When most people picture America’s west coast state of Oregon, images of rainy days, tall pine trees, and quirky Portland hipsters sipping craft beer may pop to mind. But think a bit more about West Coast travel and you’ll find that Oregon has so much more to offer than gloomy days and IPAs.
It’s home to a lively mix of farmers, ranchers, and urban dwellers amid a playground of geographical diversity. With high deserts, rolling fields, snow-capped mountains, a rocky coastline, and thick forests, it’s an ideal vacation spot.
Here are four destinations that truly capture Oregon’s beauty and make it the perfect destination for American west coast travel adventures.
Yamhill County Wineries
About an hour southwest of the hustle and bustle of Portland lies a pastoral scene of quaint farm communities and vineyards. Home to Yamhill country, the 240km long (150m) Willamette Valley is flanked by three mountain ranges, creating a microclimate of mild weather conducive to viticulture. Oregon’s claim to wine fame, Pinot Noir, grows exceptionally well here and most of the boutique wineries in the region boast their own brand of this delicious red varietal.
Spend a late-summer afternoon strolling through the rows of vines or the blooming vegetable gardens at a family-owned winery with a glass of Pinot in your hand. Then stop in the nearby town of McMinnville to window shop before visiting one of their many cafes and restaurants where you can indulge in- you guessed it- more award-winning Oregon wine.
Opal Creek Wilderness
It’s true. Oregon is blanketed in trees, at least on its western side. But Opal Creek isn’t just another forest. It stands as a testament to the rich biodiversity these forests would possess if activities such as logging hadn’t kept them from aging to their full potential.
The lack of logging due to 19th and 20th century mining inadvertently maintained Opal Creek as one of the last old-growth forests in the Pacific northwestern United States. This now-protected wilderness provides a glimpse into the former glory of the ancient rainforests that once covered this region.
Opal Creek is akin to a fairyland. Rain drops gather on drooping Western red cedar branches and tasty lobster mushrooms peak through a blanket of fallen leaves. During the summer, cool off in the scenic Little North Santiam’s many swimming holes and take a leap into Opal Pool. Then pitch a tent at Shady Cove campground or hike to Jawbone Flats, an old mining camp turned outdoor off-the-grid education center to learn all about protecting this paradise.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
East of the Cascade Range is where Oregon strays from the stereotypes. It’s here you’ll discover a landscape of semi and high desert sagebrush, badlands, rocky outcroppings, canyons, and picturesque bursts of springtime wildflowers.
Smack in the middle of this rugged terrain sits John Day Fossil Beds, an area preserved because of its treasure trove of fossils spanning 40 million years. In fact, the fossils here are so plentiful and the fossil record so complete, that scientists have been able to piece together whole, ancient ecosystems.
Hiking trails cross rugged rock formations stripped with colorful volcanic ash layers and golden rolling hills sporadically dotted with clumps of vegetation. A visitor center helps you picture this landscape as it was millions of years ago and explains the diversity of the ecosystem. The park is divided into three stand-alone sections that help you get a glimpse of all this landscape offers.
Tucked away in the lesser-traveled northeastern corner of Oregon sits the Wallowa Mountains, a range aptly nicknamed The Alps of the Northwest because of the jagged, snow-capped outline it cuts across the horizon.
With waterfalls, wildflower-studded alpine meadows, and ample backpacking and hiking opportunities, it’s an adventurer’s dream. What makes this Oregon gem even better? Nestled within the peaks is the Eagle Cap Wilderness, 146,272 designated hectares (360,000 ac) of alpine wonder.
Climb down out of the mountains to give your calves a much-needed break and check out the small town of Joseph, situated along Wallowa Lake in the shadow of the peaks. Known as Oregon’s Little Switzerland, it’s a good jumping-off point or end-point for a Wallowa Mountains expedition.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Many of us have heard of the Grand Canyon. But did you know that secreted away in the uppermost northeastern corner of Oregon and hugging the Idaho border, stretches the deepest river gorge in North America? This is West Coast travel at its most stunning.
Hells Canyon is ten miles wide and ranges from 1,716 m (5,632 ft) on the Oregon side to 2,451 m (8,043 ft) on the western side, where it rises to greet He Devil peak in the rough and jagged Seven Devils Mountains. The scenery is expansive, dramatic, and diverse. Groves of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir line stream beds, rocky slopes stretch down to the river bottom, and shrubs and bunch grass blanket the canyon walls.
No roads span the canyon’s expanse and access to the Snake River below is limited. But remote wilderness experiences such as backpacking, hiking, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding in this dry, rugged environment will leave you feeling as wild as the landscape surrounding you.
Oregon is a state rich in culture and scenic wonders diverse enough to suit all interests. As the ninth largest state (out of 50!) in the union, it holds enough adventure potential to warrant it as a West Coast travel destination. Go for a hike, visit a fossil museum, hunt for lobsters mushrooms, or yes- even kick back with an IPA- to truly fall in love with America’s Pacific Northwest.
Check out our Travel Ideas section for more destination ideas to inspire your next vacation!