The abundance of outdoor recreational activities is one of the main reasons people choose to live in and visit Oregon. With both mountains and beaches within a 90-minute drive of the major metropolitan areas, there are numerous choices for the active vacationer.
Bicycling & Mountain Biking
The Oregon coast is one of the most popular bicycling destinations in the nation, and every summer it attracts thousands of dedicated pedalers. Expect to spend about a week pedaling the entire coast if you're in good shape and are traveling at a leisurely pace. During the summer months, it's best to travel from north to south along the coast due to the prevailing winds. Also keep in mind that many state parks have designated hiker/biker campsites. You can get a free Oregon coast bicycle map, as well as other bicycle maps for the state of Oregon, by contacting the Oregon Department of Transportation's Oregon Bicycle Map Hot Line (tel. 503/986-3556; www.oregon.gov/odot/hwy/bikeped). Cyclists should also check out Ride Oregon (www.rideoregonride.com), a website that abounds in great information on cycling in Oregon.
Other regions popular with cyclists include the wine country of Yamhill County and other parts of the Willamette Valley. Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, Cottage Grove, and Central Point all have easy bicycle paths that either are in parks or connect parks. In addition, the region's national forests provide miles of logging roads and single-track trails for mountain biking. Among the most popular mountain-biking areas are the east side of Mount Hood, the Oakridge area southeast of Eugene, the Ashland area, and the Bend and Sisters areas of central Oregon.
If you're interested in a guided bike tour in the state, try Bicycle Adventures, P.O. Box 11219, Olympia, WA 98508 (tel. 800/443-6060 or 360/786-0989; www.bicycleadventures.com), which has tours of the Oregon coast, the Willamette Valley wine country, the Columbia Gorge, and Crater Lake National Park. Tour prices range from $1,900 to $3,500 per person including room and meals.
Mountain bikers in search of Oregon adventures should check out the tours offered by Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours, P.O. Box 1789, Bend, OR 97709 (tel. 866/610-4822 or 541/385-7002; www.cogwild.com), which offers 3- and 5-day trips, as well as trips exclusively for women. Tours range in price from $520 for a 3-day trip to $865 for a 5-day trip. Guided bike tours are also offered by Oregon Adventures, P.O. Box 148, Oakridge, OR 97463 (tel. 541/968-5397; www.oregon-adventures.com).
Oregon offers many excellent bird-watching spots. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in central Oregon, is the state's premier bird-watching area and attracts more than 300 bird species. Nearby Summer Lake also offers good bird-watching, with migratory waterfowl and shorebirds most prevalent. There's also good bird-watching on Sauvie Island, outside Portland, where waterfowl, sandhill cranes, and eagles can be seen, and along the coast, where you can see tufted puffins, pigeon guillemots, and perhaps even a marbled murrelet. The Klamath Lakes region of south-central Oregon is well known for its large population of bald eagles, which are best seen in the winter months.
Throughout the year, the National Audubon Society sponsors expeditions, outings, and field seminars. For more information, contact the Audubon Society of Portland (tel. 503/292-6855; www.audubonportland.org). For the Rare Bird Report hot line, call tel. 503/292-0661.
Birders should also check out Oregon Birding Trails (www.oregonbirdingtrails.org), a website with information on birding trail maps. Currently there are five maps that list birding hot spots around the state.
Public and private campgrounds abound across Oregon. Those along the coast are the most popular, followed by campgrounds on lakes. During the summer, campground reservations are almost a necessity at most state parks, especially those along the coast. For information on making campsite reservations, see "Serious Reservations," above.
Various state parks also offer a variety of camping alternatives. Tops among these are yurts (circular domed tents with electricity, plywood floors, and beds), which make camping in the rain a bit easier. Yurts, which rent for $27 to $66 a night, can be found at 14 coastal parks, as well as at four inland state parks (Champoeg, Valley of the Rogue, Tumalo, and Wallowa Lake).
Cabins are available at 14 state parks. Nightly rates range from $20 to $80. A couple of state parks also have teepees for rent ($27-$29 per night). On central Oregon's Lake Billy Chinook at The Cove Palisades State Park, you can even rent a houseboat for $1,100 to $7,400 per week. Contact Cove Palisades Marina (tel. 541/546-3521; www.covepalisadesmarina.com).
Serious Reservations -- The days of spontaneous summer weekends are a thing of the past in Oregon. If you want to be assured of getting a room or a campsite at some of the busier destinations, you'll need to make your reservations months in advance, especially if you're going on a weekend.
To be sure that you get the state-park campsite, cabin, or houseboat you want, you'll need to make your reservations as much as 9 months in advance (that's the earliest you can reserve) through ReserveAmerica (tel. 800/452-5687; www.reserveamerica.com).
While National Forest Service campgrounds are generally less developed and less in demand than state-park campgrounds, many do stay full throughout the summer months, especially those at the beach. For reservations at forest-service campgrounds, contact the National Recreation Reservation Service (tel. 877/444-6777 or 518/885-3639; www.recreation.gov). These sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance.
The same sort of advance planning also applies to just about any lodging on the coast on a summer weekend. Making rooms even more difficult to come by are the many festivals scheduled around the state throughout the summer. Be sure to check whether your schedule might coincide with some popular event.
Oregon has hundreds of private and public golf courses, including numerous resort courses, most of which are in the Portland and Bend-Redmond areas. There are also quite a few excellent courses along the coast. However, the courses at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, on the central Oregon coast, are the state's most celebrated fairways.
Hiking & Backpacking
Oregon is a hiker's paradise. The state has thousands of miles of hiking trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs along the spine of the Cascades from the Columbia River to the California line (and onward all the way to both Canada and Mexico). The state's hiking trails are concentrated primarily in national forests, especially in wilderness areas, in the Cascade Range. Along the length of the Pacific Crest Trail are such scenic hiking areas as the Mount Hood Wilderness, the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, the Three Sisters Wilderness, the Diamond Peak Wilderness, the Mount Thielsen Wilderness, and the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Many state parks also have extensive hiking-trail systems.
The Oregon Coast Trail is a designated route that runs the length of the Oregon coast. In most places it travels along the beach, but in other places it climbs up and over capes and headlands through dense forests and windswept meadows. The longest stretches of the trail are along the southern coast in Samuel H. Boardman State Park. There's also a long beach stretch in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Other coastal parks with popular hiking trails include Saddle Mountain State Park, Ecola State Park, Oswald West State Park, and Cape Lookout State Park. Silver Falls State Park, east of Salem, is another of my favorite hiking spots. The many trails of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area are also well trodden, with Eagle Creek Trail being a longtime favorite. The trails leading out from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood lead through forests and meadows at the tree line and, unfortunately, can be very crowded on summer weekends. For a quick hiking fix, Portlanders often head for the city's Forest Park.
If you'd like to do your hiking with a guide, contact Joe Whittington at Oregon Peak Adventures, P.O. Box 25576, Portland, OR 97298 (tel. 877/965-5100 or 503/297-5100; www.oregonpeakadventures.com). Whittington leads hikes in the Columbia Gorge, on the Oregon coast, and on Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. Prices start at around $50 per person for a half-day hike.
Get a Pass -- Before heading out to a national forest anywhere in Oregon, be sure to get a Northwest Forest Pass. Most national-forest trail head parking areas in the state now require such a permit, and though they can sometimes be purchased from machines at the most popular trail heads, it's better to have one before heading out. To find out if you need a pass for your particular destination, contact the Nature of the Northwest Information Center, 800 NE Oregon St., Ste. 965, Portland, OR 97232 (tel. 971/673-2331; www.naturenw.org). Passes are available at national-forest ranger stations throughout the state and also at many outdoors-supply stores, such as REI. Day passes cost $5 and annual passes are $30. In some cases such passes are required not just for trail heads but for other national-forest recreational areas as well.
Kayaking & Canoeing
While Puget Sound, up in Washington, is the sea-kayaking capital of the Northwest, Oregonians have also taken to this sport. However, sea kayaks in Oregon very rarely make it to the sea, where waters are usually far too rough for kayaks. But numerous protected bays along the Oregon coast are popular paddling spots. Also, the Lewis & Clark National Wildlife Refuge on the Columbia River, not far from Astoria, offers miles of quiet waterways to explore.
White-water kayaking is popular on many of the rivers that flow down out of the Cascade Range in Oregon, including the Deschutes, the Clackamas, the Molalla, and the Sandy. Down in southern Oregon, the North Umpqua and the Rogue provide plenty of white-water action.
Sundance Kayak School (tel. 888/777-7557 or 541/386-1725; www.sundanceriver.com), which operates classes on southern Oregon's Rogue River, is one of the premier kayaking schools in the country. They offer a 6-day beginner's program ($1,300) that includes time on the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River.
Canoeing is popular on many of Oregon's lakes. Some of the best are Hosmer and Sparks lakes, west of Bend; Clear Lake, south of Santiam Pass; Waldo Lake, near Willamette Pass southeast of Eugene; and Upper Klamath Lake (where there's a designated canoe trail).
Mount Hood and several other Cascades peaks offer challenging mountain climbing and rock climbing for both the novice and the expert. If you're interested in learning some mountain-climbing skills or want to hone your existing skills, contact Timberline Mountain Guides, P.O. Box 1167, Bend, OR 97709 (tel. 541/312-9242; www.timberlinemtguides.com), a company that offers a range of mountaineering and rock-climbing courses. They also lead summit climbs on Mount Hood. A 2-day Mount Hood mountaineering course with summit climb costs $460.
Smith Rock State Park, near Redmond in central Oregon, is a rock-climbing mecca of international renown, and many climbers claim that sport climbing got its American start here. Smith Rock abounds in climbing routes, some of which are among the toughest in the world. If you're a serious climber, pick up a copy of Alan Watts's Climber's Guide to Smith Rock, an exhaustive guide to the many climbing routes here. On the Internet, check out www.smithrock.com.
Because the winter weather in Oregon is so unpredictable, the state is not known as a ski destination. Most of the state's ski areas are relatively small and cater primarily to local skiers. Mount Bachelor, in central Oregon outside of Bend, is the one exception. Because of its high elevation and location on the drier east side of the Cascades, it gets a more reliable snowpack and isn't as susceptible to midwinter warming spells, which tend to bring rain to west-side ski slopes with irritating regularity.
Ski areas in Oregon include Mount Hood Meadows, Mount Hood Skibowl, Timberline Ski Area, Cooper Spur Ski Area, and Summit Ski Area, all of which are on Mount Hood, outside Portland. Farther south are Hoodoo Ski Area (east of Salem), Willamette Pass Ski Area (east of Eugene), and Mount Bachelor (outside Bend). In the eastern part of the state, Anthony Lakes and Spout Springs Ski Area provide a bit of powder skiing. Down in the south, Mount Ashland is the only option.
Many downhill ski areas also offer groomed cross-country ski trails. Cross-country skiers will find an abundance of trails up and down the Cascades. Teacup Lake and Mount Hood Meadows, on Mount Hood, offer good groomed trails. Near and at Mount Bachelor, there are also plenty of groomed trails. Crater Lake is another popular spot for cross-country skiing. Backcountry skiing is also popular in the Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon.
Gray whales, which can reach 45 feet in length and weigh up to 35 tons, migrate annually between Alaska and Baja California, and pass close by the Oregon coast between December and May. However, with more and more whales stopping to spend the summer off the Oregon coast, it is now possible to see them just about any month of the year.
Depoe Bay, north of Newport, is not only the smallest harbor in the world, but also a home port for whale-watching boats that head out throughout the year to look for gray whales. It's also possible to watch whales from shore, with Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, Cape Kiwanda, Depoe Bay, Devil's Punchbowl, Cape Perpetua, Sea Lion Caves, Shore Acres State Park, Face Rock Wayside (in Bandon), Cape Blanco, Cape Sebastian, and Harris Beach State Park being some of the better places from which to scan the ocean for spouting whales.
Plenty of rain and snowmelt and lots of mountains combine to produce dozens of good white-water-rafting rivers in Oregon, depending on the time of year and water levels. Central Oregon's Deschutes River and southern Oregon's Rogue River are the two most popular rafting rivers. Other popular rafting rivers include the Clackamas, outside Portland; the McKenzie, outside Eugene; and the North Umpqua, outside Roseburg. Out in the southeastern corner, the remote Owyhee River provides adventurers with still more white water.
Windsurfing & Kiteboarding
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most renowned windsurfing and kiteboarding spots in the world. As the winds whip up the waves, skilled sailors rocket across the water and launch themselves skyward to perform aerial acrobatics. On calmer days and in spots where the wind isn't blowing so hard, opportunities are plentiful for novices to learn the basics. Summer is the best sailing season, and the town of Hood River is the center of the boarding scene, with plenty of windsurfing and kiteboarding schools and rental companies. The southern Oregon coast also has some popular spots, including Floras Lake, just north of Port Orford, and Meyers Creek in Pistol River State Park, south of Gold Beach.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.