10 Spectacular Weekend Trips from Portland: A Complete Guide
As you’ll find plastered all over this website, one of the things we love about living in Portland is the fact that, within 90 minutes, you can either be on the beach at the Pacific Ocean, or at the base of the highest peak in Oregon. What we don’t often say is that when you expand that
In this guide, we’re going to take you through our view on the best weekend trips from Portland. We’ll start with closer in weekend getaways and work our way outwards, expanding the view to places in Washington State. For each, we’ll give you our take on what makes that destination special, take you through our favorite things to do and see, and give you a starting point in terms of where to stay.
Our intention here is that, by the end of this guide, you’ll have discovered a new weekend getaway from Portland to start planning, and you’ll have a solid starting point for planning your trip.
Sound good? Let’s get into the 10 best weekend getaways from Portland.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
The Best Weekend Getaways from Portland: 10 Epic Weekend Trip Destinations
Let’s get straight into the amazing weekend trips we’ve chosen for this guide.
Is this an exhaustive list of every possible place you could go? Absolutely not. Instead, we’ve narrowed it down to 10 places that we love, and think you will too. Rather than giving more destinations, we’ve made the decision to go deeper on the ones we’re including.
As we explore more of the amazing places to visit in Oregon, we’ll revise this list and add those places (the Painted Hills are next up on our list).
Matt grew up in Seattle, and has a deep appreciation for Mount Rainier because of its role as the barometer of a nice day in Seattle. Oh, you can see Mount Rainier from the city? It’s a good day!
In many ways, Mount Hood plays the same role for Portland. It’s the reminder that, even if you’re doing something mundane at that particular moment, adventure is out there waiting for you (and it’s just 90 minutes from your front door!).
If you didn’t already notice based on those first few sentences, Mount Hood is our favorite of the outdoor playgrounds near Portland in every season, and we find ourselves up there at least once in every season.
In the summer, it’s a dazzling display of wildflowers, alpine lakes, and unobstructed views of Mount Hood’s snowy peak.
In the winter and early spring, it’s a wonderland of snowy meadows begging for you to strap on a pair of snowshoes and approachable ski resorts.
Getting to Mount Hood
As we constantly write, one of our favorite parts about living in Portland is the fact that both the coast and the mountains are a 90 minute drive from our front door.
It couldn’t be easier to get to Mount Hood from Portland – you can hop on 26 heading east and follow it all the way up to Government Camp, which is the home base for exploring Hood on the south side of the mountain.
Some of the hikes we’re about to recommend are on the eastern flank of Mount Hood, so you might want to consider doing them on your way in or out, and taking Highway 35 through Hood River to connect with I-84 rather than driving all the way back around the mountain on Highway 26.
What to Do at Mount Hood
We’re going to focus on visiting in the summer, which is our favorite time to visit Hood for more than a day trip to go skiing (Mount Hood Meadows is our favorite ski resort up there, for what it’s worth).
In the summer, it’s all wildflower meadows, crystal clear lakes, and views of Mount Hood around every bend in the hiking trail. Here are some of our favorite things to do up at Mount Hood, most of which are hikes.
P.S. For more hikes, head over to read our more in-depth guide to hiking at Mount Hood.
McNeil Point: Both the best hike at Mount Hood (in our opinion, anyway) and also the hardest outside of the Timberline Trail. This hike starts with one of the best views in the state from Bald Mountain, and continues up to a ridge where you’re so close to the face of Mount Hood that you can almost reach out and touch it. It’s hard, so don’t underestimate the climbing. But we think the payoff is well worth it.
Tamanawas Falls: A much more relaxing hike than the first one, Tamanawas Falls quickly became one of our favorites after we hiked it for the first time last summer. It’s relatively easy, and the payoff at the end is one of the best waterfalls in Oregon, we think. Two things to know are that it’s on the eastern side of Hood, so it’s a 30 minute drive from Government Camp, and the parking situation can be a nightmare, so get there early.
Umbrella and Sahale Falls Loop: Another hike that we discovered last summer that is less crowded and equally beautiful. This hike starts from the parking lot at Mount Hood Meadows, and goes on a little journey past two waterfalls (though you can barely see the second, Sahalie, from the trail – drive here after the hike for a better views) and across the ski slopes that are blooming with wildflowers in the summer.
Ramona Falls: Another great waterfall hike! This is a relatively straightforward hike through the woods at the base of Mount Hood, except for the unmaintained river crossing, which can be a pain in the summer (and we wouldn’t take our dog, for what it’s worth). If you make it across the river, the reward is a 100 foot tall waterfall that feels as wide as it is tall as it cascades down the rock face above you. It’s a different style of waterfall than most in the Gorge or around Hood, which is fun.
Where to Stay near Mount Hood
The first thing we want to talk about is the historic Timberline Lodge.
We recently stayed there for a night over the winter as part of a ski-and-stay package, and it was magical in the winter. It’s warm and cozy, the wood framing of the lodge is incredible, and the fact that you can ski in and out of the lodge is a huge plus. Rooms are small, but that’s kind of to be expected at a place built so long ago.
However, we don’t think it would have the same allure in the summer, and we’d opt to stay elsewhere. We would definitely recommend a visit to check out the interior of the lodge, especially if you’re doing one of the hikes nearby.
The best place to stay for a weekend trip to Mount Hood is going to be somewhere near the town of Government Camp, which puts you as central as possible for both the hikes in the area and the amenities in town.
Unfortunately, there really aren’t that many hotel options here other than the Best Western right in town, so your best bet is a cabin in the woods near the small town of Rhododendron (which is 10-15 minutes away from Government Camp).
This cozy little cabin caught our eye for couples, and this more spacious riverfront house would be a good option for families or groups.
If you’re up for camping, we love camping at Trillium Lake in the summer, where you can walk from your campsite to what might be the best view in the entire state with Mount Hood reflected in the glassy (except when it’s raining, which is always) water of the lake. Information on camping here – it’s competitive, so book early!
Bend absolutely belongs on any list of the best weekend getaways from Portland because it offers something a little different than most of the places on this list so far, but not TOO different – it shares some of the attributes we love about Portland, like a thriving small business-focused scene and world-class wilderness within an hour or so of the city.
The different piece comes from the landscape. Bend sits in the eastern foothills of the Cascades right on the divide between the wetter, greener landscapes of western Oregon, and the high desert of central and eastern Oregon.
Smith Rock is a great example of the types of landscapes that call the high desert home, with giant rock formations that feel like they belong somewhere in Utah, not within a few hours of Portland.
Overall, we really like Bend, though it has become more expensive and developed over the past several years, losing a part of the small town charm that attracted Portlanders (a portion of whom have moved to Bend at some point recently).
A weekend trip to Bend, at least for us, should include some kind of hike or bike ride in the morning, beers in the evening, and plenty of time soaking up that central Oregon sun in between.
Getting to Bend
The most direct way to get to Bend from Portland is to take Highway 26 east, skirting the southern side of Mount Hood to get over to Highway 97, which you can follow south into Bend. It’s a 163 mile journey, which will take you somewhere between three and four hours.
It’s worth noting that this route takes you past Smith Rock State Park, which makes for a good detour either on the way in or out of town.
There are a couple of alternate routes to consider, but the only one we’d really go for is the route along Highway 22 past Detroit Lake. For that route, you’ll head down I-5 to Salem and head east on 22. This route takes you through the heart of the Three Sisters Wilderness (including the town of Sisters), and is a more pleasant drive, we think.
What to Do in Bend
Here are our favorite activities in and around Bend, in no particular order.
The Deschutes River: Like many towns in Oregon, Bend is built around the Deschutes River, which snakes its way right through the middle of town. There are a few ways to experience the river, though we’re partial to either floating the river in the summer (wear plenty of sunscreen!) or hiking along the river, either on the nice trail from Riley Ranch, or hiking some portion of the Deschutes River Trail (why not both?).
Hiking in Deschutes National Forest: Deschutes National Forest is west of Bend, and the road there takes you back into the mountains you crossed to get here from Portland. This small slice of paradise is home to not only the best skiing in Oregon at Mount Bachelor, but also some of the best hikes in Oregon and the best lakes in the state. Two of our favorite places in the state are within a few miles of each other. First is the Green Lakes Trail, which takes you along a waterfall-laden creek to a set of crystal clear lakes nestled between the South Sister and Broken Top, two of Oregon’s iconic peaks. Second is Sparks Lake, which is where the header image on our home page was taken and is the place to go for sunrise or sunset, with perfect reflections of the aforementioned peaks in the glassy surface of the lake.
Pilot Butte: A nice, easy hike right in the middle of town takes you up to the top of Pilot Butte, a centuries-old cinder cone, where you’ll be treated to a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape and a nice compass that tells you what peaks you’re looking at, and how tall they are. It’s exposed, so get an early start and wear sunscreen.
Drink Beer: Beer is the drink of choice in Bend, and it’s home to a bunch of the best breweries in Oregon, including what is probably the OG craft brewery in the state, Deschutes Brewing. There are an unlimited number of options, so we’ll give you two of our favorites. Silver Moon for their trivia nights, which are a blast. Crux Fermentation Project for their beautiful taproom and outdoor space, which is the perfect place for a post-hike beer.
Smith Rock State Park: As I mentioned above, Smith Rock State Park and its rocky landscape looks like it belongs somewhere in the southwest. However, this little slice of the high desert is a great, accessible example of Oregon’s diverse set of landscapes. This is a climbing mecca, and if you hike the Misery Ridge Trail – the best hike in the park (here’s a shorter version) – you’ll likely see climbers on Monkey Face, the most noteworthy rock formation in the park.
Where to Stay in Bend
Bend itself is relatively compact, so no matter where you stay you’ll be within 15 minutes or so of just about anything in town.
If you’re okay being a little ways outside of town and are planning on hiking out in Deschutes National Forest, stay at LOGE Bend. We’ve stayed at LOGE locations before across the Pacific Northwest, and have liked them. They’re catering towards a young, outdoorsy crowd, so expect touches like hammocks in the rooms, gear rentals, and tons of outdoor space.
If you want to be more in the heart of town, stay within walking distance of Drake Park. We’ve booked a stay at Wall Street Suites (we have a dog and wanted a kitchen) just north of the park along the river, though we had to cancel that trip and can’t wait to get out there again. The Campfire Hotel is another solid option that is a 10 minute walk from the action.
Hood River is Portland’s other adventure destination (assuming the first is Mount Hood). Hood River sits at the border between the wetter, cooler Cascades and the warmer, drier high desert of eastern Oregon.
It’s world-renowned for its water sports – particularly windsurfing thanks to the wind whipping through the Gorge – and is a lovely little town with plenty of breweries and wineries.
In addition to being a nice place to spend a weekend, Hood River’s central location means you’ve got great access to the waterfalls and other hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, the eastern flank of Mount Hood (where you’ll find great hikes in the summer, and great skiing in the winter at Mount Hood Meadows), and more.
Hood River makes for both an excellent day trip from Portland, but we’ve also done a couple of weekend stays out there over the past couple of years and it allows for a little more time to enjoy the warmer, drier weather, outdoor activities, and the Hood River Valley.
Getting to Hood River
This is an easy one! Follow I-84 east for just a hair over 60 miles and you’ll find yourself in Hood River.
There are also a couple of bus routes connecting Hood River and Portland, leaving from the Gateway Transit Center and taking you out to Hood River in just over an hour.
It’s a good option if you’re carless, but you’re going to want to make sure to stay downtown if you don’t have a car and you’ll be limited in what you can do and see.
What to Do in Hood River
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Hood River, in no particular order.
Drive the Fruit Loop: The Hood River Valley, which sits directly south of Hood River at the base of Mount Hood, is one of the most fertile areas in all of Oregon. You’re sure to notice all the apples, pears, cherries, and stone fruits growing if you’re visiting in the summer. Combined with the excellent views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams from various points in the valley, this is a great way to spend half a day or so. Head south out of town and head to Panorama Point (here on Google Maps), a great sunrise / sunset spot with a nice view of Mount Hood across the valley. Then continue south to Draper Girls, a farm with u-pick fruit in the summer (cherries are sometime in August, depending on the year). On your way back, hit the Gorge White House, which is a fun place to get out, walk through the fruit trees, and enjoy a warm day on their patio.
Wine Tasting near Hood River: While it’s not as prestigious as the Willamette Valley, the area around Hood River is a productive wine region. Despite their proximity to one another, the wines out here are different thanks to the different climate and higher elevations (particularly on the Washington side of the Gorge). We love driving over to the Washington side, where you’ll find Loop de Loop Wines (our favorite tasting experience in the Gorge) and Le Doubblé Troubblé, which is right in the town of White Salmon. There are quite a few other wineries on either side of the river, including a couple of spots in the town of Hood River itself. While it’s not a winery, we really enjoy Hood River Common House, a bar with a great wine, beer, and cider selection right in the middle of all the action in Hood River.
Hiking near Hood River: There are a bunch of great hikes near Hood River, and basing yourself this far east in the Gorge means you’ll be closer to some of the hiking trails that are slightly further from Portland. We’re partial to Coyote Wall, which has amazing displays of wildflowers in the spring and early summer. Tamanawas Falls is another great hike up towards Mount Hood that we really enjoy. The last hike we’d recommend, which is a little further out but is worth the drive, is the Sleeping Beauty Trail. From the top of a steep ascent, you’ll be atop a rocky outcropping with an unobstructed view of Mount Adams and more distant views of other nearby peaks.
Rowena Crest & Tom McCall Preserve: Drive 20 minutes east along the Oregon side of the Gorge, most of it along the Historic Columbia River Highway, and you’ll find yourself in a very different landscape than the one closer to Portland. This section of the Gorge gets warmer, drier, and features far fewer waterfalls and far more rattlesnakes. The best stops to make along the way are Memaloose Hills, especially in May and June for the incredible display of wildflowers, Rowena Crest, where you’ll have a great view of a picture-perfect bend in the road, and Tom McCall Preserve, where the hike to McCall Point takes you onto the plateau perched above the Gorge.
Where to Stay in Hood River
You have two options when it comes to where to stay in Hood River – staying in the heart of the town of Hood River, or staying in a quieter location outside of town.
We prefer the latter option, and have found ourselves drawn to the Washington side of the river around the town of White Salmon on most of our recent weekend trips out to Hood River.
We loved our stay at Ruby June Inn, a tiny bed and breakfast run by a friendly husband and wife team. A locally-sourced breakfast – including gluten free options from a local bakery – is a delightful way to start the day, and it’s in a quiet location 10-15 minutes outside of Hood River. No dogs or kids allowed, but it’s a perfect weekend getaway for couples.
If you’re looking to have more space for yourself, there are a bunch of great vacation rentals near White Salmon too.
Your other option on the Washington side is the Society Hotel in Bingen, which has rooms and cabins and an onsite spa just across the river from Hood River.
On the Hood River side, we’d go for the Hood River Hotel, which is quite literally in the middle of all the action (which is what you’re going for on this side of the river, we think).
The Three Capes (Tillamook, Cape Kiwanda, and Cape Lookout)
The Three Capes Scenic Route is a coastal drive that takes you from Cape Meares, where you’ll find a cute little lighthouse (and we do mean little), down through Cape Lookout, which juts out into the ocean with great views up and down the coast, and down to Cape Kiwanda, a wide, sandy beach packed with surfers.
This is one of our favorite stretches of the Oregon Coast, with some great hikes, wide sandy beaches, and, of course, the very scenic capes that the route is named after.
There are plenty of things to do and see on this 24 mile stretch of coast to fill a weekend trip, though most people do it as a day trip from Portland or as part of their Oregon Coast road trip.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re talking about the combination of Tillamook and the Three Capes Scenic Route, which is a lovely drive from Cape Meares down past Cape Lookout, ending at Cape Kiwanda.
Getting to the Three Capes Scenic Route
Tillamook is about an hour south of Cannon Beach, which means it’s close enough that you could combine them on a longer weekend trip, but it’s worth a separate trip to dive into the different geography and geology that exists on the Three Capes Scenic Route.
To get to Tillamook from Portland, you’re going to take Highway 6 through Tillamook State Forest, which is a nice drive on a winding road through the forest. It will take you about an hour and a half, and you can expect less traffic on this route than you’ll get on the road out to Cannon Beach.
What to Do Near the Three Capes Scenic Route
Here are our favorite things to do, see, eat, and drink near Tillamook and along the Three Capes Scenic Route.
Tillamook Cheese Factory: If you live in Portland, you are almost certainly familiar with Tillamook cheese and/or ice cream, which is synonymous with the Pacific Northwest at this point. Their factory in Tillamook is a really fun pit stop, where you can learn about the cheesemaking process and, more importantly, buy and try their cheese and get a scoop of their ice cream (Alysha’s favorite is the chocolate peanut butter, with those thick ribbons of peanut butter). They make cheese curds that are both delicious and also only sold at the factory, so stock up!
Cape Meares: The furthest north of the Three Capes, this one is known for its small lighthouse (the smallest on the coast!). It’s also worth doing the short walk up to the Octopus Tree, and the view out over the coast nearby.
Cape Lookout: Our favorite of the three, the two main draws at Cape Lookout are the hike out on the cape, which is relatively easy and takes you out to the point where you can hear the sea lions frolicking on the rocks below, and the beach near the campground.
Cape Kiwanda: This is probably the most famous surfing spot on the northern Oregon Coast, and in the early morning you’ll find the waters full of surfers getting their fix in. The thing to do here is to hike up onto the sandy bluffs on the north side of the bay for great views back over Cape Kiwanda and also out to the north.
Hiking near Lincoln City: Two of our favorite hikes in Oregon – Cascade Head and God’s Thumb – are about 20 to 30 minutes south of Pacific City, and are worth the detour. Both offer excellent views of the coast with relatively low effort. Cascade Head takes you on a journey through the forest before emerging onto the bluffs over the ocean and climbing up to the top of the ridge, where the views get even better. God’s Thumb is a hike that takes you to a rock formation that pops out over the coast, with great views in both directions. Both hikes are worthwhile, though we’d give the slight edge to Cascade Head (plus, it’s closer to Pacific City).
Where to Stay Near the Three Capes Scenic Route
There are two places at either end of this stretch that would serve as a good home base for a weekend getaway: Tillamook (and around), and Pacific City.
They’re at either end of the route, and the latter has far more options in terms of hotels and vacation rentals, which makes it a better bet for most people.
We’ve personally stayed at Sheltered Nook, a collection of eclectic tiny houses just north of the town of Tillamook, and would definitely recommend it. They are self-contained and have full kitchens, which we appreciated.
We have also camped at Cape Lookout State Park, and would also recommend that if you’re up for camping and you’re visiting in the summer (it can be rainy in the winter and spring, which isn’t so much fun).
Cannon Beach is a funny little place. On one hand, the town of Cannon Beach itself is fairly meh. There are some cool shops, but the majority are very much geared for tourists (think candy stores and fine art galleries).
But the natural beauty that exists in Cannon Beach and in the state parks to the north and south of the town is pretty spectacular, and that’s what we think makes Cannon Beach special. One of the most iconic landscapes in the entire state is the looming form of Haystack Rock rising out of the ocean to tower over Cannon Beach.
Cannon Beach is the most popular town on the Oregon Coast, so you’re going to want to plan in advance if you’re coming on a weekend in the summer or fall. We’ve stayed in Cannon Beach in the winter and early spring and loved it. It can be wet and rainy, sure, but it’s far less crowded than the peak summer months.
Getting to Cannon Beach
The fastest way to get to Cannon Beach from Portland is to hop on Highway 26 heading west out of the city, and follow it through the Coast Range, the road rising and falling as it cuts through a dense forest. Then, all of a sudden, you’re on the coast!
This route gets extremely busy on summer weekends, especially going out there on Friday night or Saturday morning and coming back on Sunday afternoon. It is a relatively narrow road for the number of people that use it, so it can see some traffic at peak times.
It should take you about an hour and a half, covering just under 80 miles from Portland out to Cannon Beach.
What to Do in Cannon Beach
Here are a few of our favorite things to do and see in Cannon Beach.
Haystack Rock: It’s popular for a reason. While you’re in town, you should absolutely head out to Haystack Rock to see it in person. Go at low tide, if you can, which lets you get much closer to the base of the rock. Plus, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the puffin colony (it’s worth talking to the rangers who are around to learn about them, if you can). We’ve seen a pair of bald eagles raiding the puffin eggs and flying off while being attacked by the puffins. It was wild!
Public Coast Brewing Co: Great fish and chips and other pub food (with lots of gluten free options) and the best brewery in Cannon Beach. A perfect post-hike lunch stop.
Ecola State Park: The state park on the northern side of Cannon Beach is accessed by a tree-lined, windy road that takes you out to two parking lots. Our advice: park at the first parking lot if you can and hike first to Indian Beach and back (this is the best stretch of hiking in the park), then come back, have a picnic, and do the hike down to Crescent Beach. Indian Beach is also a great place to lounge in the sun on a sandy beach, but you’re going to want to get there early on warm summer weekends, because it’s popular and parking is very limited.
Oswald West State Park: For this state park on the southern side of Cannon Beach we think your approach should be similar to Ecola. Do one longer hike – either Cape Falcon (out to the tip of the cape on the north side of the cove) or Neahkahnie Mountain (switchbacks straight up, ending with a sweeping view out over the coast to the south) – then finish with the walk out to Short Sand Beach, a very popular surf spot that’s best at low tide.
Where to Stay in Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach has more infrastructure than most of the towns on the Oregon Coast (although it is still stretched on summer weekends as people flock to the coast to try to escape the heat in Portland), and it’s a fun little beach town.
Most of the places to stay are going to be within walking distance of the beach, which is great. We have personally stayed at the Inn at Haystack Rock multiple times, and while it’s not the newest or most modern place to stay, it is a great value and location (walking distance to the beach!).
But if you’re looking for a quieter vibe and don’t mind being further out, staying in one of the smaller towns bordering Cannon Beach is lovely (we’ve got our eyes on the new Drifthaven up in Gearheart, and we also like the charming town of Manzanita just south of Cannon Beach).
The Willamette Valley
I didn’t quite understand just how world class the wines coming out of the WIllamette Valley are until I found myself in Burgundy, France on a wine-focused trip in 2022. Just about every time I told someone in the wine industry in Burgundy that I was from Portland, Oregon, they immediately said something along the lines of “oh, the pinot noir from the Willamette Valley is quite good, no?”
Turns out, Burgundy and the Willamette Valley are something like sister wine regions. They’re at roughly the same latitude, and the main grape varieties – pinot noir and chardonnay – are the same.
The other thing I have since learned about wine from the Willamette Valley is that the chardonnay here is NOT like the outdated picture I had in my mind about what chardonnay tastes like. In my mind, every chardonnay was like the $10 bottle at Trader Joe’s that tastes similar to what I imagine getting smacked in the face with an oak tree tastes like.
So, when I declined a chardonnay at a tasting room in the valley, saying “I’m not a huge chardonnay fan because I don’t like the oaky, buttery thing,” the person said “oh, that’s not how we do it here.”
And that’s how I learned that not all chardonnay is a gross, oaky mess (no hate if that’s your thing, it’s just not mine).
All this is to say that there is some truly excellent wine coming out of the Willamette Valley, and a weekend is a good amount of time to spend to get a taste for it.
Getting to the Willamette Valley
The heart of the Willamette Valley is an easy ~45-60 minute drive from Portland, making it possibly the best reward:effort ratio for wine regions closest to major metropolitan areas.
If you’re out there for a weekend getaway from Portland, you’re going to want to bring a car – there’s no good way to get between Portland and Dundee or McMinnville.
However, once you’re in the valley, you might want to consider hiring a driver to drive so that your whole party can partake in tastings. Don’t drink and drive! If you’re not hiring a driver, consider Uber between wineries.
Otherwise, pick a designated driver. They can still do some wine tasting, just ask for a spit bucket at the tasting room, which they will gladly provide.
What to Do in the Willamette Valley
The Willamette Valley is a 150 mile long slice of land that basically runs from the Columbia River down to Eugene. Technically, Portland is part of the Willamette Valley.
But when we’re talking about the Willamette Valley as a Portland weekend getaway, we’re mostly referring to the area between McMinnville (or Dundee) on the north end, and Salem on the south end.
The two main towns – Dundee and McMinnville – are a good place to base yourself if you’re wanting the amenities of a city like restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and places to shop. If you’re wanting to immerse yourself in the rolling hills and endless vines of the Willamette Valley, then staying somewhere more rustic might be a better bet.
McMinnville is a charming little town, centered around Third Street, the main commercial strip. It’s lined with places to eat and drink and small shops to poke your head into.
We like Third Street Books for, uh, books, and always stop by Alchemist Jam for their incredible fruit preserves with innovative flavor combinations that you can get slathered on freshly baked bread at their location in McMinnville.
However, you’re really here for the wine, right? So let’s talk about wine.
Oregon wine country is relatively young both when you compare it to the “Old World” (France, Italy, etc) and when you compare it to other wine regions on the West Coast, particularly in California. Wine has only been grown in Oregon for less than a century!
I, Matt, was absolutely flabbergasted when I was in Burgundy – one of France’s most prestigious wine regions – and, after telling them I was from Portland, they commented on how much they love Willamette Valley wines. Turns out, the geography and climate are fairly similar, which is why the wines that come from the Willamette Valley are fairly similar to those in Burgundy.
Which is to say mostly chardonnay and pinot noir, the latter being the varietal that the Willamette Valley has become most famous for.
One thing to know about chardonnay here: it’s not the buttery, oaky chardonnay that you might find in California. That particular style, I learned in both Burgundy and the Willamette Valley, gives chardonnay a bad name. The chardonnay you’re likely to encounter here is light, bright, and fun!
Our advice for a weekend getaway to wine country would be to do somewhere between one to three tastings each day, and spend the rest of your time relaxing and enjoying the slower pace of life in the valley.
Here are a few places in the Valley that we love for wine, and think you will too.
Johan Vineyards: Our personal favorite of the many, many tasting rooms in the Willamette Valley. The tasting is a good value, and they generally have a few fun bottles open that they might let you taste. Their Jazzy Juice, a chillable red, and their pet-nats are our favorites of the wines they make.
Day Wines: They have a fun tasting room in Dundee where they have their low intervention wines for you to try, ranging from light whites and juicy rose to deep reds (from grapes grown in southern Oregon. Nothing pretentious here – they’re all very approachable and drinkable, even if you don’t know much about wine (that’s us!).
Domaine Drouhin: Started by a winemaker from Burgundy, this is the place to go for a tasting that compares wine from the Willamette Valley and wine from Burgundy side by side, which is a fun way to do it.
Art + Science: Our favorite cider in the Willamette Valley! They make low-intervention wine, cider, and co-ferments of grapes and apples/pears that are delightful if you’re into bone dry cider. They have a tiny tasting shack in the middle of their orchard, and it’s only open on weekends in the summertime when they have events and live music.
Where to Stay in the Willamette Valley
Your best bet in terms of where to stay is going to be either Dundee or McMinnville, which are the cities that have the best selection of hotels and vacation rentals, and serve as a good home base for exploring the valley.
In Dundee, the main hotel in town is the creatively-named Dundee Hotel, a nice upscale hotel right in town that is walkable to a few great tasting rooms (namely, Day Wines).
If you’re looking for a fun, unique place to stay, look at the Vintages, which is in Dayton (roughly halfway between Dundee and McMinnville). It’s a huge collection of vintage travel trailers of all kinds, and it’s VERY hip and VERY cool.
In McMinnville, which is the biggest city in the area, you have multiple options. The Atticus Hotel is right off of the main drag, and is the best (and coolest) hotel in town. The McMenamins Hotel is right around the corner, and offers a more budget-friendly experience. The Boutique Retreat is a relatively new tiny house hotel right in the heart of McMinnville, and looks like a very fun place to stay with rooms that have kitchens.
Crater Lake National Park
Over the past few years, we’re extremely lucky to have been to multiple places that make you consider what it must have been like to experience that place without any expectations.
Today, thanks in part to the internet and, before the internet was prevalent, travel books and travel photography, we generally have some idea of what to expect whenever we’re visiting a place.
We’ve seen countless beautiful photos of just about any place we’re going, and there are some places (like the Grand Canyon, for example) where we wish we could experience the pure euphoria of seeing something so majestic without the burden of expectations.
Crater Lake National Park is one of those places.
As we were circumnavigating the rim road, we talked about what it must have been like to be climbing through the forest and emerge onto the rim, accidentally stumbling across Crater Lake and seeing the massive caldera with stunning sapphire-colored water stretching out in front of you.
To be completely frank, Crater Lake National Park isn’t our favorite national park in the Pacific Northwest because it’s relatively small and limited in what you can do and see (which is why it makes a great 2-3 day weekend trip).
However, we do think it is certainly worth visiting once, and it’s the only national park in Oregon!
Getting to Crater Lake National Park
The biggest problem with Crater Lake is that it’s not really close to anything (which also presents a dilemma when it comes to where to stay, which we’ll get to below). The closest major city is Bend, and that’s assuming you can call Bend a major city, which we’re not so sure about.
Even from Bend, it’s still a two hour drive to the main visitor center at Crater Lake (Rim Village on the south rim).
To get to Crater Lake from Portland, our favorite route is to head south on I-5 to Roseburg, and then cut over on Highway 138, stopping at Toketee Falls and Diamond Lake en route to Crater
Lake. This drops you on the northern rim of the lake, and you can head around the western rim to get to the visitor center.
From Portland to the south rim of Crater Lake, it’s going to be a five hour drive. It’s a long one, but we’d say the sapphire blue water of Crater Lake will wash away your fatigue and exasperation of driving when you emerge onto the rim and get your first glimpse of the lake.
Part of the reason we wouldn’t recommend visiting outside the summer and fall has to do with road closures. If you visit in the winter and spring, you’re likely going to have to drive allll the way around to enter through the south entrance, which adds some time to the already long drive.
Plus, in the winter and spring, the eastern half of the rim road is closed, which makes it hard to access the best hike in the park (Mount Scott).
What to Do in Crater Lake National Park
To be honest, you probably only need a maximum of three days in Crater Lake National Park, which makes it an excellent weekend trip from Portland. Here’s what we think you should do in the park.
Hike to the highest point in the park: The highest accessible point in the park is Mount Scott, where you’ll find an old fire lookout perched on a ridge with excellent views of both Crater Lake and the surrounding landscape. This hike is very, very exposed – there’s essentially zero shade from start to finish – so bring water and sunscreen. It’s a moderate hike (4.2 miles / 1,200 feet elevation) and the views make the climb worth it, we think.
Hike to the lakefront: We like combining the hike to the top of Mount Scott with the hike down to the lakefront at Cleetwood Cove, which gives you two different perspectives in one day. One from the highest point, and one from the lowest point (aka the lakefront). This is also a moderate hike (2.0 miles / 600 feet elevation gain), and it’s truly straight up and straight down from the parking lot. But taking a dip in the crystal clear water of the lake makes it well worth the effort.
Catch a sunset over the lake: The way that the sun sets over the western rim of the lake, bringing a brilliant orange glow over the walls of the crater, is nothing short of magical. Witnessing a sunset for yourself should be one of the major pieces of your Crater Lake National Park itinerary. Ideally, you’ll hike up to Garfield Peak, which is on the southern rim and gives you a panoramic view of the lake, including the setting sun and the opposite rim where you’ll get that sweet orange glow. Alternatively, you can hike up to Watchman Peak on the western rim, but the sunset will be behind you (this is a better sunrise spot, we think). For a nice view without a hike, head to this overlook, where we caught a beautiful sunset on our last trip.
Drive the entirety of the rim road around the lake: The drive around the lake is a must-do, especially if you’re able to do it either early in the morning (pre-9am) when there are far, far fewer cars on the road. Seeing the lake from different angles and with different lighting is amazing, and it’s fun to see the water go from sapphire blue to crystal clear and bright blue depending on what angle you’re seeing it from.
Where to Stay at Crater Lake National Park
Like we mentioned above, the remoteness of Crater Lake National Park also presents a problem when it comes to where to stay. The closest towns are either Klamath Falls or Bend, neither of which are particularly convenient.
The answer here, friends, is to stay inside the park when you’re visiting Crater Lake.
There’s a big campground at Crater Lake (Mazama Campground) that is open from June to September, and that’s by far the best option if you’re up for camping. It’s very competitive, make reservations as far in advance as possible (six months, at the time of writing).
If that campground is full already, we have two options for you. First, continue checking every day for cancellations. Seriously. This is how we get most of our national park campground reservations if we can’t make it on the website at 8am on the day that sites go on sale.
Second, camp just outside the park at Diamond Lake (there are multiple campgrounds around the lake), which puts you 45 minutes from the visitor center on the south rim.
The best options if you’re not into the idea of camping are to stay either at the cabins at Mazama Village ($$), or at the historic Crater Lake Lodge ($$$), which is right on the south rim of the lake. Neither are cheap, but they sure are convenient.
This section is going to seem a little biased, and that’s because Matt grew up there and still loves the Emerald City (don’t worry, I’ve adopted the Timbers and root for them over the Sounders!).
Seattle is a city that has gone through significant shifts and changes over the past decade or so with the rise of Amazon (though Seattle’s history is just one big sequence of major shifts), which is headquartered in Seattle’s South Lake Union.
Still, regardless of how we feel about Amazon (spoiler: not great), Seattle is a wonderful city that’s worth your time. It has a strong culture scene, with a neverending list of shows and productions coming through town, and some fantastic neighborhoods to explore (we love Capitol Hill and Ballard).
In the same way that Portland comes alive when the sun is out, Seattle is at its best in the summer and fall, when days are long, Mount Rainier is visible from all corners of the city, and the calendar is packed with events from block parties to farmers markets.
Plus, it’s one of the only weekend getaways from Portland that you can do by public transportation, which is WILD (more trains, please!).
Getting From Portland to Seattle
Kind of like visiting Portland, you probably don’t need a car while you’re in Seattle, and it’s likely to be more of a hindrance than a help in most cases (not to mention an expense because you’re almost certainly going to have to pay to park).
For that reason, we’d strongly recommend taking the Amtrak Cascades between Portland and Seattle, which is what Matt has done many times to go back to visit family.
It’s only slightly longer than the drive (assuming no traffic, which is almost never true), and you can sit back, relax, and read/catch up on your favorite show/scroll TikTok for a few hours.
If you do decide to drive, it’ll take about two and a half or three hours without traffic. However, there is almost always traffic, especially passing through Olympia (and Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord) and Tacoma, so if you can leave midday to get through those areas between 12pm and 3pm, do it!
What to Do in Seattle
Seattle is a great city, and a few days is nowhere near enough time to explore every corner of it.
Like Portland, it’s a city split between the downtown core (similar vibes to the west side of the river in Portland, with a downtown area and some cool adjacent neighborhoods) and the more residential areas beyond (like the east side of the river in Portland).
Both are well worth your time, but with just a two or three day trip, you’re going to be hard-pressed to make it to all of the different neighborhoods.
We’d focus your time on the three neighborhoods in the downtown core: Downtown Seattle, Belltown/South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill.
Here are some of our favorite things to do and see in those areas.
Pike Place Market: How could we not start with Pike Place Market, which is both a huge tourist trap and also well worth a visit? There are some truly great places to eat and drink at the market, and the best way to find them is to wander a bit (we like Beecher’s for the cheese, which you’re probably familiar with if you live in Portland, Piroshky Piroshky, and Rachel’s Ginger Beer). If you really want to get into the food scene, take this food tour, which my mom and brother have done as a birthday gift and enjoyed. Whatever you do, DO NOT wait in line at the “original” Starbucks, which is not in fact the original, and is no different than any other Starbucks in the country. Seriously. I cannot believe people wait 45 minutes in line to go here. Head to Victrola Coffee or Ghost Alley Espresso right near the market instead!
The Seattle Center: The three things worth doing at Seattle Center are the excellent Museum of Pop Culture (lots of good music-related exhibits around Seattle’s role in the grunge scene), the Chihuly Gardens and Glass (Dale Chihuly was a mastermind when it comes to glass), and Caffe Vita at KEXP (the coolest setting for a coffee shop in Seattle, where you can sip your drink right outside the recording studio for Seattle’s alternative radio station, KEXP). The thing not worth doing? Going to the top of the Space Needle. It’s ridiculously expensive ($40+ a person at the time of writing) and the view is missing a key piece of the skyline…the Space Needle! Skip it.
Kerry Park for Sunset: The reason we don’t recommend that you go up the Space Needle is that there is a perfectly lovely viewpoint 10 minutes away that is free, and INCLUDES the Space Needle, which is an iconic piece of the Seattle skyline. Plus, a view of Mount Rainier and Elliott Bay on a clear night! This is the most popular sunset spot in the city, so don’t expect to be alone up here. We bring all the friends and family who visit us in Seattle here.
Explore Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill is easily one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Seattle, and we consistently find ourselves coming back here every time we’re in town, either to eat or drink, or just to soak up the vibes. Historically, it was the most LGBTQ+-friendly part of the city, and while that’s still true today, it has shifted more towards the yuppie end of the spectrum in the past 5-10 years with the huge influx of tech money. Still, it’s well worth a visit, and we’d probably make it an afternoon/evening jaunt to take advantage of food and drinks. Shop at Elliott Bay Books (the Powell’s of Seattle), eat Seattle’s iconic ice cream around the corner at Molly Moons (or Frankie and Jo’s nearby if you want plant-based ice cream), and stroll Pike Street. For drinks, go to Canon or Tavern Law for cocktails and impressive whiskey lists, or to Optimism Brewing for one of Seattle’s best breweries.
Take the ferry to Bainbridge Island: One of the unique pieces about Seattle’s geography is the fact that it is right on the water, but not the ocean. The Puget Sound separates Seattle from the Olympic Peninsula, and we LOVE taking the ferry over to Bainbridge Island for a half day excursion (and you don’t need a car, but you can take one on the ferry). The ferry ride leaves from downtown Seattle along the waterfront, and embarks on a picturesque journey across the Sound that includes (on a clear day) all three major mountains in Washington State: Mount Olympus (and the rest of the Olympic Range), Mount Rainier, and Mount Baker. Once you’re on Bainbridge, walk down the main strip (Winslow Way), do some window shopping, and eat at Blackbird Bakery (great baked goods) or Proper Fish (proper fish and chips, down to the newspaper wrapping and the mushy peas).
Where to Stay in Seattle
There are a couple of options when it comes to where to stay in Seattle. If you’re only in town for a couple of days, it makes the most sense to stay centrally. And if you don’t have a car, you’re probably going to want to stay somewhere that’s connected to the Light Rail to make it easier to get to places like Capitol Hill.
Downtown Seattle: the highest concentration of hotels, and while it’s super convenient, it’s also very “Financial District.” If you do stay here, stay near Pike Place Market at the State Hotel.
Belltown: The happening area with some of Seattle’s best food and drinks between Pike Place Market and the Seattle Center is both convenient and genuinely fun. There are a few good hotels, too, including the Ace Hotel (which you’ll know from Portland) and the Hotel Andra (we love the restaurant, Lola, on the ground floor).
The third option is staying at the CitizenM Hotel in South Lake Union. We’ve stayed there (and we’ve stayed at three other CitizenM locations around the world) and love their whole schtick – super comfortable and modern bedrooms combined with great common areas.
It’s definitely geared towards couples or single travelers, since their only layout is a small room with a single king bed and a shower/bathroom right near the bed, but we loved it.
Mount Rainier National Park
Ah, Mount Rainier! Matt grew up in the Seattle area, and his affection for Mount Rainier is similar to a lot of Portlanders and their love for Mount Hood. Basically, Rainier (and Hood) are strongly associated with summer and nice weather, because the barometer of a good day in Seattle is whether or not “the Mountain” (meaning Rainier) is out.
The thing we love about Mount Rainier – and what we think makes it special – is that, yeah, obviously it’s a massive mountain. But the fact that the vast majority of the area west of Rainier in western Washington and Oregon is basically at sea level makes it a prominent piece of the landscape.
In fact – and I just learned this – it’s the most topographically prominent peak in the contiguous United States, which basically means the difference between the peak and the surrounding landscape is the greatest of any other mountain.
At 14,417 feet tall, it’s the highest peak in the Cascades, and it’s one of the best hiking destinations in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the early summer and fall. Though, we should note, it’s definitely NOT off the beaten path – we’re pretty sure the beaten path runs right through it.
We think the hype is well earned, and have found ourselves hiking at Rainier each of the past three summers. The downside is that, because it’s so popular, you will need to plan well in advance, so it’s probably not the best impromptu weekend getaway from Portland.
A note on when to visit: If you live in Portland you probably already know this, but at Mount Rainier, the word “summer” means something completely different than it does in most other contexts.
In Mount Rainier National Park, “summer” refers to the best time to visit for hiking and wildflowers, which is a relatively small window from late July through August. Before late July, higher elevation trails will likely be snow-covered and largely inaccessible without snowshoes and/or microspikes.
Wildflower season at Rainier peaks in the last week of July and first week of August, depending on the year. It’s a VERY popular time to be there.
Early fall is arguably a better time to visit for crowds, though the weather is going to be a little more unpredictable. The first two weeks of October generally bring a blanket of orange and red hues to the underbrush at Rainier, which is quite a sight.
Getting to Mount Rainier National Park
Before we talk about getting there, let’s cover the geography of Mount Rainier National Park.
The park is split into four main regions (sometimes five, but we like to think about it as four): Paradise, Sunrise, Ohanapecosh, and Mowich Lake. They are located at various points around Rainier, and because Rainier is so massive, you often have to drive several hours to get between the different areas.
The two main areas you’ll want to focus on are Paradise and Sunrise.
Paradise is the easiest to access from Portland, located on the southern side of the mountain, and is quintessential Mount Rainier with great hikes, alpine lakes, wildflower displays, and an impressive array of waterfalls.
Sunrise is on the eastern flank, and is the highest elevation point you can drive to in the park. Several of our favorite hikes at Rainier leave from this one parking lot, and it’s a veritable hikers paradise. It is significantly further from Portland, though, and there are only a few places to stay within 45 minutes (more on that below).
If it’s your first time at Rainier, we’d strongly recommend Paradise, and ONLY Paradise. There’s plenty to do to fill two or three days without making the long journey around the mountain to the other areas.
If it’s your second or third time, consider doing the same with Sunrise, spending two to three days exploring that side of the Mountain.
We’ll talk about the best place to stay to access Paradise and Sunrise below.
To get to Paradise, you’ll hop on I-5 north out of Portland and take it to Highway 12 East. Follow that to Highway 7, which you’ll turn left onto and follow into the Nisqually entrance of the park, which takes you up to Paradise. It’ll take you approximately 3 hours (156 miles), depending on traffic.
To get to Sunrise, follow similar directions, but you’ll stay on Highway 12 for longer, turning north onto Highway 123 instead. From there, you’ll hit Highway 410 (Mather Memorial Parkway) and follow it up to the Sunrise Visitor Center. It’ll take you about four hours (185 miles).
What to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
At Paradise, which has the best range of things to do from waterfalls to lakes and countless hiking trails, you’ve got plenty of things to do to fill a weekend trip. Generally, we’d suggest getting a really, really early start on a big hike of the day, and then using the rest of the day to check out the lakes and waterfalls.
Here are some of our favorite things to do at Paradise.
- Hike the Skyline Trail: Easily in the top 3 best hikes at Mount Rainier, the Skyline Trail is popular for a reason. It’s a great bang-for-your-buck when it comes to views of Rainier’s glaciated peak, wildflower meadows, and the surrounding Cascade range. It’s a very, very popular trail that leaves right from the main visitor center, so get an early start to secure parking.
- Go chasing waterfalls! Paradise is home to some pretty spectacular waterfalls, most of which are accessible a few hundred feet from the parking lot. You’ll encounter Myrtle Falls along the Skyline Trail, which has a perfect background of Rainier’s peak. Narada and Christine Falls (framed by a nice stone bridge) are along the road up to Paradise, and are right off of the road. Comet Falls is a six mile hike (round trip) where the payoff is worth the journey.
- Admire Reflection Lakes at sunset. For a near perfect reflection of Rainier, head to Reflection Lakes around sunset and watch the setting sun turn Rainier’s peak pink for a few precious minutes before it sinks below the horizon. It’s often windy here, so you may or may not get the reflection you’re looking for, but it’s still well worth a visit.
- Hike to Bench and Snow Lakes. A short hike to two nice alpine lakes, this trail is far, far less trafficked than most of the other hikes in the area, but the payoff is lovely. Be ready for bugs in July and August.
At Sunrise, it’s all about the hiking. There are three excellent hikes that leave from the parking lot of the visitor center, head along picturesque Sourdough Ridge, and offer very different experiences along the way.
- Burroughs Mountain: Get so close to Rainier’s peak you can almost reach out and touch it. There are three burroughs, and the official trail goes to the first two. The third burrough adds significant distance and elevation gain, but is worth the effort if you have the fitness level and appetite. The hike takes you up from the lush subalpine meadows into the high alpine tundra, which is largely barren and rocky, which is a fun contrast.
- Mount Fremont Lookout: A hike to an old fire lookout – there are a bunch of them in Washington State – with excellent views out over the valley towards Rainier. Keep an eye out for marmots along the ridge as you approach the lookout. This is a VERY popular sunset spot, so be prepared for crowds.
- Berkeley Park: THE place to go for a week or two in the summer (usually late July or early August, but depends on the year) for the wildflower meadows. It’s a sea of lupine, paintbrush, and all sorts of white and yellow flowers.
A special shout out for Tipsoo Lake and the Naches Peak Loop at the base of the road up to Sunrise, which is probably the best bang-for-your-buck easy hike in Washington State. And also for the Summerland Trail to Panhandle Gap, which is also worth your time (though it’s a tougher hike).
Where to Stay at Mount Rainier National Park
The best place to stay to explore Mount Rainier depends on which side of the mountain you’re visiting and whether you’re up for camping or not.
For most people visiting Paradise (the most accessible part of the park from Portland), you’ll want to stay in the town of Ashford, which is right outside the Nisqually entrance and the road up to Paradise. Either stay at one of the hotels in town, or for a more rustic experience, a cabin in the woods just outside of town.
If you’re up for camping, the only option is Cougar Rock Campground (Loop D is the best loop, we think). Be warned: it’s very competitive, and sites generally sell out within minutes of becoming available. You need to be on it to get a site here.
For Sunrise, your options are limited to camping (either at White River Campground inside the park, or Silver Springs Campground just outside the park boundaries) or staying at either LOGE Alta Crystal (a new resort near the White River entrance) or a cabin in the woods near Enumclaw.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is, perhaps, the most diverse national park on the west coast (maybe the country?) in terms of the number of different ecosystems that exist within its sprawling borders.
The three main ecosystems you’ll come across are the rocky coastline, the coastal temperate rainforest, and the rocky alpine region, and each offers a unique set of sights, smells, and sounds.
The reason all of that diversity can exist within the boundaries of the park is that the park boundaries are sort of drawn like a voting district. And by that, we mean they make almost no sense at all from a geographical standpoint. As you’re driving Highway 101, you’ll weave in and out of the park boundaries without even knowing it.
The reason we bring this up is that it has a practical implication for your trip. To get between the two main regions of the park – the coast and the alpine area at Hurricane Ridge – it will take you at least an hour and a half, usually more.
For that reason, we would STRONGLY recommend making this a long weekend trip (3 days / 2 nights, at a minimum) and splitting your nights between two areas to minimize the amount of time you spend driving back and forth (more on what those areas should be and what direction to go in the subsections below).
We love Olympic National Park, and there’s something really special about hiking at 7,000 feet above sea level in the morning, and then ending your evening on the Pacific beaches at sea level watching the sunset over the sea stocks and driftwood.
Getting to Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is on the Olympic Peninsula, across the Puget Sound from the city of Seattle in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States.
The park is fairly sprawling, and when you look at it on a map and consider drive times, it’s massive.
There are two starting points (or main hubs) for visiting the park, and they are the cities of Port Angeles and Forks. We’d recommend making your weekend getaway a loop that starts in Portland, heads up to Port Angeles, and loops down the coast on your way back to Portland.
Port Angeles is further from Portland, which means you’ll hit the longer leg of the drive on the front end, when you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed, and then have a slightly shorter drive home on the back end.
To get to Port Angeles, which will take about four hours in total, head up I-5 to Olympia and hop on Highway 101 North, which hugs the Hood Canal before turning west and heading out to Port Angeles.
From there, you’ll follow 101 all the way out to the coast, and then back down to Kalaloch Beach, the southern edge of the park. To get home from there, you’ll continue south on 101 to Aberdeen before cutting over on Highway 12 to get back to the I-5 corridor, which will bring you home. All in all, this should take about three and a half hours without traffic.
What to Do in Olympic National Park
As mentioned above, Olympic National Park is massive, which means we’re going to organize this section by region.
The four regions we’re going to focus on are Hurricane Ridge, the Sol Duc Valley, the Pacific Coast, and the coastal temperate rainforest. Which, conveniently, are in the order you’ll encounter them if you start at the northern end of the park near Port Angeles and make your way south along Highway 101 to Kalaloch at the southern end of the park.
Hurricane Ridge: Hurricane Ridge is the highest point in the park that you can drive to, and as you climb the steep, winding road from sea level, you’ll start to see the landscape subtly shift. When you emerge onto the ridge, you’ll be face to face with the Olympics looming across the Hoh River Valley directly in front of you. The first thing to do is the hike to Hurricane Hill, which gives you a panoramic view out over northern Washington and southern British Columbia. If you’re looking for a longer hike, you can head to Klahhane Ridge, which has a few different options depending on how much hiking you’re up for. The second thing you should do here (provided it’s the summer) is drive out along Obstruction Point Road, which is a narrow gravel road along a ridge only accessible to passenger vehicles (no RVs or trailers). There are some great views along the way, and some good hikes from the parking area at the end.
The Sol Duc Valley / Lake Crescent: The Sol Duc Valley sits roughly at sea level just west of the road up to Hurricane Ridge, and is a vastly different landscape. Here, it’s all about lush evergreen forests and Lake Crescent, which is very much the star of the show. At Lake Crescent, we’d definitely hike up to Marymere Falls, which is a short, easy jaunt. If you’re looking for a bigger hike, head all the way to the summit of Mount Storm King, which is harder (and involves some rope-assisted climbing at the end). Afterwards, head over to the historic Lake Crescent Lodge, which is right on the shore of the lake, for a drink and a picnic lunch. Don’t miss the drive up Sol Duc Road to Sol Duc Falls, one of our favorite waterfalls in the park.
The Pacific Coast: The Pacific Coast is about an hour west of Lake Crescent, and the main city nearby is Forks, which you’ll know of if you grew up in the early 2000’s because it was ground zero for the Twilight saga. There are two subregions here – the northern Pacific Coast and the southern Pacific Coast – and with limited time (e.g. two or three nights), we’d strongly recommend focusing your time on the southern portion, which is more accessible and offers more bang-for-your-buck. Don’t miss Ruby Beach and Second Beach, two of the best driftwood-laden, sea stack-y beaches on this stretch of coast. We’d definitely try to do the easy hike on Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall around sunset if the weather is holding up, which is one of our favorites. Don’t forget to look up for bald eagles in the treetops on the beach!
The Coastal Temperate Rainforest: Perhaps the most unique ecosystem out here is the coastal temperate rainforest, which thrives in the mild, wet climates of the Pacific Northwest coast. The Hoh Rainforest is the most famous example in the park, and it’s no surprise that it’s also the most busy. Parking is very limited, so our best tip is to show up before 9am (if you’re there either on a weekend, or any day in the summer) to avoid having to wait in the one in, one out line at the entrance station. Plus, that’s the best time to see the resident Roosevelt elk that hang out in the rainforest! Once you’ve navigated the parking situation, hike the short Spruce Nature Trail and Hall of Mosses, which are about two miles together. If you’re looking to get deeper into the rainforest to find a bit of solitude and escape the crowds, we really like the Hoh River Trail. It goes all the way to Mount Olympus, but the portion you’re focused on here is the first 2-3 miles of trail, which take you through the lush ferny rainforest and out to the river, which is a good turnaround spot.
Where to Stay in Olympic National Park
The two best bases for exploring the different regions of the park are Port Angeles (closest to Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent) and Forks (best for the Pacific Coast and rainforest).
If at all possible, we’d strongly recommend planning your trip so that you have two nights in Port Angeles, and then one night in Forks. This will save you SO MUCH drive time back and forth (as we noted, it’s about an hour between Port Angeles and Forks, and almost two from Port Angeles to the Hoh Rainforest).
You’ll make a big loop from Portland, with the long drive up to the northern end of the park on the way there, and a shorter, more manageable drive back home to Portland.
In Port Angeles, stay at either the Olympic Lodge, which is right in town and is the best option in terms of proximity to amenities like restaurants and grocery stores, or find a vacation rental between Port Angeles and Lake Crescent (there are a ton of lakefront options around Lake Sutherland, which would be great for groups).
If you want to camp in this section of the park, your options – in order of our preference – are Heart-O-Hills Campground (first-come, first-served), Fairholme Campground (reservations available in the summer), and Sol Duc Hot Springs Campground (reservations required). More camping information here.
In Forks, you have a couple of options. You can stay in town at either the Pacific Inn Motel or the Woodland Inn, or you can stay just outside of town at either the Misty Valley Inn (a charming bed and breakfast) or the Hoh Valley Cabins (modern cabins with kitchens where you can immerse yourself in the rainforest).
If you’re planning on camping, we really like camping at Mora Campground, which is out near the coast five minutes from Rialto Beach. It’s one of the nicest national park campgrounds we’ve ever camped at. You need to make reservations as far in advance as humanly possible (up to six months).