Northwest Oregon is so geographically diverse, you can dip your toes in snow and salt water on the same day. So pack your skis and swimwear for this 270-mile road trip to 12 iconic Oregon towns and attractions.
The Columbia River Gorge is both historically important and spectacularly beautiful. Departing Portland, make your first stop at the Troutdale entrance sign. Nestled at the confluence of the Sandy and Columbia rivers, Troutdale is formally known as Sandy. The current town of Sandy is located 13 miles to the south.
2. Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint
Continue down the Historic Columbia River Highway to reach the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint. A great photo op, this viewpoint is named after the Portland Women’s Forum, which worked to preserve the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.
3. Vista House
One mile further down the road you’ll find the Vista House, a memorial to the pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Completed in 1918, the ornate building was criticized at the time as a waste of money, and called a “$100,000 outhouse.”
4. Latourell Falls
Latourell is an unusual waterfall because you can walk behind the falls. Water cascades down an overhanging cliff of hexagonal basalt rock. The walk can be a little slippery, but the mist adds to the atmosphere. You can also visit nearby Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil, Wahkeena, Horsetail, and Ponytail falls.
5. Multnomah Falls
Multnomah consists of three waterfalls, with the tallest (the second drop) falling 542 feet. Philanthropist Simon Benson hired Italian stonemasons to construct a bridge between the second and third cascades in 1914. It’s a 5-minute walk to the bridge, and 30 minutes to the top. The edge of Multnomah Falls is vertigo-inducing but has a reassuringly solid platform and rail.
6. Bonneville Lock & Dam
Built during the New Deal era in the 1930s, the Bonneville Lock & Dam was the largest water catchment project in the U.S. at the time. Despite the fish ladder, the waters below the dam are often full of white sturgeon and salmon, and sea lions frequent the area for dinner.
7. Hood River
Constant strong winds make Hood River a mecca for windsurfers, so head to the Hood River Waterfront Park to get blown away by their skills. When leaving Portland, turn south on Route 35 toward the Hood River Valley. Here the fertile, volcanic soil allows apples, pears, and cherries to grow in abundance. Along the way, stop at Packer Orchards & Bakery to stock up on fruit and pastries.
8. Mount Hood
Timberline—one of three ski resorts located on Mount Hood—offers year-round skiing, with patrons skiing among sunbathers in the summer. The Timberline Lodge is another 1930s Depression-era government project. The rustic interior was constructed by master craftsmen, and there’s a unique hexagonal main hall. It’s deemed a National Historic Landmark, and you might recognize it from The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson.
Although pioneers named some places after emotions, such as Hope or Despair, Boring was not one of them. Instead, it’s named after a Union soldier, William Boring, whose family settled here in the 1850s. Nonetheless, the town is a sister city of Dull, Scotland, which lends itself to all manner of witty signs.
10. Portland’s Japanese Garden
One of the best views of Portland is the cityscape seen from the Japanese Garden; on a clear day, you can see Mount Hood. It’s won awards for being one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. Come in the second half of March for the first cherry blossoms, or during fall for vibrant foliage.
The drive from Portland to Seaside along Route 26 takes just over 90 minutes, but you’ll be rewarded with a dip in the Pacific Ocean. In Seaside, you can see Tillamook Head and the Lewis and Clark Salt Cairn Historic Monument. If you’re willing to drive an extra 10 miles, head to Cannon Beach to see Haystack Rock.
12. Astoria-Megler Bridge
The powerful Columbia River meets the sea in such a deadly clash that it’s caused thousands of shipwrecks, and this area is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” The 4-mile-long Astoria–Megler Bridge has a clearance height of 196 feet and can withstand 150-mph winds. Container ships anchor en masse, waiting for the tide to turn to navigate the waters. If you’re hungry, head to Bowpicker Fish & Chips for some well-deserved seafood, prepared in a boat, naturally.