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Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

Manchester, United...
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Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

Hi there - we are currently planning our next trip to the USA and would welcome some advice as there are endless possibilties and I'm finding it difficult to narrow things down.

We have up to 18 days in Sept/Oct (our dates are fixed) and have been looking at touring the Pacific Northwest. Flights into San Francisco are coming in considerably cheaper than flying to Seattle, Portland or Vancouver and we have family in SFO who it would be good to see, which means that is likely to be our start and end point. We have toured CA south of SFO in the past so want to go to an area we haven't visited before.

At the moment our loose plan is probably to hire a car and make our way north, looping back down to SFO for the flight home. I was thinking we could drive up the California/Oregon coast for at least part of the way going up to Portland and on to Seattle then take an inland route on the way back. There is a lot to see and it's a great distance to cover, I know. We looked at taking the train out of SFO to Portland but the cost of the Coast Starlight service with somewhere to sleep would make that an expensive couple of days. Are there any alternative train services we could take instead to save us from lots of driving?

We need to find a balance between travelling and relaxing and we would like to see some of the natural beauty of the place including the coast, giant redwoods, waterfalls and so on and we also enjoy exploring small towns and the attractions of big cities.

Can anyone suggest an itinerary with some interesting stops along the way plus some must-sees in Portland and Seattle? We are also toying with the idea of spending a couple of days in Vancouver if feasible within the time.

With thanks in advance. I have posted in the relevant state forums too.

Liverpool, UK
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1. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

Before planning your route I'd look at the cost of an open jaw flight - say UK to SF returning Seatlle to UK as this could determine whether your doing a one way road trip or a circular route.

Open jaw tickets are sometimes not significantly different from return tickets although you'll also have to factor any one way car rental fees into the equation.

Lewes, United...
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2. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

Hi Greco....

Tom makes a good point that as well as a loop trip, you can do open jaw trips. It rather depends on when you book your tickets and a number of other rather arcane factors as to what airfares are like on the day you decide to go looking for flight prices. Keeping a frequent watch will help you get a feel of the situation, however. With short notice, flights between UK and SFO are likely to be the cheapest simply because there's more competition. Indirect flights might be cheaper, but then you've got the hassle of changing planes and the possibility of missed connections if the worst were to happen.

However, a one way trip will end up being a bit more expensive because, although the flight price might not be very different, it is likely to be slight more so, but you will also have to pay a one way drop off fee for the rental car if you start in say Seattle, and finish in San Francisco. That said, we know a few consolidators for rental cars where you can keep the one way fees down to around $250.

Given the time of year, if you do a one way, I'd recommend starting in Seattle and working your way south for the weather. However, some folk may recommend driving northwards all the way as you will have the sun mostly behind you, something that the driver may appreciate.

Let us know if you want an itinerary for a one way or loop. The loop will be much more hurried and I'd certainly not want to add Vancouver to that mix, but it could certainly work with a one way trip.

SWT

Just a minor point - SFO is the international airport for San Francisco. It's generally best to either spell the city name out in full or simply refer to it as SF.

Edited: 13 March 2013, 15:15
Manchester, United...
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3. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

Hi there. Thanks for the tip on open jaw flights Tom - I hadn't thought to consider doing that. Doh! Having done some research on flying into either Seattle or SF and back from the other city, that certainly would work for us, meaning a one way trip doable, depending on one way car hire charges. So, we'd welcome your suggestions for a one trip.

Also, any advice on the car hire consolidators you mention Sussex will be welcomed.

Seattle, Washington
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4. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

The one-way premium for the car would not likely exceed the amount spent on additional nights' lodgings en route. Note some car agencies don't charge a drop charge per se, they just charge a higher daily rate for the overall rental period. In that case, it's often cheapest to return the one-way car immediately upon arriving at the destination, then renting a second (local) vehicle for any driving you'd be doing in the immediate Seattle/SF area.

As for the north-south v. south-north question, I wouldn't worry too much about it either way. While mid- to late October starts getting close to the rain season in the Pacific NW, it would also let you see some autumn colo(u)r in some higher-elevation areas. And as for the sun being in your eyes, well, you should be so lucky. ;-)

Regarding a route, well, in my (not very humble) opinion, you're touring an area that ranks very close to the top of the list in terms of scenery AND diversity, so even with a fortnight or more you're still going to have to make some choices.

But in only a general south-to-north order (reversible) I'd say you could start with the portion of Calif. Hwy 1 between SF and Leggett. This road is not as drop-dead scenic as its southern cousin (Big Sur etc.) but it's very scenic (especially compared to US 101, the inland alternative) and has a number of lovely little towns to visit, most notably Mendocino.

Then come the Redwoods, an embarrassment of riches. Don't miss the "Avenue of the Giants" which parallels US 101 south of Eureka. Ferndale is a picturesque Victorian-era town in the Redwoods, good for a stopover.

Along the very scenic Oregon coast, Bandon and Yachats are (IMO) the most picturesque and convenient stopping points.

If time permits, continue all the way up the Oregon coast to Astoria, cross the (awesome) mouth of the Columbia River, then travel into Portland Oregon via the scenic and historic north shore of the Columbia. The north shore road (WA Hwy 4) joins Interstate 5 near the town of Longview. Longview itself is of little interest to tourists, however it's very convenient for a side trip to Mount St Helens, which IS worthwhile.

Visit Portland, the Columbia Gorge (waterfalls) and Mount Hood and the Hood River Valley. In autumn the orchard country near the town of Hood River ought to have some nice foliage (and no shortage of apples and pears) and a trip south through the Hood River Valley to Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mount Hood is a sublime afternoon's ride.

I'd then suggest heading east from Portland, through the Gorge, to US 97, then north through some marvelous "old west" scenery - sagebrush and pine forest on the "dry" side of the Cascades, through the Yakama Indian reservation, to the Yakima Valley in Washington. This is a big wine-producing region, and again, you timing might be fortuitous - lots of tasting rooms, winery tours, all that.

Then you cross the Cascades on Interstate 90 into Seattle. From Seattle you can do day trips to Mount Rainier or Whidbey Island, or take two or three days to head over to the Olympic Peninsula for a quick look at some of Olympic National Park's highlights - alpine views from Hurricane Ridge, or the amazing Hoh Valley rain forest, or the wonderful beaches out in Vampire country.

If you fly out of Vancouver, you could drop the hire car in Seattle and take the very scenic and affordable train from Seattle to Vancouver. (Or if you're still wanting even more mountain scenery, you could drive the beautiful "Sea to Sky" highway to Whistler, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics - a couple of hours from Vancouver.)

So much diversity, so many choices. And this list is way, way short of comprehensive.

Just for a sense of scale and timing, I drive between SF and Seattle on average once a year, and have been doing so for a lot of years. I usually plan on around 16 hours "wheels turning" to do the drive via the coast, 13 via the I-5 freeway. Now obviously you don't want to go that quickly, but it's an indication of how many hours would form the "baseline" for the drive - side trips, long stops, days off, beach walks, hikes in the hills... would be extra, but you have plenty of time.

Manchester, United...
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5. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

Thanks for this fantastic information - much appreciated.

Lewes, United...
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6. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

For the lowest one way drop off fees, have a look at:

http://www.usrentacar.co.uk/

The cheapest one ways are usually with National, but you need to find the offer section on the website or phone them for a quote. With luck you shouldn't need to pay more than $250. However, do shop around with other companies as, if their per day rate is very low, you can absorb a higher one way fee. Also, often Hertz offer free one ways but their total cost works out more in the end. You need to shop around and see what's out there for your dates of travel and the start and end points.

Other possible sources of good deals include:

http://www.rentalcars.com/

or

http://www.usareisen.de/en/

but click on the correct flag to get the English language version, they charge usually in Euros.

Any queries, just ask.

SWT

Chicago, Illinois
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7. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

My mother lives in Bandon, OR and I'm going to make a plug for the inland area of SW OR as opposed to the coast. It is lovely in that area, but I think it's nicer in CA and the Seattle Area( and it is probably very similar to the UK - tends to be foggy in the summer. Best time to visit is September/October- this could be said of the entire NW coastal area from SF to Seattle). You may want to head inland to the Umpqua National Forrest, Crater Lake and the SW wine country. http://www.sorwa.org/ I found this area to be fascinating. If you are interested in wine at all, I would recommend visiting this area - as you have many academics who have moved here to grow obsolete european grapes. There are wineries that appreciate your business and don't take visitors for granted. For the more commercial (yet small compared to Napa) visit Abacela. For the Swiss engineer growing obscure grapes on a modest winery visit Giradet. The forests here are also amazing but you will be blown away by the Cascades in Washington.

Manchester, United...
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8. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

Thank you again SWT and for the Oregon suggestions amyaa. Getting a good deal on the car hire will be the clincher - if it's too expensive we'll look at doing a loop instead of a one way trip.

9. Re: Touring northern California, Oregon & Washington Sept/Oct

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