Roadtrip Filter: help me plan a US West Coast adventure!
April 15, 2023 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Heading to Big Sur for a wedding from May 12-14 thinking that I will take the Amtrak Empire Builder from portland or seatle to chicago on -~May 21. Travelling with one other adult. What ahould I do in the interim?

i have vague notions of going to see some giant trees? maybe wander around some cool national parks?

Travelling with one other adult seeking cool nature, also love hot springs, and have family in the dalles, oregon.

i live in NYC so less interested in city stuff more interested in nature

what's around that region that i should definitely see?

I could take a few extra days if i needed to.

thanks metafilter!
posted by wowenthusiast to Travel & Transportation around Gig Harbor, WA (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just checking: you'll be driving from Big Sur to Portland or Seattle?
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:19 PM on April 15, 2023

Response by poster: yes idea is fly into SFO (and tbh maybe even fly into LA and take the 7 hour w the detour trip up the coast)

after spending 3 days in big sur, bop around for the week (or so) and wnd up in portland or seattle for the start of epic train ride.

thanks again!!!
posted by wowenthusiast at 2:39 PM on April 15, 2023

The lava fields in NorCal and southern Oregon are quite awe inspiring. There are several, including the lava beds national monument and Lassen national park. They are a bit away from the direct route, so it may depend on your driving tolerance.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 4:00 PM on April 15, 2023

fyi The Empire Builder is subject to delays, so don't plan on any tight connections once you get to Chicago.
posted by soelo at 5:23 PM on April 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

OMG, you are so lucky. Have a great time.

I have two suggestions:

The first is the Avenue of Giants, which will take you right through some truly extraordinary giant trees. I remember trying to take pictures of them and then just giving up because they wouldn't fit in my camera. Just breathtaking.

The other spot I'd recommend is Prairie Creek State Park which includes a walk through the redwoods down to the ocean at Fern Canyon.

I visited both the spots only once, about twenty years ago, and they're still with me. I hope to make it back there some day.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 5:35 PM on April 15, 2023 [1 favorite]

Definitely check out Avenue of the Giants! Very, very cool drive. That whole area is so beautiful, you can also hike down to the ocean and there's amazing tidepools. Do you want to camp? Camping at Jedidiah Smith State Park or one of the other state parks near there is amazing if you can get a spot.

We once drove all the way up the 101 from the Bay Area to Crescent City in Southern Oregon. It runs directly along the coast. It was so incredibly beautiful and had many places to see redwoods. But it was also so very slow and we were pretty tired of driving by the end. YMMV on whether that sounds fun.

Obviously Yosemite is a classic. I'm guessing that the Tioga Pass won't be open since they got so much late-season snow, which means that the Tuolumne Meadows and other spots outside of the Valley will still be closed and it won't be possible to get from San Francisco to the eastern side of the Sierras very easily-- but seems like you're more likely to stay close to the coast anyway. Most of the famous spots are in the valley and will be accessible.

Lassen NP will almost certainly still be under the snow in late May :(

Olympic National Park is so amazing and has redwoods too, but it's going to take you a long time to get there and you don't have a ton of time so I'm hesitant to recommend it.

A lot of the hot springs are further to the east because there is more volcanic activity there. Umpqua Hot Springs are pretty cool (though heavily used bordering on a little gross, depending on how squeamish you are) and not too far from the main highway between the Bay Area and Portland.
posted by ambulanceambiance at 6:11 PM on April 16, 2023

Are you for sure going to the Dalles? My suggestion for Oregon is to visit both the Cascades range (so east of I5 in Oregon) and the coast (west of I5). You have a few ways to do that, but the northern Oregon coast is the prettiest part.

Here's an option: take I5 north into Oregon, and go east to Crater Lake, which is gorgeous, and then go north from there and check out Sunriver and Bend and Sisters. Mt Bachelor will still have snow if you go high enough. There are interesting lava fields and such, and the Museum of the High Desert is cool. Lots of gorgeous scenery out that way.

From there, you could head north to the Dalles and there's lots of pretty stuff to see along the way (including Mt Hood). Then, go west along the Columbia River and out to Astoria Oregon. Check out Astoria, Ecola Pay State Park, and Cannon Beach for the views. Go south along 101 if you like, then back east to I5 and back to Portland.

If you don't want to go to the Dalles: from Sisters, go west, past I5 and to the Oregon Coast. The coast is ruggedly beautiful. There are huge rocks and tide pools. Explore up the Oregon coast and then head east into Portland to meet the train.

I would not try to go from Big Sur to Seattle and really have time for exploring nature. There's a lot to explore in the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle, but you'd be hustling by a lot of really great stuff in Oregon to get there, so I'd say to stick to Oregon and leave from Portland.

I don't know how well you know the northwest, but as a former east coaster, I think one thing that's surprising about Oregon is how big it is for the population, which is only 4 million. So you can go along the coast, which is beautiful, but not developed like you'd see on the east coast or even in lots of parts of California.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:28 PM on April 16, 2023

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