How to Plan an Amazing Pacific Northwest Road Trip
The first time we traveled to the Pacific Northwest together in the winter of 2015, I distinctly remember Alysha remarking on the fact that everything is SO LUSH. She’s a California native, and is used to the hills turning a golden brown color just weeks into the spring. Not so in the Pacific Northwest!
The Pacific Northwest is the place I, Matt, still call home. I grew up in Seattle, and still return every year for at least a few weeks. Recently I’ve found myself spending more and more time in the Pacific Northwest, including just under six months of the past 12.
We love the Pacific Northwest, and are pretty confident that you will too. There’s truly something special about the convergence of the mountains and the ocean in a place where everything is green all year long.
In this guide, we’ll take you through a Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary that is based on our adventures in the Pacific Northwest over the past few years.
You can copy and paste this exact road trip itinerary – that’s how detailed it is – or make some swaps and changes based on your interests and how much time you have.
We had almost three months, and we still didn’t see it all. So, remember, you can always come back. We certainly did (spoiler: we moved to Oregon after a couple of years on the road!).
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Where to Start and End Your PNW Road Trip
We think the best way to see everything there is to see is to fly into Seattle (Seattle Tacoma International Airport // SEA) and out of Portland (Portland International Airport // PDX).
You can also reverse this, and fly into Portland then out of Seattle. Or, if you’re trying to avoid one-way rental car fees, you can add some extra driving and make it a loop out of one or the other.
Use Kayak, our favorite tool for finding cheap flights, to check flight prices into Seattle here, and into Portland here.
You will absolutely need a rental car (if you’re flying in) to do either of these road trips. We’d recommend picking it up and dropping it off at the airport you fly in and out of to make it easy.
The Road Trip Route
Below, we’ve put together a complete 14 day road trip that takes you to our favorite places to visit in the Pacific Northwest. You’ll get a taste of mountains, the coast, and the cities along the way.
Obviously, what you do and see is largely going to depend on your own interests.
If you’re not into hiking, then you probably don’t need to spend as much time in places like Mount Hood and Mount Rainier. Instead, spend some extra time exploring along the coast, in Portland and Seattle, or add on one of the destinations at the end that we just didn’t have time for in the main itinerary.
Over 14 days, you’ll do a giant loop around the two states, starting in Seattle and ending in Portland. From Seattle, you’ll head to Mount Rainier National Park before making a big loop down the Pacific Coast and through the Cascades, ending in Portland.
Here’s a map of the Pacific Northwest road trip you’ll find below.
With just two weeks, you’ll have to pick and choose what to do and see.
That means you’ll need to save the places further North – Bellingham and the North Cascades – and south – the southern Oregon Coast (our favorite) and Crater Lake National Park (read our itinerary for Crater Lake before you go!) – for a different trip.
It’s a bummer, but the truth is that you can’t see it all with two weeks (or less). We spent more than three months doing this road trip, and we still didn’t make it to every place we wanted to.
A Complete 14 Day Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary
On this itinerary, you’re going to cover A LOT of ground. You’ll get about a week on the coast, and then a week in the mountains. A week in Oregon, and a week in Washington.
If one of those sounds more appealing to you – if you’re a mountain person like us rather than a beach person, for example – rest assured that there is PLENTY to do with 2 weeks in the mountains.
Feel free to steal this exact road trip itinerary as it’s written, or to chop it up and make it your own. Either way, we hope it’s helpful for planning your trip to the Pacific Northwest.
Day 1: Land in Seattle and Explore
I know, I know. You’re probably anxious to get out and explore the sheer natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. But I implore you to take a breath and spend half a day in Seattle before you do.
Or, even better, if you find yourself with extra time, spend a full 2 days in Seattle exploring the city that I consider home.
Between an amazing food and drink scene and some iconic cultural sights that are worth visiting, Seattle has a ton of things to do and see that will capture your heart and have you saying to yourself “I could totally live here” on a sunny summer day.
Now, if you’re flying in, take the amazing light rail system from the airport into the city and check into your hotel before heading out. I would recommend waiting to rent your car until after your time in Seattle to avoid paying parking fees and/or tickets.
Side note: Summer in Seattle is spectacular. Long, warm, dry days are the norm from July 5th through Labor Day and sometimes well into September. However, that’s how they get you. The other months of the year are downright drizzly. Keep that in mind before you rush to move to Seattle after spending a few days here over the summer.
Where to Stay in Seattle
While we love some of the more low-key neighborhoods in Seattle, if you’re short on time and only have a day or two, you really should stay somewhere central.
Here are three great options in Belltown and South Lake Union, which are our two top picks for your time in Seattle because they’re both central and full of great bars and restaurants.
- CitizenM Seattle: We love CitizenM hotels because they’re the perfect affordable hotel for someone who’s planning to spend most of their time outside of their hotel room. They have nice common spaces like the bar and foyer, and rooms are compact but well designed with modern touches that tech-savvy travelers will appreciate (like USB charging ports and room controls via tablet, for example). They only have one room type, so no more waffling between “economy comfort” and “superior economy comfort” rooms.
- The State Hotel: This hotel is gorgeous, and it’s just a block away from Pike Place, which is about as good a location as you’ll find. Rooms are stylish and modern, and the subway-tiled bathrooms are droolworthy, at least for me.
- Ace Hotel Seattle: We stayed here a few years ago, and the location in the heart of Belltown is fantastic. Staff are super helpful, rooms are simple but stylish, and the best parts of Seattle are basically outside the front door.
Read More: Where to Stay in Seattle – A Complete Neighborhood Guide
What to Do in Seattle
Seattle has some really amazing neighborhoods that are worth walking around and exploring, but with your limited time, we’d recommend one particular route that gives you the best of Seattle in about half a day.
You’ll start at Pike Place Market and head to Capitol Hill via Seattle Center.
Start at Pike Place Market, famous for the flying fish and the (objectively really disgusting) gum wall. The flying fish are worth seeing. The gum wall is not.
Stroll through the market, making stops at Ellenos Greek Yogurt, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and Beecher’s Cheese (among others – these are just our favorites).
One thing you SHOULD NOT do is stop at the so-called “first Starbucks”. Which isn’t even really the first Starbucks, and it’s ALSO not even any different than the 76 other Starbucks locations within three blocks. Except for the long line.
Instead, head a few blocks over to Anchorhead Coffee, one of our favorite coffee shops in Seattle.
Next, head north to the Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle and the cultural hub of the city. Culture lovers should check out the MoPop (Museum of Pop Culture), which is our favorite museum in Seattle.
Rather than heading up the Space Needle, which is expensive and kind of boring, walk up the hill to nearby Kerry Park (here on Google Maps) where you’ll find the best view in Seattle.
Finish your day in Capitol Hill, our favorite neighborhood in Seattle.
Don’t miss Elliot Bay Book Company – the best bookstore in Seattle. For dinner, head to 8oz Burger. Dessert at Molly Moons, a Seattle ice cream institution. Post-dinner drinks in this lively neighborhood at Tavern Law (for fancy cocktails) or Footprint Wine Tap (for sustainable wine).
Days 2 & 3: Mount Rainier National Park (Paradise)
Drive time: 2 hours / 84 miles
Today, you’ll leave the city and head to Mount Rainier, which you might have seen from Kerry Park in Seattle if it was a clear day. It’s the highest peak in Washington, and it towers above the city, at least on days where visibility is good.
Mount Rainier National Park is one of three national parks in Washington. The proximity to Seattle makes it a popular day trip, but we think you should definitely spend a night there to get the most of it – sunset and sunrise are pretty spectacular.
There are a couple of different parts of the park, but we think the one you should focus on is Paradise. It’s the most convenient in terms of getting to your next stop, and there is a ton to do and see nearby.
Pick up your rental car at SeaTac (take the Light Rail back to the airport) and head south on I-5 to Rainier. You’ll have an afternoon and then a full day to explore.
What to Do at Mount Rainier
There are three things we think you should make sure to do at Mt. Rainier over the course of your day and a half in the park.
- Hike the Skyline Trail: This 5.6 mile hike starts from the Visitor Center and climbs to Panorama Point, where you’ll have sweeping views of the Tatoosh Range to the south, and of course, the glaciated peak of Rainier. It’s so close it feels like you can reach out and touch it! It’s one of the best hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, and at the top of our list of hikes in Washington State.
- See All the Waterfalls: There are at least four waterfalls – some of the best waterfalls in Washington – to check out in Paradise. Take the detour to Myrtle Falls on the Skyline Trail, then drive to Christine, Comet, and Narada Falls, which are the other three worth seeing.
- Reflection Lakes for Sunset: We caught sunset and sunrise the next morning here, and it was a highlight of our last trip to Rainier. On a calm day, there will be a perfect reflection of Rainier waiting for you in the lake, and the peak lights up with a brilliant pinkish hue around sunset. Be prepared for mosquitoes in the summer.
Where to Stay at Mt. Rainier
You should plan on either staying inside the park at Cougar Rock Campground (reserve up to six months in advance) or the Paradise Inn (expensive, but right at the Visitor Center and has all the rustic charm), or in the nearby town of Ashford.
If you’re looking to stay in Ashford, here are a couple of options for your two nights at Mt. Rainier.
- Paradise Village: Simple, comfortable, and newly renovated. Choose between hotel style rooms in the lodge, or your own private cabin. They also have a cool hot tub that’s heated by a fire pit under the tub. Rooms have a fridge and kettle for boiling water.
- Hera’s Chalet: This cozy cabin in the woods is perfect for a couple. It’s ten minutes away from the entrance to the park, and has everything you’ll need for a perfect trip to Rainier including a fire pit, hot tub, and sauna.
- Stunning Creekfront Cabin: This two bedroom cabin has a little more space for larger groups of up to four. Vaulted ceilings and huge windows bring in plenty of natural light, and there’s a great deck to enjoy the warm summer evenings on.
Day 4-6: Olympic National Park
Your next stop is going to be Olympic National Park. You’re going to have to backtrack just a little to get to Port Angeles, where you’ll start an epic coastal road trip from there all the way down to the Oregon Coast.
We love Olympic National Park – it has three distinct ecosystems to explore, including the coast, the alpine areas, and the temperate rainforest. Over the course of your time here, you’ll experience all three.
It’s worth noting that figuring out where to stay here is a little more complicated.
Because it’s such a big park covering a pretty huge area of land, we think your best bet is to stay in a different place each night. Otherwise you’re going to find yourself backtracking every day, adding hours of extra driving to your trip.
Day 4: Drive to Port Angeles + Hurricane Ridge
Drive time: 3 hours / 155 miles
Get up early and start the drive out to Port Angeles, the jumping off point for your trip to Olympic National Park. Take the route through Tacoma (I-5 North to WA-16 W), which doesn’t require any ferries or tolls.
Along the way, stop at Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Chimacum for some amazing local cider (their Blackcurrant cider is fantastic) and Nourish Sequim for lunch.
Spend your afternoon at Hurricane Ridge, the highest point in the park and the most accessible example of the alpine region of Olympic National Park. Here are some things to do while you’re there.
Hike Hurricane Hill: One of the most popular hiking trails in the park, this is an easy paved path that takes you up to the top of the hill, where you can see for miles in every direction on a clear day. Take in the views of Mt. Baker to the east, Victoria B.C. to the north, and the Olympics to the south. It’s well-worth the effort.
Longer Hikes: Klahhane Ridge is a good longer hike option. It leaves from the Visitor Center, and is highly customizable depending on how big of a hike you’re up for. Another good hiking option would be either Moose Lake or Roaring Winds Camp, both from the Obstruction Point Trailhead.
Drive Obstruction Point Road: Obstruction Point Road is a winding, gravel road that follows a ridge out to the trailhead at the end. It’s narrow, and has steep drop-offs on either side, so it’s not for the faint of heart. Open only from July to October, it can be crowded during the short season and it gets a little bit tricky when it’s busy because it’s a single lane road. Still, the views are spectacular as you drive out further into the alpine portion of the park.
Where to Stay for the Night
Stay at either Heart o’ Hills Campground (first-come-first-served) if you’re camping, at the Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles if you want a hotel, or in a vacation rental on the shores of Lake Sutherland for your first night.
Day 5: Lake Crescent + Northern Pacific Coast
Drive time: 1 hours / 60 miles
On your second day in Olympic National Park, tackle Lake Crescent and the Pacific Coast.
- In the morning, head first to Sol Duc Falls, a nice waterfall that’s a short, flat walk from the parking lot. This is the starting point for the High Divide Trail, which is one of the best backpacking trails in Washington State.
- Next, head to Lake Crescent. Hike to Marymere Falls, a towering waterfall that’s another easy hike. More adventurous hikers should trek up to Mount Storm King for spectacular views over the lake and beyond.
- Finally, make your way to the coast. Start with First, Second, and Third beaches in La Push. Yes, those are the real names. Each is a short hike from the parking area, and Second Beach is the best of the bunch.
- Take in sunset at Rialto Beach, and walk the four miles (round trip) along the beach to Hole in the Wall around sunset. This was the highlight of our Olympic National Park itinerary, and we recommend it to anyone and everyone who will listen to us. Make sure to look up – there are bald eagles that hang out in the trees. We saw two of them!
Where to Stay for the Night
For your second night, stay in the Forks area. Yep, that Forks. The one with unsettlingly attractive vampires and werewolves. Here are a couple of options:
- Mora Campground: The best campground in the area. Reserve in advance – ideally a few months in advance. It’s a five minute drive from Rialto Beach, which puts you in perfect position post-sunset.
- Pacific Inn Motel and Forks Motel are the best hotels in the town of Forks itself, which has the only amenities like groceries and restaurants in the area. Both are affordable, and would be a good option for the night.
- The Misty Valley Inn: This is probably the best place to stay in the area. It’s a cute B&B just north of Forks, and it gets RAVE reviews. Rooms are stylish and comfortable, and there are only a handful of them, so you’re going to get personalized service. Breakfast on the deck is also going to be a highlight of your time, where you’ll get to choose from a range of options including freshly made waffles, crepes, pancakes, or biscuits and sausage.
Day 6: Hoh Rainforest + Drive the Pacific Coast to Astoria
Drive time: 4 hours / 180 miles (not including side trip to Hoh Rainforest)
On your final day in Olympic National Park, you’ll start with the Hoh Rainforest and make your way down the coast to Astoria, Oregon, which will mark the end of your time in Washington and the beginning of your Oregon adventure.
Start with an early morning at the Hoh Rainforest. We say early morning because the morning ambiance can’t be beat.
Sunlight peeking through the dense canopy of the rainforest is a sight to behold, and, arguably more importantly, you’ll be there before the crowds. That also means you’ll have a better shot of seeing wildlife, particularly the resident Roosevelt Elk who call this spot home.
Do the two short nature walks – the Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Nature Trail – while you’re here.
Next, head south on highway 101 to Ruby Beach, which is one of our favorite beaches in the park. Walk down from the parking lot to the beach and admire the sea stacks jutting out of the water just offshore.
It’s probably going to be windy here, so bring a coat and an extra layer. Walk up the beach to the north to escape the crowds and enjoy the sound of the surf and the birds.
Except they’re seagulls, so they might sound nice, but they can be annoying AF. DO NOT FEED THEM.
Continue down Highway 101, which cuts inland for a bit before returning to the coast. Stop at both Kalaloch, where you can walk on the beach to the cool Tree of Life, and Lake Quinault, where you’ll find the Quinault Rainforest. Both short walks are worth your time.
Finally, pull into Astoria, Oregon for the night. Get dinner and a flight of local beer at either one of the breweries in town – Fort George or Buoy (we like St. George for their gluten free beer options) and get some rest before you hit the Oregon coast in the morning.
Where to Stay in Astoria
Astoria has some fun hotel options.
We stayed at the Norblad Hotel recently, and would highly recommend it.
It’s colorful, cool, and affordable, which is just about everything you need. You can save money by opting for a “cabin,” which has a shared, single occupancy bathroom (no seven stall toilets, it’s basically private). Pet-friendly, too!
They also have rooms with private bathrooms, if you’re not into sharing a bathroom with strangers.
The Selina Commodore and the Cannery Pier Hotel are more luxurious options in town.
If you want to camp, look at Fort Stevens State Park.
Day 7: Astoria to Lincoln City – The Oregon Coast
Drive time: 3.5 hours / 133 miles
On your first day in Oregon, make your way down the picturesque Oregon Coast – which you’ll notice looks a lot different than the Washington Coast – from Astoria down to Newport, with stops in Cannon Beach and Tillamook along the way.
It’s worth noting that this is a day that is dense with things to do. It’s worth two to three days of your time if you have it, but the fact that you’ve only got two weeks for the entire Pacific Northwest means you’re going to short-change certain parts of it.
Plan on returning for a full Oregon coast road trip at a later date – it’s well worth it.
Spend the morning in Astoria, then hit the road in the afternoon.
Things to Do in Astoria
Aside from the local breweries, which we mentioned above, there are three things to do in Astoria that we think you shouldn’t miss.
- The Astoria Column: This marks the end of the Oregon Trail. Not only is it beautiful, with the history carved into the sides of the column, but some of the best views of the area are from the top of the column, which is reached by climbing up narrow stairs. You’ll pay $5 for parking.
- Fort Stevens State Park: Get your first taste of the Oregon Coast by hiking out to the shipwreck on the beach, the Peter Iredale. On the way back, explore the batteries and bunkers of the abandoned military base.
- Lewis and Clark National Historical Park: Another relic of Lewis and Clark’s journey west, Fort Clatsop is worth a stop to see what the settlements on the frontier looked like. The Corps of Discovery spent a winter here in the early 1800’s before their journey back east. The rangers are all in period-appropriate costumes, which is kind of a fun touch. Lots of information on the Oregon trail and Native Americans who call this place home.
Road Trip Stops to Make Between Astoria and Lincoln City
For the afternoon, head south out of Astoria down the Oregon Coast. Here are the stops we think you should make along the way. We also have an entire guide to the best stops to make on an Oregon Coast road trip, which you should definitely read.
- Seaside, Oregon: We weren’t big fans of Seaside – it feels very resort-town, and doesn’t have a lot of the charm that places like Astoria have. It’s worth a stop for the aquarium and the beach, but there’s better things awaiting you to the south.
- Ecola State Park: Great views of Cannon Beach to the south. The 4.5 mile hike to Indian Beach is one of the best hikes on the Oregon Coast.
- Cannon Beach: This should be your lunch stop. And we like Public Coast Brewing. Don’t miss Insomnia Coffee while you’re here if you like great coffee. We’d recommend grabbing a cup to go and walking on the beach out to Haystack Rock. There’s a puffin colony that calls Haystack Rock home, and we saw two bald eagles steal a few puffin eggs, which the puffins were NOT happy about. It’s best at sunset, but unless you’re spending the night here, afternoon will have to do.
- Neahkahnie Mountain: A short but steep hike up to a gorgeous viewpoint where you can see straight down the Oregon Coast on a clear day. Do it to work up an appetite for your next stop.
- Tillamook Creamery: This is probably Alysha’s favorite stop on the entire coast. And it’s because of Tillamook Creamery, which everyone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest knows for their super creamy ice cream and great cheeses. Here, they have a scoop shop with all sorts of interesting flavors, and a tour of the cheese factory. It was the first time I had ever tried cheese curds which are… amazing. You can only get them here at the factory. I highly recommend frying them before eating. YUM. The chocolate peanut butter ice cream has literal ribbons of peanut butter swirled throughout. It’s the best.
- Cape Kiwanda is one of your last stops before hitting Newport. It’s a popular beach with surfers, and you should hike up the dunes on the north side of the beach to reach the overlook. Pelican Brewing is a good stop after your hike for a beer before hitting the road again.
Where to Stay on the Oregon Coast
For your night on the Oregon Coast, stay somewhere between Lincoln City and Depoe Bay. As you get further south, it starts to get a little less touristy. Towns like Seaside and Cannon Beach are built for tourists, while some of the communities further south feel more local.
The reason we don’t have a specific city for you is that there are SO MANY amazing hotels along this stretch of coast.
Here are a few that are on our list for the future – we’ve always camped on the coast since we’ve been living in our Honda Odyssey up and down the west coast for the better part of a year now. But that will change in the future, and we’ll be checking these spots out.
One thing worth noting – if you stay further north in either Lincoln City or Otter Rock, you’ll be in a perfect position to tackle one of our favorite hikes on the Oregon Coast the next morning – God’s Thumb (or Cascade Head, another good one nearby).
- Anchor Inn Resort (Lincoln City): A nice pet-friendly hotel in Lincoln City. The common areas are the star of the show, with fire pits, lawn games, and rooms featuring wood-paneling and kitchenettes. Their cabins are pet-friendly.
- Inn at Arch Rock (Depoe Bay): They have rooms from small and cozy spaces for couples to spacious suites for bigger groups and families. Most have kitchenettes, some have full kitchens with stovetops. The inn looks across the bay, and the adirondack chairs are the perfect place to watch the sunset over the ocean after a big day of exploring on the coast.
- SCP Depoe Bay (Depoe Bay): This is my favorite of the bunch. Minimalist style (our favorite), eco-friendly, and fireplaces in the rooms. What, exactly, is not to like? They have 13 gorgeous rooms, ranging from single queens to twin bunk beds to accommodate a variety of group sizes. Some rooms have patios, some have harbor views.
- The Inn at Otter Crest (Otter Rock): On a hillside overlooking the ocean, this resort is what dreams are made of. Rooms all have big windows looking out to sea, and a private patio.
Day 8: Newport to Bend
Drive time: 4 hours / 219 miles
Today, you’ll spend the morning on the coast, savoring your last taste of that amazing ocean breeze before trading in your flip flops for hiking boots and heading to the mountains. With a stop in a charming college town to break up the drive.
The drive is basically going to take all day because there are a ton of amazing stops to make along the way.
Things to Do Between the Coast and Bend
This is a route that is packed with things to do and see. There is one point where you’ll need to choose a fork in the road.
You’ll head east to Eugene, which makes a good stop for lunch, then continue into Willamette National Forest. This is where the choice happens. You can’t go wrong either way.
You can either take Highway 126 as it turns north, and connect with Highway 20 to head southeast through Sisters and on to Bend (this route). Or take the Mckenzie River Scenic Byway – Highway 242 – which is one of the most scenic drives in all of the Pacific Northwest (only open over the summer).
We like the route that uses 126 and 20, and that’s what we’re going to cover here.
- Start with a morning hike to God’s Thumb, which has amazing views of the coastline. The footing can get sketchy here, it’s narrow and steep in places. Be careful, particularly after rain.
- Drive east to Eugene and stop for coffee or lunch. We loved Farmers Union Coffee and Jazzy Ladies Cafe, which would be a great one-two punch for coffee and lunch in Eugene. Wildcraft Cider, who makes fresh and sometimes funky dry ciders from local fruits (not just apples!) is worth a stop too, if they’re open.
- Continue east out of Eugene onto 126, which follows the gorgeous McKenzie River. Check out Goodpasture Bridge, one of the famous covered bridges along this stretch.
- In order, make stops at Belknap Covered Bridge, the Tamolitch Blue Pool (a 3.7 mile hike through the woods to one of the most brilliant blue ponds you’ll ever see), and Sahalie Falls (a towering waterfall – check out nearby Koosah while you’re there).
- Continue into Sisters, a charming small town in the mountains. Sisters Coffee is one of our favorite spots, and the downtown area is worth walking around and stretching your legs. We saw multiple elk just wandering around town last time we were there – keep your eyes peeled!
From there, it’s an easy drive into Bend! Check into your hotel and grab a bite to eat at either El Sancho Taco Shop (east) or Spork (our pick – get the fried chicken and the peanut tomato curry!).
Where to Stay in Bend
In Bend, choose either a hotel, a vacation rental, or a campground as your home base for exploring Bend and the surrounding area. You’ll be here for two nights.
Loge Bend – Offering gear rental, outdoor events, and in-room hammocks! Great for the adventure-minded traveler.
The Oxford Hotel – A swankier option that puts you right in the heart of downtown Bend.
Tumalo State Park Campground – A ten minute drive north of town, this campground is well-set up, has a fun atmosphere, and the Deschutes River flows right by it for an easy dip.
Prefer a vacation rental? This modern one bedroom apartment is near all of downtown’s shopping and dining options, but it also has a great kitchen if you’re feeling burnt out on restaurant life. This historic cottage sleeps four and is just a few minutes walk to downtown and even has complimentary bikes for exploring the city!
Days 9 & 10: Bend, Oregon
Bend is a great town, though it has gotten significantly more popular since the first time I was there more than a decade ago coaching in a soccer tournament. Still, it’s a fun place to explore, and I’ve been on multiple kinds of trips to Bend, including the aforementioned soccer tournament and a 20+ person bachelor party (that I planned).
Here are our picks for your time in Bend.
Explore Deschutes National Forest
We think you should get out into Deschutes National Forest for one of the days. The Green Lakes Trail is one of our favorite hikes in all of Oregon, and Sparks Lake is gorgeous, particularly at sunrise when there’s a mist on the water.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, summit the South Sister, one of the tallest peaks in the state. It’s not a hike for new hikers – it’s a grueling climb that can (barely) be done as a day hike, and would make a great one night backpacking trip.
If you’re looking for an easier hike with a waterfall payoff, head toTumalo Falls. There’s a ton to do and see in this area, it’s worth spending at least half a day here.
For the rest of your time, explore the town of Bend itself.
Eating and Drinking: For brunch, head to the Lemon Tree or Sparrow Bakery (for breakfast sandos). For coffee, Thump and Lone Pine are our picks, along with Megaphone, which is west of the river. Beer is big in Bend – there’s basically an unlimited number of breweries in town. Head to Crux Fermentation Project for their awesome outdoor space, Monkless for their award-winning Belgian ales, and Bend Brewing Company for a great space along the river. Cider lovers should definitely head to Tumalo Cider, which is 10 minutes north of downtown Bend.
Hike Pilot Butte: This is an easy hike right in the middle of town that circles up to the summit, where you can see in every direction. On a clear day, you can see most peaks in Oregon. There’s a helpful sundial showing which peak is which at the top.
Deschutes Brewery Tour: Beer lovers should head to Deschutes for their brewery tour, which I’ve done twice now and it’s always a good time. They’re the OG Bend Brewery, and are probably the biggest in Oregon (someone correct me if I’m wrong).
Enjoy the River: The Deschutes River runs right through the middle of Bend. Our favorite spots to enjoy the river are Drake Park, which is right near Downtown Bend and would be a good spot to grab your coffee and walk to, or at Riverbend Park, which is the starting point for either a walk along the Deschutes River Trail, or a float down the river in the warmer summer months – you could also do a canoe or kayak for a different experience.
Spend the day eating, drinking, and walking your way through Bend.
Day 11: Bend to Mount Hood
Drive time: 2 hours / 107 miles
Continue on your tour-de-Oregon-mountains with a trip to Mt. Hood, our favorite mountain in Oregon.
But first, stop at Smith Rock State Park to do the best hike in the park – the Misery Ridge + Summit Trail.
You’re going to want to get out there early if you can – this is a great example of the high desert, and it gets scorching hot during the summer. You’ll need to pay a $5 parking fee, which you can do at one of the automated kiosks that takes credit cards.
The hike starts with a brutal, steep climb to the top of a ridge. You’ll traverse the ridge and all of a sudden have great views of Monkey Face, a destination that is famous among climbers.
Then, because of course you do, you’ll descend right back down to the river, which is where you started.
Take the right at the fork (the left takes you on an easier but less interesting hike back) and continue along the summit trail. At points, you’ll have great views over the landscape of Smith Rock State Park that you can’t get from anywhere else. Which is always a good feeling.
Post-hike, head north on 26 to Government Camp, your home base for exploring the area around Mt. Hood.
For sunset, head to Trillium Lake with a beer and some snacks and watch Mt. Hood turn pink as dusk falls on the surrounding landscape. The south end of the lake gives you the perfect view of Mt. Hood, and you can park at the day use area.
Where to Stay at Mount Hood
The most convenient place to stay to explore Hood is going to be along Highway 26 on the south side of the mountain.
The best places to stay are going to be either at Trillium Lake Campground, which is one of our favorite campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest and is super convenient for sunset at the lake, or in the nearby town of Government Camp.
There’s a Best Western, the historic Timberline Lodge, and a good selection of cozy cabins in the woods to be found.
You could also stay at one of two rustic resorts – the Cooper Spur Mountain Resort or Lost Lake Resort – but they’re significantly less convenient for exploring the south side of Hood (which is where we’ll focus the next morning) than staying in Government Camp.
Day 12: Mount Hood and Drive to Hood River
Drive time: 1 hours / 54 miles
Head ‘round the mountain to Hood River, which is on the Columbia River Gorge and is a great last stop before you arrive in Portland and head home.
A Morning Hike at Mt. Hood
But first, a hike! There are a bunch of amazing hikes at Mount Hood – we spent four days there last summer and spent all day on the trail and still didn’t get to all the hikes we wanted to. Sometimes we did two-a-days!
Here are three options for you to choose from:
McNeil Point (10.5 miles / 2,300 ft elevation gain): This is a tough hike, but it takes you right up to the face of Mount Hood. So close you can practically touch it! It starts with a short climb to Bald Mountain, where you’ll enjoy a spectacular view of Hood, before continuing to climb aggressively through the forest. At the top, there’s a loop trail. The left hand part of the loop is longer, but more gradual. The right part of the loop involves a steep, rocky ascent that we would recommend doing on the way up, NOT the way down. So go counter-clockwise on the lollipop. There’s a cool structure at the top, and wildflowers are plentiful in the early summer.
Bald Mountain via Lolo Pass (6.5 miles / 1,500 ft elevation gain): This hike basically ends where the hike to McNeil Point begins. The view of Mount Hood from the end of the hike is so good – it’s the header image on the homepage of our website! We were there in June, when the rhododendrons were in peak bloom. But it was so foggy we couldn’t see anything. We thought Hood was in a completely different spot than it actually is, which we realized when we returned in July to do McNeil Point.
Ramona Falls (7 miles / 1,000 ft elevation gain): This is a relatively easy hike that takes you to a towering waterfall (see below for a picture of us there for scale). The only tricky part is a river crossing about a mile in, but it’s totally doable when the water’s not too high. The part of the hike near the waterfall enters a dense forest, which is kind of cool.
After your hike, grab a bite in Government Camp (Ratskeller for pizza or Mt. Hood Brewing) before heading towards Hood River, which is actually east, the way you came in (then you head north toward the Gorge).
The Hood River Valley
The Hood River Valley, home to the “Fruit Loop”, is one of our favorite parts of Oregon, especially in the spring and summer (and fall). You’ll pass countless apple orchards and farm-fresh fruit stands as you make your way through this fertile stretch of land just outside of Portland.
Here are some stops to make on your way from Mt. Hood to Hood River.
- Tamanawas Falls: Gorgeous waterfall (one of the best waterfalls in Oregon, we’d say), though it’s another 3.5 miles from the trailhead (roundtrip), which might be too much if you’ve already tackled a hike today.
- Stop by Draper Girls Country Farm for u-pick fruit, amazing preserves made out of locally grown and harvested fruit and vegetables, and hard cider made from their apples.
- Up for some wine tasting? Head to Stave and Stone Vineyard for local wine with a view of Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens across the valley. Not bad. Right next door is Hood River Lavender, which blooms in the late summer. There’s a ton of wineries in this valley – see them all here.
- The Gorge White House is your last stop on your way into Hood River. And you’re here for their cider. And their wine. Grab a flight on the patio and enjoy.
End your day in Hood River. Get dinner in town – Hood River Taqueria or Lake Taco are two solid options – and a drink at one of Hood River’s famous breweries – Pfriem or Full Sail. Both breweries also serve pub-style food, if you want to just combine your stops and have dinner at one of them.
Where to Stay in Hood River
We have one suggestion in Hood River, and two more rustic suggestions just across the river in Bingen and White Salmon.
- In Hood River, look at the Hood River Hotel. It’s right downtown, and walkable to pretty much anything you could possibly want to do in Hood River.
- In Bingen, a five minute drive away, look at the Society Hotel which, SPOILER, you’ll also see in our list for Portland below because we stayed there and loved it. It’s a great hotel with an onsite spa (if that’s your thing, you deserve it after all these hikes!) and hotel-style rooms and private cabine.
- The Ruby June Inn is further out, but we fell in love with their property and people after staying there last summer. It’s 20 minutes outside of Hood River, but it’s a spectacular retreat that will be a quieter, more peaceful experience. Enjoy coffee in the garden in the morning, or wine by the campfire in the evening. And did we mention that it’s gorgeous?
Day 13: The Columbia River Gorge
Drive time: 1.5 hours / 65 miles
End your road trip with a bang by exploring the Columbia River Gorge en-route to Portland, which is where you’ll catch your flight home (or start your drive home).
What to Do in the Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the best day trips from Portland, and we have some thoughts on exactly where you should stop, what you should see, and where you should hike.
- Start your day with coffee at Kickstand Coffee in Hood River before hitting the road on the Oregon side of the Gorge.
- Then head over the Hood River Bridge – which will cost you $2 – to the Washington side of the Gorge. One of the best hikes in the Columbia River Gorge is actually on the Washington side – Dog Mountain. We love this hike, and it’s especially spectacular in the early summer when blankets of wildflowers cover every available surface. You’ll need a permit for weekends in peak wildflower season (they use them to control the number of people on the trail) which you can reserve here.
- After your hike, head to world-famous Multnomah Falls, which is one of the most spectacular waterfalls you’re ever going to see with your own two eyes. It’s on the Oregon side, so you’ll need to cross another bridge to get there (“The Bridge of the Gods” in Cascade Locks). Marvel at the 600+ foot tall falls and walk up to the observation point on the bridge. Be prepared for the spray that comes off the falls – you WILL get wet.
- Finish the day off with a drive on the Historic Columbia River Highway, which was the route that people used before 84 was built. Stop at Latourell Falls and do the short two mile loop to the upper and lower falls, then continue along to the Vista House and Women’s Forum Scenic Vista.
And just like that, it’s probably around the afternoon and it’s time to check in to your place in Portland!
Where to Stay in Portland
There are a bunch of great hotels in PDX – here are some amazing places to stay in Portland for your night in the city.
- Kex Hotel: We’re in love with this place. Kex is an Icelandic hotel chain who just opened up a place in Portland, and it looks fantastic. They’ve brought together the best aspects of hotels – the private rooms and friendly service – and hostels – the social aspects and shared kitchen. They have a mix of private and bunk rooms, and you can choose between a private or shared bathroom, depending on your budget.
- Society Hotel: We’ve stayed here, and loved it. Choose from a range of room types – bunk rooms to private suites – all fairly budget-friendly. They have a cool rooftop deck, too. It’s a lively area that can be loud at night, if that bothers you, bring earplugs.
- The Hoxton: We love Hoxton hotels, and this location is no different, though we haven’t stayed here just yet. Great onsite restaurant and bar, and room types from shoebox (if you’re planning on being out and about) to roomy (if you need a little extra space).
- HI Portland Northwest Hostel: Located in the hip Northwest District (or Slabtown, as most people call it), this place is conveniently located if you have a short stay in Portland. It’s a hostel, which means it’s going to be affordable. It’s walkable to Downtown, 23rd Street (a great strip of shops, bars, and restaurants), and the International Rose Test Garden. Private rooms and bunk rooms, plus apartments available.
Day 14: Portland + Fly Home
Spend your last day in the Pacific Northwest exploring Portland, which is on our list of cities to settle down in eventually.
The reason we love Portland is that, unlike places like Seattle and San Francisco, where it’s pretty clear that tech money has influenced the development of the city, Portland has managed to retain its character.
We’ve found that we enjoy the thriving small business community, which means great food and drinks from locally owned businesses.
That’s not to say Portland isn’t changing – it certainly is. It’s just doing a better job of it than other places on the west coast.
Pssst! We have an entire guide dedicated to spending one perfect day in Portland!
Here are some things to do while you’re in Portland.
- Powell’s Books: The best independent bookstore on the West Coast? In the country? In the world? In a world where bookstores have been replaced by Amazon, Powell’s is a lighthouse on a hill. I love coming here and usually walk out with far too many books that I end up carrying around all day.
- The International Rose Test Garden: This place, which is up the hill from Downtown, is amazing. Thousands and thousands of roses all blooming in the spring and early summer. Plus, great views of Mt. Hood. Walk up here, then back down to 23rd Street for a post-walk treat at Salt & Straw, which is a Portland original.
- Explore the Eastside: East of the river, you’ll find more residential neighborhoods. BUT, you’ll also find three of our favorite stretches in the city. The stretch along Hawthorne is full of great food and drinks, plus shopping. Division has great food – stop at Bollywood Theater or Olympia Provisions. The Central Eastside has some of the best breweries in town – look at Cascade Brewing or Modern Times.
- Hike to Pittock Mansion: If you’re dying to get one last hike in, head up to Pittock Mansion from Lower Macleay Park. It’s a great stroll through the forest – one of the best hikes in Portland – with a good amount of climbing near the end. Tour the mansion, which was built by the man who helped put Portland on the map decades ago. Great views over Portland. You can also drive here, but you’ll pay to park. Hoyt Arboretum, which is nearby, is also worth a visit.
More Time? Here’s What to Add to Your Trip
We’ve given you a bit of a whirlwind itinerary above that gives you a little of everything.
Here are four more things that are worth your time, if you have it, and will require a trade off with something in the itinerary above or more days in the Pacific Northwest.
Spend an Extra Day in Seattle
Time required: 1 day
Seattle is a great city, and is worth an extra day of your time (we have a guide to 2 days in Seattle that you should probably check out if you’re adding a day here).
On your first day, you’ll have covered most of the main tourist sights in the downtown core. We think you should spend your second day up north, exploring the more offbeat neighborhoods.
Start at Discovery Park and hike out to the lighthouse – keep an eye out for bald eagles out near the water!
Then, head to Ballard, which is one of our favorite parts of Seattle, for brunch at the Fat Hen (Bitterroot Barbecue and Cloudburst Brewing would also be good choices).
Walk over to the Ballard Locks, which are a unique feature that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere else before. Spend some time browsing the shops on Ballard Ave NW (and the adjacent streets) – we like poking our heads into September and Venue, which are next door to each other.
Get plant-based, gluten free ice cream at Frankie & Jo’s, and grab a beer at one of the many breweries just east of Ballard’s main strip.
Next is Fremont. Fremont is another place we usually find ourselves when we’re in Seattle. It’s a small, cozy neighborhood just north of the heart of Seattle.
It’s about ten minutes east of Ballard. Catch sunset at Gasworks Park, which is one of the best spots to spend an evening in Seattle on a warm summer day.
Head to the North Cascades and Bellingham
Time required: 2 days
We love the North Cascades. North Cascades National Park is the third national park in Washington, and we think it’s right up there with Rainier and Olympic in terms of sheer natural beauty.
There are so many great hikes in the North Cascades from easy hikes to beautiful alpine lakes, to rugged multi-day backpacking trips hanging with the mountain goats.
And pretty much everything in between.
If you love hiking, the North Cascades are worth your time. It requires at least two days given the drive time and the number of things to do.
However, it’s a short hiking season, so only plan on being there between mid-July and the end of September (fall color in October is spectacular, but weather is less predictable).
We think the best way to spend your time in the North Cascades is to spend the first day driving the entire way through the park, stopping to marvel at Diablo Lake, hiking to Blue Lake, and stopping at the Washington Pass Overlook.
Spend the night in the charming town of Winthrop, and head back west through the Cascades the next morning, stopping to hike the Maple Pass Loop and ending in Bellingham, where you can either stay another night, or make your way back to Seattle.
If you stay in Bellingham, check out Hotel Leo, which is right downtown, and get coffee the next morning at Camber Coffee.
Spend a Night in the Bavarian Town of Leavenworth
Time Required: 1 day
Leavenworth is firmly on the map these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun place to visit. Located about two hours east of Seattle, it’s a kitschy Bavarian town that was built specifically to draw tourists, and it excels at that.
There are a ton to do in Leavenworth and the general vicinity – wine tasting, rafting, floating the river, to name a few.
Plus, one of the best hikes in Washington – Colchuck Lake – is just outside of Leavenworth.
Spend the morning on a hike, and the afternoon and evening exploring the town of Leavenworth. Stay at Loge Riverside, which is where we have stayed before – they have cute cabins on the river just outside of town (quiet, but close enough to walk). .
Explore Oregon’s Wine Country – the Willamette Valley
Time Required: 1 day (can be a half-day trip from Portland)
Did you know that there is wine country in Oregon? It’s just southwest of Portland, and it’s called the Willamette Valley. It’s not known for the big, bold wines that come out of places like Napa Valley, but if you’re looking for really solid pinot noir, the Willamette Valley has you covered.
The charming town of McMinnville makes a fantastic home base for exploring the area, and we recommend staying overnight (at the Atticus Hotel, which is right off of Third Street, the main street in town, or Douglas on Third, which is ON Third Street).
Spend the afternoon out in the valley exploring the wineries, and the evening in McMinnville grabbing dinner and drinks.
The Best Time to Visit the Pacific Northwest
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Pacific Northwest is best in the summer. Period. And summer, in this case, means July 5th through Labor Day.
Summer in the Pacific Northwest
In the summertime, days are long, with the sun rising before 6am and often setting after 9pm, especially the further north you go. The weather is sunny, warm, and dry – the rain that you always hear about disappears for a couple of glorious months.
And hiking trails at higher elevations are clear of snow (though in the North Cascades and Mt. Baker up north, this often happens in mid-July).
Why July 5th? I swear – every single July 4th it is cloudy and drizzly, and then BOOM the next day it’s sunny and warm.
The downside of summer in the Pacific Northwest is the crowds. It’s a lovely time to be here, so people flock to the hiking trails, lakes, and cities to enjoy these places at their best. Prices will be a bit higher, and you’ll need to book your accommodations in advance (two to three months should do the trick).
Fall Color in the Pacific Northwest
Fall is also a great time to be in the Pacific Northwest, particularly September and early October. The weather is still going to be pretty enjoyable (though it’ll be more variable, which means you might get some rain).
Fall in the mountains brings a spectacular display of color. Red, orange, and yellow hues cover the landscapes, and the famous golden larches in the Cascades burst onto the scene sometime in mid-October, marking the end of the best time to visit.
The best places to see fall color are going to be in the heart of the Cascade Range that runs down the center of Oregon and Washington State. The North Cascades (and Mt. Baker), the Enchantments (and Colchuck Lake and Leavenworth), and Bend (and the surrounding mountains).
Winter and Spring
Winter is dreary. We spent last December through February in the Pacific Northwest (split between Seattle and Portland) and though it rained most days and even snowed a foot, it’s not as terrible as some people (including me, sometimes) say.
If you’re visiting in the winter, spend your time in the cities and on the coast. It’ll be rainy, muddy, and generally kind of wet, but if you have a cozy place to stay at the end of the day, it’ll still be a good time.
Spring is a mix of dreary winter weather with bursts of summer coming through every week or two. The first day that it’s more than 45 degrees outside and the sun is out, you’ll find Seattleites and Portlanders in shorts and tank tops, trying to soak in as much of the sun as they can before it disappears again. Bring a raincoat and rain boots, because it’s probably going to rain.
The Best Time to Visit for Hiking
If you’re planning on hiking, the hiking season in the Cascades is painfully short – this includes Mt. Rainier, Leavenworth, the North Cascades, and Mt. Baker.
Trails are often covered in snow until mid-July, when the snow melts and hikers are able to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty for a few precious months (usually through the end of September but sometimes into October, depending on the weather in that particular year).
Then, snow returns, and snowshoeing is the only way to explore until the next summer.