Travel Guide // Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary

America's Pacific Northwest. those three words conjure up images of misty mountains and mossy forests full of waterfalls. or maybe lighthouses on rocky beaches, or ferry boats sailing through a pod of whales. tall pine trees and bright blue oceans, or cities full of hipsters drinking microbrews and coffee shops on every corner.

I'm here to tell you: the Pacific Northwest has all that and more.

in April and May this year, I took a 17 day road trip through Washington State and Oregon with my parents and brother. our itinerary was scheduled around the fact my dad was running two marathons on our trip - one in Tacoma and one in Eugene - but you could easily adapt our route to fit your own needs.

about our itinerary

we flew in and out of Seattle, renting a car for the entire trip. we stayed mostly in airbnb apartments and homes, with a few hotels where needed. we packed picnic lunches nearly every day, and tried to cook at our airbnb when possible [both for budgetary and allergy reasons.] the places we ate at that I would recommend are listed and linked below.

my dad gets the credit for doing most of the planning. I definitely made some activity suggestions, and my mom found us some great airbnbs [and my brother found us some great breweries.] but my dad put it all together. however: one thing to keep in mind about our trip is that when my dad plans, he tries to pack in as much as humanly possible. we did a LOT every day. writing up this itinerary has reminded me just how much!

while we spent some time in cities, the major draw for us was the nature. [or at least it was for me.] we are all in decent shape and did quite a bit of hiking, but as I write up each hike I'll be sure to list what I thought the difficulty level was for reference.

similar to what I did with our New Zealand itinerary, I'll come back to add links for relevant posts as they are published.

day 0: arrive in seattle

I flew in direct from Taipei, while my parents arrived from Detroit. our flights both got in around 8pm so we did not accomplish much this night. we made a trip to Target for snacks and travel necessities, then crashed at a hotel near SeaTac airport.

day 1: seattle to san juan island

we all woke up early [thanks jetlag] and got on the road after stopping for groceries. we drove up to Anacortes where we had a tasty lunch at Gere-a-Deli and boarded a car ferry for Friday Harbor. the weather was colder than I had anticipated, but clear and sunny. after we settled into our tiny airbnb apartment and had dinner, I chugged some coffee before heading out to Lime Kiln Point for sunset.

posts: sunset at Lime Kiln Point
lighthouse total: 1

day 2: san juan island

we only had one full day to explore San Juan Island, so we battled jet lag to make the most of it. we started down at the American Camp - where we hiked to the oddly named Grandma's Cove. our next stop was the Cattle Point Light. the light itself was nothing much, but we ran into a researcher who was staring out into the water. he loaned me his binoculars and we were able to watch a pod of orca whales swim by!

once the whales disappeared from sight, we drove to San Juan County Park for a picnic lunch. our sandwiches fueled us all the way to the top of Young Hill at the English Camp. the views from the top were amazing, and I finally felt warm for the first time since leaving Taiwan, thanks to the exertion from the hike. our last stop of the day was Limestone Point. the wind out here was intense, and the weather was getting colder, so we didn't stay very long. our day ended with a much needed feast at Van Go's Pizza and an early bedtime.

lighthouse total: 2

day 3: across the olympic peninsula

we took the early morning ferry back from Friday Harbor to Anacortes, and this time drove down Whidbey Island to board another ferry. along the way we made a few stops. the first was the instagram-famous Deception Pass, where my mom and I lost my dad for a terrifying 15 minutes. we found him eventually, and got back on the road to Fort Casey. we had enough time to visit the Admiralty Head Lighthouse before boarding our [extremely windy and choppy] ferry to Port Townsend. we made a quick stop at Point Wilson [and another lighthouse] before continuing on across the Olympic Peninsula.

at some point during the drive, we entered Olympic National Park. it's so huge that it's almost impossible not to. we decided to break up the drive by stopping at the Storm King Ranger Station on Lake Crescent. by that time I was dying to get out of the car and take some pictures of the scenery... and to stretch my legs. we took a short hike from there up to Marymere Falls - the first waterfall of the trip but definitely not the last - and then continued on to Forks.

lighthouse total: 4
waterfall total: 1

day 4: hoh rainforest + olympic beaches

from our airbnb in Forks [yes, the same Forks from Twilight] we drove out to the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park. we hiked both the Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Trail in the rain before heading out to the coast. at Ruby Beach, however, disaster struck. not only did my camera battery die 5 minutes after arriving, but I slipped on a driftwood tree and wound up with bruises from ankle to knee [not to mention salty slime on all my clothes.] this unfortunate incident required a detour back into Forks for a change of clothes and a charge of batteries.

clean and powered up, our next stop was Second Beach in LaPush. [yes, also from Twilight.] you have to hike out to the beach from a parking lot, but it is SO worth it. we were lucky enough to have the beach to ourselves. despite the bruises, I decided the only thing to do was get back on the driftwood - so I did. after, we also stopped by First Beach and Rialto Beach. both were nice, but Second Beach was certainly the best we saw that day.

day 5: across the Olympic Peninsula, again

this day was one of our longest drives - all the way from Forks to Tacoma. but along the way we stopped at what might be my favorite hike from the whole trip: the Sol Duc Waterfall trail in Olympic National Park. the main falls were impressive, but I was in love with the long and babbling stream we found in the middle of the trail. that night my brother arrived, and we stayed at an airbnb in Tacoma. [since that's where the marathon was. most people would choose to be based out of Seattle, though I think Tacoma may be more affordable.]

lighthouse total: 4
waterfall total: 3

day 6: seattle

we started our morning with a visit to the Columbia Center viewing deck. it was half under construction, and the weather was not excellent. however, it was cool to see all the ferries going across the harbor and the mountains in the distance. next we made our way past the Space Needle and into the Chihuly Glass Garden. the colorful artwork was lovely for brightening up a dreary day, and made a contrast to our stop at the Freemont Troll. then it was time to visit a few breweries on my brother's list: Holy Mountain and Urban Family. [for reference, my brother is really into sour beers right now and so most places we visited specialized in those.]

day 6.5: tacoma

I'm not counting this as an itinerary day, since the morning was taken up with marathon happenings and in the afternoon we only visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass. it was interesting, but I wouldn't call it a "must see" item.

day 7: seattle

our second day in Seattle kicked off with a visit to the infamous Pike Place Market. we didn't go into the Starbucks, but my family ate some amazing looking pastries from the Polish Piroshky Piroshky Bakery. we wandered through the stores while it rained, stopped by the gum wall, and grabbed a drink at Rachel's Ginger Beer. for lunch we drove up to Brouwer's Cafe [another great place for beers.] our afternoon activity was also quite delicious: a tour at Theo Chocolate! and yes, we got to eat a TON of chocolate.

posts: the colors of pike place market

day 8: tacoma to cannon beach

the Pacific Northwest is known for being rainy, but this was the first day of our trip that the weather was bad enough to impact our plans. our first stop was Cape Disappointment State Park, still in Washington. our hike to North Head Lighthouse was just that - a disappointment. the structure was wrapped up in construction barriers and the trail was a muddy mess. further south in the park, we hiked past Dead Man's Cove and out to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. had the weather been nice, it would have been stunning I think. but it was raining so hard I couldn't keep my camera lens dry, and eventually gave up on shooting photos. we made a brief stop at Fort Clatsop in the Lewis and Clark National Histrical Park, then gave up on the weather clearing and drove to our hotel in Cannon Beach.

lighthouse total: 6
waterfall total: 3

day 9: cannon beach to portland

we woke with hopes for better weather, and were greeted by a massive bank of fog. since we could not even see the ocean from the shore, let alone Haystack Rock, we skipped Ecola State Park and headed south along the coast. we took a brief detour for a hike to the small but tall Munson Creek Falls. the fog still persisted. stopping at the Tillamook Factory to drown our sorrows in cheese and ice cream helped - and it seemed the weather was starting to clear. we took a chance and drove out to Cape Meares. the fog rolled back just enough that we could see the coastline from the tiny Cape Meares Light. [at that point, something was better than nothing!] we ended the day with one of my favorite meals of the trip at Great Notion Brewing and Barrel House in Portland.

lighthouse total: 7
waterfall total: 4

day 10: columbia river gorge

we lucked out with a clear and warm forecast, so decided this would be our day our in the Columbia River Gorge. our first stop was Crown Point Vista House. the views from here were incredible. it's definitely worth a stop, but don't stay too long because there is so much more to see! the next few hours we spent stopping at increasingly scenic waterfalls: Latourell Falls [tall and skinny] then Bridal Veil Falls [worth the short hike] and stopping for lunch at Wahkeena Falls [much-needed cooling mist.]

we then attempted to hike over to Multnomah Falls... but the trail we wanted to take was quite overgrown. we detoured up to Lemmon's Lookout instead. from there we could have taken a longer route [like, 3 hours hiking] but instead we went back down and took the trail by the road [past one tiny falls.] once we made it to the base of Multnomah, however, the hike to the top was steep and long. but when you are at Oregon's most famous waterfall, you make the climb.

on our way down a storm rolled in, so it was time to head back to Portland for dinner. we hit up Reverend Nat's Cidery for a well-earned drink or two, and indulged in slices at Sizzle Pie. this was one of my favorite days of the trip, though I wish we could have seen more of the gorge. there was so much that we never made it to... if we had an extra day or two to spend I would have loved to explore more of the trails and make it up to Mt Hood.

lighthouse total: 7
waterfall total: 9

day 11: portland

we started our day in Portland with coffee and doughnuts. or rather, the infamous combination of Stumptown Coffee and Voodoo Doughnuts. the weather was iffy so we spent a few hours getting lost in Powell's Bookstore before heading to Robo Taco for lunch, and Cascade Brewing Co for drinks. our last stop of the day was the International Rose Test Garden.

day 11.5: portland to eugene

I'm skipping this as an official itinerary day - since we spent our time driving to Eugene, arguing with the people at T mobile, and picking up dad's race packet for the marathon the next day.

day 12: eugene to yachats

Mom and I made it down to Hayward Field just in time to watch Dad cross the finish line, then it was a race to get checked out of our hotel. we drove back out to the Oregon coast, stopping at Heceta Head to explore tide pools and hike to the lighthouse. [in my mind, I keep thinking of this place as Hecate - totally different.] the lighthouse was beautiful and the views of the coast were just stunning. we stopped at a lookout just south of the light, and discovered hundreds of sea lions barking on the beach below.

we made it to our arbnb cottage in Yachats in time for sunset. since we were staying right on the ocean, of course this meant going for a walk [and taking photos.]

lighthouse total: 8
waterfall total: 9

day 13: the oregon coast

this day we saw some of the most stunning shoreline of our trip. we started off at Cape Perpetua - watching the waves gush over Thor's Well, hiking up to the outlook, and picnicking near Devil's Churn. the blues and greens on the coast were insane.

that afternoon we drove out to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. and... it was certainly outstanding. we added one last lighthouse to our tally, walked tidepools and were smiled at by seals. for dinner the stopped at the Drift Inn in Yachats for some surprisingly good dinner and live music.

posts: Yaquina Head Light + Natural Area
lighthouse total: 9
waterfall total: 9

day 14: back to the airport

we drove from Yachats to Olympia [which took a looooong 5 hours.] we stayed in a hotel and departed from SeaTac the next day. in theory, you could take the shorter drive and fly out of Portland.

and there you have it! though we spent an actual total of 17 days, this itinerary would work for a two week trip [or you could also stretch it out longer.] if I had more time to add, I would spend an extra day each on San Juan Island, in Olympic National Park, and at Columbia Gorge.

going through our itinerary has reminded me just HOW MUCH I still have to share about this trip. expect to see some hiking trails, pacific beaches, and lots of waterfalls in the near future. if you have any questions about our trip or requests for posts you'd like to see first, let me know in the comments below.

and with Adventures of a London Kiwi, SilverSpoon London, Follow Your Sunshine and Eppie for the monthly travel link up on "journeys."

travel guide to the Pacific Northwest: a detailed two week itinerary for a road trip through one of the most stunning corners of America. explore misty forests, hike through gorges and past waterfalls, visit lighthouses and rocky beaches, watch whales on remote islands, and sip coffee and beers in the hip cities of Seattle and Portland.
travel guide to the Pacific Northwest: a detailed two week itinerary for a road trip through one of the most stunning corners of America. explore misty forests, hike through gorges and past waterfalls, visit lighthouses and rocky beaches, watch whales on remote islands, and sip coffee and beers in the hip cities of Seattle and Portland.

a detailed itinerary for a two week road trip through America's Pacific Northwest -- complete with misty mountains and mossy forests full of waterfalls, lighthouses on rocky beaches, ferry boats sailing through whale pods, tall pine trees and bright blue oceans, and cities full of hipsters drinking microbrews and hand drip coffees.>
a detailed itinerary for a two week road trip through America's Pacific Northwest -- complete with misty mountains and mossy forests full of waterfalls, lighthouses on rocky beaches, ferry boats sailing through whale pods, tall pine trees and bright blue oceans, and cities full of hipsters drinking microbrews and hand drip coffees.


life's adventures lately

hi, friends! it's been a loooong time since I've written you a little life update. with so much blog material from the past year's travels stockpiled, I sometimes miss out on the present happenings. [I haven't posted one of these updates since February!]

but -- here's a few things that have been going on around here lately

writing for a cause

many of you might recall that I've been writing a novel off and on for the past year. I kicked off my current project last November with a program called NaNoWriMo, which is an online collective that encourages people to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. well, I didn't quite make it that far. I have, however, gotten my word count over 30,000 these past few weeks. I had been planning to participate in NaNoWriMo again for some motivation to start writing more regularly [and to finish my first draft.]

enter: The Mighty Pens. authors Susan and Kat have put together a writing group that will fundraise for the Malala Fund with every word. when November 1st hits I will share a link to my fundraising page, and I hope you will consider a donation. not only will you get to motivate me to keep writing, but help fund education for girls who desperately need it.

celebrating fall weather

the weather has finally, FINALLY changed. temperatures have been in the mid to high 70s this week and it has felt fantastic after all the heat and humidity of the past few months. the overpriced pumpkins are out in the grocery stores [I had to buy myself a tiny one, it's tradition] and half the locals are already in puffy jackets. I am even wearing jeans today. jeans! we are also prepping for Halloween by planning a Stranger Things marathon and of course: Hocus Pocus.

adventures around Taiwan

I did a lot of hiking over the 10/10 weekend -- in no small part thanks to borrowing a friend's car. [we are very seriously considering purchasing a vehicle now, because being able to escape out into the mountains so quickly was amaaaazing.] in the past few months I have also taken a trip down to Hsinchu for a scoot adventure, biked across Taipei in search of giant lily pads, and revisited some of my favorite old temples and hikes with new friends. now that it's cooled off, I hope to be getting out even more.

haunted by a cockroach

the other day, I spotted a cockroach in my living room. while it's true that roaches are just a part of life in climates like this, it has been a long time since I've seen one in my apartment. [I've had plenty of ants and my ceiling sprung another leak though.] the cockroach was squirming around on its back -- it should have been easy prey. but I hesitated. and instead ended up flipping him back over, and he dashed under my couch.

so now I'm living in fear that he will climb out to interrupt my Netflixing Star Trek Discovery, Mindhunter, or Outlander. Happy Halloween?

so, I might be a witch

speaking of spooky things... the other day while skyping with my parents, my dad filled me in on some interesting ancestry facts. namely: that we have both a witch and a murderer in the family. I guess I should say falsely accused murderer. he was executed for killing his mother, who was then exhumed, twice, and it was determined he did not actually murder her. obviously, a little too late.

but I'm more excited about the ancestor who was tried as a witch. apparently she lived. so clearly, she must have been an actual witch and used her craft to survive her trial... and therefore I've got magic in my veins. [I haven't been this enthused about family history since my mom told me a great-aunt claimed we have gypsy blood.]

upcoming blog projects

I still need to complete my expat recap series, though year 5 has proven difficult to write. I am working on a blog redesign, but can't settle on a small tweak vs complete overhaul. [this also may be put on hold since November will be pretty focused on book writing.] I think there may be another reader survey coming, an update to my "visiting Taiwan" series, and of course continued posts from Turkey, Prague, and the Pacific Northwest.

also: I've just realized that publishing this will bring my number of posts this year to 31, which is how many I managed last year between several extended breaks away from my blog. so that's kindof exciting.

and since I've run out of both coffee and things to talk about... that's all for now. hope you all are enjoying October, wherever you are.

[if it's a place that has candy corn, please eat some for me, ok?]


walking Hanoi + the Temple of Literature

Walk the streets of Hanoi and step inside the peaceful green gardens of the Temple of Literature. Home of Vietnam's first university and a Confucian temple dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, this space is a welcome relief from the chaos of the surrounding city.
Walk the streets of Hanoi and step inside the peaceful green gardens of the Temple of Literature. Home of Vietnam's first university and a Confucian temple dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, this space is a welcome relief from the chaos of the surrounding city.

Hanoi, Vietnam. to me -- it's the golden yellow buildings with green trim, bundles and bundles of electrical wires running overhead, a flood of scooters rushing by, and eating a steaming bowl of pho on the side of the street while sitting on a plastic stool so tiny that your knees are in your ears.

between all the trekking and cruising we did in Vietnam, we based ourselves in the city of Hanoi. we stayed in the gorgeous Old Quarter and spent several days wandering the streets and shops by ourselves. but on our last full day in Vietnam, we booked a walking tour of the city to be sure we saw everything Hanoi had to offer.

our guide let us pick and choose which sights on the itinerary we wanted to see. [which was great, rather than waste time being dragged to things that weren't of interest to us.] we started off at the Ho Chi Minh complex, walking past the mausoleum and presidential palace. in truth -- we didn't spend much time here. lines for the famous One Pillar Pagoda were insane so we just breezed past that as well.

at this point in our trip, we were all pretty exhausted. I would recommend taking a tour at the start of your time in Hanoi [which we had attempted to do but were foiled by the weather.] it wasn't much better on the day we did our tour -- it was alternating between blazing hot and torrential downpour, and we were all dripping sweat. but there was one place we very specifically wanted to see: the Temple of Literature.

the Temple of Literature is set in a sprawling green space, a welcome relief from the grimy concrete streets of Hanoi. it was familiar -- I've been to many Confucian temples in Taiwan -- but still foreign. sadly, the temple is not filled with books a la a mega "Beauty and the Beast" style library collection. but it is the site of Vietnam's first university, and many students and scholars still come here to pray.

our guide took us through the temple, explaining the history and significance of all the buildings and courtyards... and I'm sad to say I barely remember a thing about it. one of the problems with not blogging "in the moment" is that you tend to forget so many of the little details of what you see.

but what I do remember: the feeling of being in this place. it was peaceful, intellectual, and a lovely break from the chaos of the city.

I remember touching the belly and feet of the statue above, as thousands of visitors do. I remember our guide telling us about the four holy beasts in Vietnamese culture -- the dragon, the tortoise, the unicorn, and the phoenix [the last of which our guide was named after.] and I remember buying some kind of sweet rice cake snack from a lady selling them on the street outside the temple.

it's true that I could google the info on this temple for you -- give you the guidebook highlights. but maybe, the details aren't always so important.

eventually we left the Temple of Literature for the chaos of Hanoi outside it's walls. there was more rain, hordes of scooters, and even egg coffee at the famous Giang Cafe in the Old Quarter. but my favorite memory of the tour was our peaceful wanderings through the gardens of the temple... even if I'm sketchy on the details.

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