Explore the PNW in a Fully-loaded Campervan
Ask any Pacific Northwesterner what the region means to them and the answers will be as varied as the paint jobs on our campervans. To some, it means food: apples, cherries, marionberries, smoked salmon, seafood stew, and Portland microbrews. To others, it means the outdoors: sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands, hiking in Rogue River Country, skiing at Mt. Bachelor, or mountain biking world-class singletrack at Whistler.
To us here at Escape, the Pacific Northwest means epic road-trip country: winding two-lane highways with nobody on them, beautiful State and National Parks without the crowds, and solitary beach towns that beg you to park the van and stay awhile. With an Escape campervan, you can do just that – camp wherever you can park and take in the sights.
No matter how you see it, this vast expanse of land is definitely best explored in an Escape campervan. We’ve put together 3 itineraries with loops in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, highlighting our favorite stops on each route. Take on one, two, or the whole shebang! Start at our Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver BC depots.
Remember, it is legal to cross into Canada in your Escape Campervan! You can:
- Do one way or round trip between Vancouver and Calgary, and cross into the US during your trip
- Do one way or round trip between any of our 10 depots in the US, and cross into Canada during your trip
Distance: 900+ miles (1448+ km)
Time: 20+ hours (1+ weeks)
With 3 pristine national parks and even more state parks to choose from, Washington is the perfect place to explore the outdoors by campervan. The area is much less crowded than the likes of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, but it’s just as beautiful, which makes it the best of both worlds. Be on the lookout for U-pick apple and cherry orchards along the way!
We’ll start at our Seattle Escape Campervans depot and head south to Mt. Rainier.
Mt Rainier National Park
It’s hard to miss this towering force of the Cascade Range. Popular with alpinists, Mount Rainier is an active volcano that stands 14,410 feet above sea level and is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.A. White River Campground is one of our favorites and acts as a gateway into the park.
Mt. St. Helens
If you didn’t get enough of the first volcano, Mt. St. Helens is up next. On May 18, 1980, an explosion blew off the entire northern rim of the mountaintop. 57 people died in the initial blast and the summit elevation of the volcano was reduced from 9,760 ft (2,975 m) to 8,525 ft (2,600 m). If you want to visualize the awesome power of Mother Nature, make sure you make the detour to this National Monument. We recommend Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Seaquest State Park for camping. Reservations are highly recommended.
Olympic National Park
A designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, here you’ll find nearly a million acres of wilderness, from glacier-capped mountains and old-growth temperate rain forests to over 70 miles of wild coastline. Be sure to check out Hurricane Ridge.
North Cascades National Park
Ready for even more mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, and forests? North Cascades won’t disappoint. Scenic drives and the electric blue Diablo Lake await!
The crowning glory of Washington State’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the stunning Enchantment Lakes basin is over 7,000 feet in elevation and can only be attained by two approaches. You can’t get there very easily, but they’re worth the effort. Be sure to get a permit before you plan your hike in, and grab a beer at the Bavarian-styled village of Leavenworth right outside the area.
You’ll end your trip here, but it’s not over yet! Check out the Space Needle, Experience Music Project Museum, and Pike Place Market. If you want more, catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands for some whale watching, or Bainbridge Island for some kayaking.
Distance: 800+ miles (1387+ km)
Time: 15+ hours (1+ weeks)
From Seattle, cruise down Interstate 5 through the Columbia River Gorge about 3 hours to the city of Portland, Oregon.
Ground zero for the latest hipster, organic, and bike-to-work movements sweeping the world. Tap the brakes for a couple of days and experience everything The Rose City has to offer. Beyond Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland has some of the best cuisine and craft beer in the country (Pine State Biscuits, Por Que No, and Salt & Straw are Escape favorites). Drive up to the historic Pittock Mansion for a view over the city with Mount Hood in the distance. Catch some live music at the Crystal Ballroom. If you’re a soccer fan, snag some tickets to a Timbers game, as the fans are said to be on the level of the experience typically had at English Premier League matches. Basketball fans would do well to attend a Trail Blazers game at the Moda Center. Finally, 23rd Street and Mississippi and Alberta are great little areas to walk around and get a feel for the city.
Silver Falls State Park is less than 2 hours away, but it has great camping and is well worth the trip if you’re a fan of waterfalls–you’ll see 10 spectacular ones on a short hike through the canyon.
About 2 hours from Portland you’ll find Mount Hood, one of Oregon’s most iconic landmarks and the only ski area in North America open 12 months out of the year. Along the way, be on the lookout for campgrounds and fruit stands–especially U-pick marionberry farms. Stop at Trillium Lake for picturesque views of the mountain reflected in the water. Stopover at Government Camp, a quaint little ski village, for some delicious food, then meander up to Timberline Lodge. You might recognize this building, as the outside of it was filmed for The Shining. The inside is beautiful, and while it’s a bit pricey, it’s lovely to grab a cocktail and a marionberry cobbler at the bar upstairs while taking in the view. If you have time, Cooper Spur is an awesome hike in the summer that gets you up close and personal to the summit of Mt Hood.
Smith Rock State Park
Fans of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild will recognize this spot–although they shot it as the California portion of her Pacific Crest Trail hike in the movie. You’ll drive through the Warm Springs Reservation to get here, and will notice the lush green valley melt away into the landscape of the high desert. There’s great fly fishing here, as well as natural hot spring pools at Kah-Nee-Ta. Once you make it to Smith Rock, you’ll find one of the best rock climbing meccas in the world, and one of our favorite hikes: Misery Ridge. You can camp cheaply at The Bivy, where you’ll find restrooms, showers, sinks, and more. On your way out, stop at the Crescent Moon Ranch, a free attraction that brings instant happiness when the adorable, soft, goofy alpacas run up to you (a great opportunity for a selfie).
Outdoor-lovers, this is the place for you. Google anything along the lines of “Best Towns for Outdoorsy People” and you’re more than likely to find Bend on the list. Rent a mountain bike and experience at Phil’s Trail, tour the microbreweries, hike in the Deschutes National Forest, ski at Mount Bachelor, or simply wander around the quaint downtown. Deschutes Brewery is the most famous brewery, and you can’t go wrong with the beer there, however, we’re also partial to Good Life’s “Sweet As” Pacific Ale made with New Zealand hops, and Boneyard’s RPM. Stop at Backporch for good coffee. For food, check out Spork and The Lot. If you come through during the summer months, you’ll probably see the Deschutes River full of people floating, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, and more, and will be hard-pressed not to join them.
Note: Rob, our CEO, used to live here, so you know it’s good!
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
While the city of Bend is beautiful, the Cascade Lakes Highway is its real gem. Sparks Lake offers incredible views of the Cascade Mountains, while Elk Lake has a lodge, cabins, and camping. Tumalo Mountain is a great short hike that offers beautiful vistas of the Cascades and is spectacular at sunrise/sunset. For longer hikes, No Name Lake at the base of Broken Top and Green Lakes Trail are stunners.
Sisters is about 25 minutes from Bend and is a great little town that has managed to preserve its Western vibe (even the McDonald’s looks Western). Get a marionberry shake from Sno Cap. If you’re there in September, the Sisters Folk Festival is magical, but be sure to get tickets well in advance. From there, Highway 242 (the McKenzie Highway) is a beautiful scenic drive. Stop at the Dee Wright Observatory and Proxy Falls–one of America’s most-photographed waterfalls. Keep going up to Cougar Hot Springs if you want more. (Note: clothing is optional at many of Oregon’s hot springs, so be prepared for that!)
Crater Lake National Park
Make sure you carve out a couple of days to check out Crater Lake National Park. It’s just a couple hours south of Bend on Highway 97 and is well worth the side trip. Created by the collapse of a volcano, this is one of the most beautiful parks you’ll see in the Pacific Northwest.
Mazama Campground. Open June through September, make sure you have reservations in advance. Lost Creek, although much smaller, is also worthy and all their sites are on a first-come-first-served basis. Finally, Crater Lake is surrounded by Umpqua National Forest, so boondocking (pirate camping) is another great option.
Umpqua Hot Springs and Toketee Falls are a short drive away outside the park and make for a great little day trip if you combine them.
The Oregon Coast
A tiny seaside town worth your attention, Yachats is known for Dungeness crab (season is November through June-ish) and you can’t go wrong frequenting any of the beachside shacks or upscale gourmet restaurants in town. Wander among the tidepools and knock out a hike at Cape Perpetua.
From the town of Yachats south is a long stretch of coastline that happens to be in the Siuslaw National Forest. It’s legal to camp along this stretch of Highway 101 for free. Avoid areas that warn of “No Overnight Parking.”
Located on the edge of Yaquina Bay, Newport is a great place to get out of the campervan and get your blood pumping. Agate and Beverly beaches are good places to check out. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is world-class if you’re a budding biologist. There also seem to be independent bookstores on every corner—grab a read or two if you’ve grown tired of your travel partner.
Beverly State Beach has epic sites and is close to town.
This place is tiny. So small, in fact, that Depoe is home to the world’s smallest navigable harbor. The sea caves and lava beds along the shoreline make for great hiking and wandering among the tide pools. This place is also one of the best jumping off points to go whale watching.
Fogarty Creek State Park, just north of town, is the place to be if you haven’t had your fill of beaches and tidal pools.
Whale Watching Tour
Tradewinds Charters seems to be the biggest operator in town. Give them a call at (541) 765-3474.
If you’re a surfer, this is where you want to be. Just be sure to bring a wetsuit, and the Oregon ocean is a lot colder than California’s!
If you want to keep driving north up the coast, stop by the world-famous Tillamook Dairy Farm. No proper Oregon road trip would be complete without a tour of their cheese factory! Then, meander through one of our favorite little towns, Manzanita, before reaching the iconic Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach and ending up in Seaside.
Distance: 700+ miles (1126+ km)
Time: 14+ hours (1+ weeks)
While we love a good US road trip, our friendly neighbors to the north have some incredible scenery that you won’t want to miss out on if you have the chance. It takes about 3 hours to get across the border to Canada from our Seattle depot, and it’s well worth the trip. We’ve put together some highlights for a week-long loop to Vancouver and Whistler.
This coastal seaport city is the perfect launch point for your British Columbia adventure. Stroll around Stanley Park, visit Granville Island, ride the gondola up Grouse Mountain, or lounge at Kitsilano, or “Kits,” Beach. Take a walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which hovers 230 feet above Capilano River. If you have the time, hop on the ferry to the historic capital, Victoria, and check out the Butchart Gardens.
Along the Sea to Sky Highway you’ll find the outdoor mecca of Squamish. It was named by The New York Times as one of the top 52 Places to Go, and is recognized around the world for its mountain biking, hiking, rafting, windsurfing, and rock climbing. In fact, between Shannon Falls, Murrin Park, The Malamute, and the Little Smoke Bluffs, there are over 1200 rock-climbing routes in the Squamish area.
Take the Sea to Sky Gondola for views of the sound and nearby Shannon Falls, a towering waterfall cascading down a series of cliffs. Watch the northern lights at Porteau Cove, and look out for bald eagles. View camping options here.
Garibaldi Provincial Park
Named after the iconic 2,678-meter peak, Mount Garibaldi, this park offers year-round recreation. In the summer, take a hike up to the Red Heather Hut, or through the meadows to Elfin Lakes. In the winter, the park’s terrain becomes a destination for skiers and snowboarders.
The Diamond Head and Black Tusk/Rubble Creek areas are also worth a visit.
If you’re hardcore into mountain biking and skiing, this is the place for you. And if you’re not, this is still the place for you! No matter your interests, it’s impossible to be bored in Whistler. It’s home to Whistler Blackcomb, one of the largest ski resorts in North America.
Besides skiing and snowboarding, the area offers snowshoeing, tobogganing, and ski jumping at the Olympic Park, (one of the venues for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics). The town itself is a chalet-style pedestrian village at the base of the mountains. Trails range from easy nature walks around Lost Lake to elevation-intense mountain climbs.
Until the 1960s, this village could be reached only by train, but that changed when Highway 99 was built–which means you can now road trip there! Be sure to check out Joffre Lakes and Nairn Falls Provincial Parks, and the Pemberton Distillery. Then, stop by Duffey Lake Provincial Park on your way out for one of the best views you’ll ever get for a picnic and a swim.
Located in the Thompson Valley, you’ll find yet another outdoor mecca. More than 100 lakes within an hour of Kamloops, as well as two major rivers, provide great fishing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and tubing. Hiking, mountain biking, camping, and wildlife abound. Kamloops is also a major golfing destination, with around a dozen courses close by. Visit Sun Peaks Resort during the winter months.
Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park
Known for the Othello Tunnels near Hope, British Columbia. More importantly, this area is easily recognizable when watching Rambo: First Blood, where Sylvester Stallone hangs off the cliff while a helicopter tries to snipe him down. The Othello Tunnels were originally part of the Kettle Valley Railway and consist of five tunnels and a series of bridges through the Coquihalla River Canyon, a gorge lined with flat, vertical rock cliffs. It celebrated 100 years last year.
Note: The Othello Tunnels are closed during the winter months due to unstable conditions, falling rocks and ice.
Harrison Hot Springs
Located just over an hour from Vancouver, you’ll want to stop here on the home stretch of your trip. Here you’ll find a resort and spa, a public pool, a floating water park, scenic and wildlife tours, jet ski rentals, sport fishing, paddling on the Harrison River, golfing, hiking, tubing, and relaxation on the beach. The perfect end to your Escape to Canada, eh?