Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: Mount Rainier National Park & Columbia River Gorge

The Pacific Northwest is located in the Northwest corner of the United States, stretching from Washington State to Eastern Oregon, and extending into Idaho and British Columbia. Travelers come to the Pacific Northwest to experience its coastal waters, lush green rainforests, beautiful mountain landscapes, and explore America's best National Parks! It is the perfect location for outdoor lovers like ourselves.

Although you could spend a whole month or two exploring the PNW, we felt that our 2 week road trip provided plenty of time for us to get a taste of what makes the PNW so special. Over the next few blog posts we will be breaking down our full itinerary, so stay tuned as we bring you along to all the best places to see and do, including suggestion of places to stay and eat on your trip around the Pacific Northwest. This is based on our experience of the Pacific Northwest during Summer 2022.

 

Planning a Pacific Northwest Roadtrip


Getting There & Getting Around

Fly into Seattle Tacoma - International Airport and pick up a rental car. Navigating the Pacific Northwest was pretty simple, we highly recommend downloading your google maps before hand, we lost connection a few times while in the mountains.

Road Conditions & Closures

Be advised that if you plan to visit Mount Rainier National Park in October - May there will be road closures for both Paradise Valley Road and Stevenson Canyon Road due to snow. Note: Even in mid June we experienced partial road closures on Stevenson Canyon Road. (Click here for updated information on road closures)

Weather

The Pacific Northwest can be cold and rainy even in the summer, so make sure to include comfortable layers, waterproof jacket, hiking boots on your packing list.


Camping Gear

The Pacific Northwest offers many opportunities to camp. We packed our own camping tent and pillows in our luggage, and opted to rent other essential camping gear; 30 degree sleeping bags, sleeping pads, cooler and a cooking stove from REI Co Op, in Bellevue, WA.


Mount Rainer National Park

Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: Mount Rainier National Park & Columbia River Gorge


Below we are sharing a suggested itineraries for your Pacific Northwest road trip. We highly suggest not missing out on experiencing both Mount Rainier National Park, one of the nation's best national park, and for waterfall enthusiasts, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Here is a map with links and pins for each location, see below.



Mount Rainier National Park


Continuing on from North Cascades (see our previous PNW road trip itinerary), drive 4 hour to Mount Rainier National Park, which is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, known for its beautiful landscapes and adventurous hiking trails, centered around Mount Rainier an active volcano and glacier system. The park has 4 entrances, our itinerary is based off entering from the Nisqually Entrance, which gives you access to Longmire and Paradise Areas.


Mt Rainer National Park

Keep in mind that hikes may take longer if there is heavy snow, we recommend bringing crampons along with you or renting/buying snow shoes from the visitors center. We purchased these ones from amazon.


Paradise Area

Drive along Paradise Valley Rd which loops around the Paradise Area, with many spots to stop for overlook vistas and hiking.


Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center

The visitor center has general information, guided ranger programs, restrooms, and food available.


Skyline Trail Loop

Starting from the visitor center, this trail is a hard 6.2 mile loop, estimated to take around 3 hours and 40 minutes to complete (all trails estimate) This loop takes you to all the hot spots to see in the paradise area (Myrtle Falls, Panorama Point, Glacier Vista)


Alternative Trails to help break up your hikes

If a 6.2 mile loop sounds daunting to you, we recommend breaking up your hikes with these two suggestions.

  • Panorama Point from Paradise Inn - A moderate 4.1 miles out and back trail, estimated to take 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete (all trails estimate). Along this trail you will see to key view points: Glacier Vista and Panorama Point.

  • Myrtle Falls Viewpoint via Skyline Trail- An easy 0.8 miles out and back trail, estimated to take about 23 minutes to complete (all trails estimate). This waterfall was covered by snow when we visited, we actually walked over it during one of our hikes, best to visit in late summer with little to no snow.

Narada Falls

You can view the top of the waterfall from the parking lot, then cross the bridge and head down the steep 0.2 miles trail to see the bottom of the falls.


Reflection Lake

Visit to get a glimpse of Mt Rainier's reflection peering from the lake. We highly recommend catching sunrise or sunset here. From reflection lake you can hike Pinnacle Peak Trail, hard 2.9 miles out and back, estimated to take around 2 hours 30 minutes to complete (all trails estimate). This hike takes you 1,050 feet up from reflection lake for views of Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, and Mt St Helens.


Longmire Area

This area was originally the home of Mt Rainier National Park headquarters, when the park was first established in 1899.


Carter Falls Trail

Is an easy 2.6 miles out and back hike, estimated to take around 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete (all trails estimate). This is another great location to view the sunset, from the rocky area at the start of the trail.

Sunset Nisqually River

Comet Falls and Cristine Falls

A moderate 3.2 miles out and back hike, estimated to take about 2 hours and 16 minutes to complete (all trails estimate). This trail takes you to two waterfalls.


Accommodations:

We recommend you book a two night stay at Cougar Rock Campground, which is located directly inside the national park, this really helped us to optimize our time in the park. In low seasons, late May to mid June and early September to early October, reservations work on a first come first serve system (Click here for more information on Facility Rates and Booking Windows). To obtain a reservation you will need to stop by the Ranger Station at the campground and ask the Ranger on duty if they have any sites open. Be advised that there are no showers available at the campground.


Here is how we managed the no showers in the National Park. We brought a solar shower bag with us, and purchased wilderness wipes from REI. We honestly couldn't find a good place to use the shower bag, and opted to use the wilderness wipes for our two days in the park. Once we left we drove to a Love's Travel Stop for a warm shower, it cost us around $20 to rent two shower rooms.


Food Recommendation:

If you're looking for breakfast on your way to Mt. Rainier National Park, we recommend a stop at Moe's Darrington for breakfast sandwiches and coffee. It's a 30 minute drive from Rockport.



Columbia River Gorge


From Mt Rainier National Park drive 3 hours and 20 minutes to Beacon Rock State Park which is located along the Columbia River Gorge. This scenic canyon, designated as a National Scenic Area, stretches more than 80 miles marking the state line between Washington and Oregon. It is a popular destination to visit for the many because of the spectacular waterfalls that can be found along the canyon.

There are many great places to explore on both sides of the gorge, especially if you are a lover of waterfalls like us. Here are some hotspots to see on your trip.


Beacon Rock State Park

Once inside the state park, we recommend completing Beacon Rock Trail,

this moderate 1.5 mile out and back hike, is estimated to take a little over 1 hour to complete (all trails estimate). As you make your way through switch backs to the top of Beacon Rock, which was once the core of a volcano, you will have views down the Columbia River Gorge of both Angels Rest and Cape Horn.


Falls Creek Falls

Located on the Washington side of Columbia River Gorge. Please be advised that the road to get to the trailhead is not paved, it is quite bumpy from potholes. Once you park and arrive to the trailhead follow trail No. 152A. The full hike is a moderate 6.1 mile loop, estimated to take around 3 hrs and 5 minutes to complete (all trails estimate); the full hike brings you to the base of the falls and an overlook. We opted to not do the full loop instead we followed trail No.152A which cut our hike to around 3.2-3.4 miles out and back.


Bridge of Gods

Cross the bridge over the Columbia River Gorge from Stevenson Washington to Cascade Locks Oregon, It will cost $3 each way. If you are a history buff, we recommend reading about the interesting history and ancient Native American legend that speaks on how the bridge got the name, Bridge of Gods, click here for more information on toll cost and full story of the bridge.


Vista House at Crown Point State Scenic Corridor

Check out the Vista House, which was built in 1918 as a rest stop for travelers along the Columbia River Gorge. If you're interested in getting the shot below of Vista House framed by the Columbia River Gorge head to the Portlands Women's Forum.


One of the big highlights of visiting the Columbia River Gorge is driving along the Historic Columbia River Highway, and seeing some amazing waterfalls.


The most famous, which draws millions of visitors a year is Multnomah Falls, a 611 ft cascading waterfall, Oregon's tallest. Note there is a reservation system to access the falls at certain times of the year (click here for more information).


Wahkeena Falls Loop Trail

We highly recommend this moderate 5.1 mile loop estimated to take around 3 hours and 11 minutes to complete (all trails estimate) which brings you to to 6 beautiful waterfalls. Along the trail you will see Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, Ecola Falls, Weisendanger Falls, Dutchman Falls, the top of Multnomah Falls and Lower Multnomah Falls. You can choose to start the trail from Multnomah Falls or Wahkkena Falls, both have a path that lead back to your starting point.


After hiking Wahkeena Falls Loop, we headed to the Multnomah Falls Lodge and indulged ourselves in a delicious and much needed brunch. It was pricey but worth it to eat outside with the views of the waterfall.


Latourell Falls

Just a few minutes drive from the Vista House is Latourell Falls, it is the third largest waterfall along the Columbia River Gorge. To get to the base of the falls you will take a 0.2 mile hike from the overlook. If you're interested in seeing both the top and base of the falls, there is a hike which is a 2 mile loop, takes about 1 hour and 14 minutes to complete (all trails estimate).


Bridal Veil Falls

This two tiered waterfall cascades off mossy basalt columns and feeds into the Columbia River Gorge. To get to it you will complete an easy 0.5 mile out and back hike, estimated to take about 15 minutes to complete (all trails estimate)


Accommodations:

We stayed 2 nights in a renovated RV named Delores at MilePost5 Camp located in Carson, WA. This is a tiny home camp owned by the sweetest and most accommodating husband and wife, there are several RV's on the property each decked out with a theme. You can find them on airbnb here. Note: There are very limited accommodations located near Cascades Locks, Oregon.


More Food Recommendations:

We ate out quite a few times during this portion of our trip, here are several recommendations for you to check out.


It isn't a trip to the PNW without a stop at a Brewery, we recommend both Walking Man Brewing in Stevenson, WA and Backwoods Brewing Company in Carson, WA.


If you need to feed your sweet tooth make a stop at Scoopy's Social club for some ice cream. They are located in Stevenson, WA just a few minutes walk from Walking Man Brewing.

 

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