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Oregon and Washington – Exploring Pacific Northwest By Car

Updated on July 5, 2012

Natural beauty of Pacific Northwest makes Oregon and Washington very desirable travel destinations. Oregon's and Washington's coastlines, Portland and Seattle, Olympic Peninsula and the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls and Cascade Mountains are just a few in the endless list of unique natural and cultural jewels of Pacific Northwest. And you can easily reach the region most spectacular places in the comfort of your car. Here are some of best places in Oregon and Washington to explore by car.

The Sea Lion Caves
The Sea Lion Caves

Oregon's coastline with rugged cliffs, Sahara-like dunes and sandy beaches is dotted with smorgasbord of such remarkable attractions as the Sea Lion Caves, 19th-century lighthouses, breathtaking viewpoints and stunning parks. Just take highway US-101 and you'll see. All way from Brookings in the south to Astoria in the north, Oregon's shoreline offers plenty places to see and views to die for. For example, about 11 miles north of Florence, there is the world's largest sea cave - The Sea Lion Caves with an overwhelming intimate view of sea lions in their natural habitat. Just go 200 feet down into a 25-million year old cave to watch joyful sea lions that live there all year round.

View of Heceta Head Lighthouse
View of Heceta Head Lighthouse

Then a few miles north on top of 205-foot cliff there is one of the loveliest Oregon lighthouses - Heceta Head. Perfect place for a romantic getaway, you can stay overnight in the 19th-century keeper's house (the top floor is a charming bed and breakfast). Then just follow the shoreline to Newport and you will find a few more charming lighthouses on a way, including the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. 93-foot Yaquina Head Lighthouse is just short drive from Highway US-101 through the gorgeous Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area with Marine Garden. Newport is a charming coastal Oregon city with plenty great seafood restaurants, Oregon Coast Aquarium and Rogue Ales famous microbrewery.

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls

Portland, the Rose City, is probably one of the most popular Oregon urban travel destinations. Besides regular urban attractions the city offers some very unique experiences. Just few minutes' drive of Portland, there are Pinot-producing wineries with tasting rooms opened year-round. When in Oregon, to try a local Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris is a must! The presence of three of Oregon's unique natural wonders around Portland makes the city a perfect place to start your Oregon journey. 50 miles southeast of Portland there is Mt. Hood (Oregon's tallest peak), home to four ski areas with longest ski season in North America and largest night skiing area in the USA. About 20 miles east from Portland, Multnomah Falls is second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States and probably the most beautiful. Multnomah Falls is one of the 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, an eighty miles canyon of the Columbia River. Take the Historic Columbia River Highway ("King of Roads"), opened in 1916, is still one the world's most glorious drives. Today, the modern Columbia River Highway (Highway 2) uses I-84 from Portland to east of Boardman, and then US Route 730 northeast to the Washington state line.

Central Oregon with over 150 rivers and lakes and 300 days of sunshine a year will give you a lot of opportunities for sport activities. From fly-fishing to hiking, rock climbing at Smith Rock to snow sports at Mt. Bachelor. As well as, a lot of culinary experiences, unique lodging and a vibrant nightlife. Bend is probably the best town to visit in Central Oregon. The Old Mill District with its shops is one of the Pacific Northwest's most unique experiences.

If continue driving along Highway US-101, then after crossing the state line, the beautiful scenery of Oregon's coastline changes by not less impressive scenery of Washington State coastline with long stretches of beaches, mountains and rainforests. Long Beach is one of the most popular areas on the Washington State coast. The scenic views, some of the most breathtaking in the whole state, can be found at the Fort Canby State Park, which is just south of Long Beach.

Panorama of Seattle, WA
Panorama of Seattle, WA

Seattle is probably number one traveling destination in Washington. The city has an impeccable setting, curved around the shore of Elliott Bay, with Lake Washington behind and the view of snowy peak of Mt. Rainier. Modern skyline of glass skyscrapers with world-famous Space Needle, waterfront full of attractions, restaurants and shopping, farmer markets - there are a lot of things to experience in Seattle. Even though Seattle is the most likeable and vibrant cities in Washington, one of its greatest attraction for visitors is its proximity to the glorious rural scenery of Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic National Park, which occupies the bulk of the peninsula, is absolutely dazzling and can be a highlight of any trip. More than two hundred miles of wild rivers wind through the park, while the valleys of the Quinault, Queets and Hoh rivers contain sizeable tracts of temperate rainforest - one of the world's rarest types of climatic forest, seen elsewhere only in Patagonia and New Zealand. Small towns are sprinkled sparingly along US-101, which loops the peninsula's coast with Port Angeles as the peninsula's main town and the most popular point of entry into Olympic National Park.


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    • profile image

      Levi Sylvester 2 years ago

      Awesome article! I took a trip Through Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. If you want some other ideas for what to do here, check out my article "Exploring the Northwest" on my website descending

      Also, my article on Olympic National Park will guide you through a neat day trip you can take on a sunny or rainy day!

    • wsupaul88 profile image

      wsupaul88 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great Hub! I recently took a trip to the Columbia River Gorge area to take waterfall photos & wrote a Hub about it, check it out:

      This weekend I'll be traveling to Crescent Lake and the Washington Coast to take photos. I'll be posting new pics of my trip on Hubpages and soon!

    • liquidgranite profile image

      liquidgranite 6 years ago

      Nice photos. One vote up.

    • wsupaul88 profile image

      wsupaul88 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      This is a great Hub! I love traveling on the Pacific Coast. And I'm grateful to live in NW WA!

    • easyfreerecipes profile image

      easyfreerecipes 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      going in april, thanks a lot for the info! will revisit this hub before my trip

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 7 years ago from USA

      Very nice hub! We spent a month in that area, but still didn't see everything you mentioned. What a good excuse to go back!

    • CircleRiver profile image

      CircleRiver 7 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Great hub! I've lived in the area for 10 years and I STILL get all giddy with seeing some of the beautiful places. Seeing your pics is like taking a mini-vacation. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Nate Kelley 8 years ago

      Great hubs, I have lived in washington my entire life, there is so much to bee seen here.. Keep up the good work.. Feel free to come check out my hubs... Happy Holidays

    • TheMountainMan profile image

      TheMountainMan 8 years ago from USA

      I would love to visit Oregon, my sister lives in Washington, beautiful area.

    • solarstories profile image

      solarstories 8 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I live on the Oregon Coast. Nice little hub about our area, and after seeing the image of Heceta Head Lighthouse I definitely want to go there.

    • VioletSun profile image

      VioletSun 9 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      You paint a lovely picture of Oregon, this is how most people see it and experience it. I have not been to Bend. I live in a small rural town near Portland and its very quiet, some streets do not have light. Though I miss the city life, I do appreciate the temperate climate and slower pace of life. I am saving this hub in my favorite places because I am going to suggest to my mate to go on a trip around Oregon in his motorhome during the summer.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Traveling by car is a great way to really see and enjoy the countryside. You did a wonderful job of letting people know that these two states offer much in the way of beauty and enjoyment.

    • profile image 9 years ago from San Francisco, CA USA

      Great hub, especially that tip about Fort Canby State Park.

      For a cool overnight on a car trip may I suggest the Cedar Creek Treehouse in Ashford, WA.

    • profile image

      Randi B 9 years ago

      Great hub! Great info!

    • profile image

      Val 9 years ago

      When in the Gorge, check out Hood River!