Visit Crater Lake National Park on Your Pacific Northwest Road Trip

The Pacific Northwest National Parks Road Trip

With 60 national parks scattered throughout the United States, it can be difficult to choose which ones to visit. Luckily, Pacific Northwesterners know they can find some of the most majestic public lands right in their backyard. Due to the diverse variety of ecosystems that exist in the PNW, outdoor enthusiasts of all types can encounter a wide variety of natural beauty in one single Pacific Northwest National Parks road trip. Before embarking on your trip, it is important to check campground openings and availability, road conditions and closures, and weather forecasts. For $80, you can purchase an annual America the Beautiful Pass from the National Park Service, which allows access into all National Parks for 12 ­months.

From high ­altitude glaciated peaks to rugged Pacific coastline, this itinerary allows you to experience all that Washington State and Oregon’s National Parks have to offer in your ROAMERICA campervan.

1. Crater Lake National Park

Visitors to Crater Lake National Park — Oregon’s only national park — are greeted with the deepest and most pristine water in the country. Formed 7,700 years ago by a violent volcanic eruption, storm runoff collects in the collapsed summit cone of Mount Mazama, resulting in the sapphire blue waters of the lake. To get a lay of the land drive the Rim Road, which follows the perimeter of the lake and affords visitors views of the water and surrounding Cascade Mountain Range. Once you’ve stretched out your legs and are feeling up to the challenge, hike to the summit of Garfield Peak — a strenuous 3.4 mile out-­and-­back trail that rewards hikers with panoramic views from the top of an 8,060-­foot summit. This hike can get crowded, so be sure to start early during the summer months! After Crater Lake, head north to Mount Rainier National Park. Distance: 380 miles

Where to stay in your ROAMERICA van rental: Overnight camping is available during the summer at the Mazama Campground for $31 nightly.

2. Mount Rainier National Park

With a summit elevation of 14,410 feet above sea level, the iconic Mount Rainier is the fifth ­tallest summit in the lower 48. This heavily glaciated peak serves as a training ground for experienced mountaineers and first-­timers alike. But visitors to Mount Rainier National Park don’t need to gear up with their ice axes and crampons to enjoy the park. Sub­alpine meadows, ancient forests, and abundant wildlife surround the volcano, making it a great place for anyone who appreciates natural beauty. For those who would like to dip their feet into the world of mountaineering and glacier travel, RMI Guides offers a wide array of courses and guided tours. If you would rather take it easy and explore the park surrounding the mountain, consider the 9.5­-mile Burroughs Mountain Loop Trail, which takes hikers to the highest trail-­accessible point in the park. When you’re ready to head towards the coast, start the northeasterly drive to Olympic National Park. Distance: 160 miles

Where to stay in your ROAMERICA van rental: For $20 per night, you have the option to park your van at the Cougar Rock Campground, Ohanapecosh Campground, or White River Campground, all located within the park.

Snow-covered Mount Rainier at sunset

Mt. Rainier at sunset. Photo Credit: JOHNNY LAI (Flickr)

3. Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park, one of our favorite Pacific Northwest national parks, is one of the most diverse national parks in the country. The park’s nearly one million acres encompasses three distinct ecosystems — subalpine forest and wildflower meadow, temperate rainforest, and coastline. In a single day, visitors can go from exploring 70 miles of rugged pacific coastline to walking through alpine meadows amongst the backdrop of glaciated peaks. This park is less accessible than other popular parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, so it is best to leave the van behind and explore its depths by foot. Hike the flat ten-­mile Hoh River Trail to Five Mile Island through huge cedars and a moss covered forest floor, unchanged for thousands of years. If you’d like to escape the canopy and enjoy mountain views, head to Hurricane Ridge, which has trails suitable for hikers of all experience levels. Before leaving the park, don’t miss the Point of the Arches at Shi Shi beach. Next, the road trip continues north to the dramatic glaciers and summits of the North Cascades National Park. Take note that this stretch of the route does include travel by ferry. Distance: 150 miles

Where to stay in your ROAMERICA van rental: The Fairholme Campground, located next to Lake Crescent, offers sites for $20 per night. The Kalaloch Campground has sites for $22 per night, and has a coastal location with some sights overlooking the Pacific.

4. North Cascades National Park

In a world with a rapidly changing climate and glaciers that get smaller each year, there is no better time than now to visit the North Cascades National Park, the fourth of the Pacific Northwest national parks you’re visiting on this road trip. With rugged peaks crowned by over 300 glaciers, this alpine wonderland is perfect for a mountain adventure. The park’s half­million acres are home to the highest range of flora biodiversity of any American national park and also boasts the most expansive glacial system in the contiguous United States. If you’ve had enough hiking for one trip, consider a guided fishing trip with Skagit River Guide Service. If your legs are just getting warmed up and you want to really get into the backcountry, the 33.5­-mile Copper Ridge / Chilliwack River Loop traverses a ridge, meanders through an old ­growth forest, and follows a salmon river during a four to six day expedition. For a less committing option, the popular 3.7­-mile Cascade Pass Trail affords hikers views of the surrounding peaks.

Where to stay in your ROAMERICA van rental: The Main Campground at Goodell Creek Campground is located on the banks of the Skagit River and offers camping for $16 per night on a first-­come, first­-served basis. Another option at the same price is the Colonial Creek Campground, which is located at the base of the glaciated Colonial Peak.

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