Has the open road been calling your name? The Pacific Northwest is one of the best parts of the country to do a road trip in—there’s just so much to see and do! From bustling cities to secluded parks, you just can’t beat the PNW when it comes to sightseeing in the great outdoors. The drive from Salt Lake City to Seattle will take you through Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, and we promise you one thing: You won’t be short on ways to get outside and experience the region in all of its glory!
Wellsville, Utah, is about an hour north of Salt Lake City, and it’s a charming town that makes for a nice first stop on the way to Seattle. East of Box Elder Peak, Wellsville is surrounded by beautiful scenery, and there are several parks where you can enjoy a relaxing walk. A little outside of the city, you’ll find Wellsville’s main attraction: the American West Heritage Center, a folk museum that, as its name suggests, is dedicated to the history of the American West.
The American West Heritage Center hosts a variety of seasonal events that range from festivals and farmyard fun to animal interactions and history-themed workshops. Focusing on the 100-year time period from 1820 to 1920, the American West Heritage Center is a fun but educational stop that visitors of all ages will be entertained by. Make sure to check the center’s online calendar to see what’ll be going on while you’re in town!
Located around four-and-a-half hours north of Salt Lake City, Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve is an extraordinary piece of land that you’ll come across in southern Idaho, right before you hit Sawtooth National Forest. Encompassing the entire Great Rift volcanic rift zone, Craters of the Moon features an array of volcanic landforms, including lava flows, cones, tubes, and fields. Formed during eruptive periods that occurred throughout the past 15,000 years, Craters of the Moon holds geological wonders that are as captivating as they are rare.
Among the most iconic formations to see while visiting Craters of the Moon are Indian Tunnel, a lava tube cave that’s 800 feet long; Cinder Butte, a 700-foot lava cone; the Blue Dragon Flow, a lava flow that boasts a vivid blue color; the Tree Molds Trail, which will lead you through a collection of fossil-like casings and impressions that formed when lava came into contact with trees and other organisms. Hiking and caving are the two main activities that visitors take part in while at Craters of the Moon, and you’ll have a number of trails to choose from as you’re making your way through the park. You might think that due to its unique geology that Craters of the Moon would be a wasteland in terms of wildlife, but that’s simply not the case. Some of the animals that inhabit the park include mule deer, coyotes, porcupines, ground squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, snakes, hawks, eagles, bobcats, and mountain lions.
Boise is around five hours northwest of Salt Lake City, and not only is it Idaho’s biggest city, but it’s also the state capital. Some of Boise’s top attractions include the Boise River Greenbelt, Zoo Boise, Table Rock, the Idaho State Museum, the Aquarium of Boise, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, and the Idaho State Capitol. Basically, whether you’re looking to spend some time outside, indulge in a little culture, or just hit up some cool spots in the city, Boise has something for you. Another Boise classic that you don’t want to miss is the Idaho Botanical Garden (which happens to be located right by another great attraction, the Old Idaho Penitentiary).
Among the first botanical gardens to open in the state of Idaho, the Idaho Botanical Garden is 15 acres of vibrant green space that are situated in the midst of the Boise Foothills. A celebration of native horticulture, the garden maintains an eclectic selection of Treasure Valley plants that showcase just how gorgeous the region really is. The specialty gardens include a meditation garden, a vegetable garden, a children’s adventure garden, a rose garden, and more. Admission to the garden is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $5 for children ages 4 through 12. (If you visit during the warmer months, make sure that you check out the garden’s store, where you can purchase a variety of gifts, souvenirs, natural products, and other locally-made items!)
Baker City, Oregon, is about two hours northwest of Boise and a little less than seven hours northwest of Salt Lake City. Seated beside Rock Creek Butte, Baker City is a modestly-sized town whose leading attractions include the Baker Heritage Museum, the Leo Adler House Museum, and the Baker Tower. Additionally, slightly northeast of the city, you’ll find the National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which is a stop that’s sure to win over nature lovers and history buffs alike. Covering 500 acres, the center and its surrounding site provide visitors with an immersive learning experience that’s built, of course, around the Oregon Trail and its legacy.
From the 1840s through the 1880s, thousands of American pioneers followed the 2,000-plus-mile wagon road that started in Missouri and ended in Oregon—this popular route became known as the Oregon Trail. Inside the center itself, you can browse exhibits, displays, and galleries that tell the tale of America’s Western Expansion and elaborate on how the Oregon Trail played such a monumental role during this period in American history. Outside of the center, you can actually walk along part of the trail, where you can still see ruts from the wagons that once rolled over the land. In addition to having such immense historical significance, this part of Oregon is also incredibly scenic, and your hike will treat you to some amazing views of the Blue Mountains, the Wallowa Mountains, and Baker Valley.
Pasco, Washington, is around three-and-a-half hours southeast of Seattle, and it’s one of the three cities that make up Washington’s Tri-Cities region (the other two are Kennewick and Richland). A charming riverside town, Pasco several parks and a couple of museums, but its biggest claim to fame is probably Sacajawea Historical State Park, which is located at the confluence of Columbia River and Snake River. With nearly 300 acres of history, open space, and outdoor activities, this park is a visually stunning piece of land that simultaneously bears a great sense of heritage.
Sacajawea Historical State Park marks the location where the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition met the Native American tribes that originally lived in the region, including the Shoshone tribe member Sacajawea, who would aid Lewis and Clark as they continued their expedition. The park is a wealth of information concerning the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Sacajawea, and the people whose land, unbeknownst to them, was about to be usurped from them by American settlers. But the park is more than just an educational resource—it’s also an ideal place to hike, swim, fish, and enjoy other outdoor recreational activities.
A little over an hour east of Seattle, Franklin Falls is a hidden gem in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. A fairly easy hike, the trail leading up to Franklin Falls is kid-friendly and only around two miles roundtrip. Thanks to ongoing work by the Washington Trails Association, the hike to Franklin Falls is complete with bridges, handrails, and steps so that as many people as possible can admire the natural beauty in this tranquil area.
Largely shaded by trees, this hike is enjoyable to do even on a hot day, which works out well because the waterfall’s best flows usually occur from April to July. Keep in mind that this is a pretty well-known spot in the forest, so if you want a more isolated experience on the trail, try to get there early before the crowds start.
Only about 20 minutes east of Seattle, Bellevue is the perfect place to make one last stop before finally heading across Lake Washington and into the city. With a long list of parks, Bellevue will give you plenty of opportunities to enjoy some fresh air, stretch your legs, and embrace the outdoorsy spirit of the PNW. Whether you cast a line out into Lake Washington or go for a stroll in Bellevue Botanical Garden, you’re sure to cherish the time that you spend in Bellevue. And while you’re in town, don’t miss the Bellevue Arts Museum in Downtown’s Bellevue Square—it’s a modest but lively center for visual arts that started from humble beginnings as a street fair in 1947.
Bellevue Arts Museum displays a few rotating exhibitions at a time, and it features “Imagination Stations” throughout the center so that visitors can create their own artwork based on the exhibitions and their own inspirations. The museum is free on the first Friday of every month, and students can use an online coupon to get free admission on the second Wednesday of every month. Ordinarily, general admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military personnel, and students; $8 for children ages 7 to 17; and free for children ages 6 and under.
Seattle is Washington’s largest city, and in the midst of versatile terrain that includes mountains, forests, and water, it’s a town with endless possibilities—especially if you’re someone who can’t seem to spend enough time outside. Some of Seattle’s top attractions include Pike Place Market, Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Museum of Pop Culture, Olympic Sculpture Park, and (how could we forget?) the iconic Space Needle! The drive from Salt Lake to Seattle is about 12-and-a-half hours, but don’t make the mistake of trying to get there as fast as you can—because, as you can see, there’s a ton to do in between. Take the time to enjoy the Pacific Northwest by turning your car ride from Salt Lake to Seattle into a road trip! There’s no better place to tap into your sense of adventure… After all, you are in the land of the pioneers.