Road trips are where it’s at for the foreseeable future. This epic 1,492-mile road trip takes you through many of the most scenic spots along the northwestern coast of the United States from San Francisco to Seattle. Wineries, redwood forests, stunning views along the Oregon coast, Crater Lake, towering snowcapped mountains, powerful waterfalls, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Rainier await you.
Travel Tips and Practicalities
This itinerary starts in San Francisco and weaves upwards to Seattle, but the route can be done in reverse. Flying to either San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is simple and airlines from many cities fly direct to either. You can get updates on flight deals as they arise right here.
Unless you’re a local or driving long distances, renting a car to navigate this journey will be the most efficient, but be prepared that you will likely be hit with a one-way fee.
This itinerary suggests a minimum of 14 nights, but could easily be spread out over 3-4 weeks. You can also beta test our travel planning system by editing or viewing a trip like this when you log into Winetraveler.
Winetraveler Tip: With the constantly changing COVID-19 travel restrictions and ordinances, check the current status of closures and restrictions that may apply along with CDC guidelines before embarking. Book fully refundable accommodations and/or fares whenever possible.
Stop 1: San Francisco (0-5 Nights)
The Golden Gate Bridge, Full House, Alcatraz, and the Fisherman’s Wharf often come to mind when thinking of San Francisco. San Francisco is a great starting point for this road trip, but you can easily tack on 3-5 nights to explore this bustling city once places open back up. For ideas on how to spend extra time in San Francisco, Winetraveler has you covered here and recommended 6 great wine bars in San Francisco.
If you’re blessed with a clear sky, go to Battery Spencer and/or Baker Beach for fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Drive ~90 minutes to Napa Valley. On your way to Napa Valley, consider stopping in the quaint bayside city of Sausalito.
Stop 2: Napa Valley (2 Nights)
Napa Valley is always worth a visit, and it’s essentially on your path. Winetraveler has many articles, itineraries, and winery suggestions. A few of the author’s personal favorites are included below:
Chateau Montelena and Stag’s Leap are musts for any first-time visitors. Both are famed for having put California wines on the “map” after winning in the 1973 “Judgment of Paris” for their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, respectively.
Take the cave tour at Del Dotto and taste wines directly from wine barrels. You’ll have the opportunity to taste the difference between a single vineyard cabernet aged in French Oak alongside the same cabernet aged in American Oak. Del Dotto is known for its generous and numerous pours. Everyone is nearly guaranteed to leave feeling happy. A designated driver is a must.
Where to Eat
Conclude the evening with a fancy dinner at Auberge du Soleil with breathtaking views, and if you can secure reservations and afford it, The French Laundry is frequently acclaimed as being one of the world’s top restaurants.
Winetraveler Tip: Make reservations for wineries and restaurants in advance, as many require them.
Where to Stay
Napa is home to many beautiful resorts. The luxurious Silverado Resort and Spa boasts an enviable location near wineries with two championship golf courses, tennis courts, a stellar fitness center, a full-service spa, an outdoor pool, a restaurant and bars.
RiverPointe Napa Valley Resort is a more affordable option and offers individualized trailers/cottages painted in red, blue or tan with small living areas and kitchens.
Drive ~3.5 hours and then ~2 hours 20 minutes the next day through the Redwoods.
Stop 3: Redwood Forests (2 Nights)
Drive along the famed and scenic 31-mile Avenue of the Giants through over 51,000 acres of awe-inspiring redwoods in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and onwards to the Redwood National and State Parks. The magnificent soaring trees tower high above you as you gently curve along the winding roads through the thick forest. Be on the lookout for elk crossing the road. There are campgrounds, RV parks, and picnic areas. Outdoor activities include swimming, fishing, biking and hiking, and equestrian trails.
The short leisurely 0.3-mile trail to admire the Big Tree near Orick is shaded by dense trees covered in hanging moss. The tree is appropriately named. It is a very big tree standing 304 feet tall with a diameter of 21.6 feet, and a circumference of 68 feet. Its estimated age is 1,500 years.
If you have ever wanted to drive through a tree, for a small admission fee of about $5 per vehicle, you can do so at the Tour Thru Tree in Klamath.
Where to Stay
The first night, unwind at the Benbow Historic Inn featuring luxury and historic charm with a wine list with more than 200 wine options from both local counties and many of the major wine regions in the world. As you continue northward, stay at/or near the Holiday Inn Express Klamath Redwood National Park Area.
Stop 4: Optional Coastal Stops
If you are headed straight to Crater Lake from the last overnight stop, it should take under 3 hours. Consider lengthening your drive time quite considerably (and stay overnight, if desired, to break it up) to make stops along the spectacular coastline. Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center and Harris Beach State Park are two possibilities. Be swept away by forever views of the Oregon coast at Cape Blanco State Park, and quite literally by the intense cool ocean winds.
Stop 5: Crater Lake National Park (2 Nights)
Of all the stops on this itinerary, don’t miss Crater Lake, a collapsed volcano that became the deepest lake in the United States. Centuries of rain and snow filled the basin with pristine waters. Crater Lake is characterized by majestic deep blue waters and sheer cliff walls.
Breathe in the fresh mountain air and soak in the bedazzling views while hiking, fishing, and/or taking a boat ride to the island in the middle of the lake, Wizard Island. Even in July, patches of snow are common. Hiking up Garfield Peak is a fantastic ~3.4-mile roundtrip hike. The trailhead is behind the lodge. Be prepared with plenty of water. Most of the trail is exposed to the weather elements with direct sun exposure. The trail is popular for families with older children but is doable for those traveling with younger children. It can be steep and strenuous at times, but the views of nearly the entire path are worth the effort.
If you’re visiting in the summer, drive along the incredibly scenic 33-mile Rim Drive that circles the lake and admire the lake from every angle. Allot at least two hours to complete this drive to provide ample time to stop at many of the viewpoints.
Winetraveler Tip: Due to heavy snowfall, note that many roads around the lake are closed for ~7 months each year from at least November 1 to mid-May to late June. At times, the road closures continue into July. Current conditions can be checked on the National Park’s website here, and a map of seasonal road closures here.
Where to Stay
Crater Lake Lodge, located right in the national park, overlooks the majestic lake. If you’re planning on camping, Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground are the park’s developed campgrounds open in the summer.
Drive ~2 hours to Sisters.
Stop 6: Sisters (1 Night)
Five Pine Lodge and Spa, in central Oregon just ~25 minutes from Bend, is the destination. It provides a romantic rustic cabin getaway while also being a perfect spot for outdoorsy families. Spacious individualized wooden cabins with fireplaces are spread out in a pine forest with wildflowers carpeting the ground. Bike rentals, yard games, an outdoor pool, a spa, an on-site brewery and movie theater will keep the entire family busy and then relaxed. Complimentary wine/beer is served in the evening by the 30-foot rock fireplace in the main lounge.
Adventurers in/near Sisters can go mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, fly fishing, or play golf in the summer. If you visit in the winter, there are many nearby winter activities.
Drive ~2 hours and 10 minutes to Mount Hood. Keep your eyes out for the Three Sisters Mountains.
Stop 7: Mount Hood (1 Night)
Mount Hood, a snowcapped mountain reaching up to 11,245 feet, is a hotspot for skiing and hiking. It’s quite a sight to see skiers riding down the mountain in July. Maybe you’ll be one of them? Head over to Trillium Lake for an effortless yet breathtaking view of Mount Hood. It’s also an excellent picnic spot.
Where to Stay
The historic Timberline Lodge at 6,000 ft. above sea level is right at the base of Mount Hood. It was the lodge filmed at the beginning of the 1980s film, The Shining, but it was known as the Overlook in the film. Even if you don’t spend the night, enjoy a meal and cocktails in the wrap-around dining area. Incredible views of Mount Hood are offered on one side with views of Mount Jefferson from the opposite side.
Drive ~1 hour 45 minutes to Multnomah Falls.
Stop 8: Columbia River Gorge (2 Nights)
All waterfall chasers will have their work cut out for them in Oregon. The Columbia River Gorge with ~90 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the river is considered to have the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America.
Multnomah Falls is a sight to be seen and the jewel of Oregon’s waterfalls. It’s a mesmerizing and powerful 2-tier waterfall on basalt cliffs. The upper falls are ~542 ft. and the lower falls, ~69 ft. No hike is necessary to admire the beauty of these falls, but if you’re able, take the path up to the bridge above the lower falls and continue upwards. Due to its popularity and the ease of accessibility, Multnomah Falls is commonly overcrowded with tourists. To skip out on the tourists, head there first thing in the morning for a potential intimate viewing experience.
Here are a few other nearby waterfalls to get you started on your quest:
Horsetail Falls, at ~176 ft. high, is easily accessible for viewing pleasure right off the Historic Columbia River Highway; no hiking required.
Bridal Veil Falls, a 2-tiered cascading waterfall, can be admired after a ~2/3rd mile roundtrip hike through the woods.
Elowah Falls is a breathtaking ~289 ft. waterfall that is reachable after just a 0.8 mile (one-way) hike through the woods on a dirt and rocky path with little change in elevation. Since a little effort is required to admire this waterfall, it tends to be less crowded.
Oneonta Falls is a hidden gem that cascades down lush emerald green moss-covered cliffs. While it’s unforgettably majestic, the trail through the enchanting Oneonta Gorge isn’t for everyone. The trail involves climbing over wet, slippery, and often unstable logs and wading in cold-chest deep water. This trail is not recommended for small children since the water is ~3 feet deep at its lowest point.
Winetraveler Tip: Be prepared to get very wet. Wear suitable clothing that you will essentially go swimming in and wear water shoes with good tread. Bring dry bags for any electronics.
Where to Stay
Stop 9: Optional Coastal Stops
Cape Meares Lighthouse and Cannon Beach add at least 4 hours to this itinerary and are out of the way, but if you have the time and energy, they are excellent stops. Cape Meares Lighthouse offers coastal views. Don’t miss the fascinating Octopus Tree that looks just as its name suggests. Cannon Beach is known for its long shoreline with the large Haystock Rock protruding out from the ocean. Ecola State Park (presently closed due to landslides) is nearby and has many unique rock formations projecting out from the water.
Drive 3 hours to Mount St. Helens.
Stop 10: Mount St. Helens (1 Night)
Mount St. Helens became a world-famous volcano after its deadly eruption in May 1980. Approaching Mount St. Helens and witnessing Mother Nature’s destructive powers is a humbling experience. Decades later, while life has returned, remnants caused by the eruption remain visible.
The Visitor Center has great resources to learn about the events leading up to the eruption, the eruption itself, and the aftermath. The displays include a timeline of the events leading up to the blast, a large model of the volcano, and a theater program. On a clear summer day, unobstructed views of the mountain surrounded by hills of colorful wildflowers await you. Hiking enthusiasts of all capabilities, from families with young children to experienced hikers, can find a perfect trail for them.
Winetraveler Tip: Be prepared that many trails will have little tree cover, and thus you will be exposed to the weather elements.
Where to Stay
For those traveling with kids, while it is ~45 minutes from Mount St. Helens, the Great Wolf Lodge Grand Mound has an indoor water park and will shorten your drive time to Mount Rainier.
Drive ~2 hours 20 minutes to Mount Rainier from Mount St. Helens.
Stop 11: Mount Rainier National Park (3 Nights)
Mount Rainier, an iconic symbol of the Washington landscape, is an active volcano with a glaciated peak. Arguably, the best was saved for last in this itinerary. Reaching a height of 14,410 ft., it is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. There are miles and miles of maintained trails at Mount Rainier National Park to explore, and if you’re really adventurous and plan appropriately, you can even attempt to summit this dominating mountain.
Make sure to go to the Paradise Visitor Center, famous for its seasonal meadows of wildflowers, and Reflection Lake.
For truly phenomenal views of Mount Rainier, embark on the ~5.6-mile roundtrip Mount Fremont Lookout Trail. The trail is narrow at times and traverses around the rim of a mountain. Parts of the trail may still be blanketed entirely in snow, even in July. While you will be blessed with beautiful views throughout the hike, the view at the end is worth the effort.
Drive ~1 hour 40 minutes to Seattle.
Stop 12: Seattle (0-3 Nights)
Similar to San Francisco, you can either return home or spend multiple days exploring many of the top sights in Seattle before flying or otherwise making your way home.
For those wishing to extend this road trip, Winetraveler’s Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary for Adventurous Wine Lovers that starts in San Diego and ends in San Francisco can easily be tacked on as a prelude or finale for this trip.
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