If you’ve got a road trip planned between Portland and Glacier National Park and wondering where the best stops are or how long to plan for your driving itinerary then keep reading!
This driving itinerary will detail some of the best stops in Oregon, Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana on the way to Glacier National Park. While there are a few different routes that are possible, this road trip will travel along Interstate 84 and Interstate 90 which is the easiest and quickest route. The total distance is 640 miles and will take approximately eleven hours without stops.
Distance: 640 miles
Drive Time: 11 hours
Suggested Travel Time
This road trip can be completed in two days however a minimum of three days is recommended (not including time spent at the national park of course). To extend this trip, take a detour from Tri-Cities to Spokane via the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway.
As an alternate route, swap Tri-Cities for a day in Walla Walla before getting back on Interstate 90. For a completely different and off-the-beaten-path alternative to this road trip, take Highway 12 from Walla Walla to Lewiston and through Lolo Pass up to Missoula before heading to Glacier National Park.
Portland To Glacier National Park
Portland To The Dalles (85 miles)
There is a lot to see between Portland and The Dalles. The region here is known as the Columbia River Gorge and it’s a popular day trip destination from Portland for both locals and visitors to the city.
The Columbia River Gorge is most notable for its high concentration of waterfalls found along historic Columbia River Highway. The most famous of these waterfalls is Multnomah Falls which is Oregon’s tallest waterfall. Besides chasing waterfalls, there are numerous scenic attractions to see along this stretch as well as hiking and other outdoor opportunities.
Plan to spend an entire day exploring the Columbia River Gorge. This will allow you to see the area’s highlights at a leisurely pace and to stop and have lunch at either Cascade Locks or Hood River. Finish the day up in The Dalles where you can have dinner and stay overnight. If you are traveling with a campervan or RV, there are several campgrounds along the I-84 but our favorite is Cascade Locks KOA campground.
For those of you on a tight schedule, keep driving east and end your day in the Tri-Cities. If you are on an extremely tight schedule keep going until you reach Spokane.
The Vista House, which was built in 1917, is an octagonal stone building that sits on a rocky cliff high above the Columbia River Gorge. This historic building located on the summit of Crown Point is the perfect start to your road trip because at 733 feet high, the viewpoint provides a great perspective of both up and down the gorge allowing travelers to gain an awareness of the topography belonging to this region before driving through its landscape.
In fact, the original intention behind the construction of Vista House was to inspire travel along the Columbia River Highway, America’s first scenic highway, and to serve as a comfort station for tourists.
The architecture is an example of German ‘Art Nouveau’ and the building is approximately 44-feet in diameter and 55-feet high. The floors and stairs in the rotunda and the wainscoting in the lower level are Tokeen Alaskan marble.
Don’t miss this stop which has one of the most breathtaking views of the Columbia River Gorge. While the rest stop here is always open, the Vista House building is only open from Fridays to Mondays between the hours of 9am and 5pm.
Multnomah Falls, standing at 620 feet is Oregon’s tallest waterfall. The two-drop cascade attracts over two million visitors each year making it the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. This waterfall flows year-round with the highest volume of water occurring in spring and winter.
For a close up view of the waterfall you can walk up a short, moderately steep path to Benson Bridge which spans Multnomah Falls first tier. From here you can gaze up and see the top tier’s full 542-foot drop and look down at the second tier’s 69-foot fall. The bridge provides some great photo opportunities although it is quite difficult to get the entire waterfall in one shot.
To get there, take exit 31 which is oddly on the left hand side of the road and very easy to miss if you’re not expecting this. The ramp will take you to a parking lot which gets full very quickly on weekends. Try to get there early in the morning before the parking lot fills up.
Another waterfall you can’t miss seeing in the Columbia River Gorge is Horsetail Falls. This pretty waterfall, as the name suggests, resembles a horse’s tail, due to the way the water flows over the rounded rock beneath the fall.
Horsetail Falls is located right beside the Columbia River Highway and can be seen even without getting out of the car from the parking lot. This waterfall is very photogenic so be sure to hop out of your vehicle though to get a closer look with your camera.
If you have time, it is worth hiking to Upper Horsetail Falls (which is also known as Ponytail Falls), one of the few waterfalls you can actually walk behind. The trail up to Upper Horsetail Falls is only 0.4 miles but it is steep and involves a series of switchbacks, however you will be distracted on the way up by the beautiful rock walls covered with fern and moss.
Bonneville Fish Hatchery
The Bonneville Fish Hatchery raises millions of Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, and Steelhead trout every year. At the hatchery, visitors can learn about raising salmon, view display ponds, watch fall spawning activities, and feed Rainbow trout.
But the highlight of the hatchery is the sturgeon pond which is home to Herman, the oldest living sturgeon in captivity. He is eighty years old and over ten feet in length. In case you don’t know what Sturgeon are, they are a prehistoric cartilaginous fish that evolved over two hundred million years ago. Besides Herman, there are other younger sturgeon here which you can view from both above the pond and from a viewing window that peeks into an underwater section of their enclosure.
Cascade Locks is located on the banks of the mighty Columbia River. The city was named for a set of locks that were built in the area to improve navigation past the Cascades Rapids of the Columbia River. These locks were completed in 1896 but were subsequently submerged in 1938 and replaced by Bonneville Lock and Dam.
Must see in Cascade Locks is Bridge of the Gods, a steel truss bridge that spans the Columbia connecting Oregon and Washington. The bridge is part of the Pacific Crest Trail and was featured in the film ‘Wild’ starring Reese Witherspoon.
If you have time, take a short tour of the Columbia River on the Sternwheeler, an authentic paddleboat that hosts daily and nightly cruises May through October. For lunch, Thunder Island Brewing Co. offers ales, delicious burgers, and unparalleled views from their outdoor patio.
Hood River sits at the confluence of the Hood River and Columbia River in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. This vibrant city is a popular destination for weekend getaways from Portland mainly due to the number of wineries that can be found in the surrounding area. But this is not the only reason Portlanders enjoy escaping to Hood River.
Besides visiting wineries, Hood River is a great jumping off point for outdoor pursuits due to its close proximity to hiking trails not only in the Columbia Gorge, but also Mt Hood National Forest which is only thirty miles south.
Other than hiking, kiteboarding and windsurfing are also popular outdoor activities in Hood River. This is due to consistent winds that provide great conditions for the sport from May to September. If you would like to try out the sport, this is the place to do it as there are several quality schools who offer beginner lessons.
South of Hood River is Hood River Valley, an area known for its production of apples, pears, cherries, and apricots. The best way to explore this region is along the Fruit Loop, a thirty-five mile drive that travels through rolling hills and forest stopping at orchards and establishments in small towns selling locally produced goods, fruits, and vegetables.
There are numerous great places to eat in Hood River and noteworthy breweries to visit like Full Sail Brewing. For overnight stays, the Best Western Plus Hood River Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites and Westcliff Lodge offer outstanding riverfront locations.
The Dalles is one of Oregon’s most historical cities. The site of what is now the city was a major Native American trading center for at least 10,000 years before the arrival of Lewis and Clark, the first white men to the area. Lewis and Clark camped here in 1805 and 1806 near the creek the local Indians referred to as Quenett, now known as Mill Creek.
Fur traders came through in the 1810s and 1820s supporting a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost in 1829. Immigrants soon followed, and The Dalles became known as the town at the end of the Oregon Trail. From here, pioneers would load their wagons onto rafts and float downriver to the mouth of the Willamette, and then onwards to Oregon City.
Learn all about this fascinating history at the Fort Dalles Museum, one of Oregon’s oldest history museums which houses a unique collection of pioneer artifacts and antique wagons.
Another good place to visit is the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center which has exhibits that explore local Native American history and their traditional lifestyles along the Columbia, an informative exhibit on Lewis and Clark, a display about the Ice Age featuring a life-size 13 foot Columbian mammoth, plus lots more.
The Dalles To Tri-Cities (134 miles)
The Dalles is located in the transition zone of the Columbia Gorge meaning the temperate rainforests of the west turn to dry grasslands, marking a dramatic change in scenery along this section of the drive.
From The Dalles, the I-84 continues east alongside the Columbia River until Boardman where the highway briefly strays from the river and eventually an exit for the I-82 appears which needs to be taken northbound to reach Tri-Cities.
The Tri-Cities, which comprises Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland, is one of the largest cities in Eastern Washington. Unlike the western half of Washington state, the east is void of forests and mountainous landscape, which usually comes as a shock to most new visitors. The landscape here is characterized by yellow rolling hills dotted with sagebrush and a much drier, sunny climate.
Tri-Cities is a great place for oenophiles as there are many vineyards nearby that are worth a visit such as Badger Mountain Vineyard and Terra Blanca. Another drawcard of the Tri-Cities is its location beside the Columbia River which visitors can take advantage of by participating in a range of activities from lunch cruises aboard a 96-foot yacht, to stand up paddleboarding on the river, or bicycling the greenbelt beside the river in Richland.
As for dining out, I recommend having lunch or dinner at Lulu’s and trying their famous Pig Candy. Next to Lulu’s is Budd’s Broiler which is a steakhouse specializing in premium northwest beef. Also next door to Lulu’s is Anthony’s if you’d prefer seafood on your menu.
If you plan to stay overnight in Tri-Cities, the best area to look for accommodation is Richland as many of the hotels here offer waterfront views and access such as The Lodge at Columbia Point, Homewood Suites by Hilton, and the Courtyard by Marriott.
>>Read: Best Restaurants In Tri-Cities
Country Mercantile Store
One place you can’t miss while you’re in Tri-Cities is the Country Mercantile Store. You’ll see it as you head out of Pasco on your way to Spokane along Highway 395.
This huge store is filled with locally made food like chocolate coated nuts, fudge, and candy apples, as well as savory snacks such as salsa, salmon dips, and even fresh baked bread. They also make a variety of jams, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
Did I mention you can sample everything I just described above? Everything made here tastes amazing and I promise after sampling Country Mercantile’s delights, you won’t be leaving empty handed.
What else? Well you can buy fruit from local farmers and there is also an ice cream and sandwich bar inside. The best part is that there are samples of everything. Yup I’m going to remind you of that again!
This is a good place to stock up on snacks and sweets for your road trip because the next major city is a two hour drive away.
Palouse Falls is Washington state’s official waterfall and it does not look anything like the waterfalls you may have seen earlier on this road trip in the Columbia River Gorge. Instead, Palouse Falls looks more like the waterfalls you see in pictures of Iceland. Indeed, you would be forgiven for thinking maybe you were in Iceland once you see the barren rocky landscape of Palouse Falls State Park and surrounding area.
Palouse Falls was carved out more than 13,000 years ago and is among the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age floods path. The Palouse River runs through a narrow cataract and drops two hundred feet to a churning pool where it then moves swiftly through a winding gorge of columnar basalt to its southern end at the Snake River.
The magnificent waterfall is located in between Tri-Cities and Spokane and does require a slight detour which will add at least an extra hour to this road trip, but it is definitely worth seeing.
Once you get to Palouse Falls State Park, you can view the waterfall from a viewing area near the parking lot which does not require much walking at all. However, if you would like to get a closer look, there is a hiking trail to the bottom of Palouse Falls for the more adventurous inclined.
Spokane is the second largest city in Washington and is situated less than twenty miles from the Idaho border. This corner of the northwest has recently seen a rapid increase of residents moving to the area which seems to have had a positive impact on Spokane transforming it into a vibrant city with much to offer.
The downtown area of Spokane is surprisingly attractive and filled with many buildings dating back to the late 1800s. If you only have time to see one thing (and you’re not sick of waterfalls yet) stop and see Spokane Falls. This waterfall is actually located in the heart of downtown and very easy to find.
The best place to view Spokane Falls is either Huntington Park or Riverfront Park. There are nice walking trails through both parks where you can see various sculptures and enjoy other community attractions.
If you plan to stay overnight in Spokane, there are several nice hotels in downtown such as the Historic Davenport Hotel, the Davenport Grand Hotel, and DoubleTree by Hilton. There are also a plethora of great restaurants to take your pick from and multiple breweries for lovers of craft beer.
Coeur d’Alene is a popular vacation destination that boasts numerous outdoor activity opportunities in the summer and winter. This destination’s main attraction is the large alpine lake at the center of town that you can paddle, boat, or fish on. Other adventurous activities here include hiking, mountain biking, parasailing, snow-shoeing, and so much more.
Depending on how much time you have on your itinerary, you could consider spending a few days in Coeur d’Alene and use it as a base to visit and explore other nearby places like Silverwood Theme Park, Heyburn State Park, Farragut State Park, and Sandpoint.
Coeur d’Alene To Glacier National Park (266 miles)
There are two routes you can take to Glacier National Park from Coeur d’Alene. This driving itinerary will detail the route taken along Interstate 90. Total drive time is five hours without stops. Recommended stops between Coeur d’Alene and West Glacier include Wallace, St Regis, the Bison Range, Kalispell, and Whitefish.
There is an alternative route from Coeur d’Alene to West Glacier via Sandpoint and along Highway 2. This scenic northern route is 250 miles and drive time is five hours. Here are the recommended stops if you choose to take this alternate route:
- Kootenai Falls
- Thompson Chain of Lakes State Park
- West Glacier
Wallace, which can trace its roots back to 1884, is one of only four cities in the U.S. that is entirely listed on the National Historic Register. This charming town in Northern Idaho’s panhandle, was founded by Colonel William R. Wallace who was drawn to the area by the rich deposits of silver, gold, and other metals in the surrounding mountains. By 1887, the downtown area was established and mining claims dotted the hillsides.
This place once produced more silver than any other mining town in the United States. Nowadays, Wallace is more known for its impressive mountain views and quaint architecture which includes a beautiful downtown area filled with well-preserved Queen Anne buildings. An interesting fact for film buffs is that Wallace was the fictional setting for the movie Dante’s Peak.
One of the best attractions in downtown Wallace is the Wallace District Mining Museum. This museum displays old mining equipment and details the mining history of Wallace. There is even an exhibit that allows you to experience walking through a real mine. Staff here are very knowledgeable and can answer any questions you may have, not only on mining but also on things to do in the area too.
Besides the mining museum, you can find cute boutique stores, cafes, and several western-style saloons in downtown Wallace. Nearby are miles of hiking and biking trails including the Route of the Hiawatha and Silver Mountain Resort.
St Regis Travel Center
The St Regis Travel Center gets a mention on this Portland to Glacier National Park road trip because it’s a good place to break up the drive, to stop and get gas, and to try your first Montana huckleberry shake. Or huckleberry lemonade. Or huckleberry coffee. Or huckleberry fudge. You get my drift. They will even give you a sample of the huckleberry fudge if you like. Trust me, it is really good!
The travel center even has a trout aquarium inside the store that kids will love, as well as a restaurant, and gift store. This gift store has a huge collection of Montana related goods and ware to remember your road trip by. Fill up on their free popcorn and spend some time looking at the really cool merchandise. We never leave empty handed after visiting this place.
National Bison Range
The National Bison Range is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States. The 18,500 acre range which was originally established to help support the local bison population is now home to somewhere between three and six hundred bison.
Because of its open grassland, it is very easy to spot the resident wildlife here which include not only the bison, but also deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and black bear. In summer visitors can drive around the entire park along a loop road, however in winter only a small section of the park is open.
We visited the Bison Range in early spring and there was still a considerable amount of snow on the ground as well as slush. Our small car was fine on the snow but had there been any more snow melt I don’t think the car would have made it in. A high clearance vehicle is recommended if you are planning to visit in winter or early spring. Check conditions at the refuge on the park’s facebook page ahead of your visit.
The Bison Range was one of our favorite stops in Montana. If you are a wildlife enthusiast or enjoy landscape photography you should not miss visiting this place!
Kalispell is a charming western town nestled in the northwest corner of Montana. The name Kalispell is a Salish word meaning ‘flat land above the lake’, due to the city’s location being only seven miles north of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.
There is an adorable downtown district with several restaurants, ice cream shops, and breweries. Some of our favorites here are Norm’s Soda Fountain, Kalispell Brewery, and Sweet Peaks Ice Cream. Outside of town, you can visit Big Sky Waterpark, Hungry Horse Dam, and the Glacier Highline which offers various aerial adventures.
Because of Kalispell’s range of affordable accommodation and its close proximity to Glacier National Park, many tourists choose to base themselves here while visiting the national park. West Glacier is thirty-five miles away, and while the drive can be tiring after a long day of hiking, it might be the only alternative as lodging in West Glacier and inside the park is limited and can get booked out months in advance. Plus, Kalispell is a more convenient place to stay if you want to explore areas outside of the national park such as Flathead Lake, Thompson Chain of Lakes State Park, Kootenai Falls, and Whitefish.
Whitefish, which has a distinct mountain town vibe, is a little more upscale than neighboring Kalispell. This resort town is most popular as a skiing destination and home to the renown Whitefish Mountain Resort.
The mountains here provide a beautiful backdrop no matter where you go and stunning views can even be seen from Main Street in downtown.
In downtown Whitefish you’ll find a range of shops from handmade jewelry stores to art, boutique clothing, gift stores, and a plethora of very good restaurants. In fact, the culinary scene is quite incredible and there are several restaurants in Whitefish that need to be on your hit list.
Don’t miss seeing Whitefish Lake before you leave town. This lovely lake extends seven miles beginning from the northwest edge of town. The best place to view it is from Whitefish City Beach.
Glacier National Park
Final stop on this road trip is Glacier National Park, however the adventure continues. Known as the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful destinations on earth and home to glacier-carved peaks, lush forests, ancient cedar trees, wildflower filled meadows, and glistening lakes.
There are multiple areas to explore inside Glacier National Park such as West Glacier and East Glacier but you can also drive further north or south on either side of the park to visit Many Glacier, Two Medicine, or the Bowman Lake area.
If you only have a few days, it is best to base yourself in one section of the park and explore that area then expand outwards if time allows. With an itinerary of one week or more, visiting multiple sections of the park is possible without feeling rushed.
The crowning jewel of Glacier National Park would arguably be the Going-To-The-Sun Road which travels between West Glacier and St Mary. This fifty mile stretch of road which crosses the continental divide climbs to an elevation of 6,646 feet passing towering mountains, colorful meadows, and cascading waterfalls. Wildlife sightings are very likely.
Keep in mind that Going-To-The-Sun Road is only open during summer. The lower portion of the road remains open all year, while the opening and closing of the alpine section of road is highly dependent on snowfall and plowing progress. Be sure to check the official Glacier National Park website for road opening dates.
There are over seven hundred miles of hiking trails in Glacier National Park. Some of the most popular trails include The Highline, Avalanche Lake, Hidden Lake Overlook, Grinnell Glacier, and Iceberg Lake.
Glacier National Park is open year-round and each season offers a distinctly different experience. For example, in spring you can bike ride along Going-To-The-Sun Road, enjoy water activities on Lake McDonald during summer, view autumn colors in the fall, and go snow-shoeing in winter.
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