Although Central Oregon boasts 300 days of sunshine, that still won’t be enough good weather to take advantage of all the outdoor pursuits the high desert is known for—hiking, biking, boating, golfing, fishing, rock climbing, snow sports, and of course, camping. But no matter what you do, count on a mountain view or two for company.
The towering trio—Faith, Hope and Charity—known collectively as the Three Sisters, give the charming western-style town of Sisters its name. There’s always a big festival going on in this tiny town. Sisters’ annual professional rodeo, dubbed the “Biggest Little Show in the World,” is held the second week of June, and the famous Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show takes place each July. Between loads of special events, find some time for souvenir shopping in Sisters’ one-of-a-kind boutiques.
About 15 miles from Sisters is Camp Sherman, a miniature wooded community in the heart of the Metolius River Wildlife Preserve and Recreation Area. A sweet ponderosa pine fragrance permeates the air—some say it’s vanilla, others swear it’s butterscotch, but everyone agrees it’s better than anything in a spray can! The icy Metolius River rushes through Camp Sherman, so bring your fly rod. Visit the headwaters (it gently bubbles up from an underground spring) and at the same time take in the stunning view of 10,497-foot Mount Jefferson. Also stop at Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery and feed the fish—rainbow and brook trout, kokanee and Atlantic salmon—that are raised in large open tanks before their release into the wild.
City-goers really enjoy Bend, the largest city in the region. Settled along the winding Deschutes River with snow-capped Mount Bachelor on the horizon, its restored Old Mill District is filled with fun and trendy restaurants and shops (no sales tax in Oregon!), including places to purchase outdoor gear so you’re always prepared. To learn about the area’s history and culture, drive south on Highway 97 to the family-friendly High Desert Museum and meet the resident porcupines.
If you’ve always been curious about rock climbing but would rather not get roped into anything, watch how it’s done on 350-foot Monkey Face at Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne. Or hike along the Crooked River and spot golden eagles. Driving in the opposite direction, you’ll find Newberry National Volcanic Monument, where hiking trails, 50,000 acres of lava flows, and an outstanding view from 7,984-foot Paulina Peak await you. When it’s time to call it a day, consider hooking up at nearby La Pine State Park, home to Oregon’s tallest ponderosa pine. Nicknamed “Big Red,” the 500-year old tree is over 162 feet tall.
The spirit of the West is very much alive in eastern Oregon, especially in Pendleton. Each September, honest-to-goodness cowboys compete in the world-famous “Let ‘er Buck” rodeo. The city’s Underground Tour is quite remarkable as well and provides insight into the seedier side of Pendleton’s history—the red-light district and gambling dens—as well as the life of Chinese miners and railroad workers who basically built this area of Oregon. Tour the world-famous Pendleton Woolen Mills, and you just might find a souvenir blanket or two you can’t live without!
Literally walk in someone else’s footsteps (er, wagon wheel tracks) by trekking along the original rutted Oregon Trail at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center outside of Baker City. Perched high atop Flagstaff Hill, the sweeping panoramas outside the museum are as outstanding as the displays and dioramas inside. Go much, much farther back in history to the days of prehistoric animals with a visit to the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Keep the camera out to photograph the gold, black and red Painted Hills Unit in Mitchell.
For one of the best views in all of Oregon, head toward Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. From the Hells Canyon Overlook, get a really good gander at the gorge plummeting more than a mile down to the zigzagging Snake River. If you decide to camp at nearby Wallowa Lake State Park, be sure to hide everything edible from the overly friendly deer! On a clear day, the views from atop Mount Howard are worth the steep ticket price you’ll pay to ride the Wallowa Lake Tram up to 8,150 feet.
In Joseph, a tiny town next door to Wallowa Lake, enjoy an unexpected world-class bronze “artwalk” along the main street. Back dropped by the snow-capped peaks of the Wallowa Mountains, this area has been dubbed the “Little Switzerland of America.” This is also a good place to reflect on the Nez Percé Indians, who for centuries lived in the Wallowa Valley. A monument on the edge of town honors Chief Joseph.
When prospectors first discovered gold in 1861, Oregon’s gold rush was on! Boomtowns such as Whitney, Bourne and Sumpter sprang up almost instantly. Get a feel for these richer days at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area by stepping aboard the massive 1,240-ton Yuba gold dredge— one of only a few still on public display anywhere in the country—and dream of striking it rich. The Sumpter Valley Railroad also boards here, offering a five-mile trip between Sumpter and McEwen stations. Originally, the train hauled millions of dollars of gold ore and timber from the Elkhorn Mountains. Today, passengers ride the restored steam-powered locomotive simply to enjoy the stories and the scenery.
Ask a geologist how 1,932-foot deep Crater Lake was created and you’ll hear about Mount Mazama’s cataclysmic eruption some 7,700 years ago followed by the six-mile wide caldera filling with rain and snow. Ask the Klamath and Modoc Indians, who had lived in the area for thousands of years, and you’ll hear a more vivid tale: Their legend tells of two chiefs pitted in a fiery battle—Llao of the Below World and Skell of the Above World. Their conflict over Skell’s daughter, who did not return Llao’s love, ended with the destruction of Llao and his home, which was Mt. Mazama. Bereaved followers of Llao shed many tears over the loss of their chief and those tears became Crater Lake.
No matter how you account for the creation of the country’s deepest lake, everyone agrees there simply aren’t enough shades of blue to describe its intense color. Rim Drive encircles the lake and is 33 miles of pure scenery! Take advantage of the many pull-offs and picnic areas; each offers the opportunity to photograph Wizard Island and other geologic formations that protrude from the deep blue. Established as a national park in 1902, Crater Lake offers much more than an indescribable hue—camping, hiking and boat tours, too.
For a change of pace and elevation, go underground at nearby Oregon Caves National Monument in Cave Junction. Take the 90-minute marble cave tour (dress warmly, cave temperature is 44 degrees) and warm up afterwards in the 1930s-era coffee shop inside the Oregon Caves Chateau, a 23-room National Historic Landmark.
The bustling theatrical town of Ashland, near the California border, is home to the Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Stroll through Lithia Park in the center of the city; it has something for everyone— woodlands, open space, a Japanese garden, and a formal rose garden. The historic gold-rush town of Jacksonville hosts the Britt Festival, an outstanding outdoor music experience.
Home base for most whitewater rafters is Grants Pass on the banks of the legendary Rogue River. For a less challenging, but no less thrilling river adventure, take a trip on a jet boat. Roseburg has a river running through it, too—both the north and south branches of the Umpqua River. More than a dozen waterfalls and half as many covered bridges dot the scenic area.
For over 150 years, native Oregonians and visitors alike have marveled at the state’s fine forests, waterways, unpretentious cities, and mountain vistas. In honor of the state’s sesquicentennial, make 2009 your year to visit Oregon. And bring the camera because all seven scenic regions contain the grandest scenery in the country. Happy 150th Birthday, Oregon!
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 .
For complete details on developed Forest Service campgrounds within the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest, click to www.fs.fed.us/r6/centraloregon/recreation/campgrounds/camp-district-sisters.shtml .
For information on Crater Lake National Park, visit www.nps.gov/crla or call (541) 594-3000.