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  1. Default West Coast Trip (San Fran to Seattle)

    Hi! I just stumbled upon this the perfect time. I am starting to plan our summer vacation and am becoming very overwhelmed. We would like to travel from San Fran to Seattle, with several stops along the way. We want to see Crater Lake, Oregon, Mount Hood, Oregon, lighthouses and sea lion cave along Oregon coast, plus the Columbia River Gorge, then traveling into Washington we would like to visit Mount St. Helens and possibly Mount Ranier before arriving in Seattle. I know this is a very ambitious trip so any advice would be greatly appreciated. Specifically I would like tips on routes, attractions, must-see sights, hotel recommendations, restaurant suggestions, etc. Please keep in mind I am deathly affraid of high mountainous roads, so please offer suggestions of roads without sheer drop-offs! I'm traveling with my husband and 9-year-old daughter. Thanks!
    PS: We will be flying from Florida to the West Coast and would like to keep the entire trip to less than 2 weeks, including a few days in both San Fran and Seattle.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default 1 way or RT?

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    2 weeks should really give you ample time to explore the areas you want to visit. I think it will really set you up for a great trip. I unfortuantly, haven't traveled very much in this area, however, there are quite a few posts about the Northwest on the Forum. I'd suggest typing some of the places you want to visit into the forum's search feature, and see what you come up with.

    One more question, is this going to be a round trip, or is it just one way? A round trip might actually work better for you. You could spend your time following the coast one direction, and visit your inland destinations when you travel the other way. It would also be cheaper, both for your flight and for your rental car.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default Awesome trip!

    You should be able to see a lot in 2 weeks but that isn't enough time for everything. Of course, then you can come back!

    When are you coming? August and September tend to be the best months in the PNW. July is OK. June tends to be a bit rainy. So I hope you can come later in the summer when you're more sure to hit sunny, warm weather.

    Before I spend time giving you too many recommendations, I would like to know if this is roundtrip or one-way.

    As for "high mountainous roads" be honest, this could be a real problem for you on this trip. I don't want to discourage you at all but many of the places you mention will have roads with a cliff on one side of it. A large percentage of the Pacific Coast Highway is like this...particularly when you are driving out to lighthouses. Since much of this highway hugs the coastline, you will have a guard-rail looking out to the coast/beach a good part of the route. Sometimes you will be fairly close to the beach at fairly low elevations but, for a significant portion, you will be higher than the beach with a cliff of varying heights.

    The scenic route east of Portland along the Columbia River Gorge also has drop-offs. However, I-84 won't have much of this. This will take you virtually the same way but you won't have as good of views. Whatever you do, don't travel the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. Personally, I think this is far more beautiful but it is a very narrow, winding road with sheer cliffs along most of the route. It doesn't sound like it will work for you.

    Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier don't have too many roads with sheer cliffs on one side. However, there are small portions where there might be some guard-rails with drop-offs. I don't recall these happening for long stretches but I believe you will encounter them once in awhile. Again, my memory might be faulty since I'm not bothered by these types of roads. To visit Mt. St. Helens, you will definitely be driving up roads with cliffs on one side. There's no way around it.

    Crater Lake has a fantastic road that circles the lake. Much of it also has cliffs on one side and, in a few places, on both sides.

    Gosh, if this is a real problem for you, I'm really afraid that it will impact your trip. I actually wrote this and came back and read it several times debating on whether or not I should submit this post. I really don't want to scare you off from what would be a great trip. However, if this is a real problem for you, I'm afraid that you will find the trip stressful. There are few accidents on these roads. They are really quite safe. But, if this is a phobia, I know this may not appease you.

    I'm attaching some pictures of some of the places you're wanting to go to give you an idea of what those areas, and the roads, are like. I really hope that these don't scare you off. It's a beautiful area and millions of cars drive these roads every year without mishap.

    Columbia River Gorge/Washington side

    Crater Lake

    Mt. St. Helens (the hill on the downside is roughly the same steepness as the one going up on the high side)

    Oregon Coast

  4. Default Zig zag trip?

    Hello gatordriver --

    The trip is definitely doable in 2 weeks. And I'm assuming you're taking a rental car from SF to Seattle?

    My one concern with the trip is that is it a bit of a zig-zag trip. In particular, Crater Lake is about a day's drive east of the coast on the other side of the coast range.

    If I had to list a suggestion on the trip routing it would be

    SF to Napa Valley.
    Napa Valley to approximately Mount Shasta/ Weed (Burney and Burney falls are a good site to visit, but not on the direct route)
    Mount Shasta to Crater Lake
    Crater Lake back south west to Grants Pass.
    Grants Pass to Crescent City/ Redwoods National Park
    Redwoods National Park north along the coast to Florence Oregon (Sea Lion Cave)
    Florence to Corvalis (you can continue up to Astoria, and then east to Portland as an option)
    Corvalis to Portland via Oregon Wine County
    Portland to the Dalles (Columbia River Gorge)

    From here the usual route is to return west down the Columiba River to Portland, and then north to Mt St Helens to come on MSH from the west. Then to get to Mt Rainier, you have to head back west to I-5, go north a ways and then head back east on 12 to Rainier.
    But there's also a back door route to the East side of Mt St. Helens that leaves north from Carson Washington, east of Bonneville on the Columbia, but it's a much narrower, windy road (National Forest Road 90, or NF-90 to the little town of Northwoods at Swift Reservoir, and then north on NF-25). But this road will take you within about 10 miles of Spirit Lake at Mt St Helens, which is reachable via National Forest Road 99. That's closer to the crater than the volcano observatory on the west side of the park -- but I don't know what else is available there -- may be no amenities at all, and the last few miles may be good quality dirt road (Last time I was at Mt St Helens was *before* the erruption). I have no experience with these roads. What is most attractive about this route is that continuing north on NF-25 takes you right up along the east side of Mt Rainier as well. (NF-25 to I-12, then east to 123and then north up into Rainier)

    There's also a very nice alternative route from Mt St Helens (on the west side), but probably avoids Mt Rainier. That is, to head west from Mt St Helens back towards the coast, and continue north on 101 through Olympic National Park through Aberdeen and Forks. This lets you visit the Washington Coast, the Hoh Rain Forest, and as you continue back east looping around Olympic National Park, Crescent Lake, Hurrican Ridge (a side trip from Port Angeles), and then back via ferry from either Kingston or Bainbridge Island to Seattle. Since you'd be passing Mt Shasta, and Crater Lake and Mt St Helens, Mt Rainier might not be a bad pass.

    Another option would be to head east either at Chico California or Red Bluff California to do a drive through of Mt Lassen National Park on your way to Crater Lake. It's one of the lesser-visited national parks, but gives you a high volcanic mountain (errupted in the early 1900's), plus bubbling Mud Pots and etc. A hike to the top of Mt Lassen is a day hike in a few hours, which is not possible at Mt St Helens, Shasta or Rainier.

  5. #5


    I live in Portland, OR and have made this trip a few times along a few different routes. You're on the right track as far as what to visit. It's simply beautiful all over the PNW so you're sure to see some great scenery.

    About Crater Lake... it sits atop a mountain, meaning it can be 98 degrees at the base and a 30 minute drive to the rim and it's 30 degrees and windy! They also close a couple of access roads during winter and late spring months so MAKE SURE these roads are open by clicking on this link. ..also do not bypass "The Pinnacles" road spur while driving around the crater lake loop, it's beautiful.

    This pic taken in July alongside the main rim road.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 01-09-2007 at 05:09 PM. Reason: Preferred URL Format

  6. #6

    Default Sights in Oregon

    I'd like to mention a few sights in Oregon that I enjoyed
    seeing on past trips.

    Along the Rogue River between Grants Pass and
    Crater Lake is a place called Natural Bridge. The Rogue
    River goes underground through a lava tube and
    emerges downstream.

    Natural Bridge:

    If you drive along the Umpqua River from Crater Lake back
    to I-5 along Hwy138, stop by Toketee Falls. It's a cool
    waterfall that flows through an opening in the columnar

    Toketee Falls:

    Crater Lake is also amazing. I've never seen a lake so

    Crater Lake:

    Along the coast, I really enjoyed walking and shooting
    photos on the beach at Bandon. The town of Bandon
    is also quaint.

    Bandon Beach:

    Along Hwy 101, north of Florence is Heceta Head
    Lighthouse. I think it's one of the most photographed
    lighthouses on the west coast.

    Heceta Head Lighthouse:

    If you swing back to I-5 from the coast as suggested by
    Larrison, and if you have time, Silver Falls State Park near
    Salem may be worth a visit.

    Silver Falls:

    There are so many waterfalls in Oregon. You'll see lots
    of waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway.

    Get some good maps and guidebooks. I have a Moon
    Handbooks: Oregon and also William L. Sullivan's book "Trips &
    Trails Oregon"
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 01-10-2007 at 11:03 PM. Reason: altered store link

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Stunning Photos!

    Great capture of images, thanks for sharing!


  8. Default Revised Plans

    Thank you all so much for your wonderful suggestions.
    After reviewing your advice, and countless hours searching online, we have narrowed down our "must-see" attractions. I would love it if anyone could offer routing suggestions to take in all these sites in the easiest manner.

    First, we are planning a one-way trip from San Fran to Seattle.
    We would like to see the giant redwoods while in Northern California. (We have visited Muir Woods years ago, but our daughter was a baby and does not remember.) I have read mixed reviews of "Trees of Mystery". This looks like a good stop, albeit very touristy, to see the big trees, especially with the gondola ride. Any other suggestions would be appreciated.

    We have decided to eliminate Crater Lake from our itinerary. Too much zig-zagging across the state. Although gorgeous, from the pictures it is reminicent of the lakes we visited in the Canadian Rockies so we are willing to let this one pass.

    We definitely want to drive up the Oregon coast. My daughter would love to see those natural tide pools where you can find sea stars, urchins, etc. We had thought of visiting the Sea Lion Cave but after researching we might skip this. It appears to very touristy and overpriced. Any opinions would be great. We have seen sea lions at the pier in San Fran, and my reading states that we should continue to see them at various marinas and points along our trip up the coast.

    We want to visit a lighthouse, so if there is one accessible to the public please advise.

    We're looking for advice on where to cut back over from the coast to I-5 to head up towards Portland. Is Portland worth seeing? We want to drive the Columbia River Gorge scenic tour, and then down to Mount Hood. I think we'll want at least 2 nights there.

    From Mount Hood we will travel up into Washington. We absolutely must see Mount St. Helens. Then we'll travel up to Seattle for a few days before flying home.

    I'm looking for routing advice, as well as hotel recommendations (we're not a bed & breakfast/inn family, so regular hotels/resorts please...we'll even do a cabin). Good restaurant recommendations are always welcome. We LOVE fresh seafood.

    Please keep in mind we're traveling with a 9-year-old, so we don't want to overdo it. We don't want to be driving at night, if at all possible.

    Thanks in advance for your help. This site has been a godsend.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Revised suggestions

    Quote Originally Posted by gatordriver View Post
    First, we are planning a one-way trip from San Fran to Seattle.We would like to see the giant redwoods while in Northern California. (We have visited Muir Woods years ago, but our daughter was a baby and does not remember.) I have read mixed reviews of "Trees of Mystery". This looks like a good stop, albeit very touristy, to see the big trees, especially with the gondola ride. Any other suggestions would be appreciated.
    In my view, you sure don't need to go to a tourist trap to see the redwoods. Several roads drive right through them in state parks and you can stop at any roadside parking lot and take a walk for free. My favorites would be -- almost anywhere in the Avenue of the Giants and the Newton Drury Parkway north of Eureka, California.
    We definitely want to drive up the Oregon coast. My daughter would love to see those natural tide pools where you can find sea stars, urchins, etc.
    There are lots of places along the Oregon coast for seeing the tidepools, but one of the easiest places to do it, would be a short day-trip from your starting spot. Go south to Santa Cruz on SR-17 and then briefly north on SR-1 and stop at the Natural Bridges State Park -- it is an easy walk for children of all ages out to the tide pools.

    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 06-04-2007 at 10:07 AM.

  10. Default No tourist traps needed for Redwoods

    I'll echo -- you don't need to stop at Trees of Mystery or the like to see the Redwoods, if you're going anywhere near the Eureka -Crescent City area.

    There are lots of places to see huge redwoods -- and even many of the campgrounds are located in second growth or older redwood groves. If I had to pick a couple of easy places to do..

    Avenue of the giants works for driving through the trees, but my two other easy favorites are

    - The Newton Drury Scenic Parkway -- a 2 lane fast route which parallels 101 through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. (this is north or Eureka, and south of Klamath).

    - Lady Bird Grove in Redwoods National Park. This is about 3-5 miles from 101, and you really do need to get out of the car and take the short (1-2 mile) loop trail through it.

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