Road tripping the Pacific Northwest Coast with kids
Something about our oldest getting ready to start kindergarten made me long for a summer family road trip.
We’ve lived in Seattle for 14 years now, and there’s an almost insurmountable amount of nearby sights that we have left to see. At this pivotal moment in our little family’s story, I wanted to finally make a dent in that list. I wanted us to have an epic road trip through the Pacific Northwest coast with kids.
Granted, that plan also turned into an epic amount of time in the car, especially for a one year old and a five year old. I wouldn’t recommend doing this as a five-day road trip, like we did. Though it was picturesque beyond belief, it was also a lot of driving.
Think of this article as your own personal scouting mission for longer trips at the destination of your choosing, or even a small handful of them.
Or maybe you want to be crazy like us and see it all. To which I offer you a hearty, “Safe travels and good luck!”
We’d leave on a Wednesday and return on a Sunday, lodging two nights on the south end of our trip and two nights on the north. There would be three driving days of sightseeing (Wednesday, Friday, Sunday) and two full days of adventuring from base camp (Thursday, Saturday).
I’ve always heard great things about Astoria, and given that it’s a reasonable 3.5-hour drive from Seattle, that seemed like a good place to start.
From there, we’d finally catch a glimpse of the Oregon coast and drive up the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, taking in the dramatic Washington coastline and rainforest side of the Olympic National Park.
For the last two nights, we’d set up camp on the north end of Olympic National Park for more hiking and sightseeing.
Our little Impreza, though perfectly utilitarian for everyday use, would be cramped with two adults, two kids, and all our luggage. Plus, it doesn’t rank very high on the comfort scale.
We borrowed a Lexus NX200t F Sport, and we were so glad we did. It was an incredibly smooth ride with decent power and lots of road-trip-friendly bells and whistles: seat adjustment presets for each driver, separate temperature control for each side of the car, satellite radio, navigation assistance, rear-view camera, and USB chargers (essential for recharging phones for picture taking).
While we would’ve liked to tent camp, we weren’t quite brave enough to try it with our one year old. A hotel or resort wouldn’t cut it either. For the adventure vibe I was going for, I wanted the nature experience of the Pacific Northwest… but with family conveniences.
Answer: Kampgrounds of America (KOA). There was one near Astoria and one near Port Angeles. We booked a KOA deluxe cabin at both places, and the layout was perfect: a queen bedroom in the back with plenty of room for our infant travel bed; a bunk in the hallway for the five year old (we hung a blanket up to block out noise and light at bedtime); our own bathroom, living room, and kitchenette; and even our own little picnic area and fire pit for the requisite end-of-day s’mores.
A whole host of kid-friendly facilities and activities were the icing on the cake. If we were going to pack our days with sightseeing, might as well pack our nights with family fun, too.
- 9am-12pm: Pack, load car, and let the kids play before strapping them into the car for the rest of the day.
- 12pm: Lunch at home to save cash and cooler space.
- 1pm: Leave Seattle at peak non-rush-hour time.
- 5pm: Sightsee in Astoria. (Of course we had to see the Goonies house and the Kindergarten Cop school.)
- 6pm: Dinner in Astoria at Drina Daisy, a family-friendly recommendation with authentic Bosnian fare.
- 7:30pm: Check in, unpack, and explore KOA Astoria/Warrenton/Seaside.
- 9am: Breakfast in Astoria at Blue Scorcher, a local café and bakery with great reviews.
- 10am: Explore Astoria’s new highly acclaimed Columbia River Maritime Museum.
- 12pm: Drive to a favorite Northwest summer spot, Cannon Beach.
- 1pm: Picnic and explore the shores around Cannon Beach’s famous Haystack Rock.
- 3pm: Drive back to camp.
- 4pm: Let the one year old nap at camp while the five year old enjoyed KOA Astoria Warrenton Seaside Amenities: pool, bouncy pillow, playground, and mini golf.
- 6pm: Dinner, s’mores, and packing back at our cabin.
- 8am: Take advantage of the camp’s free pancake breakfast. (They had me at free and pancakes.)
- 9am: Enjoy the picturesque drive to the Quinault Rainforest, glancing at Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen on the way.
- 1pm: Picnic, stretch, and explore the shores of Lake Quinault.
- 2pm: Hike the .5-mile, toddler-doable Quinault Rainforest Nature Loop.
- 3pm: Continue driving up the coast.
- 4pm: Hike to and explore the breathtaking vistas of Ruby Beach.
- 6pm: Drive the remaining stretch to camp via Forks, of Twilight fame.
- 7:30pm: Unpack and eat dinner at KOA Olympic Peninsula/Port Angeles.
- 8am: Breakfast at camp.
- 9am: Drive to nearby Lake Crescent with its crystal waters and rolling, wooded shores.
- 10am: Hike the 1.5-mile, family-friendly Marymere Falls trail.
- 12: Picnic and take a dip in Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort’s four hot-springs-fed swimming pools.
- 3pm: Check out the .1-mile Madison Creek Falls trail, right off of 101. (It’s too pretty and convenient not to stop.)
- 4:30pm: Dinner, playground, poster contest, and wagon rides back at camp.
- 8am: Breakfast in our cabin and packing for the return trip home.
- 10am: Drive to Dungeness.
- 10:30am: Check out the drive-through Olympic Game Farm that so many Seattlites recommended.
- 12:30pm: Enjoy a quick lunch at the number-one-ranked Adagio Bean and Leaf in nearby Sequim.
- 2-5pm: Drive to and take the Edmonds-Kingston ferry home.
Though we will definitely be making the trip back to Cannon Beach for its sandy beaches and seaside charm, Ruby Beach stole my heart. It’s off the beaten path and full of dramatic outcroppings and tide pools to explore. I wish we had days to wander there instead of hours. It also felt like the end of the world… in the best possible way. Our whole family loved it.
Columbia River Maritime Museum
This museum easily ranks among my favorite of all the Pacific Northwest museums we’ve visited, let alone stops on this trip.
To be honest, my husband and I were a little worried the kids would be bored, but the museum curators have obviously gone out of their way to create relatable, interactive experience for all ages. From a live-aboard boat you can tour to engrossing life-size vignettes of various kinds of boats to hands-on activities and informative movies, this museum is a destination in itself.
Every KOA is different, and this one is more resort than campground. It’s literally right across the road from a state park and has impeccable facilities, loads of free activities, and did I mention the free pancakes? You can even pay to have pizza delivered right to your tent or cabin!
The food was amazing, and it felt like eating in a friend’s house. No one blinked an eye that our poor car-confined kids were wound up and needed to stretch. As a matter of fact, the staff and diners were downright jovial about it.
Marymere Falls Hike*
I can’t recommend the Marymere Falls hike enough. You can take in the beauty of Lake Crescent, learn about wild life with the trail-side pamphlets, feel a world away in spacious fern-lined pathways, throw rocks in a mountain creek, brave (quite safely) hillside bridges, and of course see a spectacular waterfall at the end. We were even joined on the trail by a friendly deer—quite the highlight for our kids.
* As much as I enjoyed the Quinault Rainforest Natural Loop, if you’re going to one temperate rainforest hike, Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest still has my vote for best rainforest trail. Actually, it ranks among the best hikes I’ve ever done. We didn’t do it this trip, and I regret that the kids didn’t get to experience that. Ah well. Next time!
Not all KOAs are created equal.
We learned this the hard way when we arrived at the Port Angeles KOA (nearing the kids’ bedtime) and found out we were supposed to bring our own linens. I called the Astoria KOA before our trip to check on this, but hadn’t even thought about calling the other KOA, too.
Thankfully, the Port Angeles KOA was wonderfully accommodating and let us borrow some of their spare linens. No problem and no charge. They said they often do this for families who fly in, too.
The Astoria KOA also felt more like a camping resort in the woods with loads of immaculate amenities, while the Port Angeles one felt more like an RV park along the highway. I will say this for the Port Angeles KOA though: The staff was incredibly friendly and went above and beyond to ensure their guests were having a good time.
Oh, and one more thing. There’s only one deluxe cabin at the Port Angeles KOA, and it’s located next to the tent where they host nightly activities like outdoor movies and bingo. Our kids are pretty deep sleepers, but if yours aren’t, you have been warned. On the other hand, if you have older kids, the proximity could offer just the right amount of safety and freedom.
Cannon Beach is the most bang for your buck.
There’s a reason why Cannon Beach is the quintessential Pacific Northwest getaway. The town is crazy charming. The beach is spectacular. And there are a ridiculous amount of nearby day trips to enjoy: Astoria, Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, Fort Clatsop National Memorial, Fort Stevens State Park, Ecola State Park, Seaside, Oswald West State Park, and the list goes on.
Do yourself a favor: Book this trip, if you haven’t already.
Kalaloch Lodge is THE place to get away from it all.
Located along a remote stretch of coastal 101 that feels like the edge of the world, Kalalock Lodge offers visitors a choice of lodge, cabins, or camping. Plus, it’s the perfect launching point for trips to Ruby Beach, the tide-pool-lovers’ Second Beach, and three rare temperature rainforests: Hoh, Quinault, and Queets.
Lake Crescent is the ideal base camp for exploring Olympic National Park.
But if do manage to drag yourself away, you’re in prime adventuring distance from all of the Olympic National Park’s highlights: Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Falls and Hot Springs, the Hoh Rainforest, etc.
Do you have a favorite Pacific Northwest Coast destination? Please share it in the comments. I’d love tips for our next family adventure—and I’m sure your fellow Walking on Travels readers would, too!
Many thanks to KOA for the four night’s stay in their adorable deluxe cabins and to Lexus for lending us the comfy NX200t for our travels. As always, my opinions are my own.