Portland may be Oregon’s most populous city, but there’s far more to the Beaver State than its bustling metropolis. Pack up your vehicle and hit the highway for a glimpse of nature unique to the Pacific Northwest, a critically acclaimed glass of wine or a lip-smacking basket of berries. Although winters in Oregon are anything but mild, even a moment of clear sky warrants a trip to the coast or a spontaneous hike. At sunnier times of the year, locals rush to their favorite swimming spot with friends and a new brand of beer. This list includes several options for easy, fun trips around Portland—all close enough to save travel-related stress, yet still feel like a mini-vacation. Be warned: Oregonians are notoriously slow drivers.
Image Credit: Maja Petric
1. Sauvie Island
Sometimes, good getaways don’t require much gas; Sauvie Island is a mere half hour from Portland, give or take traffic delays. Straddling the border between Oregon and Washington, this large river island offers a respite that even the busiest people can make time to visit. Enter the land mass by way of the Sauvie Island Bridge via Highway 30; from there, families with small kids or dogs can tackle the Wapato Access Greenway Trail, which loops around Virginia Lake. Take your binoculars on this three-mile walk for enviable bird sighting. On the eastern side of Sauvie, Blue Heron Herbary boasts over 100 lavender and rosemary varieties in its “secret garden,” surrounded by bees, birds and butterflies. Find waterfowl and bald eagles in the vicinity of fisherman-friendly Sturgeon Lake, a large cove home to mostly catfish rather than sturgeon. Further still, on the northern tip of Sauvie: the clothing-optional Collins Beach, where daring Portlanders come to frolic in hot weather (those seeking modesty can stick to the non-nude area, separate from the streakers). A fascinating metal structure covered in graffiti, dubbed a “UFO,” gives the beach an added touch of character. Before exiting the island, pick your own berries, peaches, herbs and vegetables at Sauvie Island Farms—a relaxing method of saving money on produce. Additionally, the island’s pumpkin patch is a local favorite before Halloween.
Daily parking permits are $7 and can be purchased at the Cracker Barrel Store on Sauvie Island Road.
Distance from Portland: 17 miles
2. Hood River Fruit Loop
An hour’s drive east on I-84 along the Columbia River, the medium-sized town of Hood River marks the starting place for a local jaunt called the “Fruit Loop,” a 35-mile scenic and fun road trip around the area’s farms, namely apple, cherry and pear orchards. To fully experience the harvest season, plan your visit for the fall months. If time permits, you might be able to stop by big events like Hops Fest (September) or Hood River Valley Harvest Fest (October). Some highlights of the “Fruit Loop” include the Gorge White House, a wine and cider producer operating out of a beautiful Dutch Colonial house, Nella Chestnut Farm, home to gargantuan nuts and Mt View Orchards, a pick-your-own-fruit orchard with around 80 varieties of apples and pears. Also found along Highways 35 and 281 are lavender farms like Hood River Lavender, which sells relaxing bath products from their crop and Cascade Alpacas, an attraction perfect for both animal lovers and children. Throughout this journey, you’ll get a fantastic view of nearby Mount Hood—get out those cameras!
Distance from Portland: 63 miles
3. Salmon River Trail
Experience the lush woods around Mount Hood by hiking on a secluded trail in its National Forest; best explored during summer and early fall, the Salmon River Trail meanders for three miles (six and a half miles round-trip) along a clear waterway filled with Steelhead, Chinook and Coho salmon, all species protected by Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. From Portland, the drive to Welches via Highway 26 should take about an hour—after going south on E Welches Road, stop at the trailhead before the road crosses Salmon River. The steep hike climbs past native Douglas firs, Alaska cedars and western hemlock, satisfying tree enthusiasts every step of the way. Salmon River Trail culminates at a 2,400 ft lookout above the Salmon River Gorge, where one can hear and see at least two waterfalls. Before heading back to Portland, stop by Wraptitude in Welches for a tasty burger wrap and craft beers from the Pacific Northwest. Keep in mind that your party will need a $5 day-use pass (one per car) to access this hike, available to buy online.
Distance from Portland: 50 miles
4. Wilson River
Summer in Oregon, especially for locals used to rainy, cold weather, means jumping in a river with friends and family. A nearby option for those in Portland is Wilson River in Tillamook State Forest, roughly an hour west on the winding, tree-lined Highway 6. Wilson River’s Footbridge Day Use Area attracts hordes of families in the busy season eager to swim, cliff jump, sunbathe and take pictures of the impressive foliage and bright, blue water from the footbridge. The river doesn’t move very fast, but use caution around the slippery rocks. It can’t be stressed enough that this hot spot gets extremely busy, so be prepared to move down the river if crowds become a nuisance. Across the highway, a 100-yard path leads visitors to a powerful 35-foot waterfall, known as Bridge Creek Falls. Bring your own snacks, since the swimming hole and surrounding area are miles away from food in either direction.
Distance from Portland: 55 miles
5. Nehalem River
For those athletic folks itching for an endurance-testing activity, look no further than a paddle or kayak loop in the Nehalem River—this excursion relies little on weather or season, as long as you stay out of the frigid water (no mishaps!). Rent or buy your desired sea vessel at Wheeler Marina, an aquatic supplies store that charges hourly or daily at low cost. From there, decide how far you’d like to paddle: start as far upstream as the town of Nehalem, head down to Wheeler or even as far as Nehalem Bay State Park. Along the way, watch for deer, elk, birds and perhaps a coyote on the riverbank or in the bushes. In case of headwind or tidal influence, start your journey as early in the morning as possible. Feeling peckish after splashing around? Grab a bite at the cutesy (and delicious) Wanda’s Cafe in Nehalem, which serves Irish coffee and mimosas as well as standard breakfast/brunch fare. River shuttles are not available on the Nehalem—you’ll have to paddle yourself back to a predetermined starting point.
Distance from Portland: 85 miles
6. Wine Taste in Dundee
Like other wine-producing pockets in the world-renowned Willamette Valley region, Dundee and its 25 vineyards have the ecological advantage of iron-rich red soil, which readily grows good vino. In only 45 minutes, tourists over the age of 21 can escape from Portland’s bustling metropolis to the rolling Dundee hills—a sight compared by many to western Spain. A few turns out of town, Thistle Winery’s family-owned outfit serves up a generous wine flight inside its Frank Gehry-inspired tasting room, with a friendly dog as greeter. Brand new and closer to the highway is Rambouillet Vineyard, producer of the popular Dusky Goose pinot noir; after years of strong sales and months of remodeling, this winery will shower you with attention. For something fancier, consider a sit-down wine tasting at Antica Terra. At $20 a guest, the 11 a.m. tasting provides up to 12 guests with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota and five kinds of vino. Stop in Newberg on the way home and see a film at the seasonally-open 99W Drive-in, one of the few outdoor movie theaters still in business.
Distance from Portland: 28 miles
This article was written by Juliana Cohen.
Hero Image Credit: Andrew Spencer