I’m back again and happy to report that my new eyesight since my last post has been absolutely life changing. I’ve never seen the world like this before (literally), and I have a new appreciation for everything I see and experience. As the world begins to travel for leisure again post-pandemic, there are still a limited number of places to visit, especially with pretty heavy restrictions on international travel still in place. Luckily, this is a great time for summer roadtrips across the U.S.! Whether it be a long weekend in New England or a week-long excursion down the Pacific Northwest, the options are pretty endless. If you don’t have a car and plan to rent one, my biggest tip is to book in advance because there seems to be a shortage right now (everyone has the same idea…).
Today I’m bringing you a special, 6-day road-trip itinerary down the Oregon coast beginning in Seattle, Washington and ending in Portland, Oregon. I actually have never been to either Washington or Oregon before, so I was extra excited to explore these new places and spend a week enjoying nature and sunshine with a couple of my girlfriends. You can check out a summary of all the places I visited in my WA/OR Instagram highlights (@jesslynnma), but here is a summary for those who are interested in spending some leisure time along the beautiful Oregon Coast.
WHAT TO PACK
2021 weather thus far has been difficult to figure out in the East Coast. We had a couple teases of spring and then summer hit hard in toward the end of June. I thought heading west would be more predictable, but boy was I wrong! Make sure to check the weather for each location you plan to stop at so you can pack the appropriate clothing for your trip. Temperatures along the coast are significantly cooler than inland, so you want to be prepared for all possible situations. Just to give you an example, temps at Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast reached lows of 40 while we hit heatwave temps of 110+ heading up toward Portland from Medford, Oregon. If you are going in the peak of summer and plan to hit both coastal and non-coastal locations, I’d recommend packing a variety of clothes so you’re prepared. I wish I brought a couple more sweaters and long pants for the chillier nights. Also, don’t forget those sunnies and plenty of sunscreen!
DAY 1: Seattle to Mount Rainier
Since my West Coast road trip last year to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Zion, I’ve been adding more and more national parks to my U.S. bucket list. Mount Rainier National Park quickly topped the list as we did our research of fun places we could hit along the way down to Oregon from Washington. Located just an hour and a half southeast of Seattle, it’s the perfect day trip if you’re a local, and an easy, beautiful drive for visitors looking to start their drive from Seattle. Mount Rainier Park spans 236,000+ acres, and includes Mount Rainier itself, a 14,411 foot stratovolcano. There are over 260 miles of trails to explore here, so there is truly something for everyone. Summer is the perfect time to hike amongst the wildflowers and waterfalls, but make sure to come in late July/August to catch the peak of the blooms because the snow will still be melting through June all throughout the park! I recommend a total of 2-3 days to explore the park thoroughly, though you could still hit some of the most popular, scenic trails in a single day (Skyline Trail Loops, Tolmie Peak Trail, Naches Peak Loops Trail). If you only have 1 day to explore, make sure to check out the hikes in Paradise. No matter where you end up hiking or driving, you’ll be guaranteed stunning mountain landscapes with Mount Rainier standing majestically in the backdrop.
DAY 2: Ecola State Park, Indian Beach, Cannon Beach & Haystack Rock, Hug Point State Recreation Site
Ecola State Park & Indian Beach
The best part about driving down the Oregon Coast are the number of stops you can make on your way north or south (depending on where you begin your drive). The toughest part is narrowing which ones to visit if you are limited on time.
Since we started our drive from the North from Mount Rainier, we made a couple of major stops on our way down the coast. We first dropped by Ecola State Park, which offers a beautiful 4.3 mile hike to Indian Beach. You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views once you arrive at the beach, but for those who are short on time and want to skip the hike, there is also a parking lot you can drive to and park right by the beach entrance.
Haystack Rock / Cannon Beach
Haystack Rock is by far one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks, standing tall at 235 feet. Be sure to make a stop and check out Cannon Beach especially during peak golden hour and sunset to enjoy the incredible views. Pack a picnic or prep for a warm bonfire for a truly unforgettable experience. Parking can be very tough to find, so I recommend coming early to lurk for parking in the visitor parking lots just right outside the beach in town. There is also limited street parking available.
Hug Point Recreation Site
Hug Point is another cool stop just 4.5 miles south of Cannon Beach. Don’t miss the beautiful, iconic waterfall, and make sure to visit during low tide, as that is the best and safest time to see the attractions at Hug Point.
DAY 3: Tillamook Creamery, Cape Kiwanda, Thor’s Well, Strawberry Hill
If you’re obsessed with cheese and ice cream like me, then you cannot visit Oregon without heading to the Tillamook Creamery. Sorry to those who are lactose intolerant – pop some Lactaid for this one - trust me. The Tillamook Creamery is an all-in-one museum, gift shop and food court galore. When you first enter, you’ll be greeted with a fun timeline of Tillamook’s history, and as you head upstairs, don’t forget to look up at the decorative cheese blocks hanging from the ceiling. One of the most interesting parts of the visit was getting to walk through and see the open cheese factory below. As you walk through, you can see and read all about the cheese making process from curds and weigh to the final packaging of cheddar. As you make your way back down to the gift shop, you can pick up everything from ice cream pints/gallons and dozens of cheeses in every flavor and form, to cheeseboards and fun trinkets to remember your visit.
I saved the best part for last – the FOOD. Make sure you come extra hungry because you will want to try everything on the menu. Grilled cheese, fried cheese curds, mac and cheese...they have it all. But above all else, you need to leave room for the start of the show – the ice cream! There are dozens of flavors to choose from, so narrowing it down to a few will be tough. What I can tell you is that the Oregon Hazelnut & Salted caramel and Oregon Black Cherry were a hit.
There are no entrance fees, and I highly recommend coming early as the lines to get inside and for food can get very long, especially on the weekends.
The sandstones of Cape Kiwanda are some of Oregon Coast's most beautiful features.
Cape Kiwanda is on the Three Capes Scenic Route, which includes Cape Meares and Cape Lookout. If you have the time, you can hike to the top of Cape Kiwanda, which has views of Nestucca Bay to the south and Cape Lookout to the north.
Thor's Well, also referred to as “the drainpipe of the Pacific” or sometimes “the gate to hell”, is one of the coolest natural features along the coast. The well is actually a hole in the rock that only appears to drain water from the ocean. You can get pretty up close and personal to the well to watch as the waves come in and flood the hole. However, take precautions as you traverse the rough rocks and the tidal pools to get to the well as accidents have been known to happen with slipping.
Part of the larger Neptune State Park along the Oregon Coast, Strawberry hill is a great place to explore tide pools, view wildlife, or just watch the waves roll in. There is also beach and tide pool access via the stairs from the small parking lot.
DAY 4: Oregon Sand Dunes (North Bend)
Although I love planning my trips to a T as much as possible, sometimes the best memories are made from the most unexpected plans. I had no idea that there were even sand dunes in Oregon, but driving down North Bend and doing further research on the road confirmed that riding ATVs in the Oregon Dunes was a must. Instead of heading further south to Coos Bay and Bandon (which I highly recommend if you have an extra day for travel), we decided to stay in the North Bend area. There are many ATV and 2x2/4x4 rental companies that take reservations in advance, although you may get lucky and be able to grab them with a walk-in (which we did). The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is one of the most popular and largest places for sand duning, but you will also be able to find smaller sand dunes in the North Bend area. We rented ATVs from Steve's ATV rentals, which I would highly recommend. We watched a safety video and did a couple of practice runs on the ATVs before we were dispatched toward the dunes. It was definitely a lot tougher than we expected to go uphill, and we got stuck a bunch of times and needed help from kind strangers to get unstuck, but it was an awesome experience that I would totally do again!
DAY 5: Crater Lake National Park, Lake of the Woods
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is not only the 5th oldest national park in the U.S., but it's also the only national park in the state of Oregon! The park encompasses the caldera of Crater Lake, a remnant of Mount Mazama, a destroyed volcano, and the surrounding hills and forests. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and also one of the most pristine on earth. You truly have to see its calm yet breathtaking beauty for yourself. One of the most incredible hiking trails in the park is Garfield Peak Trail, a moderate, 5.5km out and back trail that takes about 2 hours to complete. The incline is steep and sweat inducing, but the lake views along the way and at the very top are worth every sandy step. If you are looking for an easier route with equally beautiful views, consider hiking the Discovery Point Trail, a 3.9km out and back trail.
Currently, the only place to swim in Crater Lake is at Cleetwood Cove, though it is still closed for the season.
Lake of the Woods
If you are looking for a spot to cool off or take a dip on a hot summer day, head to Lake of the Woods, a local favorite and one of the clearest natural lakes in the Southern Oregon Cascades. The resort offers a place to camp, fish, water ski, hike, bike and enjoy cabin or RV life - truly something for everybody. We truly enjoyed sitting back and enjoying the sunset after a long, hot and strenuous hike at Crater Lake.
DAY 6: Multnomah Falls, Portland
We spent our last day driving from Crater Lake north toward Portland so that we could fly out of PDX back home. Unfortunately, I don't have a full Portland itinerary as I have not visited before and only had a couple hours to explore during this trip. However, I look forward to coming back and exploring more of the food scene and checking out some of the local sites.
One thing we did make time for on our drive was to visit Multnomah Falls, one of the most popular sites along the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. The falls also stand at 620 feet, making it Oregon's tallest waterfall. It is conveniently located only a 30 minute drive east of downtown Portland. There is ample parking, and the main viewing area of the falls are only a short walk from the lot. If you want to get a closer look of at the upper falls from the bridge, you can follow the inclined path up for about 10 minutes. I recommend coming during golden hour as you will most likely be able to see the beautiful rainbow we did.
And that wraps up my trip from Seattle to Portland, and all the stops along the Oregon Coast in between. I understand that planning a road trip can sometimes be stressful because you need to pick and choose what is worth your time driving to see. Hopefully this helps you a bit to craft the perfect itinerary for your next adventure out west!