Last Minute Summer Travel Tips


Columbia River Gorge ©2006 Jan Tik, Creative Commons

Travel brings us balance. It gives us a way to reconnect with family and experience familiar places in new ways. Not all travel has to be planned in advance. If the sun is shining and you’re facing a few last-minute days off, it’s time to enjoy a hard-earned getaway in the Northwest.

Road Trip

If you get a last-minute hankering for a getaway, there’s no better solution than a road trip. Make travel an experience and not a destination by focusing on great Northwest food. Head over to Wenatchee to the Pybus Public Market for local fare and great entertainment. Or try retracing your best travel memories: head out for a road trip from your childhood, stopping to see the updates at treasured destinations like Northwest Trek.

Many areas of the Northwest have scenic drives with complete itineraries — get online for a map of the Cascade Loop or the Columbia River Gorge. Explore the Bow-Edison Food Trail, where you can pick up a picnic feast and enjoy stunning views from Chuckanut Drive up to Bellingham. Or do a farm-stand and winery tour in the sunny Yakima Valley.

Last-minute road trips are a great way to explore new areas. Head over to Idaho for water fun at Silverwood Theme Park, or try your golf skills on the floating green at The Coeur d’Alene Resort. Are the passports ready? Families can enjoy farm experiences and theme parks in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. On your way back, stop for a serendipitous food experience in one of Vancouver’s many neighborhoods.


Mountain biking in Winthrop. Courtesy Methow Valley Photography

Get Outside

Time spent outdoors should be part of every summer in the Northwest. There is nothing as rejuvenating as staring up at the stars, cozying up to a campfire, or listening to water flowing nearby, from a warm rustic cabin.

Check out the accommodations within Washington State Parks — if you have a single night or a midweek block, you may score a beachside yurt at Grayland Beach State Park, a cabin in the woods at Rasar State Park, or even a night in a teepee at Columbia Hills State Park. If your camping gear is not all that, borrow from friends, or rent everything you need at REI.

Or you can spend your time off volunteering. Get on board for a trail work party with Washington Trails Association, which hosts frequent day trips and overnight parties to help with trail-maintenance projects. You’ll meet new people and enjoy the scenery while you work.

Do the Opposite

A frequent travelers’ trick for scoring last-minute hotel rooms in the city is to look at downtown or financial district hotels on the weekends, when business travelers clear out. Also try city neighborhoods for unique accommodations within easy reach of attractions.

In Portland, check out McMenamins Kennedy School, a 1915 school turned hotel with restaurants, bars, a theater, and entertainment. Or look into Caravan—Tiny House Hotel, a group of caravans in the Alberta Arts District. You’ll find quirky accommodations and a comfortable local vibe.

If you have a favorite winter ski town, head there in summer for a new experience. In Leavenworth or Winthrop, you’ll find warm sunshine for horseback riding, biking, and relaxed exploring. Enjoy Northwest luxe at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum or Sunriver Resort in Central Oregon. Both have many lodging options, and they’re well-located for fun in the mountains, snow or not.


The Rocky Mountaineer Coastal Passage, ©2014 Roderick Eime, Creative Commons

Try Something New

You’re being spontaneous now, so it’s the perfect time to exit your comfort zone and go big. Take a Kenmore Air seaplane trip from Seattle, headed for secluded destinations like the rugged coastal islands of British Columbia. The Rocky Mountaineer Coastal Passage takes you on a luxury train ride from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., and into the Canadian Rockies for a week or more of unforgettable travel memories.

How about an active getaway? Look for a spot on one of Backroads’ biking, hiking, or kayaking excursions throughout the Northwest and beyond. Or load up your bikes and head to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for pinot and great food on the Eugene Wine Trail.

If you always stay in hotels, try a few restful nights in a well-appointed vacation home. You could score a mountain hideaway in the Cascades or an oceanfront cabin on the Oregon Coast through websites like Airbnb and Vacasa. The privacy and extra space to stretch out is especially appealing for families.

Tech Support

Whatever you aim to do on your last-minute getaway, you’ll be doing some searching. Make the effort a little easier with useful tech options. The Hotel Tonight app is a handy, and somewhat addictive, way to daydream, or even plan, an overnight stay in most any locale. Expedia Last Minute Deals, Amazon Local Travel, and Groupon have last-minute getaways with plenty of Northwest options.


Montana’s Glacier Country ©2013 Diana Robinson, Creative Commons

Or talk to a real, live person. Most regions have visitor centers and travel offices, with local experts who have the pulse on what’s happening in their area. A phone call to a tourism office can be a great help for travelers with limited time to search. Some even offer online chat assistance, like Live Helper from Montana’s Glacier Country.

But if you really, really need help? Experienced travel agents are thriving as people look for thoughtful advice and planning from professionals who can tailor getaways to specific travel needs. In the South Sound, try Travel Leaders in Tacoma and Lakewood.

Your last- minute road map

  1. Last-minute trips to popular destinations are all about cancellations: search for them, ask for them.
  2. If you haven’t booked accommodations, set your mindset to sleeping comfortably but playing and eating like a rock star.
  3. You’ll have better luck with midweek and non-holiday travel.
  4. Decide on a destination or an activity. You need something to focus your search.
  5. Put on your adventurer’s hat. Travel is for everyone.

Photo courtesy “Columbia River Gorge” ©2006 Jan Tik, used under a creative commons attribution license; Methow Valley Photography; “Rocky Mountaineer” ©2014 Roderick Eime; “Night Over Bowman Lake” ©2013 Diana Robinson, both used under a creative commons attribution license.

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