By AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome | June 01, 2023
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.
• - 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.
The most popular time to visit the Pacific Northwest is from June through early September. The PNW is known for its nearly perfect summers, but heat waves can happen. Wildfire season tends to pick up in July and typically lasts through late September. Late September through October is a great time to visit the PNW.How do I plan a PNW road trip? ›
- Day 1: Fly into Portland.
- Day 2: Columbia River (Multnomah Falls) & Portland night.
- Day 3: The Oregon Coast (Thor's Well + White Wolf Sanctuary)
- Day 4: Umpqua Hot Springs + Crater Lake National Park.
- Day 5 / 6: Mount Hood + Bagby Hot Springs.
- Day 7: Mount Rainier National Park.
To drive the entire coastal Highway 1 California takes 10-12 hours without stops. But this road trip is all about the stops! Plan on a minimum of 3 days and 2 nights. However, a 5-day itinerary is ideal for the San Francisco to LA trip with the first and last night spent in each city.How many days do you need for a West Coast road trip? ›
Recommended Road Trip Length
It takes at least 12 hours to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. We recommend taking a minimum of 3 days to explore, and the trip can easily last 2 weeks with lots of stops along the way.
Even though you could go on a west coast road trip year-round, the best times to hit the road are April through June or August to November. The summer months are certainly sunnier and warmer, but any desert location will be absolutely unbearable during the hot summers.What time of year is best for Pacific Coast Highway road trip? ›
The best time of the year to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is in mid-to-late February through April. California's rainy season typically ends in early February, turning its golden hills bright green and covering the coast with colorful wildflowers which last through April and into early May. What is this?What is the best month to drive the Pacific Coast Highway? ›
For us, the best times to drive the Pacific Coast Highway are from late spring, through summer, to early fall. In July and August you have the best chance of almost-perfect weather, but you also have the busiest crowds and high-season hotel prices.Is it better to drive up or down the Pacific Coast Highway? ›
As a general rule, it's better to start your Pacific Coast Highway road trip in the north and head south so your car is always in the lane closest to the ocean. That way, there's nothing blocking your view of the cliffs during your drive down and you can really enjoy the sights.Where is the best place to start the West Coast road trip? ›
You could start your West Coast USA itinerary from lower down the West Coast such as in Los Angeles or Palm Springs, or from higher up such as Portland. That's the best part about road trips, the itinerary is yours to decide as you plan your West Coast American tour.What is the perfect time for a road trip? ›
The best time of day to start a road trip and travel by car is early in the morning, before rush hour. You should plan to leave around 6:00 AM if you're only driving a short distance and even earlier for long trips. Starting in the mornings is safer due to less traffic and fewer accidents.
If you follow the route suggested, you'll travel across all 48 contiguous states and never leave the country. Take a look for yourself below. If you actually plan to execute the trip, you should budget 13,699 miles of driving — or about 224 hours.What are the rainiest months in the Pacific Northwest? ›
The rainy season extends from October to March with December normally the wettest month, however, precipitation is rather evenly distributed through the winter and early spring months with more than 75% of the yearly precipitation falling during the winter wet season.What is the best time to see the northern lights in Washington state? ›
For the best chances, head to a dark sky and be patient. The best times to see the northern lights is usually between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time, according to the Space Weather Center.What is the coldest month in the Pacific Northwest? ›
Are There Better Days To Drive Long Distances? If you are looking for the best day to drive long-distance, Sunday is the day that tends to have the least amount of traffic on the roads. However, Tuesdays have the least amount of crashes according to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).What is the safest month to drive? ›
Safest Month on the Road
Overall, January through March are safer months for driving. The rest of the year has a significantly higher rate of accidents per month.
Most crashes or near-misses happen at the times you would expect drivers to be tired: 4 to 6 a.m., midnight to 2 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m., according to NSF. Drowsy driving puts everyone on the road at risk.What is the best time of year to drive Oregon coast? ›
The best month for the coast is usually September, with good weather often holding on into October. In the Cascades and eastern Oregon's Blue, Elkhorn, and Wallowa mountains, snowfall is heavy in the winter and skiing is a popular sport.How many days do you need on the Oregon coast road trip? ›
Oregon Coast Road Trip Itinerary Route
Our recommended route for the Oregon Coast starts in Portland and ends at the incredible Samuel H Boardman scenic corridor. The ideal length of time for this route is 14 days (which is how long the route took us), but it is possible to do it and see all the sights in 10 days.
September and October are also pretty good months for driving the Pacific Coast Highway, although it can get a little chilly once you're up north of San Francisco. The coast of California typically has pretty mild weather all year, which means you'll never have to deal with snow or hard winds on your trip.
The Highway 1, aka Pacific Coast Highway, road trip that passes through Big Sur on California's Central Coast is perhaps the most famous scenic drive in the Golden State.What is the best time of year to drive the Million Dollar highway? ›
It's best to take this trip in the summer, when weather is mild, and let the locals take the streets in the winter, when chains on your wheels may be necessary. One of the coolest (and most daunting in the winter) features of this highway is it crosses three different mountain passes: Coal Bank, Molas and Red Mountain.Can you sleep on Pacific Coast Highway? ›
If you are driving along a road or highway that is not considered to be a freeway, then technically it's legal to park along the side and get some sleep.What is the scenic route from Washington to California? ›
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most scenic drives in America. The PCH is technically just Route 1 in California, but that road turns into Route 101 in Oregon and Washington, creating a journey that follows the entire Pacific Coast, providing plenty of clean, fresh air and ocean scenery.What is the prettiest part of Highway 1 in California? ›
Big Sur. At Big Sur, the most spectacular portion of the Pacific Coast Highway 1 begins, where huge, rugged cliffs and forested inlets overlook the pounding surf below. Whale-watching is popular here at certain times of year; depending on the season you can see blue, gray or humpback species breeching off the coast.What is the easiest way to plan a road trip? ›
- Start planning sooner rather than later. ...
- Take advantage of planning tools. ...
- Prep your car. ...
- Pack a roadside emergency kit. ...
- Add side trips to your itinerary. ...
- Consider an epic road trip that's all about the route. ...
- Be realistic about your total mileage.
The route covers about 270-miles, which translates to seven hours of driving time, so make sure to stop along the way and plan for overnight accommodation.Is there an app to plan a road trip? ›
Roadtrippers is the #1 road trip planning tool in the USA and Canada, with more than 38 million trips planned to date covering more than 42 billion miles.What month is best to visit Washington state? ›
The July–September high season is the best time for warm, dry days. July and August are the warmest and driest months in Washington and it's high season – even Seattleites get a little sun. Most visitors opt to visit in summer and early fall (July through September).How many days in Washington is enough? ›
Ideally, you'd come to Washington DC for a whole week or more! If that isn't feasible, we suggest that you need at least 3 days in Washington DC. There is enough here to fill up your days with attractions, museums, and tours, as well as great food, music, and art.
The best times to visit Washington, D.C., are from September to November and March to May. In the autumn, the sweltering summer is gone, taking with it most of the high season tourists. All that's left are crisp breezes and changing leaves, which, by the way, look great against all those marble monuments.How many hours a day should you drive on a road trip? ›
How Long Can You Safely Drive a Day? A good rule of thumb is to expect to safely drive 8 hours each day of your road trip. 8-hours a day is less than the 10 hours a day regulation that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires passenger-carrying drivers to follow.How many miles should you drive a day on a road trip? ›
For every 4.5 hours driving you should take breaks amounting to 45 minutes. For long-distance driving, this means you can drive around 500 miles safely in a day. You should adjust this figure based on the speed limit and likelihood of other circumstances such as toll roads, fatigue, and extended traffic or breaks.How many times should you stop on a road trip? ›
When driving long distances you should take a break every two hours for at least 15 minutes. Stop to rest frequently for a total of at least 45 minutes per 4.5 hours of driving to prevent fatigue and increase alertness. Plan to visit rest stops every 100 miles during your long road trip to enjoy a comfortable drive.What is the best road trip from Washington State? ›
- North Cascades Scenic Highway. ...
- Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. ...
- Whidbey Scenic Isle Way. ...
- White Pass Scenic Byway. ...
- San Juan Islands Scenic Byway. ...
- Chinook Pass Scenic Byway. ...
- Mountains to Sound Greenway.
The Olympic Peninsula Loop Drive is a stunning scenic road that follows Highway 101 for over 300 miles through the park. Beginning in Port Angeles, the loop passes the majority of attractions and things to do in Olympic National Park.Can I drive my side by side on the road in Washington State? ›
Yes, you can drive a WATV on public roads, but not all of them; not even close. Let's start with speed limits. WATVs are only allowed on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less. In some instances you can't even cross a street with a higher speed limit.