Best Pacific Northwest Road Trips (and When to Take Them)
Updated: October 11, 2023
AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome
Everything you need to know about taking a Pacific Northwest road trip, including scenic drives in Oregon and Washington plus day trips from Seattle and Portland.
The Pacific Northwest States
By definition, the “Pacific Northwest” is the northwestern region of the United States near the Pacific Ocean. For our purposes, the Pacific Northwest region includes the following states:
People sometimes include Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, in the Pacific Northwest. But we cover these areas in separate AAA road trip guides. (See for drives in Idaho and surrounding states. See Western Canada Road Trips for drives through British Columbia.)
flickr / CC BY/daveynin
Best Pacific Northwest Road Trips for Scenic Views
If you’re planning on taking a road trip in the Pacific Northwest, you may be overwhelmed by the options. Active volcanoes, dramatic ocean cliffs, towering waterfalls and temperate rainforests are just a few things to see. There’s a wide range of geography to marvel over in this region.
If you have a full day or more to spare, consider one of these popular scenic drives. (Click the links for a sample road trip itinerary and interactive maps.)
• Grand Pacific Northwest Road Trip - A scenic loop through northern Oregon and southern Washington. The trip includes Portland, the Historic Columbia River Highway, Multnomah Falls, Yakima Valley and Mount Rainier National Park.
• Northern CA & Southern OR Coast Road Trip - A one-way journey that starts in the Central Valley of California and includes driving Oregon’s coast. You'll have views of state parks and quaint beach towns along the way.
• Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Oregon Coast Road Trip - A one-way trip up Oregon’s coast on the Oregon Coast Highway (US 101). The route features some of the best whale watching opportunities in Oregon. You'll see the Heceta Head Lighthouse, the Sea Lion Caves, Haystack Rock and other noteworthy sights.
• Olympic Peninsula Road Trip - A scenic loop from Seattle that circles the Olympic Peninsula and the lush rain forests of Olympic National Park. Stops include Tacoma, Olympia, Port Angeles and Port Townsend. A great northwest national park road trip.
Best Time of Year for a Pacific Northwest Road Trip
Figuring out the best time of year to visit the Pacific Northwest largely depends on what you want to see. It also depends on what sort of weather conditions you can handle. The climate can vary widely across the area, so it’s best to be prepared for all types of conditions.
In areas west of the Cascade Range near the Pacific Ocean, the climate is mild, with sunny and dry summers and wet, cloudy winters.
Rainy season typically starts in October and lasts through March in this part of the Pacific Northwest. But clouds, fog and a light drizzle can linger along the coastline year-round. If you don’t mind a drizzle, the rainy season could be a good time for a road trip, as hotel rates may be cheaper and crowds are lighter.
In areas east of the Cascade Range, the climate is much drier, but seasonal temperature swings can be more dramatic.
Courtesy of Oregons Mt. Hood Territory
What to Know About Winter Road Trips
The first snowfall of the season can arrive as early as October in Oregon and Washington. From the first snowfall through April or May, expect road closures on mountain roads and around some national parks. After a heavy snowfall, snow plows typically work on the areas near ski resorts first. Some mountain passes in the Cascade Range are open year-round.If you want to experience the Pacific Northwest mountains in winter, the is a great option. The route is accessible year-round and offers views of Mount Rainier.To see Oregon’s Mount Hood up close, consider the .
AAA /Brett Vanderbrink
How to Tour Washington and Oregon Wine Country
Did you know that Oregon’s leading wine region is just south of Portland? Explore the wineries of the Willamette Valley — they number more than 500 — on a scenic drive through the Oregon countryside. Here are two road trips in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley that are close to wineries and vineyards:
• Willamette Scenic Highway - See a historic covered bridge and venture into Willamette National Forest. The trip ends at the foothills of the Cascade Range.
• Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway Road Trip - Begin near Roseburg, home to many wineries. Then travel into the mountains of Umpqua National Forest before stopping near Crater Lake.
In Washington state, you’ll find the most wineries and vineyards in the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys. The best way to explore this region is on the , which takes you through Kennewick, Richland, Prosser, Yakima, Zillah and other cities with wineries.
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Inspiration for a National Park Road Trip
Whether you want to go hiking or just admire the scenery from your car window, national parks make great road trip destinations. Visit the parks in spring or summer to see wildflowers in full bloom. Or plan your trip during the fall for plenty of leaf peeping opportunities.To see Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, consider the or the Chinook Pass Scenic Byway Road Trip. (Note that the latter is closed in winter.)Olympic National Park is best explored on the . The best time to visit the Olympic Peninsula is in July when you can see colorful fields of lavender near Sequim.Considered one of the most beautiful drives in the United States, the cuts through North Cascades National Park on SR 20. The road passes mountains, forests and glacial lakes.If Crater Lake National Park is on your vacation itinerary, take the . The trip begins in Roseburg, Oregon, and ends near Diamond Lake.
Quick Day Trips from Seattle
Here are a few ideas for scenic road trips that would be an easy day trip from Seattle, Washington:
• Drive along the Hood Canal to see mountain peaks on the Hood Canal Scenic Route Road Trip and Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Hood Canal Area Road Trip.
• Take a ferry ride across the sparkling waters of Puget Sound on the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way Road Trip.
• Explore ice caves in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on the Mountain Loop Scenic Highway Road Trip.
• Check out horse country and see snowcapped Mount Rainier on the Chinook Pass Scenic Byway Road Trip.
flickr / CC0 /Western Landscapes
Scenic Road Trips from Portland
If you’re visiting Portland, Oregon, and have a few hours to spare, consider heading out on one of these scenic road trips:
• See Mount Hood from across the Columbia River on the North Shore Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Byway.
• Travel deeper into Mount Hood National Forest on the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop, Hood River County Tour Route Road Trip.
Start Your Next Vacation with AAA
AAA Travel provides peace of mind for travelers — from the first mile of the journey to the last. Get inspiration for your next road trip with AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner, or browse pre-planned road trip itineraries on AAA.com/RoadTrips or in the AAA Digital TourBook®. Estimating fuel costs is easy with the AAA Gas Cost Calculator, and if your car needs a quick tune-up before the trip, find a AAA Approved auto repair facility near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair. For printed maps, AAA TourBook guides and trip planning advice, visit your local AAA office.
AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome
Katie Broome is a AAA Travel Expert.