Day Trips from Portland
An Oregon Sampler
by Carol White
Oregon is a state with a great reputation: high-tech, environmentally friendly, urban-wise and, yes, totally laid-back in the rain. I have lived here for most of my life, and I can assure you, it is a very cool place. But how best to see it? If you are coming to Portland, I suggest you take a series of day trips designed to show you a little of everything: the mountains, the desert, the ocean, the sleek cities and small towns, the trendy and the Wild West.
The Wine Country
Oregon's wine country stretches nearly across the state, comprising more than 350 wineries, but the richest, most concentrated area is the red hills of Dundee. While pinot noir continues to be Oregon's signature wine, many varietals are grown throughout the region and are available for sampling at the wineries that welcome road-tripping visitors.
Some of my favorite wineries with tasting rooms in the area include Sokol Blosser, Eyrie, Erath and the Ponzi wine bar, which has a great little gift shop. In nearby Newberg, four more are worth a visit: Adelsheim, Rex Hill, Montinore and Oak Knoll. Next door to the Ponzi wine bar is the Dundee Bistro, featuring Ponzi wines - my favorite place for lunch. I love their fresh and inventive salads, but the menu has something for everyone.
If you've never taken a hot air balloon ride, this is a great place to give it a try; Vista Balloon Adventures is one of the best known operators. Of course, if you would rather have someone plan your tour - and even do the driving -- many tour companies are awaiting your call.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
The entire length of the Oregon coast is part of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, and there are "can't miss" towns and turnouts all along the way. One of the most popular is Cannon Beach, home to the marine preserve at Haystack Rock, as well as many art galleries, live theatre, a sand-castle contest in summer, and a lamp-lighting event in winter. You can easily while away a day here at any time of year. The thing I return to time and again, though, are the glass blowers and their beautiful creations.
Near the north end of town is Ecola State Park, a nice place to picnic. You can also go horseback riding on the beach here. Or check out the tide pools near Haystack Rock -- there are often volunteers on hand to help you identify what you are looking at.
Of course, no visit to the beach would be complete without some good seafood or a bowl of chowder. Mo's, in Cannon Beach, is the granddaddy of simple seafood restaurants along the Oregon coast. Yum!
The Columbia River Gorge
Hood River, Oregon
Carved by millennia of water running through rock, the Columbia River Gorge separates the states of Oregon and Washington along most of Oregon's northern border. An easy day's drive takes you to many interesting and inspiring vistas, beginning with the Vista House at Crown Point. Built in 1918 in a German Art Nouveau style and completely restored in 2006, the Vista House stands sentinel 733 feet above the river. A few miles further east is the second-highest year-round waterfall in the United States. At 620 feet, Multnomah Falls plunges gracefully just steps from the highway.
From here it's not far to the city of Hood River, Ore., the windsurfing capital of the world. If you are fit and adventurous, give it a try in the protected Columbia River basin built just for learning the sport (me you'll find watching from the shore!). This would be a great place to stop for lunch, and I recommend the Columbia Gorge Hotel. Built in 1921 by timber baron Simon Benson, this gorgeous landmark hotel overlooks the river. Or head for one of the city's several excellent brew pubs.
After lunch I suggest you take the "Fruit Loop Tour" (yes, that is what they call it!) of the pear, peach, and cherry orchards that dot the landscape on this northern flank of Mount Hood. The area also boasts many wineries. My favorite: Clear Creek Distilleries, which produces a pear brandy that has a real pear inside the bottle. Be sure to find out how they do it.
The Mountains: Timberline Lodge
Government Camp, Oregon
One of Oregon's best known landmarks sprawls across the flank of Mount Hood: Timberline Lodge, a massive rock-and-timber edifice built as a WPA project in the 1930s and dedicated by Franklin Roosevelt himself. Now a National Historic Landmark, the lodge welcomes overnight visitors and the dining room is one of the finest in the state. In my early years of skiing here, we actually tromped through the lodge to get hot chocolate and lift tickets; later a day lodge was built, substantially reducing the wear and tear on one of our most beloved attractions.
The lodge makes an especially nice destination for road-trippers from Portland, for the change in scenery is remarkable. As you ascend from near sea level up to the lodge, you pass through forests, cross over tumbling rivers and creeks, and traverse the "tree line" above which no trees grow. Here, at nearly 6,000 feet, one can see most
The lodge itself surrounds a six-sided fireplace that extends more than three stories through the center of the structure. It's a great place to take a road break in either summer or winter (2 million visitors do every year), and there's skiing year-round. Where else but Oregon can you snow ski in the morning, water ski in the afternoon, and watch the sun set over the ocean - all in the same day?
The Desert: Ka-nee-ta
Warm Springs, Oregon
Sitting squarely in the middle of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, at the edge of the Deschutes River, the Ka-Nee-Ta Resort gives visitors many opportunities to explore Oregon's rich American Indian culture. You can visit the Museum at Warm Springs, kayak on the Warm Springs River, attend a native salmon bake, sample traditional dishes like bird-in-clay and fry bread at the restaurant, swim in the hot springs pool, ride horses through the reservation, raft on the river - even camp overnight in a real teepee.
If these more traditional activities don't entice you, then maybe the championship 18-hole golf course, the spa or the casino will draw you to this high-desert location. Almost any day will do: The resort enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year.
Nestled at the southern end of the Willamette
Valley is the city of Eugene,
a college town and the biking capital of Oregon. The sportswear
giant Nike was born on the University of Oregon track, and
a visit to the university's Hayward Field will reward you
with a large bronze statue of Bill Bowerman, Nike's co-founder.
Perhaps he will inspire you to hop on a bike and ride along
miles of trails crossing the Willamette River on the five
bridges set aside exclusively for bikes and pedestrians. Eugene
is so bicycle-crazy that many motels along the bike routes
make bikes available for guest use.
Eugene is bounded on the north by Skinner's Butte and on the south by Spencer's Butte; both are nice spots for picnicking, walking or exploring if you have time. Before heading back up the valley, head to the Oregon Electric Station for a bite to eat in an antique rail car. On your way back to Portland, take time to gaze upon the fields flanking Interstate 5. Flooded regularly over the centuries, the Willamette Valley is Oregon's richest agricultural area, supporting crops ranging from grass seed to nursery stock. It is one of the greatest pleasures of day-tripping in Oregon that such bounty can be found at every turn of the road.