really fun to explore.
Recommended Trip Time
The Pacific Northwest is a very large area, and with a total drive time of 34 hours, you cover a lot of ground on this Pacific Northwest Road trip. For that reason, I would strongly recommend that you schedule 10 to 14 days to complete this trip. You will feel very rushed if you try and complete the trip in less than 10 days. Below you will find an itinerary that I have designed for a 12-day trip thru the Pacific Northwest to some of the area’s most beautiful national parks and public lands.
Day 1 – Seattle, Washington
You will begin your trip in the city of Seattle, Washington, but you will complete your trip in Portland, Oregon. So when you book your flight, you will want to make sure you select a multi-destination flight. You will want to do the same with your rental car, with a pick-up location of Seattle, but a return location of Portland.
As soon as you land in Seattle, you can either take some time to explore the city or head straight for Olympic National Park to do some sightseeing. It really depends on how much time you are taking on your trip and how much time you would like to spend in Olympic National Park.
Drive Time: 2-hour drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park
Day 2 – Olympic National Park
The second day of your trip will be reserved exclusively for exploring Olympic National Park. Olympic is such an amazing place with such a wide variety of landscapes and habitats that you will want to make sure you see it all.
The beautiful moss-covered trees in the park’s temperate rainforests are absolutely amazing and the views from on top of Hurricane Ridge are breathtaking. After you have spent the day exploring the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park, you will want to head Northeast into the Rocky Mountains to North Cascades National Park.
Drive Time: 4-hour drive from Olympic to North Cascades National Park
|Olympic National Park Visitor Guide|
Day 3 – North Cascades National Park
With beautiful mountain passes, crystal blue rivers, and some of the best hiking in the American Northwest, North Cascades National Park is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. You will get to see the American Rockies at their most beautiful and have a chance to hike and\or climb in one of the most stunning landscapes in the continental United States.
When you are finished checking out all of the amazing trails and viewpoints, you will need to head South to Mount Rainier National Park, which is another beautiful mountain park.
Drive Time: 3-hour and 30-minute drive from North Cascades to Mount Rainier
Days 4-5 – Mount Rainier National Park
Centered around one of the tallest mountains in the continental United States, Mount Rainier National Park is full of breathtaking beauty. With numerous viewpoints and miles of alpine hiking trails, you will quickly fall in love with Mount Rainier National Park.
I would suggest that you spend a few days in the park exploring, especially if you would like to do an overnight hike or do some climbing. When you are finished exploring Mount Rainier National Park, you will continue heading South to Mount St. Helens.
Drive Time: 3-hour drive from Mount Rainier to Mount St. Helens
Day 6 – Mount St. Helens
There is nothing else quite like Mount St. Helens in the United States and few places like it in the world. This large volcano last erupted in 1980 and you can still see the impact of that eruption on the landscape around the mountain to this day. With some amazing viewpoints and a learning center that teaches you exactly what happened on that fateful day when the volcano erupted, Mount St. Helens is a must-do stop on your way South.
As soon as you have completed your tour of Mount St. Helens, you will head further South into the state of Oregon and then turn East when you get to Portland. Just East of Portland you will find the beautiful Multnomah Falls.
Drive Time: 2-hour drive from Mount St. Helens to Multnomah Falls
|Mount Saint Helens Visitor Guide|
Day 7 – Multnomah Falls and the Oregon Coast
If you are a fan of waterfalls, then you are going to absolutely love the Multnomah Falls, which is located just East of Portland. This beautiful, two-tier waterfall is one of the prettier waterfalls in North America. There is an observation deck that you can get to via stairs for a close-up look at the falls, so make sure you make the hike up to check that out.
When you are finished enjoying the falls, you will turn West and head towards the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The first stop on the coast will be the stunning Heceta Head Lighthouse, which is located about four hours South of Portland.
Drive Time: 3-hour and 45-minute drive from Multnomah Falls to Heceta Head Lighthouse
|Multnomah Falls Visitor Guide|
|Cannon Beach Visitor Guide|
Day 8 – The Oregon Coast and Heceta Head Lighthouse
There are not many lighthouses in North America, if not the world, that is as pretty as the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Located on the edge of steep ocean cliffs with a beautiful forest just behind it, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is a photographer’s dream.
Make sure you stop at the multiple viewpoints approaching the lighthouse so that you can get some stunning ocean shots with the lighthouse like the one I took above. After enjoying the Heceta Head Lighthouse, you will turn back inland and head East towards Crater Lake National Park.
Drive Time: 3-hour and 45-minute drive from Heceta Head Lighthouse to Crater Lake
|Heceta Head Lighthouse Visitor Guide|
Days 9-10 Crater Lake National Park
Not only is Crater Lake the deepest lake in the United States, but it is also one of the clearest lakes you will ever see. This makes it the deep blue waters of the lake look almost magical when the sunlight hits the water. Appropriately, the island in the center of Crater Lake is named Wizard Island and looks a lot like an old, abandoned sea ship stranded in the middle of the sea.
There are some amazing viewpoints around the lake and some really nice hiking trails that take you around the lake and down by the water. I would suggest spending the good part of a day at the park exploring. When you are finished, you will head South into California to see Redwood National and State Parks, which is your last park stop on this Pacific Northwest Road trip.
Drive Time: 4-hour and 35-minute drive from Crater Lake to Redwood
Day 11 – Redwood National Park
The last, but certainly not the least beautiful, park stop on this itinerary is Redwood National and State Parks. This collection of national and state park lands is home to some of the biggest trees in the entire world. These behemoth Redwood trees can reach heights of over 360 feet, which makes them the tallest trees in the world.
They don’t have as much girth as the Sequoia trees that are also found in California, but they do get pretty big in diameter. In fact, they can get so wide that you can drive a car thru some of them. Just outside the national parkland, you will find a tree that you can drive thru, as you can see in my picture above. What a surreal experience this is.
When you are finished exploring the Redwood National and State Parks, you will head back up North to Portland to finish your trip. This is the longest stretch of driving that you will do on this trip, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to make it back without stressing.
Drive Time: 6-hour drive from Redwood National Park to Portland, Oregon
Day 12 – Portland, Oregon
You will wrap up your trip in Portland, Oregon, where you will return your rental car and catch your flight home. If you have some extra time, I would recommend taking some time to explore the Portland area. The Columbia River area has some really scenic areas and Portland has some excellent restaurants and shopping.
Best Time to Go
I would strongly recommend that you make this Pacific Northwest Road trip between the months of May thru October. It can be quite cold in the Pacific Northwest during the Winter months of December thru February and the early Spring months of March thru April and late Autumn month of November can be quite unpredictable in terms of weather.
If you are up for outdoor winter activities like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, then winter might be right up your alley. However, I would make sure you are prepared for cold temperatures and possibly poor road conditions.