USA west coast road trip
Replies: 17 - Last Post: Apr 16, 2013 3:58 AM Last Post By: busyboo
Dec 21, 2012 4:56 AM
USA west coast road tripHi all
My partner and I are thinking of a road trip starting at Seattle and ending at San Francisco - a road trip we have been dreaming of for quite a while. We're thinking of 3-4 weeks on September-October 2013. We'd probably rent a car and we would like to go on scenic roads, do some short hiking, visit quaint seaside towns and of course the wonderful natural parks on the way.
We were thinking about this itinerary:
Flying into Seattle.
The Olympic peninsula- I can't wait to see the rain forests...
Columbia river gorge loop.
Oregon coast highway.
Pacific coast highway.
Maybe go down to Carmel by the sea and Yosemite park.
Is September - October a good time to go? Will we see the fall changes?
Is it doable in 3-4 weeks as we want to take it easy and not drive all day?
Do you have any other places we should visit on the way?
How many days should we take for the Olympic peninsula?
Dec 21, 2012 6:25 AM
1First, I'll just poiint out two things:
1) Despite what guidebooks tell you, it's not called the "Pacific Coast Highway" north of L.A.
2) The OR coast highway is part of it.
Mount St. Helens.
Dec 21, 2012 7:05 AM
2Very doable. Good time of year. Like stated above, not a lot of autumn color on that route, but some. Portland, OR is an urban highlight. Mattole Valley and Lost Coast area south of Eureka, CA is also gorgeous. Point Reyes National Seashore north of SF is worth time. If you like wine, Healdsburg is a great Napa alternative. Though you could do Napa also! Have fun!
Dec 21, 2012 7:10 AM
3Also I recommend coming inland on the 101 in Mendocino County (you actually have to since there is no road on the lost coast), but stay inland on 101 through Mendo and return to coast in Sonoma or Marin County for Point Reyes and Tomales Bay.
Dec 21, 2012 8:12 AM
4I have driven the entire route along the Pacific Coast from Big Sur to Neah Bay Indian Reservation, Washington -- I saw a bald eagle hunting for fish overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is a beautiful drive. I have also driven from Vancouver, Canada, along Interstate-5 through Bellingham, Washington, and Seattle southward to San Francisco. Bellingham is the port from which the Alaska ferries leave to journey north along the Inside Passage to Skagway, Alaska. Bellingham is also a quaint university town. I have briefly stopped in Seattle at their Pier and also during a airline stopover, but I have not explored the area extensibly.
I love the ocean, and the views along the coastline are spectacular in some places. I drove Highways #113 and #101 through Washington and did detour to see Quinault, but it was January/winter, and not many sites were open. I did not see the Olympic National Park. Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River, looked bleak as I drove past. You will notice that there are many logging towns in Washington and Oregon. If you use the Rand McNally Road Atlas you will see that there are many state parks and campgrounds along the Oregon coast as you drive Highway #101. I remember Coos Bay as being a logging town. The Rogue River area north of the California border is beautiful. The redwood groves start just after you cross the California border at Redwood National Park. You may save money if you have the annual National Park Pass that covers entrance fees at all national parks throughout the USA. I remember Crescent City as foggy. In Leggett, Highway #1 splits off from Highway #101 and turns west to the coast through dense forests.
I recommend that you stop at Jughandle Creek State Park Pygmy Forest, just north of the village of Mendocino. Leached acid from Labrador tea plants has calcified the soil creating a calcareous layer impenetrable to roots, stunting the trees. Many roses and rhododendrons plus insect-eating plants in marshy areas. I also recommend that you spend one night in the village of Mendocino, used as a backdrop for Murder She Wrote TV show depicting a Maine whaling town. If the whales are migrating southward from Alaska while you are there, you may watch them from the rock promontory. Inland in Mendocino County is the renowned Alexander Valley, known for its wines.
Guerneville, near the mouth of the Russian River on Highway #116, just a few miles detour from Highway #1, is an artistic community. You may take a detour through a grove of redwoods to Occidental, then through a beautiful farm area back west to Highway #1 at Bodega Bay. Or, you may switch to Highway #12 east past Santa Rosa and then through the wine country of Sonoma and Napa Counties. Otherwise, return to Jenner, at the mouth of the Russian River on Highway #1, then turn south along the ocean cliffside with sheep farms opposite the ocean. Bodega Bay has a nice wharfside shop/restaurant where you may purchase fresh Dungeness crabs. I saw a flock of Brandt geese wintering over in the Bay plus an osprey caught a large fish that it had difficulty lifting upward to its perch on a treetop. Hitchcock's movie The Birds was filmed nearby. As you drive along this route, you will see many types of hawks perched on telephone poles or swooping down after mice or other morsels. You may also see turkey vultures.
Point Reyes Station is a farm village with a feed store and plant nursery. Skywalker Ranch film studio is nearby along Lucas Valley Road. If you like oysters, there is a detour west from Point Reyes Station to Inverness and Tomales Bay. There are oyster farms along Tomales Bay.
Next south along Highway #1 is Point Reyes National Seashore, with campgrounds and paths down to the beach. There is also a lighthouse hostel there. At the north end of Bolinas Lagoon is a narrow road, usually unmarked, leading to the Bohemian village of Bolinas. It is beautiful overlooking the ocean. There are also many architecturally beautiful homes and ranch houses. Point Reyes Bird Observatory is nearby and you may stop there to observe student ornithology interns capture small songbirds in mist nets and identify and band them in their laboratory.
Back at Highway #1, driving south to Stinson Beach, you may stroll along the beach. There was a popular restaurant near the beach parking area. I don't remember many motels in this area, but things may have changed since I was last there.
Next along the coast is Muir Woods redwood grove with many paths for walks. Then, Highway #1 takes you up over Mt. Tamalpais past Mill Valley to Highway #101 and Sausalito. I love Sausalito. It is also an art colony and has a marina with houseboats and yachts -- the yacht club for the area is in neighboring Tiboron. It is located in a protected inlet next to Marin Headlands State Park and the Golden Gate Bridge -- if it is foggy in San Francisco, it is usually sunny in Sausalito. Great seafood restaurants on the wharf. A nice promenade along the waterfront from which you may see the skyline of San Francisco across the Bay.
There is a ferry from Sausalito to downtown San Francisco for people wanting a day trip or for commuters. Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and you arrive near the Presidio area of San Francisco. There are many postings on this Thorntree forum about sites to see in San Francisco.
You have a choice of driving south from San Francisco through Silicon Valley and then over the Coast Mountains to Santa Cruz, which is along Highway #1. Or, you may pick up Highway #1 at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and drive south to Daly City and through Pacifica and then Santa Cruz to Monterey and Big Sur. If San Francisco is foggy, the drive through Pacifica will also be very foggy, so it would be recommended to take the inland route through Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz. There are redwood groves in Santa Cruz and campgrounds along the coast. Big Sur also has redwoods and campgrounds. There are many options for accommodations.
Dec 21, 2012 4:14 PM
5I also suggest Mt Rainier NP as you drive to Portland. After the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River, I would then suggest as an alternative go south past Mt Hood, Bend, and to Crater Lake NP (wonderful), and then head to the coast at Crescent City in northern California, and then essentially stay on the coast from there through Mendocino and all the way to San Francisco.
Just outside Crescent City is the Stout Grove, in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It was the best concentrated stand of coastal redwoods we saw on our trip (although other state parks are also excellent, including Humboldt Redwoods SP).
And southeast of Mt Hood (in east-central Oregon) there is the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument - not for everyone, but we really liked it - dry country moonscapes and great rock formations - unlike anything else you will see along your coastal trip.
Dec 21, 2012 4:37 PM
6Weatherwise, in Washington state (and northern Oregon), likelihood of rainy weather gradually increases through September and October, from fairly unlikely in early September (except for the annual Labor Day Low Pressure Area) to somewhat likely at the end of October.
As noted by bzookaj, the predominant forest type in western Washington/Oregon is evergreen. However, there is some fall color. Timing varies from year to year, but ... Around later September, many of the bushes in the high country turn red - particularly brilliant when backlit. Then, around early-to-mid October, the deciduous vegetation along forest edges, river bottoms, and in avalanche chutes turns color (much of it yellow, but with some reds from Vine Maple). My feeling is that the fall color is better in the Cascades and the east-side Olympics than on the west- or north-side Olympics, but this is probably debatable. In any case, it is particularly good at places in Mt. Rainier National Park, Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and the North Cascades National Park area.
Excellent short hikes at Hurricane Ridge, the Hoh Valley, and around Mora on the coast.
Dec 22, 2012 12:02 AM
7Wow! Thanks for all your great advice! I believe that we will do Olympic and Oregon in the second half of September trying to avoid too much heavy showers, and then spend early October in CA. Sounds good?
Actually we were planning to do crater lake as well - I simply forgot to put it in. Thanks for reminding me. : )
Oh, and we'd probably visit Portland as well...
Since we're going down the coastal road - is big sur and its surroundings a must? What I'm asking is since we would like to diversify our trip as much as possible in terms of scenery and our time is limited - should we stop at SF or keep going down and then back up to fly out home?
No doubt I will need to do a bit more home work on CA...
Whale watching is something I have to do - any suggestions on places and best time of year?
By the way, a bit of extreme sports would be awesome too. We're planning to do some rafting near Portland and am currently looking for good places to some paragliding - any advice?
Thanks so much,
Dec 22, 2012 4:54 AM
8Big Sur is a must see. Año Nuevo State Park with elephant seals is north of Santa Cruz, so you would miss it if you drive directly to Santa Cruz bypassing Pacifica.
From San Francisco, you could drive 4 hours directly to Yosemite Valley, then drive west to Monterey/Carmel and Big Sur, then drive north along the Pacific Coast back to San Francisco. You would need advance reservations for accommodations in Yosemite Valley.
If the weather is clear in San Francisco when you first arrive, spend time there. It may be foggy in October.
Edited by: trekker502
Dec 22, 2012 6:22 AM
Jan 9, 2013 1:40 AM
10It seems like others have a better handle on the bigger stuff, but I have one suggestion. If you're passing near Olympia on a crystal clear day, to the southwest of Olympia is Capitol Forest, and in the center of it is Capitol Peak. It's a good ways out of the way on dirt roads, but once you get to where you have to park (in a clearing), it's a short half-mile up to the top, and (again, if it's clear) from there you can see the entire I-5 valley from BC to Portland. If you have binoculars or a scope, you can see Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and the whole Puget Sound. It may take a whole afternoon, but it's the most scenic view I've seen, and you're only 3400 feet up. (If you do go, you'll want to wander past the buildings on the top until you start down the eastern slope so you can get the unobstructed view.) Not necessarily a must-see, but if it's clear, you can get a great view with no disturbance. (I was alone for over an hour there with hardly a sound of civilization.)
Jan 9, 2013 4:50 AM
Jan 14, 2013 12:21 AM
12Great suggestions you guys! Thanks so much : )
I have another quick question - a colleague of mine heard that we were planning on this trip and she said we would be probably driving most of the time and that we might consider taking a flight out of Portland to SF, saving us the drive all the way down - That way we could concentrate on the SF-LA area (route 1, and maybe hang out for a few days at Yosemite) - I must say I was kind of surprised when she said there was not too much to see on the way down from Portland to SF!
She's been to the area a couple of times and what she said kind of took me off track...
Jan 14, 2013 3:58 PM
13If you were trying to do this in 2 weeks, I'd be inclined to agree with your friend.
With 3 or 4 weeks, not so much. The Oregon Coast (to me, especially the southern half) and the Coast Redwoods area from Crescent City (and surrounding) to Leggett are very worthwhile - somehow, to me, Muir Woods in the SF area, while very nice, isn't an adequate substitute for that more northerly area.
If you were taking the fast route from Portland to SF (namely I-5), I would come much closer to agreeing there isn't much (other than the Mt. Shasta driveby) to see.
Jan 15, 2013 2:41 AM
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