7 Epic Pacific Northwest Family Road Trips through Oregon and Washington State

7 Epic Pacific Northwest Family Road Trips through Oregon and Washington State

The Pacific Northwest area of the United States has a large variety of amazing natural landscapes, cute fun towns, and vibrant cities.  It’s very easy to drive from one place to another and the drives are very pretty as well.  There are so many great options and choices when planning a Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington State road trip I was having trouble picking just one.  So here are seven.  Pick and choose your favorite stopping points or even add the all together for the ultimate Pacific Coast Road Trip.

Hurricane Ridge Trail

Seattle to Victoria Canada Road Trip Featuring Mountains and San Juan Island Hopping in Washington State

Washington State has so many beautiful areas.  There are ancient rain forests, majestic mountains, breathtaking islands and adorable coastal towns.  The vibrant city of Seattle has it’s own unique feel and is also worth spending some time.  To see a little of everything Washington State has to offer then try this road trip loop starting in Seattle and meandering it’s way through a variety of scenic mountains and islands.  If you have the time (and a passport) then jump across the border to Canada for even more beautiful scenery and super friendly Canadian cities.

Starting Point Seattle:  Seattle is a great place to start a tour of Washington State and the Pacific Northwest.  Take a few days to explore and enjoy this wonderful city.  Flight to Seattle are generally cheap and the airport is very easy to navigate.

First Trip – Seattle to Mt Rainier:  Mt Rainier is a 14,000 foot volcano that is considered active and one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its size, closeness to major cities, and likelihood of glacial ice flows turning into mudslides.  Its the highest mountain in Washington State and the Cascade Mountain Range and the most “topographically prominent” mountain in the US (Colorado mountains start from a base already a mile high).  Regardless, it’s beautiful.  Consider staying in Mt. Rainier area or head west to Olympia for the night.

Second Leg – Olympic National Park: Olympic National Park may be a less well known National Park but it’s landscape is amazing.  The park has quiet beaches where you can whale watch, beautiful rain forest and a very photogenic mountain range.  Some of the best views are from Hurricane Ridge.  Consider staying in Sol Duc Springs, Port Angeles or another small coastal town.  

Next Stop – San Juan Islands:  The Northwest area of Washington State has some of the most beautiful islands you will find anywhere.  The best way to explore the islands is by ferry.  The Washington State and British Columbia Ferry systems are fun experiences on their own and are absolutely fabulous ways to travel when exploring the Pacific North West.  Always check ferry schedules when making lodging and driving plans to make sure you can get where you want the day you want to get there. Consider spending a day or 2 in Coupeville Washington while waiting on the ferry then make your away across to Orcas Island.  Orcas Island is a wonderful place to enjoy some piece and quiet as well as whale watching and exploring beautiful Moran State Park.  I would plan at lest 2 nights in Orcas.

Then to Victoria, Ca: From the San Juan Islands, Canada is just a short ferry ride away. Always confirm and check all ferry schedules.  Ferries are such a fun way to travel but schedules can change.  Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada is an absolutely beautiful city that is very pedestrian friendly and visitor friendly.  Stay at least a couple of day, but you may never want to leave.

Then Loop Back through Vancouver to Seattle:  Again, take a ferry from either Naniamo (another wonderful Canadian City) or straight from Victoria to Vancouver area (there are a couple of different terminals).  If you have any time left then take a couple of days in each area.  If time is up, loop back to Seattle for your flight home

This Washington State and Vancouver Island bucket list road trip can be done rushed in about a week and you will have an amazing time but would be much more fun if you had at least 2 weeks to spend more time in each location.  These stops are meant to be enjoyed and appreciated.

Trip Summary:

Seattle (2-3 nights)  -> Mt. Ranier (staying in Olympia for the night) -> Olympic National Park (stay in Sol Duc Springs or Port Angelos – 1-2 nights) -> Whidbey Island (stay in Coupeville depending on the ferry schedule) -> Orcas Island (2-3 nights) -> Victoria Canada (2-3 nights)

Consider adding Nanaimo -> Vancouver -> Seattle to complete the loop

Article and photos from Fitz 5 on the go

This road trip is very similar to the one we took to start our travel year.  It was such a beautiful section and we absolutely loved our time in Ladysmith Canada.  We’ve taken 2 trips to Orcas Island and are planning our third. Here’s how the Washington State section went.  Also be sure to check out our Vancouver Island guide and our Guide to Family Travel in the Pacific Northwest.

Seattle to Portland Road Trip (via Mt St Helen)

An ideal trip for many families traveling to the PNW includes visiting Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Both cities offer a wonderland of activities for kids, teens, and their parents. The route between the two includes a stop at one of the most awe-inspiring places in the country, Mount St. Helens.

Day one begins with a visit to Pike Place Market and photos at the gum wall. Then head down the stairs for an afternoon on the waterfront, enjoying breathtaking views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Take a ride on the Great Wheel and spend a few hours in the educational and entertaining Seattle Aquarium. Enjoy dinner in one of the waterfront restaurants in the area.

Day two brings you to the heart of the Emerald City, Seattle Center, which has something for everyone. Families love The Museum of Pop Culture and the Artists at Play Playground. Next door is the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the monorail. You will also find the Pacific Science Center, the International Fountain, the Children’s Museum and the Children’s Theater. The area hosts buskers; tantalizing food choices; and in the summer, a festival almost every weekend!

Let the family catch their breath on day three in quieter West Seattle. Visit Lincoln Park to enjoy the beach and forest. Check the aquarium’s website to find out if Beach Naturalists will be on the beach at the park for low tides and enjoy a summer swim in the waterfront public pool. Then take the ferry next door over to Vashon Island for a quiet rural day out. Orcas are sometimes spotted from the ferry and the views are always beautiful. Enjoy the calm, tomorrow will be another busy day!

Leave Seattle early on day four and drive to Mount St Helens, 3-4 hours away. Head up to Johnston Ridge Observatory, enjoying the scenic pullouts along the route. Take in the sublime views, sign up for the Junior Ranger Program, and go for a hike. After all your adventures, continue south to Portland, a 2-hour drive from the observatory.

Spend your first day in the Rose City at OMSI, one of the most engaging hands-on science centers in the country. Afterwards, meander on foot or rented bikes along the waterfront and over bridges to the Pearl District, enjoying fountains and food trucks along the way. Explore expansive Powell’s Books (including their delightful children’s section!) and find dinner at one of the many family-friendly breweries.

Your final day of your PNW road trip brings you to Washington Park, brimming with activities for all ages and interests. The park boasts a zoo, Japanese Garden, forestry center, rose gardens,  engaging playgrounds, and over 15 miles of trails. In the late afternoon head down to charming Multnomah Village. Visit Thinker Toys for a memorable souvenir and wrap up your trip at one of the nearby eateries.

Trip Summary:

Seattle (3 days) -> Mount St Helens (1 day) -> Portland (2 days)

Thanks to Trip Scholars for this fabulous article and photo of Myrtle Edwards Park in Seattle

The Best of Oregon Road Trip

Oregon is a fabulous place for a family travel. An outdoor paradise, there is a lot to see that both kids and adults will love on this two week adventure.

Starting in Portland, take a couple of days to explore some of the top sights. Don’t miss Powells Bookstore, indulging in popular Voodoo doughnuts, and exploring downtown Portland and the delicious food cart scene.

A short half-hour drive from Portland, stop at Multnomah Falls on the way to Bend. Cascading 625 feet over three major drops, Multnomah Falls is one of the most iconic natural wonders of Oregon.

Continue towards Bend. Make a stop in the old western town of Sisters, a fun and artsy community. Wander the town and enjoy the small-town feel and the 1880s facades. 

Spend time in the Bend area enjoying the outdoor paradise. Hike to waterfalls, enjoy the scenery, stop at the Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint. Take the half-hour drive to explore Smith Rock State Park

Two hours from Bend are the Painted Hills, one of the Seven Wonders Of Oregon. Take a few of the short hikes to different viewpoints to see the Painted Hills from varying perspectives. This incredible scenery is breathtaking; it feels like a painting.

The next morning, get an early start to drive to Crater Lake. Spend the first day driving the 33-mile Rim Road. The marvelous blue water leaves visitors wide-eyed and speechless.  Spend a couple of days in the park to include some hiking.  The hikes give different perspectives of Crater Lake that are not seen from only driving the Rim Road. 

End the trip with some relaxation along the Oregon Coast. Some great hotspots to visit are the famous Cannon Beach, Seaside, Ecola State Park, and the Peter Iredale Shipwreck.

Trip Summary:

Portland (2 days) -> Multnomah Falls (travel stop) -> Bend (3 days) -> Painted Hills (1 day) -> Crater Lake (3 days) -> Oregon Coast (3 days)

This wonderful article and photo of Crater Lake is from World Adventurists – Thanks!

We took a similar trip to start our travel year in 2017.  We started in Portland.  We stopped by Crater Lake then over to Oregon Beaches (to see the eclipse) before heading north to Canada.  We loved it.  Here’s how the Oregon travel part went.

Road Trip from Portland following the Columbia River Gorge

One of the most scenic and worthwhile road trips to do in Oregon covers the Columbia River Gorge which goes from Portland through some of the most beautiful scenic landscape in the state. In fact the Columbia River Gorge is designated as the largest National scenic area in the United States. The landscapes is gorgeous and filled with waterfalls to visit like the Maulnomah, Bridal Veil an Latourell falls cascading down basalt cliffs in a spectacular display to enjoy and capture in photographs. Outside of these spectacular waterfalls other things you can enjoy on this fabulous drive includes: visiting the Vista House and amazing views from the area, check out the Bonneville hatchery and visit the Bonneville Lock and dam, Experience the Hood River fruit loop which is another scenic 35 mile tour of farms, wineries and fruit stands you encounter along the way and visit the wonderful town of Hood River and explore all the cool shops, galleries and eateries in town.

The road trip from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge is less than an hour and twenty minutes on Hwy I 84E and you can do this as a day trip or extend your stay with a weekend getaway in a variety of inns and local Bnbs in the area and explore the attractions and surrounding areas in more detail. Not only is the area a natural wonderland but you can also experience and visit amazing wineries, taste some delicious craft beers and have fresh farm to table experiences in the area that makes this a complete touring experience in the area.

Beautiful Photo and Article thanks to Noel from Visit California and Beyond

Oregon Coast Lighthouse Road Trip

If you are looking for an amazing family road trip, look no further than a lighthouse tour up the Oregon Coast. Oregon’s Coast has 11 historic lighthouses, and touring each is worth the time, but smaller chunks may be more up your alley. Starting from south to north is very neat and tidy, and you can easily hit 4 lighthouses before you reach Eugene, Oregon. Eugene is a great stop over point to grab some yummy food and stop for the night. Many of these lighthouses are in Oregon’s park system and may have entrance fees to access them. All of them are historic sites, and worth the drive.

Cape Blanco Lighthouse is located near North Bend Oregon, it is the oldest and most southern lighthouse, and is open for tours from April to October. Heading north next stop is Bandon, OR and the Coquille River Lighthouse, it had a rather pricey restoration in 2007, and is open for tours mid-May to October. Next stop is Reedsport, OR and the Umpqua River Lighthouse stands 61” over the Umpqua River. You should plan a stop over at the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area, and possibly rent 4-wheelers or dune buggies if age appropriate. Last stop is The Heceta Head Lighthouse, 13 miles north of Florence, OR. It has the strongest light in Oregon visible for 21 miles, and by far one of the best to visit it is picturesque and the walk up is beautiful. If you are looking for another amazing experience while in Oregon, mushroom foraging is amazing and the kids will love it!

Trip Summary: 

Cape Blanco Lighthouse (2 hours) -> Coquille River Lighthouse (1 hour) -> Umpqua River Lighthouse (2 hours) -> Oregon Dunes Recreation Area (3 hours) -> Heceta Head Lighthouse (2 hours)

These wonderful suggestions and photo are thanks to Rebecca from Whatever Packs Your Bag


Ring of Fire Volcano Road Trip through Washington State, Oregon and Northern California

The Pacific Northwest is an active area of the ring of fire with numerous dormant volcanoes dotting the landscape as well as several active ones.  Washington state is home to  Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens  which are all considered active.  In Oregon the active volcanoes are Mt Hood, Mt Jefferson,  3 Sisters and Crater Lake.   The area has about half of the most dangerous volcanoes in the country especially when you add in Northern California.

A volcano road trip does not have to have just volcanoes.  The Pacific  Northwest also has lava flows and other volcano structures.

Some of the beautiful mountains made from the volcanos offer skiing.  Some are excellent places to climb and look for wildflowers.  Others make fabulous background views to the city below.  They all offer a chance to learn about geology.  I would recommending doing a quick check just to make sure everyone is behaving before your go.

The Volcano and Ring of Fire North to South stops are:

Mt Baker: Ski area and one of the beautiful mountains that you can see from the San Juan Islands

Glacier Peak: Nicknamed Washington State’s hidden volcano in the middle of the North Cascades.  This area of wilderness has more active glaciers than any other area in the lower 48 states.

Mt Ranier: Beautiful and the tallest mountain in the state. Close to Seattle and Tacoma and high risk of causing some major trouble.

Mt St. Helen: Larger eruption in 1980 with a more recent eruption in 2008.

Mt Hood: Another beautiful volcano with hiking, wildlife and amazing views.

Willamette National Forest:  This national forest has several wilderness areas and 7 volcanic peaks including Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt Washington.   Two scenic bypasses go through the forest including the West Cascades Scenic Byway from Mt Hood and McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Deschutes National Forest: Located near Bend Oregon with 86 miles of geological volcano related features including lava flows, lakes, cinder cones, and lava caves.

Crater Lake: Probably the most beautiful caldera in the world.  This National Park is must stop for any geology enthusiast and a photographers dream.  Plus you can swim in a volcano – how awesome is that.

Lava Beds National Monument: In the high dessert of Northern California.

Mt Shasta: In California near the end of the Cascades is a good place to end a Ring of Fire road Trip.

All of these stops make a wonderful additional to any Pacific Northwest road trip.  However the area has so much to offer adding in other stops would make a more well rounded experience.  Some of these locations have so much to do that they could stand as a trip on their own.

Information and photo from Fitz5onthego

Washington State Beach
Washington State Beach

The Best Beaches Oregon and Washington State Road Trip

Oregon and Washington State have some beautiful beaches.  They may not be the typical bikini and warm sand-type beaches that come to mind when most people picture a beach but they are beautiful.  Think long stretches of waves, relaxation and nature.  Coastal towns in Oregon and Washington State are also very friendly and enjoyable with each having a distinct personality.

An Oregon Coast and Washington Coast road trip can be added on to a Northern California coastal road trip or with a loop through Seattle, Portland or even Victoria Canada.  On our last trip, we went from Seattle to Crater Lake to the Coast.  We followed the coast all way up and cut East when we ran out of land.  We then made a loop through Vancouver Island Canada.

For this article we’ll just start just south of Newport and go north.

First stop – Camping at Beachside State Recreation Park: Oregon has numerous campgrounds that are just slightly off the sandy beaches.  Campsites can fill during the summer so reservations are generally a good idea. Camping can be quiet chilly at night so be prepared for temperature drops.  Our campsite was delightfully just a small walk to the beach but was a little to close to the noises of the road for a truly restful sleep.  A small town was nearby that had a nice local restaurant for quick meals.

Newport, Oregon: Newport is a wonderful coastal town.  It’s a nice place to take a stroll and stretch your legs.  It’s also a good place to find some local clam chowder and watch the neighborhood seals.  If you have time, then visit the aquarium.

Drive north after Newport.  There are several lovely beach towns along the way.  All would make a great short stop or a place to spend a few days.  Some cities and stopping points include: Otter Rock, Depot Bay and Lincoln City.  Just look at the photos online – so pretty.

Quick stop – Tillamook Factory:  After hugging the coast for awhile the road will turn more inland through more farm areas.  The Tillamook Factory is a must stop along this route.  By then you will need to stretch your legs and there’s no better place to take a break than a cheese and ice cream factory.

Overnight stay – Cannon Beach or Seaside Oregon:  Cannon Beach and Seaside Oregon are only 15 minutes apart.  So pick one to stay overnight and visit the other.  Cannon Beach has the iconic beach front rocks made famous by the Goonies movie.  It’s really, really pretty and there are several tidal pool areas to explore as well as an expansive beach.  Seaside has a lovely boardwalk area and fun coastal downtown area.  I would stay 2-3 days minimum.

Next Stop – Olympic National Park:  On your way north stop by Astoria and at least grab lunch.  It’s a delightful city. This stretch will be the longest drive but it is photogenic.  Stay along the coast as much as possible and once you get in to Olympic National Park area there will be several places where you can get out and enjoy a relatively deserted coastline.  We camped at Sol Duc Hot Springs but there are several other options for lodging.  Then next day visit Hurricane Ridge then decide if you will be heading to Seattle or Island Hopping through the San Juan Island (my recommendation).

Trip Summary:

Camping at Beachside State Park -> Newport -> Tillamook Factory -> Cannon Beach and Seaside -> Olympic National Park Coastline -> Hurricane Ridge -> San Juans or Seattle

Road Trip plan from Fitz5 on the go

Want to learn more about family travel to these wonderful Oregon Stops?  Then read our short Oregon Blog posts here.

The Pacific Northwest is an amazing place to take a vacation and especially a road trip.  There is so much to explore.  From mountains to beaches and bustling cities to quiet towns Oregon and Washington State can make an absolutely epic road trip (or 7).

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Oregon and Washington State Related Family Travel Articles from Fitz5 on the go

We’re a family of 5 (Physician Assistant mom, IT project manager dad and 3 kids ages 3,6,10) taking a gap year from normal life to travel.  For blog postslocations, and more information on how we did it and how you can to click here.