Why do you think everyone loves Portland so much? Of course it’s the city itself, but it’s also because of what’s just outside the city. Some of the most beautifully diverse landscapes in the country (okay, let’s say the world) can be visited and enjoyed on day trips from Portland. Below, I’ve provided a handful of options that range from the dramatic splendor of Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge to the rural, rolling hills of the wine country. You could also make a day trip to the Oregon coast. Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, and the Three Capes Scenic Loop—all described in chapter 6—are excellent day trip possibilities.
The Wine Country
Oregon is famous for its pinot noirs, but these exceptional wines are produced in such small quantities that they usually can’t be found outside the region. They are part and parcel of Portland’s palate and available at every good restaurant and wine store—even supermarkets. If you want to sample a few of Oregon’s exemplary wines and enjoy some scenic countryside at the same time, spend an afternoon or weekend visiting the wineries in what Portlanders simply call the “wine country.”
Newberg: 25 miles SW of Portland; Dundee: 27 miles SW of Portland; McMinnville: 38 miles SW of Portland
Wine is grown in more than one area of Oregon, but the part of the wine country closest to Portland is in the
Getting There: You’ll find the heart of wine country between Newberg and McMinnville, along Ore. 99W, which heads southwest from Portland.
The Willamette Valley Visitors Association
The most prestigious festival of the year, and certainly the most expensive ($1,295 for the weekend ticket, $125 to $190 for individual events) is the International Pinot Noir Celebration, in McMinnville (
Touring the Wineries
Forget pretentiousness, grand villas, celebrity wineries, and snobbish waiters—this is not Napa Valley. Oregon wineries for the most part are still small establishments—although, like everything else in and around Portland, some of them are now expanding their vineyards and tasting rooms. Yes, more well-capitalized wineries have been opening with the sole purpose of producing high-priced pinot noir, but most of the region’s wineries are still family-owned and -operated and produce moderately priced wines.
Stick to the pinots
For the most part, you can forget about cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and zinfandel while you’re here. The
Wine country begins only a few miles west and southwest of Portland. Approaching the town of Newberg on Ore. 99W, you leave the urban sprawl behind and enter the rolling farm country of Yamhill County. These hills form the northern edge of the Willamette Valley and provide almost ideal conditions for growing wine grapes. The views from these hills take in the Willamette Valley’s fertile farmlands as well as the snowcapped peaks of the Cascades.
For anyone simply interested in tasting a little Oregon wine, the wineries along Ore. 99W are a good introduction. Those with more than a passing interest will want to explore the wineries that are located up in the hills a few miles off the highway.
At most wineries, you’ll be asked to pay a tasting fee, anywhere from $15 to $90, depending on the “experience” (i.e., at some wineries, you can simply sample vintages, others offer add-on food and/or vineyard-tour). The fee is typically waived if you purchase wine. In the past few years, as pinot noir prices have risen into the $40 to $60 range, tasting room fees have also been creeping up.
Mount HoodGovernment Camp: 56 miles E of Portland; Timberline Lodge: 60 miles E of Portland
Regal, snow-capped Mount Hood is Portland’s mascot, or icon, visible from the city on clear days and an integral part of Portlanders’ consciousness. At 11,235 feet, this dormant volcano in the Cascade Range is the tallest mountain in Oregon—and also the busiest, since it’s a renowned winter ski destination and a year-round outdoor playground within an easy day trip of Portland.
The mountain is just one feature—albeit the most spectacular one—of the 1.1 million-acre Mount Hood National Forest. Within the forest are some 95 campgrounds and 50 lakes stocked with rainbow, cutthroat, steelhead, and brown trout. The scenic, free-flowing rivers (the Sandy and the Salmon being the most prominent) are known for their fishing, rafting, swimming, and tubing. Both forest and mountain are crisscrossed by an extensive trail system for hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders.
All of this is almost literally in Portland’s front yard, about 60 miles east of downtown. A day trip to Timberline Lodge serves as a remarkable introduction to the grandeur that is Oregon.
From Portland, drive east on I-84 to exit 16 (Wood Village) and continue east on U.S. 26 to Government Camp; from there, a well-marked road leads to Timberline Lodge.
For more information on Mount Hood, contact the Hood River Ranger Station, 6780 Ore. 35, Parkdale, OR 97041 (www.fs.fed.us/r6/mthood; tel. 541/352-6002), which has maps and provides information on permits and road conditions. Online you can also check out www.mthood.info. The commercial site
Hitting the slopes
There are five downhill ski areas on Mount Hood, though two of these are tiny operations that attract primarily beginners and families. There are also many miles of marked cross-country ski trails. Although opening and closing dates have been readjusted in recent years because of unpredictable weather, the ski season on Mount Hood typically begins around Thanksgiving and runs through March or April. There is also summer snowboarding on the Palmer Snowfield at Timberline Ski Area. The single most important thing to know about skiing anywhere in Oregon is that you’ll have to have a Sno-Park permit ($4/day), which allows you to park in plowed parking areas on the mountain. Permits are available at ski shops and at convenience stores. To visit Mount Hood in the winter, check the website for the Hood River Ranger Station (www.fs.usda.gov/mthood) for current weather conditions; you may need snow tires or chains.
Mount Hood Meadows (www.skihood.com; tel. 503/337-2222
Timberline Ski Area (www.timberlinelodge.com; tel. 503/272-3158 or 503/222-2211 for snow report) is the highest ski area on Mount Hood and has one slope that is open throughout the summer, though it can be slushy and attracts snowboarders and not downhill skiers. Mount Hood Meadows is better for general skiing during the winter season, but this is the site of historic
If you’re interested in cross-country skiing, head to Mount Hood Meadows Nordic Center on Ore. 35 ort Teacup Lake, across the highway from the turnoff for Mount Hood Meadows. Teacup Lake is maintained by a local ski club (www.teacupnordic.org) and has the best system of groomed trails on the mountain.
Exploring Around Timberline LodgeBesides having a fabulous view of Mount Hood and the surrounding Cascades, and great skiing
Stretching from the Sandy River in the west to the Deschutes River in the east, the
The Columbia Gorge
Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area: Begins 18 miles E of Portland
Stretching from the Sandy River in the west to the Deschutes River in the east, the
I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Highway both pass through the Gorge on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. The most scenic route utilizes both highways and is described in the driving tour below.
For information on the Gorge, contact the Columbia River Gorge Visitor's Association (www.crgva.org; [tel] 800/984-6743), or the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa; [tel] 541/308-1700). The Multnomah Falls Lodge Visitor Center
Though I-84 is the fastest road through the Columbia Gorge, the Gorge is best appreciated at a more leisurely pace on the Historic Columbia River Highway, which begins 16 miles east of downtown Portland at the second Troutdale exit off I-84. Opened in 1915, this winding, two-lane highway was a marvel of engineering at the time and opened the Gorge to tourism.
Your first unforgettable view of the Gorge comes at the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint at Crown Point, which provides a 30-mile vista that is nothing short of spectacular. Topping Crown Point is historic
From Crown Point, the historic highway drops down into the Gorge and passes several beautiful waterfalls. The first of these is 249-foot
At 620 feet from the lip to the lower pool, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon and the fourth tallest in the United States. In addition to being the tallest, it’s also the most famous waterfall along the historic highway, and the state’s most visited natural attraction (in other words, expect crowds). A steep trail leads up to the top of the falls; partway up there’s a picturesque arched bridge directly in front of the falls.
The historic Multnomah Falls Lodge has a restaurant, snack bar, and gift shop, as well as a National Forest Visitor Center with information on the geology, history, and natural history of the Gorge, plus Forest Service trail maps.
Bonneville Dam & Eagle CreekJust after the historic highway merges with I-84 is exit 40, the exit for
Beyond Bonneville Dam is Eagle Creek, the single best spot in the Gorge for a hike. The Eagle Creek Trail leads past several waterfalls; if you have time for only one hike in the Gorge, it should be this one. (Be aware, however, that this is where the 2017 Eagle Creek wildfire began, and the canyon and trail may be closed for part of 2018.)
Not far beyond Eagle Creek is Bridge of the Gods, a steel suspension bridge that connects Oregon and Washington at the site where, according to a Native American legend, a natural bridge used by the gods once stood. Geologists now believe that the legend is based in fact; there is evidence that a massive rock slide may have once blocked the river at this point.
Just beyond Bridge of the Gods, you’ll come to Cascade Locks. It was at this site that cascades once turned the Columbia River into a raging torrent that required boats to be portaged a short distance downriver. Built in 1896, the Cascade Locks allowed steamships to pass unhindered and made traveling between The Dalles and Portland much easier. With the construction of the Bonneville Lock and Dam, the cascades were flooded, and the locks became superfluous.
The Cascade Locks Marine Park at 355 WaNaPa St. serves as the ticket office for the stern-wheeler Columbia Gorge (www.portlandspirit.com; tel. 800/224-3901 or 503/224-3900), which makes 1- and 2-hour sightseeing cruises and lunch, brunch, and dinner trips on the river from May through October. These cruises provide a great perspective on the Gorge. Fares for the 2-hour scenic cruises are $30 for adults and $20 for children. (I don’t recommend the more expensive meal cruises because the food is not particularly good.)
Located 62 miles east of Portland, and easily accessible from I-84, the town of Hood River is a good place to end your day trip in the Columbia Gorge before heading back to Portland. Long before windsurfing was invented and Hood River began to bill itself as the “Windsurfing Capital of the World,” this small Columbia Gorge town was primarily a lumber town and shipping depot for the apples, peaches, pears, cherries, and plums grown in the vast fruit orchards in Hood Valley. You can still drive into Hood Valley and buy sweet Bing and Rainier cherries and other fresh-picked fruit at farm stands along Ore. 35, but it’s the windsurfing on the Columbia River that draws recreational enthusiasts from around the globe.
The conditions for windsurfing are ideal at this juncture in the mighty river. Every summer, hot air rising over the desert to the east of the Cascade Range sucks cool air up the Columbia River Gorge from the Pacific, and the winds howl through what is basically a natural wind tunnel. They used to curse these winds in Hood River. Not anymore. Windsurfing and kiteboarding have given the town a new lease on life. Pull into the riverside park and watch the action as riders unfurl their sails and kites, zip up their wetsuits, and launch themselves into the melee of hundreds of other like-minded souls shooting back and forth across a mile of windswept water. Aerial acrobatics like flips and 360-degree turns are common sights.
Many of the town’s old Victorian and Craftsman houses have now been restored, giving Hood River a historic atmosphere to complement its lively windsurfing scene.
For more information, contact the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce
Hood River sits at the juncture of I-84 and Ore. 35, which leads south to connect with U.S. 26 near the community of Government Camp.
Rooster Rock State ParkIf it’s a hot summer’s day and you’re returning to Portland via I-84, you may want to take a dip in the river at Rooster Rock State Park, with its long sandy beach, and, in a remote section of the park, a clothing-optional stretch. Whether you stop or not, you’ll easily spot this riverside monolith, which the explorers Lewis and Clark used as a landmark on their journey down the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean in 1805. Rooster Rock State Park is 13 miles west of Multnomah Falls on I-84.
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.