Located in northwest corner of the United States is the Pacific Northwest, which stretches 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.
Washington State Ferry
When possible utilize the Washington State Ferry System, the ferry allows for both passenger and automobile transportation to locations around Washington State, and Canada. Click here for a helpful guide for first time riders.
Road Conditions & Closures
Be advised that if you plan to visit the North Cascades Mountains during the winter months that road access to North Cascades National Park is restricted. For current information on closures click here.
The Pacific Northwest can be cold and rainy even in the summer, so make sure to include comfortable layers, waterproof jacket, and hiking boots on your packing list.
Pacific Northwest Road Trip Itinerary: San Juan Island and North Cascades
Below we are sharing a suggested itinerary for your Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary, San Juan Island and the North Cascades Mountains can be planned for the start or end of your trip. Here is a map with links and pins for each location, see below.
San Juan Island (Friday Harbor)
Located in the waters between Washington and British Columbia is a group of Islands (San Juan Island, Orca Island, Lopez Island) known as the San Juan Islands. The Islands are a popular destination for whale watching and outdoor adventure like hiking, camping, and biking. San Juan Island is the second largest but most popular of the three, known for being the prime whale watching location.
To get there drive 2 - hrs from Seattle to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal and take the ferry over to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. (click here for the ferry schedule) If you arrive early to Anacortes and have some time to pass we suggest walking along the Guemes Channel Trail, or stopping by MadHatters Ice Cream. After boarding head up to the top deck to see gorgeous views of the San Juan Islands. The ferry takes about an hour to go from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, so plenty of time to check out the views before you need to get back into your car.
Here is a list of must sees during your visit to San Juan Island.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
This is the #1 must see location in San Juan Island, this state park is known as one of the best location for whale watching in the World. From the cliffs, if you're lucky, you can spot Grey Whale, Minke, Orca, Dolphins pods, and seals passing through the channel. Don't forget to look up near the trees to see Bald Eagles flying by. We recommend checking out this Facebook group that gives out live updates on the Orca and Whale pods seen near the San Juan Islands. At the state park there is a short hike to the Lighthouse and Discovery Center which offers tours in the Summer months. Note: the cliffs near Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse are a highly recommended spot to catch the sunset.
Cattle Point Lighthouse
Head to Cattle Point Lighthouse which is part of the San Juan Island National
Monument. It is a beautiful location to see sweeping views of the Salish Sea, keep your eyes open as you may spot foxes roaming through the wildflowers, and an eagle flying overhead.
American Camp & English Camp
San Juan Island was once the home of encampments for both the American and British forces both encampments are now designated National Historic Parks. Close to American Camp is two popular beaches Fourth of July Beach and South Beach.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm
If you're visiting in July or August don't miss out on seeing the lavender fields they are suppose to be in full bloom.
Another way to get a glimpse of the Whale population and surrounding wildlife and natural landscapes is to book a Wildlife and Whale tour. We booked a half day tour with Maya's Legacy Whale Watching, our tour guides were awesome, passionate and knowledgable about the Orca pods that travel along the San Juan Islands. We even learned that Orcas have a special white patch near their fins which helps you to determine which pod of Orcas you are seeing.
Take a stroll around Friday Harbor and check out the small shops or get a bite to eat at Downriggers for great food and views of the harbor. Keith highly recommends the Crab Melt Sandwich.
We stayed in a glamping tent at Lakedale: San Juan Island Glamping, Resort & Cabins, our stay included a continental breakfast the next morning in the Mess Hall. We loved staying here and will definitely be back in the future.
North Cascades Mountains
Heading to the North Cascades Mountains from San Juan Island, take the return ferry to Anacortes from Friday Harbor ferry terminal, then drive 1 hour and 36 minutes towards North Cascades National Park, this national park is one of the least visited parks in the US, partly due to the fact that the road to access the park is closed up to half of the year, but don't let that deter you from visiting, as there are beautiful views of the North Cascades, glaciers, and lakes, which are best viewed from hiking into the mountain landscapes.
As you drive through North Cascades National Park there are plenty of lookout vistas and day hikes to complete along the way.
Trail of the Cedars
0.6 miles out and back, estimated 12 minute walk (all trails estimate), during this trail you will cross a large suspension bridge over the Skagit River to walk along large cedar trees and nature.
Gorge Creek Overlook Trail
Located in the Ross Lake Recreational Area take an 11 minute walk to see views of Gorge lake and Gorge Creek Falls, once you return to the parking lot you can walk across the bridge and see a stunning view of the falls cascading over Gorge Creek Canyon.
Thunder Knob Trail
Nearby Gorge Creek Canyon is this moderate 3.5 mile out and back hike, estimated to take about 1 hour and 44 minutes to complete (all trails estimate). The trail leads you through some switchbacks that take you to a view point above Diablo Lake and the surrounding mountains. Definitely worth it for the views, and a great spot to relax, eat a snack, and take some pictures. If you want to skip the hike and get a view of Diablo Lake, head to Diablo Lake Vista Point.
Ross Lake Dam Trailhead
Drive a few minutes from Thunder Knob trailhead and take this easy out and back hike, estimated to take about 48 minutes to complete (all trails estimate). This trail gives you more of an up close view of the dam if you complete it. It does have a pretty steep decline, which means steep incline on your way back up, so mind your knees. If you want to skip this hike, there is Ross Lake Overlook near by, you'll get views of Ross Lake, and the dam.
If you want to hike to see another beautiful emerald lake and waterfall complete this easy 2.0 mile out and back hike, estimated to take 42 minutes to complete (all trails estimate).
Maple Pass Trail
Maple Pass Trail loop is a 7.4 mile hike, rated as a hard with average completion time around 4 hrs and 26 minutes (all trails estimate). It is recommended to go counter clockwise to save your knees on the switchbacks. This trail gives you sweeping views of Lake Ann and the surrounding mountains. We recommend to complete the trail when there isn't much snow (Mid July - October).
Washington Overlook Trail
Warm up those legs by completing this 12 minute loop to see gorgeous views of the North Cascades Mountains, this was a must do on many "things to do list" we read, and you can see why. This is also a great spot to eat a packed lunch and get hydrated before hiking Maple Pass Trail.
We stayed in a cabin at Glacier Peak Resort and Winery in Rockport, which is a 9 minute drive from the West Entrance to North Cascades National Park. This is a no frills place, but was a super comfy stay and one of the few places close to the park.
Upriver Grill & Taproom - 4 minutes away from the Cabin