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5 Best Road Trips

Pacific Northwest Loop Road Trip Starting in Portland

From Portland to the Olympic National Park and everything in between, you’ll see all the beauty this part of the country holds.

On this 945-mile road trip you’ll experience some of the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer. From the quirky city of Portland to the rugged Oregon coast to the rainforests of Olympic National Park to Mount St. Helens, this trip will make you fall in love with this exceptional part of the country.


Start: Portland

Hawthorne Bridge in Portland Oregon
Hawthorne Bridge in Portland OregonDepositphotos

You could spend your entire vacation in one of the Pacific Northwest’s most famous cities: Portland, Ore. Known for its indie, outdoorsy vibe, its craft breweries and coffee shops, this town has so much to explore.

Art is an influential part of Portland, and one of the best places to start learning about the art scene is the Portland Art Museum. While you’ll find inspiring contemporary and graphic art, the museum is also dedicated to telling the stories of the Indigenous peoples of the Willamette region. You’ll find both historic and contemporary Native art at the museum. After spending the morning exploring, head to Behind the Museum Café, a Japanese tea house that serves tea, coffee, sake, beer and Japanese pastries and appetizers.

Grab a coffee from Portland’s famous Stumptown Roasters and get ready to spend a cozy afternoon at Powell’s City of Books. It’s the largest bookstore in the world, and even if you aren’t a bookworm, you’ll find it interesting. It occupies an entire city block and sells both used and new books. Don’t miss the Rare Book Room with books as old as the 1400s. You’ll want to ensure you’ve finished that coffee before you go in this room – the average price of a book in there is $200.

If you visit Portland on a lucky, non-rainy day, head to Jamison Square Park in the Pearl District. Kids will enjoy splashing in the fountain and street musicians abound. If it is raining, the Pearl District still makes for a great destination. Pop in and out of the many shops ranging from boutiques to outdoor apparel to secondhand stores. Many of Portland’s best chefs cook in restaurants here, so make sure to come hungry. Don’t miss two of the city’s favorite craft breweries: Deschutes and 10 Barrell.

Portland’s rainy climate makes it a botanical paradise. Check out the botany at the Lan Su Chinese Garden or the Hoyt Arboretum. The peaceful Lan Su garden combines nature with art, architecture and design to create a harmonious experience. Don’t miss the tea house. If you’re looking for more than just a peaceful stroll, the Hoyt Arboretum’s 12 miles of hiking trails will fill your lungs with fresh air. It’s home to 2,300 species of trees and shrubs: a real living museum.

One of the best ways to truly learn what it means to be a Portlander is to rent a bike and head to the Portland Saturday Market. Each Saturday and Sunday from March until Christmas Eve, this quirky 200-plus vendor arts and crafts market comes alive along the banks of the Willamette River. Grab an elephant ear— a funnel cake-like fried dough pastry synonymous with the market — and browse the wares.


Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport, Oregon
Yaquina Head LighthouseDepositphotos

From Portland, head south on Interstate 5 to Albany and then west towards the Pacific Ocean. Oregon’s coast is dotted with dozens of charming beach towns, each with its own character. We’ve picked a few of our favorites on the way to Washington, but don’t hesitate to stop off whenever the urge arises. You won’t be disappointed.

First stop, Newport. Start at the famous Oregon Coast Aquarium. Here you’ll learn all about Oregon’s unique coastal ecosystem. This stunning aquarium is both indoors and outdoors, so you’ll go from gazing at seahorses and fish inside to watching playful sea otters and sea lions outdoors. Don’t miss Passages of the Deep, where you’ll have 360-degree views of three different marine ecosystems on underwater walkways.

It’s lunch time! Head to Mo’s Seafood and Chowder on Bay Blvd. This is the original location of the popular Oregon Coast seafood restaurant that opened in 1946. You can’t go wrong by ordering clam chowder. Skip dessert and head down the street to Newport Candy Shoppe for another Oregon Coast specialty – saltwater taffy.

Spend the afternoon shopping or walking the beach, but before you leave town make sure to stop at Kite Company along Hwy. 101. The often windy beaches you’ll be strolling for the rest of your trip are perfect for kite flying and this shop carries every conceivable shape and print.

Get your America the Beautiful Pass out because it will get you into Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, home to the beautiful Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Check the tide charts and plan your visit for low tide as the tide pools beneath the lighthouse are fascinating. Tours of the lighthouse are available at no additional cost and can be reserved day-of.

Pacific City

The beach at Pacific City, Oregon
The beach at Pacific City, Oregon Photo: Getty Images

While any place on the Oregon Coast will yield fantastic sunsets, head to Pacific City for a unique experience. Here, you can drive your car onto the beach to watch the sun go down. Cars are permitted on the beach on the south end of Pacific City Avenue and on the north side next to Pelican Pub. Be sure to heed all signs and posted warnings as soft sand can get your vehicle stuck quickly. Sedans are not recommended for beach driving. Be sure to always drive slowly and do your research on how to rescue your car if your tires start spinning.


Tillamook Creamery in Oregon
Tillamook CreameryDepositphotos

The name Tillamook might illicit images of delicious yellow cheese — luckily this Tillamook is one and the same. As you drive north on Hwy. 101 to reach the Tillamook Creamery, you’ll see herds of happily grazing cows in verdant green pastures. These gentle creatures are to thank for Tillamook’s mouthwatering cheeses and ice creams.

Tour the factory to learn how cheese is made from taking care of the dairy cows to packaging. Then shop for every imaginable cheese product in the General Store & Pantry before restraining yourself from ordering the entire left side of the menu at the restaurant. It serves everything from mac n’ cheese to pizza, all using Tillamook products. Save room for their incredible ice cream.

Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach in Oregon
Haystack Rock on Cannon BeachDepositphotos

Wondering where the big rock is that you’ve seen on postcards up and down the coast? You’re looking for Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach.

Start at Ecola State Park to get breathtaking views of the coast including Haystack Rock. Then, head down to the beach to gaze upon all 235 feet of it. At low tide, you can walk right up to it, its base covered in tide pools and its top covered in sea birds, including a colony of the cheerful looking Tufted Puffin.

Olympic Loop

Sol Duc Falls in Olympic National Park
Sol Duc FallsDepositphotos

From Cannon Beach, continue north on Hwy. 101 to Astoria, where you’ll cross the Astoria-Meglar Bridge, passing over the Columbia River estuary before finding yourself in Washington state. Continue north on Hwy. 101 to Aberdeen, where you can pick up our Olympic Loop Road Trip, counterclockwise, or just visit some of Olympic National Park’s most breathtaking locations.

Don’t miss the Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Falls, Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge, ending your loop in Olympia, Wash.

Mt. St. Helens

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic MonumentDepositphotos

As you leave Olympia, head south on Interstate 5 until you hit Castle Rock. From there, take Hwy. 504 east to visit Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

While many of the Pacific Northwest’s snow-capped peaks are volcanoes, the most infamous is Mount St. Helens. On May 18, 1980, the volcano erupted killing 57 people, destroying homes and leaving a mile-wide crater in the mountain. The ash cloud spread across the country; fine ash particles were even detected across the world within two weeks.

Today, the mountain and its surrounding area is a national monument. Visitors can hike 200 miles of trails, experiencing beautiful wildflowers in early summer and stunning views of the mountain year-round. The 2.3-mile round trip Hummocks Trail used to pass through an old-growth forest but today you’ll get a taste for how drastically the landscape has changed as you pass through mounds of ash, rock and mud. For a longer hike, try the 8-mile Lakes Trail around Coldwater Lake, formed when the volcano erupted.

Don’t miss the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which sits in the heart of the blast zone and tells the story of the mountain from a biological, geological and human perspective.

Then take I-5 north to Washington’s capital city, Olympia, and on to the Olympic Peninsula via US 101. See the Olympic Peninsula Loop for details on this region’s attractions.

When you’ve had your fill, cruise south along the Pacific coast through Astoria and on to Mt. Hood.

Mt. Hood

Ducks play in Trillium Lake at Mt. Hood in Oregon
Ducks play in Trillium Lake at Mt. HoodDepositphotos

Next stop, Mount Hood. The breathtaking, 11,250-foot mountain stands sentinel over the city of Portland, its snow-capped peak visible from many places in the city. However, the best way to experience this stunning peak is to get up close and personal.

First stop, Timberline Lodge. Even if the rest of the world seems to be welcoming summer, grab your skis because Timberline, one of six ski resorts located on Mount Hood, has one of the longest ski seasons in the world. You’ll find all their lifts spinning into May and the Palmer Express lift running all year long.

Whether or not you decide to get some summer turns in, stop in the Timberline Lodge for a drink. Built between 1936 and 1938, this historic lodge would be a sight to behold even if gorgeous Mount Hood wasn’t towering in front of it.

Mount Hood is one of the most climbed mountains in the world. If you’re an experienced climber with the necessary gear and skills, the most popular route is accessed from Timberline Lodge. If you’re looking for a more mellow day hike though, you’re in luck. A thousand miles of trails crisscross the Mount Hood National Forest. For a quick and easy hike with picture perfect views, head to Trillium Lake near Government Camp and hike the 1.9-mile loop around the lake. If the water is calm, you’ll see a perfect mirrored reflection of Mount Hood.

After a day spent exploring beautiful Mount Hood, head back to Portland to finish your loop.

End: Portland