For outdoor adventurers, no region in the United States charms like the Pacific Northwest. And to experience it to its fullest, nothing beats embarking on an epic Pacific Northwest road trip.
The Pacific Northwest region extends along the Pacific Coast of North America. Most often, the boundaries of the PNW are defined as Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Sometimes, it’s extended as far north as Alaska, west to Montana and Wyoming, and south to northern California.
However you define it, any time-crunched Pacific Northwest itinerary will only scratch the surface. This 7-day Pacific Northwest road trip focuses on the corridor between Seattle and Portland. On top of the two cities, we’ve thrown one of the PNW’s most popular national parks into the mix. Along the roads, you’ll whisk past snow-capped mountains, lush forests, and sandy beaches.
Of course, if you can spend more than one week in the Pacific Northwest, you should. We’ve also included a few ideas to extend your PNW trip plan north, west, and south for travellers with leisure on their side.
Where to go in the Pacific Northwest in 7 days: A complete 1-week itinerary
There’s no better place to start your PNW trip itinerary than Seattle. Seattle is the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest and one of the most interesting urban travel destinations in the United States.
Seattle is famed for its massive impact on modern American culture. The city gave birth to rock legends like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. Seattle even harboured the beginnings of business empires like Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks.
Nicknamed the Emerald City, Seattle reflects the region’s green rep, even within its urban settings. The city is home to over 500 parks, giving it a relaxed vibe matched by few cities its size.
On this trip, we’d recommend spending at least 2 days in Seattle. It’ll give you a little time to experience most of the city’s top sites without being too rushed.
What to see & do in Seattle
Explore Pike Place Market
Start your first 24 hours in Seattle at its world-famous Pike Place Market. The market is one of the oldest in the United States. From its humble beginnings in 1907, Pike Place Market has expanded to include over 500 shops, vendor stalls, restaurants, cafés, and bars.
Day or night, Pike Place Market is a wonderful place to wander around. Visiting in the morning or around lunch? Grab a hearty Southern-inspired meal at Biscuit Bitch or yummy Russian pastries at Piroshky Piroshky. The market is a wonderful place to enjoy a West Coast IPA to sea views in the evening.
Grab a cup of coffee at the original Starbucks
You might have noticed: Seattle is crazy about coffee. And for fans of java, visiting the original Starbucks is a must. (Well, the sorta “original” one, at least.)
Sure, you’ll find better coffee elsewhere in Seattle. But grabbing a cup at the mecca of American popular coffee culture warrants a mention. If the line-up proves too challenging, head north into Belltown. You’ll see plenty of streetside cafés serving up top-notch craft coffees from around the world.
Catch a sea breeze at Olympic Sculpture Park
Located on Elliott Bay, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a fantastic place for a breather. The park is an offshoot of the Seattle Art Museum.
Olympic Sculpture Park features about 20 modern sculptures spread across nine acres. As you marvel at the artwork, you’ll also enjoy spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
See Seattle from above at the Space Needle
Nothing defines Seattle’s skyline more than the Space Needle. At 605 feet, the observation tower is the city’s most famous landmark.
From the Space Needle’s observation deck, you’ll enjoy stunning 360-degree panoramic views of the city and beyond. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Mount Baker and Mount Rainier.
If you’re visiting Seattle on a rainy day, skip the observation deck. Instead, hang out at one of the neighbouring museums. Most interesting in the area is the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). Opened in 2000, the museum celebrates Seattle’s music icon & the sci-fi film industry.
Enjoy the skyline at Kerry Park
Located on the southern slopes of Queen Anne Hill, Kerry Park is one of Seattle’s most popular panorama spots. The park is only about one mile northwest of Seattle Center and the Space Needle.
The best time to visit Kerry Park is in the evening. As the sun sets to the west, you’ll enjoy a spectacular panorama of downtown and Mount Rainier.
Where to stay in Seattle
If you’ve only got a day or two, the best place to stay in Seattle is the city centre. Stick to Downtown Seattle and Belltown to stay close to all the action.
Located at the heart of Seattle’s business area, The Paramount Hotel is a value-laden accommodation option. The rooms here are both spacious & modern. From Pike Place, the hotel is a short 10-minute walk.
Sitting between Belltown and Downtown, the Hyatt Regency is one of the city’s top mid-range hotels. You’ll love both the room design and the location. The hotel is set mere minutes from many of the city’s top sightseeing opportunities.
Overlooking Elliott Bay and Pike Place Market, Inn at the Market is one of the city’s top boutique hotels. Spurge for its premium rooms to enjoy fantastic views over the water.
How to get to Seattle
Unless you’re already on the West Coast, you’ll likely travel to Seattle by air. Seattle is served by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). The airport lies about 23 kilometres (14 miles) south of the city centre. Sea-Tac is a major gateway for Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
Seattle is only close to a handful of major North American cities by car. Sample car routes and shortest driving times to Seattle include:
- Vancouver, BC (2h27m)
- Victoria, BC (4h39m)
- Kelowna, BC (5h33m)
- Boise, ID (7h40m)
- Spokane, WA (4h4m)
- Portland, OR (2h40m)
Olympic National Park, Washington
From Seattle, drive due west via Bainbridge Island. Soon, you’ll find yourself road-trippin’ on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. The Pacific Coast peninsula is home to the massive Olympic National Park. At a staggering 922,000 acres, it’s one of the biggest and most diverse national parks in the PNW.
While it could take a week to explore the entire park, we’d recommend at least 2 days in Olympic National Park on your PNW road trip. You could spend up to half a day getting here, depending on what you want to see & do. If you’re feeling ambitious, split your stay between Port Angeles and Forks to catch the park from two different angles.
What to see & do in Olympic National Park
Hike at Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge is located about 27 kilometres (17 miles) south of Port Angeles. The ridge is the most accessible mountain area in Olympic National Park. Although open year-round, Hurricane Ridge is best visited in summer when less intensive planning is required.
Several excellent hiking trails twist around Hurricane Ridge, including:
- Hurricane Hill: This paved trail climbs about 700 feet over 1.6 miles (2.6 km). At the top of the hill, you’ll enjoy wonderful panoramic views of the mountains and sea.
- Klahhane Ridge: This trail walks 2.8 miles (4.5 km) along a ridge before climbing 800 feet to Klahane Ridge.
- High Ridge: On this short partially-paved loop trail, you’ll enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of the area. For extra exercise, the hike also connects to the Sunrise Trail and Klahhane Ridge Trail.
Explore the Hoh Rain Forest
The perfect image of an idyllic Pacific Coast rainforest emerges on a trip through the Hoh Rain Forest. The rainforest flourishes on the western edge of Olympic National Park, less than an hour from the town of Forks. (And, yes, it’s the same Forks of Twilight fame. *shudder*)
Want an easy way to check out the Hoh Rain Forest at its finest? Focus your time on the Hall of Mosses Trail. This popular trail loops 0.8 miles (1.2km) through the primordial rainforest and mossy maple trees. The 1.2-mile Spruce Nature Trail is another lovely alternative.
For the full Hoh Rain Forest experience, tackle the Hoh River Trail. At 18.5 miles (30 km), it’ll take more commitment and energy—especially if you only have one week in the Pacific Northwest. You could also hike the first 5 miles (8 km) to 5 Mile Island and back as a day hike.
Witness the dramatic seascapes of Rialto Beach
Rather check out Washington’s coastal charms? Save time to visit Rialto Beach. The pebbly beach sits at the mouth of the Quillayute River, where it spills into the Pacific Ocean.
The seascapes around Rialto Beach are striking and unique. Strolling its shoreline, you’ll spot giant driftwood and towering sea stacks piercing the waves. From the beach, you can also walk 1.8 miles north to the famous Hole-in-the-Wall. The holed volcanic rock formations form the perfect frame for dramatic sea views.
Where to stay around Olympic National Park
With its immense size, there are plenty of places to stay around Olympic National Park. If you’re planning to tackle the hiking trails around Hurricane Ridge, you can stay in the town of Port Angeles. For the Hoh Rain Forest, you can stick to accommodations around the town of Forks.
For hitting up hikes in the northern part of the park, Olympic Lodge is a fantastic choice. The lodge-style hotel is located just outside central Port Angeles. You’ll love the amenities here, including an outdoor pool, fireplace, and fitness centre.
To tackle the Hoh Rain Forest, look no further than these delightful bungalows in Forks. The rain forest area is just 12 miles (19 km) away by road.
How to get to Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is on the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle. From Seattle, it’s about 2 hours and 40 minutes to Port Angeles via Bainbridge Island and US-101. From Port Angeles to Forks, it’s just over an hour of driving time on US-101.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
En route to Portland
Toda, you’ll want to wake up bright & early; you’ll have a long day of driving ahead! The first leg of your journey will take you to Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s about 4.5 hours total driving time from Forks to Cannon Beach along the scenic US-101.
Cannon Beach is a fantastic place to break up the long drive between Forks and Portland. The small coastal city lies along the Oregon Coast Highway. It’s famed for its blissful sandy beaches and the dramatic Haystack Rock off its shoreline. You may even recognize the beach from several old-school Hollywood films, including The Goonies and Point Break!
What to see & do in Cannon Beach
Enjoy lunch at the Pelican Brewing Company
The southern-most stop on the Oregon North Coast Craft Beer Trail, Pelican Brewing Company is the perfect spot for lunch. The brewpub offers gourmet pub food along with 20 taps with their regular and seasonal brews.
Grab a seat on the patio to enjoy lunch & beer to a gentle sea breeze.
Talk a walk in Ecola State Park
Got time for a stroll? Drive a few minutes north of Cannon Beach to check out Ecola State Park. This popular coastal park is a wonderful place for a brisk walk. On the way, you’ll enjoy fantastic views along the rugged Oregon coastline.
For a quick day hike, you can walk along part of the Indian Beach Trail or Crescent Beach Trail. Be aware that the tracks aren’t always in top-notch shape. Check the park’s official website for details on closures and current trail conditions.
The region’s second-biggest city, Portland is as fitting a bookend to a 7-day Pacific Northwest itinerary as any. Like Seattle to the north, Portland is known for its laissez-faire attitude, coffee, craft beer, and culinary scene. And as its slogan “Keep Portland Weird” hints, it takes all of it to the next level.
To end off your 7 days in the Pacific Northwest, throw in 3 days in Portland. While it may seem like a lot of time to spend in a city, trust us, it’s worth your while.
Besides exploring Portland’s own charms at a more languid pace, the city is a great base for day trips. Not far from its urban centre, you’ll enjoy lush forests, parks, and waterfalls within a short drive.
What to see & do in Portland
Marvel at the views at Portland International Rose Test Garden
Located in Washington Park, the Portland International Rose Test Garden features more than 10,000 roses. As you stroll through its well-manicured gardens, you’ll marvel at amazing views over downtown Portland and Mount Hood.
The prime time to view the roses is from April to October. The rose bloom tends to peak in June.
Wander around Forest Park
Craving Portland’s green side? Look no further than Forest Park. With over 70 miles of hiking & mountain biking trails, Forest Park is the largest urban park in the United States. Its moss-covered canopy and towering trees are everything you’d expect from a lush PNW forest.
For a cool experience, hike along the Wildwood Trail to the Witch’s Castle. The roofless moss-covered stone building looks like a long-forgotten house from a Brothers Grimm story. (In truth, it’s actually an abandoned ranger’s station, not a witch’s hut. Shame.)
The Pittock Mansion, a 35-minute walk south on the Wildwood Trail, is also worth a gander.
Explore the Columbia River Gorge
Starting just east of town, the Columbia River Gorge extends from Portland to the Deschutes River. If you’ve got more than 24 hours in Portland, visiting the area is a fantastic way to experience Oregon’s natural interior beauty. The Columbia River Gorge is most famous for its deluge of waterfalls.
To catch the gorge’s finest sights, set aside a day to explore the Historic Columbia River Highway. The stretch winds along the river east to west from Troutdale to The Dalles.
For your day trip, consider a hike along the Wahkeena Falls Loop Trail. The 5-mile track gallops past six waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious, drive to the town of Hood River to take on the Hood River Fruit Loop Trail. The 35-mile round-trip drives past 26 local wineries, cideries, and farms with Mount Hood as their backdrop. Check out this map to plan out your drive.
Sip Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley
For wine lovers, no day trip from Portland is more worthy of attention than the Willamette Valley. The Willamette Valley stretches 150 miles between Portland and Eugene. The valley is famed for its over 500 wineries, producing world-class Pinot Noir. Many cellar doors pair their exquisite wines with delectable farm-to-table food.
With the vast selection of wineries in Oregon Wine Country, choosing can be a challenge. On a day trip, a good option for wine-tasting is the popular Stoller Family Estate. The beautiful winery estate is less than an hour’s drive from central Portland.
Where to stay in Portland
For most travellers with limited time in the city, the best place to stay in Portland is in & around the downtown area. Narrow your search to Downtown, Pearl District, Northwest District, and Old Town Chinatown.
Located in Pearl District, The Mark Spencer Hotel charms guests with its spacious modern rooms. Amenities at this boutique hotel include free WiFi and a 24-hour fitness centre.
Minutes from the leafy Northwest District parks, Inn at Northrup Station offers a breath of fresh air in the city. Rooms are colourful & funky and include kitchenettes for a full self-catering stay. The International Rose Test Garden and Japanese Garden are within a mile of the property.
Sitting in the heart of the city centre, The Benson shuns Portland’s hipster vibe for a dash of elegance. Its contemporary rooms feature dark rich colours with a twist of classic European flair. The on-site Palm Court restaurant offers a tasty tapas and wine menu.
How to get to Portland
From Forks, it’s about a 6-hour drive to Portland via Cannon Beach. From Cannon Beach, it’s about 1.5 hours to Portland on the US-26 E.
When to visit the Pacific Northwest
The best time to visit the Pacific Northwest is between May and October. The summer months between June and August are the warmest and sunniest. Summer, however, is also tourism high season. You’ll battle with larger crowds and find accommodation availability pinched.
For hiking, early autumn is a great alternative. Although fall is cooler and a little wetter, you’ll enjoy more space to yourself. If you visit in late September and early October, you’ll also enjoy the bonus of experiencing the region’s beautiful fall colours.
Whatever time of year you visit, be sure to bring along proper outerwear. The northern West Coast’s reputation for wet weather isn’t unfounded. Be sure to pack a rain jacket and an umbrella. In the cooler months, a fleece jacket or softshell isn’t a bad idea either.
More Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary ideas
Got a few more days to spare? Start your Pacific Northwest trip itinerary in Vancouver, British Columbia, instead. Vancouver is the region’s third-biggest city. And, to many travellers, it’s the most intriguing of the three northern Pacific metropolises.
In Vancouver, you’re never far from the sea or the mountains. While the city itself is interesting, among Vancouver’s top things to do is exploring its surroundings. Set your sights on Grouse Mountain or Capilano Suspension Bridge Park to see Van City’s natural beauty at its finest.
Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, Canada. Victoria is often touted as the most British city in North America. It teems with lovely historic Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The selection even includes a couple famous castle manors just outside the city proper.
Even without its historical underpinnings, Victoria is a great place to hang out. It’s got a burgeoning craft beer & culinary scene, offering some of the hippest eateries & brewpubs in the province. And with a ferry connecting downtown Vic to Seattle in just 2 hours and 45 minutes, it’s an easy add-on to your adventure.
North Cascades National Park, WA
North Cascades National Park is located about 3 hours northeast of Seattle. With just 7 days in the Pacific Northwest, it’s perhaps a little too far afoot to fit in comfortably.
The Washington national park offers spectacular backwoods hiking and camping opportunities. In its thick forested valleys, you’ll roam to backdrops of jagged glacier-covered peaks.
If you’ve got extra time, break up the ride between Vancouver and Seattle with a stop in the North Cascades. You won’t regret it.
Mount Rainier National Park, WA
Like the North Cascades, stuffing Mount Rainier National Park into a time-crunched PNW trip is challenging. Although only two hours by car from Seattle, the park’s best hiking trails are better experienced with leisure on your side.
If you decide to visit, the Skyline Trail and Nisqually Vista Trail in the Paradise area are excellent day hikes. On the tracks, you’ll dazzle at the glaciers, meadows, and rugged peaks the park is famous for.
Crater Lake National Park, OR
Want to move on past Portland? Squeeze in a visit to Crater Lake National Park. The 183,224-acre park centres around Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States. The lake was formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama collapsed during a violent eruption.
At Crater Lake National Park, you’ll witness the full majesty of the earth. Crater Lake sits within the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon. It’s surrounded by jagged cliffs formed by volcanic activity. Crater Lake itself shimmers with an intense deep blue hue. Its colours sparkle thanks to its 1,943-foot depth and clean alpine-fed waters.
To experience the area at its finest, spend a night at the legendary Crater Lake Lodge. Built in 1915, the rustic lodge in Rim Village overlooks the lake. Crater Lake Lodge is open between May and October.
Smith Rock State Park, OR
Rock climbers visiting the PNW need to hit up the Smith Rock State Park. The popular park is located just north of Bend, about 3.5 hours southeast of Portland.
At Smith Rock State Park, you’ll pepper your climbing adventure with scenic river canyon views. Often, you’ll catch glimpses of wildlife, including eagles, falcons, deer, and beavers.
Even if rock climbing feels “out of your league,” the park has plenty of great hiking & mountain bike trails to enjoy the scenery.
Glacier National Park, MT
Although a little far from the Pacific Coast, we can’t skip on mentioning Glacier National Park. Located in the state of Montana, Glacier National Park stretches north from the town of Columbia Falls. The park is crossed by the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s one of the region’s most famous scenic roads.
At the park, you can comb through over 700 miles of hiking trails. The routes whisk you off to picture-perfect alpine lakes set to dense forests, meadows, and rugged mountains.
Glacier National Park is about 9 hours’ driving time from Seattle. The park is contiguous with Waterton Lakes National Park across the border in the Canadian province of Alberta. From Calgary, Alberta, it’s about a 3-hour drive south.
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Established a century and a half ago, Yellowstone National Park is the USA’s oldest national park. The park sits mostly within the state of Wyoming but also extends into Montana and Idaho.
With a full day of driving separating Yellowstone from the PNW’s biggest cities, getting here won’t be easy to jam in. But the experience of beholding the park’s unique geothermal wonders and hot springs is unlike any other on the continent.
Pacific Coast Highway, CA
Got an extended vacation planning? Link up to the Pacific Coast Highway. The highway’s starting point is about 500 miles south of Portland, about a 9-hour drive away.
The famous road along California State Route 1 starts in Leggett in Mendocino County in the north. It sweeps down to Dana Point in Orange County, south of Los Angeles.
The northern stretch between Mendocino and Big Sur via San Francisco is considered one of the world’s most scenic roads. It’s the perfect place to expand your vacay with a Northern California road trip. Along the famous route, you’ll careen over historic arch bridges and past mountainous redwood forests.