Post Summary: How To Plan A Trip To The Pacific Northwest
You did it!
You are starting to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest! Get ready for wild waterfalls, dramatic coastlines, and some of the best alpine lakes you’ll ever encounter.
But how in the world do you begin to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest? It can be quite daunting to know where to begin, but that’s why we’re breaking this epic region down into bite-sized pieces for you.
In this post, we’re sharing Pacific Northwest trip ideas for first-time visitors. This means we’re spilling all the details on the highlights, but also sprinkling in some secret locations and hidden gems along the way, too.
From quick weekend trips from Seattle to iconic west coast road trip routes, we promise that once you experience it for yourself, you’re not going to want to leave. (You’ve been properly warned.)
The First-Timers Guide To The Pacific Northwest
This post may contain affiliate links, vetted and chosen by yours truly!
So, What Is The Pacific Northwest Region?
What are the Pacific Northwest states? What area does this region occupy?
Depending on who you ask, the borders can look different. We like to draw a blurry border that surrounds Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. Others can also include Northern California, Western Montana, and even northwestern Wyoming and Alaska!
Looking at the PNW through this lens, you can expect this blog post to cover everything from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide.
Planning a Trip To The Pacific Northwest
Consider us your personal Pacific Northwest trip planner. With so many things to do in the PNW, it can easily be overwhelming to know where to start. This is why we’re breaking down this post into easily digestible regions, with our favorite suggested activities!
Keep scrolling to find maps, our favorite trails, unique PNW experiences, and catered tips for each location!
How To Get Around The Pacific Northwest
The best way to travel around the Pacific Northwest is by car. Many of these epic PNW destinations require quite a drive, so you’ll have a lot more freedom if you decide to rent a vehicle for your trip. Here are some of our recommended modes of transportation below:
Regular Car: Getting around in a regular car can give you the best of both worlds. You can easily fit into any city parking lot, but also trick it out with these car camping hacks so you can find free camping spots and sleep in your car on the road!
Camper Van: If you’re looking for a cool camper van rental for your trip in the Pacific Northwest, we suggest renting one through Outdoorsy. Think of it like Airbnb but for cool cars! You can rent anything from vintage VW Westfalia vans, full-length RVs, and even Airstreams for a picturesque PNW adventure.
Camping In The Pacific Northwest
One of the coolest ways to experience the Pacific Northwest is by going camping! There’s nothing better than breathing in the smell of fresh pine trees in the morning, enjoying your cup of coffee lakeside, or even just having a backcountry road all to yourself!
To find the best campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve got a few essential resources for you:
- Our Guide To Camping In The PNW
- How To Find Free Campsites In The Pacific Northwest
- Using The Dyrt Pro to find campsites along the way. We use this web/phone app to find free campsites on the go with their offline search feature, and connect all our favorite spots together with their Road Trip Planner tool as well.
The Dyrt gave us a code for you, our epic reader, to try the pro membership for 90 days free! Click here and use the code Mandagies90 to unlock your 90-day free trial!
When Is The Best Time To Visit The Pacific Northwest?
In our opinion, visiting the Pacific Northwest is a great option any time of year – it just depends on what kind of activities you’re into! Here’s a quick overview of each season, and what you might expect from visiting during these times of the year:
Winter in the Pacific Northwest
- Skiing at several mountain resorts (Mt Baker, Mt Hood, Crystal Mountain, Whistler/Blackcomb, Mount Washington, and many others).
- Staying overnight in a fire lookout or snowshoeing to a backcountry yurt in Idaho.
Spring in the Pacific Northwest
- Visiting the cherry blossoms, specifically in Portland, OR and the University of Washington in Seattle.
- Discover the powerful forces of Washington waterfalls and Oregon waterfalls.
Summer in the Pacific Northwest
- Road Trip Season! The most iconic being The Pacific Coast Highway and the Oregon Coast road trip.
- Multi-Day Backpacking Trips and Thru-hikes (Pacific Crest Trail).
- Discovering the Washington national parks and BC parks – this is the season they are fully open!
- Driving the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.
- Visiting Oregon’s covered bridges in the fall, especially as fun day trips around Eugene.
- Taking amazing Washington scenic drives to experience the rich autumn colors and many orchards at harvest time.
What To Pack For A Trip To The Pacific Northwest
What do people wear in the Pacific Northwest? As a traveler to the PNW, you may desire to blend in, or at least not stick out! One way to do that is to brush up on what the locals wear. We’re here for that.
Each region of the Pacific Northwest has its own unique climate, but there are a few things you should be packing for the PNW that span all areas. They mostly cover rain gear, but keep reading as we will dive deeper into specific packing items below!
Want a downloadable/printable list? Read our Complete Pacific Northwest Packing List Post Here!
A Sturdy Raincoat. If there ever was an iconic piece of Pacific Northwest clothing, it’s the rain jacket. You’ll very likely wear this piece every day, so make sure your raincoat is something you absolutely love! We’re huge fans of Stutterheim and although they are a bit pricey, they are virtually impenetrable to the rain! We choose to invest in a super well-built rain jacket because we live here, but do what’s best for you!
Hiking Pants. In order to really enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings, we encourage you to plan a least a few PNW hikes during your first time in the Pacific Northwest. Choose a pair of hiking pants that are stretchy and comfortable. Pockets are a super great bonus – we love these ones from Fjallraven!
Thermal Layers. Many months out of the year, the Pacific Northwest can be cold and wet. To best keep warm and dry on your Pacific Northwest activities, we suggest that you follow the three-layer rule: Sweat-wicking inner layer, thermal mid-layer, and then waterproof outer-layer.
Waterproof Boots. When hiking in the Pacific Northwest, packing waterproof boots is always a good idea. Look for materials labeled “Gore-tex” for some solid waterproof boots! Right now, we are loving the Vasque St Elias GTX series boots and they’ve been awesome!
Birkenstocks and Tevas. It’s everyday fashion at its most casual and comfortable. It’s also a common occurrence to see people rocking their Teva sandals or Birkenstocks with socks here in the PNW. Yes, you heard us right – dad fashion is IN in the Pacific Northwest!
Gaiters. Gaiters are barriers that strap around your boots and the bottom of your pants that protect from rain and snow.
Dry Bag. Depending on the type of activities you want to do, a dry bag is important for keeping gear from the elements! It’s especially important if you’re looking to take a canoe or kayak out on the water. We like this one by Sea To Summit!
Water Bottle. Yes, it rains here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get thirsty on those epic Washington hikes or trails to waterfalls in Oregon.
Beanie. Used for function AND style, beanies are nearly always worn in the Pacific Northwest. Bonus points if your beanie matches with your outfit!
Waterproof Backpack. In order to keep your things dry on those epic hikes in the Pacific Northwest, choose a backpack that easily sheds water, or is made of waterproof material.
Map of the Pacific Northwest (What We’re Covering In This Post)
In this post, we’re breaking down the Pacific Northwest into digestible regions, to better assist you in deciding where to go in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve broken the PNW down into three sections:
The Core (Washington, Oregon, British Columbia)
The Border States/Provinces (Idaho, Montana, Northern California, and Alberta)
The Outliers (NW Wyoming, and Alaska)
Keep scrolling to discover our favorite adventures to take in each section of the Pacific Northwest!
THE CORE STATES (WA, OR, BC)
(Washington, Oregon, British Columbia)
Known For: Temperate rainforests, incredible alpine lake hikes, rainy Washington beaches. In the city of Seattle, visit Pike Place Market, Kerry Park, and the Space Needle.
Washington is sooo diverse, but it’s mostly known for it’s three stunning national parks. Home to Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Mountain Rainier National Park, this is a great place to begin if you love seeing famous locations.
Must-See Places To Visit In Washington: Olympic National Park, Palouse Falls, Leavenworth, Mount Rainier National Park, The Tree Of Life, San Juan Islands. Don’t forget these gorgeous scenic drives in Washington to make the journey just as much part of the adventure!
Where To Start In Washington: Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to explore the west side OR fly into Spokane International Airport (GEG) to explore the east side.
Best Season To Visit Washington: All seasons. Washington has a temperate rainforest that’s accessible all year long! However, summer (June-September) is when nearly all attractions are fully open, and high-elevation backpacking trips are *nearly* free of snow.
Our Favorite Washington Adventure Picks:
- Best Scenic Drives In Washington State
- Whale Watching in the San Suan Islands
- Hiking Trails Near Seattle
- Long-Weekend Road Trip Around The Olympic Peninsula
- One Week Itinerary For Olympic National Park
Known For: EPIC waterfalls, amazing coastal sea stacks, and beer!
Oregon is famous for its absolutely stunning waterfalls and unique Pacific Northwest getaways. The Oregon Coast commands most of the attention, with its stunning coastline and hundreds of public beaches. However, don’t overlook Eastern Oregon – places like Leslie Gulch in the Owyhee WIlderness make this area an adventurous spot for risk-takers and explorers.
Must-See Places To Visit In Oregon: The Oregon Coast, Portland (for foodies!). The Blue Pool, and Multnomah Falls on a drive down the Columbia River Gorge. For the more adventurous traveler, check out Smith Rock State Park, the Painted Hills, and the Wallowas on an Eastern Oregon road trip route!
Where To Start In Oregon: Fly into Portland International Airport (PDX), and rent a car for the duration of your trip.
Best Season To Visit Oregon: Spring season (April, May, June) is when the waterfalls are their fullest. Come during this time for epic falls, rainforest hikes, and don’t forget to pack your raincoat! Summer is also the best time to visit Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake!
Our Favorite Oregon Adventure Picks:
- Visiting Sisters, Oregon Near Bend
- Epic Day Trips From Eugene, Oregon
- Hiking God’s Thumb on the Oregon Coast
- Discovering Hidden Spots around Coos Bay
- Going deep into the Alvord Desert for some dreamy hot springs
Known For: Giant mountains, incredible backpacking, and stunning lakes.
British Columbia has the perfect mix of refined cities and bold expeditions, all within driving distance from one another. If you’re looking for a perfect mix of luxury and wilderness, consider British Columbia.
Where To Start In British Columbia: Fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and drive to your western province destinations. For exploring the eastern part of the province, consider flying into Calgary, Alberta and driving east or flying into Spokane, Washington, and driving north across the border.
Best Season To Visit British Columbia: Summer. Summer in British Columbia is when most backpacking and hiking trails are open. It’s also when wildlife is at their busiest, so be prepared and keep your eye out for bears, moose, elk, and more!
Our Favorite British Columbia Adventures:
- All the Best Things To Do In Tofino, Vancouver Island
- 10-Day Vancouver Island Road Trip
- How To Spend 24 Hours In Vancouver, BC
- Hot Springs Cove Near Tofino, BC
- Explore Pacific Rim National Park
THE BORDER STATES (ID, MT, Nor Cal, AB)
(Idaho, Montana, Northern California, Alberta)
Known For: Amazing backcountry hot springs, peaceful forests, rustic cabins, backpacking trips.
Idaho is comparatively unknown to the rest of the Pacific Northwest, making it a wild and intrepid destination. If you love gorgeous backcountry hot springs, remote forests, and log-cabin vibes, this is your destination if you like seclusion and peace.
Where To Start In Idaho: Fly into the Boise Airport (BOI) and rent a car to start your journey in the southwest, or take Interstate 90 East and begin a North Idaho road trip from Coeur d’Alene!
Best Season To Visit Idaho: Idaho has amazing destinations that can be enjoyed year-round! Here are some places to consider visiting during different times of the year:
- Winter – Skiing in Sun Valley, Snowshoeing to backcountry yurts
- Spring – Twin Falls area to explore the waterfalls
- Summer – North Idaho camping and hiking
- Autumn– Greeting the crisp fall mountain air in McCall or Stanley, soaking in remote hot springs
Our Favorite Idaho Adventures:
- Overnight Camping in a Backcountry Yurt
- One Week North Idaho Road Trip
- A Forest Soak in Burgdorf Hot Springs
Known For: Wild and rugged adventure; huge mountains; vast, unexplored land.
Montana is the perfect place to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest filled with a huge variety of outdoor adventures. Raft down the North Fork River, hike to Hidden Lake Overlook, or explore gorgeous hot springs near Bozeman, Montana! No matter what you choose, you’ll leave wanting more.
Where To Start In Montana: Fly into Bozeman, Montana to explore the Hyalite Area and make the quick trip down to Yellowstone National Park. Alternatively, fly into Kalispell, Montana to start your Montana adventure in Glacier National Park.
Best Season To Visit Montana: The best time to visit Montana is in the summer or winter season. Montana has drastically different activities for each season. You can come again and again and have a completely different experience each time!
Our Favorite Montana Adventures:
- Driving the Going To The Sun Road
- Planning a 1-Week Trip in Glacier National Park
- Winter Activities To Do In Bozeman, Montana
Known For: Rugged adventure, giant redwood trees, wild coastline.
Northern California is known for its huge trees, dense forest, and endless opportunities for camping, fishing, and road-tripping. From the famous Redwoods, the deep waters of Shasta Lake and hidden waterfalls, a Northern California road trip is the perfect route for anyone looking for a rugged adventure.
Must-See Places To Visit In Northern California: Lassen Volcanic National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, McArthur-Burney Falls, Avenue of Giants in the Redwood National Park. Don’t forget the epic things to do in San Francisco, too!
Where To Start In Northern California: Fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK), rent a car, and begin your journey.
Best Season To Visit Northern California: Spring and Fall. Summer is always great, but the California national parks tend to bring huge crowds between June-August. If you come in April/May or alternatively September/October, you’re likely to get better deals on hotels, and enjoy fewer crowds on these amazing hiking trails!
Our Favorite California Adventures:
- The Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary (10 Days of Adventure!)
- Explore Sark Fin Cove near Davenport, California
- How To Spend 1 Day In Big Sur State Park
Known For: Huge mountains, wildlife viewing opportunities, and Gatorade-blue lakes.
You’ve probably seen Alberta, Canada on a postcard at some point in your life. This area of Canada (Banff and Jasper especially) has one of the largest concentrations of iconic outdoor destinations, all within driving distance of one another! The Canadian Rockies can cater to all types of travelers – from bougie resort dwellers to campsite dirtbags, Alberta is a choose-your-own-adventure type of trip!
Where To Start in Alberta, Canada: Fly into the Calgary International Airport (YYC), rent a car, and drive west to the mountains.
Best Season To Visit: Summer and Winter. Alberta, similarly to Montana, provides a completely different experience depending on the time of year you plan a visit! Expect to enjoy places like Lake Louise by ice skating in the winter, and canoeing the same lake in the summer!
Our Favorite Alberta Adventures:
- The 10 Easiest Hikes In Jasper National Park
- Experience the Banff Gondola (We took one of our most famous photos here!)
- All The Best Things To Do In Banff During The Summer
THE OUTLIERS (AK, WY)
Known For: Glaciers, wild animals (moose and bears!), once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Alaska, often referred to as The Last Frontier, is the quintessential trip for checking off epic bucket list items. From epic backpacking trips like the Bomber Traverse to seeing the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, visiting Alaska is full of unique adventures.
Must-See Places To Visit In Alaska: Denali National Park, Exit Glacier, Matanuska Glacier, Fairbanks (The Northern Lights!)
Where To Start In Alaska: Fly into Anchorage and rent a camper van to begin your road trip around Alaska. Alternatively, you can fly into Fairbanks and spend the majority of your time in the Interior part of the state.
Best Season To Visit Alaska: Summertime is the easiest season to visit Alaska. If you are hoping to experience the Northern Lights, come during February or March to have the best chance of seeing them!
Our Favorite Alaska Adventures:
- The Perfect 10-Day Alaska Road Trip
- 10 Epic Things To Do In Fairbanks, Alaska
- Renting a Vintage VW Van Around Alaska
Known For: The Teton Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, open cattle ranges, lots of wildlife!
Canyons, mountains, forests, hot springs, and don’t forget the super-volcano! Wyoming is home to some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States – Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. While it isn’t always a location people consider when they plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest, it’s still a location worth considering!
Must-See Places To Visit In Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole
Where To Start In Wyoming: Fly into Jackson Hole, Wyoming to start your adventure and make the town your home base.
Best Season To Visit Wyoming: Summer and Fall. The warmer weather brings out the wildlife, and these seasons will allow the most access to national parks and off-road adventures.
Our Favorite Wyoming Adventures:
- Visiting The Boiling River Hot Springs
- Hiking String Lake in Grand Teton National Park
- 30 Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park
Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary
Want to plan the ultimate Pacific Northwest vacation and string all these locations together? It’s quite the feat, but we can almost guarantee that it will be the most epic trip of your lifetime!
There are many different versions of Pacific Northwest road trips that take you to plenty of amazing spots in the area. Below, we’re sharing three different iterations of Pacific Northwest tours, so you can choose which one fits you are your group best.
10-Day Pacific Northwest Itinerary
- Day 1: Seattle, WA to Port Angeles, WA
- Day 2: Exploring Olympic National Park
Day 3: Olympic National Park to Cannon Beach, OR
- Day 4: Cannon Beach Coos Bay
- Day 5: Coos Bay to Eugene, Oregon
- Day 6: Eugene to Hood River, OR
- Day 7: Hood River to Mount Rainier National Park
- Day 8: Spend Day at Mount Rainier
- Day 9: Mount Rainier to North Cascades
- Day 10: North Cascades to Seattle for departure
Two-Week Pacific Northwest Itinerary
Looking for a Pacific Northwest road trip route that covers the most locations?
We’re sharing our two-week PNW road trip itinerary below, giving you the most variety in climate, states, and land/water features! Consider this a highlight trip, where you get a little taste of each place, in preparation to return to your favorite spots in more depth next time!
Download our free printable itinerary below!
Pacific Northwest National Park Road Trip
Love Canadian and US national parks? There are more than 18 represented national parks in the Pacific Northwest, and exploring all of them would make one epic PNW road trip route! To narrow down your options, we’re listing the parks here:
- Washington: Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park
- Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
- California: Redwood National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Montana: Glacier National Park
- Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park
- Canada: Pacific Rim NP, Gulf Islands, Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Kootenay National Park, Yoho National Park, Glacier National Park (Canada), Mount Revelstoke National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park
Frequently Asked Questions About The Pacific Northwest
What Is Pacific Northwest Cuisine?
Pacific Northwest food includes fresh seafood, local wines, and fresh fruit. The prominent agricultural places in the PNW include the Willamette Valley (orchards and vineyards), Eastern Washington (grains and orchards), and the coastal regions (seafood). You’ll also find a huge coffee culture in the Pacific Northwest. Being the birthplace of Starbucks, you can find one on nearly every street corner, but for a more local experience, ask around for neighborhood cafes and artisan shops instead.
What is the Pacific Northwest Famous For?
So what makes the Pacific Northwest unique? One might say it’s pretty iconic for its rugged coastline, rain, and perpetually foggy weather, but there’s so much more than that! The Pacific Northwest is known for big tech businesses like Amazon, REI, Boeing, as well as logging companies and outdoor brands. It’s also socially acceptable to wear socks and sandals together and wear plaid to work on the regular.
We hope this post could help you in planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest! For more information about the area, feel free to browse our categories page to find specific hikes, hotel reviews, car camping tips, and so much more to elevate your journey!