Cape Flattery on Bainbridge Island, Washington - most scenic road trip in Pacific Northwest

One of America’s most scenic road trips is along the Washington and Oregon coastline. And one of the best emptynester destinations. This area offers so many beautiful stops along the way. So we were very grateful that our friend Sue narrowed it down to a perfect five-day Pacific Northwest road trip. We started in Seattle and flew out of Portland.


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Best five-day Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary

Tree canopy - best road trip in Pacific Northwest

Here’s the best five-day Pacific Northwest road trip at a glance.

  • Day 1: Seattle > Puget Sound > Bainbridge Island > Port Angeles > Neah Bay > Cape Flattery > Forks, Washington > Astoria, Oregon
  • Day 2: Astoria, Oregon > Dismal Nitch / Lewis and Clark National Historical Park > Cape Disappointment > Seaside Beach > Cannon Beach > Tillamook Creamery > Lincoln City, Oregon
  • Day 3: Pacific Northwest Road Trip: Depoe Bay > Yaquina Head Lighthouse > Oregon Coast Aquarium > Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint > Haceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint > Oregon (Sand) Dunes National Recreation Area – Coos Bay, Oregon
  • Day 4: Pacific Northwest Road Trip: Salt Creek Falls > High Desert (3,000-4,000+ feet above sea level) > Bend, Oregon
  • Day 5: Pacific Northwest Road Trip: Multnomah Falls > Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon > Local Portland brewery > Redeye flight home

Day 1 Pacific NW road trip itinerary: Seattle – Puget Sound > Bainbridge Island – Port Angeles – Neah Bay – Cape Flattery – Forks, Washington – Astoria, Oregon

We started our Pacific Northwest road trip in Seattle. My husband and I flew in on a redeye the night to meet our friends. We planned to get an early morning head start exploring the city of Seattle. However, we pivoted over our breakfast discussion. Our friends suggested that perhaps we’d like to visit Bainbridge Island instead of Seattle. That’s because my husband and I had just taken a road trip to the northernmost point in the contiguous U.S. a couple of weeks prior. That would be the Northwest Angle in Minnesota. We’ve also been to the southernmost point in the continental U.S.: Key West.

We agreed the itinerary change would be awesome. So we adjusted our plans to check out the westernmost point in the U.S. – Cape Alava in Olympic National Park. When GPS and time did not cooperate fully, we adjusted our plans again. But we did make it to the northwesternmost point in the contiguous U.S.

Cape Flattery is only about 360 feet shy of the westernmost point. And Bainbridge Island is a quintessential Pacific Northwest coastal stop.

How to get to Bainbridge Island from Seattle

Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island - best scenic Pacific Northwest road trip

Bainbridge Island is located in the Puget Sound. While you can get to Bainbridge Island via the Agate Pass Bridge, we elected to take the faster and scenic car ferry. The ferry ride takes about 35 minutes. Check the Bainbridge Island Seattle Ferry schedule online and arrive early. They typically stop loading cars three minutes before departure. Once you are parked on the ferry, you can get out of your vehicle and move around freely on the ferry.

Coast Guard escorting Ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island - best scenic Pacific Northwest road trip

The ferry ride itself is pretty cool. And it can get chilly and very windy when standing on the outside deck. Depending on the time of year, you may experience whale sightings. We were surprised that we were escorted by the U.S. Coast Guard on both sides of the ferry.

You can also sit inside the ferry to take in the views, fuel up on a large variety of food and beverages, or use the modern restrooms.

Road trip stops on Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island - best Pacific Northwest road trip

We made stops at Port Angeles, Neah Bay, and Cape Flattery once we arrived on Bainbridge Island.

Port Angeles

Our first stop was to the visitor center in downtown Port Angeles. We stopped for a quick lunch. You’ll find several indoor and waterfront cafes near the visitor center.

Neah Bay
Neah Bay on Bainbridge Island, Washington - best Pacific Northwest road trip

There were so many scenic views and if we were not short on time, I’m sure we would have made several stops on Bainbridge Island. We did pull over at Neah Bay to take photos.

Cape Flattery, Washington
Cape Flattery Bainbridge Island Washington Best Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Cape Flattery lies within the Makah Reservation and on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Note that you’ll need to purchase a $10 tribal parking pass in town. We purchased ours at the Makah Mini Mart Gas Station.

How long is the trail to Cape Flattery? Is the Cape Flattery hiking trail difficult?
Cape Flattery Bainbridge Island Washington Best Pacific Northwest Road Trip

After parking near the trailhead, the hiking trail to Cape Flattery is only 0.75 miles (one-way). While considered an easy trail, the boardwalk can get slippery. And some parts of the trail terrain are a little uneven. You’ll find a few overlooks along the way for great photos. Allow at least an hour to enjoy the scenic hike.

Cape Flattery Bainbridge Island Washington Best Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Forks, Washington

Twilight Fans may recognize Forks, Washington. While the book series was based in this Pacific Northwest town, most of the film was shot in Oregon. However, Forks, Washington is a tourist destination. We didn’t stop in town. However, we did pull over to witness a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Astoria, Oregon

Astoria-Megler Bridge on best scenic Pacific Northwest Road Trip

We arrived in Astoria, Oregon by crossing the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. The Astoria-Megler Bridge spans 4.1 miles across the mouth of the Columbia River that separates Washington state and Oregon. Pictured looking toward Washington state. If you’ve got a bridge phobia, I must admit it’s a little daunting to cross especially at night when you keep going up and up and can’t see the other side for a bit. But this bridge is pretty impressive.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 1:

322 miles

Day 2 Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary: Astoria, Oregon > Dismal Nitch Rest Area / Lewis and Clark National Historical Park > Cape Disappointment > Seaside Beach > Cannon Beach > Tillamook Creamery > Lincoln City, Oregon

We packed in a lot of scenic and iconic stops on Day 2 of our Pacific Northwest road trip.

Goonies House in Astoria, Oregon

Goonies House in Astoria, Oregon during the best Pacific Northwest road trip

On Day 2 of our Pacific Northwest Road Trip, we discovered that Astoria is home to the Goonies house. I may be the only person from the 80s that has never seen this cult classic. But was cool to drive by and see the exterior of the home.

We also took this opportunity to take some scenic views and beautiful architecture from the higher elevations in Astoria.

Columbia River and the Astoria-Megler Bridge

Astoria-Megler Bridge spanning Columbia River on the best Pacific Northwest road trip - view from Dismal Nitch Rest Area, Washington

We then crossed back over the Astoria-Megler Bridge and Columbia River in the daylight to Washington state. Built in 1966, the bridge is an architectural marvel. Pictured is the view from Dismal Nitch Rest Area in Washington.

The Columbia River Bar is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. It’s also considered one of the most dangerous river bars to cross in the world. That’s due to the waves, wind, current, and unpredictable changes in water conditions.

It’s estimated that this area of the Columbia River has claimed 700 lives and more than 2,000 boats. A licensed Columbia River Bar Pilot is required to guide all large ships across the bar  

Dismal Nitch Rest Area and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

View of Columbia River from Dismal Nitch Rest Area in Washington on best Pacific Northwest road trip

Our first stop on day 2 of our Pacific Northwest road trip was the Dismal Nitch Rest Area. Part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, you can learn more about the history and the Lewis and Clark expedition via the interpretive exhibits.

Captain William Clark named this area Dismal Nitch because the dangerous river and weather conditions forced the exploration party to spend six days on shore. In pretty dismal conditions. They were astonished to see the native Chinooks navigate the waters without any issues.

Additionally, you can appreciate views and the magnitude of the Columbia River, shipping lanes, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge from this vantage point.

Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment and Lighthouse

View of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse from the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center on best Pacific Northwest road trip

We then drove to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment. Here you can capture scenic views of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Cape Disappointment is also part of the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park. One of the interpretive signs says, “Welcome to the Edge of the Continent.” The Lewis & Clark exhibition ended at this location – the confluence of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean.

The trail leading from the parking lot to the interpretive center offers signage in Chinook language (Native American tribe).

So why is it called Cape Disappointment? A British trader named John Meares in the late 1700s coined it Cape Disappointment as he mistakenly didn’t think a river existed.

You can also hike the 1.5-mile trail to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. Bring proper hiking boots or shoes as the trail is often muddy. You can find the trailhead left of the parking lot.

Fun fact: Cape Disappointment is the oldest lighthouse still functioning on the West Coast.

Seaside Beach

Seaside Beach, Oregon on best Pacific Northwest road trip

Make sure to stop by Seaside Beach, Oregon. This coastal town features a boardwalk and an expansive and uncrowded beach. Or at least it wasn’t crowded when we visited in mid-September.

Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon - best Pacific Northwest road trip

One of the most scenic and most recognizable destinations on the Oregon coast is Cannon Beach. Here you’ll find the famous Haystack Rock, a gorgeous beach, tidepools, and various birds. This also includes Tufted Puffins from early spring to mid-summer. We visited in September so no puffin sightings for us.

Haystack Rock and its sister sea stacks are impressive. You can walk up to Haystack Rock at low tide. Sea stacks are columns of rock formed by erosion.

You’ll find a small parking lot near the cross streets of South Hemlock and Center. To access Cannon Beach, take the stairs down to the beach through an area of enviable beach homes.

Oswald West State Park

Oswald State Park viewpoint of Pacific Ocean on best Pacific Northwest road trip

What’s great about a road trip is that you can make spontaneous stops. We did multiple times. Including the overlook near Oswald West State Park on U.S. Highway 101. This view was taken on the west shoulder of Neahkahnie Mountain. According to the overlook signage, this is one of the highest points on Oregon’s coast at 1,661 feet.

Often you can see migrating whales. We did not see any whales from this overlook. However, we did see whales later in our trip as well as sea lions and an elk.

Note that U.S. Highway 101 is a scenic, leisurely drive that follows the contours of the Oregon coastline. This design was intentional. It is not a superhighway meant for getting from one destination to another the fastest. And you may come across other vehicles who are most likely driving below the speed zone. So enjoy the views and slower pace.

Tillamook Creamery

Tillamook Creamery in Oregon - flight of ice cream

If you love ice cream and cheese, then I highly recommend a stop at Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, Oregon. You can take a self-guided tour of the creamery factory, enjoy free cheese samples, and enjoy lunch and/or a flight of ice cream.

Lincoln City, Oregon

Sunset view in Lincoln City overlooking Pacific Ocean

Day 2 ended in Lincoln City where we stayed at Shearwater Inn. A room with a stunning sunset view of the Pacific Ocean. And the hospitality was superb.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 2:

152 miles

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 3: Depoe Bay > Yaquina Head Lighthouse > Oregon Coast Aquarium > Neptune State Park > Haceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint > Oregon (Sand) Dunes National Recreation Area/Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park > Coos Bay

Before heading out on day 3 of our Pacific Northwest Road Trip, we fueled up at Otis Diner. I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos of our amazing breakfast in Lincoln City, Oregon. My friend Sue and I agree that we would return simply to try the decadent-looking cinnamon rolls.

Depoe Bay – Migrating Whales and Scenic Views

Depoe Bay, Oregon - best scenic Pacific Northwest road trip

Our first stop on Day 3 of the Pacific Northwest scenic drive took us to Depoe Bay. This area is also the filming location for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

We did see some gray whale spouts in the distance. Too far away to capture them on my iPhone, but the coastline is stunning.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse and Natural Area

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon

We were extremely blessed with sunny skies for much of our Pacific Northwest Road Trip. However, we experienced the atmospheric foggy vibe when we stopped at Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon

Located in Newport, Oregon, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse first operated in 1873. In addition to the 93-foot lighthouse, the Interpretative Center provides interesting exhibits to learn more about its history. Additionally, you can learn more about the area, marine life, and seabirds.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon

On your short trek to the lighthouse, watch for harbor seals, migrating whales, and birds. You can also check out the tidepools at low tide. But use caution when the tide comes in as large waves can sweep you off the rocks and beach.

Oregon Coast Aquarium

Oregon Aquarium marine life - best road trip stops in Pacific Northwest

I find aquariums so peaceful and tranquil. And we loved our visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon. Our favorite was the walk-through Open Sea and Shark Tunnel as well as the feeding of the otters.

Shark tunnel at Oregon Aquarium - best stops on Pacific Northwest road trip

Other exhibits included sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans, turkey vultures, rocky coast, sandy coast, and much more. The jellyfish exhibit is currently closed with a grand reopening scheduled for Fall of 2024.  

Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint

Neptune State Park scenic view on Pacific Northwest road trip

Plan to pull over at the Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint north of Florence, Oregon. You can choose from any of the four pull-offs right off Highway 101. You can also find hiking trails, picnic areas, beach access, and vault toilets near here.

Haceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint

Haceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint in Oregon on best road trip in Pacific Northwest

Drive 11 miles south for another stunning viewpoint. From here you can see the 56-foot Haceta Head Lighthouse in the distance. This lighthouse sits 206 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

Sea lions Haceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint in Oregon on best road trip in Pacific Northwest

And you can hear – before you see them – barking sea lions on the rocks below.

We weren’t aware of it at the time, but this area is also home to the largest sea grotto in America. Build in time so you can visit the Sea Lion Caves and take an elevator a quarter-mile down to get a closer look.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area / Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area / Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park on best Pacific Northwest road trip

We were so surprised by the variety of landscapes in Oregon. Fun fact: the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is home to one of the largest temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. We saw them from a distance when we pulled into the Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park. And this recreation area also offers beaches, wetlands, OHV and hiking trails, paddling, camping, and more.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 3:

123 miles

Day 4: Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 4: Salt Creek Falls > High Desert > Bend, Oregon

On Day 4, we started driving inland from the Oregon coast toward Cascade Mountains. I wasn’t aware that Oregon’s diverse landscape included what’s known as High Desert. Our scenic drive took us 3,000-4,000 feet above sea level.  

Salt Creek Falls

Salt Creek Falls - second tallest waterfall in Oregon on best Pacific Northwest road trip

We stopped at the mesmerizing Salt Creek Falls near Oakridge, Oregon in the Cascade Mountains and Willamette National Forest. Oregon’s second highest single-drop waterfall plunges for 286 feet. You only have to walk a short distance from the parking lot to the observation deck, which is wheelchair-accessible. Note that this observation deck is typically closed in the winter. But there is another viewing area at the Salt Creek Sno-Park.

Time did not allow us to hike to the base of the waterfall. I would definitely love to explore that are when I return. Salt Creek Falls was one of my favorite stops on our Pacific Northwest Road Trip.

Bend, Oregon

Sunset and wildfires from Pilot Butte in Bend, Oregon - best road trip on Pacific Northwest

We spent the night in the charming community of Bend, Oregon. The downtown area offers a lovely riverwalk and great places for dinner and drinks. We also drove to Pilot Butte that offers stunning panoramic views. If you prefer, you can hike up to the top. You can see the Cascade Mountains in the distance as well as the city of Bend below. Recommend that you time your visit at sunset. There were wildfires in the distance which created an orange hue in the sky and diminished visibility. But still beautiful.

Fun fact: The ~500-foot Pilot Butte is an extinct cinder cone, which was formed after a volcanic eruption 188,000 years ago.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 4:

244 miles

 

Day 5: Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 5: High desert as we left Bend, Oregon and skirted Mount Hood > Multnomah Falls > Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon – > Local Portland brewery > Redeye flight home

Mount Hood on best Pacific Northwest road trip

The last leg of our five-day Pacific Northwest Road trip took us through more of the High Desert in Oregon, skirted Mount Hood, made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls, and ended in Portland, Oregon.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls - tallest waterfall in Oregon

Attracting more than 2 million visitors a year, expect crowds, traffic, and limited parking when visiting Multnomah Falls. But it’s worth it. Oregon’s tallest waterfall, 620 feet, looks like a fairytale. Located just outside of Portland, Multnomah Falls offers hiking trails as well as observation areas. Our friends had already visited Multnomah Falls previously. Since parking was limited, they dropped us off near the visitor center and viewing area. And then swung by after we captured a few pictures of this magical waterfall.

Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon

Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon

In addition to day hiking, my other passion is reading. I was so excited to visit Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland, Oregon. And it truly is a City of Books where you can immerse yourself and get lost for hours. The largest new and used bookstore in the world features four floors, several themed rooms, and one million books!

After this book adventure, we ate dinner at a nearby local Portland brewery before catching a redeye flight home.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Day 5:

191 miles

The total mileage for this five-day Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary: ~1,032 miles. I highly recommend this five-day Pacific Northwest Road Trip itinerary. It was like a sampler platter. We can’t wait to return to spend more time at certain locales. And then visit other beautiful places we didn’t have the opportunity to experience. This Pacific Northwest road trip is one of our favorite emptynester getaways. See my related post: Best emptynester and couples getaway destinations.


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Author

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller

25 comments

  1. I’ve visited a lot of the Seattle area, but would love to take a road trip and see some of the beautiful nature spots you talk about in this post. The coastline in the PNW is unreal beautiful!!!

  2. What a great mix of gorgeous waterfalls and hikes, bookstores, and time in the cities/towns you pass.

  3. GORGEOUS!! I love the PNW up here in Canada so I am not surprised that it is just as lovely south of the border.

    The coastline and the waterfalls in the PNW are special aren’t they.

  4. We love road trips and any one by the coast will draw us. I love all the great sights along Washington and Oregon. We have travelled quite a bit in that area but keep missing Puget Sound. Need to get that on a plan. It looks like you had stunning weather for your visit. Not always the case in this area. Makes me want to head back!

    1. We really did luck out on good weather during our Pacific Northwest road trip. Taking the ferry across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island was one of our highlights…highly recommend!

    1. That is such a nice area to be from and to visit! We loved exploring the Pacific Northwest – and can’t wait to return.

  5. Karen this blog captured our trip beautifully. It was such an amazing fun trip! Breathtaking scenery!

    1. Thank you! It was such a fun adventure with you guys. Appreciate the planning, driving, laughs, and great conversation! Making memories!

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