The drive from Vancouver to Seattle is 141 miles and takes about 2.5 hours, though border delays can vary.
Leave downtown Vancouver by taking Granville Street south over Granville Bridge. Continue south on Highway 99 through the residential neighborhoods of greater Vancouver. Despite the frequent stoplights, traffic moves quickly outside of rush hours.
Follow Highway 99 south as it turns left on Park Drive and then south on Oak Street. Highway 99 crosses the Oak Street Bridge to become the Vancouver-Blaine Highway through the Richmond suburbs. Speeds slow at the Canada-U.S. border and cars are directed into waiting lanes to be questioned by border control agents. Once clear of customs, pass the massive white Peace Arch monument, which claims to be the first monument built and dedicated to world peace.
The route is now called I-5, a freeway that runs from the Canadian border to Tijuana, Mexico. Follow I-5 south through the town of Bellingham, Washington and the expansive Skagit Valley, home of a spring tulip festival. Freeway traffic may start to slow around Everett, an industrial hub 30 miles north of Seattle and home to some of Boeing’s largest airplane factories and runways.
Express lanes, which change direction depending on time of day, may be open about 8 miles north of downtown Seattle. They are often faster than the freeway, but offer fewer off-ramps. The multilane I-5 narrows as it enters downtown Seattle, where the freeway darts through tunnels and under buildings, with exits springing both left and right.
Stopping in Bow
Leave I-5 at Bow Hill Road for a detour to the towns of Bow and Edison; both are located off scenic Chuckanut Drive/Highway 11 which connects to I-5 in Burlington. Each tiny town boasts bakeries, cheesemongers, and cafés. Ask for a local pint at the Edison Inn (5829 Cains Ct., Bow, 360/766-6266, 11:30am-11pm Sun.-Thurs., 11:30am-midnight Fri.-Sat.). Then follow Chuckanut Drive north to find fried oysters and a Samish Bay view at Taylor Shellfish Farms (2182 Chuckanut Dr., Bow, 360/766-6002, 9am-6pm daily Apr.-Sept., 9am-5pm daily Oct.-Mar.) before returning to I-5 at Burlington.
Depending on where you’re coming from on the Olympic Peninsula, the trip to Seattle is between 82 to 140 miles and takes anywhere from 2 to 3.5 hours.
From Forks, Port Angeles, or Port Townsend on the northern Olympic Peninsula, follow U.S. 101 east to State Route 104, which runs 14 miles east to the Hood Canal Bridge. Cross the floating bridge and continue east for 9 miles on small, sometimes-winding State Route 104 through Port Gamble and to Kingston.
Board the Washington State Ferry to Edmonds, a community just north of Seattle’s city boundaries. From the ferry dock in Edmonds, take State Route 104 east for 5 miles to I-5, and then follow I-5 south for 13 miles to Seattle.
From Aberdeen on the southern Olympic Peninsula, follow State Route 8 east for 50 miles to Olympia. In Olympia, merge onto I-5 north and drive 60 miles to Seattle.
Stopping in Olympia
Right on I-5 and sitting at the bottom tip of Puget Sound is the capital city of Olympia, with a thriving downtown district, including the Olympia Farmers Market (700 Capitol Way N, 360/352-9096, 10am-3pm Thurs.-Sun. Apr.-Oct., 10am-3pm Sat.-Sun. Nov.-Dec.), hawking fresh berries and local meats.
The trip from Mount Rainier National Park to Seattle is only 85 to 95 miles from both park entrances but takes close to two hours to complete thanks to some twisty terrain.
From the Nisqually Entrance on the southwest side, follow Route 706 west for 35 miles until the road becomes Route 7. Continue north on Route 7 for 10 miles, and then turn right onto Route 161/Eatonville-LaGrande Road. Follow Route 161 north for 15 miles into Puyallup, and then take Highway 512 East to Highway 167 North. Follow Highway 167 North for 22 miles to I-405 south, which quickly heads west to I-5 in about 2.5 miles. Once on I-5, continue 10 miles north to Seattle.
From the White River Entrance on the east side, follow Route 410 north for 33 miles through Greenwater to the town of Enumclaw. Past Enumclaw, turn right onto State Route 164, which continues north for 7 miles through a hybrid of farmland and suburban residential blocks to Highway 18 in Auburn. Take Highway 18 west for 3 miles to I-5, and then follow I-5 north for 24 miles to Seattle.
Seattle is 175 miles north of Portland along I-5, about 2.75 hours without traffic. Exit central Portland on I-405 north, which crosses the Willamette River over the arch of the Fremont Bridge. Join I-5 north, which runs through residential Portland before crossing the wide Columbia River and entering Washington.
After traversing the city of Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with Vancouver, British Columbia), I-5 runs north through rural farmland and along the Columbia River, past the small cities of Kelso, Longview, Chehalis, and Centralia.
The state capitol dome is visible from the freeway as I-5 turns northeast in Olympia; the scenic view of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge marks your last stretch of uninterrupted greenery.
Traffic can get thick through the Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the industrial city of Tacoma, 32 miles south of Seattle. As you follow I-5 north into downtown Seattle, the freeway narrows and passes through several short tunnels.
Built on a bumpy series of hills between a lake and a bay, Seattle has grown into a mature metropolis.
[pullquote align=”right”]Evidence of past success is around every corner in Seattle.[/pullquote]The vibe is more about achievement than status; it’s not cool to work so hard that you can’t, say, kayak a little before dinner or jam with your folk rock quartet on the weekend. A healthy arts and music scene has grown beyond Seattle’s rush of ’90s grunge. But never fear—the city hasn’t completely moved beyond its youthful exuberance. It’s still the home of the bustling coffee shop and the ambitious start-up. Creative energy explodes from tech minds, performers, and chefs who, like the Space Needle, reach for the stars.
Evidence of past success is around every corner in Seattle. Starbucks, once a tiny coffee shop near Pike Place Market, occupies downtown with the same ubiquity it’s achieved around the world. The online bookstore turned tech monolith, Amazon, has colonized the South Lake Union neighborhood and helped turn its forgotten blocks into a bustling culture center. There are signs everywhere not only of Microsoft—it began here and is headquartered just outside town—but of the entities it helped build, like the campus of the philanthropic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Paul Allen’s football stadium and music museum.
Which isn’t to say that Seattle doesn’t have its failings. The aging viaduct, a raised highway on the edge of downtown, both blocks views of Elliott Bay and worries anyone who anticipates a big earthquake. The tunnel being bored underneath the city will replace it—eventually. Traffic snarls choke the city at rush hour, and homeless people still find themselves sleeping on cold, wet streets.
Most of the country lies to the east of Seattle, but the city faces west toward Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. With just enough history to build considerable civic pride, there’s enough optimism to look to the horizon—or perhaps just to the sunsets that illuminate the Olympic Mountains on clear nights. Sure, it rains sometimes, but it makes the beautiful days all the sweeter.
So how long does it take to road trip to Seattle from various cities and locations around the Pacific Northwest?
Driving to Seattle from Vancouver: 141 miles/3 hours
Driving to Seattle from Portland: 174 miles/2.75 hours
Driving to Seattle from the Olympic Peninsula: 82-140 miles/2-3.5 hours
Driving to Seattle from Mount Rainier National Park: 85 miles/2 hours
Pump up your bicycle tires, fill your water bottle and hitch a ride by ferry to Washington state’s rugged Olympic Peninsula for a two-day journey along the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT), a multi-use route that stretches nearly 130 miles from the eastern Victorian seaport of Port Townsend to the western oceanfront village of La Push.
The ODT is a work-in-progress with four distinct sections: Sound and Bay (east section), River and Prairie (east central section), Foothills and Lake (west central section), and Forest and Ocean Section (west section). Most of the trail is paved and parallels the famed Pacific Coast Highway (also known as Highway 101), which, combined with a few residential roads, fills the gaps in the trail. Highway detours are easy to navigate and the entire route is well marked.
There are several access points and rest stops along the way, including 15 campgrounds to rest your legs for the night. Plenty of twists and turns will challenge your agility, so slow down! This journey is not meant to be experienced at high speeds (15 mph max). Besides, you won’t want to rush past the spectacular views of snowcapped mountains, wide-open meadows, flowing rivers, mist-laden rainforests, ocean vistas, and abundant wildlife.
Day One: Sound and Bay to River and Prairie (53.2 miles, approx. 3.5 hrs.)
Stock up on carbs with a good breakfast in Port Townsend at Blue Moose Café (311 Haines Pl., Port Townsend, 360/385-7339) then hit the pavement beginning at Boat Haven Marina on Puget Sound (or, as Native Americans call it, the Salish Sea). Turn west past the city’s paper mill, a landmark that’s difficult to miss. If you don’t see the smoke rising from the mill’s stacks you’ll definitely smell the pulpy fumes. But don’t let “old stenchworth” throw a rock in your spoke! There’s way too much adventure ahead and since the wind generally carries the smell south in the summer and north in the winter, your journey west is a promise of clear air. Follow the old railroad grade under Highway 20 toward the Cape George Trailhead. Back in the day, rail lines were built to transport timber to mills and ports on the northern coast. After the decline of logging, the railroad fizzled and the tracks were abandoned, until a couple of ardent riders proposed the idea to repurpose the rail grade for recreational use.
Natural features encapsulate the trail as it descends the Quimper Peninsula and meets up again with Highway 20. The road winds through prairie and forested landscapes toward the southern tip of Discovery Bay, named in 1792 by explorer Captain George Vancouver after his ship, the HMS Discovery. The Olympic and Cascade Mountains rise in the distance with several wide-open views of the blue waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
From Discovery Bay, the ODT follows Old Gardiner Road, with Highway 101 picking up the slack as you approach the southern tip of Sequim Bay in Blyn, the home of the Jamestown S’Kallam Tribal community, and the gateway to the East-Central section of the trail. From Blyn to Port Angeles you’ll encounter two miles of temporary road, including three short segments of gravel trail; afterward, it’s an easy ride along the railroad grade with the elevation never reaching more than 250 ft. There are nine bridges crossing creeks and rivers, four of which are restored railroad trestles. The trail passes through Sequim Bay Park, where you’ll find covered picnic areas and seasonal camping; the city of Sequim, where lavender and berry farms are worth a visit; and Railroad Bridge Park, where you’ll find the Audubon Center’s marine and wildlife exhibits. Prairie and farmland gives way to a forested canopy further west before the trail descends, joining a 400-foot long trestle that crosses Morse Creek. Turn north to reach the Strait of Juan de Fuca then follow the shoreline four miles into downtown Port Angeles. Treat yourself to a room at the Port Angeles Inn (111 E. 2nd St., 360/452-9285). It isn’t the Met, but it’s comfortable, reasonably priced, and offers views of the harbor. Walk across the street to enjoy a glass of wine at Wine on the Waterfront, a popular wine bar located on the pier, which offers a small but tasty menu.
Day Two: Foothills to Lake Crescent (Adventure Route) and Forest to Ocean (73.3 miles, approx. 5 hrs.)
Glide westward through coastal lowlands, glacier-fed lakes and rivers, and damp rainforests, catching a glimpse of elk, blacktail deer and bald eagles. Cross the Elwha River on a 586-foot long suspended bridge. For nearly a century, the river’s two dams operated as a source of hydroelectric power, but prevented salmon access to spawning grounds. After the removal of both dams (Elwha Dam in 2011 and Glines Canyon Dam in 2014), salmon populations, as well as those of bull trout and steelhead, have slowly begun to rise.
Beyond the river, the route traces the shoreline of the Strait of Juan de Fuca with nearby beaches and resorts accessible via side roads. Past the town of Joyce, the trail bends south to the spectacular glacial-cut Lake Crescent, a cold and deep body of water that for decades has entertained legends of a lake-creature. It’s easy to spend the day exploring around the lake. Hike to Marymere Falls, rent a kayak, or relax on the beaches. If you plan to spend the night, Fairholme campground lies on the western tip of Lake Crescent, and historic Lake Crescent Lodge on the south central shore of the lake offers dining, a coffee bar, a gift shop, and boat rentals.
Continue along as the railroad grade follows the north side of the lake. The trail rises to its highest point of elevation, nearing 1140 ft, as it disappears into the dense forest – the end of the West Central trail section.
The final leg of the ODT is less about riding a trail and more about navigating US, state, and county paved roads. However, the last 1.5-mile stretch to the Pacific Ocean is achieved by way of a nicely paved trail—thanks to the Quileute Tribal Nation, whose home is in the village of La Push, at the mouth of the Quillayute River.
Head south on Cooper Ranch Road to Mary Clark Road (or stay on the less scenic Highway 101), winding down about 300 ft alongside the Sol Duc River. Ride through stands of Douglas fir and giant spruce with peek-a-boo views of the river to the right. For a worthy side trip, follow Highway 101 about two miles from Fairholme to Sol Duc Hot Springs. Approximately 14 miles up the road is the Sol Duc Falls Trailhead, an easy 0.8-mile hike.
Back on Highway 101, turn right onto Highway 110 toward La Push. Cross the Bogachiel River (traveling on La Push Road), just a few miles before entering the Pacific Beach portion of Olympic National Park. Beyond the park, La Push marks the trail’s Pacific Ocean end. Enjoy fresh seafood at the River’s Edge Restaurant or pick up a few items at the Lonesome Creek Store. There is a campground, showers, bathrooms, and popular beach trails: two are accessed from the reservation and one from within the national park. Opt for the less traveled Second Beach Trail (2.4 miles, 250 ft elevation) that begins on the Quileute Indian Reservation. The trail crosses a small creek, climbs toward Olympic National Park, then descends steeply to a beautiful driftwood-strewn beach. Eagles and gulls fly overhead, and in spring and fall migrating whales can be seen. Offshore sea stacks, tide pools, stands of giant spruce, and spectacular sunsets make a visit to Second Beach the perfect way to end your 130-mile journey on the ODT.
Stay in an oceanfront cabin at the Quileute’s Oceanside Resort ($69-$299) and fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.
Town Highlights En Route
Blyn is a great spot for a break and to explore a little history of the area’s diverse tribal cultures. There’s an information kiosk, a Native American art gallery, and a carving shed. Less than a mile west, two short bridges cross the Jimmycomelately Creek and Estuary, a stream that flows from the Olympic Mountains and into the Bay. Logging and farming in the late 1800s nearly decimated the stream and salmon beds; the Jamestown S’Kallam Tribe has led restoration efforts to revive salmon runs and protect the stream. In the summer, you can watch as chum salmon fight their way to spawning grounds, and observe a variety of birds and wildlife. On the opposite side of Highway 101, the Longhouse Market & Deli and the Seven Cedars Casino offer food and a chance to pick up supplies before reaching your next stop in the town of Sequim.
Sequim is well known for sunshine and enchanted fields of lavender. It lies along the Dungeness River in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains and receives less than 16 inches of annual rainfall—about the same as Los Angeles. In July, the Lavender Festival Street Fair takes place at the center of town on Fir Street between Sequim and Third Avenues. Check out the local farmers’ market for fresh fruit and artisan-style goodies. When it comes to accommodations, Sequim also offers a bit of the unusual. For $175-$195 per night, the Red Caboose (24 Old Coyote Way, 360/683-7350) lets you stay in your own private railroad car and enjoy a gourmet breakfast, served in a 1937 Zephyr.
Port Angeles is the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, and the gateway to Olympic National Park and Hurricane Ridge. Downtown, the waterfront offers magnificent views of the harbor and snowcapped Olympic Mountains. A ferry operates year-round from the pier to Victoria, Canada. There are guided tours of the city’s historical underground, charming restaurants, art galleries, and gift shops. A weekly farmers’ market offers locally grown food and crafts. Plan to visit in summer when the city buzzes with outdoor concerts and the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival.
Things to Know Before You Go
Permits: You don’t need a permit to ride or walk the pathway, but you will need to pay a fee to enter Olympic National Park, or if you plan to stay in a designated campground. For information, visit parks.wa.gov.
Food and Accommodations: The ODT traverses several towns with full-service amenities, but there are also some pretty remote sections, especially within the rainforest. Be sure to stuff a backpack with plenty of snacks and a first-aid kit.
Weather: When it comes to the weather, expect the unexpected. Bring a raincoat and dress in layers.
Pack a Map: Cellular service on the Olympic Peninsula is not reliable, and even if you get a signal, your phone’s GPS may not be accurate. Save your cell phone battery and bring a map, or go to olympicdiscoverytrail.com for printable maps of the route.
Stay on the Trail: Don’t be a forest or meadow stomper! Staying on the trails helps protect animal and plant habitats.
It’s not unusual to think of the Pacific Northwest as green. But you have to tour the entire region to truly appreciate how many shades of the color blanket this corner of the world.
[pullquote align=right]Between nature and culture, every possible shade of green appears in the Pacific Northwest.[/pullquote]There’s the deep evergreen of the Douglas fir trees and the dusty pale green of rainforest moss. The electric green of Seattle’s hometown sports jerseys. A green ethos keeps Portland running on bicycle power and compost. And then there is all the green that companies like Starbucks, Nike, Microsoft, and others bring to the region.
Between nature and culture, every possible shade of green appears in the Pacific Northwest. The best way to see the treasures of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia is to follow the roads connecting vibrant cities like Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland with the wild green places in between—an untamed coast, a deep forest, a legendary mountain (or two).
Best Times to Visit the Pacific Northwest
If there’s one thing you can depend on in the Pacific Northwest, it’s that you can’t depend on the weather. The region is known for rain, but it doesn’t fall in regular intervals.
Summer is the driest and sunniest season, though temperatures are rarely above 90 degrees. Fall can vary between brisk, beautiful days and soggy, gray ones. Winter rarely brings much snow outside of the mountains and passes.
Mountain roads, such as those around Mount Rainier, are prone to seasonal closures and may require chains in winter months. Spring is often the rainiest time of year, but it doesn’t pour—instead, expect drizzles with the occasional shower. (Sometimes it’s even sunny!)
Circle the Pacific Northwest following this two-week itinerary. Start in Seattle, Washington and head north to Vancouver, British Columbia. After a brief stop in Victoria, ferry over to the Olympic Peninsula and drive down the Oregon Coast. Loop inland to Portland, and then head north with stops at Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier before returning to Seattle. Alternatively, start in Portland or Vancouver and follow the loop from there.
Spend two days visiting the many sides of Seattle. Wander the city’s bustling downtown, watch the fish fly at Pike Place Market, and dine atop the Space Needle. Add a day trip to the winemaking hub of Woodinville.
Days 3-5: Vancouver (Seattle to Vancouver 140 miles/3 hours)
Head north on I-5 to Vancouver, British Columbia. Leave plenty of time for delays at the Peace Arch border crossing between the U.S. and Canada because lanes back up on weekends and holidays between the United States and Canada.
Spend two days exploring downtown Vancouver. Bike around sprawling Stanley Park, tour the city’s Olympic sights, and drive north of the city to ride the tram up Grouse Mountain. Add a day trip to Whistler and make reservations for tomorrow’s ferry to Victoria.
Day 6: Victoria (Vancouver to Victoria 70 miles/3 hours)
From Vancouver, drive 35 kilometers south on Highway 99 to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal and board the B.C. Ferry to Victoria. The 90-minute boat trip arrives in Swartz Bay. Follow Highway 17 for 32 kilometers south to Victoria. It’s a quick trip into the city, though traffic can build in the early morning.
Explore Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Reserve an Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, take the Harbour Ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf, and cap the night in bustling Chinatown.
Days 7-8: Olympic Peninsula (Victoria to Forks 80 miles/3 hours)
Take the Black Ball Ferry Line across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, arriving in Port Angeles, Washington. Follow U.S. 101 west as it passes through Olympic National Park. Take care on the two-lane highway as trucks and cars alike can speed on the tight turns.
Spend at least one day enjoying the verdant wonders of Olympic National Park. Stop at Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center for sweeping views, and then spend the night at Lake Crescent or continue south to Forks. Day two brings quick access to the crashing waves at La Push or exploring the park’s Hoh Rain Forest and Lake Quinault.
Day 9: Olympic Peninsula to the Oregon Coast (Forks to Astoria 185 miles/4 hours)
It’s a long trip on U.S. 101 from Forks down to Astoria on the Oregon Coast, so start early. Traffic is less likely to be an issue, but any small backup or accident on the road can cause problems. Plan to arrive in Astoria in time for a casual dinner in the industrial waterfront town.
Day 10: Oregon Coast (Astoria to Florence 183 miles/4.5 hours)
This simple drive down the Oregon Coast follows U.S. 101 south, with worthwhile stops along the way. Stop for lunch on the sand in Cannon Beach, visit the aquarium in Newport, or take a sand dune tour in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Exploring the Three Capes Loop will add extra time (and 50 miles) to this leg of the trip.
Days 11-12: Portland (Florence to Portland 173 miles/3 hours)
Leave Florence early, following Highway 126 east for 56 miles to I-5. Take I-5 north for 115 miles to Portland. You’ll roll into the city just after the morning traffic jams.
You can see a lot of Portland in two days. Spend one day exploring downtown sights such as Powell’s Books and the South Park Blocks. On day two, cross the Willamette River to visit the southeast neighborhoods and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
Day 13: Mount Rainier (Portland to Mount Rainier 137 miles/2.5 hours)
Leave Portland early (before rush-hour traffic). Head north on I-5; then take Highway 12 east for 30 miles. At Morton, follow Highway 7 north for 15 miles to Highway 706. Turn east and take Highway 706 to Mount Rainier’s Nisqually entrance.
Spend the day hiking through wildflower meadows at Paradise, or enjoy a scenic drive through the national park to Sunrise.
Day 14: Return to Seattle (Mount Rainier to Seattle 86 miles/2 hours)
In summer, head north out of the national park on Highway 410, driving through Enumclaw back to Seattle. When the roads are closed, exit back through the Nisqually Entrance on Highway 706 toward Ashford and circle back to I-5 and Seattle.
Options for Shorter Trips
Seattle to Vancouver
Hit the region’s two biggest cities in a short road trip. Start in Seattle and spend two days exploring the downtown sights. Drive north on I-5, stopping in Anacortes or the tiny towns of Bow and Edison. Arrive in Vancouver and enjoy some outdoorsy side trips to the mountains north of the city or to Whistler.
An easy loop from Portland includes the best of both city and nature. Spend two days discovering Portland’s neighborhood gems, and then take I-5 north into Washington and drive 44 miles to Longview. At Longview, jog west on Highway 432 to U.S. 30 and continue 45 miles to Astoria on the coast. Spend a day or two following U.S. 101 south along the coast with stops to walk on the beach or watch whales. At Newport, take Highway 20 east about 63 miles to the towns of Corvallis and Albany, where it meets up with I-5. From Albany, follow I-5 north for 70 miles to return to Portland.
The Pacific Northwest is a wealth of rugged natural beauty and wonderfully unique cities. You could spend days upon days in any one city experiencing a range of strong urban cultures and delicious regional cuisines, and days more exploring the surrounding wilderness. If hitting the road to see all the highlights is your plan, check out the 14-Day Best of the Pacific Northwest Road Trip Loop.
The future is waiting around every corner of this waterfront city—from the towering Space Needle to the collection of spacecraft at the Museum of Flight. Wake early for the Seattle Art Museum and bustling Pike Place Market, but prepare to stay up late for farm-to-table dining and a diverse selection of live music.
Mountains tower over Vancouver, Canada—so close that Grouse Mountain skiers practically slide down next to the city’s skyscrapers. Bike or walk around downtown’s Stanley Park, browse the wares on offer at the Granville Island Public Market, and take in some Olympic history with a day trip to Whistler. At night, sample the myriad options on offer from Vancouver’s international culinary scene.
Victoria may be only a short ferry ride away, at the tip of Vancouver Island, but a visit here feels like crossing the pond to Britain. This is the capital of British Columbia, and a tour of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings provides a primer on the parliamentary system of government. Enjoy the delicate elegance of afternoon tea in the Fairmont Empress Hotel as it holds court over Victoria’s Inner Harbour, and then visit Butchart Gardens, a world-class garden housed in an old quarry.
Washington’s “green thumb” is a promontory of land rich in natural features. Olympic National Park is home to Hurricane Ridge, with its sweeping ridge-top vistas, and the verdant mists of the Hoh Rain Forest. The peninsula’s beaches and bays stretch from the town of Port Angeles to Neah Bay and continue down the coast.
Driving down U.S. 101, it seems like the beaches of the Oregon Coast never end. From Astoria, the sand stretches for miles past Cannon Beach, Tillamook Bay, and Cape Lookout. Along the way, follow the footsteps of Lewis and Clark at Fort Clatsop, explore the tidepools at Haystack Rock, and nibble bites of cheese at the Tillamook Cheese Factory.
Few cities have more personality than Portland. Each small block is packed with unique shops, creative eateries, tasty brewpubs, and residents biking across the bridges between them. Stop and smell the roses that line the International Rose Test Garden (one of the world’s largest) in Washington Park, gaze in awe at the Pittock Mansion’s three-story staircase, and wander amid the giant playground that is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
When “The Mountain” is out, it’s one of the most spectacular sights in the northwest—a giant dotted with glaciers and flanked by wildflower meadows. Stop at the Jackson Visitor Center in the aptly named Paradise, or spend the night at the historical Paradise Inn. Add a side trip to Mount St. Helens and drive up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory for a firsthand look at where the mountain blew in 1980.
Mount Rainier National Park is a hiker’s paradise, boasting 300 miles of hiking trails and the tallest mountain in the continental US. And late summer is the perfect time to visit, offering both the most sunny days and the least rainfall all year. Almost all of the snow on the trails will have melted by the end of July, allowing a brief window of access to the higher elevations. By October, the snow will begin falling again.
Here are some perfect routes for those looking to explore Mount Rainier in August and September.
Tolmie Peak Lookout: 6.5 mi
The best job in the United States is a summer spent staffing the Tolmie Peak Lookout. The job description includes: a 3-mile commute through pristine subalpine forest, picturesque Eunice Lake surrounded in parkland meadows, and panoramic views from the office, encompassing The Mountain and miles of national forest. Ready to sign up?
Tolmie Peak Trail begins at Mowich Lake, a spectacular setting itself. The trail leaves the large, forested lake and rises gently to Ipsut Pass (1.5 miles), a junction with Carbon River Trail. Stay to the left and continue climbing to Eunice Lake (2.3 miles), where meadows reach to the lake’s edges. The trail then climbs steeply 1 more mile to Tolmie Lookout (elevation 5,939 feet) atop the windswept peak. Mount Rainier is the obvious attraction, but Mount St. Helens and the North Cascades make appearances as well. Talk about your prime picnic spots. If the final steep climb to the lookout sounds unappealing, stopping short at Eunice Lake is a good hike as well. In late July, wildflowers fill the meadows bordering Eunice, and views of Mount Rainier are still to be had.
Spray Park is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on Mount Rainier. Meadows measured by the square mile cover the upper reaches of this trail, dominated by the imposing stature of The Mountain. Wildflowers erupt and blanket the high country in late July, while black bears in search of huckleberries roam in late August. The trail is one of the greats in the
national park and receives heavy use.
Spray Park Trail leaves from Mowich Lake. The trail meanders through the forest to Eagle Cliff (1.5 miles), where the trail follows the precipitous slope. A side trail wanders over to Spray Falls (1.9 miles) before making a steep ascent on switchbacks. The reward for the effort is a breakout from forest into open meadow. Spray Park Trail wanders through this open country, past tarns and rock fields to a saddle (elevation 6,400 feet) with views of even more meadows. The saddle is a good turnaround point, as the trail drops beyond it to Carbon River. Be sure to bring ample water, a rarity beyond Spray Falls. And remember, the meadows here are very fragile; please stay on established trails.
One of Mount Rainier’s best day hikes, Burroughs Mountain is also one of its most challenging. Many hikers set out on this hike only to be turned back by snowfields that linger well into August. It’s best to check in with the ranger at Sunrise and get a trail report. Snow or not, there’s definitely lots to see along the way. You’ll find meadows of flowers and marmots before reaching the tundralike expanses atop Burroughs Mountain. Add to it a lake for a lunch break and views of glaciers, and Burroughs Loop seems to have it all.
Burroughs Mountain Trail makes a 5-mile loop up to the high, rocky plateau of Burroughs Mountain. A clockwise direction is best, especially if the north side is still snowy. From the visitors center, the trail crosses over crystal streams and colorful meadows to Shadow Lake and an overlook of Emmons Glacier and the White River (1.4 miles). Hikers start dropping off as the trail climbs 900 feet to First Burroughs Mountain (2.8 miles). Guaranteed: Mount Rainier has never looked so big in your life.
Burroughs Mountain Trail wanders the wide, flat plateau and drops to Frozen Lake (3.6 miles). Snowfields like to linger along this northern half of the loop. These steep slopes can be crossed when snowy, but an ice ax is highly, highly recommended. The well-signed trail heads back to the visitors center.
Mount Rainier may be known best for the immense glaciers covering its slopes. More than two dozen massive ice sheets radiate from the mountain’s summit, sculpting entire valleys and ridges. Glacier Basin Trail provides a close look at two of Mount Rainier’s glaciers, Emmons Glacier and Inter Glacier, hard at work. If you find glaciers boring, then shift your attention to the hillsides and look for mountain goats among the meadows. Here’s a little geology lesson first. Glaciers are massive sheets of ice produced over thousands of years. Snowfall slowly accumulates through the years and becomes compacted into a sheet of ice. Enter gravity, which slowly pulls the glacier down the valley, scraping and sculpting the terrain as it moves. It may take a while (millennia), but glaciers are heavy-duty landscapers. When glaciers retreat (melt faster than they form, as happens now), they leave a denuded valley filled with moraine (piles of rock and dirt), which you’ll see here. Got it? You’re ready for Glacier Basin Trail.
The trail has two forks: Glacier Basin Trail (7 miles round-trip) and Emmons Glacier Trail (3.8 miles). The trail departs White River Campground and gently climbs to the junction (0.9 mile): Head left for Emmons Glacier (the largest in the lower 48 states), right for Inter Glacier. Both trails provide great views of the glaciers. Being a glacier is dirty work, apparent from the enormous piles of rock and mud covering the ice. Glacier Basin is most popular with mountaineers seeking a summit of The Mountain.
A rarity in this national park, Laughingwater Creek Trail forsakes mountain meadows and views of Mount Rainier. Instead, this lightly used trail makes a grand trip through oldgrowth forest to Three Lakes, set among open subalpine forest. The trail provides a quiet reintroduction to the Cascade Mountains after the crowds of Mount Rainier’s visitors centers. The only sounds around these parts are the noisy rumbling of Laughingwater Creek and the bellows of elk.
Laughingwater Creek Trail gains more than 2,500 feet between the trailhead and Three Lakes. Most of the climb is spread moderately along the route, easy enough for hikers young and old. The trail sticks close to the creek and passes within view of a waterfall at 2.5 miles. Western hemlocks give way to mountain hemlocks and subalpine fir replaces Douglas fir as the trail nears the crest of the hike.
Three Lakes lie in a small basin atop the ridge. A wonderful backcountry camp is situated here with an aged shelter. This is an out of-the-way section of the national park (if any remain these days), with few visitors spending the night at Three Lakes Camp. If you have an itch to see The Mountain, continue on the trail past Three Lakes toward the PCT and meadow vistas.