pacific northwest road trip

The Ultimate Pacific Northwest Road Trip

This summer my friend, Jena, and I embarked on the ultimate road trip of the Pacific Northwest. I have to give most of the planning credit to Jena. We prepared with cases of sparkling water, healthy snacks, and a cooler full of PB&Js. The trip lasted a total of 10 days, we went through 8 states, 5,600 miles (9,012 km), one flat tire, and 4 audiobooks. Each of the listed spots of links to Google Maps, so you can save them for future adventures!​

​Here is a quick guide if you happen to be in a hurry:

One thing I wish we would have done was buy a National Park pass. This would have saved us tons of money on entrance fees.


Day 1: Drive to Salt Lake City

The first day was one of the most difficult driving days. We had to drive from Kansas City to just outside of Salt Lake City. Driving through Nebraska and Wyoming is incredibly boring! Thankfully we were well equipped with snacks and entertainment.

Day 2: Idaho

Heaven's Gate Lookout

Admission: Free

One of my favorite days was exploring Heaven’s Gate in Idaho. Make sure to check that the trail is open, you’ll drive for many miles on steep, hairpin turns and the mountain side can be covered with snow even in the summer. As we were driving we saw wild horses roaming on the hilltops. The lookout sits at the entrance to the Seven Devils Mountains at 8,249 ft, where you can see the canyon from Snake River. It’s the deepest canyon in North America at 7,200 ft, which is deeper than the infamous Grand Canyon.

We hiked to the lookout, which is staffed during fire season by a ranger. He invited us into his lodge which offers 360 degree views of the mountains and canyons. You can see 4 states from it’s peak: Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho. In July the hillsides were covered with fresh lavender, making it even more of a magnificient view.

Day 3: Portland

Multnomah Falls

Admission: Free

Our first activity when we arrived in Portland was to hike up Multnomah Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. After 10am the parking lot gets completely full and it’s impossible to find a spot to leave your car. The hike to the top can get you a little winded at times, but there are plenty of switchbacks to take a breather. I would recommend getting there as early as possible.

When we got to the top we spent a few minutes relaxing and meditating next to the water. I got a little too adventurous and while walking on the rocks slipped and my foot fell into the freezing cold water. It wasn’t too fun to hike back down with a wet boot, but I had to laugh about it!

Powell's Books​

Powell’s Books

Open: 9am-11pm

This is the world’s largest independent bookstore! They have rooms and rooms of new and used books. I had lost Jena and it took me over 20 minutes to find her and we were even talking on the phone trying to locate each other! If you’re a book lover, you could easily spend hours walking along the rows and rows of books.

Day 4: Portland​

Voodoo Donuts

Voodoo donuts

Price: $

This place is famous for their many varieties of donuts. So popular that sometimes you’ll find a line just waiting to get to the register. Make sure to have cash on hand, the location we went to didn’t accept cards.

Stumptown Coffee

Price: $

An iconic coffee roaster and retailer whose flagship store is in Portland. Their cold brew is paired nicely with a Voodoo Donut

Washington Park

You can park anywhere in Washington Park then take the free shuttle to any of the museums or gardens, public transport is also an option. I would recommend taking the shuttle, because as you drive around you can look at the unique and expensive houses.

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

Admission: $14.95

Embrace your inner zen in the Japanese Garden. The high admission price is well worth it, plus you get an amazing view of downtown Portland skyline. This traditional Japanese garden shows 5 different styles including a traditional tea house.

You can check the hours of admission here.

International Rose Test Garden

International Rose Test Garden

Admission: Free

We took a quick stroll through the beautiful rose garden. There are over 7,000 rose plants and almost 550 varieties.

The Grotto

The Grotto

Admission: Free (Unless you want to continue on through the exhibit, which costs $6. We decided to skip it.)

The Grotto is a traditional Catholic shrine and botanical gardens. It’s worth a quick stop and serves as a great spot to sit and rest your feet, while taking in the view.

Day 5: Drive to Seattle

If you ever watched the movie The Goonies, make sure to make a few iconic stops on your drive from Portland to Seattle.

Cannon Beach​

Cannon Beach

Admission: Free​

This gorgeous seaside view makes you feel like you’re on a beach in Asia, not in Oregon. The rocks are shown in the opening scene of The Goonies and in the road race scene. The town also has a number of cute shops and restaurants to pop into.

Astoria

As you continue up to Seattle, you can stop in the run-down town of Astoria and see The Goonies’ original house located at 368 38th Street.

Peter Iredale Shipwreck

Peter Iredale Shipwreck

Admission: Free​

A four masted steel sailing vessel was abandoned in 1906. High seas and wind caused the crew to alter their route. Instead of avoiding the weather they got caught in the sand. Captain Lawrence's final toast to his ship was: "May God bless you, and may your bones bleach in the sands.

Day 6: Seattle

Pike Place Market​

Admission: Free

Wake up extra early and head to the Pike Place Market. This iconic spot in Seattle is a most see. Plus the original Starbucks is close by (but plan on waiting in a line that goes out the door). The market overlooks Elliot Bay waters, which puts you really close to the ferry.

Bainbridge Island

Take the Ferry to Bainbridge Island! The ferry only costs $8.20 roundtrip. Make sure to check the departure times, especially for returning to Seattle!

Both Jena have been to Seattle a few times, so instead of doing the normal touristy activities, we opted to go off the beaten path. We woke up early and caught the ferry to Bainbridge Island. In 2005, Bainbridge was voted the 2nd best place to live in the US. Plus you get amazing views of the Seattle skyline.

Have breakfast at Madison Diner

Madison Diner

Price: $$

This throw-back train car offers American comfort food in chill setting. It was originally built in 1948 in Pennsylvania. When the owner unexpectedly died, a Bainbridge Island resident bought the train car, disassembled it to transport it to the West Coast, then reassembled it in Bainbridge. It was also seen on the 2007 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri.

I wouldn’t recommend going here if you’re in a hurry though. Service was a bit slow and we had to wait for a table.

Kerry Park

view from Kerry Park

If you're in a hurry and don't have enough time to take a ferry. Check out the view of Seattle from Kerry Park. We were too lazy to climb the hill and took a cab instead!

Night Out

Unicorn Bar in Seattle

If you’re up for a night out, check out the Unicorn Bar, a carnival themed bar. They have your favorite carnival foods like deep fried Snickers and magical cocktails. If it’s your birthday you can wear the giant unicorn hat!

Day 7: Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is nearly 1 million acres and has very diverse wilderness from glacier capped mountains to a temperate rain forest along a 70 mile coast line.

Make a Stop for the Lavender Fields...

Lavender Fields

We kept seeing signs for a Lavender Festival on our way to Olympic National Park, so we took a spontaneous stop to check it out. We found rows and rows of lavender and lots of gifts for our mothers!

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge

Enjoy breathtaking views of the mountains from the lookout spot at Hurricane Ridge. There are a number of hiking trails around the area.

Lake Crescent​

The Haunted Lake Crescent

This gorgeous blue lake, tucked inside the mossy forest in Olympic National Park, is a paranormal hotspot. Not only does it have Native American lore, but is haunted by The Lady of the Lake. In 1937, a barmaid went missing. Three years later, two fishermen found the body of the woman. Even more disturbing was the fact that her body was mostly preserved and turned to an ivory soap like substance. The combination of the minerals and frigid water temperature turned her body fat into soap.

You can read more about it here.

The City of Forks​

Forks

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve read all the Twilight books. When we saw on the map that we were about to pass through the town of Forks, we figured it was a perfect opportunity to stretch our legs and have a photo op.

The town was pretty sad and run down, with a few signs for tourists looking for the Twilight magic.

Hoh Rain Forest

Hoh Rain Forest

This rainforest is a very trafficked area, so be prepared to run into main tourists. Honestly, by this time in the day, we were both cranky and ready for a cocktail and a comfy bed. Plus the screaming children kind of ruined the ambiance.

Ruby Beach​

Ruby Beach

This beach is is serene and beautiful. It’s also known for the vast amounts of driftwood.

Day 8: Mount Rainier

Jena and I were incredibly excited to hike around Mount Rainier. We put on our hiking shoes and left early in the morning. It was my turn to drive and we made our way up the bumpy dirt road to get to the trailhead. We were so far from civilization that neither of us had cell service (that was actually pretty common by now during the trip).

All of a sudden a light started flashing on the dash and Jena yelled, “Pull over!” I quickly got the car to the side of the remote road, when Jena opened her passenger door, we could hear the air rushing out of our back tire. Crap. Here we are in the middle of nowhere, no cell service and on the side of the mountain. What horrible timing!

We quickly unloaded the trunk, got the manual out of the glove box and pulled out the spare. Jena and I changed the tire ourselves! Unfortunately, our hike was ruined.

Jena went back to do the hike a month later, and here is one of her photos…. I’m beyond jealous of this view!

Glacier National Park

Later in the day we made our way to Glacier National Park. We were both grinding our teeth because of this squealing noise coming from the back new tire we put on. The stress of having another car issue, while driving through the mountains was enough to put us over the edge. Jena and I spent long enough in Glacier National Park to take this photo then head to the tire repair shop and get the back tire fixed…. again.

Day 9: Yellowstone National Park

We did a quick trip through Yellowstone National Park, which was an exciting day I had been looking forward to. In preparation for the trip, I read the book Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park. Basically, it’s a collection of all the ways people have died in the park. Whatever you do, don’t swim in the geysers people!

And of course, don't miss seeing Old Faithful!

We saw lots of steaming geysers, there are over 300 in the park. The park sits on top of a supervolcano, which simmers just under the surface.

In the evening, we took a sunset kayaking tour on Yellowstone Lake. We got to paddle past active geysers, learn about the wildlife from the tour guide and also the history of the park.

Day 9: Grand Teton National Park

We passed through Grand Teton National Park, just as a storm was brewing. This is right next to Yellowstone National Park, so it’s easy to see both. We stayed in the ski town of Jackson Hole, which was filled with tourists. The Tetons mountains are quite an iconic view.

As we were driving through Wyoming, Jena and I were chatting along as I drove through the barren and boring lands. I noticed a speed limit sign and a sheriff sitting there. CRAP! I just got caught in a speed trap. In my rearview mirror, I saw the sheriff whip his patrol car around and flick on his lights after us.

When he pulled us over he harrassed us about Jena’s license plate, saying that he couldn’t understand what state we were from.

Sadly, I guess they don’t teach the states to elementary school students, because he thought our license plate was from Florida. We sat there nervously as he went back to his car. I thought to myself, we are going to get a ticket I just know it. We’re from out of town, we are destined to get a hefty speeding fine. The man came back and with gruesome smile gave us a piece of paper that only said, “Warning.” Whew!

Florida? Really!?

Day 10: Denver

Brunch at Snooze AM Eatery

On our 10th action packed day, we were both exhausted and ready to be out of the car for awhile. We stayed with our friend, Emily, in downtown Denver. No trip to Denver is complete without a stop at Snooze AM. This amazing little brunch place is well worth the wait.

It's always fun to go to the Snooze AM inside Union Station, but there is most likely going to be a longer wait. The ambiance is worth it though!​

Union Station​

​Tattered Cover Bookstore

Make a pit stop at this comfy, indie book shop. You could easily spend your entire morning wandering the aisles!

Book a Distillery Tour at Stranahan's

Admission: $10

Book a distillery tour at Stranahan's Rocky Mountain Whiskey factory. At the end you get a tasting!​

Happy Hour at Linger​

For drinks with a view, head to Linger. This building used to be the Olinger mortuary and is now a bar with a rooftop!

As our trip concluded and we made it back to Kansas City, Jena and I drove halfway across the country, saw many beautiful sights and explored places that should be on everyone’s bucket list. And even though we were constantly together, we didn’t get in a single fight!

4 comments

  1. Faith

    you may have mentioned it in your article, but where did you stay throughout the trip? did you camp or stay in hotels or air bnb? I’m currently trying to plan a PNW trip and don’t know what would be best…

    • Colleen

      Hey Faith! We did a combination of hotels and Airbnbs. We were really lucky because Jena had a lot of Hilton hotel points to cash in on. Stay tuned for the road trip this summer. We’re out of points!

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