Pacific Northwest Road Trip Planner: The Best Trails, Beaches, and National Parks

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The call of the open road is as American as anything else we share as a culture: it’s up there with baseball, Fourth of July parades and cherry pie.

It’s possible, however, that each of us hears a slightly different siren song. Some of us want to explore the deserts of the southwest, feeling never more alive than when the grit blows through the window and gets in our ears. Some of us feel called to the in-between states that run through the corn belt, finding both comfort and unease in the monotony of open space. Still others among us gravitate toward the coast, longing to see a perfect wave just around the bend.

Whatever you are drawn to, we urge you to listen to that voice. Take the time off. Make the plans. Or just get on the open road with a full tank of gas, and get going.

The Pacific Northwest is an adventurer’s playground. There are several different ecosystems to explore: the mountains, the coast, the rainforests… We propose starting in Seattle and heading west toward Olympic National Park. Along this route you’ll hit a couple more National Parks as well as a few lesser-known gems.

plan your pacific northwest road trip trails national parks camping
From Hurricane Ridge to Mount Saint Helens, the first leg of this PNW road trip will not disappoint.

Stop 1: Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge

Exploring Olympic National Park means exploring several different ecosystems. For starters, there’s the mountains. Hurricane Ridge, one of the most iconic trails in Olympic National Park, stands at an elevation of 5,200 feet.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 2: Rialto Beach

Rialto Beach is one of those places that seems too good to be true. Tall four-wheel-drive rigs in the parking lot with boards on top tip you off immediately to the presence of waves. A short walk over the dune, just beyond the massive driftwood logs give way to a lineup of locals in thick wetsuits. If there’s a surfer in the car, or even just someone who loves the beach, this place is a definite stop on any PNW road trip.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 3: Quinalt Rainforest

No trip to Olympic National Park is complete without a visit to one of the rainforests, and Quinalt (located in the southwestern area of the park) is one of the most beautiful.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 4: Mount Rainier National Park, Sunrise Visitor Center & Day Lodge

Back to back National Parks? Why not! Make your way toward Mount Rainier National Park. Be sure to stop at the Sunrise Visitor Center and Sunrise Day Lodge. It’s a great place to stretch your legs (there are trails just beyond the parking lot), warm up by the fire and learn a little bit about the park.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 5: Frozen Lake
We recommend hiking or running on as many trails as possible, like this one here that heads to Frozen Lake.
Photo: Authentic Asheville
Stop 6: Christine Falls
Christine Falls takes hardly any effort to see; good if you’re legs are shot from miles at altitude.
Photo: Authentic Asheville
Stop 7: Mount Saint Helens

You can explore Mount St. Helens in car or on foot. There are miles and miles of trails at this National Volcanic Monument. For those of you looking to climb to the summit, keep in mind that permits are required for adventures above 4,800 feet. That said, if you want to go explore on a whim, there are plenty of trails to choose from.

Photo: Neelsky/Shutterstock

Stop 8: Ramen Ryoma, Beaverton, Oregon

We started craving a hot bowl of ramen after our third night in the park, so we stopped in at Ramen Ryoma in Beaverton. (There’s a million places to refuel around here so if you have a suggestion, we’d love to hear about it.)

Because you’re coming from the north and will be heading east afterward, it’s going to involve a little bit more driving than some other places. But we think it’s worth it. Make the pit stop quick, though, before the city pulls you in. Its neon signs and watering holes have derailed many a noble road trip, before so jump back in your vehicle before it’s too late.

Photo: Tudoran Andrei/Shutterstock

Stop 9: Smith Rock State Park, Misery Ridge Trail

Smith Rock is a playground for all kinds of people: runners, hikers, bikers and climbers, in particular, and more consider this place home. All in all it offers over 650 acres for you to get down and dirty in. There are numerous climbing routes as well as some gorgeous trails to explore. (Consult a trail map before heading out, especially if you plan on riding on two wheels. Not all trails are open to bikes.)

If you only have time for one hike in Smith Rock State Park, we recommend the Misery Ridge Trail. The climb is steep but the views are simply stunning. Watch out for rattlesnakes. They’re abundant in this park and definitely not something you want to mess with.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 10: Bend, Oregon—Spoken Moto Coffee Roasters and Craft Brews

The secret’s been out about Bend for a while. It actually reminded us a lot of our hometown, Asheville, North Carolina: numerous breweries, a great food scene and a thriving outdoor culture. We stopped in at Spoken Moto – which is one part vintage motorcycle shop, one part coffee roaster and one part craft beers – to sample some of the local brews on tap, including the Riverbend “Oregonized Love NWIPA” and the GoodLife “Sweet As! Pacific Ale.”   plan your pacific northwest road trip

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 11: Crater Lake National Park, Rim Trail
Look at a map. The small blue dot in central Oregon is Crater Lake, a National Park since 1902, and a place where hundreds of thousands of people come to stare down into the sapphire waters. Many consider Crater Lake the crown jewel of parks in Oregon. We’ll let you decide for yourself. Here’s Wizard Island in the distance, somewhere along the Rim Trail.
Photo: Authentic Asheville
Stop 12: Crater Lake Lodge

Sunset, reset. The best part of your day, no matter what hike you do, might just be relaxing on the back porch at Crater Lake Lodge. You can order a beer, wine or cocktail from the comfort of a rocking chair and watch the sun turn the mountain into a fiery shade of red.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 13: Mazama Campground
Post-sunset, make the seven mile trek down to Mazama campground and pitch your tent under a blanket of stars.
campingPhoto: Authentic Asheville
Stop 14: Toketee Falls

It’s a short hike, just 0.4 miles, to the viewpoint for Toketee Falls. Grab your camera, get up early and have it all to yourself, if only for a few minutes.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 14: Umpqua’s Last Resort

After checking out the falls, make a pit stop at the Umpqua Hot Springs. If you still have energy after that we recommend hiking, riding or running a section of the North Umpqua Trail. When the day is done, rest up at one of the cabins at Umpqua’s Last Resort. The cabin comes with free WiFi, linens, towels, and all the necessary amenities, including a fridge.

Photo: Authentic Asheville

Stop 15: Bandon

All good things must come to an end. There’s no better place to finish up your PNW road trip than Bandon, Oregon. The beach is just incredible. It’s one of our favorite places in the country to catch a sunset. Plus, the little downtown area boasts a great all-in-one pizza shop and brewery, Bandon Brewing Company and Pizzeria. You know what to do. What are you waiting for?

Photo: Authentic Asheville

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