There are few places in the USA like Oregon. Offering incredible outdoor adventure, heritage, history and culture, landscapes here appear to be frozen in time. Oregon is a place where distinctive cities stand proud against distant snow-capped peaks; and dramatic beaches, pristine highways, shimmering lakes and glaciers, and verdant forests offer plenty of adventure for free spirits and lovers of the great outdoors.
When you have California to the south and Canada to the north, all connected by the spectacular Pacific Highway, it’s natural that you should want to explore the Oregon countryside from behind the wheel.
Bag the keys to an SUV for added comfort, and cruise through backcountry switch-backs and scenic coastal byways. Just make sure you bring your favourite music for the perfect soundtrack to an inspiring journey.
There are options galore. Approach Oregon from the east and take the Hell’s Canyon Byway through 208 miles of lake-scattered countryside and suddenly you’ll be transported to terrain reminiscent of the Swiss Alps.
Alternatively, enter the traditional home of the Nez Perce Native American Indian tribe and drive along Interstate 84 – prepare to be awe-struck by the majesty of the Wallowa Mountains, rising 3,000 feet above. Follow the route of the Snake River as it carves a passage through steep-sided valleys, thus creating Hell’s Canyon – the deepest canyon in the USA
The drive along all 363 miles of the Pacific Highway is an immersive experience, hugging the coastline the entire length of the state. Expect to make slow progress – you’ll encounter many photo-opportunities where you’ll want to pull over and snap craggy shoreline vistas, secluded postcard-perfect coves, and expansive windswept beaches, dotted with lighthouses standing vigil over the crashing waves.
Visit historic Heceta Head Lighthouse and Light Keeper’s home – one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. Dating back to around 1894, this working lighthouse, with its Fresnel lens, is perched so serenely on the bluff, you’ll want to create your own artist’s impression of the view. Stop off at Cannon Beach or Ecola State Park and enjoy a chilled drink against the backdrop of imposing Haystack Rock, thrusting 235 feet out of the shallows. The word prehistoric springs to mind.
Picnic in undulating sand dunes; scope out artist’s retreats and their boutique galleries for souvenirs; and stay amid local fishing communities, still plying their trade, while you dine at cosy, harbour-front restaurants and cafes: fresh caught seafood is always on the menu.
3. Be a pioneer traveller
Your modern, well-equipped and stylish motorhome may not resemble the covered wagons of old – that once rumbled through these parts – but they share a common DNA with the homesteaders, explorers and prospectors who passed this way centuries before. A motorhome holiday in Oregon will bring out the pioneering spirit in you.
Wake to the sound of the surf, parked in one of many convenient RV parks on the coast. At Seaside Promenade you can stop where Lewis and Clark (the renowned explorers who were among the first Europeans to venture into Oregon) reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Gain insight into their fascinating journey while you embark on an adventure of your own design.
The Oregon State Highway offers a network of motorhome parks offering the ideal base from which to savour long, idle moments admiring the scenery. Pause for thought over breakfast as the beauty of Rockaway Beach casts its spell.
If you can bear to be parted from such tranquillity, drive from Depoe Bay to Alsea Bay. Not only is this region breath-taking, but it is renowned for its VIP marine visitors: 20,000 grey whales pass this way during winter and spring.
4. Stay somewhere unique
Luxury tented resorts have sprung up all over Oregon, and for good reason. Offering direct access to the thing you desire most – the landscape – these resorts wrap you in a cocoon of wood-burning, coffee-pot bubbling comfort. Dotted amid forests, in the lee of immense mountain ranges, or nestled by mirrored lakes, if you yearn for a getaway surrounded by wilderness then this could be the ideal retreat.
Imagine spending a few days digitally-detoxing in Fort Stevens State Park, exploring forest trails on foot and by bicycle, then kayaking or swimming in pristine, clear waters, before returning to your lodge to warm by the fire and gaze at the stars.
Spoilt for choice, you’ll be drawn to the coastal views in Beverley Beach State Park and from there you’ll also want to trek to the Devil’s Punchbowl to observe how the power of the ocean can create such dramatic natural wonders.
5. Learn about Native American culture
Discover the customs and traditions of the indigenous people who have called this region home for thousands of years. During August, for example, in the town of Siletz (between Lincoln City and Newport), you’ll find the Nesika Illahee Pow-Wow – a family-friendly festival featuring colossal salmon bakes, street parades, garlanded horses and traditional music. If your trip doesn’t coincide with any number of Pow-Wows held throughout the year, you could visit the Oregon Historical Society in Downtown Portland, or the Portland Art Museum to study Native American art.
Vibrant, independent, unique and quirky, Portland is in a class of its own. As a city of artisans, the coffee, wine, craft beer, and farm-to-table dining scenes have gained a strong reputation in modern American culture.
Snow-capped Mount Hood rises in the distance, the Columbia River Gorge offers enchanting cycling and trekking opportunities nearby; both are a constant reminder to explore beyond the city limits. Explore Portland a while longer and you’ll find a great deal to occupy you. Head to the labyrinthine Powell’s City of Books, and browse their collection occupying an entire city block – one of the world’s largest independent bookstores. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at Powell’s, then wander over to the treasure trove that is Portland Saturday Market, offering arts and crafts on a scale unrivalled in the USA.
The people of Oregon have a preference for sustainable produce, grown in their surrounding environment. This hyper-local approach to food is epitomised in restaurants like Higgins in the Pearl District and DOC on Northeast Alberta Street.
After celebrating the culinary culture of this characterful city, wander through the Ming Dynasty-style ornamental Lan Su Chinese Garden. Sip tea, breathe the fresh air and enjoy well-earned peace and tranquillity among the thousands of orchids on display.
Where to stay
The Sunriver Resort, nestled in the Willamette National Forest amid the Cascade Mountains, features many outdoor activities including world-class golf, rock climbing and fishing. Alternatively you could relax and rejuvenate your spirit at the Sage Springs Club and Spa, while your cares are massaged away by expert therapists.
If you’re visiting Portland, we recommend the Westin Portland, situated Downtown, with its exciting culinary scene and providing easy access to the independent shopping district of Nob Hill and the nightlife of Pearl District.
Where to next?
If you began your journey in Oregon, then you have two clear and exciting options ahead of you. You can head south to California and explore the iconic American landscapes of Redwood or Yosemite National Park, plus all the glamour and culture that Los Angeles and San Francisco can offer.
Or, cross the border north into Canada to view the beautiful coastal city of Vancouver and the spectacular scenery of British Columbia, including Jasper and Banff. Either way, your choices are many. Oregon holidays are the stuff that travel dreams are made of.
For more exciting destination ideas, browse these Oregon pages and start planning your next adventure.
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The Hayes & Jarvis Way
We've been tailor making holidays for 65 years. With over 60 destinations to choose from, talk to us and we'll listen to your travel ideas to create unforgettable holiday experiences.