5 places to see on your Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Mariko Smits


Writing up a list of must-stop places for your upcoming road trip? Here are five of the best places to hike and camp in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve selected a variety of landscapes, experiences and natural beauty, so you can experience the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer. 

1) Alpine hiking in North Cascades National Park, Washington

Hugging the border of Canada is the North Cascades National Park, home to more glaciers than anywhere in the U.S…outside of Alaska, of course. While popular with mountaineers, there is also plenty of hiking, camping, and boating.

Most of the park is extremely remote, but accessible areas feature sparkling lakes and dams. The brilliant turquoise of Diablo Lake is a popular attraction, but if you really want to get the most out of this spot, strap on your boots, and head to the Maple Loop Pass.

With an elevation of 518 metres over 11.6km, the Maple Loop Pass is a little more challenging. But if you take your time and stop for every photo opportunity (and there are plenty!) it’s an achievable hike, even for beginners. Along the way, you’ll take in expansive views of the cascades and everything it has to offer: lakes, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains. Depending on the time of the year you’ll also be treated to the splendor of the region’s wildflowers.

The unique alpine area attracts an array of extraordinary wildlife including mountain goats, lynxes, and the endangered timber wolf. And while it’s highly unlikely you’ll see any, the elusive wolverine is known to frequent the tops of the mountain range.

Some of the camping options are only accessible by foot, but there are some car-camping areas. To review, visit the North Cascades National Park website or the nearby Ross Lake National Recreation area.

2) Choose your own adventure in Olympic National Park, Washington.

If you want to experience a bit of everything, Olympic National Park is a World Heritage Site home to ancient lakes, rugged coastlines, temperate rainforest, and glaciated mountain ranges. With varied ecosystems and well-maintained trails, it’s a hiking and camping paradise.

Offering spectacular views of Olympic National Park is Hurricane Ridge, a 29km mountainous area with multiple trailheads of distance and difficulty. There’s a visitor centre to help set your course, but you can choose a day trip with the Hurricane Hill Trail (5.1km) or spend overnight at Grand Valley. While you’re there, keep an ear out for marmots who whistle to one another. Whistle back, and you might get a response!

If you want to increase your chances of spotting wildlife, head for Hoh Rainforest. The shorter Hall of Mosses trail is fantastic for kids (at 1.3km and/or 1.9km ) as is the Spruce Nature Trail (1.9km). Besides enjoying the explosively green landscape, you might get lucky and spot the Roosevelt Elk, a rare breed of elk endemic to the Pacific Northwest coast.

Within Olympic National Park are 350,000 acres of undisturbed ancient forest. To get a glimpse, head to the lowland areas of Sol Duc and hike the Lover’s Lane loop. The 9.3km loop passes the breathtaking Sol Duc falls and connects back to Sol Duc’s man-made hot springs.

3) Chase waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Marking the state line between Washington and Oregon is the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. While North Cascade National Park has the most glaciers, the Columbia River Gorge arguably has the most waterfalls – the most famous being Multnomah Falls.

At 620 ft, this waterfall is the most popular tourist attraction in all of the Pacific Northwest. And for good reason! The Multnomah Falls are the tallest in Oregon and feature an observation bridge built right over the middle of the multi-tiered falls.

Image: Luke Flynt

Once you’ve caught your breath from the stunning views, continue on to one of the many shorter trails to loop around the falls. For a longer hike, follow the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop and spot at least six more waterfalls – one for every kilometre of the loop.

But if it’s a vigorous hike you want (with plenty of rewards) head for the Dog Mountain trail. The 11.2km loop climbs more than 853 metres in elevation. With no switchbacks, this strenuous hike is straight up, so come prepared with good shoes and plenty of water. Once at the top, you’ll be treated to some of the best panoramic views of the gorge. Climb in the spring months and you’ll be privy to the extensive fields of golden wildflowers.

If you’re into kitesurfing or wind boarding, you’re in luck. Thanks to the differing atmospheric pressures running through the cascades, a unique wind tunnel runs over the Hood River, generating winds of up to 35 m/ph. Water sports are huge here in the summer, so bring your swimwear!

4) Explore the desert in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, Oregon

Experience a different kind of landscape with a trek through the other-worldly Oregon Badlands Wilderness. Unique to this part of the world, the Oregon Badlands is arid land with ancient juniper trees and unusual volcanic rock formations. Isolated and serene, it’s perfect for when you need to disconnect from the modern world.

The volcanic ash topsoil has protected the region from frequent bushfires and preserved much of its natural history. At least one juniper tree has been identified as close to a whopping 1,600 years old, and peppered throughout the 80kms of walking trails are signs of human history. If you’ve got a keen eye, you’ll spot the occasional Native American pictograph.

As for trailheads, you can get a taste for your surroundings on the Flatiron trail loop (3.2km) or wander down the out-and-back Dry River Canyon Trail (9.7km) to explore the surrounding caves. Stay overnight at the campsites and you’ll witness the much-beloved dusty pink desert sunsets.

While you’re there, make a stop in the nearby city of Bend where you can find plenty of family-friendly outdoor activities. Bend is also home to plenty of craft beer breweries which might be just the thing after a hot day in the desert.

5) Camp in the backcountry at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Formed in the aftermath of a catatonic volcano, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the USA. Pristine and a striking vivid blue, the lake itself is the beating heart of Oregon’s only national park. And if you’ve read the book ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed (an epic recount of trekking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail) you’ll know the awe-inspiring feeling that the lake can conjure:

“I could feel the lake’s power…It seemed a shock in the midst of this great land: inviolable, separate and alone, as if it had always been and would always be there, absorbing every color of visible light but blue.” – Cheryl Strayed.

Image: Amy Hanley

If you want to follow in Chery’s footsteps, opt for a multi-day backpacking trip and take on the Large Pacific Crest Trail Loop (48.2km) or the Short Pacific Crest Trail Loop (40km). For a more moderate day hike, check out the Cleetwood Clove trail (7.2km), or the Wizard Island Summit Trail (3.5km). With more than 145kms of hiking trail accessible in the summer months, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

For those who want to discover as much as possible, Crater Lake National Park features backcountry camping across five designated campsites with some dispersed camping allowed. To take advantage of this, you’ll need to apply for a (free) permit from the park headquarters on the day. Otherwise, there are two developed campgrounds for you to choose from.

*Before you visit any location, check the local parks authority for information. During winter months or bushfire season, accessibility may be limited.

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