Pros: Many great outdoor activities in a lovely, scenic setting.
As a child family vacations meant packing up the family station wagon and taking a road trip. Many of these memorable vacations didn't take us far from home in Oregon as this state is blessed with an overabundance of scenic destinations. As an adult I've tried to take my kids to as many as these as possible, but being that the list is so long and Oregon is so large, it's hard to do them all. But it still possible to pick and chose a few and still get a good flavor of what Oregon's all about. Here are my suggestions - happy road trippin' !
In and around Portland:
Portlanders are fortunate that they have several scenic treasures right in their own backyard. One of these is Washington Park in Southwest Portland, home to the Oregon Zoo, and several interesting gardens, including the International Rose Test Garden and the Japanese Garden. A recently opened Holocaust Memorial is also a worthwhile stop. This beautiful park sits in the hills above downtown Portland and affords spectacular views of the city and Mt. Hood. If you have only a few hours to spare this park is a must-see.
This 5,000 acre park in the hills above Northwest Portland has long been recognized as the top urban forest in the United States. Living on the edge of this park growing up was something that I can never forget. For me, it was my playground and I will always have a special connection to it. It has over 70 miles of trails including part of the 30-mile Wildwood Trail which forms part of Portland’s trail loop system. The forest here is a thick canopy of both evergreen and deciduous trees with a heavy undergrowth, making it an ideal home for a large variety of birds and animals. In addition to trails the park has extensive network of fire lanes which are open to mountain bikers. I highly recommend this park for its quiet peaceful trails and easy access to nature while visiting Portland. It's truly a gem.
Wine Country in the Willamette Valley
Who says you have to go to California for a scenic wine tour? Less than an hour away from Portland is Oregon’s wine country in the scenic Willamette Valley, with over 200 wineries. The wineries are spread over a 60-mile long region from Forest Grove to Corvallis, with the largest cluster around Yamhill, Dundee, and McMinnville. The region is nationally recognized for its Pinot Noirs. Like Napa Valley several tour operators now offer wine tours. And just like California you can also do a Balloon Tour, complete with brunch. However, my advice is to just simply get in your car and start driving down Hwy. 99. There are many wineries along the way and if you get adventurous you can take some of the side roads and explore the nearby hills for some of the wineries that are tucked away there. My personal favorite is Rex Hill in Newberg. Be advised, though, that most wineries do charge a fee nowadays for tastings (typically $5), although they will apply that against the cost of a bottle if you buy it. While you're in the area stop by the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, which houses Howard Hughes' infamous Spruce Goose (www.sprucegoose.org)
Columbia River Gorge
Just east of Portland is the spectacular Columbia River Gorge which Oregon shares with Washington State. This gorge is 80 miles long and at its deepest point has a depth of 4000 feet. Of course, I am slightly biased and think that the Oregon side is much more scenic with all of its dozen or so waterfalls. The most prominent of these is Multnomah Falls, which at 620 feet high is second-highest year around falls in the nation. For best viewing of these falls I recommend exiting I-84 at Exit 35 near Dodson and taking the Old Gorge Hwy. 14 back toward Portland. It gives you a better view of the falls and is much more scenic. Several of the falls have hiking trails (both short and long). At least try to make the hike to the top of Multnomah Falls. The old highway will take you to Crown Point Vista House where you can take in the great view of the gorge and snap some memorable pictures. This is a quick little trip which can be done in less than 4 hours, or easily extended if you want to spend more time exploring the Gorge. If you're a wind surfer or like watching it, venture on up to the town of Hood River further up the Gorge for some of the best wind surfing in the region.
Along the coast
Located on the central Oregon coast, Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots) is filled with recreation opportunities. My personal favorite is the rugged coastline around Cape Perpetua, with its famous Spouting Horn and Devils Churn. My kids favorite site is the Sea Lion Caves with its massive colony of sea lions. Other ideas: take a scenic drive up the Yachats River and see one of the few remaining covered bridges in Oregon; tour the Heceta Head Lighthouse. There are many campgrounds and small motels in the area. If you're a camper, just know that the Oregon Coast is chilly!
These two coastal towns are less than an hour and a half away from Portland. Their proximity to major population centers in Western Oregon make them popular for visitors and locals alike. They have beautiful wide side sandy beaches, ideal for running, walking, and yes, making sand castles. Ride your bike on Seaside's Promenade or rent a chopper to ride on the beach. In the wintertime cozy up with your loved one in a hotel room and watch a winter storm. The shoreline here is not as rugged as the Yachats area, but the area is still very scenic. In fact Haystack Rock, which rises 235 out of the sand at Cannon Beach, is one of Oregon's most photographed sites. It's a protected marine garden and also home to many sea birds
For more in-depth information on the Oregon Coast, check out my review here.
In the Cascades
Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood
Even if you're not a skier or it's the middle of summer, a trip to Timberline Lodge is very worthwhile. Mt. Hood is Oregon's tallest snowcap at 11,235 feet. Timberline Lodge is at the 6000 foot level of Mount Hood. The historic lodge was built in 1937 as a public works project. It's a wonderful place to stay anytime of the year, with spectacular views of the mountain and the surrounding Mt. Hood National Forest. If you're more the camping type, there are plenty of camp grounds nearby. If you enjoy hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail passes by the lodge and is a nice way to enjoy the scenery of this area during the summer months. You can also hop on the chair lift and take a ride up to the Palmer Snowfield at 7000 feet. A few years ago we visited here in August and a few diehard snowboarders were here!
Silver Falls State Park
This beautiful park actually consists of 10 falls. Located 25 miles east of Salem in the foothills of the Cascades, this park is popular for both camping and day trips. If you're ambitious consider doing the Trail of 10 Falls, a 7-mile loop around the park that will take around or under each fall. If you only have time for a short hike, I'd recommend the short hike to South Falls nearby the Lodge. Several others are easily accessible from the highway and you can skip the loop if weather or time is not on your side. This is also a great stop on the way to Crater Lake if coming from Portland.
Whether you love winter or summer sports, Bend is a great vacation destination. Nearby Mt. Bachelor (over 9000 ft.) is home to the largest ski resort in Oregon, with 11 chairs and 70 runs on over 3600 acres. I, however, am more of a summer sports person and highly recommend hitting the bike trails around Bend, whether it be mountain biking or a more leisurely ride on the many paved paths. Golfers and fisherman, this is your place, too. Many of my earliest trips to Bend were to my uncle's cabin on the beautiful Deschutes River (and somewhere in the bottom you may still find all my dad's lures that I knocked off the dock into the river as a child). Bend is also located near some interesting geological sites, including Pilot Butte cindercone and Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Great views of some of Oregon snow-caps can be seen from top of these formations and it's worth your while to stop and enjoy the scenery.
While in Bend I recommend staying at Sunriver Resort. It has a main lodge with rooms and suites as well as the more private and secluded River Lodges where we stayed. My kids liked it as deer came practically right up to the doorstep. Within the community there are also many privately-owned condos which may be rented. (www.sunriver-resort.com)
Ahh, Crater Lake! Oregon's only national park is a half-day drive from Portland, but if it is the only site you get to see, it will still make your trip to Oregon worthwhile. It is the deepest lake in North America ( 1,943 feet deep) and the clear, deep blue waters that fill this ancient volcano are unsurpassed in beauty. I highly recommend taking the boat ride on the lake. The trail from the rim to the boat dock is relatively short (just a mile down) but it is steep with many switchbacks. This is definitely the best way to see the lake but be prepared for the tough hike back up the hill once your tour is finished. I also recommend staying the night at the beautiful Crater Lake Lodge on the rim. The lodge first opened in 1915, but due to structural issues, had to close in 1989. After extensive renovation it re-opened in 1995. It still retains the rustic flavor of the original lodge and is a wonderful place to stay during your visit to Crater Lake. It does book up early in the year for summer vacations so make your reservations well in advance (www.craterlakelodges.com).
A vacation to Oregon is all about getting outdoors and enjoying its spectacular natural beauty. All of these destinations are family friendly and easy on the budget (just skip the wineries if you've got little ones and take them to the Spruce Goose!) This year skip the theme parks and head for the great Pacific Northwest.