Driving is one of the most convenient ways to travel—and there’s nothing like hitting the open road and making your way to somewhere new. Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, are both amazing cities filled with places to go and things to see, and only around a three-hour drive from each other, the two cities make for the perfect endpoints to an unforgettable road trip.
When it comes to road trips, getting to your destination as quickly as possible isn’t usually the goal. That being said, unless you’ve got plenty of time to spare, you don’t want the stops along the way to take you too far off of your route—which is why we put together a list of road trip stops from Seattle to Portland that are a close distance to Interstate 5, the preferred highway when traveling from Emerland City to the City of Roses.
A half-hour outside of Seattle, Saltwater State Park is a gorgeous place to stretch your legs and take a few photos. The park’s amenities also include barbeque grills, so if you want, you can even pack some food and whip up a hot picnic on the beach! Other activities at Saltwater include hiking, fishing, bird-watching, and even underwater diving.
Wander the beaches and keep an eye out for driftwood, tide pools, and oceanic wildlife. Saltwater is an ideal stopping point in more ways than one—the park also has restrooms so that you can rest, refuel, and feel refreshed when you finally hop back into the car to resume your drive. But if you’re looking to stay a little longer, Saltwater has campgrounds where you can do a little beach camping.
“As soon as you step out of the car, the rush of the saltwater comes straight at you! It's a beautiful and relaxing place to hang with friends, go on a date, or re-collect and re-energize yourself.” -De Naja’ H. on Yelp.
What better time to tour a car museum than on a road trip? Harold and Nancy LeMay—Tacoma residents—once held the world’s largest privately-owned collection of automobiles, other vehicles, and related memorabilia, and from their collection, America’s Car Museum was born. A proud member of America’s Automotive Trust, America’s Car Museum is a 165-thousand-square-foot museum that is dedicated to preserving America’s heritage in the form of automobiles.
Make your way through a variety of exhibits showcasing notable points in car history, and learn about everything from Route 66 to NASCAR. You’ll also find interactive displays like the 1923 Buick Photo Car and the museum’s Family Zone, which features a driving simulator and an art station.
“One-of-a-kind museum. I love art. I love cars. Well, in this case, cars become art! There's a variety here; classics, exotics, euros, JDM, etc. . . . I HAVE to come back and do more exploring.” -Thao N. on Yelp.
The history of these gardens dates all the way back to 1908 when Emma Alexander bought the property on Gravelly Lake that would eventually become known as Lakewold Gardens. These enchanting botanical gardens are separated into seven garden rooms: the Fern Garden, the Shade Garden, the Woodland Garden, the Rock Garden, the Cutting Garden, the Knot Garden, and Library Courtyard.
Lakewold Gardens’ collections are predominantly composed of Rhododendron, Japanese maples, and champion trees (the largest known example of a particular species). Enjoy a leisurely self-guided tour of the grounds, followed by a peaceful picnic when you plan a stop at Lakewold Gardens. And if you’ve got a green thumb, be sure to stop at the Gardens’ gift shop where plants, seeds, gardening tools, and local art are all available for purchase!
“Gorgeous!!! Perfect place to explore. . . . It’s extremely breezy because of the fact that there are trees and shade everywhere. So many flowers. The smell is incredible . . . You can definitely take amazing photos and there are lots of places to sit if you get tired . . . I highly recommend it.” -Jackie S. on Yelp.
You can’t drive by Washington’s capital without making a stop at the State Capitol Building! A defining feature of Downtown Olympia, the Capitol commemorates Washington’s history as a state, symbolizes the state’s democracy and freedom, and, of course, serves as an active government center. Even if you’re not super enthusiastic about politics, having been built in 1928, the Capitol is a historic landmark all on its own, and its architecture is truly breathtaking.
In addition to the individual buildings that are located on the grounds, the Capitol’s campus is also home to several parks, including Capitol Lake, Centennial Park, Heritage Park, Marathon Park, the Interpretive Center, and Sylvester Park. You’ll also find a multitude of memorials and artwork scattered throughout the campus—so taking a walk around the Capitol grounds is definitely recommended!
“This is one of the most beautiful state capitols that I have had the opportunity to visit. The rotunda is truly magnificent. It has an amazing chandelier. Pretty much every office is open for you to explore . . . It is definitely well worth visiting.” -Samson W. on Yelp.
Around two-and-a-half hours south of Seattle and one-and-a-half house north of Portland lies the volcano that once made international headlines for killing 57 people and thousands of animals in the surrounding area. Nearly half a million travelers visit Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument every year (while still technically classified as a national monument, the site has been transitioning to national park status since 2009).
Most people traveling from Seattle visit the west side of the monument, which can be accessed via Highway 504. There are two visitor centers on this side of the volcano, the Johnston Ridge Observatory (milepost 52) and the Forest Learning Center (milepost 33). Go for a hike, learn about the history of the area, and take in the amazing views when you take the time to visit this historic site.
“We took the drive to Mt. St. Helen's and were amazed by the scenery. We stopped at the visitors’ center and walked around the lake before making the drive to the viewing center. Beautiful drive. Pictures never do these mountains or volcanoes justice.” -Don M. on Yelp.
The Lilac Gardens are around two-and-a-half hours from Seattle and only about 30 minutes outside of Portland! Even if it’s not lilac season, this beautiful (and historic) property is still worth seeing. Image courtesy of Inspirock.
Named after “The Lilac Lady,” Hulda Klager, the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens is a National Historic Site and is sure to add a pop of color to your road trip to Portland. In the early 20th century, Klager was locally renowned for her hybridized lilacs, which visitors came from all over the area came to see when she opened her home to the public for “Lilac Week” once every year.
Today, visitors continue to flock to these delightful gardens that are home to many unusual shrubs, trees, flowers, and, of course, lilacs. Continuing to honor Kruger’s tradition, the property hosts “Lilac Days” from mid-April until Mother’s Day, and during this time, the farmhouse is open to tour as well. That being said, the Gardens are open year-round, and you can stop by for a self-guided tour from 10 am to 4 pm.
“We've driven past the signs on I-5 since the mid-1980s but have always been heading somewhere else . . . It turns out it makes a lovely destination all on its own. Even though we missed prime viewing season, there was still an astonishing variety of lilacs to see.” -John K. on Yelp.
Built in 1829 by the Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Vancouver was once a primary British fur trading post. In 1849, the United States chose an adjacent site to construct its first Army base in the Pacific Northwest, the Vancouver Barracks. Also located on the premise are Pearson Field, one of the oldest operating airfields in the United States, and the accompanying Pearson Air Museum, which holds many artifacts from America’s aviation history.
Just across the state border lies the McLoughlin House, the historic home of Dr. John McLoughlin, the Chief Factor of the Fort Vancouver trading post until 1845. See all of these historic places for yourself when you make a stop at Fort Vancouver before finally arriving in Portland. History buffs and nature lovers alike will adore these scenic relics of the past, which hold the stories of countless people who once lived and worked on the land.
“We drove up to the gardens to walk off our lunch, and they were absolutely gorgeous! Such a lovely place to walk around, with the Fort in the background. A nice variety of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs.” -Lori H. on Yelp.
Before you make your way into the city, take a second to stop and appreciate the beauty of Portland from above. Overlook Park is a locally beloved look-out spot and petite green space in North Portland. Seated above the Willamette River, Overlook Park is a quaint public park that’s open from 5 am to midnight, and you can see right into Downtown Portland as you take a walk on one of its walking paths.
Picnics areas, restrooms, a playground, a track, a baseball field, and a basketball court are some of the amenities that the park offers visitors. Whether you stop for a quick photo, a short walk, or just to stretch your legs, you’ll be glad that you took the time to explore Overlook Park.
“Great convenient location with a cool view of the city. It's not the largest of parks, but it's a fun place to catch an outdoor festival.” -Eve K. on Yelp.
It’s an easy drive from Seattle to Portland—but why miss out on what lies between? These are just a few of the stops that can be found along the way when you’re driving down Interstate-5. And if you’re willing to go a little out of your way, there are plenty more! So, grab a couple of your favorite people, fill up your gas tank, and set out on a road trip that you’ll be talking about for years to come.