If you are doing a Portland to Boise drive, you are in luck, because this is one of the most scenic tours you can take. If you’ve ever played the old video game Oregon Trail, now’s your chance to experience the last part of that route in real life.
Starting off in the scenic Columbia River Gorge, the sky will open up as you cross eastern Oregon, a beautiful high desert. The route, whether you’re going east or doing a Boise to Portland drive, traverses several different western landscapes and offers lots of unique things to do on the way.
From outdoor adventures to historical sites to rodeos and world-class art museums, you can find a variety of activities for everyone on this classic journey through the west.
Planning a Portland to Boise Drive
If you stick to I-84, you’ll have no trouble with finding gas stations and restaurants to stop at on the way, however, they do thin out as you head east. If you try other routes, roadside amenities can be spotty in the eastern part of the state.
The road conditions on I-84 will generally be good throughout the year, although during winter you will need to watch out for snow and ice.
Traffic getting out of Portland to the Columbia Gorge can be very crowded, especially at rush hour and on weekends and when city dwellers head out for adventures.
You may want to check the traffic first before you go or leave at midday. After Hood River, the traffic will drop considerably for the rest of your drive.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates deals across many car hire companies.
How Far is Portland to Boise?
The distance from Portland to Boise is about 430 miles on I-84. The Portland to Boise drive time on this route will be six and half hours without stopping, but you should probably plan to stop overnight somewhere halfway if you plan to make several stops and explore.
Some great towns to stop and stay are Pendleton and Baker City. There are many campgrounds throughout Oregon along I-84 as well.
There are a few other routes to get to Boise from Portland, and you may prefer these backroads adventures if you’d like to get off the interstate. Highway 26 straight out of Portland is a very scenic route through central Oregon that you might prefer to take to avoid the traffic of I-84, especially if you have seen the highlights of the Columbia Gorge before.
Another route is to take I-84 partway and split off south on either Highway 19 or Highway 395, both of which join up with Highway 26.
Either way, you’ll end up on I-84 for the last stretch from Ontario to Boise. These alternate routes will add another two hours or so onto your drive time. Driving to Boise from Oregon can also be a part of a longer road trip from Portland to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Best Portland to Boise Road Trip Stops
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge is the largest National Scenic Area in the United States. The river cuts through several ecologically diverse areas, and the national scenic area covers both the high desert in the east and the temperate rain forest in the west. It has a long, fascinating history as a trade route for Native Americans, and Lewis and Clark explored the route in 1805.
Take exit 18 from I-84 to get on Route 30, the scenic Columbia River Highway, which was the first paved road in the Pacific Northwest in 1926. This winding road can be an all-day or multi-day excursion if you want it to be with over ninety waterfalls, dozens of hiking trails, and many scenic vistas.
Some highlights you won’t want to miss are Multnomah Falls and Vista House, and for some short hikes, try Bridal Falls or Loutrell Falls. The Pacific Crest Trail also goes through the area, so if you’ve always wanted to hike part of it, this is your chance.
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area can be extremely crowded because it is so popular with Portlanders and tourists, so don’t be surprised if the parking lots are full at the most scenic spots. You may want to plan to stop at some of the more off-the-beaten path areas of the gorge.
Bonneville Dam, Oregon
The Bonneville Lock and Dam system was first built in 1938 to control the Columbia River and provide hydroelectric power for the region.
Today you can visit the dam to watch how boats navigate the locks. There are also two visitors centers, one on the Oregon side and one on the Washington side, where you can learn about the dam and about the salmon that the river is famous for.
You can also visit the fish hatchery and the Fort Cascades National Historic Site, the original fort built to protect the crossing site at the river. Take a hike on an interpretive trail to learn about the Native American history of the area here.
The Bonneville Dam is a fun excursion for kids and anyone who is fascinated by transportation.
Hood River, Oregon
The town of Hood River is a great place to stop on the first leg of your Portland to Idaho road trip.
It’s a famous destination for windsurfing and sailing on the Columbia River due to the strong winds that blow down through the gorge from a wind tunnel effect, and snow-capped Mount Hood lies just to the south.
It has a historic downtown with lots of restaurants and breweries; check out Double Mountain Brewery if you need a place to unwind and a great slice of pizza.
Maryhill Museum of Art, Oregon
Just past the Dalles, another dam on the Columbia, you can cross the bridge at Biggs Junction and drive up the hill to the Maryhill Museum of Art.
The museum was built to be a mansion for influential businessman Sam Hill, who wanted to start a Quaker farming community on the site. It didn’t prove to be ideal for agriculture, so the mansion eventually became an art museum.
Hill’s friend Loïe Fuller purchased many pieces from France, including over 80 works by August Rodin and an art nouveau glass collection.
Other permanent exhibits include an amazing collection of 400 chess sets and a sculpture garden outside that you can wander through while looking at the view across the Columbia. The Maryhill Museum also has a café with outdoor seating.
The museum is open every day from March 15 through November 15 and admission is $12.
Pendleton Round-Up, Oregon
If you are doing a Boise to Portland road trip in September, you can’t miss the Pendleton Round-Up, a week-long rodeo that also includes events like a pageant called the Happy Canyon, a wagon train, a parade, a concert, and more.
The event first started over a hundred years ago, and since the beginning, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have participated. Now, many other tribal members from the Northwest and Canada come to the roundup too.
The rodeo is so popular that lodging can be hard to find, so if you want to come, plan your trip well in advance. If you’re passing through Pendleton at another time of year, there are lots of other things to do in this famous western town.
Be sure to check out the Pendleton Woolen Mills, home of the iconic blankets and other goods made of wool that was first started by the Bishop family in the 1860s.
There is a full store with every kind of Pendleton item you may want to buy, and you may be able to take a tour of the mill. You can also check out other stores in Pendleton that are famous for saddles and western hats and gear.
Hot Lake Springs
South of LaGrande on Highway 203 is a great place to stop if you are in need of a little rest and relaxation. People have been coming to recover at this natural sulphur hot springs for centuries, in fact, it was a stop on the Oregon Trail.
A hotel and sanitorium were built in 1911, but they fell into disrepair after a fire. New owners bought the hotel and the nearby RV park recently. It has been renovated along with a new movie theater and many new amenities, but it still gives off a slightly haunted vibe.
You can stay overnight at the Hot Lake Lodge and reserve a soaking pool at the edge of the lake before you’re on your way to the next leg of your trip.
If you want to see a real old west mining town, stop by Sumpter, west of Baker City. Take Highway 7 from either I-84 or Highway 26 and then 410 to get to this well-preserved town in the Blue Mountains.
The main attraction is the Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge, which looks like a ship in the middle of a pond. It’s a huge piece of machinery that digs up earth and sifts it for gold.
You can also explore Mill Street, the main street of Sumpter, and the four remaining ghost towns that surround the town: Bourne, Granite, Greenhorn, and Whitney. There are several campgrounds nearby if you’d like to extend your stay in the Blue Mountains.
John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon
If you are taking Highway 26 through Oregon and you love geology, you won’t want to miss the John Day Fossil Beds, a national monument that is located in three sites across the state. From Highway 26, turn north at Highway 19 and stop at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at the Sheep Rock Unit.
At this visitors center, you can learn all about the fossils and geology of the area before you head out to explore. You can hike trails with names like Story in Stone, Flood of Fire, and Island in Time that go by several geologic formations with fossils like the Mascall Formation, Blue Basin, Cathedral Rock.
You can also visit the historic Cant Ranch, where the John Day Fossil Bed has its headquarters now.
Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, Oregon
In the small town of John Day on Highway 26 is one of the most unexpected and interesting things to do between Boise and Portland.
The Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site is a small state park site that was once the grocery store, medical office, and home of two Chinese immigrants, Ing “Doc” Hay and Lung On, who came to Oregon in 1888.
Long On ran the grocery store while Doc Hay initially treated miners and Chinese workers in John Day. His medical skills became so well known that people all over the west came to see him for treatments.
After Doc Hay and Lung On died in the 1940s, the building eventually became a museum in 1950s. Items in the grocery store, medicines, and records from the businesses had been untouched since Hay and On left.
Today you can see these perfectly preserved items as you take a guided tour through the small rooms of this museum. There is also an interpretive center down the street where tours meet with more exhibits.
Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge, Idaho
Just west of Boise is one of the most important areas for migratory birds in the west.
The main part of Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge is Lake Lowell and hundreds of acres of forest and farmland nearby, but it also includes over one hundred islands along 114 miles of the Snake River. To get to the lake, take Highway 55 from I-84 to Indiana Avenue.
As a birder’s paradise, you’ll be likely to see Canada geese, bald eagles, and many species of owls, ducks, herons, and shorebirds. There are many hiking trails around the lake of varying lengths and you can also hunt, fish, boat, and swim at the lake at certain times of the year.
From here, it’s just a short drive into Boise, your final destination.
Where to Stay on the Portland to Boise Drive
Though you could definitely do the Portland to Boise drive in one go, if you want to make a few of these stops, then you’re going to need to find a place to stop off for the night. The town of Pendleton Oregon makes for a good option and there are a few places to choose from when it comes to accommodation.
Best Western Pendleton Inn – If you’re looking for somewhere clean, comfortable, and consistent, then this is a good option. Centrally located in Pendleton, they have a number of rooms available to suit all kinds of visitors and there is a pool and fitness centre on site. There is also an option to include breakfast. Click here to see their availability
Oxford Suites Pendleton – This is another good option for accommodation in Peldeton. Centrally located, they have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available (each equipped with a microwave, fridge and coffeemaker) and there is free parking on site. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – A private vacation rental is an excellent option if you want some privacy on your road trip. This quaint little house is just one of many properties available in the Pendleton area. Click here to browse more Pendleton private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Pendleton hotels!
Modern Hotel – Located in Downtown Boise’s Linen District, this hotel is a great option in the Idaho capital. Situated close to all the action in Boise, they have a range of great rooms available and there s a bar and a lovely outdoor terrace on site, as well. Click here to see their availability
Oxford Suites Boise – If you’re looking for a solid, mid-range hotel, this is a great option. Located in central Boise, they have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available, free parking and a swimming pool and fitness centre on site. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’d rather have your own place in the Idaho capital than stay in a hotel, a private rental is a great option. There are lots of options available in the city, such as this 1940s bungalow. Click here to browse more Boise private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Boise hotels!
The Society Hotel — This centrally located hotel is a great place to base yourself in Portland. Situated within easy reach of all of the city’s top attractions, there are lots of rooms to choose from and even an on-site restaurant. Click here to see their availability
Kimpton Riverplace Hotel — If you’re looking for a luxury option in Portland, then this swanky hotel is a great option. Situated on the Willamette River, there are countless luxe rooms on offer and the hotel is centrally located to all fo the city’s top sites. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental — If you’d like to have your own place in Portland rather than stay in a hotel, then consider a private vacation rental. There are a myriad of great properties in the city, like this quaint, centrally located house. Click here to find the best private rentals in Portland!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Portland!
By checking out some of these stops on a Portland to Boise drive, you are bound to have a great Oregon Trail adventure of your own.
Are you planning a road trip from Portland to Boise? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!