13 Gems I Discovered on my First Pacific Northwest Road Trip

Out of all the road trips I’ve done until 2019, my recent one in the Pacific Northwest is easily the best, not just because it was my first time there, but also because of the 13 stunning nature gems I discovered while I traveled through there.

This was a trip that I had dreamed of doing for many years and when the right opportunity came, I decided to finally do it, albeit, all by myself.

I will share all of them with you here, and give you exact map listings and areas. So if you also have 7 or more days to travel through the Pacific Northwest, you’ll have a great itinerary lined up! And in my case, my road trip through this area actually began all the way in Las Vegas.

Here’s a preview of the 13 nature gems I saw on my road trip through the Pacific Northwest (PNW):

  1. Mt. Charleston.my first pacific northwest road trip and what I saw 07
  2. Interstate 5’s scenic drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
  3. Mormon Rocks.
  4. Angeles National Forest.
  5. Interstate 5 to Modesto from Los Angeles.
  6. Pyramid Lake off Interstate 5.
  7. Big Sur California.
  8. Fort Bragg (Glass Beach).
  9. Road 1 and Road 101 on the Pacific Coast Highway.
  10. The Redwoods.
  11. The Oregon Coast.
  12. Columbia River Gorge.
  13. High Steel Bridge (Washington).

I’ve also posted many articles on most of these spots, detailing them and what to see in each area/region.

What is the Pacific Northwest (PNW)?

It’s basically a combination of 3 states that border the Pacific Ocean: California, Oregon and Washington. These 3 places are very popular because of their beauty and many people do road trips, long hikes and explorations across these areas.

And this is exactly what I wanted to do when I decided to do this trip there.

Here is how my Pacific Northwest road trip began:

I personally had 7 days to travel as freely as I wished, from Las Vegas to Seattle and the main goal I had set prior to starting it was to see the majestic coast of the western United States, and majestic it was, but my travels and destinations that I had lined up in addition to seeing it, made me see more than that coast and I’m glad it did, because many of the gems I found were inland, not coastal.

And as great as these trips were, the one I am sharing here is easily the most beautiful and you WILL see why. Sadly the only minus to this one I took was that my normal travel buddy wasn’t able to make it, so I did a majority of this one myself and I made it my mission to constantly send him pictures to make him extremely envious and jealous.

Let’s start from the very beginning (the itinerary of my Pacific Northwest road trip):

my pacific northwest road trip itinerary 01

Now keep in mind, this itinerary is written up post trip and I had no plans to travel through these spots as it’s laid out above. I improvised the entire road trip. All I really cared about was making my way north and seeing the great west coast states.

I did also have certain people and places I wanted to see throughout the 7 days and destiny, as well as my GPS just took me through these spots, which happened to be spectacular.

I did want to see more places along the way and on a future road trip through the western US states, I had managed to fill in some extra spots.

Yet this first trip across the Pacific Northwest was what started the whole thing and at this point, I want to make it a tradition to travel there any chance I get.

I will be listing the official 13 gems separately throughout this article, but will be summarizing them below as well.

So let’s start with the first gem and this follows the sequential order of places I explored each day I was on this amazing road trip. We’ll begin with a “prelude” of the gem I saw prior to hitting the Pacific Northwest:

Gem 1: Mt. Charleston

pre pacific northwest road trip in las vegas

Prior to starting my Pacific Northwest road trip, I was staying for 1 week in Las Vegas. I was doing a special conference for a company I work with that helps me fund these travels and even run this travel blog.

To avoid getting bored at the casinos, I took 2 friends who were also in Vegas with me, and we went to the nearest hiking trail we could find, which was in Mt. Charleston, one of the closest hikes near Las Vegas.

For a single day trip (if you’re visiting Vegas), this place is great and truly scenic.

Thankfully, because we visited it during the winter, the weather also permitted us to enjoy the outdoors more.

That spot you see above is from a cave near the famous Mary Jane Waterfall within the Mt.Charleston area.

Again, the details of where this spot is and what else there is to see there is in the link above.

But this trip really made me excited to start the one that would follow across the Pacific Northwest, and so that’s what the next gem is about:

Gem 2: The scenic drive from Interstate 15 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles

angeles nation forest in southern california 02

Once my Vegas trip ended, the Pacific Northwest trip had officially begun (just in southern Nevada and California).

I left the MGM Grand in the afternoon, rented a car near the Las Vegas Airport and began what would be a 5-6 hour drive to Los Angeles. My goal was to reach a close friend living there before dark.

But on the way, I was looking to find great hiking/nature spots to see and let me tell you, what I didn’t realize until I started on the drive was how beautiful and scenic the drive turned out to be.

I had driven before on the same Interstate, but east to Zion National Park and that drive was also amazing, but heading west to Los Angeles, the nature changed drastically as I neared LA and I really enjoyed that experience. It’s one of the most scenic drives in North America.

the start of my pacific northwest road trip in southern california

In fact for about 5 or more hours, I was constantly stunned at how the dessert landscape would slowly turn green as I went further and further south west and the spectacular mountain views I could see in every direction (I wish I’d taken more pictures of that).

The road as well is a treat as some of them are in such high elevations, that it feels you are literally in the skies and inside the clouds, I am not kidding:

Truly, California is the most beautiful state I have seen (Their coast however is second to the Oregon Coast and you’ll see why as it’s one of the gems I covered on this trip).

And while there were so many places I had the chance to visit (Mojave preserve or Death Valley), I elected to finally stop within a place called Angeles National Forest and that was because of the next gem I saw while driving on Interstate 15 which was:

Gem 3: Mormon Rocks

the mormon rocks in southern california

It’s impossible to drive along Interstate 15 and NOT notice this area (it just stands out so clearly and just begs to be explored). It’s these gigantic boulder/rock hikes that are off the road with the Angeles National Forest 5 minutes away from it.

And everywhere around the Mormon Rocks are scenic areas just pulling you toward them and that’s exactly what happened to me.

There are hikes in these spots that are extremely fun looking to try, and if I had more time, I would, but Los Angeles and my friend couldn’t exactly wait for that to happen, and I only had about an hour to spend in this area. 

So instead of climbing the Mormon Rocks, I decided to spare the remaining time I had free to explore more of this area and so I did:

Gem 4: Angeles National Forest

angeles national forest beauty 01

The most beautiful mountainous areas you see on interstate 15 as you’re getting closer and closer to the coast are mountains that are part of Angeles National Forest and while I wish I had at least another week to explore them, I went to the nearest spot in this forest, after I finished checking out the Mormon Rocks.

Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures here, because I entered an area in this forest that I thought would help me get to Los Angeles but through the forest so I could see more of it, but it was snowed in. What amazed me, was how when I entered this forest, it felt and looked like Spring everywhere, but within a few minutes time as I climbed the mountains, it was snowed, with tons of people everywhere skiing, making snowmen and more. 

I was astounded by how beautiful and quickly the environment changed and wished I could stop, and eventually I did, but not to sight see, but to turn back, because as the road kept going going higher, the snow kept on piling up more and more, to the point where I reached a block gate that would not let me continue, lest I had snow chains, which I did not. 

As a result, I had to turn, head back down the same road and mountain, back through the Mormon Rocks, back on Interstate 15 and continue to Los Angeles. But I did not forget Angeles National Forest and neither will you if you visit it. I will get more images the next time I visit, but you can bet you’ll find a lot of waterfalls and hiking trails there.

And keep in mind, all these gems right now that I’ve listed, are from a single day’s trip. I also included many of them on this list of the most scenic drives in southern California.

Gem 5: Interstate 5 in California

road trip through southern california making my way to pacific northwest

Gem 5 began officially on day 2 of my trip and I was headed north to Modesto. On the way there however, not only was I totally taken aback by the beauty of the scenic drive that is Interstate 5, but I also saw signs to explore Sequoia National Park on the way.

Being that it was all north of where I was, I felt I could take some time out of the drive and go there. Sadly, Sequoia was closed, but driving along Interstate 5 was absolutely stunning.

I also put up the Interstate 5 drive as one of my top 15 scenic drives in North America to try (like Interstate 15 from Vegas to LA).

It may not look like much from that photo, but when you’re on the road and you pass these giant mountains that look like beautiful sludge, you’ll see why I say it’s amazing.

And while on this drive, of course there were many stops available and one of them happens to be the next gem on this list:

Gem 6: Pyramid lake on Interstate 5

pyramid lake in southern california

As I was driving on Interstate 5, I went up the road and as it cleared and turned, this gem of a place came up. I immediately looked for then nearest exit to get a better look because I just couldn’t contain how excited I was to explore it! 

This spot is called Pyramid Lake and apparently it is a water reservoir. But it’s the scenic area all around it that truly makes it stand out.

There’s a giant parking lot and tourist spot all around this area you can explore and from what I saw, people actually kayak and fish there too.

I didn’t have much time to stay there, but just making a quick stop to enjoy the view at Pyramid Lake was enough for me to feel satisfied and continue further.

By nighttime I had reached Modesto and stayed at my friend’s house overnight.

Gem 7: Big Sur

big sur region of california road trip 01

Day 3 was supposed to involve me traveling to Yosemite, but like Sequoia which was closed, so too was Yosemite and it literally happened on the morning I was supposed to go there.

If you decide to do a road trip through the Pacific Northwest during the winter, expect a lot of inland areas to be closed due to snow. I didn’t know this beforehand and it really impacted the trip in negative ways, so just keep this in mind for yourself.

But anyway, my plans shifted more west, to the actual Pacific Coast and I am glad it did because Big Sur came up on my list of places to see there and it is a gem that you cannot miss!

While the drive on the only road there is spectacular, 2 places I had time to see were McWay Falls and Bixby Bridge.

And aside from these 2 spots, Big Sur has a ton more places to see, swim, hike in and drive through. In a later trip one year after this, I came back to Big Sur and explored 4 locations in total.

My article above talking about Big Sur shows the best places to explore there. But this region of the northern California Coast is spectacular to travel to (and hike in as well).

Note: Several road trips later, I managed to visit Yosemite National Park!

Gem 8: Fort Bragg and the famous Glass Beach

fort bragg in northern california

On day 4 of my trip, I had left Modesto, and traveled to San Francisco.

I briefly drove through the downtown area of this place (because I had never been there) and enjoyed that experience, even though it was pretty brief.

From there my next destination would be Fort Bragg which was a 2-3 hour drive from it and it was on the California Coast.

The drive to this place was pretty boring and later I found out I missed a few extra gems that I could have seen if I just turned a bit more towards the coast. I’ll make up for it another time though.

Anyway, when I finally got to Fort Bragg, I visited my first Glass beach and I say first, because there are several around the country and world.

There is one on the Washington Coast too and you can check out that link to see where it is.

Gem 9: Road 1, Road 101 (The Pacific Coast Highway):

northern california coast and the start of the pacific northwest

Nothing in my opinion makes a Pacific Northwest road trip more memorable than driving through the Pacific Coastal Highway of which these 2 roads make it up entirely. They are one road, but labeled differently in each state.

Since I was traveling north, I continued on it for a few hours and honestly, there isn’t enough I can say about these 2 drives, especially in this area.

I got a sample of it in Big Sur (which is on Road 1), the appreciation and views I got while driving for hours, albeit slowly, was worth it:

I do have to say that even though I didn’t go through all of the Pacific Coast Highway, that if you decide to do it, don’t just focus on the many destinations there as you might miss parts of this actual scenic drive and that itself is the gem here.

Not every destination on Road 1 or the 101 will be an official, famous spot, but take my advise and stop anywhere on the 101 where you feel the view is worth looking into further, because you WILL have plenty of those sights pop up.

In fact, if you want to get specific, a literal west coast road trip would likely be best done if you did nothing but traveled up the 101 all the way to Washington.

Gem 10: The drive and stops within the Redwoods (Start of Pacific Northwest Region)

pacific northwest road trip and the redwoods

Day 5 was probably the best out of the entire trip because it had me exploring what is in my opinion the best looking spots on my trip.

It began with the Redwoods, and that place made up for Sequoia (the park I couldn’t see that also had it’s own giant trees).

Most people have heard about this place and fortunately, it is very  easy to enter, drive through and even stop in many places to enjoy hikes.

I mainly drove through it, but I did stop 2-3 times to enjoy a short hike, some of which got me very close to the trees like you see to the right.

I visited this park very early in the morning and was fortunate to be the only person there. It made that experience so much more spiritual and memorable as I felt the peace, silence and beauty of this nature all put together.

In addition, there are many places to stop at within the Redwoods including hikes and access to beaches, since it is on the coast, as well as many attractions.

I really felt satisfied with the areas I saw there for my first visit and decided to continue north and that brought me to the next awesome gem on this list: 

Gem 11: The Oregon Coast (A classic Pacific Northwest gem to see)

the oregon coast in the pacific northwest road trip details

For road trips in the Pacific Northwest, a visit to the Oregon Coast is a must.

And in my case, I had heard much about The Oregon Coast before visiting it, and I have to tell you, whatever people tell you about how beautiful it is, it’s actually MORE beautiful once you’re there. I say that with firsthand experience visiting this area (more than once actually).

I even think that when you compare the Oregon and California coastlines, Oregon’s might be slightly better (in my opinion).

For me personally, nothing struck me as being more beautiful in this whole state’s coast than Samuel H. Boardman State Park, which you will pass through shortly after the Redwoods.

Samuel H. Boardman State Park has a ton of jewels to see, and the picture above is from Natural Bridges. And in terms of where you can find that above spot, here it is and it’s called Natural Bridges.

And I’m telling you, nearly all of Samuel H. Boardman State Park is this beautiful. Just about everything you’ll see on the Oregon Coast is it’s own gem.

Note: I returned to this same spot less than a year later and added even more locations to the places I saw in Oregon, including:

I also share a ton of awesome day hikes on the Oregon Coast you can explore here. And just as well, since on later trips through this region, I have driven through it fully (but have yet to explore all of it), there are also many sea cave spots on the Oregon Coast.

Gem 12: Columbia River Gorge in Oregon

my pacific northwest road trip through oregon

Day 6 began and one of the spots that I really wanted to visit was a waterfall called Multnomah Falls but to get to it, I had to turn north east from the Oregon Coast, and visit an area called Columbia River Gorge.

This place as a whole is also a gem and basically provides easy access to many scenic areas and waterfalls. Here is a picture of Multnomah Falls:

Additionally, this place also had an entry to a famous trail called Oneonta Gorge (it looks like the Narrows in Zion National Park) but it was closed and sadly, this was one of the other main places I really wanted to see. 

Once it opens up, the good news is that this waterfall and that trail are close to each other. Most of the other places I visited were a long car drive apart.

And that is one of the other main advantages of visiting Columbia River Gorge.

Yet as awesome as this place was, the Oregon Coast was calling me back and so I shifted west, back to the coast and had to endure a massive blizzard on the way.

Thankfully I reached a coastal hotel unscathed and spent the night, close to the next destinations I’d visit.

Also worth noting was during my stay in this region of Oregon was when I got what would become my favorite winter jacket that was perfect for this environment (The REI Co Op Stormhenge 850 Down Jacket).

Gem 13: High Steel Bridge, Washington State

high steel bridge in washington region of pacific northwest

Day 7 was the official last day I had to see as many scenic spots that I could. I began on the Oregon Coast again, and decided to head a bit north into Washington to catch some spots, but then planned to shift northeast to eventually get to Seattle.

As the day began, I visited: Hug Point, Astoria and Deadman’s Cove.

Once these 3 spots were done, my plan was to visit a famous bridge called Vance Creek Bridge, but due to the road being inaccessible, I looked at alternatives and this brought me to what I consider a better option, which is gem 13: High Steel Bridge.

This bridge was in the Olympic National Park region of Washington, but sadly, I couldn’t explore more of it with the time I had (on later road trips I did though).

Concluding my first Pacific Northwest road trip:

After I had visited High Steel Bridge, my next goal was to reach Vancouver, Canada to see family members of mine and in doing so, I had to omit any other potential spots I could see on my trip, which is why despite having another day, I considered this, day 7 to be the last official one for my trip and where I’ll end this post.

Overall, I have provided a 7 day itinerary of the places and gems I’ve visited on my west coast trip and I hope that if you’re planning a visit to any of the spots I listed, that the spots I’ve provided are also places you’ll explore and if you do, let me know!

Questions about doing a road trip to the Pacific Northwest:

What is the best time of year to visit the Pacific Northwest?

April through November. During April, the green colors of the nature there are better, but there’s more snow covered spots. In November, the fall colors of the PNW come around.

How do people spend a week in the Pacific Northwest?

Most people drive through the Oregon Coast for a few days, then through the Washington coast another few days, and finish in Seattle.

How many days do you need for a west coast road trip?

A week or more is usually enough to see most of the west coast but you would need to drive quite a lot to fully get through it then.

More incredible road trips that followed since:

1) While I said the best road trip I took was to the Pacific Northwest, that was in 2019, and later that year, my buddy and I took another one which rivals the west coast one, and that was through Western Canada, where we saw places like Vancouver Island and the epic Canadian Rockies

2) In addition to that, I had also done another road trip in 2020 which helped me explore Washington more and here’s 10 spots on the Washington Coast I recommend seeing, some of which are already on this list.

3) A year later I returned and explored much of the west coast again (but I also explored a lot of Utah State which was stunning). And I took that opportunity very seriously and made sure to explore many more gems! It is detailed in this post on my western US road trip.


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