Doing a Washington / Oregon road trip is so much fun, and it’s so easy to plan! Our itinerary from Seattle to the Oregon/California border is ideal for anyone looking to experience the best of the Pacific Northwest. Stops in Mount Rainier National Park, the famous Columbia River Gorge, Willamette Valley wine country and the Oregon Coast make this a bucket list road trip.
There’s no doubt that the West Coast of the USA is an awesome place full of diverse people, sights and nature. The cities of the West Coast are really progressive and each gives a totally different experience. We’re going to share with you how you can get the full West Coast road trip experience from the Canadian border to Mexico and have an incredible time.
A West Coast road trip is great for families or couples, or even a really awesome solo journey. It was actually our first road trip as a couple (just Chris and I) as well as our first road trip with kids back when Oliver, our oldest, wasn’t even a year old. Some of our best memories come from this Washington / Oregon road trip plan; maybe you can find some great stories of your own!
Note: we recommend a dedicated two weeks to be able to experience the full West Coast from tip to tip, and in light of that have broken the entire trip into two sections: Washington/Oregon and then California. If you can spend more time on your West Coast road trip, do it, but know that whatever you can conquer will be awesome!
- Washington / Oregon Road Trip Part 1: Seattle and the Puget Sound
- Part 2: Visiting Mt Rainier National Park
- Part 3: the Columbia River Gorge
- Part 4: Visiting Portland and the Willamette Valley
- Part 5: Oregon Coast Beaches and Lighthouses
- Ending a Washington / Oregon Road Trip
- How to pack for a West Coast road trip
Washington / Oregon Road Trip Part 1: Seattle and the Puget Sound
We always recommend people to begin their West Coast road trip in Seattle, especially if your focus is going to be a Washington / Oregon road trip vs the whole PCH. SeaTac International Airport (SEA) is a great hub to start at and you can get a direct flight here from almost anywhere in the USA or Canada, and now there are more international flights to Seattle than ever before.
Exploring the Seattle Area
Take some time touring the Emerald City and getting out on Puget Sound. Pike Place Market is the prime attraction in Seattle and why wouldn’t it be? Fish being thrown through the crowds, the diner where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner ate clams in Sleepless in Seattle, and the original Starbucks store? It’s a must stop.
Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill is also another fun activity to add to a day in Seattle. Volunteer Park is home to a beautiful conservatory, the Seattle Asia Art Museum, countless festivals throughout the year, and an antique water tower that you can climb for a 360 degree view of the city and water.
Tip: if you’ll be spending more than two days in Seattle, be sure to get the CityPASS. It it an awesome deal for the big attractions of Seattle, including the Space Needle, EMP/MoPOP, the Seattle Aquarium and more.
Where to Stay in Seattle
We recommend the Hyatt Olive 8 in downtown (book it here!). It’s centrally located for activities in the downtown core or in the outlying neighborhoods. This is a great place for a longer Seattle visit as well if you’re touring without a car. There are plenty of high end and family friendly hotels around Seattle, but the city tends to book out and get expensive at the last minute, so book in advance.
We actually prefer the Hyatt family of hotels when we’re in Seattle since they have such a great loyalty program and we find good deals through them. Check out our favorite Hyatt Hotels in Seattle to see our top picks.
Another random and wonderful hotel in Seattle is the EVEN Hotel in South Lake Union. EVEN Hotels are a really cool brand that focuses on convenience and fitness. If you want to stay active when you’re in Seattle, book the EVEN Hotel.
Puget Sound Area Small Towns to Visit
Beyond Seattle there are several adorable towns and destinations that will give you the true taste of Pacific Northwest life, and they’re integral to a Washington / Oregon road trip. Bainbridge Island is a ferry ride away and is full of good food, beautiful views, breweries and the Bloedel Reserve (the Downton Abby of the Puget Sound).
Tip: we actually have an itinerary specifically for touring the Puget Sound area if you want to experience the whole region.
Continuing off Bainbridge and you can easily head to Poulsbo (little Norway basically) and onto Port Gamble, Port Ludlow and Port Townsend. Each of these towns is picturesque with its own unique vibe, all with great food. Port Townsend is our favorite for its Victorian design and incredible Fort Worden State Park (including a lighthouse).
Exploring the Olympic Peninsula
The Olympic Peninsula, where Port Townsend is, is home to Olympic National Park and the Dungeness Spit. You’ll have tons of opportunities for experiencing Pacific Northwest nature on the OP and may even decide that you need to move here (we loved living here!). Feel free to wander off course a bit, as that’s how you’ll get to visit places like Salt Creek with its sea stacks and Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of Washington.
Olympic National Park really is the main attraction and is collectively the best of Pacific Northwest nature. You’ll love hiking at Hurricane Ridge, exploring Ruby Beach, and wandering through the unbelievable Hoh Rainforest. Olympic National Park also has beautiful waterfalls, like Sol Duc Falls, and the most epic windy road around Lake Crescent. Olympic NP is so pretty!
Tip: make time for hiking when you’re on the Olympic Peninsula. There are tons of great kid friendly hikes you can easily add to a West Coast road trip.
Where to Stay on the Olympic Peninsula
If you can book it (very popular destination), find a nice bed and breakfast on the Olympic Peninsula. We recommend Domaine Madeleine in Port Angeles for an itinerary that includes Olympic National Park. There are several others, including the George Washington Inn that looks just like Mount Vernon in Virginia. Anything in the Sequim / Port Angeles area will get you close to Hurricane Ridge.
Visiting Northern Puget Sound
North of Seattle you’ll find Anacortes and Whidbey Island. Both areas are charming and thrive off the sea that surrounds them. Anacortes is also where you’ll start a trip through the San Juan Islands, which are their own vacation that’ll take you more than a week of trolling and island hopping. The San Juans may not be a part of this particular Washington /Oregon road trip for you, but they’re worthy of your time at some point in life. Kayaking in the San Juan Islands is amazing!
Tip: if you want to experience the San Juan Islands with a shorter trip, book a seaplane flight out of Seattle up to Orcas Island or San Juan Island. You can see more beautiful clear water, spot orca whales and dine like a king. Awesome side-trip!
Another idea if you’re exploring this part of Washington is to take a trip into North Cascades National Park. You’ll find some of the most epic hiking and out-of-this-world views in Washington here. Not all of the park is open year-round, but whenever you’re visiting, you’ll still be able to enjoy at least some of this less-visited park.
Where to Stay in Anacortes / Whidbey Island
In the Anacortes/North Sound area, the Majestic Inn is comfortable, pretty and is a perfect spot to launch loads of day trips (book it here!). In Coupeville or Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, you’ll find all kinds of B&Bs and hotels, so book what’s right for where you want to wake up each day.
Part 2: Visiting Mt Rainier National Park
While we prefer to camp at Mt Rainier National Park, a day trip from Seattle or adding it as a stop on a Washington / Oregon road trip is also a choice, or you could even stay at one of the National Park lodges. Mt Rainer National Park is known for its accessibility and hikable mountainside, but it’s also the best place in the Pacific Northwest to go waterfall hiking.
If you just want to drive through and see some crazy beautiful sights, that’s an easy way to add Mount Rainier to your road trip. Enter the park at the Nisqually Entrance (southwest) and drive the park road, called Paradise Road, past waterfalls and to the Paradise Inn and Henry M Jackson Visitors Center. You’ll get epic views and then can continue on your road trip.
Best Hikes at Mount Rainier: North Side
If you’re driving from the Seattle area, the North Side of Mount Rainier National Park is the closest and easiest to access. You can drive the crazy dirt road to Lake Mowich, which is amazingly beautiful, to hike from and go up to the famous fire lookout at Tolmie Peak. Here you’ll look out across the alpine Lake Eunice at Mount Rainier, unobstructed.
The other place we LOVE LOVE LOVE on the north side of Mount Rainier National Park is the Sunrise area. Here you can take your pick of hikes, all with really, truly epic views of the mountain. Our favorite hike in the Sunrise area is Frozen Lake. Such crystal blue water, an up-close view of Mt Rainier, and countless mountain goats make this a fantastic hike with kids. It’ll be your favorite stop on you Washington / Oregon road trip.
Best Hikes at Mount Rainier: South Side
Our favorite easy hike with kids is out of the Ohanapecosh Visitors Center through the woods to Silver Falls. Hiking through mossy forests and crossing a raging gorge on a log bridge, it’s the perfect hike to relax and re-energize you for the rest of your West Coast road trip, and the series of waterfalls at the end is beautiful unlike any other.
Also nearby is the Grove of the Patriarchs, which is an awesome old growth forest with a suspension bridge you have to cross. Here you’ll see some of the largest trees in Washington State. Between ancient fallen trees and tower maples, the Grove of the Patriarchs is a Ferngully-type magical place.
Where to Stay at Mount Rainier National Park
If you do choose to stay over in Mount Rainier National Park, you’ll find that options within the park book far into the future. You can book a hotel room at the National Park Inn in Longmire or at the Paradise Inn up on the mountain.
Are you camping at all on your Washington / Oregon road trip? If so, there are plenty of options for camping in Mount Rainier National Park. Cougar Rock is the best campground on the south side, maybe even in the whole park, with lots of spaces, services, and even a great hiking trail going out of the campground.
Tip: if you want to camp at Mt Rainier, you typically need to make reservations at least two months in advance. It’s a very popular National Park and space is limited.
Outside of the park there are several lodging options in the towns of Packwood or Ashford. Depending on your overall road trip itinerary, you may want to drive south a bit when you exit Mount Rainier National Park, so consider places to stay in the Columbia Gorge too.
Part 3: the Columbia River Gorge
As we continue our Washington / Oregon road trip southward down the West Coast, the Columbia River lies between Washington and Oregon. The scenery here is incredible and you wont see anything similar as you get to the coast. This is also the point in our road trip itinerary where we cross from Washington into Oregon.
Highway 14 on the North Side of the Columbia Gorge
Jutting off from Interstate 5 is Highway 14, or you may be joining it from Highway 97 or one of the incredible Forest Service roads that go past Mount St Helens and Mount Adams. The drive from Mt Rainier to the Gorge is one of my favorites in the whole Pacific Northwest.
Once you get to Highway 14, it’s a narrow, winding highway that takes you along the northern banks of the Columbia River. Surrounded by buttes and sweeping views, the road is actually really distracting… so know that it’s dangerous if you’re not paying attention. Along the way though, you’ll find loads of great wine tasting and small hikes to break up a day’s drive.
The Klickitat River meets up with the Columbia River in the town of Lyle, Washington. The town is tiny, but the beauty is awesome. You can head up the Klickitat to check out its beautiful gorges and the smaller waterfalls feeding it, or just spend an hour at the Balfour-Klickitat picnic area having lunch and watching eagles. FYI: bald eagles love to hang out at the confluence of two rivers wherever that may be.
To get a break from the winding road, head up the hill toward Underwood (use your GPS) and stop into AniChe Cellars. It’s one of our favorite wineries in Washington, both for its really delicious and unusual wines AND because it’s totally kid friendly! From outdoor toys and games to cool wine making stuff, kids will enjoy a stop just as much as adults.
Plan a hike at Falls Creek Falls to add some activity to the day. One of the most unique waterfalls you’ll encounter on your Washington / Oregon road trip, Falls Creek Falls is pretty easy and promises an incredible sight at the end. A multiple cascade / chute waterfall, after a good rain or during the snowmelt, it it BRIMMING!
Columbia Gorge Waterfall Area
We have spent so much time here in general over the years that now when we do our own road trip through Washington and Oregon we skip these spots, but that’s only because we visit them so frequently. They are awesome though and we do still enjoy stopping.
If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, you’ll want to be sure to start in Hood River and drive west on Interstate 84 until you see a sign directing you to Historic Oregon Highway 30 (you can approach from Portland too).
This tiny two lane road winds you around the cliffs and hillsides, allowing stops for hiking or general waterfall viewing, including a stop at Multnomah Falls, which may be the prettiest waterfall in the Columbia Gorge, and it’s certainly the most famous waterfall in Oregon.
Most of the hikes in the Columbia Gorge waterfall area are kid friendly, but not all are. The prettiest spot you can’t really do with tiny kids: the Oneonta Gorge. This narrow cut through the cliffs is covered in moss and lichens and the hike is done IN the creek. It’s really fun and beautiful, but scaling slippery logs and huge boulders isn’t for everyone.
Where to Stay in the Columbia River Gorge
Depending on which side you want to sleep on, you’ll have quite a few picks. On the Washington side you’ll find the Skamania Lodge, which is located in Stevenson, Washington. It’s got a fantastic spa, the Waterleaf Spa. Another great pick on the Washington side is in the town of Bingen: the Society Hotel. Built in an old school house and then cabins added, the Society is really unique in both its accommodations and it’s indoor/outdoor plunge pools and mineral tubs.
If you’re on a budget for your Washington / Oregon road trip, stay on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge over in Hood River where there are tons of choices. Make Hood River your home base for your time in the Columbia Gorge, as it’s got lots of lodging options and is a cute town in general. Mt Hood is easily accessible if you’re staying in Hood River and there is really wonderful agritourism to experience here too.
One of the nicest places to stay in Hood River is the Columbia Gorge Hotel and Spa. It’s very vintage (Victorian) and is just off the river. There are lots of other places to stay in Hood River, including plenty of travel brand hotels, but the Gorge hotel is just super cool.
Part 4: Visiting Portland and the Willamette Valley
It seems like Portland has tripled in popularity in the last fifteen years. It’s such a cool city and shopping is TAX-FREE! It’s tough to tell you what you have to check out in Portland beyond just saying “Go for walks and explore downtown and the neighborhoods.” Portland is all about being a city of neighborhoods.
Exploring Portland Neighborhoods
The Pearl District is loaded with cool shops and great food. If you want to get away from the walkable spots, drive or rail over to Northeast Portland. The vibe is still super cool/hip but with less tourists. From a Finnish spa day to cutting edge Laotian food, Northeast Portland sealed the deal for us on why the City of Roses is such a gem and worth at least a day’s stop on a West Coast road trip. The diversity is incredible with a food scene to match.
Visiting the Oregon Zoo and OMSI
What we love about the Oregon Zoo is how beautiful it’s setting is, and it’s enclosures are some of the largest and most thoughtful of any zoo we’ve visited. Directly next to the Oregon Zoo you’ll find the World Forest Discovery Center and then the rest of Washington Park. There’s an arboretum and Japanese Garden, and then nearby are the Pittock Mansion and even the hike to the Witch’s Castle in Macleay Park.
The OMSI, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, isn’t too far away either. With rotating exhibits, lots of awesome science stuff and even a planetarium this is a great place to visit on a rainy Portland day.
Touring the Willamette Valley Wine Country
Can you even visit the Portland area without trying one of the famous Pinot Noirs? The Willamette Valley starts at the edge of Portland and continues southward almost to Eugene, and west towards the coast. Whether you want to drive just a half hour out of the city or have a whole day of family friendly Willamette Valley wineries, you can easily plan a tasting trip.
To keep it simple for your larger Washington / Oregon road trip plan, I would stay in the realm of the northern wineries, just as far south as Newberg. These wineries are all under an hour from Portland proper and are easy to visit. Rex Hill Winery in Newberg, Adelsheim Vineyards, and Trisaetum Winery are all three in Newberg and they offer a variety of wine country experiences (including with kids).
Where to Stay in Portland, Oregon
The Hotel Vintage is cool (book it here!). It’s cooler than us, so staying there made us feel like we were doing Portland right. Great location and Kimpton is great at making guests feel welcome. It’s a nice splash of class on your West Coast road trip. There are every other brand of hotels in downtown Portland that you can think of, so if you don’t care too much about location, just look for a good deal.
Part 5: Oregon Coast Beaches and Lighthouses
“Why didn’t we drive down the Washington Coast on this trip?” While places like Lewis and Clark National Park and the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington are really cool and fun, you’ll enjoy this part of the Washington / Oregon road trip more since you haven’t already been beached out.
Check out our VERY detailed Oregon Coast Road Trip for a more intense coastal plan.
There are so many lighthouses on the Oregon Coast. Starting in Cannon Beach and heading south to the California border you’ll be able to check out nine beautiful lighthouses on the coast (there are actually 15). You cannot visit all of them due to some being located out from the beach, but you can see them all.
The easiest lighthouses to visit on the Oregon Coast are:
- Cape Meares Lighthouse
- Yaquina Head Lighthouse
- Haceta Head Lighthouse
- Coquille River Lighthouse
While the most epic of all Oregon lighthouses is the Cape Arago Light, and the nearby Shore Acres State Park is phenomenal, visiting these spots is really far out of the way. If you feel like you can’t end your Washington / Oregon road trip without seeing enormous waves crashing into cliffs and without staring at a far-off lighthouse dreaming about a different life in a different time, then visit, but it’s far.
Tip: the Cape Meares Light in Oceanside, Oregon is really easy to access and you can get really close to the lens. It’s a favorite of ours.
Hikes and Beaches on the Oregon Coast
Besides the lighthouses, you can do tons of hiking along the Oregon Coast. While we tend to do the hikes that bring us down to the beach or out to a head in the water, there are several state parks that have trails leading up through the coastal forests. Cape Kiwanda has some beautiful hikes (Cannon Beach) as does Pistol River (Gold Beach).
Florence and Newport are both good sized towns that really capture the Oregon Coast vibe. Newport actually hosts the largest wine event in Oregon, the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. It’s pretty new but after two years it’s already gotten some great success and press. And you cannot forget Sea Lion Caves!! This is a must-stop if you’ve never taken an elevator through a cliff to a huge seaside cavern full of sea lions.
Where to Stay on the Oregon Coast
You know we’re going to tell you to camp if you are into it, and preferably do it in Seaside (or grab a hotel here). Seaside is in the northmost part of the Oregon Coast, so if you’re not planning on doing the whole highway to the California border, it’s fine. The Astoria/Seaside area has tons to do and LOTS of camping and hotel options.
If you want to keep it easy, Cannon Beach is really built up for tourism and you’ll be able to find a hotel to book quite easily. If you would prefer to stay to the South (we do!) check out the Pacific Reef Hotel in Gold Beach (book it here!). We loved our two story beachfront condo that was perfect for our family of four!
Other towns that are easy to find accommodations in include Pacific City, Florence, Coos Bay and Brookings.
Ending a Washington / Oregon Road Trip
Once you’ve hit the Oregon / California border, you’ll have a few options. You can continue down the California Coast, stopping at the Redwoods and other national parks. You could also loop back up through the Cascades and Southern Oregon, visiting Oregon Caves National Monument.
From here you could also cut over to eastern Oregon where you’ll find Bend, Smith Rock State Park, the Painted Hills and so much more. We’ve actually got another road trip plan that covers a huge range of adventures on the great Oregon bucket list. 10 Day Oregon Loop Road Trip Plan here!
How to pack for a West Coast road trip
Before you even get in the car and head out, be sure that you’re prepared for whatever may befall you. The West Coast can have strange weather that both can impact travel and basic road conditions, so take stock of your supplies to be successful on your West Coast road trip. And if you’re doing a trip in southern Canada, like from Calgary to Vancouver, the same packing and planning principles apply.
Here’s an easy checklist to be sure you and your traveling buddies are all set for an epic adventure even if you’re not camping your way down the coast:
- Phone and camera chargers – car and wall
- A printed itinerary or highlighted map – GPS sometimes fails
- A few blankets
- Chains – if you’re heading into the mountains any time of year
- Proper spare tire and tools
- Cash – you’re traveling to small towns and remote places, so be ready
This is enough to get you started on planning your West Coast road trip through Washington and Oregon. There are so many side trips you can take as you head south from the Seattle area, but just sticking to our plan is also a great way to guarantee an incredible experience.
…and for your Pinterest planning…
Thursday 26th of October 2017
We are planning our honeymoon and had the idea for a coastal Oregon trip.. then we thought about Washington. I think we will likely use this itinerary! :) Thanks for the thorough post.
Saturday 18th of March 2017
The Oregon Coast lighthouse is a wonderful place to experience and a definite must-see during a West Coast road trip.
Saturday 18th of March 2017
Excellent advice and info! I ❤2 traveldads and the adorable lovebugs too!!
Sunday 12th of March 2017
Wow! What a picturesque post. Certainly full of colour and detail. Good choice of vehicle - there's only so much you can cram into a Mustang!
Saturday 11th of March 2017
I love road trips for precisely this reason,...you get to see so much more and that too, at your own pace. This one seems quite an epic one for you and I see that the kids are so happy too.