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The ultimate guide to getting around the Pacific Northwest

Read time: 9 mins

The Pacific Northwest of the USA is a treasure trove of diverse landscapes. Think craggy beaches, active volcanos, frosted mountains and thick forests. This natural playground is perfect for everything from hiking and biking to canoeing and whale watching. Head to the area’s trendy cities and drive some of the country’s most scenic roads with our ultimate guide to getting around the Pacific Northwest.

What’s in this guide?

•    Getting from the UK to the Pacific Northwest
•    Suggested Pacific Northwest itineraries
•    Pacific Northwest urban highlights
•    Top national parks in the Pacific Northwest
•    Best Pacific Northwest beaches and islands
•    Mountains and gorges in the Pacific Northwest
•    Best scenic drives in the Pacific Northwest

Getting from the UK to the Pacific Northwest

Fly into either Seattle in Washington, or Portland in Oregon. It takes almost 11 hours to fly directly from London Heathrow to Portland International Airport with Virgin Atlantic or Delta. There are longer, stop-over flights available from other UK airports like Aberdeen, Bristol, Leeds and Norwich.

If you’re flying to Seattle Tacoma International, a direct flight takes just under 10 hours from London Heathrow or Gatwick with airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Norwegian Air. You can also fly direct from Manchester with Thomas Cook Airlines or Condor. Longer flights with stopovers are available from other UK hubs like Cardiff, Glasgow and Southampton.

Suggested Pacific Northwest itineraries

You could spend months exploring the Pacific Northwest, here are some road trip itineraries that cover the highlights.

Oregon and Washington highlights

Time: allow two-to-three weeks
Start and end point: fly into Portland and out of Seattle, or vice-versa

•    Portland
•    Mount Hood (90 miles east on I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge and south on the OR-35)
•    Bend (133 miles south on OR-35, US-26 and US-97)
•    Crater Lake National Park (90 miles south on US-97)
•    Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (160 miles northwest on OR-138 and OR-38)
•    Cannon Beach and Ecola Park (185 miles north on US-101)
•    Mount St. Helens (142 miles north on the US-101, east on US-30, north on the I-5 and east along the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, WA-504)
•    Mount Rainier National Park Area (145 miles northwest on WA-504 and WA-505, northeast on US-12 and north on WA-123 to White River Entrance)
•    Olympic National Park (172 miles north-west on the Chinook Scenic Byway, then northwest via Seattle and join the US-101 to the visitor center)
•    San Juan Islands (85 miles west and then north via the US-101 and WA-20 to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, about an hour to one hour and 20 minutes on the ferry to Friday Harbor)
•    Northern Cascades National Park (take the ferry back to Anacortes, then travel 73 miles east on WA-20, along the North Cascades Scenic Byway)
•    Seattle (110 miles southwest on WA-20, southwest on WA-530 and follow the I-5 south)

Portland loop

Duration: allow at least two weeks
Start and end point: Portland

•    Portland
•    Mount Hood (90 miles east on I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge and south on the OR-35)
•    Bend (133 miles south on OR-35, US-26 and US-97)
•    Crater Lake National Park (90 miles south on US-97)
•    Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (160 miles northwest on OR-138 and OR-38)
•    Cannon Beach and Ecola Park (185 miles north on US-101)
•    Olympic National Park (234 miles north along the US-101, WA-107 and WA-108)
•    San Juan Islands (85 miles west and then north via the US-101 and WA-20 to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, about an hour to one hour and 20 minutes on the ferry to Friday Harbor)
•    Seattle (take the ferry back to Anacortes, then drive 80 miles east on WA-20 and south on the I-5)
•    Mount Rainier National Park Area (82 miles south along the I-5, west along WA-164 and the Chinook Scenic Byway, WA-410)
•    Mount St. Helens (145 miles south along WA-123, southwest on US-12and southeast along WA-505 and WA-504, the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway)
•    Portland (109 miles west on WA-504 and south along the I-5)

Seattle loop

Duration: allow at least two weeks
Start and end point: Seattle

•    Seattle (80 miles east on WA-20 and south on the I-5)
•    Mount Rainier National Park Area (82 miles south along the I-5, west along WA-164 and the Chinook Scenic Byway, WA-410)
•    Mount St. Helens (145 miles south along WA-123, southwest on US-12and southeast along WA-505 and WA-504, the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway)
•    Portland (109 miles west on WA-504 and south along the I-5)
•    Mount Hood (90 miles east on I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge and south on the OR-35)
•    Bend (133 miles south on OR-35, US-26 and US-97)
•    Crater Lake National Park (90 miles south on US-97)
•    Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (160 miles northwest on OR-138 and OR-38)
•    Cannon Beach and Ecola Park (185 miles north on US-101)
•    Olympic National Park (234 miles north along the US-101, WA-107 and WA-108)
•    San Juan Islands (85 miles west and then north via the US-101 and WA-20 to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, about an hour to one hour and 20 minutes on the ferry to Friday Harbor)
•    Seattle (take the ferry back to Anacortes, then go 80 miles east on WA-20 and south on the I-5)

Oregon highlights

Duration: seven-to-10 days
Start and end point: Portland

•    Portland
•    Mount Hood (90 miles east on I-84 along the Columbia River Gorge and south on the OR-35)
•    Bend (133 miles south on OR-35, US-26 and US-97)
•    Crater Lake National Park (90 miles south on US-97)
•    Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (160 miles northwest on OR-138 and OR-38)
•    Cannon Beach and Ecola Park (185 miles north on US-101)
•    Portland (81 miles southeast along US-26)

Washington highlights

Duration: seven-to-10 days
Start and end point: Seattle

•    Seattle
•    Northern Cascades National Park (127 miles north along the I-5 and east on WA-20)
•    Mount Rainier (196 miles southwest on WA-20 and WA-530 and follow the I-5 south towards Seattle, take the I-405 and continue southeast via WA-169 and the Chinook Scenic Byway, WA-410)
•    Mount St. Helens (145 miles south along WA-123, southwest on US-12and southeast along WA-505 and WA-504, the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway)
•    San Juan Islands (258 miles northwest along WA-504 and WA-505, north along the I-5 and west along WA-20 to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, about an hour to one hour and 20 minutes on the ferry to Friday Harbor)
•    Seattle (take the ferry back to Anacortes, then drive 80 miles east on WA-20 and south on the I-5)

Pacific Northwest urban highlights

Portland, Oregon

Portland is Oregon’s largest and trendiest city, home to a plethora of food trucks and craft breweries, as well as the world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s. The leafy city lies on the Columbia and Willamette rivers and boasts views of Mount Hood. Take a hike in Forest Park, one of the largest urban forest reserves in the USA, with 70 miles of trails to explore. Follow the Wildwood Trail to Pittock Mansion, which has panoramic views over Portland.

Washington Park is another green oasis where you can stroll among fragrant rose gardens, hike, visit the arboretum, Japanese Gardens or zoo. Don’t forget to try one of Stumptown’s signature Voodoo donuts, shop at the Saturday Market and take a trip to the nearby Willamette Valley for wine tasting.

Bend, Oregon

Nestled between the Cascade Mountains and high desert of central Oregon, Bend is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The Deschutes River runs through the heart of the city and its lively Old Mill District, ideal for stand-up paddle boarding and tubing. Bend Whitewater Park offers thrilling kayaking and there’s an urban trail system for running, as well as hiking and mountain biking routes on the Deschutes River Trail System.

Visit the High Desert Museum, shop in the quaint streets, visit one of Bend’s many breweries or have a meal overlooking the river. Use the town as a base for skiing in the winter, visiting Mt. Bachelor, rock climbing at nearby Smith Rock State Park or visiting the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Seattle, Washington

Washington’s largest city, Seattle, is a cultural hub and port city with a thriving café, art and music scene. Its most iconic landmark, the 605-foot-tall Space Needle, dominates the skyline and provides views of Elliott Bay and the Cascade Mountains. Other top Seattle sights include Pioneer Square, Chinatown, the Pacific Science Center and Seattle Great Wheel.

Visit Pike Place Market, one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the country, which is home to over 200 local artisans, as well as food and street performers. Then there’s the Olympic Sculpture Park by the waterfront and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, which showcases the work of world-renowned glassblower Dale Chihuly. For an aerial view of the Emerald City, head to Kerry Park.

Top national parks in the Pacific Northwest

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park was created when Mount Mazama collapsed after an eruption 7,700 years ago, leaving a crater almost 2,000 feet deep. The lake is the deepest in the USA and its water is derived solely from rain and snow melt. View the lake on a 33-mile Rim Drive which has over 30 viewpoints or take a park ranger boat cruise across the water. Crater Lake park has 16 trails for hiking, the most popular being the 1.1-mile Cleetwood Trail to a cove on the water’s edge.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Head towards the coast to visit the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, one of the world’s largest stretches of temperate coastal dunes in the world. Think 500-foot-high mounds of sand, tree islands, wetlands and beaches. The sand stretches inland to meet coastal forests with unqiue ecosystems and rich wildlife. Hire a dune buggy to cover the northern and southern sections or trek the Oregon Dunes Loop Trail. Down at Heceta Head, there’s a 19th century lighthouse to visit.

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve that covers 60 miles of the pacific coastline. The area features three ecosystems: mountains, forests and coast. Visitors flock to the pristine Hoh Rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world and its Hall of Mosses, where tree branches drip with greenery. Do some hiking, night-sky gazing and go up to Hurricane Ridge for peak views of hulking 7,980-foot-high Mount Olympus.

Northern Cascades National Park, Washington

The Northern Cascades National Park has everything from conifer-covered mountains to waterfalls, snowfields, alpine lakes and forests. In addition, the park has over 30 glaciers and 700 miles of hiking trails, as well as grizzly bears and wolves. Explore this vast wilderness by driving the North Cascades Highway, which has plenty of scenic viewpoints. Washington Pass Overlook is the highest point of the road with views of Liberty Bell Mountain. Trek the Horseshoe Basin Trail which passes 15 waterfalls, as well as mountains and glaciers.

Best Pacific Northwest beaches and islands

Cannon Beach and Ecola Park, Oregon

On the north of Oregon’s stunning coast, you’ll find one of its most prized stretches of sand: Cannon Beach. The four-mile-long gem lies just steps from downtown and is bordered by dramatic cliffs and rock formations. Haystack Rock lies just out to sea, 235 feet above the shoreline, and is home to an array of birds, including the Tufted Puffin. Venture further to Hug Point, where waterfalls tumble onto the sand and Ecola Park, which sits on Tillamook Head overlooking this famous stretch of rugged coastline.

San Juan Islands, Washington

This archipelago of 172 islands and reefs lies at the head of Puget Sound and is easily accessible from Seattle. Ferries run to the four main islands: San Juan, Orcas, Shaw and Lopez, which are popular for their beaches, lighthouses and parks. Spot Orcas, Minke and Humpback Whales on a boat trip and spend some time in the historic seaport, Friday Harbor on San Juan. Highlights also include Lime Kiln Point Park and Lighthouse, Roche Harbor and the American Camp.

Other top beaches in the Pacific Northwest USA, situated along the Pacific Coast Highway include:

•    Harris, Oregon
•    Newport, Oregon
•    Rockaway, Oregon
•    Astoria, Oregon
•    Bandon, Oregon
•    Ruby, Washington
•    Ocean Shores, Washington
•    Alki, Washington
•    Seabrook, Washington
•    Long Beach, Washington

Mountains and gorges in the Pacific Northwest

Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

As Oregon’s highest peak at 11,245 feet, Mt. Hood is also one of the state’s seven wonders. The mountain is actually a dormant stratovolcano surrounded by 12 glaciers and a national forest. Mount Hood is popular with snowsport lovers in the winter, but the best way to see it year-round is to drive the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. The 100-mile route winds along the Hood River Valley through forests and orchards, skirting the famous peak.

Head back from Mount Hood via another of the state’s seven wonders, the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway. This National Historic Landmark divides Washington and Oregon, taking you through a deep basalt gorge which was carved by floods of lava over 14,000 years ago. Be sure to stop at Multnomah falls, a 620-foot-high wall of crashing water and one of the largest waterfalls in the nation.

Mount Rainier National Park Area, Washington

At 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest peak in the Cascade Mountains. The active volcano is set in a national park and surrounded by wildflower meadows, glaciers, waterfalls and lush forests with fascinating ecosystems. Spend some time hiking in the park, visiting beautiful Narada Falls, where water crashes from 188 feet, and learn about the area at the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center which has exhibits and ranger talks. For the best views over the park, drive to Sunrise, the highest point.

Mount St. Helens, Washington

Mount St. Helens in Washington is the youngest and most active volcano in the country. Head to the visitor centre to learn about its notorious eruption in 1980, which killed 57 people, flattened over 200 square miles of forest and destroyed hundreds of homes. The centre offers excellent interactive exhibits about the blast and its effect on the landscape. Take in the awesome views of Mount St. Helens by driving along Highway 504, a highlight is the Silver Lake Trail which follows boardwalks over wetland.

Best scenic drives in the Pacific Northwest

Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway, Oregon
Length: around 70 miles
This is America’s first scenic highway, which weaves through the Columbia Gorge through fir, pine and oak forests. Travel alongside the river and stop at five major waterfalls, including the highest, Multnomah. Spend some time taking in the sweeping view over the gorge at Vista House.

Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon
Length: 66 miles
Start at Bend and drive alongside the Deschutes River and its National Forest. Highlights include the Mount Bachelor Ski Resort and Broken Top Mountain, where you can see inside a stratovolcano. Visit alpine lakes such as Sparks, Devils, Elk and Little Lava, which are backed by the snow-topped Cascade Mountains.

Mount Hood Scenic Byway, Oregon
Length: 100 miles
The best way to see Oregon’s highest peak is to drive the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. Travel through fruit valleys and fir forests, arching around the base of Mount Hood. You’ll pass through the fertile valley fruit loop, the Mount Hood Railway and National Forest and past the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort.

Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Oregon and Washington
Length: 743 miles
This long byway stretches up the entire coast of Oregon and Washington. Take in beaches, seaport towns and parks along the way, with ample chance to photograph the flawless coastal scenery. Drive part or all of the road, pausing to visit attractions like Fort Stevens State Park, Heceta Head Lighthouse, Port Townsend, Hurricane Ridge and Ruby Beach.

North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington
Length: 138 miles
Follow Washington Highway 20 from the high deserts of the Methow Valley to the snowy peaks of the North Cascade Mountains. Drive along the Skagit River and pretty recreation areas with views of mountains, waterfalls, rivers and forests. Head to Washington Pass at 5,477 feet for the best views.

Chinook Scenic Byway, Washington
Length: 92 miles
Skirt around mighty Mount Rainier and through the Wenatchee National Forest, over the Chinook Pass to Naches. The road follows the roaring White River and passes Sunrise, one of the best places to get a view of Mount Rainier. Spend some time at the White River Wilderness Information Center to learn about the area.

Spirit Lake Memorial Highway
Length: 51 miles
The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway passes through the volcanic blast zone created by Mount St. Helens in 1980. Follow Washington Highway 504 and stop at the visitor centre to see how nature has recovered from the blast.  The journey features views of Spirit Lake and the Turtle River, taking you to Mount St. Helens National Monument where you can view the crater.

Discover the best of America's Pacific Northwest with these recommended tours and stays

 

Adventures in the Pacific Northwest Escorted Tour (11 nights)
Pacific Northwest - Small Group Tour (7 nights)
Northwest Parks & Wilderness - Small Group Tour (11 nights)
Fairmont Olympic, Seattle
Kimpton Alexis Hotel, Seattle
Jupiter Hotel, Portland
Kimpton Riverplace Hotel, Portland
Hotel Vintage Portland - A Kimpton Hotel

Dave Hennessy
Call our travel experts now
01 6649900 Call us Mon-Sun 9am-9pm

Recommended holidays

Dave Hennessy
Call our travel experts now
01 6649900 Call us Mon-Sun 9am-9pm