The Perfect Northwest Drivers Extended Weekend

THE PERFECT PNW DRIVERS EXTENDED WEEKEND

Car Checklist:

  • Tires in excellent condition
  • Brakes in excellent condition (high temp fluid and performance pads would be beneficial)
  • Xpel or other paint protection
  • Tire patch kit and compressor
  • Maps saved offline or standalone GPS

Dan's Notes:

This drive is not easy on you or your car, but it is extremely rewarding. Hell’s Canyon West is quite possibly one of the best roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving on. There is very little (if any) traffic, the road is in relatively good condition, the views are beautiful, and the pace is very quick with very few stops. That said, you should expect day 2 to be a full 8 hours at a safe pace. Make sure your cargo is secure as this road is VERY tight and twisty. While I listed it above, make sure you have good tires and brakes and don’t overheat them. I guarantee this will be a drive you talk about for years to come, but please drive carefully and don’t endanger other drivers by crossing the center lines on blind corners as there is very little room for error on this drive.   

The Drive:

Day 1 – Redmond to Walla Walla

Recommended Departure Time: Sunrise

This route takes you through the canyon from Ellensburg to Yakima to get the fun started then the through the hills of vineyards from Prosser to Paterson and finishes with an easy drive up the Columbia River to Walla Walla. I’ve recommended the Courtyard by Marriott since it’s a newer, nice hotel with a great location that doesn’t break the bank to stay at. They have a shuttle that runs to town (which is only a few blocks away) so you can enjoy the local wines and beers without worry. If you’re going to visit any wineries I recommend you do it the day you arrive as the next day will be long. Be sure to spray the bugs off at 9th Street Auto Wash, just a block away from the hotel and fuel up. 

Day 2 – Walla Walla to McCall, ID via Hells Canyon West

Recommended Departure: 09:00

WARNING: Your tires and brakes should be in good if not great condition for this section. How you choose to drive is up to you, but you will be doing a lot of climbing, descending, and hard turns even at normal speeds. Give your car a full once over before leaving Walla Walla and make sure your luggage is secured.

Your first stop of the day should be breakfast at The Maple Counter Cafe. Get the pancakes! 

Alright, ready for some fun? This is a going to be a long day of driving, but you won’t be bored. The first minor detour is from Mission to Highway 84. You’ll want to go up Old Emigrant road, bypassing the I-84 climb. This road is not in ideal condition, but if you have good suspension it’s still a great hill climb with tight turns. Stay sharp and you’ll be fine and really enjoy it. Stay on the road until you cross over I-84 for the best parts. Watch for cops on I-84, ESPECIALLY on the way into Baker City!

From there stay on I-84 to La Grande and get some fuel (yes, again) at the Safeway Fuel Stop and get a break and some food at Bud Jacksons. They have really good food and service! From there follow I-84 to Baker City and then head east on 86. This is where the fun really starts so get your GoPro ready. Follow 86 all the way to Copperfield and take a rest there, you’ll need it for the next section. Check your tires, etc and get moving. You can take a quick break in Cambridge, ID if you need it but from there you’re just following the map to McCall where you can enjoy a nice stay on the lake.

Day 3 – McCall to Boise the FUN Way or McCall to Lewiston the FUN way

Departure to Boise: 10:00-11:00

Departure to Home: Sunrise 

I love Boise and have friends there, so I usually continue from McCall to Boise.

Heading from McCall to Boise:

From McCall just head south straight to Boise. I previously recommended the long way via Grimes Pass, but unfortunately 21 South from Lowman to Idaho City is in too poor condition to really be enjoyed on anything but a slow drive and even then it will be VERY bumpy and has a lot of potholes and frost heaves. As for 55 South, be patient. There are fun passing zones but this highway can get very crowded with trucks. It's a beautiful drive, but driving too aggressively can lead to serious trouble here. Trust me, this will be a lesson in restraint as the road is calling for speed, but some places you just have to slow down and enjoy the view. 

Heading Home from McCall to Lewiston:

If you’re short on time and anxious for more crazy roads you’ll want to go north to Hells Canyon East. Actually, no matter what you'll want to take Hell's Canyon East. Be sure to turn off at White Bird and drive up Old Highway 95 vs staying on 95 north. Watch for police coming into Whitebird and up 95 as this is a very popular spot for speeders. Also fair warning, don’t speed here because you’ll die. I’m not kidding. The views are amazing, but the corners are at most 15 mph with sharp drops and some gravel, so this is a time to enjoy the view and not go nuts.

Further North you'll head into Lewiston, ID. A great little town with plenty of fuel stops and one detour your absolutely have to take; The Old Spiral Highway.

Turn on the GoPro and enjoy this short 15 minute detour you'll be telling your friends about. Here's a great video for reference: 

 

From there continue to Starbuck, WA then follow 261 to 260, where you’ll get to haul ass and enjoy the curves. You’ll pass right by Palouse State Park, but it’s a LONG gravel road to get there. I’ve done it in the Vette, but you’ll want full Stek or Xpel like I have or just skip it. I had rocks on my roof.

The maps and your GPS will make it look like 26 West is a good idea. It’s not. It’s bumpy, full of bugs, and totally empty except for random rednecks. You will hate it, especially in the evening when the sun is directly in your face making it a strangely dangerous perfectly straight road. I recommend going north and just take 90 back from there. It’s a boring stretch of highway, I know, but after the first 2 days of epic driving you’ll probably be glad it is.