The best West Coast road trips

Explore the West Coast on a road trip past rugged coastlines, along picturesque beaches and, even, into America's great wilderness. From California to Alaska, any of these five routes will take you on a spectacular drive.

Pacific Coast Highway

One of the most popular West Coast road trips is the Pacific Coast Highway. California's Route 1 starts in Monterey and finds it ways through Big Sur, where you'll see some of the most beautiful mountains meet the shoreline.

Monterey should be a stop at the top of your list. Visitors will get to dive into California's history and explore sites such as the Monterey State Historic Park, Casa Soberanes, Larkin House and the Royal Presidio Chapel.

Bixby Bridge is a must-see on your road trip, as the single-span concrete arch reaches 260 feet high and 700 feet long. You'll get to see Hurricane Point with spectacular views before watching the sand dunes and 1889 Point Sur Lighthouse come into full view. Other highlights on the Pacific Coast Highway include Carmel-by-the-Sea, Point Lobos State Reserve, Old Coast Road and Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

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Olympic Peninsula

Olympic Peninsula remains fairly wild with no roads on the interior that's populated by old-growth forest and elk. To get the best trip through the Olympic Range and its peninsulas, you'll want to take U.S. Route 101 for 330 miles through Port Angeles and Aberdeen.

The best place to start a road trip to the Olympic Peninsula is in Seattle. Be sure to make a stop in Port Townsend where there's Victorian architecture, art galleries and wine bars. Visit the Port Townsend website for information on upcoming events. 

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olympic peninsula best west coast vacation
Olympic Peninsula vacation rentals

One of the world's longest natural sand spits is on this route and named Dungeness Spit. There are more than 250 bird species here, which is the reason why it was declared a national wildlife refuge back in 1915.

Other highlights on this route include Port Angeles outside of Olympic National Park and Neah Bay, the westernmost point you can reach via car in the state of Washington. Lake Crescent offers some of the best views along the southern shore of the water.

Columbia River Highway

A spring break road trip along the Columbia River Highway is the perfect getaway. This is the first scenic highway in the U.S. and begins 13 miles east of Portland along Interstate 84. The highway was built for those who wanted to take a road trip to see the scenery and is a hidden gem in the Pacific Northwest. The Columbia River Gorge is a stop you must make while roadtripping on the highway.

There are several options to this route, including using Troutdale or where the Sandy River meets the Sandy River Bridge. Drivers can then choose Troutdale to Dodson or Mosier to The Dalles. Whichever route you take, there are keystone-shaped signs to guide you through it all.

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Coastal Oregon vacation rentals

Lewis and Clark State Park is in Troutdale and offers a look at what the pioneers discovered many years ago when they first explored the region on the Oregon Trail. There are antique shops and a historic downtown in Troutdale that offer a relaxing start and ending to your trip.

The Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint is a must-see as well. The Vista House has it all and serves as a memorial to the state's original pioneers. It's one of the most recognizable sites on the highway and offers a 360-degree view of the river. Multnomah and Latourell falls are on your list of places to see, as is Bonneville Dam, The Dalles, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and the Wasco County Museum.

Portland to Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park features 40 miles of coastline. You can get from Portland to the park in approximately five hours, but the best way to get to the Redwoods is via U.S. 101 South/Oregon Coast Highway to northern California.

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Vacation rentals near Redwood National Park

Some of the trees in the park are 2,000-years-old and are among the tallest in the world. There are trails for hiking and cycling as well for those who really want to dive deep into the woods.

The best route to take for this road trip is from Portland down the Oregon coast and back around through the Deschutes National Forest to catch a view of Crater Lake. The water in the lake is deep blue and the result of the collapse of volcano Mount Mazama. Visitors can hike Mount Scott, which reaches an elevation of 8,929 feet. You'll also love the quaint coastal towns along Oregon's coast and a stop in Tillamook is a must.

Seattle to Alaska

If you really want to get in touch with nature, a road trip from Seattle to Alaska is the adventure for you. You'll travel by road and sea to get to Ketchikan, but it'll be well worth the trip.

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After departing Seattle, an ideal place to stop and spend a few days is in Vancouver. The Stanley Park Seawall is a paved path that journeys through the city's waterfront. Prince George and Prince Rupert are two other towns you'll want to visit on the way to Ketchikan before boarding the Alaska Marine Highway System. After you arrive in Ketchikan, opt for the cruise ship option that brings you back to Seattle.

Start your trip in Seattle at one of these rentals

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