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9 day trip to Pacific Northwest/Washington & Oregon

Hi all! My fiancee and I are planning a trip to the Pacific NW the first week of July. We love hiking, breweries and good food. Here's a proposed itinerary:

Fri: arrive in SEA at 12:50pm, drive to Olympic Natl Park - hike late afternoon
Sat: ONP
Sun: ONP
Mon: short hike at ONP in AM, drive to Cannon Beach, arrive late afternoon/early evening
Tues: Cannon Beach
Wed: drive to Portland early AM, spend day there
Thurs: drive to Columbia River Gorge early AM - hike all day
Fri: Columbia River Gorge, drive to Seattle late afternoon (or stay extra night at CRG)
Sat: Seattle (with potential day trip via ferry to San Juan Islands for whale watching - probably too ambitious though!)
Sun: Seattle in AM, head to airport at 11:30am.

Does this seem doable? We were sad to learn that the Columbia River Gorge was damaged during wildfires last September. Are there enough trails open to take up two days of hiking there? Or should we consider Mt. Rainier instead? We wanted to get some variety in the hikes we are doing so though the Gorge would be a good idea.

Any favorite hikes in ONP or the Gorge? Any hikes near the Oregon Coast? Any favorite breweries in any of these areas?

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
6788 posts

I believe you are making some mistakes here - principally around scale, distance and incorrectly assuming that there are quick, direct routes between points where there are not.

Does this seem doable?

Short answer: No, at least not some of it.

What exactly do you mean by "ONP"? Yes, I understand you mean "Olympic National Park", but that is a large, sprawling thing. You are going to need to be more specific. You say you're landing at Seatac at 12:50 pm then heading off to Olympic National Park...where specifically? That could be 3-4 hours driving, could be substantially longer, depending on which way you go and where specifically you're headed.

There's no direct route from any part of Olympic National Park to the Oregon Coast. Getting from Olympic National Park to Canon beach is not a straight line. You may want to work your way back to I-5 (3-4 hours or more from various points in Olympic National Park), drive to Portland (a couple hours if there's no traffic, but there will be traffic, lots of it), then, after getting through/around Portland, it's going to be a couple more hours to the Oregon Coast. Depending on your route and traffic, this could easily take all day.

Again, the Columbia River Gorge is a very large area. You will need to be more specific about where in that area you're heading. Yes, there were huge fires there last summer. Some areas are currently closed to hiking, but it is a vast area, there are plenty of areas still open.

There's no way you can "do" the San Juan islands as a day trip from Seattle. It takes half a day to get there, same to get back - and that's if there's no bad traffic or especially backups at the ferries.

The first week of July is the absolute highest part of high season - you will probably experience lots of bad traffic, and the ferries may be backed up for many hours. Do not fail to take that into account - ferry backups around the JUly 4th weekend are epic (like, sit there for hours and hours waiting to get on a boat).

Most of the places you are describing will be quite busy at that time. You will want to nail down your accommodations quickly if you have not already done so. Out on the coasts, many places will be full or overflowing - including campgrounds and motels. Remember, these places are popular.

Posted by
1056 posts

I agree with David. Traffic will take much more of your time than you are expecting and access to the interstate from the Olympic peninsula is limited. One day in Portland does not seem enough, especially if you are driving in from Cannon Beach. Within Portland there are great hikies in Washington Park, one of the largest intraurban parks in the nation. There’s also a 4-mile circular hike in Portland called the 4T’s trail which goes through forested land to the highest park in Portland, with great views, then through a forest to a tram which takes youth the riverside and will return you via trolley and light rail train back to your starting point. (Hence the 4T’s name — train, trolley, tram and trail.) You can google it. Portland has more brewpubs than most US cities, and you need more time I. Town than part of a day if you want to explore those.

Yes, many, but not all, of the most scenic waterfall trails on the Oregon side of the Columbia River are closed because of last summer’s wildfires. There are also many trails on the Washington side of the river, including Beacon Rock (straight up, but not long) and Dog Mountain (steep and long but beautiful).

Posted by
2882 posts

All good advice from David. You're scheduling your trip for the busiest time of year, so no matter where you go it will be crowded.
My advice is to skip Portland, the Oregon Coast and the Gorge this trip - you simply don't have the time, and you wouldn't want to be part of the holiday traffic snarl on I-5 anyway. Better to head over to Mt Rainier NP. The alpine valleys there are some of the prettiest we've seen, and there are enough hikes there to keep you busy for a week. The best way to beat the crowds (or get out ahead of them at any rate) is to get an early start - am talking crack of dawn here.
You're already very late in your planning, but finding a place at a reasonable cost near the park is still possible if you act quickly. We like the area near the town of Packwood, which is handy to both the South and the East entrances.
Can check the NP website to preview the various hiking trails and select the ones that best suit you - they're all world class.

Posted by
35 posts

Thanks for your input! We had planned to start at Port Angeles and stay there the first two nights, then head to Forks for our third night. According to Google maps, it's a little over 4 hours from Forks to Cannon Beach - although I realize this likely does not account for traffic.

Do you guys see any better way to arrange/re-route this trip to make the driving more manageable? Or does it really come down to just skipping a destination?

We are fine with skipping the San Juan Islands (although I did see a Clippers Tour that leaves Seattle in the morning and returns in the evening). We could also just make Portland our home base for an extra night or two and do day trips to Columbia River Gorge from there, and be able to enjoy some more of the Portland breweries during our evenings. We are really interested in hiking so were looking forward to spending time in Olympic National Park because it seems to offer some really diverse options, so we don't really want to cut that out... but we are open to any suggestions :) We were advised that the trails at Columbia River Gorge get really crowded on the weekends, so that's why we planned that portion of the trip for midweek...

Thanks again!

Posted by
2644 posts

You're going to love the Pacific Northwest! Of all the amazing places I've been, Tacoma and Seattle still take my breath away on a warm summer day.

I do think you've spread yourself too thin though. You're not factoring in our hellacious traffic. The non-ferry route from SeaTac to Port Angeles is 136 miles, which would likely work on your arrival day but you will definitely not have time to hike that day. You'll land at 1pm and clear SeaTac with a rental car at about 2:30, which will get you on I-5 by about 3pm. It will likely take you an hour to get from SeaTac to Tacoma - and that's only about 16 miles...our traffic is that bad. Last time I flew in at about 3pm, it took me 1.5 hours to get to Tacoma! Once you're past Tacoma, assume about 2.5 to 3 hours to Port Angeles.

I won't go through all of your driving routes, but just know that our traffic is something to consider.

It seems like you'd have a great trip if you went out to Olympic National Park right from the SeaTac and spent a few nights there. You could then head back towards Seattle for the remainder of your trip. If you want to stop en route for a night and experience a little town that is just as cute as Cannon Beach, try stopping for a night in Port Townsend, WA...different than Cannon Beach but lovely. Then head up to Seattle and spend a few nights there...there's tons to do and Seattle is gorgeous.

You could also do Seattle and Portland, but with the number of days you have you'd really need to fly into Seattle, do Seattle, drive to Olympic National Park and spend a couple of days there and then head down to Portland and fly home out of Portland. Even though Google says it's 4 hours from Port Angeles to Portland, I'd say it's more like 6 with traffic.

I'll leave the hiking comments to others - I'm not a hiker.

Posted by
11401 posts

Forks to Cannon Beach in 4.25 hrs MIGHT be possible in July if you have a car equipped with blue lights and a siren.

Perhaps from SEA, go to Forks, then Port Angeles ( moving clockwise around the the peninsula) then to Port Townsend to take the ferry to Camano Island and head north to Anacortes to get to the San Juan Islands. How you allocate your time is your choice.

Also look at North Cascades and Mt Rainier for outdoors activities.

Going to Portland, the Oregon Coast and the Gorge have you really running around a lot. ( and running might be faster than a car)

The highway system in Wash and Ore is designed by folks who believe the bicycle should be the primary wheeled transport vehicle. Trying to get anywhere by car will take much longer than you would think in your worst nightmare. With summer road construction season and it being prime tourist season traffic flows like frozen syrup going uphill.

Posted by
4174 posts

I'm assuming you've checked out the Forest Service
And National Park Service websites for the places you want to go.

Here are some links just in case.

Columbia River Gorge. Forest Service link is to the day hiking trails.

Olympic National Park. National Park Service link is to maps which include day hikes.

Mt. Rainier National Park. This NPS link is also to maps that include day hikes.

National Forest Service hiking options in both WA and OR. This link might also be helpful for planning. There are many other links there and the 2-state map gives a hint at the size of the area.

I've stayed in many of the National Park lodges. It may be too late to reserve now, but they are found under "Reserve" on their web pages.

I'm not sure why Lake Quinault Lodge isn't included with Olympic National Park. Since it's smack dab in the middle of the Hoh rain forest, I'm puzzled by that. Here's the link for it.

Posted by
4535 posts

I'm not sure why Lake Quinault Lodge isn't included with Olympic
National Park.

It is a private lodge, not part of the National Park. A great place though.

I agree with the others about the traffic that time of year. You must figure several hours for any ferry - there will be long lines and you may well have to wait through a couple of ferry cycles. Taking non-ferry routes are usually longer, and will have heavy traffic too.

I also second the suggestion of Port Townsend. A great historic town, much nicer than Port Angeles. If you have any interest in Victoria as a daytrip, bring your passports.

The Oregon coast is beautiful. Portland is a nice city. But think about what you want to get out of your trip. Long drives, which can be pretty but stressful in traffic? Seattle and that part of WA would provide more than enough to do for 8 days (the arrival and departure days are lost as far as doing anything).

Also, planning this trip now is a bit late given the high season. Lodges and nicer places will have been long booked. Figure things out quickly and get your accommodations and excursions booked ASAP.

Posted by
6788 posts

According to Google maps, it's a little over 4 hours from Forks to Cannon Beach - although I realize this likely does not account for traffic.

That's complete nonsense. Even without any traffic at all that's clearly impossible. And there's gonna be serious traffic.

It's 3-4 hours just to get from Forks to I-5 (near Olympia, just south of Seattle). Then you have to drive down I-5 to Portland (2-3 hours under good conditions), then you still have to get out to the Oregon Coast (another 2-3 hours under good conditions). The conditions are not going to be "good." As pointed out upthread, our glorious leaders have been "managing" the region's explosive growth by intentionally reducing road capacity. The result is gridlock. And that's on good days (eg a Wednesday in late September, without the crush of holiday traffic but before the rain starts). In early July, there are a lot of tourists added to the mix of already-awful local traffic. It's bad. You're not going to get from Forks to Canon Beach in a day, unless you start at oh-dark-thirty and drive until late at night.

I think the suggestions above about limiting your trip's scope are good ones. With just a week, I think the only way you can do your original plan is to spend that week almost entirely in a car.

Posted by
11401 posts

Forks to Cannon Beach does NOT require using I-5. That is the long hard way to do it. (As described by David)

Taking US 101 as described by google maps is more practical, but the calculation google has of averaging 50 MPH is just plain loony, especially at that time of year. It is a 2 lane road, goes through numerous small towns.

A reasonable travel time estimate at that time of year, for me, would be 5.5 hrs. If you take more than a 15 minute potty stop, add more time. Add a bit more if doing it on a Sat. or Sun.

Posted by
3312 posts

As someone who grew up in the Seattle area and moved away 20 years ago, the traffic problem cannot be over-stated. Its horrible and only gotten worse in the 20 years I have been gone! I actually moved away from the area because of it.

Posted by
5837 posts

Getting TO Cannon Beach may be a slow drive. Driving THROUGH Cannon Beach can be a slow (as in near grid lock) dirve. The town of Cannon Beach one one way in/out of town from Hwy 101 at each end of town. But it is cute oceanside town.

Posted by
5837 posts

Getting TO Cannon Beach may be a slow drive. Driving THROUGH Cannon Beach can be a slow (as in near grid lock) dirve. The town of Cannon Beach one one way in/out of town from Hwy 101 at each end of town. But it is cute oceanside town.

PS Two definitions of "good food" here in Oregon. One definition involves quantity. But that said, the carft beer is worth the visit unless you are Bud people. Craft beer and a bucket of mussles watching the ships come into the Columbia from Astoria should a a must do.

Posted by
6635 posts

Let me offer a few thoughts, hoping not to add to the confusion:

With a midday arrival at SEA you should have time to get to Port Angeles by evening. Don't use the ferry, drive south to Tacoma and then across the Sound on state route 16 (toll free in your direction). Traffic on I-5 is very bad, especially Friday PM, but you'll make it. Hurricane Ridge, just south of Port Angeles, has spectacular views in good weather, but any hiking may be affected by snow which will likely still be up there.

If you want a whale watch trip you may find one going from Port Angeles, you'll definitely find one from nearby Port Townsend (which is a lovely town, as others mentioned, though not at all like Cannon Beach).

Basing at Forks lets you explore the Hoh and other rain forest valleys, as well as reaching the spectacular coast at La Push. The far northwest part of our coast is the most beautiful, comparing with Oregon's except that no road runs along it. Consider spending time here, based in or near Forks, rather than taking the long drive down to Cannon Beach. If you do drive to Cannon Beach, use 101 rather than I-5. It will probably be faster because much more direct, also more scenic.

But I'd argue, like others, to leave Oregon for another trip. Portland is a wonderful city and the Gorge is beautiful, though many good parts of the Oregon side got burned badly last year. Seattle is a fine big-city experience if you want one, but my sense is that you're more about hiking.

Finally, just for the record and not to provoke anyone, our region's traffic nightmares have mostly to do with our explosive growth, and our shortsighted rejection of transit options decades ago. We've been expanding freeways year after year just to keep the congestion from getting worse. We have among the highest gas taxes in the nation, and we've voted down at least one increase in recent years. Highways don't get bigger without massive investments of money and massive struggles with nearby communities.

I hope you will come to the Northwest, Amy, despite some of the negativity in this thread. I think you do need to scale back the geography of your trip, but you'll have a great time if you keep it simple.

Posted by
16741 posts

I agree with all the statements that driving times will be greater than younrealize. And on Friday afternoon the ferry lines will be long. You have been advised to "drive around", heading south from SeaTac to Tacoma and then over the Narrows bridge to head north. Traffic will be bad there too. You could resign yourself to a long ferry wait for the Bainbridge ferry, and use the wait time to walk the Seattle waterfront and maybe have a bite to eat. Lots of opportunities for that. And it is certainly more pleasant than sitting in traffic between SeaTac and Tacoma.

Whichever way you go, I suggest you go as far as Port Townsend, not Port Angeles, and spend two nights. Port Townsend is a lovely Victorian town with lots of nice lodging possibilities, and many good restaurants, brewpubs, etc. with Friday and Saturday night there, you could visit the Saturday Fermers Market, then take the afternoon whale-watching cruise with Puget Sound Express.

If you would prefer to spend the day hiking, there is a very nice hike up Mt. Townsend, on the west side of Olympic NP. Sweeping views from the summit (unless it is foggy) and lots of nice wildflowers. Then on Sunday you can hit Hurricane Ridge in the national park before checking in to your Port Angeles lodging. Hurricane Ridge area offers some great alpine hikes, of which my favorite is the 15-mile loop from Heart o' the Hills over Heather Pass and Klahane Ridge and back down. You can do part of this as a shorter out and back hike from the Hurricane Ridge road. Or drive out to Obstruction Point and hike down to Grand Valley and back. Or simply take a meadow stroll from the visitor center at Hurricane Ridge.

A base at Forks will give you access to some Beach hiking, but it has been a long time since I did that so cannot offer suggestions.

Posted by
4442 posts

It may certainly be different now, but 25 years ago when we went to Rainier National Park, there was still snow on some trails in July.

Posted by
8545 posts

The advice to drive around through Tacoma/Bremerton/Poulsbo on your way to Port Angeles is spot on. It is the way those of us that live here drive from the airport. The traffic is heavy on Interstate 5, but usually flows pretty well with a short slow down in Tacoma.

Puget Sound Express runs a full day whale watching/sightseeing tour out of Port Townsend to the San Juan Islands that is excellent. It stops in Friday Harbor for a two hour lunch break and explore time. I've gone twice and always seen whales and had a very good day out.

You can go on a whale watching only tour out of Port Angeles. I would plan to do any trips to he San Juans from the Peninsula rather than from Seattle.

Posted by
4622 posts

With 9 days it makes more sense to add Vancouver Island and at least a ferry trip through the San Juans, and skip Oregon entirely. Most of the NW looks the same so spending more time in fewer places makes sense.

Been to Mt Rainier the first week of July and much of the higher elevations were snowed in /closed. It's a long way out so if clear weather is important to you don't go if you can't see the mountaintop.

Posted by
16741 posts

"Most of the Pacific NW looks the same. . . ."

It may appear that way to the casual visitor driving up I-5, but those of us who live here know otherwise.

Washington beaches are very different from Oregon beaches ( just ask all the Seattlites who go to Cannon Beach for a weekend getaway). Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier offer very different experiences ( just ask the Portlanders who come up to Rainier in summer to go hiking). Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver are very different cities. The Washington Cascades, especially around Mt. Baker and North Cascades National Park, offer more scenic alpine hiking opportunities than can be found in the Oregon Cascades ( in my opinion, of course). On the other hand, the Wallowas in eastern Oregon, while small in area, offer a rewarding destination for backpackers. And is nothing anywhere else like Olympic National Park, with its alpine peaks and meadows, rugged beaches, hot springs, lakes, and rain forests all in close proximity.

And I haven't even started on Vancouver Island, with its two long-distance beach trails, surfing opportunities, and much more.

You will however see lots of Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees wherever you go. Maybe that is what impressed Tom_MN.

As for Mt. Rainier in July, it is true that the trails are mostly snow-covered into July. We have been backcountry skiing up there on good snow as late as mid-July. And I have hiked on snow at Paradise around July 22-23. Sunrise may not be open at all in early July, but Paradise is open year-round. One can hike lower elevation trails, or hike on the snow at Paradise. You won't see the wildflower display that makes the area famous, but it is still lots of fun.

We did not have a heavy snow year, so things may open up earlier rather than late. Check the webcams for current information:

Posted by
2471 posts

Chiming in on a couple points from the advice above. IMHO, you can't do Oregon justice with the amount of time you have, so I'd focus on Seattle area (but as others have posted, the traffic is horrible there). If you do choose to come to the Oregon coast, whatever Google gives you for travel times, double it in summer. RVs and one lane roads = sloooow. And if you drive from Forks, it's not the most scenic and much of highway 101 is NOT on the coastline. Personally, I wouldn't pick Cannon Beach as the one place you go, but given your time frame you can't get to the better spots (farther south). There are many closed trails in the Columbia River Gorge. Mid-week hiking is best option, don't bother on a weekend. You can get plenty of hiking variety in the Seattle/ONP.

Posted by
1321 posts

I have to agree with those who a cautioning that you cannot do this trip in 9 days. Concentrate on Washington OR Oregon leaving the other to another visit. Olympic National Park and the San Juan's would be doable. Olympic National Park and Mt Rainier is doable. OR skip the Olympics and concentrate on things on the I-5 corridor even from Vancouver BC to Portland splitting 3 nights in each location flying into YVR and out of PDX.

Seattle traffic can NOT be understated. It is miserable. In July it will be really bad since it's a great month to be here.

Portland has better beer overall IMO but you can find some great beer in Seattle.

Our states out west are HUGE. I've lived all over this great country and I think folks underestimate how much time it takes to travel between places out here.

Fri: arrive in SEA at 12:50pm, drive to Olympic Natl Park - hike late afternoon
You will not hike on the Friday you arrive at SEA - you might arrive late evening but no way late afternoon

Dog Mountain (steep and long but beautiful) will be permitted parking this summer I believe so although a nice hike parking will be tough specifically because of the damage to Gorge hikes