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Ask the experts: The Pacific Coast Highway

Need advice for your next trip? Our experts offer recommendations, tips and guidance. This month, we discuss American road trips in light of the landslides on the Pacific Coast Highway

By Aaron Millar
Published 21 Aug 2017, 18:00 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 10:38 BST
The Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway

QI was planning on driving the Pacific Coast Highway this autumn but read that landslides have blocked large parts of the road. Are there alternative routes for the USA's West Coast?

Aaron Millar, freelance travel writer: First off, you don't need to change your plans. Although storms have wreaked havoc on the northern section of the Pacific Coast Highway since January, taking out the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and causing an enormous landslide in an area known as Mud Creek in May (miraculously no one was injured), most of the 655-mile route is still open. A short detour inland only adds 30 minutes onto the original route via some scenic wineries. Estimates indicate the Pfeiffer Bridge will be fixed by September.

If travelling from the south, it's possible to head up as far as Ragged Point and catch a spectacular first glimpse of Big Sur. From there you must double back to connect with Route 46 eastbound until it reaches the 101 heading north. Follow that for about 100 miles until it connects with Route 68 heading west to Monterey. You can access much of the northern section of Highway 1, including the iconic Bixby Bridge and the 30-mile coastal stretch from Carmel to the Big Sur Ranger Station. That diversion should take less than three hours.

For a great alternative, head north one state to Oregon. The coastline there is wilder and less developed, but just as spectacular with great surf, deserted beaches and some of the most pristine old growth forests in the country.

Start in Portland, one of America's hippest eco-cities, then head north to Astoria, on the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, following the coastline south for 363 miles to Brookings. Staying in cute seaside towns throughout, highlights include the rock formations at Cannon Beach, made famous by The Goonies, the enormous sand dunes of Cape Kiwanda and the chance to walk sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, where rainforests are every bit as lush as in South America.

Then you have a choice: either double back to Portland via Eugene and the vineyards of the Willamette Valley or continue into northern California, past redwood giants and Napa wineries, all the way to San Francisco. Either way it's about 800 miles of scenic driving in total and could be done in a leisurely 10-14 days.

Get in touch: If you're in need of travel advice, email our team at

Published in the September 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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