Photo Credit: Zach Dischner via Flickr
The adventure is not about the destination, it’s about the journey; This is the road tripper’s mantra for our chosen form of travel. The opportunity to experience the tundra, the mountains, and the ocean all exist in this small corner of our country. Each trip on this list is an opportunity for hidden gems disguised as long roads, mouth-watering local food, craft beer, resident culture, and winding turns. So stop punching the clock or cleaning the house and get behind the wheel to experience a road trip adventure in the beautiful Northwest.
Glacier National Park
This road trip starts in Missoula, Montana and Ends in St Mary, Montana. This scenic drive takes about 5.5 hours but the times vary greatly based on traffic, road construction, and time spent at each stop. This road trip is filled with winding roads, Rocky Mountain views, the beauty of Flathead Lake, the grandeur of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and, during the right time of year, the cultural North American Indian Days and Pow Wow in St. Mary.
Number of Stops: 7
Pro Tip: This trip is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. Even in between every stop, the scenery you’ll see from behind your windshield is unbelievable. Bring a pair of binoculars! Especially on Flathead Lake and driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road you’ll want to look at the wildlife, glaciers, and far away beauty.
Big Sky Brewery – Missoula, MT
Off the beaten path in Missoula near the airport is the Big Sky Brewery. This brewery started in the 90’s and has created the popular brown ale in the North West known as Moose Drool. They even offer free samples of their beer. Stop in for some locally made craft beer, unless you are the driver on this road trip, then you can check out their chalkboard art or browse their merchandise for a souvenir.
Ripples Ice Cream Parlor – Plains, MT
Plains, Montana is a tiny little town tucked away in Western Montana. Its hidden gem is Ripples Ice Cream Parlor. They offer pizza, a small assortment of lunch options, gift baskets, excellent customer service, and a strawberry rhubarb flavor that is amazing.
Sea Me Paddle – Lakeside, MT
Flathead Lake is known for its amazingly transparent water that allows you to see to the very bottom even though the average depth is about 164 feet. There is a legend about the Flathead Lake Monster that inhabits the area that resembles the Loch-Ness monster. Rent a paddle board, kayak, or paddle boat from Sea Me Paddle and spend some time on this magnificent body of water.
Hop’s Downtown Grill – Kalispell, MT
This restaurant is right on the main street of Kalispell and has an intimate atmosphere. They have an extensive beer list, a Yak Burger, and homemade chips.
Montana Vortex – Columbia Falls, MT
This fun little stop right before Glacier National Park is where gravity and perspectives are skewed. They have a house of mystery where the walls and floors are slanted and brooms stand on end. The trees all grow in a rubbery, slanted fashion and the photos you take are filled with orbs. It opens in April and they offer a cheap tour that lasts about an hour.
Going-to-the-Sun Road – Montana
Photo Credit: Judson Weinsheimer via Flickr
This winding road was featured in the opening credits of The Shining. It is 50 miles of winding roads, world-changing beauty, and has a variety of stops along the way. Be aware that you will experience traffic delays, construction, and that the views might be too much for those that are afraid of heights.
North American Indian Days – St. Mary, MT
This celebration is in the second week of July for four days. The Blackfeet tribe pitches tipis, hosts dancing contests, sporting events, and games. Seeing this tribe’s traditional dancing, drumming, and culture is an unforgettable experience.
This road trip starts in Seattle, Washington and Ends in Aberdeen, Washington. This trip is one of the most plush, green, and gorgeous trips on this side of the country. The Olympic Peninsula is an area rich with culture, thick forests, and breathtaking beaches. This drive takes about 7.5 hours not including the stops. This drive starts with the dense and bustling city of Seattle, ends up in quiet forests, and ends in the lovely city of Aberdeen.
Number of Stops: 6
Pro Tip: The Olympic Peninsula is a breathtaking area that is best appreciated first hand. This road trip involves a lot of walking through each stop to really experience the beauty. From walking through Pike Place Market to hiking Second Beach, you’ll want a good pair of shoes.
Pike Place Market – Seattle, WA
Pike Place Market is a staple in Seattle. It is home to a ton of little vendors, a farmers market, an underground maze of stores, and a gum wall. Come here and see the fish flying, ride the Ferris wheel, get a cup of Starbucks, throw a dollar at a street musician, and take a picture with Rachel the pig.
Dungeness Spit – Sequim, WA
The Dungeness Spit is one of the best salt water strolls along the coast. This narrow strip of sand protrudes over five miles into the straight where you will find a lighthouse at the end. Try to do the walk during low tide for an easier trip.
Marymere Falls – Port Angeles, WA
Marymere Falls is near the shores of Lake Crescent. The hike to the beautiful Marymere Falls is surprisingly easy and covered in ferns, moss, and other green, leafy foliage. The trail is very well cared for and doesn’t take much time. The reward at the end, seeing Marymere Falls, is well worth the small trek.
Second Beach Trail – Forks, WA
This is a great destination spot in Forks for the Twilight and non-Twilight fan alike. Put your toes in the sand, take a swim, and watch the sunlight dance through the thick flora on your hike down to this amazing beach. Be sure to explore the caves and tide pools. Bonus points if you go during sunset or low tide. Be aware that the trek down to the beach isn’t so difficult, but the trek back up is pretty exhausting. Also, there is a sign on the beach that says, “No Vampires Beyond This Point.”
Mill 109 Restaurant and Pub – Pacific Beach, WA
This restaurant has awesome food, great customer service, and the view is beautiful. They are dog-friendly on their patio area and has top of the line clam chowder.
Lady Washington – Aberdeen, WA
Lady Washington is a magnificent ship that will transport you in time. The two hour sail on this ship is educational, entertaining, and fun. The crew climbs the masts, unfurls the sails, and doesn’t use any modern conveniences. She’s been seen in Star Trek, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Once Upon A Time.
Yellowstone National Park
This road trip starts in Salt Lake City, Utah and ends in Yellowstone National Park in Northwestern Wyoming. This drive takes about 7.5 hours but is mostly nice, straight roads with high speed limits to help the drive feel easier. This area is rich in ranching history, an abundance of wildlife, and Native American tradition. You’ll feel like you travelled to another planet when you leave the city of Salt Lake and arrive in the amazing Yellowstone National Park.
Number of Stops: 5
Pro Tip: So far this is the longest trip on the list but the shortest amount of stops. This leaves a lot of time in the car enjoying the open road. I suggest playing some road trip games to pass the time. One game idea is playing “Hot Seat” where each person takes a turn in the “hot seat” and the other passengers ask that person whatever they want. They are only allowed one pass. One more is playing “Tomato” where one passenger is “it” and asks the other passengers funny questions to get them to laugh. They can only answer saying “tomato.” If they laugh, smile, or answer then they are now “it.”
Salt Lake City Public Library – Salt Lake City, UT
Visiting a library might seem like a silly destination for a road trip, but the Salt Lake City Public Library is one of a kind. The building has a ton of huge windows allowing a flood of natural light in. There are comfy chairs, a coffee shop, and gift shop. It has amazing views, magnificent architecture, and, of course, rows and rows of books.
Snake River Greenbelt – Idaho Falls, ID
The Snake River Greenbelt in Idaho Falls is a great trek around this beautiful city. You will be able to see sculptures, bridges, the falls, the LDS temple, and all at your own pace. There are areas to sit and enjoy the view, watch the ducks and geese, and it’s great for dogs or kids.
Aerial Tram Rides – Wilson, WY
The aerial tram glides 4,139 vertical feet in the beautiful Tetons. It’s a 15 minute ride to the top where you can see the Snake River Valley in a 360-degree view. The summit offers hiking trails surrounded by wildlife, wildflowers, lakes, and fossils. Corbet’s Cabin offers beverages, snacks, and Top of the World Waffles that are topped with brown sugar butter, Nutella, or strawberry. If you don’t want to ride the tram back down you have the option to paraglide.
Trapper Grill – Moran, WY
Stop in at the Trapper Grill in the Signal Mountain Lodge in Moran, Wyoming. Eating at this restaurant is an experience for all of the senses. You will have a beautiful view of Mt. Moran and Jackson Lake while enjoying a giant plate of nachos or a bowl of elk chili. If the weather permits, be sure to get a spot on the deck.
Upper Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Your final stop on this road trip feels like it’s on another planet. The colors of the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park are so vibrant an amazing you won’t be able to get through it without a camera. The hike is easy and definitely worth it. Chasing all of the different geysers and seeing their rainbows, the different pools, and the smell of sulfur is something that can’t be duplicated.
Denali National Park
This road trip starts in Anchorage Alaska and ends in Denali National Park and Reserve, Alaska. This drive takes about 5 hours depending on the weather. This drive will offer you the rare experience of seeing the terrain of mainland Alaska and all of the rugged but beautiful scenery that goes along with it. Alaska is a giant but often overlooked area of the North West but is absolutely breathtaking, exotic, and rich in history.
Number of Stops: 6
Pro Tip: The tourist season in Alaska is April to September but you still may need to call and check to see if certain places are open beforehand. Also, the temperature in this area tends to hover in the 60’s so dress accordingly. Do your research and dress appropriately.
Anchorage Museum – Anchorage, AK
The Anchorage Museum is full of history, artifacts, information, and exhibits about the state of Alaska that you can’t get anywhere else. There are totem poles, Native American regalia, fishing gear, and is family friendly.
Eagle Quest – Willow, AK
Eagle Quest is a great little restaurant in Willow, Alaska with great food and amazing customer service. They are located a little ways off of the highway, but their soup and giant cinnamon rolls are well worth the short jaunt.
Denali Zipline Tours – Talkeetna, AK
Really experience the Alaskan outdoors by taking a zipline excursion. Denali Zipline Tours is a great experience and one of their courses offers a 750 foot zip over a lake, suspension bridges, and rope repelling. They have safe equipment, personable guides, and a photographer if you don’t want to risk dropping your own camera.
Hurricane Gulch Bridge – Alaska
Hurricane Gulch Bridge is 551 feet long and 258 feet high. You can find it at mile 174 and exists over Hurricane Creek. It was built in 1971 and has a steel arch design.
Husky Homestead – Denali National Park, AK
Going to Alaska won’t be complete without visiting some sled dogs. Husky Homestead in Denali National Park and houses champion sled dogs, future sled dogs, sled dog training ,and a ton of information on sled dogs and the world famous Iditarod. Come visit Husky Homestead and cuddle with some of Alaska’s most famous athletes.
Denali Outdoor Center – Denali Park, AK
Alaska is filled with possibilities to enjoy the outdoors. Denali Outdoors Center offers kayaking, mountain biking, and rafting in the beautiful Denali National Park. You will be with experienced guides, surrounded by beautiful green forest, and amazing wildlife. So pick which adventure you’d like to experience and explore the outdoors in a unique way in the dense Alaskan wilderness.
Beer and Wine Trek
This road trip starts in Bend, Oregon and ends in Moscow, Idaho. This is a 9 hour trip not including stops. This road trip, unlike the others, is focused mainly on the beer and wine scene in the area. Be sure to have a sober driver or stay the night in a few places in order to appreciate the local drinks. This trek will offer great local beverages, but also amazing views of both city and forest along the way. Get your palate ready for this great craft beer and locally made wine adventure through the Northwest.
Number of Stops: 5
Tips: This is yet another long drive with a limited amount of (planned) stops along the way. In order to stay entertained on the drive, create a rad playlist to listen to along the way. Maybe add a few songs like, “Bartender,” by Rehab, or, “Strawberry Wine,” by Deanna Carter to get you in the mood for some drinks. Plus with everyone except the driver being a little tipsy it’ll be nice for the driver to get some entertainment out of hearing the rest of the passengers try to sing after a few too many microbrews.
Deschutes Brewery – Bend, OR
Photo Credit: Ian Carvell via Flickr
Deschutes Brewery was founded in 1988 and is best known for their Black Butte Porter. They offer free brewery tours where you get free samples of their beer which is a perk offered even if you aren’t touring. Oregon knows their craft beer and Deschutes is one of the most successful local craft breweries making an appearance all over the U.S.
Everybody’s Brewing – White Salmon, WA
Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon, Washington offers both amazing local beer and great food. Their menu is surprisingly varied and their Local Logger Lager is really crisp and refreshing. If you stop by, be sure to have their pulled pork burrito with your choice of craft beer.
Tagaris Winery – Richland, WA
This beautiful winery offers amazing local wine, amazing food, and a great patio atmosphere. The menu options are very unique compared to the other options in the Tri-Cities. The wine tasting options are reasonably priced and discounted if you buy a bottle. Try the Sauvignon Blanc with their Spanish Albondigas.
Seven Hills Winery – Walla Walla, WA
This winery was established in 1988 and creates amazing, appellation-inspired wines. Their tasting room is located in downtown Walla Walla where you’ll learn about the local wine industry and try an assortment of their wines. Walla Walla has a ton of wine culture and Seven Hills is one of many wineries in the area. Seven Hills stands out due to its wine quality and knowledgeable staff.
The Moscow Brewing Company – Moscow, ID
Moscow, Idaho is no stranger to the drinking scene. It’s a college town and home to the University of Idaho Vandals. However, The Moscow Brewing Company is brand new and opened in 2013. They are dog friendly and have a very welcoming environment. They have an assortment of beer books on a shelf by their tables. So far this brewery is a pretty well-kept secret and only offers a few beers on tap at a time, but the selection is always amazing. Be sure to try their Red Ale or Spruce Porter.
About the Author
Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in Missoula in 2012. She enjoys road-tripping with good friends, exploring the outdoors, traveling, drinking good beer, and drinking not-so-good beer. Follow her on Twitter!