10 places you need to see when driving from Portland to Seattle


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.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

239 NW Everett Street, Portland

Stunning Chinese garden in PortlandStunning Chinese garden in Portland — Photo courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust / flickr

Start in Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden, created as a partnership between Portland and  its sister city, Suzhou, China. The botanical garden is like a growing work harmonizing design, nature and architecture. The “Garden of Awakening Orchids” is considered the most authentic Chinese garden outside of the country itself.

Bachelor Island

Columbia River, near Ridgefield

Birds in the Ridgefield National Wildlife RefugeBirds in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge — Photo courtesy of Jason Crotty / flickr

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


Scenic Lake SacajaweaScenic Lake Sacajawea — Photo courtesy of Lee / flickr

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.

Silver Lake


Mt. St. Helens reflected in Silver Lake — Photo courtesy of iStock / 4nadia

On the way to Mount St. Helens in Washington is the 3,000-acre Silver Lake, where visitors can find nearby trails, camping, fishing and boating. Those who don’t want to camp can stay at the waterfront Silver Lake Resort, where each room has a balcony overlooking the water. Cast out a line from the balcony and fish from your room.

Mount St. Helens Visitor Centers

Castle Rock

Mount St. Helens from a distanceMount St. Helens from a distance — Photo courtesy of Andrew E. Larsen / flickr

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 different visitor centers. Each center offers different slivers of history, great views and stories from survivors.

The Forest Learning Center is free and family-friendly; the “eruption chamber” is especially interesting.

Lewis and Clark State Park

4583 Jackson Highway, Toledo

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

7637-A Old Highway 99 SE, Olympia

The Olympic Flight Museum in Olympia, Washington, is where the history of flight still lives on. You’ll see more than 20 vintage aircraft in excellent condition, including 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

5400 N Pearl Street, Tacoma

Sunrise on Owen Beach at Point Defiance ParkSunrise on Owen Beach at Point Defiance Park — Photo courtesy of iStock / LifeImagesbyGloria

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

25205 8th Place S, Des Moines

Saltwater State Park in Des MoinesSaltwater State Park in Des Moines — Photo courtesy of Micah Sheldon / flickr

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.

Harbor Island

Duwamish River, Seattle

Harbor Island by nightHarbor Island by night — Photo courtesy of iStock / JacobStark

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.

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