This trip will take you from the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest to the high desert beyond the Rocky Mountains. This will be an epic road-trip that will start in the mists of the Pacific Northwest and head east to the sun-soaked sage-brushed flats of Idaho, before turning back west and ending back in Seattle. The trip will take you from sea level to 6,000 ft or more, so be prepared for a little acclimatization. Seattle is one of the world’s great cities, and there is so much to do here, from the expansive parks to the piers where you can fresh fish right off the boat. Our recommendation would be to fly into Seattle, immediately get your luggage and car, and then head out on the road. The reason being, this is going to be a unbelievably fun trip, but there is so much you are going to see and do, that to “unwind” for a few days in Seattle before you head back home would be a great way to end your trip.
We recommend at least three weeks to encompass all of the possible offerings that are suggested in this itinerary. A lot of distance is covered here, so it would be ideal to spend a couple of days in, say, North Cascades National Park or Mount Rainier National Park, driving many hours to and from there. (Of course, the drives themselves are wonderfully scenic, so it won’t feel long at all! The journey is the destination, as they say.) Many of the drives are relatively short – many are only around three road hours between stops – while at least two of the drives will take a good portion of your day, so plan accordingly. (These longer drives could be broken up into segments, too.) The weather in the region is generally predictable: somewhat chilly in the early spring, quite hot in the peak summer months, crisp and cool in the fall. In Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, it can occasionally snow in the later fall months, so pack intelligently. This trip could be done almost any time of year, but possible heavy snow in November through February can make driving in those more mountainous areas rather dangerous. Aside from frequent rain in the winter, the coastal regions would be fine at any time.
Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and pick up your rental car. The city is relatively easy to navigate by car, though it may be best to avoid driving in the late afternoon, as the freeways and roads can be horribly gridlocked around rush hour. We know you might be itching to explore Seattle, but our recommendation would be to head toward your first destination, North Cascades National Park and save the wonders of Seattle for the end of the trip where you can treat yourself to a few days of Rest and Relaxing in this great American city. As you head North on Interstate 5 towards Cascades, here are some suggestion for you to stop along the way to start your trip off in style.
North Cascades National Park is one of the most singularly beautiful places in the world. Ice Capped Granite spires rise to meet the sky and blue-tinged glaciers slowly work their way down to become tumbling mountain streams in moss covered banks. It is also one of the least visited Parks in the lower 48, for one very specific reason. While staggeringly beautiful, it is also very remote. The only way into the park is on foot or hoof, and once you get inside the borders, there are no amenities, ranger stations or structure of any time. But there are a few ways into the park and you can spend a few on the outskirts as your base camp while exploring the fringes of the park, or head in, but you will need to be prepared for self-sufficiency for the duration of your stay.
Your next stop as you head east is the lovely Idaho town of Coeur D’Alene, nestled on the banks of the massive 25-mile-long lake of the same name. The town’s proximity to two major ski resorts and generally tranquil natural setting has made it a destination for outdoor-oriented travelers. Camping, hiking, kayaking and skiing are all within a short trip from the center of town. As this city is on the edge of the Pacific Northwest, there are the usual quality-of-life perks, even in this relatively small town: fine coffee, plenty of microbrews and a wide array of stellar places to eat.
Go Grizzlys! Today you head to the fantastic university town of Missoula. Missoula is a really fun town and you are going to have to make a choice if you want to do all the outdoor activities, all the indoor activities or a mixture of both. A great place to start your decision making process though, would be to head to the visitor’s bureau; Destination Missoula. They wil be able to help you fine tune your trip, but in the meantime, here are a few suggestions.
Today you head out through the Lolo National Forest to Butte. Its a relatively short drive, but this will give you a chance to have a lazy breakfast at the best breakfast joint in Missoula, Paul’s Pancake Parlor. After that, head south to little mining town of Phillipsburg. Stop at Montana Gems to mine for precious stones before spending an hour or so at the Granite County Museum. From Philipsburg, its just a short drive into Butte. Butte is the county seat of Silver Bow County, Montana and has a long and fascinating history with mining and the mining industry. There are numerous tours and museums dedicated to this rich history, but one not-to-be-missed tour is the Old Butte Historical Adventure Tour. Two hours in length, the tour takes you through some of the more interesting and quirky aspects of Butte, including a tour through the old jail.
From Butte its off into Idaho and the town of Rexburg. This town of nearly 26,000 has plenty of things to see and do but there are two not-to-be-missed experiences that you should make time for. The first is the BYU-Idaho Campus and the magnificent Rexburg Idaho Temple located right near by. The second is Yellowstone Bear World, a phenomenal wildlife attraction, this park is essentially a drive through North American wildlife in their natural habitats including rocky mountain elk, bison, white-tail deer, rocky mountain goats, moose, and of course, American black bear, grizzly bear and gray wolves.
The drive from Rexburg to Pocatello will be fairly short, but this will give you a full day to explore the surrounding area, including Craters Of The Moon National Monument and Preserve. Craters of the Moon formed during eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago. Lava erupted from the Great Rift, a series of deep cracks that start near the visitor center and stretch 52 miles to the southeast. During this time the Craters of the Moon lava field grew to cover 618 square miles. Our recommendation would be to head to Pocatello and get settled for the day, gather a picnic together, then head out to Craters of the Moon. The best place to start your adventure is at the Robert Limbert Visitor Center. The center will be able to provide you with maps and information, as well as an exquisite exhibit center and bookstore.
After Craters of the Moon, head back to Pocatello and get ready for a great night. There are a number of different things to do in Pocatello, but we would recommend heading right to the heart, Old Town Pocatello. From specialty shops to fine dining, Old Town Pocatello is a magnet for people looking for a unique experience.
From Pocatello you turn west to Twin Falls and the Gateway to the Snake River Canyon. But first you will take a little detour into Massacre Rock State Park. Massacre Rocks were a well known location along the Oregon Trail where the trail passed through a series of narrow rocks where ambushes from Native Americans were expected. Though this actually happening was extremely rare, it is an interesting historical park and well worth a visit. Upon arriving in Twin Falls for the night, we would recommend heading to the Blue Lakes Inn for a great family-style hotel.
From Twin Falls your road heads North and into the resort town of Sun Valley. This is a short drive, but that’s okay because it will give you plenty of time to explore this great little town nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains. There is a plethora of outdoor activities here, but being a resort town, there is plenty of civilization for you to enjoy. Sun Valley and more specifically Ketcham, is known as the last home of the famed American writer Ernest Hemingway. A memorial pays homage to this father of contemporary American prose. It is well worth a visit.
The trip into Boise will take you through the beautiful Sawtooth National Forest on the Highway 75 Sawtooth Scenic Byway to the junction of Highway 21 Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route at Stanley. This road will wind its way through the Sawtooth Valley and up over the mountains. Traversing this road in the early spring or late fall, however, could lead you into some snowy conditions, so keep up to date on the road conditions. A great stop along the way is Redfish Lake, just outside of Stanley. This is the largest lake in the Sawtooths and can make for great stop to snap some photos. Once you pick up the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route in Stanley, the road will follow winding canyons and mountain peaks, so make sure you plan plenty of time for stops before ending for the night in Boise.
Today will be a longer driving day, but will take you through some of America’s most pristine examples of the High Desert. So sit back, plug in your favorite playlist and enjoy the road. There are plenty of little towns along the way, so feel free to stop at your leisure and explore. One thing not to be missed, however, is the Nez Perce National Historic Park and Scenic Overlook. Its a beautiful area and a great place to stop and stretch your legs. From here its down into the valley of the Clearwater River and your stop for the night, Lewiston.
Welcome to wine country! When you get to Walla Walla, you will officially be in the Columbia River Valley and some of Washington’s best vineyards. With only a two hour drive from Lewiston, you will have plenty of time to visit the valley’s numerous winery’s. There are plenty to choose from, but perhaps the best way to see them is to take a few different tours. Here are some options.
Today you are heading to Yakima and the Yakima Indian Reservation. Our recommendation would be to first find a place to stay before heading into the Reservation for the day. A great place right in the heart of Downtown Yakima is the Hotel Maison. After dropping off your gear, explore some of the towns of the reservation and get a feel for the traditions and culture of the Yakima people. A great place to start would be the Yakima Nation Cultural Center located in the town of Toppenish. After exploring the reservation, head back to Yakima and the bevy of things to do in this city.
Find more Information on the Yakima Reservation here.
Your next stop of this journey is to Mount Rainier National Park, which, at 14,410 feet is an iconic feature of the Washington landscape. This active volcano is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States and spawns six major rivers. Visit the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center to get some orientation around the park and decide if you want to spend a full afternoon here or even longer. (As with all of the national parks, you could spend a day or a week at Rainier, so it’s largely up to you to figure this out.)
Congratulations on completing the Great American Road Trip! You deserve a little Rest and Relaxation and Seattle is just the city to provide it. Like many West Coast cities, Seattle is fairly spread apart, so it’s best to pick a few neighborhoods and explore from there. Downtown has the iconic Pike Place Market, as well as the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Aquarium and the first ever Starbucks Coffee, all within easy walking distance. Other great walkable neighborhoods worth checking out include the Ballard, Fremont and Capital Hill districts. Spend a few days here. You’ve earned it and the memories will last a lifetime.