PNW trip planning help

Hi All - we’re heading up to Orcas Island and Olympic NP this July and looking for some recommendations/insight for routing our return trip to Reno.

For those that have been to Mt Rainier and North Cascades NPs, which did you prefer? We are looking at both for a 2-3 day stop before heading south.

That time of year, both will be busy, but I am guessing Mt Rainier will be even busier. Its a bit easier to access and has the greater draw.

North Cascades is absolutely beautiful. I haven’t camped up there, but have driven through many times living in eastern WA.

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MRNP will have crowds, no doubt. I’ve been on the Sunrise side the second week in July and the hiking trails anywhere 200’ and above from the visitors center had snow on them. They had a pretty good winter up there so you may be limited in accessibility for adventuring. There are WONDERFUL USFS roads in the area though. NF 73 and NF 75 give some bad ass views of the north side of the mountain, and there’s some sneaky camp spots around + some access trails into the park that aren’t on the NP maps (cough cough, use Trailforks). We stay at Ranger Creek along 410 and use it as basecamp for adventures around the area. If you take NF 70 off of Highway 410 you can get clear to Naches for some backroad spots. Heading south from Rainier take NF 25 or 26 toward St Helens (who erupted 34 years ago yesterday) and check out the blast zone. Also awesome camp spots along both roads and cool views of Mt Adams, Mt Rainier, and Mt St Helens.

On the other end, NCNP is cool but superbly overcrowded at the popular spots. Camping in the area is tough since it’s so remote so we like to head on the east side of the pass and stay at Klipchuck off of Highway 20. Check out Mazama and Winthrop if you head that way, super cool little stops. The hiking and views at Washington Pass rival stuff in the French Alps (I’ve been there). It’s truly otherworldly in NCNP. Chances are the popular campgrounds are already booked up all summer but there could be some lingering stuff at Diablo lake for mid-week camping if you’re not looking to be on backroads.

Being on Orcas and it being super convenient to swing along Highway 20 into NCNP, do that. Head down 97 the entire way through Washington and Oregon and see all the volcanos and cool shit off the beaten path (I-5).


Solid info, appreciate it. The plan is to head to Orcas after an overnight in Redmond to do laundry and resupply (we’ll be ≈8 days into our trip at that point). From Orcas we were planning on ferrying to Port Townsend for a few days in Olympic NP. We don’t have ferry reservations yet and are planning to disbursed camp so we do have some flexibility for our return trip.

Maybe Orcas → North Cascades → Olympic → Rainier would be a better option…it’ll put us on 5 more and we’ll be backtracking on routes which I was trying to avoid but it’s one of those “if we’re in the area” things and we have some flexibility with return dates.

From rainier or north cascades we were planning on heading southeast to the tri-cities area before looping through Pendleton and then traveling along the Columbia river before pointing it south on 35. Again, sounds like rerouting on 131/141 and then heading east along the Columbia makes more sense. We can always take 395 south from Pendleton.

Side thought, is 14 in WA or 84 in OR going to be a more scenic route along the river or are they pretty much the same?

84 is a much easier drive and in my opinion more scenic over 14. 14 is windy and moves away from the river a bunch.


I live in Vancouver WA but my family is in Spokane, so I’ve done that drive along the Columbia dozens of times.

I’d personally take 14 unless you are on a time budget. It doesn’t stay as close to the river, but it is beautiful. Some great vistas up and down the gorge, lots of little county/local parks to stop at for breaks, some hikes and stuff available earlier on the route.

84 is just highway the entire time. If you want to cruise 75 and eat at McDonalds, 84 is the way to go


No time crunch and I’m all about the the roads that’ll encourage some wandering, if that makes sense. We are traveling with a 6 and 8 year old so parks and spots to play are important…but they are good about keeping themselves occupied in nature too. It’s way better to have stretch breaks outside of the fast food/Walmart parking lot.

We are planning on 9 days from Orcas to Reno with 6 of those driving days but could push the return trip a few more if needed.

The plan is to disbursed camp whenever possible but we have booked a room on the way up for a 1 night stop on the OR coast to set us up for a long travel day and an Airbnb for a quick 1 night stop after a week of camping so we can do laundry. We’ll likely do something similar for the return trip and find something between Mt Hood and Pendleton.

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