Advice? Ask A Local!

Scenic Washington State | Best Road Trips in Washington State | Local Travel Advice

Planning a visit to Washington but need a little help planning the best route and things to do? Never fear, our staff of local experts (like Marcus pictured here in his 1962 Nash Metropolitan) have traveled nearly every back road in the state can either help you from personal experience of point you in the direction of someone who can.


Q. Marcus,

We will be travelling south from Seattle to San Francisco in early September. I do not want to drive a boring interstate so on the section down to Portland I am thinking about Seattle to Greenwater down to Grove of the Patriarchs, but then I cannot decide whether to follow 12 east via Rimrock to Yakima and then south on 97 to the Gorge and back to Portland, or to drop down to Randle then south on State Route 131 and FS 25 to Northwoods and south again to Stabler and Carson.

I can see that the first option is going to be a serviceable route, but I wondered what the second option would be like as at least two of our party get a little nervous about precipitous drops. We will be in a rented SUV. Any useful insights would be gratefully received. After Portland we are heading over to the coast and following our noses toward California, stopping in Yachats, Brookings and Eureka, so suggestions for any highlights that I should include would also be welcome.

Thank You
Allan, United Kingdom

A. Hi Allan,

Thanks for the inquiry. I share your desire to get off the main roads and really like your itinerary; but would encourage you to take the road past the Grove of the Patriarchs all the way to Paradise at the base of Mount Rainer. It is awe inspiring and the view of it from Reflection Lake off the Stevens Canyon road is nearly as cool. From there, the Stevens Canyon road will take you back down to the Grove of the Patriarchs to intersect with US-12. 

I would definitely recommend your “Second Option” of going to Randle then SR-131 south. The main reason is that route will take you to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint (off NF-99) overlooking the Mount St. Helens crater, the log-strewn Spirit Lake and a standing dead forest that resulted from the blast. This also provides some great views of Mount Adams… which is very beautiful but kind of the “forgotten” volcanic peak in our area when compared to the notoriety that both Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier get. None of this route will be difficult for a passenger vehicle and will be very safe and easy in an SUV that time of year if you don't get too distracted by the natural beauty:-)

When you get to Carson, if you have any interest at all in our native culture, you should head east on SR-14 for a few miles to Columbia Hills State Park to see a great display of petroglyphs that were rescued from inundation by the backwaters of the Dalles Dam several years ago. 

Just a few miles east of there, you should visit two kind of surreal sites… the beautiful Maryhill Museum with its Rodin sculptures and the nearby Stonehenge replica… but unlike yours, ours is still standingJ

From there, you can cross the Columbia at the Dalles Dam and take I-84 west to Portland. However, if you want to stay off the interstate and continue on the smaller road, backtrack on SR-14 and visit the Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center in Stevenson (their logo is based on one of the petroglyphs you’ll see at Columbia Hills) then cross the bridge to Portland at Vancouver. There is a great Hudson’s Bay fort at Fort Vancouver if you’re interested in our history… I think it’s great. On this route, you’ll also pass by Beacon Rock—noted in the Lewis & Clark journals as the first place they detected tidal influences and knew they were nearing the Pacific Ocean.  Another little town you’ll pass through, Camas, is adorable and would be a nice place to stop for lunch if the timing is right. 

I don’t have much first-hand knowledge of anything in Oregon or California so you’ll have to find another source for more information on that leg of your journey.

Have fun and safe travels!


P.S. If you share photos via Facebook or Instagram, be sure to use #ScenicWA @scenicwa so we can “ride” along with you.  Regardless, let us know how it goes.

Comment from Allan:

Many thanks Randle it is then. Would you recommend coming in from Seattle via Longmire and Paradise rather than the northern route via Greenwater?

Response from Marcus:

Yes; I think that would be the best approach to enter the National Park through the Nisqually entrance on WA-706 near Ashford then you can catch Reflection Lake and  the Grove of the Patriarchs on the way down via Stevens Canyon road without any backtracking. By the way, Longmire has an interesting history and a fairly short interpretive loop trail that I enjoyed.