Pacific Northwest Grand Tour
- 4 Weeks
Just want to hit the highlights? Vancouver boasts wonderful parks, ethnic attractions and cool neighborhoods. Further south, on Vancouver Island, is charming and picture-perfect Victoria. If it's winter, hit the world-class slopes of Whistler.
Bustling Seattle offers myriad attractions, a unique skyline and great cuisine. Now head north to the beautiful San Juan Islands, such as woodsy Orcas Island – you can bike around or just relax. Back on the mainland, Olympic National Park is the jewel of the Olympic Peninsula, boasting a unique rain-forest ecosystem. For more of the state's gorgeous landscapes, Mt Rainier National Park is a must.
There's no escaping the attractions in Portland – from its landmark Powell's bookstore to its many microbreweries to tax-free (and hip) shopping. Just east are the grand vistas, hiking trails and waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. Nearby Mt Hood is unbeatable for camping, hiking and skiing. Much further south, Crater Lake National Park is a geologic wonder with supreme scenery. Finally, if you have time left over, there's the grandeur (and seafood cuisine) of the beautiful Oregon Coast.
- 2 Weeks
Washington's San Juans are an archipelago of hundreds of islands covering some 750 sq miles. Only about 60 are inhabited, and just four are accessible by public ferry. Three of these islands bring thousands of vacationers every year, but each has managed to keep a serene atmosphere and distinct character.
San Juan Island has the best tourist facilities, along with the archipelago's only sizable town, Friday Harbor. Lime Kiln Point State Park has prime whale-watching; in June, keep a lookout for killer or minke whales feasting on salmon runs. To the north is San Juan Island National Historical Park, with old British military facilities and earthwork fortifications and – on clear days – great mountain views.
The largest of the islands, Orcas Island is probably the most beautiful – and the poshest. It's dotted with fancy homes, and the lack of a central town gives it an exclusive neighborhood feel. Check out Moran State Park, which offers camping, fishing, hiking and mountain biking. Mt Constitution, the archipelago's highest point, is also here, featuring some of the finest views in Washington.
Lopez Island is the most peaceful island, with friendly locals and pastoral charm. Don't expect too many tourist services – agriculture and farming are the main focus. The mostly flat island is made for cycling, and there's little vehicular traffic.
A much larger island to explore is BC's Vancouver Island. Start in lovely Victoria, a cosmopolitan city with a variety of ethnic cultures, along with a touch of old Britain. Can't-miss attractions include the world-famous Butchart Gardens and high tea at the grand Fairmont Empress Hotel. Wine lovers and foodies should head to the Cowichan Valley, home to boutique wineries and organic farms. Further west is the coastal town of Tofino, where you can go kayaking and spot marine life including gray whales. Nearby is Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, with rainforest, crashing surf, islands to explore and amazing hiking. Finally, head to land's end at Cape Scott Provincial Park to explore pristine beaches; outdoor lovers have miles of challenging trails and backcountry camping opportunities.
Seattle & Washington
- 2 Weeks
The Pacific Northwest's largest city, Seattle has plenty going for it – a great location on the Puget Sound, myriad dynamic neighborhoods, interesting sights and attractions, lots of first-rate coffee and beer, and – looming over it all – the lofty peak of majestic Mt Rainier. Must-sees include Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, the Seattle Aquarium and the Space Needle, but there's plenty more to keep you busy.
Get out of town by hopping on a ferry to Bainbridge Island, then heading north to Port Townsend. With its Victorian architecture and location on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, this picturesque little town is a magnet for artists and eclectic personalities. From here you can take a bicycle on a ferry to the San Juan Islands, though if you want to drive you'll have to access them via Anacortes (more on this later). Work your way east along the Olympic Peninsula, perhaps stopping in Port Angeles for a quick day trip to Vancouver Island's pretty capital, Victoria.
Olympic National Park can't be missed. Its coastal strip includes 57 miles of remote beaches with pounding waves and wild scenery; visit Rialto Beach for amazing views. Inland, the Hoh Rain Forest is a prime destination with its famous Hall of Moss Trail. Now head further south to Lake Quinault, a gorgeous glacier-fed lake boasting a historic grand lodge. This is the place to go fishing, boating or swimming. Then pack it up and drive to Olympia, Washington's lively capital that's full of music culture.
If you like volcanoes, Mt St Helens should be on your itinerary; she blew her top in 1980, losing 1314ft of elevation. Not to be outclassed, Mt Rainier is another can't-miss geologic landmark. Hope for good weather and go hiking among glaciers, alpine meadows and old-growth forests in Mt Rainier National Park.
Looping back to I-5, drive up to Anacortes and take a ferry to the beautiful San Juan Islands. There are three distinct main islands to explore. San Juan Island has undulating hills and a scenic west coast where you can spot whales; upscale Orcas Island claims the area's highest peak; and Lopez Island is flat, laid-back and great for cycling.
Portland & Oregon Loop
- 2 Weeks
Start your Oregon adventure in Portland, well known for its roses, bridges, beer and progressive politics. Be sure to visit downtown's landmarks and the Pearl District's boutiques; Powell's City of Books is one of the world's largest independent bookstores. Over on the east side of the Willamette River are several distinct and fun neighborhoods including Hawthorne, Mississippi and Alberta. Take frequent breaks in the city's excellent coffee shops or microbreweries.
Now drive west towards the coast to Astoria, the first permanent US settlement in the west. Today it's a pleasant port city with a restored downtown, historic museums and Victorian houses. Further south are plenty of beach resorts, fishing towns, state parks and scenic promontories that jut out to sea. If it's summer and you like to camp, there are endless opportunities along the Oregon coast. Just south of Florence is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in the US.
Heading inland, you'll soon hit Eugene, a liberal and fun-loving city famous for founding Nike and putting out track-and-field champions. Drive further south on mountainous Rte 58 to Crater Lake, Oregon's only national park, offering supreme views of an old volcanic caldera; the water here – fed only by rain and snow – is some of the clearest and purest in the world. Going north on Rte 97 will bring you to Bend, a city tailor-made for outdoor lovers. Nearby you can go hiking, skiing, fishing, golfing, biking, kayaking, rafting and rock climbing.
Driving north you'll branch off onto Rte 26, ending at Mt Hood, the state's highest peak at 11,240ft. While summiting the volcanic cone is only for hardy mountaineers, there are countless beautiful hikes on Mt Hood's flanks, along with plenty of campgrounds. Be sure to stop in for a drink (or meal) at the historic Timberline Lodge. Now head north again on Rte 35 and you'll come to the Columbia River Gorge. Cruise through this amazing geologic feature, stopping for lovely waterfalls and hikes along the way, and you'll eventually finish your loop back where you started – Portland.