(Travel Oregon, the state’s official travel guide, divides Oregon into seven tourist areas. To celebrate the Oregon Sesquicentennial, we begin a two-part series showcasing places to visit in each area. Part 1 covers the Portland Metro, Columbia River/Mount Hood, Willamette Valley and Coast regions. Next month, we’ll explore the Central, Eastern and Southern regions.)
Oregon turned 150 on Valentine’s Day and is hosting a sweetheart of a celebration all year. In honor of the sesquicentennial, all regions of the state are holding special events. Even without these extra festivities, the state’s natural beauty is reason enough to party this year. Come see for yourself. Stock the rig, grab your camera, and hit the road for Oregon!
Portland Metro Region. Portland is the state’s largest city and a river literally runs through it—the Willamette River, that is. The Willamette separates the east and west sides of the city, then flows north until it joins the Columbia River not far from downtown. Picturesque Tom McCall Waterfront Park runs along the west bank of the Willamette and is perfect for strolling. It’s also the new home of a lively outdoor arts and crafts market—the Portland Saturday Market (also open on Sundays). Snowy Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helens are usually visible in the distance and provide a lovely backdrop to the city’s annual festivals that are held in the park—the Rose Festival (May 22-June 14), Waterfront Blues Festival (July 2-5), and the Brewers Festival (July 23-26).
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is across the river on the east bank. Kids have so much hands-on fun that they don’t realize they’re learning! While at OMSI, tour the U.S. Navy’s submarine, the U.S.S. Blueback. Its teardrop hull design might seem familiar—it appeared in the movie The Hunt for Red October.
Another popular spot for outdoor fun and mountain views is just west of downtown. Washington Park, in the West Hills, encompasses a zoo, forestry center, Japanese gardens, miles of forested hiking trails, and the International Rose Test Gardens. For over a century, the International Rose Test Gardens has featured more than 7,000 rose bushes in 500 fragrant varieties, giving Portland the nickname “City of Roses.”
Bibliophiles will love Powell’s Books, the nation’s largest independent bookstore that takes up an entire city block. Grab a map as you enter to help navigate the vast rooms containing over one million new and used tomes. Save time to explore some of Portland’s diverse close-in neighborhoods. Eclectic Nob Hill, earthy Southeast Hawthorne, and the trendy Pearl District add to the city’s character.
Columbia River/Mt. Hood Region. Oregon’s most popular natural attraction— two-tiered 620-foot Multnomah Falls—and the state’s highest peak—11,245-foot Mount Hood— are scenic highlights. So is Vista House, the most photographed icon in the Columbia Gorge; it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From Interstate 84, take the twisty, narrow Historic Columbia River Highway (not recommended for trailers or large RVs) up to the octagonal stone structure. Sweeping panoramas of the Columbia River are quite impressive from Vista House’s 733-foot vantage point.
Don’t put your camera away just yet because you’ll want to stop at several dramatic waterfalls (Latourell, Bridal Veil, and Wahkeena to name a few) as you continue on to Multnomah Falls. At the base of the falls, the second highest year-round waterfall in the country, is a historic day lodge built in 1925. For a close-up view of the falls’ lower and upper cataracts, hike the paved trail up to the Benson arch bridge.
Continue driving east on I-84 and watch as windsurfers and kite boarders take advantage of the gusty river winds. Ninety minutes south of the town of Hood River is Timberline Lodge, an elegantly rustic National Historic Landmark that has welcomed skiers, climbers and tourists since 1937. Catch the continuously run movie (shown in a small room off the lobby) to learn how highly skilled and dedicated craftspeople hand-built the lodge as a federal WPA project during the Great Depression. Perched at an elevation of 6,600 feet, the accomplishment is as amazing as majestic Mount Hood itself! Enjoy a fine meal or simply sit and ogle the mountain scenery through enormous windows. For an incredible view of Oregon’s tallest peak without actually standing on the mountain, head for nearby Trillium Lake, which also has a campground.
Coast Region. Take your time and stop often while driving the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (Highway 101). You don’t want to miss any of the charming towns, historic sites, lighthouses, state parks, and picturesque views scattered along Oregon’s 363 miles of rugged coastline. Begin up north in Astoria, the oldest permanent settlement west of the Rockies. This is also where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Get a bird’s eye view of the confluence of these mighty waterways from atop the 600-foot Astoria Column. Once back down at sea level, stroll past Victorian-era homes, visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and hop aboard Astoria’s restored streetcar for a tour of the waterfront.
Just a few miles away, Fort Stevens State Park is a true treat for military history buffs and is Oregon’s largest campground. Fort Stevens was the only armed forces installation in the continental United States to be fired upon by Japanese submarines during World War II (visit the museum to get the full story). After exploring the deactivated gun batteries, wander onto the beach to see the rusty skeletal ruins of the Peter Iredale—a British four-masted barque that ran aground in 1906. Don’t miss nearby Fort Clatsop National Memorial where Lewis and Clark spent the wet winter of 1805-1806.
Next, mosey through the galleries in artsy Cannon Beach and whale-watch from the cliffs of neighboring Ecola State Park. The views of Haystack Rock are picture-perfect! If you like cheese, stop in Tillamook for a free factory tour and tasty samples. As you continue south, stop at a few lighthouses, especially Yaquina Head Light in Newport to see the 12-foot high Fresnel lens atop its 93-foot tower. Heceta Head Light is postcard pretty and close to Sea Lion Caves, home to wild Steller sea lions that really raise a ruckus! Explore the famous Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area on foot or horseback, or take a thrilling sand rail ride. Your coastal trip isn’t over until you see 80 acres of lovely manicured gardens at Shore Acres State Park and reach Brookings-Harbor, Oregon’s “banana belt.” Campgrounds along the coast, including Shore Acres, fill up quickly in the summer, so be sure to make your reservations early!
Willamette Valley Region. The best way to experience the diverse beauty and bounty of the valley’s flat farmland and rolling forested hills is to head down any back road. You’ll discover many small historic towns and quaint covered bridges tucked into the scenery. You’ll also pass hazelnut and fruit orchards, grass seed and hop fields, and in the spring, acres of bright tulips and iris dazzle the eye. Learn what “floral and fat” means at over 200 wineries—just stop for a taste.
Like Portland, the historic capital city of Salem is situated along the banks of the Willamette River and also boasts beautiful open spaces. In fact, Salem’s Riverfront Park is 23 acres of indoor and outdoor fun! Park the RV in the large free lot and spend the day. Take a magical ride on an old-world style carousel, try out your sea legs aboard the Willamette Queen sternwheeler, and visit A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, an interactive museum for kids.
The state capitol building is just a few blocks away, so save time for a tour. Beautiful murals adorn the walls, and a huge bronze replica of the state seal is embedded in the lobby floor. Overhead, the capitol dome rises 106 feet. For a close-up look at the gilded Oregon Pioneer statue that sits atop the dome, hike up 121 spiraling steps to the outdoor viewing area.
Other highlights in the region include the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville (home of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose), antique shops in Aurora, and hiking trails that lead to 10 spectacular waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park. Master gardeners won’t want to miss The Oregon Garden in Silverton.
Whether you’re a windshield tourist or wilderness explorer, there’s never been a better time to head for the Beaver State. Next month, we’ll cover Oregon’s three remaining scenic regions—Central, Eastern and Southern.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith assists businesses with their graphic design, copywriting, and marketing needs. She can be reached through www.DeniseSeithCo.com.
A comprehensive list of Oregon’s Sesquicentennial birthday events can be obtained from Oregon 150, 1211 SW Fifth Ave., Suite L17, Portland, OR 97204. Phone (503) 445-7120 or visit www.oregon150.org.
For a free Travel Oregon magazine or Travel Oregon trip planner, visit www.traveloregon.com/Free-Travel-Guides.aspx
For camping reservations and information on campgrounds at Oregon State Parks, visit www.oregonstateparks.org