The lush Pacific Northwest is home to volcanic vistas, abundant orchards and vibrant cities. A road trip is an ideal way to catch all of the sights this region is famous for. In the span of just a few days, you can experience everything from wine tasting and whale watching to coffee culture and coastal views – all without getting on a plane! What you’ll need: a camera, waterproof hiking boots, plenty of light layers and an appetite for the outdoors.
Start your tour of the Pacific Northwest by flying into Portland, Oregon’s international airport. Here, rent a car and start exploring this famously quirky U.S. city, which draws foodies and culture fiends in droves. Fuel up with a tasty, fun-shaped pastry from Voodoo Doughnut in Old Town and pair it with a fair-trade latte from Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee Roasters, which has now expanded around the USA. Head to the Lan Su Chinese Garden to witness an ancient tea ceremony or to the Portland Art Museum to view the more than 1,800 Japanese works. Don’t forget to peruse Powell’s City of Books, which covers a full city block and holds more than 1.5 million volumes. Don’t miss the Pearl District and its boutiques. (Bonus: Oregon does not have a sales tax!) On weekends from March through December, the city’s waterfront park hosts the Portland Saturday Market, a massive open-air crafts market.
More than 400 wineries dot the hills west of Interstate 5 between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, about 180 kilometers south. It’s here, in the Willamette Valley, that some of the country’s best Pinot Noir is produced and bottled, making this a worthwhile detour on your Pacific Northwest road trip. At the south end of the valley, King Estate Winery offers tastings and views near Eugene. Before heading back north, you might want to make a detour west to the Oregon Coast where you’ll find pristine beaches framed by rugged cliffs and charming beach towns.
After your tour of Oregon’s wine country, head northeast to Mount Hood for a hike along the Mount Hood Trail, which leads to the top of the mountain. Near the summit, veer from the path and take a jaunt on the Pacific Crest Trail, near where Reese Witherspoon’s character famously hurled her boot into a ravine in the movie Wild. In the winter you can ski or snowboard at Mount Hood Meadows. Make sure to stop at the nearby Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area for views of its often photographed waterfalls and hiking trails.
Head north of Mount Hood to reach the border of Washington State. Volcanic mountains pierce the horizon throughout this beautiful state, but none as dramatically as Mount Rainier. Standing more than 4,300 meters above southern Washington, Mount Rainier is the tallest and most glaciated peak on the U.S. mainland. It’s also home to more wildflowers than one can imagine, making Mount Rainier National Park an ideal springtime destination. In summer, the park offers hikes among ancient giant trees in the Grove of the Patriarchs and stunning waterfall views, while winter brings opportunities for a ranger-led snowshoe tour.
Mount Rainier National Park fades into the distance as you drive to Washington State’s largest city, Seattle. Sitting at the edge of the picturesque Puget Sound, the city’s core is surrounded by dynamic neighborhoods and punctuated by lakes. Park your car and catch a glimpse of the views from the Space Needle observation deck, nearly 160 meters above ground.
Be sure to stop by Pike Place Market, one of the oldest farmers markets in the USA. The market is worth a visit not only for its views of Puget Sound, but also for its vendors tossing fresh fish, produce and flower stalls, edibles from local purveyors, and the chance to get a cup of coffee at the original Starbucks nearby. More great restaurants, coffee shops, nightlife and bookstores can be found in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Pop into Bauhaus Books & Coffee for pours and poems; hit Espresso Vivace, which is known for its devotion to java perfection; or head to Victrola Coffee and Art for a tasty pick-me-up and local art.
Head north to get to Anacortes, where you can set sail on a Washington State Ferry (reservations can be made in advance) for the scenic San Juan Islands. These wild islands dotting the Salish Sea are home to breathtaking beaches, lush forests and plenty of wildlife. Spend a day touring San Juan Island by ziplining through the treetops or admiring the views from the water. Kayak-rental companies abound here, and charters offer tours of the Salish Sea and wildlife viewing excursions from quaint Friday Harbor.
Hop back in the car and head north past sailboat-speckled bays, towering mountains and charming coastal towns to Bellingham, Washington, located near the U.S.-Canadian border. Bellingham is full of boutiques and restaurants, and you’ll find many of them in the bustling Fairhaven Historic District. It is also home to the lovely waterfront Boulevard Park and nearby Whatcom Falls Park, which features scenic waterfalls and nature hikes.
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