Drive Through Popular West Coast Mountain Ranges On This Stunning Road Trip Route

Carving a path through pine forests, volcanic parks, and mountain plateaus, this iconic road trip route winds through three of America's northwestern states. The voyage begins on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in the Golden State and cuts through the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Venturing into Oregon's untamed wilderness, trek through the Cascade Mountains before exploring the scenic towns of Bend and Portland.

July through September promises warmer weather and the most opportunities to explore the peaceful vistas that characterize this route. Yet, winter holds a unique charm all on its own. Flurries and frozen lakes create a picturesque drive reminiscent of a Narnian winter. Keep in mind however, that many of the roads through the mountains may be closed in the winter months. While Google Maps suggests a travel time of 17 hours,it's a trek best enjoyed at a slower pace. A side trip to national parks off the highway or wandering the streets of Oregon's small towns are what make this road trip route a true treasure.

California to Nevada

Mark the beginning of your voyage in San Francisco — the heart of the Golden State. This coastal city might be known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge stretching across the San Francisco Bay, yet it's also home to the original world-famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Located in Ghirardelli Square, grab a few squares of chocolate before hitting the road on the voyage north.

Rugged plains and pine forests make up most of the peaceful scenery between Sacramento and Eldorado National Forest. The sprawling woodlands are dappled with cozy cottages and mountaintop villages. Once the site of great wealth, it's the same land where miners struck gold during the 1849 California gold rush. Nestled among a blanket of conifer and fir trees, the forest breeds fields of wildflowers in the spring and transforms into a winter wonderland once the icy frost of winter settles in.

Making your way northeast, pass through Strawberry (yes, it's really a place) until you hit the water's edge at Lake Tahoe. Tucked in the Sierra Nevadas, the freshwater oasis sits at the border's edge of California and Nevada. The largest alpine lake in North America, crystal clear water is surrounded by towering pines and frosted mountain peaks. If you find yourself there in winter, book a stay in a mountain lodge — this mountain resort town is famous for them!

Follow Highway 431 toward Reno, Nevada. A desert city at heart, Reno sits atop the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Earning its moniker, "The Biggest Little City in the World," this thriving mini-metropolis was the epicenter for casino gaming before it was overtaken by the iconic Las Vegas strip. Today, Reno remains a playful and exotic city. California Avenue and Virginia Street are what give this city its pulse. Trendy taverns, aesthetic coffee bars, and live music venues keep things fresh and fun while preserving its eclecticism.

Traverse the Pacific Northwest

A hydrothermal hotspot in California's northeastern corner, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming geysers and hot springs, but it's also a serene wilderness. Explore its crystalline lakes, flowering meadows, and pine forests in this biodiverse region before continuing north. The open desert biome means stargazing is at its prime. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains off Highway 97, Crater Lake is a sleeping archive of the once-active volcano that stood in its place. The colossal pool is America's deepest lake and is sustained through the seasons by rain and snow. From afar, the volcano's snow-capped peak can be seen rising out of the water — now an innocuous cinder cone.

A little more than 100 miles north of Crater Lake lies the sleepy town of Bend, Oregon. Settled against the flourishing banks of the Deschutes River, it's an epicenter for snow skiing and a montage of mountain resorts and bustling breweries. Even in the fall and spring, you'll want to pack your beanie and coat! Tucked in the high Cascade Mountains, Bend receives an annual average snowfall of 33 inches. If the weather allows, stretch your legs and trek along the Deschutes River — a flowing stream of serenity. If it's too chilly, peruse the streets of downtown Bend. This charming pocket is a one-way street of small-town vibes, lined with cafes and trendy boutiques.

Following Highway 97 north out of Bend, set your GPS for the final destination. Portland — a city best described as laid-back, artsy, and eclectic with a collection of locally owned small businesses that add to the city's constantly evolving cityscape. Engulfed by wilderness, Portland sets the stage for foodies, bookworms, and outdoor enthusiasts. Powell's City of Books is a nonnegotiable for first-timers visiting the city. Find your new favorite novel at the country's largest independent bookstore, with an impressive collection of new and used books. New book in hand, scope out some grub in Portland's flourishing food cart scene. Delivering a diversity of cuisines, they're an essential element of the city's culinary landscape. Portlanders love to celebrate spring time, honoring the changing of the seasons with the annual Portland Rose Festival.