In this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary, I’ll take you from Portland to Yellowstone. You will visit many gorgeous national parks and see the amazing Oregon coastline.
Why this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary is perfect for you
The landscape in Northwest USA is very scenic and diverse. Lots of green forests, enormous volcanoes, a beautiful coastline, an endless desert landscape, and exploding geysers. It’s truly a delight to drive from one location to the next.
Don’t expect to visit many cities, it’s mainly nature. You won’t see many other tourists during a large part of this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary. At some points, you’ll feel like you’re the only one discovering this area of the United States.
During this Pacific Northwest itinerary, you’ll visit seven states: Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. You’ll also spend some time in some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States, like Crater Lake National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
Day 1: Portland
Portland (Oregon) is the largest city you’ll visit during this road trip in Northwest USA. And therefore, it’s the ideal location to start and finish this road trip itinerary. Portland has many great neighborhoods to explore. There are so many great restaurants, shops, and parks.
Arriving by plane
Portland has a modern and convenient airport, it’s very easy to navigate. From the airport, you can take a tram to the city center, which only costs $2.50. The city center is very pedestrian-friendly, so you won’t need to use a car in Portland.
Do you need a plane ticket to Portland first? Check Skyscanner for the best prices.
Day 2 & 3: Mount Rainier National Park
The next morning it’s time to pick up your rental car. Let’s get this road trip in the Pacific Northwest starting! Portland is located on the border of Oregon and Washington, so before you know it, you’ll reach your next state: Washington! It’s only a 2,5-hour drive to your first National Park of this trip: Mount Rainier National Park. In the center of this National Park, you’ll see the 4392-meter high stratovolcano, Mount Rainier. Enjoy the scenic drive and go on a couple of hikes. There are also some awesome waterfalls to be found in the park.
Tip Do you have some extra time? Check out the incredible Mount St Helens National Monument on your way to Mount Rainier National Park.
Day 4 & 5: The Oregon Coast
After a couple of days in Washington, it’s time to drive back to Oregon. The Oregon coastline is famous for a reason, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The beaches are endless, there are forests and impressive rock formations.
Drive south on Highway 101 as long as you can and make sure to stop in Cannon Beach. This is a really cute town, and here you will see the famous Haystack Rock. There are also several State Parks to be found in this area, which I would recommend making a stop.
I stayed and explored Cape Lookout State Park. From Cape Lookout, you might be able to see whales swimming (if you’re there during the right months). Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky and I didn’t see any whales. But I did see some sea lions swimming, which was pretty cool!
Day 6: Bend
The drive from Oregon’s coast to Bend is absolutely gorgeous. High cliffs, swirling rivers, and a lot of snow-capped mountains. Bend is a small, but a really cute town. It has many great restaurants and beer breweries.
Day 7: Crater Lake National Park
It’s time for the next highlight of this trip: Crater Lake National Park. This park is probably one of the most scenic stops on this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary and definitely one of the most beautiful places in Oregon. You’ll see a crater filled with bright blue water and a small island in the middle. Especially on a clear day, it’s a beautiful sight, because you’ll see the reflection of the mountains in the water. You also might see some wildlife, like deer and bear, so drive safely. I had two bears crossing the road right before my car. I was able to step on the brake just in time.
Extra tip: do you have some extra time? You can visit many great waterfalls in Southern Oregon, which are all very close to Crater Lake National Park.
Day 8: Mount Shasta
From Crater Lake, you will see several volcanoes and one of them is Mount Shasta (4322 meters) in California. There are several great trails to be found in this area, you can even hike a section of the famous Pacific Crest Trail.
Day 9: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Your next and last stop in California is the third National Park of this road trip in Northwest USA. Lassen Volcanic National Park is not that well-known and because of that, it’s not crowded with tourists. It is one of the highlights of this road trip though, the landscape is a beautiful thing to see. At some places, you’ll see steam coming from the earth and there’s also boiling mud. You might also see some wildlife, during my short visit I saw multiple deer and a bear.
Day 10: Reno
After spending a couple of days at National Parks, it’s time for another city. We cross the border and drive from California to Nevada. You’ll stay in Reno for the night, which feels like the low budget version of Las Vegas. In Reno, you can get a very fancy hotel room for very little money. Go gambling, enjoy some good food, go shopping, or just relax for a day at the pool.
Hotel tip: Nugget Casino Resort
Day 11: Highway 50 – the loneliest road in the USA
From Reno, you’ll drive all the way through Nevada on Highway 50. This highway is also known as The loneliest road in the USA. For me, this is one of the highlights of this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary, because you’ll get the ultimate USA road trip feeling.
Highway 50 crosses the whole state of Nevada and there is a lot of nothing since there are barely any towns along this road. Don’t forget to get gas wherever you can, because there are not a lot of gas stations on Highway 50.
Day 12: Great Basin National Park
Located on Highway 50 is one of the lesser-known US National Parks: Great Basin National Parks. Here, you can visit some caves (make a reservation before you arrive), and you can explore the sights along the scenic roads. At some viewpoints, you’ll have a great view of the emptiness in Nevada. The small town of Ely is a great place to stay if you’d like to visit Great Basin National Park.
Day 13: Bonneville Salt Flats & Shoshone Falls
You’ll have a long drive ahead today, so leave early. From Ely, you’ll drive north on Highway 93, which is a very scenic road. Make sure to follow the signs to Wendover, because your first stop will be in Utah! Near Wendover, you can visit the Bonneville Salt Flats. An enormous white landscape, where people break speed records all the time. Also, a lot of tv series and movies have been filmed here.
Then it’s time to drive further north, into the state of Idaho. The landscape changes again, from the desert with mountains to green, flat, and a lot of farms. One of the most scenic stops in Idaho is Shoshone Falls Park, with some gorgeous waterfalls, that is also known as the Niagara Falls of the West.
Day 14: Craters of the Moon National Monument
Another highlight during your road trip in Idaho is Craters of the Moon National Monument. You’ll a lot of black lava rocks from a volcanic eruption many years ago. You can visit some cool caves here (bring a flashlight) en check out a couple of trails.
Day 15, 16, and 17: Grand Teton National Park
After being almost the only tourist for a week, you’ll visit one of the most touristic areas in the United States: Grand Teton National Park. It’s a breathtaking place, meadows filled with gorgeous wildflowers, historic wooden landmarks, a lot of wildlife, and the impressive Teton Mountain range. Explore it all, hike the trails, go to all the scenic viewpoints, it is worth spending some time. Also, the town of Jackson is a really cool place to explore, with many awesome bars, shops, and restaurants.
Day 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22: Yellowstone National Park
Take your time for the last National Park from this Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary because Yellowstone is huge. The park is located on a supervolcano and there’s a lot to see. The landscape is impressive, with colorful hot springs, large waterfalls, exploding geysers, and impressive rock formations. You’ll also see lots of wildlife, especially bison (who tend to walk in the middle of the road. To see all of the highlights in Yellowstone, you’ll need at least five days. If you don’t have that much time and still want to see most of the highlights, I would recommend at least 2 days in Yellowstone.
Do you want to read more about Yellowstone? Check out this article: Yellowstone vacation: the ultimate guide
Day 23: Road trip in Montana
Part of Yellowstone National is located in Montana, the next state in this itinerary. This is a great state for a road trip, with long endless roads, many ranches, and scenic villages. A great place to explore is Nevada City. This is a well-preserved ghost town from 1880 (and now a museum).
Day 24: Shopping and relaxing Idaho
When I’m in the United States, I like to go shopping at some point (clothing is so cheap compared to Europe!). Boise, the capital of Idaho is a perfect stop to do that. There are many great malls, and there’s also a Cheesecake Factory (one of my favorite restaurants in the USA).
If you don’t like shopping, this is also a great place for a lazy day. You’ll need it after all the amazing highlights you’ve seen so far.
Day 25: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Before you know it, you’re back in Oregon! The landscape changes quickly and suddenly you’ll find yourself driving on winding roads in canyons again. One of the most beautiful stops in Oregon is the Sheep Rock district of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. You’ll see some awesome blue/gree mountains, and it’s a great place for a hike. The tiny town of Mitchell (only 130 inhabitants) is a great place to stay.
Hostel tip $: Spoke’n Hostel Lodging & Praise Assembly Mitchell: stay in a dorm or a private room . No set prices, but they accept donations. Highly recommended!
Hotel tip $$: Painted Hills Vacation – Cottages & Retreat, Mitchell
Day 26: Painted Hills & Cottonwood Canyon State Park
The next day, you’ll discover another section of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: Painted Hills. An impressive landscape where the hills look red and yellow. Very scenic landscape!
After your visit, drive to the north, to the brand new Cottonwood Canyon State Park. This is a valley in a canyon (thanks to the John Day River) and a great place for hiking, or just relax and enjoy the views.
Day 27: Columbia River Gorge
When you leave Cottonwood Canyon State Park, the landscape changes again and you’ll see some large volcanoes on the horizon. On your left side, you’ll see Mount Hood and if you’re lucky, you can also see Mount Rainier. Go north until you get to the Columbia River. From there go left into the direction of Portland.
The road along the river is very scenic, at first you’ll drive in a canyon with steep walls, but later it changes into a forest. The small town of Cascade Locks is a great stop for lunch. This is also where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the state line to Washington, over the Bridge of the Gods. This is famous thanks to the movie Wild with Reese Witherspoon.
Between Cascade Locks and Portland, you can also visit several beautiful waterfalls (on the southside of the river). However, there’s not a lot of parking space, so get here early in the morning, otherwise, you’ll end up in a traffic jam.
Camping $: Eagle Creek Campground
Hotel tip $$: Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn, Cascade Locks
Day 28: Back in Portland
And then you’re back in Portland! Do you have some time left? Enjoy the town for a couple of days. There’s plenty to see and to do. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time while I was there, so I stayed in a hotel in Vancouver, which was only a 15-minute drive to the airport. Very convenient!
Hotel tip close to the airport: SpringHill Suites by Marriott Portland Vancouver
Map Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary
Modifications for this Pacific Northwest road trip
Do you have more time?
Consider spending some time at these places:
– Mount st. Helens National Monument (between Portland and Mount Rainier National Park)
– Stay a little longer in Bend, the area is so beautiful!
– Drive further to the north and visit Seattle and Olympic National Park.
Are you short on time?
– Skip Mount Rainier National Park over, that will save you three days.
– Drive from Yellowstone straight to Boise. Driving in Montana to Nevada City is quite a d-tour.
Renting a car
To do this road trip in Northwest USA, you’ll need a rental car. I picked up and dropped off my rental car at the airport in Portland. I usually make a reservation beforehand with AutoEurope or Alamo. When you’re from Europe like me, make sure to reserve a car from a European website, in that case, all the insurances you need are included.
Of course, you can also do this road trip with an RV. However, you might need some more time to do it. You also have to check if every campground is suitable for RVs (Jenny Lake in Grand Teton is tents only) and it might be smart to make reservations beforehand.
The best time for this road trip in the Pacific Northwest
A lot of the places on this road trip are covered in snow most of the year, so I would advise doing this in late Spring and Summer. I started my road trip at the end of May, and some of the roads were still closed because of the snow (especially during the first two weeks).
A personal note
This is my Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary. I had a blast! I was road tripping solo and drove about 4000 miles (6500 kilometers). It was quite a distance, but it certainly was doable and I had plenty of time to rest. This part of the United States is less crowded than the Southwest, so I didn’t need to reserve every accommodation beforehand. I only had reservations for the Oregon Coast and Yellowstone.
Do you have any questions about this itinerary? Let me know by dropping a note in the comment section underneath this article.
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