Oregon has more designated scenic byways than any other state, making it dream self-drive territory. They take in the coast, rivers, gorges, valleys, mountains and the high desert, and wind their way into all four corners of the state. While it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, there are a couple that really stand out. The 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway follows the route of the river with its high-sided gorge and has been christened ‘The King of Roads’. It’s also heaven for history buffs; while you’re admiring the majestic scenery, take time to discover sites linked with the explorers Lewis and Clarke and the area’s earliest traders and settlers. Out of all of Oregon’s soaring mountain peaks, Mount Hood – or Wy’east as it’s known by the Multnomah tribe – is the highest and it’s an ever-present landmark just an hour and a half from Portland. The Mt. Hood scenic byway takes you round the base of the mountain and can easily be combined with the Historic Columbia River Highway to create the ultimate day-trip drive from Portland.
There was one glaring omission above – the Pacific Coast Highway – and that’s because this All American Road deserves a spot on the list all of its own. Highway 101 runs the entire length of the coast, hugging the rugged cliffs and dipping down to charming seaside communities. The entire route feels a like a hidden gem – with free-flowing roads, pristine rainforests and empty beaches. Stop for a wander along the beach or one of those picture-postcard Pacific sunsets and it’s likely that your only company will be a flock of snowy plovers darting in and out of the surf. Where the coast is more rugged, there are lighthouses that rival those in New England, sea-lion filled caves and a coastline scattered with sea stacks that rise dramatically out of the sea.
There may only be one national park within Oregon’s state lines, but oh, what a park it is. Crater Lake National Park is exactly what its name suggests – a large lake in the caldera of the collapsed Mount Mazama. It’s the deepest lake in the country and it’s known for its crystal clear water with its almost navy colour palette. The steep walls of the crater’s rim, Wizard Island and the Phantom Ship rock pillar combine to create a dramatic landscape that can be marvelled at from various points along the West and East Rim Drives. In the summer you can take a boat over to Wizard Island for a different view of one of the United States’ most remarkable natural wonders.
In Oregon, the end of a long day of exploring is often marked by raising a toast to your adventures. Thankfully, in Portland especially, it’s incredibly easy to get your hands on a pint or two of on-the-spot-produced beer. The number of microbreweries in the state’s largest city is just shy of 70 and you can try a wide variety of brews. There are dark, pale, red and amber ales, sour or fruity ales, lager, stouts and even varieties which have been produced to coincide with the earth’s path around the sun (head to Ecliptic Brewing for a beer-meets-astronomy experience). You’ll also find some beers with offbeat names including Hair of the Dog Fred and Burnsides Brewing's Lime in the Coconut.
If your drink of choice is made from grapes rather than grain, you may be forgiven for thinking you have to drive south to the winelands of California. Stay right where you are – Oregon’s 150 mile-long Willamette Valley is home to hundreds of vineyards and tasting rooms and is known around the world for its pinot noir, pinot gris and Riesling varieties. Follow the Vineyard and Valley Route (yes, there’s even a scenic byway focused on wine here) and you’ll pass through the north-west reaches of this award-winning wine region. Pop in to the renowned Ponzi Vineyard or the Helvetia Winery where tastings take place in a century-old farmhouse.
The farm-to-table movement has developed at a breakneck pace throughout the USA and beyond but few states can match Oregon when it comes to cuisine created with locally sourced and seasonal produce; you can’t beat the place where the culture of dining on organic and sustainable produce was born. As you travel along the Willamette Valley, there are plenty of places to stop and soak up the wine with some ‘slow food’, and in Portland you can hardly walk a few yards before reaching a restaurant that creates incredible dishes that are dictated by the season. If you want to choose your own produce, whether it’s for a mountainside picnic or a beach barbecue, there are more than 160 farmer’s markets throughout the state.
Oregon was once a land of pioneers, traders, railroad magnates and gold prospectors, with people travelling across the country in vast numbers to seek their fortune or find promised lands. While the miners and loggers are long gone, there are still ghostly reminders of once prosperous towns and the marks left behind by the wagons which plied the Oregon Trail. The ghost town of Shaniko sits a little bit off the beaten track to the south-east of Mount Hood. It has a population of just 36 and a selection of abandoned late-19th-Century buildings that will make you feel as if you have stepped back in time. Baker City’s National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Centre is another must visit for history buffs. Its hiking trails and interactive exhibits will show you what life was like on one of Earth’s largest human migrations.
This feature was published on 25 October 2018. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print. Feature by Emma Tibbetts.