Island-Hopping Pacific Northwest National Park Road Trip

Exploring from Vancouver, Canada, to Washington's national parks.
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Totem pole in Vancouver's Stanley Park

Totem pole in Vancouver's Stanley Park

We hope you grabbed your passport for this trip because you’re traveling from Canada to the United States and back again. Combine city culture with island life on this 5-10 day loop. Hop on and off ferries to complete the trip featuring three national park sites.

Map

Start: Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Start in lively Vancouver, BC, home to diverse food, culture and urban wilderness.

There’s no better way to wake up in Vancouver than with a walk or bike along the city’s famous “Seawall”, an 18-mile mostly flat and paved path along the city’s shoreline. Every turn is another stunning view.

Walked the Seawall path in Vancouver

Stroll along the seawall

Vancouver’s diverse neighborhoods make it easy to spend days exploring the city. Spend a morning in Chinatown perusing Asian specialty stores and relaxing at the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden followed by dim-sum. Head to Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood for Victorian architecture, fashion, galleries and the most renown restaurants. Punjabi Market, the heart of Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian population, will have your mouth watering as the smell of curry wafts through the air. Make sure to stop in the gorgeous Ross Street Sikh Temple before dinner.

While all of Vancouver could be considered a foodie’s paradise, taking the mini-tugboat ferry across False Creek to Granville Island will win any food-lover over instantly. Peruse the covered Public Market and then take in a show at one of the many theaters or browse the galleries at this cultural gem.

Nature is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the hustle and bustle in Vancouver. Stanley Park, accessible by the Seawall, is home to an old-growth temperate rainforest perfect to escape. Make sure to stop at Brockton Point where you can learn about the First Nations through a totem pole display.

Gondola Ride to Grouse Mountain Top, North Vancouver

Or, head to Grouse Mountain’s Skyride Gondola to soar through the air before seeing breathtaking views of the city from over a mile high. You can even ride on the gondola’s roof in the summer months for the ultimate adventure.

Cross the border into Washington and head south towards Bellingham for your next stop.

North Cascades National Park

Balsamroot flowers in North Cascades National Park

Balsamroot flowers in North Cascades National Park

For those searching for solitude, North Cascades National Park is an absolute must stop between island hopping. From Bellingham, head south on I-5 and then east on Hwy 20 to reach one of the five least visited national parks in the country.

Lakes and rivers the color of Glacial Freeze Gatorade, craggy snow-capped peaks and dense temperate rainforests await.

Take a hike, rent a kayak or paddleboard at Ross Lake Resort to explore the gorgeous lake or stare in awe as you drive Hwy. 20 through the park.

Stop at Rainy Pass Trailhead along Hwy. 20 to hike part of the famous Pacific Crest Trail, or enjoy a picnic as you cheer through-hikers on as they head to Canada, having spent months on the trail from the Mexico border.

Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park

Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park

Diablo Lake is a can’t-miss stop along Hwy. 20. You’ve probably seen pictures of it on Instagram and swore it had a filter on it, but once you’re standing at one of the overlooks, you’ll realize it really is just that blue.

For the ultimate solitude experience, head to the community of Stehekin nestled on the shores of Lake Chelan. There are no roads that connect it to the rest of the world, so the only way in is by foot, boat or float plane. Once there, peaceful opportunities abound. Hike, take a kayak out on the lake or visit the historic Buckner Orchard. The North Cascades Lodge, as well as several other cabin rentals and a dude ranch, provide lodging opportunities or reserve a campsite to truly be at one with nature.

San Juan Island

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington

Turn west to reach Anacortes and catch the ferry to San Juan Island, largest of the San Juan Islands. San Juan Island is an idyllic retreat that offers quiet beaches, lavender farms, quaint towns, kayaking and whale-watching.

Drive your car on the ferry to tour the whole island or go it by foot for a day trip to explore the walkable Friday Harbor, the hub of the San Juan Islands and where the ferry will drop you off.

In Friday Harbor, explore art galleries, boutique shops, stroll the harbor and dine on fresh seafood at any number of restaurants. Make sure to stop at The Whale Museum to learn about the ecosystem of the islands. From Friday Harbor you can rent a bike or kayak to explore more. .

While exploring Friday Harbor without a car is a perfect day trip, if you really want to experience San Juan Island, opt to bring your car over and spend the night.

Add another national park site to your list by heading to either the north (British Camp) or south (American Camp) end of the island to the San Juan Island National Historical Park. Learn how the United States and Great Britain nearly went to war over the island’s possession in 1859, spearheaded by the death of a pig, while experiencing breathtaking scenery.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island, Washington

Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island, Washington

Lime Kiln State Park on the west side of the island, commonly known as Whale Watch Park, offers dramatic west side views and trails lined with Pacific madrone trees and picnic tables close to the water’s edge – keep an eye out for whales.

Stop at one of several San Juan Island cideries or wineries such as San Juan Vineyard to taste locally made libations or head to the Pelindaba Lavender Farm to feel like you’re in Provence. There, you can stroll the fields, learn about distilling essential oils, cut your own lavender, peruse the farm store and more.

After exploring San Juan Island, opt to explore more of this beautiful region by getting off the return ferry on Orcas, Shaw or Lopez islands, or stay on until Anacortes to continue your journey.

Deception Pass and Whidbey Island

Deception Pass Bridge over Tourist Lookout Island in Washington

Deception Pass Bridge over Tourist Lookout Island

From Anacortes, head south to explore one of Washington State’s most iconic state parks. Deception Pass State Park is known for its stunning beaches (both rocky and sandy), towering old growth forests and its beautiful bridge connecting Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island. Park at Bowman Bay and hike the moderate 2.4-mile Rosario Beach Trail loop to Lighthouse Point. Keep your eyes peeled for seals, and eagles and don’t forget your camera. You’ll see a stunning view of Deception Pass Bridge along the way.

Across the bridge you’ll find yourself on Whidbey Island. This beautiful island is quintessential Pacific Northwest: other-worldly scenery, amazing food, friendly people and lots of time on the water.

Start in the charming wharf town of Coupeville. Stroll the historic seaport located on the shores of beautiful Penn Cove and pop into art galleries and local shops before ducking into any number of seafood restaurants to try Coupeville’s famous Penn Cove Mussels.

If you’re feeling adventurous, skip the restaurant and head straight to the source. Whidbey Island gives locals and visitors alike the unique opportunity to find your own dinner. There are more than 40 public beaches that allow clam and oyster digging on Whidbey and nearby Camano, islands. You can also catch crabs on Whidbey. Learn more about methods, seasons and regulations here: whidbeycamanoislands.com/things-to-do/fishing-clamming-crabbing/

Next up, it’s time to hit the water. Head south to Langley where you can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard by the hour or the day from Whidbey Island Kayaking to explore the coastline. For a deeper dive into Whidbey’s incredible scenery, opt for a tour for your best chance at seeing wildlife and experiencing all the hidden gems.

Head back to Coupeville to catch the ferry to Port Townsend.

Port Townsend

Docked boats in Port Townsend, Washington.

Docked boats in Port Townsend

Feel the Sea Breeze in Port Townsend
On the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, sandwiched between the waters of Puget Sound and the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic mountains, is the town of Port Townsend. One of only three National Historic Seaports in the United States, this Victorian town is engaged in telling the story of its maritime past.

Go Whale Watching with Puget Sound Express
Three generations of the Hankes family invite you to board one of their tour boats along with a naturalist to see some of the highest concentration of whales, dolphins and sea life anywhere in the world including orcas, humpback whales, gray whales and minke whales.

Hamma Hamma Oyster Company

Hamma Hamma oysters

Experience a Slice of the Olympic Culinary Loop in Jefferson County
Authentic food experiences from cider to oysters await in Port Townsend and along the shores of Puget Sound.

Port Angeles and Hurricane Ridge

Marina in Port Angeles, Washington

Marina in Port Angeles, Washington

From Port Townsend, head south and then west, to the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles, Wash. It’s home to one of the deepest harbors in the world.

Grab a cup of coffee at Bada NW on 1st street. This cozy coffee shop is reminiscent of a log cabin and the pastries – both sweet and savory – are to die for. Hop on the Olympic Discovery Trail at any point along the water and stroll as far as your heart desires – to the east, the trail goes all the way to Port Townsend, and to the west, all the way to La Push. Be sure to climb the harbor tower for views of the docks and boats arriving and departing. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Canada.

Hiking to Sunrise Point on the High Ridge Trail at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Hiking to Sunrise Point on Hurricane Ridge

Port Angeles also serves as the gateway to Olympic National Park with a visitor center just outside the park entrance. Grab a picnic lunch from Country Aire Natural Foods in town and head up to Hurricane Ridge for the day. It’s a mere 17-mile drive from town to this area of the park, which offers beautiful wildflower hikes during the summer as well as peaceful snowshoe and ski trails in winter.

Where else can you gaze at snow-capped peaks above treeline, hike to a waterfall in a temperate rainforest, paddle on a stunningly clear alpine lake and watch the sunset at the beach all in one day? Check out our best 48-hour itinerary and our top 10 things to do in Olympic National Park.

After a full day of exploring, we know what you’re in the mood for. Something fast and something greasy. Head to Frugal’s, a shiny chrome burger drive-thru that locals swear is better than In-N-Out. See for yourself. Pro-tip:order fry sauce on your burger and don’t skip the milkshake.

Victoria, B.C. Canada

The ferry docking at sunset at Port Angeles Pier in Washington

The Black Ball Ferry to Victoria at sunset at Port Angeles Pier; your next destination

On a clear day you can see the southern end of Vancouver Island from Port Angeles. The Black Ball Ferry will take you and your car across the sound to experience the charming city of Victoria.

First stop, Chinatown. You could get there by entering through the large, ornate gate, or you could get there through the narrowest street in Canada: Fan Tan Alley. Peruse the shops lining the street as you squeeze your way through.

The Harmonious Gate of Interest in Chinatown, Victoria BC

The Harmonious Gate of Interest in Chinatown, Victoria BC

The beautiful Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the first things you’ll notice when the ferry docks in Victoria. More than 100 years old, this iconic hotel is a must stop for a traditional English high tea. Indulge in finger sandwiches, scones and 21 varieties of loose-leaf tea. Reservations are highly encouraged and a dress code is enforced.

Head to Fisherman’s Wharf for a unique stroll. Colorful houseboats line the docks here. There are a variety of food kiosks, so grab a snack and keep a close eye on the water for harbor seals, otters and sea birds.

Dusk at Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour

Dusk at Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour

Make sure to check the ferry schedule, so you don’t miss the last boat back to Vancouver.

End: Vancouver, B.C. Canada

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