The Most Scenic Roadtrips in the Pacific Northwest

US Highway 101 - Oregon
US Highway 101 - Oregon | © Doug Kerr / Flickr
Jacklyn Grambush

The Pacific Northwest is known for its beauty: National and State Parks, rainforest, ocean, and some top-notch cities. For those who love to get behind the wheel and go, to wonder at our nation’s – and our planet’s – stunning vistas from the comfort of your securely-belted seat (#ClickItOrTicket), these are the PNW’s most scenic roadtrips.

Mt. Rainier National Park

As the fifth highest peak in the continental U.S., Mt. Rainier will of course offer astonishing sights. Stay closer to sea level on routes such as Mowich Lake Road, a 25-mile (40-km), 42-minute (approximately) trip on Washington Highway 165. Two favorite scenic byways include the 124-mile (77.05-km) long White Pass Scenic Byway and the 96-mile (59.65-km) long Chinook Scenic Byway, which travels through Mt. Rainier National Park and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest over the course of two to three hours. A few other excellent options include Circle Mt. Rainier Driver, West Side Loop, and The Road to Paradise.

Oregon Coast

US Highway 101 in Oregon: that’s right – we’re talking 338 miles (544 km) and six hours on a single road accompanied the entire way by the Pacific Ocean. Also known as the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, this stunning road – attracting locals as well as tourists – includes points of interest such as Tillamook Rock, Harrish Beach, Arch Rock, Cape Perpetua, Ecola State Park, the Oregon Dunes, and Oregon’s 11 coast lighthouses. From the Washington State border to the California border (or the other way around), you’ll understand why Lewis & Clark’s discovery brought on follower after follower.

Oregon Coast

Columbia River Gorge

The eye-opening natural phenomenon that divides Washington and Oregon is filled with so many wonders that you’d have to take it in by roadtrip for even a chance to experience everything it offers. Simply following the Columbia River Gorge will take you 152 miles (244 km) and approximately three hours along Interstate 84 and US Highway 30. Otherwise, explore the Lewis & Clark Memorial Highway (Washington Highway 14), and imagine what they experienced along their longer, more treacherous route. The Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway is slowly becoming more history than highway, but is set to be re-vamped as a non-motorized, paved pathway. Whichever route you take, make sure to stop for the breathtaking waterfalls!

Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway

Hell’s Canyon in Oregon is the deepest canyon in North America and 131% deeper than Arizona’s “Grand” Canyon. Yes, there’s a scenic byway for it. Enjoy approximately five-and-a-half hours on Forest Road 3965, Oregon Highway 82, and Oregon Highway 86 marveling at Hell’s Canyon’s 7,993 feet below you and Wallowa Mountains’ over 9,800 feet above you. Of course, you know there are hiking options across those 193 miles (311 km) if you’re looking to stretch your legs; after all, this is the Pacific Northwest.

Hell’s Canyon

Olympic National Park

A simply astonishing area, the Olympic National Park includes the Olympic Mountains, Olympic National Forest, Hoh Rainforest, and the Olympic Hot Springs. The Olympic Peninsula Loop brings you all of this plus Pacific Ocean Beaches. If that’s not scenic, I don’t what is. So go check out the 329 miles (530 km) across US Highways 101 (yes, it extends beyond Oregon) and 12, as well as Washington Highway 8 up in the Olympic Peninsula. In comparison to today’s fast-paced, over-connected, technological blur, everyone can benefit from an eight-hour roadtrip winding by beautiful sights largely untouched by man.

Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway

For those tired of shining oceans and wild rivers, make your way east, on US Highway 2 as well as Washington Highways 155 and 17, to the State of Washington’s desert side. The 151-mile (243-km) Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway travels along dry canyons, by austere landscapes, and through the Colville Indian Reservation over the course of three-and-a-half hours. Check out the Grand Coulee Dam, which powers 75% of the Pacific Northwest.

Coulee Corridor

International Selkirk Loop

Why Selkirk? It loops the Selkirk Mountains. Why International? The loop not only passes through two states (Washington and Idaho), but two countries (U.S.A. and Canada). In fact, it is the only scenic drive in North America to cross a national border. The eight hours over 285 miles (460 km) will not only provide vistas of the Selkirk Mountains, but also of lakes, rivers, and wildlife, while passing through charming towns. Don’t forget to pack your passports!

Island Drives

Why settle for a scenic roadtrip of one island when you can easily double up? Take the ferry to the southern tip of Whidbey Island. From here, use Washington Highways 20 and 525 to take in the views along this narrow island over the next hour before you reach Deception Pass. Stop at Washington’s most visited state park to snap some photos, then continue along the bridge (don’t look down!). Make your way to Anacortes to catch another ferry to Orcas Island. Take another hour here to soak in the island-life and drive your way to the San Juan Islands’ highest peak: Mount Constitution.

Deception Pass

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