Howdy! Your Chief Travel Guru is super excited because today we’re going to talk about another destination here in the US – the wonderful state of Oregon! I recently had my travel partner Greg Eckhart – the Director of Global Sales at Travel Oregon – join me for one of my video chats to tell us everything and anything about Oregon including things that you can do on your own and things that you can do with local tour guides – which by the way is THE way to do it – having somebody who lives there show you all the hidden gems – like the off the beaten path stuff that I like to promote so often! And Greg had nothing but praise for the guides and locals that curate experiences for folks, saying that they are amazing and love sharing the state with everyone. So, lets head up to the Pacific Northwest region of the Western United States to The Beaver State and take a look at what awaits!
Just a quick geography reminder to begin with. As we already stated, Oregon is on the West Coast of the United States and sits south of Washington and north of California. Portland is Oregon’s largest city and is about a three hour drive from Seattle. The most common airport that people use to arrive is PDX or Portland International Airport as it serves international gateways as well as a lot of domestic gateways throughout the country – pretty much any large city in the US and even in Europe and Asia. There are also regional airports located in Bend, Eugene and Medford that are great access points with connections to some large domestic gateways. So, it’s easy to get to and if you guys want to do a road trip, I can easily hook you up so that you can combine other states. And Greg noted that they always encourage travelers who come to Oregon to visit Washington and California as well – or even Vancouver, British Columbia because Vancouver is only a six hour drive to Portland, making it easy to incorporate into a west coast road trip with Oregon included. And bonus – they have a great set of mileage along Highway 101!
Portland is Oregon’s largest city and here you have not only the beautifulness of a major metropolitan city but then you also have the beautiful landscape behind it. Greg raved that it really is their cultural center with lots of energy, lots of great diversity and only about 70 miles from Mount Hood and then another 70 miles from the coast. He added that in Oregon they like to say that you can surf in the morning and then have an afternoon ski run on Mount Hood and end with a glass of pinot noir in Portland at dinner that night. It’s feasible and interesting! The city is really set up for anybody who wants to walk, bike or even scoot around – which is always a plus – especially if you are looking for the wellness aspect. And Oregon in general, and Portland specifically, is very well known for wellness travel.
Greg elaborated that cycling is a great way to see the city – to get on the ground and really see some cool sites. You can opt to rent bikes and do it on your own or do a tour – they even have themed cycling tours. They also offer many tours that cross the bridges – they have twelve bridges that cross the Willamette River in Portland including the Hawthorne bridge – and Greg raves that there is nothing quite like riding a bike across that bridge. Overall, the biking is quite fun and definitely a highlight of a trip to Portland and something Greg highly recommends. They have about 500 kilometers of bikeways making for lots of truly great wellness adventures!
And one thing I noticed during his presentation was all the great forests and great landscapes – just an overall Zen environment. And Greg said they have a lot of gardens too as many of the people that live in Oregon love to garden and that wellness and getting outdoors is a huge theme year round not just in the summertime, not just in the spring and fall but in the winter as well. Portland is also home to one of the largest urban parks in the United States – Forest Park as well as the smallest park in the US – Mill Ends Park in downtown Portland.
As for music – the music scene in Portland is quite well known both live and recorded. And they are home to a lot of great record shops and Greg noted that many Portland residents rediscovered that love of vinyl music during the pandemic – so many of those stores survived and stayed open through it and even thrived. That said, live music has come back too and in a big way. Greg said friends that are in bands are playing live again and many touring acts returned to both large and small venues including the super popular Waterfront Blues Festival that came back in the summer of 2021. So great, storied musical scene here with lots of cool festivals for my music lovers!
And speaking of wellness – let’s talk about seclusion – because obviously there’s a lot of places where you can go, and it could just be you and your tribe or you and your significant other and I think that’s really important to highlight. Whether it’s you and your group of friends, your family or if you want to go solo, there’s so many places where you can just breathe. And after the year that we’ve had of being cooped up this is a place where you can go and have your mind, body, spirit reset. And Greg agreed that you can do that in so many different ways. Whether it’s through wine and culinary in Jacksonville or even just being outdoors in places like Klamath Basin which is a huge flyway for birds and a great place to see tons of eagles and pelicans or any of the other areas of the state we are going to discuss today.
It really depends on the section of Oregon you’re in. The state of Oregon is typically organized into seven regions. The regions that are on the western side of the cascades like Portland, Willamette Valley and the coast – they tend to get more rain and are more temperate. The average temperature in the wintertime in the Cascades Region is about 45 degrees and it doesn’t typically snow at the lower elevations because they’re primarily at sea level in a lot of those places. Now east of the Cascade Mountains it’s higher and drier – they call it the high desert – and they see a lot more sunshine there during the winter months but it’s colder and they do get a lot of precipitation – including snow. The mountains get a lot of snow as well – the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range. Which by the way is a really great option for my skiers and may be an area you don’t think about as a ski destination.
Now if you are someone who prefers to be indoors in the summer they have an incredible number of breweries in Portland – about 70 in total. And we can hook you up with a tour guide as well as a driver so that you don’t have to worry about driving. Plus, you’ll get behind the scenes to meet the people that make the beer which is great because so much of the story about visiting Oregon is meeting the people that are doing these things that enhance the traveler’s experience.
The Coast is a great place for that road trip we talked about. It’s about 580 kilometers that’s free and open to the public – they call it the People’s Coast – so because of that – no one can really own it. They have nine lighthouses on the coast as well as great views – you can even see the Milky Way! Fun Fact – there are a lot of areas throughout Oregon that are designated dark skies areas and some in the central eastern part of the state that have just received their designation. You also have beautiful daytime views there as well. And if you want to try your hand at crab fishing there is a crab fishing place called Kelly’s Marina and you can do these experiences where you can rent a crab pot and they will sell you bait – and a shellfish license for around twelve dollars – and you can go into the bay either with a boat or off the dock and they’ll give you tips on how to catch the Dungeness crab. Bonus – sea to table experience as they will cook it right there at the marina!
You get to see a lot of marine life as well because you have the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport – which is a beautiful place. Then close by there are the sea lion caves in Florence which is one of the largest sea caves in the world and where the California sea lions make their cave homes. You can actually go down into the cave via a huge elevator and most often the sea lions are there. You can also see the sea lions just swimming in the bay and hanging on the rocks near the aquarium in Newport Bay. Newport is the largest operating port on the Oregon coast, so it’s got the largest fishing fleet and thus a lot of crabbing goes on there. There are great restaurants there where you can buy crab and seafood that’s just come from the boat to the restaurant. And there is even one restaurant in particular – Local Ocean –where they actually tell you what boat they came off of!
And families, you know your kids are sponges – they are always taking everything in, and this is really, truly travel as a living classroom and this is in your backyard – not someplace where you need a passport or anything else – it’s right here. And Greg said he that when talking about Newport he’d be remiss if he didn’t mention the Marine Discovery Tours that offer a kind of living classroom experience whether it’s learning how to pull a crab pot or seeing sea lions and gray whales. They have a resident pod of gray whales that live off the coast – so the coast itself is an amazing biome as well as an incredible living classroom.
Now if you want to bike on a beach, you can do that on the coast. It’s called fat biking (thanks to the wheels on the bike) and it’s incredibly fun and fat bikes are available to rent from a variety of providers there. Or you can go ATV’ing as they have 60 kilometers of sand dunes that run along the coast from Florence down to near Coos Bay. This is another incredible experience – you can rent your own or you can opt for a guided trip. It’s one of the largest sand dunes in the US and a national recreation area so it’s got national park level views and quality. A lot of people associate the coast in Oregon specifically with those beautiful dramatic rocky coastlines and the light houses, but the dunes are something that are out of this world. So, if you’re a couple, or traveling with friends or family – whatever the case may be, what an amazing Zen opportunity!
Mount Hood And The Gorge
Now let’s change landscapes and talk about the amazing Gorge region including Columbia River Gorge and beautiful Mount Hood. Mount Hood’s main ski in/ ski out is the Timberline Lodge which is a beautiful lodge. It was part of the WPA that was built in the 1930s and is an incredible place to ski. You can ski there mostly year round as there’s a glacier at Timberline. And how cool is it – no pun intended – that the US Ski Team trained there as well as the Chinese National Snowboard Team – so they’ve had some really, really cool athletes training up there. They also have the largest night skiing up there. Plus imagine skiing in the summer! Greg shared that the thing he loves about Timberline is they have an outdoor pool that sits adjacent to one of the ski slopes that’s heated in the winter – meaning you could be out there in the winter maybe having a hot toddy poolside or even in the pool and you see people skiing by while you’re in the pool – summer or winter! There is also a miniature version of Timberline Lodge called Silcox Hut. This is an intimate private experience, and it is very popular for weddings. It hosts about ten to twelve overnight and you have to use a snowcat or another vehicle to get there in the winter and usually a truck in the summer. Typically, if you book it, it has its own chef. Greg said he had the privilege to have dinner up there and it’s a magical experience on the side of a volcano –talk about a transformational trip in our backyard!
And for more of that transformational feeling and national park vibe you have the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River is the third largest river by volume in the US and it’s something they share with their neighbors in Canada. It’s a beautiful place and Greg stated that he can’t stress enough how important it is to connect to a tour operator to visit the Gorge. The Gorge is well loved by many people – but it’s also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state – therefore accessibility is just less stressful and more connected and more convenient if you use a tour operator. And those are the things that I would be actually connecting you guys with – so as I help build your itineraries, I would be working with a local that is going to guide you and that is going to take you into these off the beaten path places – things that only the locals know, so that you’re really going to have that amazing experience.
Also, in the Columbia River Gorge you have the Multnomah Falls – which many people associate with the Gorge. It is the most popular attraction in the state, and they do have tour operators that include it or if you prefer, they also have tour operators that include other locations that are off the beaten path such as Latourell Falls. Latourell Falls is amazing per Greg as you can actually stand underneath it if you can handle the cold water!
The Gorge isn’t all about those waterfalls – they have some great wineries there too! But Greg noted that if we talk about wineries, we have to talk about the Willamette Valley too. They do have wineries in the Gorge, but the Willamette Valley has an incredible farm to fork scene. Home to around 500 wineries, the Willamette Valley also has some other incredible things to do there including a number of covered bridges in the area to visit.
You’ll also find Silver Falls State Park in this region – which is their largest state park. Its home to the aptly named Silver Falls Waterfall – that you can hike behind on a paved trail. It’s a beautiful spot and Greg added that if you’ve ever seen the film Twilight – the first film – portions of it were filmed in this state park and actually the first movie was filmed almost entirely in Oregon. And speaking of films – the film Stand By Me from the 1980s was filmed in Willamette Valley. Greg shared that the Willamette Valley is loaded with all these really amazing small farm towns, pumpkin patches, the Albany Carousel Museum, which is in the beautiful little town of Albany, but there’s these great little agricultural towns and one of them is the town of Brownsville which is actually the fictional city of Castle Rock in Stand By Me.
And the beautiful thing about this entire area, is that yes there’s a lot of wine and there’s a lot of adult things to do – but there’s also stuff for the kids – including the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Evergreen is home to the Spruce Goose which is the largest wooden airplane in the world. They also house a Space Museum that has a ton of stuff from the Gemini program and other rocket programs that were developed at NASA. But perhaps the coolest thing is their indoor water park which has a giant 747 parked on top of a building and the water slides begin in the 747 and go down into the building – what a unique experience!
Central Oregon has a very diverse landscape. It has that high desert / Alpine desert landscape where it is incredibly arid but it’s also an outdoor mecca with sunshine all the time and plenty of opportunities for adventure. Whether that be snowboarding on Mount Bachelor, kayaking, participating in the “ale” trail in Bend or white water rafting on the Deschutes River. And speaking of white water rafting, Sun Country Tours has some great rafting trips, and their main trip is called the Big Eddy Thriller that’s approachable for most skill levels. They also have a tour where they come back to their patio, and you can enjoy some beers from Bend afterwards.
Another thing you can experience in Central Oregon – something that people typically associate Alaska with? Dog sledding! Yes – dog sledding is available in Central Oregon. They also have a company there called Wanderlust Tours that facilitates other experiences in the area with snowshoeing being one of them. Greg said that one of his favorite experiences with them is that they do a twilight snowshoe that’s at nighttime where you snowshoe through the forest with amazing views of the stars and the Milky Way. Then unbeknownst to the tours participants, their team has arrived early and built a kind of a dome out of snow that’s a half dome that you can sit in. It houses a bar so you can have a nice hot chocolate with some Crater Lake vodka – and then they build a fire there – all out of snow – so the fire pit is out of snow and it’s just this magical kind of place waiting for you in the middle of the woods and it’s really, really cool. So, for those of you guys are looking for proposal ideas, this would be a fabulous place and I would be the liaison to helping you make that happen!
Here you will find Crater Lake National Park – with Crater Lake being the deepest lake in the United States. It is the main national park and really the only large national park in Oregon and it’s incredible. They have a beautiful lodge as well that can be difficult to get into so I will definitely be your connection to get in. If you are visiting in the winter, they offer free snowshoeing there that’s led by a ranger – but Southern Oregon is home to a variety of experiences year round as well. They have the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with Lithia Park and the Ashland Springs Hotel all within walking distance of the festival in downtown Ashland. And Ashland is just a beautiful little town in the southern end of the state not far from the California border – so a good part of an itinerary if you’re moving south into the Redwoods, Crescent City or down into San Francisco.
Another activity on water is the Hellgate Jetboat out of Grants Pass. They offer a ton of experiences there that are also quite transformational and this one is incredibly fun for everybody. One of the tours Greg likes with Hellgate is focused in the evening. It’s a dinner tour they offer, and they have a huge homestead facility that’s a big cabin that houses quite a few people and it’s only accessible with their boat tour on the Rouge River. So, you have dinner there and then come back and, on the way back there’s wildlife to see like bears and all kinds of birds of prey, etc.
And we can’t NOT mention the blue cheese of Oregon that is so well known – and it goes great with that Oregon wine because we all know that you have to pair wine and cheese. The best part? In this area – what’s called the Artisans Corridor – you will not only find the Rogue Creamery and that fabulous blue cheese but there is also a winery and a chocolatier all right there in the same spot! Hello! Chocolate, wine and cheese! I mean can you really not win a girl over any more than that?
In the eastern part of the state, you’re going to get more of that diverse geography. It’s the high plains out there or what they like to call Oregon’s Corner of the Wild West even though it’s the eastern part of the state. It’s the largest region of the state out of the seven regions that we’ve talked but also the least populated. Here you will find the historic Geiser Grand Hotel which is located in Baker City – home to a huge gold rush in the 1800s. It’s also home to Pendleton and if you’re familiar with Pendleton Woolen Mills – their headquarters is right there in Pendleton. Pendleton is also home to the Pendleton Roundup Rodeo which is the third largest rodeo in North America as well as the Painted Hills which is an incredible national scenic area that you can walk through where they’ve designed such an amazing way to explore the hills without disturbing the landscape. Everything is clearly marked – you can see the pathway – but it does take you through the hills without disturbing it. The city of Pendleton also has a maker’s tour – a self-guided makers tour – where you can go get yourself a pair of made-just-for-you cowboy boots, hats and saddles – so there’s a lot of western culture.
There’s also incredible First Nations culture there too. They have nine recognized tribes in the state of Oregon and the Umatilla Tribe, or the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, have The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute just outside of Pendleton. The institute tells the story of the Umatilla people that live there and continue to make that place home. And then of course we already mentioned the roundup but with it come so many roundup activities – whether that’s the Happy Canyon Pageant or the multiple days of the rodeo and – Pendleton whiskey – can’t forget that!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing Oregon is open for visitors!
So, this is what Oregon is all about I can’t wait to build your itinerary and show you what we just talked about firsthand, up close and personal!
For more details on things to see and do in Oregon, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!