We recently visited Canada and went on a breathtaking Pacific Northwest road trip, taking in Vancouver, Sun Peaks, Seattle and a few other small destinations in between. The journey was absolutely magnificent and merits sharing in the hope of inspiring you to book a flight, hire a car and take off on your own Pacific Northwest road trip. Use the Expedia planner below to check out the cost of hotels and flights.
Pacific Northwest road trip
Trans-Canada Highway: Vancouver to Sun Peaks via Kamloops
The Trans Canada highway is 7,821 km of tarmac connecting the west coast of Canada with Newfoundland in the east. We travelled just 200 miles from Vancouver, into the mountains north of Kamloops and it was utterly stupendous. Snow covered mountains, pine clad valleys, glacial lakes, frozen waterfalls and rippling rivers create a smorgasbord of views to feast on.
Every visitor to Canada should make a road trip on this epic highway!
Sun Peaks to Harrison Hot Springs
On our return trip from Sun Peaks to Harrison Hot Springs (well worth a detour for these views alone) the temperature increases from minus 14 to 5. A whole 19 C change in just a few hours. I’m constantly in awe of the huge peaks and river strewn valleys.
Crossing the Fraser river is a site to behold. Glacial waters stretch languidly to the horizon, surrounded by snow-clad banks and dramatic mountain peaks beyond. Just a day later, how things have changed as the river is barely visible from the bridge due to heavy snowfall. We stop to snap some pictures of the bridge in the gloom but it’s a far cry from the glistening blue of the previous day.
Harrison Hot Springs to Seattle via the US border
From Harrison, the land descends into farming land as we head towards Vancouver. The snowfall is so heavy, we can barely see. With poor visibility and heavy traffic speeds drop substantially, extending the length of our journey significantly. Please bear this in mind if you are crossing the border to head for the airport.
The positive news is that drivers in Canada are exceptionally polite and sensible so we didn’t have to contend with crazy drivers as well.
Crossing the border
As you approach the border signs indicate the waiting times for the various border crossings. I’m starting to have serious doubts that we will make it to Seattle by this point however, considering how bad the roads are.
Sadly, our border employee clearly doesn’t like the look of us. He frostily tells us to park up and head into the customs building. We nervously enter, to receive a thirty minute interrogation. As the officer closely examines each of my passport pages, particularly focussing on my Middle Eastern stamps, I feel my blood pressure rising. Questions are coming quick and fast
A U.S interrogation
‘How can we afford to travel so much?
What jobs do we have that pay for so much travel?
What are we doing in Seattle?
Who are we visiting?
How do we know them?
Are we taking them anything?
Have we been on vacation in Canada?
Where are we flying from?
Where are we staying?’
It goes on for what seems like an eternity, and honestly I just want to tell them to mind their own bloody business.
The third degree is frankly terrifying. We know we have done nothing wrong, but we still end up feeling like naughty children. US border staff are clearly taught to be incredibly intimidating.
Anyway, we eventually hear the comforting sound of a stamp in our passports and sigh with relief. The officer then rapidly changes into a chatty, friendly guy who seems curiously interested in my blog, whether I earn money or get sponsored stays. We practically leg it to the car, determined to get out of there before they change their mind.
On a plus note, once we successfully enter the States, the weather eases. The snow turns to rain and the temperature rises. Before long, the sun even makes an appearance.
The route between the border and Seattle is typical USA with mega malls lining the highway, interspersed with stretches of wilderness. Mounts Baker and Rainier beyond can occasionally be seen peeping through the trees and our excitement levels increase as we reach Everett, home of The Boeing Factory (we wrote about the best tour I’ve ever done there in a separate post).
Seattle to Snoqualmie
The short journey from Seattle to Snoqualmie is stunning and makes me seriously envious of my friends living in Seattle. Just a few miles from the city, we cross shimmering lakes with mountains glistening in the distance. Yet, Snoqualmie is a world apart, with a quaint western high street and an intriguing railroad museum in town.
The piece de resistance is of course, the Snoqualmie Falls, a 268 ft waterfall cascading over a steep cliff. There are a variety of trails you can walk in the area, although many are not clear in winter.
Snoqualmie to Vancouver
Leaving the mountains, the land turns into arable farming pasture, and as we approach Vancouver, we are once again bowled over by how incredible this city is. It is literally surrounded by white capped mountains, glistening in the sunset. Reflections shimmer in the numerous waterways, from lakes to rivers, bays and sounds.
The return border crossing is particularly uneventful and considerably less hostile. In no time, we are back in Canada and dropping our car at the airport. By the way, if you want to take advantage of the considerably more attractive shopping prices in Canada, there is a MacArthur Glen Designer Outlet immediately next to the airport. Ensure you allow enough time to indulge, should you want to do any last minute shopping.
Things you need to know for a Pacific Northwest road trip
Car hire warning
Beware, conditions change fast on this road and you should ensure that you hire a suitable car. I booked a tiny car, and the employee at the rental company laughed at us when we explained our plans. It was an expensive mistake, as we had to pay an additional £500 to upgrade to an SUV equipped with winter tyres. Seriously, do not make our mistake, as the roads were at times terrifying. I would have been a stressed out mess had we left the airport with the vehicle we originally planned to hire.
For weather conditions, you can check the local radio stations and online apps. Our hotel, at the Harrison Hot Springs, also had a road update service providing details of any issues on surrounding roads. If in any doubt, I would recommend checking with locals in your hotel. We Brits are simply not accustomed to these weather conditions and we were certainly naive about how quickly conditions could change.
On our journey from Harrison Hot Springs to Seattle, we experienced horrendous snow and poor visibility which melted into rain at the border. Shortly after, we were greeted by blue skies, only to experience further torrential snow five minutes later. The weather is far from predictable in this region.
Plan stops carefully
Other than the warnings about car type and weather, it pays to plan your stops carefully. This highway is not like the UK with regular service stations. It can be over 100 miles between petrol stations, although there are plenty of rest stops with toilet blocks. These rest stops however, often have no other facilities, so be sure to bring snacks and water.
Also, it would be sensible to have plenty of warm clothing with you. We saw the road get rapidly snow covered on our return from the mountains and major accidents could leave you spending long periods in your car where you will quickly get cold if you need to preserve fuel. We saw a huge truck jackknifed on the highway, and have to assume that was an experienced driver (unlike us!)
Why take a Pacific Northwest road trip
Despite these hazards, this is one of the most stunning road trips I’ve taken. With glaciers, forests, lakes, mountains, and volcanoes, this part of the world is just waiting for you to explore it. Here’s some more photos to tempt you.
Hiring a car and taking a Pacific Northwest road trip is a great way for you to explore nature and sis over smaller places off the beaten track.