The Perfect PNW Drivers Extended Weekend
- 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
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 you 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.
Day 1 – Redmond to Walla Walla
Recommended departure: 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.
Recommended Departure: 9am
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.
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
Recommended departure to Boise: 10-11am.
Recommended departure to home: Sunrise
I love Boise and have friends there, so I usually continue from McCall to Boise.
Heading to Boise:
From McCall there is no wrong or boring way to Boise. You can head due south on 55 and enjoy the view the entire way while saving almost 2 hours of drive time, or get in some hard driving and take 17 (Grimes Pass) to Lowman and then 21 south. This road gets hit HARD in the winter, so be careful and watch for wildlife. This route will be curves for 90% of your drive back with limited passing zones, but you’ll be rewarded with great views.
Heading Home from McCall or Boise or McCall to Home (500 miles)?:
If you’re short on time and anxious for more crazy roads you’ll want to go north to Hells Canyon East. Be sure to turn off at White Bird and drive up Old Highway 95 vs staying on 95 north. Fair warning, don’t speed here. 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. 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 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.