Pacific Northwest Road Trip
I just got back from the longest road trip I have ever taken in my life. I have driven (from Houston) to LA, Chicago, and Miami before but this most recent one has been the longest and most scenic one. My brother recently found a job in Portland so I decided to help him move and find an apartment over there. As if the drive from Houston to Portland wasn’t crazy enough, I decided to drive further up north to visit a friend in Vancouver. I had to mentally prepare myself to endure this brutal drive of approximately 2,800 miles which is equivalent to roughly 2 full days of driving. I split the Portland drive in half by spending one night in Moab, Utah. There were limitless possibilities of beautiful stops along the way that I could have selected but I ultimately decided to pick a route that hits Arches National Park and Crater Lake National Park. This route made the most sense plus I got to check off 2 more items off my national park bucket list. Here’s a map of the entire trip.
Prior to this trip, I heard a lot of great things about Moab. We got there in the afternoon and did a last minute booking with Homewood Suites Moab. We took advantage of the free dinner and immediately headed to the canyon trailhead to see Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch. It was a fairly easy and relaxing hike. We got there right at sunset so we were able to capture day/night scenes of the canyon. Finding our way back to the trailhead was a little challenging since we were hiking back in complete darkness. The trail had a few cairns (stack of stones used as trail markers) here and there that were hard to spot with the limited visibility. I almost stepped on a scorpion! Eventually, we were able to get out of there and head back to town.
The following morning, we ate (free) breakfast and drove to Arches National Park. I brought my NPS annual pass with me so we were able to get in with no charge. We only had time to do one more hike so of course we elected to see the Delicate Arch. This is a moderate hike that can turn into a difficult one because of the heat. The entire trail is uncovered. We brought plenty of water and took short breaks under some canyon rocks to avoid getting dehydrated. We made it back in time to our hotel to have a quick shower and do a late checkout.
We timed our drive perfectly from Moab to Bonneville, Utah just in time to watch the sunset. It’s a unique geological area situated close to the Utah/Nevada border about an hour and a half drive west of Salt Lake City. At first glance, the entire place looks like a frozen lake bed covered in snow. It is actually a dried up lake with endless miles of salt residues. There is only one rest area along the highway so it’s not hard to find. There is a wash station close to the restrooms that comes in handy for getting off the dried up salt in your shoes before re-entering your vehicle.
The drive from Nevada to Oregon was really nice. We passed through Sheldon National Antelope Refuge and saw a bunch of animals (mostly mule deer and pygmy rabbit) crossing the road which made the drive a little interesting. We got to Crater National Park early Saturday morning. Again, I used my NPS annual pass to get in for free. That's the 4th time I've used that pass this year so it's definitely worth the small investment. We ate breakfast at the Crater Lake Lodge (pricey but big portions) since Rim Village Café wasn’t open yet. Right outside the lodge is a trail that leads the Garfield Peak. It’s supposed to be a difficult hike. We walked down the trail and took some pictures of the lake before heading to the Watchman Overlook, probably one of the most popular viewpoints of the lake.
Four hours later, we finally reached our main destination. Portland reminded me a lot of Austin, Texas. The city is hip and lively. There are tons of public parks. There is a restaurant in every corner. You can see people dining outside various establishments creating an ambient social atmosphere. We ate at the very popular Pok Pok restaurant – a pricey Thai place offering tasty food with small portions. We also tried Salt and Straw ice cream – also good but doesn’t warrant the long line at 9 pm which made us have to come back the following morning to finally try it. We got the 10 beer flight for $10 from 10 Barrel Brewing. We saw Multnomah Falls. We drove/walked around town and saw the many bridges that held the city together. I spent most of my time running errands for my brother and apartment hunting so I wasn’t able to explore all the potentially great hikes around the area. My Hilton Honors Gold status saved the day (more like saved the week) for us when we were looking for accommodations that offered complimentary breakfast for our entire stay.
My original plan was to get a rental car and drive up to Vancouver as soon as my brother gets settled but there were ZERO rental cars available in the entire city during that time all thanks to the 2017 Solar Eclipse. I understand that it’s a rare and striking phenomenon but I wasn't going to get stuck in the city for all of that. I was forced to buy 2 BoltBus tickets to Seattle. Those tickets were cheap ($19) and the ride was very comfortable.
We stayed in Seattle for 2 days since my girlfriend has never been there before. I used my World of Hyatt category 4 free night (for being a Chase card holder) to book 1 night at the Grand Hyatt Seattle. At one point, we realized that the Minnesota Vikings were staying at the same hotel. I decided to waste my time and hang around the team bus to see if I can take a quick snap of team QB Teddy Bridgewater (the only person I know on the roster – see I’m more of a basketball fan). He never showed up. I later found out that he’s injured and is not traveling with the team. Nice.
We explored the city. We thought about buying a City Pass ($79 for 5 attractions) but realized we didn’t have time for all those activities. We ended up getting a $36 combo pack to see the Space Needle and my personal favorite – the Chihuly Garden and Glass. We watched a free concert at the Olympic Sculpture Park. We went to Kerry Park at night to take classic panoramic shots of the city skyline with the Space Needle in the foreground and Mount Rainier off in the distance. We ate some life-changing meat pies from Piroshky Piroshky and had some seriously delicious wood fired, thin-crust gourmet pizza at Serious Pie. We dove into Pike Place Market and glanced at the long line at the Original Starbucks. We stared at the Gum Wall in awe (and disgust). Almost everything was walking distance. We did use Lyft a couple times – since they are generally cheaper than Uber and usually offer better credits to first time users. We shared rides with other people to save even more money especially since we were in no rush to get anywhere. One place I wasn’t able to revisit in Seattle this time around is the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. This visit requires a ferry ride and a short shuttle bus ride but is totally worth all the hassle.
Once again, there was a limited supply of rental cars in Seattle. Compact cars were going for over $1000 for any 2+ day rental. I booked another bus ticket to Vancouver.
Earlier this year, I met a Swiss artist/jeweler from Vancouver during my (first ever) solo trip to Ecuador. Not knowing what to expect, I was a little nervous when I landed in Quito. Long story short – we shared a cab to town during which he gave me great advice and encouraged me to discover the beauty of traveling alone. This set the tone for what would be, for many reasons, the best trip of my life. He left me his business card and 7 months later, I was visiting his hometown. My girlfriend and I stayed at his condo which was conveniently located close to downtown Vancouver. His place was filled with so much artwork and sculptures it was practically an art museum.
I was finally able to secure a rental car using the Chase Travel Portal. I was able to get a 3 day rental of a full size for about 10k Ultimate Rewards points (which is worth around $50 in my book, I’ll explain why in a future post). Their inventory was almost wiped out so they were forced to give me a Mercedes-Benz c300.
Vancouver is a fairly young city. Everyone seems to be active. Weather is great compared to other Canadian cities. We walked around Gas Town. We had brunch at Catch 122. We drove around Stanley Park. We had a difficult time finding parking there so cycling would have probably been a better option. We went to another public market in Granville Island and had fish and chips at Edible Canada. We drove further north to Squamish to check out the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. It took us a long time to find parking. The place is loaded with campers, rock climbers, and hikers. There are 3 peaks to choose from – 1st peak being the easiest and 3rd peak being the most difficult. Apparently, the 2nd peak has the best views so we climbed it. The hike was pretty much a Stairmaster from start to finish. It’s a fun intense hike overall. I would do it again. The summit of the 2nd peak was surprisingly empty. Most people only stay there for a few minutes before heading back down. We stayed for an hour. We had light lunch, took photos, and left before it started getting dark. We had time to check out Shannon Falls so we did. It was ok. On our way back to town, we were hit by heavy traffic. I’m assuming this has something to do with people trying to drive south to watch the eclipse. We spent 1 night in an Airbnb close to the airport. The following morning we had breakfast, glanced at the eclipse for a few seconds, and headed home.
I found out about this trip only a few days before we left. I barely had time to prepare for it. I had to be extremely resourceful to be able to enjoy all those cities while minimizing spending. Overall, I think I did pretty well. The only thing I had to pay for (out of pocket), besides food and certain activities, was our last accommodation in Vancouver which was a $50 Airbnb next to the airport.
While I was writing this piece, I realized that I need to share more of my thought process on how I find ways to travel in the most cost effective way possible. How I can afford to travel on a consistent basis is by far the most common question I get. It's a difficult question to answer, for a number of reasons, but primarily because it's based on a premise that I pay for everything out of pocket. I learned how to travel at a heavily discounted price when I got introduced to travel points and airline miles a few years ago. Since then, I thought myself (through extensive research) even more creative ways to travel more while spending less. I will probably write a short series of articles about this topic soon.
As for right now, I'm at the airport waiting to board a flight headed to New York. Yesterday, I really thought about cancelling this flight just to catch up on some much needed rest but a friend convince me to do otherwise. Despite the fact that this was a very exhausting last minute road trip, I still enjoyed it. This long drive to the Pacific Northwest was astonishing and worth all the effort. It was very scenic route that had full of surprises.
What's the longest road trip you've taken and how did you survive it?