Road Tripping the PNW - What We Learned on Our Winter Road Trip
(Words and Photos: Doris Wang)
1 week, 3 states, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. This winter, my pod and I went on an epic road trip around the Pacific Northwest. When someone says the Pacific Northwest (aka the PNW), what part of the US are they talking about? From a quick Google search, the Pacific Northwest can cover part of British Columbia, Canada, Washington and Oregon of course, and even parts of Idaho and California. For this particular trip, when I say the PNW, we hit the road through parts of Washington, Oregon, and the most northern tip of California. We went from coast to mountains, soaking in all the nature we could find. Follow along with me as I recount the trip details and what I learned while road tripping the PNW in the winter.
Road Trip Itinerary
When I started planning this road trip, I first made a list of places I potentially wanted to see on the drive through the PNW. Our starting point was Seattle, from there I ended up mapping a lollipop loop through Washington, Oregon, and California. The list of places I wanted to visit started out super long, then were eventually narrowed down to these key points:
- Bend, OR
- Crater Lake National Park
- Samuel H Boardman Corridor in Brookings, OR
- California Redwoods
- Newport, OR
What I didn’t take in mind when I created this finalized list were winter road conditions! We left Christmas morning and planned to spend a week on the road. The day before we left, I actually went and picked up snow chains from the local auto part store “just in case”, not thinking much about it.
What Lessons Did I Learn?
The first day we hit the road, we ended up driving through a small storm near Mt Hood, OR. I hadn’t checked the passes we would have to drive through to get to Bend, OR from Seattle. We ended up hitting the snowy pass after sunset and the drive was slow going, with flashing signs every so often that said “CHAIN UP”. We ended up not putting chains on our car due to us having all-wheel drive, but it’s always smart to carry snow chains in the car with you in the winter if you are headed to the mountains. Also, every state has websites and cams with updated road conditions - definitely check them before hitting the road!
We eventually made it to Bend, OR safely. The following day, we didn’t have any trouble with the roads heading to Smith Rock State Park. The day after, we had plans to snowshoe to Paulina Lake. With some research, we realized we needed a snow park pass to park for hiking to Paulina Lake, and you couldn’t buy them at the trailhead. So we googled the local shops that sold snow park passes and swung in the night before to purchase one. It was less than $10. Before heading out on a hike, research if a parking pass is needed. More often than not, one is needed.
Staying in Bend, OR ended up being our favorite part of our trip. There’s just so much to do around the area! From being able to hike snow free trails in Smith Rock State Park to snowshoeing to Paulina Lake. And if you like ski resorts, Mt Bachelor is also only 30 minutes from Bend.
We left Bend for Crater Lake National Park a couple days later. We remembered to grab our America the Beautiful Pass, which is an annual national park pass, when we left home. We visit enough national parks each year, it makes the $80 worth it on the parking pass. The roads to Crater Lake were extremely icy. If your car doesn’t have AWD/4WD, chains are pretty much necessary in the winter. Going from Bend, to Crater Lake, to Medford, OR, we had to go through another mountain pass. The roads were pretty icy, but we took it slow and made it to the other side of the pass safely.
When driving to Crater Lake National Park, definitely check for road conditions, closures, and check if all park entrances are open. Crater Lake National Park has multiple entrances to get into the park, but during winter, the North entrance is closed. When we mapped our route to Crater Lake, we didn’t take this into consideration and ended up rerouting ourselves while in route to the park. This caused more stress to our road trip. Always check for closures!
We eventually made it into the park and it was a beautiful blue bird day. The rest of our road trip on the Oregon coast went smoothly, with no more concern for icy, snowy roads. We did hit a bunch of rain along the coast, but that is not abnormal for this part of the states.
One of our favorite Cascade Mountain Tech items on this trip was the 45 Quart Roto Molded Cooler. It kept all our food, from eggs to sausages, cold! We didn’t have any worry about our food going bad. We also loved using our CMT trekking poles. They did amazing on the snowy trails out to Paulina Lake! Both items are definitely road trip necessities along with snow tire chains in my opinion!
Our PNW road trip was full of incredible views, fun adventures, and lessons learned along the way. Biggest lesson learned: Always be prepared!
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