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4 of the Best Road Trip Routes in the Pacific Northwest

road trip in the pacific northwest
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The road trip dream is miles of open highway, quaint towns and stunning scenery. And the dream is real when you drive through the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington landscapes are memorable, the history is incredible and the food and wine are delectable. We’ve found four PNW road trips for you to try — but first, let’s tackle a question we often get from travelers: Should you buy travel insurance for a road trip?

Yes! Look for a simple, affordable plan that includes trip cancellation and interruption benefits. These benefits can reimburse you for your prepaid, non-refundable trip costs if you must cancel or cut short your trip because of a covered illness or injury, or another covered reason. If you’re renting a car, you can save big by purchasing rental car insurance ahead of time. Protect your car against covered collision, loss and damage with the Rental Car Damage Protector (available for residents of most states.) To find your best-fit plan, get a quote.

Oregon Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Oregon’s coastline is 363 miles of drama. Head west from Portland, and be sure to take a break at Tillamook Creamery, where you can sample fried cheese curds or marionberry ice cream. Then, take Route 101 to explore the northern or southern coast, both of which have abundant charms.

Heading north takes you to some of Oregon’s most iconic seascapes: Cannon Beach, home to the hulking Haystack Rock, and the sweet resort town of Seaside. End your coastal road trip in Astoria, a historic town on the Columbia River that many know as the setting of cult ‘80s movie “The Goonies.”

If you opt for the southern Oregon coast road trip, you’ll see Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, where Steller sea lions, California sea lions and harbor seals raise their young. Keep going to reach the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, an expanse of shifting sand where you can hike or zoom around on an ATV. Taste the freshest crab and oysters in the fishing town of Charleston, try a jet-boat tour of the Rogue River, and take in the view from Cape Ferrelo.

A quick cautionary note: the Oregon coast is not the place for a carefree beach vacation. The water is cold (rarely warmer than 55 degrees), and known for a phenomenon called “sneaker waves.” These powerful waves rise up suddenly and have been known to sweep away unwary beachgoers or crush people with heavy driftwood. Never turn your back on the ocean.

Pacific Coast Scenic Byway Road Trip Itinerary

If you continue north on Route 101 into Washington State, you’ll find yourself on the 350-mile Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. This curving drive from Long Beach to Olympia, WA passes by charming coastal towns and historic landmarks, but the best part is the lush and magical landscape of Olympic National Park. Stroll the sand and spot seabirds on Ruby Beach. See massive, mossy hemlocks in the Hoh Rain Forest, a World Heritage Site (look out for yellow banana slugs!) Hike or drive up Hurricane Ridge for stunning views. Then, once you’ve completed your road trip around the Olympic Peninsula, visit the cute Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, home to waterfront pubs and fine dining.

Lewis & Clark Road Trip Itinerary

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on a truly epic, 8,000-mile journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean as they sought to explore lands unknown to them. Retracing the final leg of their adventure through present-day Washington and Oregon makes for a fascinating, 430-mile Pacific Northwest road trip.

Begin in Lewiston, Idaho, where the Snake and Clearwater Rivers converge in Hells Canyon. Here, Lewis and Clark paddled west, realizing they were nearing their long-awaited destination: the Pacific Ocean. Be sure to visit the Listening Circle, a monument designed by Maya Lin that honors the Nez Perce people. Your road trip will take you to the majestic Columbia Gorge, the rocky shore dubbed “Dismal Nitch” by Clark, and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Ilwaco.1

Eastern Oregon Road Trip Itinerary

Most visitors associate Oregon with green forests and misty mountains — until they head east and discover a radically different landscape. The Cascade Mountains cast a rain shadow over eastern Oregon, contributing to a dramatic landscape of sweeping deserts and severe peaks.

Travel Oregon recommends the small town of Burns as a jumping-off point, as it gives you access to several wilderness areas.2 Head south on the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway, then pause to explore the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. “Malheur” is French for “misfortune,” but you’re likely to find good luck birdwatching here. The refuge’s wetlands and other habitats attract some 340 species of birds, including swans, sandhill cranes, and golden eagles.3

Continue on to climb Steens Mountain, if your vehicle can handle the rough road and steep ascent. You may glimpse the wild mustangs who live in Kiger Gorge. If you’re stiff from a day of driving, soothe your aching muscles at Alvord Hot Springs — and if you camp there, you can stargaze while you soak!

Ready to plan your PNW road trip? Gas up the car, charge your phone and grab your travel insurance.

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