RNA viruses, such as poliovirus, have a great evolutionary capacity, allowing them to quickly adapt and overcome challenges encountered during infection. Here we show that poliovirus infection in immune-competent mice requires adaptation to tissue-specific innate immune microenvironments. The ability of the virus to establish robust infection and virulence correlates with its evolutionary capacity. We further identify a region in the multi-functional poliovirus protein 2B as a hotspot for the accumulation of minor alleles that facilitate a more effective suppression of the interferon response. We propose that population genetic dynamics enables poliovirus spread between tissues through optimization of the genetic composition of low frequency variants, which together cooperate to circumvent tissue-specific challenges. Thus, intrahost virus evolution determines pathogenesis, allowing a dynamic regulation of viral functions required to overcome barriers to infection.RNA viruses, such as polioviruses, have a great evolutionary capacity and can adapt quickly during infection. Here, the authors show that poliovirus infection in mice requires adaptation to innate immune microenvironments encountered in different tissues.