Portland and Seattle are relatively close, less than 300 km from each other. If you need to get there in a hurry, it’s only 3 hours, even by car.
We have listed the most obvious options below, but we would like to persuade you to make your trip a journey to remember, as Northern Oregon has many worthwhile sights to see to add to your memories.
If you are not constrained by your budget, there are a few unusual travel options that might surprise you, but let’s look at the usual suspects first. Here’s how to get from Portland to Seattle by plane, bus, train, boat, car and more…
Flying by plane – average flight time is around 50 minutes
There are plenty of commute flights between Portland and Seattle; the carriers are Alaskan and Delta. However, because the distance is so short, flying is not really faster than going by train or car.
If you have a Guest Pass with Alaskan, or plenty of air miles to cash in, this might still be the most economical option.
Getting to Seattle by bus or train – takes around 3.5 to 4 hours
You do not have to shell out thousands to get from Portland to Seattle, two very accessible alternatives are the bus or the train. Both travel through beautiful scenery, making them good value.
As the distance is short, these are very competitive alternatives to flying, both on cost and time.
Greyhound runs a daily bus under their Boltbus brand, which leaves at 9:45 daily and takes about 4 hours, for a fare of $17-$35. If that does not suit, try the international line Flixbus, which has 3 trips daily, and which purchased Greyhound in 2021.
Flixbus is the Uber of buses; it started in Germany in 2013 and now provides services in 38 countries, from Andorra to Ukraine.
What is really special about these buses is that they are green buses (and we don’t just mean the color), as they are electric, so have a very low carbon footprint.
The ticket price is really competitive, starting from $10, up to $25, based on how far in advance you book. They also take 3 1/2 hours to complete the route.
A bit more expensive, but still very reasonable are Amtrak’s 2 offerings, the Coast Starlight and the Cascades.
The Cascades is the luxury option and costs more, but has been reported as being more punctual than the Coast Starlight. The trip is very scenic, traveling along the Columbia River for the first 40 kilometers, heading through to Olympia and Tacoma before stopping in Seattle.
The Cascades train then continues north to Vancouver.
Another excursion you could consider is a day trip to Victoria. This is a joint offering by Amtrak and FRS Clipper, the ferry company.
You travel from Portland to Seattle via Amtrak’s Cascades train, disembark, and take the Victoria Clipper for a day trip to Victoria.
Depending on the time of year (the season is June through September), you could have the unforgettable bonus of whale-watching. If you are an experienced sailor or love lounging around on small boats (or even motor yachts), you could plan a sea trip.
Take to the roads by or limo – takes around 2 hours 40 minutes
If you’re driving directly from Portland to Seattle by car the journey is around 173 miles or 278 km will take around 2 hours 40 mins via I-5 N.
Although, for many of us, there is nothing to beat taking a car and driving a route, stopping where you please, and going off the beaten track.
Another cool alternative is to have a chauffeured drive, leaving you to relax and watch the scenery, while someone else keeps their eyes on the road.
There are quite a few hire companies in Portland that can offer you a variety of vehicles with a driver, ranging from a coach or a limo to a town car.
They are available for a range of services from an airport shuttle, to the Portland to Seattle route, to guided tours around Oregon.
And there is plenty to see around Portland. We have already mentioned a few of the sights if you travel from Portland to Sacramento and San Francisco, But traveling north to Washington offers even more not-to-be-missed experiences.
Best scenic stops along the way from Portland to Seattle
There are several main routes you can take, from the most direct, Route 5, to a coastal detour or heading east along the Columbia River.
Each option has so many attractions, it is really hard to choose.
A ride on the Amtrak Cascades passes west of Mt. Rainier and Mount St. Helens, which can also be viewed from Route 5. If you are driving, there are plenty of places to stop, as well as the major attractions.
Mount St Helens – a gorgeous beauty spot
In 1980, people around the world watched in amazement as Mount St Helens erupted. You can take a detour at Castle Rock, via Exit 49, to explore the Visitor Centre, to discover some of the history of the eruption.
There are also easy trails that take you closer to volcano, along which you can see the evidence of lava trails that carved up the landscape.
Mount Rainer National Park – a stunning destination to explore along the way
Mount Rainier Park is always a beautiful place to visit; the autumn foliage is stunning, and in spring there are wildflowers blooming. The mountain is a top destination for experienced mountaineers, as well as aspirant mountaineers, who can take a 3-day course on Rainier’s slopes.
You can also hike some of the trails, which are a lot less strenuous, or, if you have the time, and want something more relaxing, take a trip on the Mount Rainier railroad.
This is a 30 km trip through the area on a train powered by an old locomotive which was used to haul logs. You might find so much to do that you need to camp in the Park or stay over in Tacoma nearby.
The Point Defiance Park in Tacoma has trails and walks as well as Fort Nisqually History Museum.
Tillamook – heading to the coast
If you head west on Route 26 out of Portland, you can start your coastal journey in Tillamook. There are some lovely beaches in the vicinity, including Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint.
The bluff has a few kilometers of trails, along which you can visit the Lighthouse and a formidable Sitka spruce, known as the Octopus Tree.
It is believed to have been shaped into its current candelabra shape by local tribes for religious ceremonies and is a designated State heritage tree.
Cannon Beach and the Haystack – a must-see stopover from Portland to Seattle
There are plenty of beaches and stops along the coastal route, with Cannon Beach being a must.
The scenic area is most famous for Haystack Rock, which can be accessed at low tide and is a birder’s destination, as Tufted Puffins nest on the rock.
There are other beaches and towns along the way that will catch your fancy, such as Seaside and Sunset Beach, on the way to Astoria.
Astoria – stop and see Oregon’s Oldest Town
We have already mentioned Astoria because its port being a favorite destination for cruise ships. Founded in 1811, the town retains much of its pioneering character, with many of the original homes still standing.
The impressive 6.6 km Astoria-Megler Bridge connects Oregon and Washington state across the mouth of the Columbia River.
By boat – take the long and very scenic way and spread over a few days
Although it is quite challenging to sail straight from Portland to Seattle, because the Columbia River going north is difficult to navigate, you can consider a combination train/ship ride to get to Seattle.
If you did not visit the Columbia River Gorge, there are several cruise lines that take you along this scenic route, starting and stopping in Clarkston, Portland, and Astoria, among other points.
Astoria is a well-known stopping point for sea and river cruises, both regional and international. You can then take a charter boat or sail trip up to Seattle, enjoying the coastal scenery and with the possibility of whale watching in season.
When you get to Seattle, there is also the possibility of trips to the San Juan Islands by boat or ferry, to enjoy the ambiance of these coastal islands, and envy the inhabitants.
By helicopter – this luxury mode of travel takes around 1 to 2 hours
Portland has a surprising number of helicopter companies offering flights, such as Oregon Helicopters. While most of these flights are scenic tours of the Columbia Gorge and other scenic highlights, a service that takes you from Portland to Seattle is also offered.
You can even ditch the tram and take a helicopter from where you are staying straight to PDX; provided that there is a suitable landing space for the helicopter you can reach the airport in 5 minutes.
These flights are surprisingly reasonable, and even if you decide not to travel to Seattle this way, consider one of the scenic flights over Multnomah falls, along the coastline, down the Columbia Valley, or even a 20-minute bird’s eye view of Portland.
The notorious 50 shades of Grey books and movies have made Portland and Seattle must-see destinations, and you can even indulge in the “Charlie Tango No Limits” trip, organized by the Heathman Hotel, where a lot of the 50 shades action takes place.
It is not cheap at $2 750 for 6 people, but includes dinner and a helicopter ride over Portland, with roses and transfer by limo.
If you are a bit wary of helicopter flights, there are also small plane charters available, or even, if money is no object, you can charter a jet from Privé Jets, although, if you are quite a big group, flights start from as little as $2,500 per hour, which is roughly the time it will take you from Portland to Seattle.
We hope we have opened your eyes to just some of the many opportunities to make the short trip from Portland to Seattle, or vice versa.
Please note that some of the options mentioned, such as cruising, do not operate in the winter months, or when the weather prevents taking off. There may also be restrictions or cancellations due to the pandemic.
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Lee mostly spent his formative years as a junior Spielberg wannabe, devouring movies in front of a cinema screen, but then a “year out” after graduating turned into a not-too-shabby six years of working, travelling and volunteering across the globe. Attempting to satisfy his curiosity and passion for discovery both at home and abroad, he became a concierge at a luxury hotel and a member of the prestigious Les Clefs d’Or, whilst still finding time to visit over 60 countries. On his jaunts he combines all his passions – seeking out film locations, off-the-beaten track adventures and wildlife encounters which so far have included orangutans, whale sharks, gorillas and polar bears. He counts New Zealand, Tanzania, Denmark and Borneo among his favourite travel destinations.