Although quite distinct, the Pacific Northwest cities of Portland and Seattle make a great vacation pair. These siblings divided by state lines are equally as beautiful and interesting, but in different ways.
Travelers can take various pathways between Portland and Seattle. For the most scenic (and slow) route, drivers can veer to the coastline and hop the cities there. But even the most straight shot route, up Interstate 5, is full of fun stops (although the traffic can be pretty rough in town). A drive straight through will only take about three hours, but you can drag it out over a few days and see scenic parks and mountains, museums and gardens, islands and lakes.
Here are 10 of the many great places to visit on a road trip from Portland to Seattle.
The Chinese garden in Portland — Photo courtesy of Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust
Lan Su Chinese Garden
Start in Portland’s traditional Chinese garden, the Lan Su Chinese Garden, created as a partnership between Portland and Suzhou, China. The botanical garden is like a growing, cultural work of art, designed to harmonize art, design, nature and architecture. The “Garden of Awakening Orchids” is considered the most authentic Chinese garden outside of the country itself.
Birds in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jason Crotty
Famous explorers Lewis and Clark originally named this Green Bryor Isd in 1805, making it an interesting destination for both nature-lovers and history buffs. The island is on the Columbia River near Ridgefield, and is part of the 5,217-acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.
The massive Columbia River, also called the Great River of the West, is considered by some to be the most significant environmental force in the Pacific Northwest, according to the Center for Columbia River History.
Lake Sacajawea — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Lee
This Washington lake is popular among outdoor enthusiasts that like to take advantage of its 3.5 miles of trails. Follow the paths under bridges and past stunning landscaping, fountains and gardens. Visitors can take a “Solar System Walk” or go fishing or canoeing. Don’t miss the Japanese Gardens here.
On the way to Mount St. Helen in Washington is the 3,000-acre Silver Lake, where visitors can find nearby trails, camping, fishing and boating. Visitors who don’t want to camp can stay at the waterfront Silver Lake Resort, where each room has a balcony overlooking the lake. Cast out a line from the balcony and fish from your room.
Mount St. Helens from a distance — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Andrew E. Larsen
Mount St. Helens visitor centers
Mount St. Helens' eruption in 1980 was monumental and sparked the biggest landslide in recorded history. Learn more about the famous volcano in Castle Rock, Washington, at the three different visitors centers. Each center offers different slivers of history, great views and stories from survivors. The Forest Learning Center is free and family-friendly, especially the “eruption chamber.”
Lewis and Clark State Park
Stay the night at the Lewis and Clark State Park in Washington, a 621-acre park uniquely located in an old-growth forest. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the old trees, mostly Douglas fir and red cedar, and explore the beauty along five miles of hiking trails or on horseback.
The Olympic Flight Museum
The Olympic Flight Museum in Olympia, Washington, is where the history of flight still lives on. See more than 20 vintage aircrafts in excellent condition here. See military trainers and an assortment of historic helicopters. The museum also holds an annual air show that attracts many visitors to the region.
Point Defiance Park forest — Photo courtesy of Flickr user pfly
Point Defiance Park
Point Defiance Park is a 700-plus-acre urban park in Tacoma, Washington, with breathtaking flower gardens, beaches, a forest, trails and even a zoo and aquarium (the only combined zoo and aquarium in the area). More than three million people visit this park every year. It’s a uniquely Washington destination that allows visitors the chance to experience all different kinds of nature in one spot, right in the city.
Saltwater State Park — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Micah Sheldon
Saltwater State Park
Just before you get to Seattle, stop in Des Moines, Washington, the home of Saltwater State Park. Here, visitors can find camping along 1,445 feet of shore, surrounded by marine life that thrives in tide pools. This is the only state park in the U.S. with an underwater artificial reef. It’s also a protected marine sanctuary and a great place to go swimming.
There are so many worthy places to visit in Seattle, but one that strikes the curiosity of many travelers is Harbor Island. This unusual man-made island was originally built in 1909 as the biggest artificial island in the world. Today, it is still the biggest in the U.S. and a popular home for industrial businesses. It may not be the most scenic place in Seattle, but its history is fascinating.