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When you think of Oregon, you might immediately picture waterfalls in mossy forests, cyclists zipping around compact neighborhoods, and a culinary scene where nearly everything is labeled local and artisan. Really, that’s not far off the mark. The largest cities — the main metropolis of Portland, the smaller state capital Salem, and college town Eugene in the Willamette Valley — are only minutes away from farm country and protected wilderness areas; half the state, in fact, is covered in forest. Once you drive across the Cascade Range, scenic highways wind through the high deserts of central and eastern Oregon, where you’ll encounter ghost towns and geological wonders such as the Painted Hills and Smith Rock. Head south to spot bald eagles soaring overhead in the Klamath Basin and vintners welcoming you to lesser-known wineries around old gold-rush cities. Everywhere in between, it seems you’ll find a wild and scenic river to paddle and a picturesque trail to hike.
It’s easy to explore Oregon’s largest city without a car. In Portland, transit options abound: bus, light-rail, streetcars, and bikeshares service the walkable neighborhoods. MAX trains link the Portland International Airport (PDX) — the state’s main air travel hub — and surrounding suburbs with the city center. Amtrak trains connect Portland to Salem, and onward to San Francisco to the south and Seattle to the north. But if you want to freely explore the state’s wild places, a car will do you well. In winter, you’ll want to check ahead to make sure roads and attractions are open.
Yes, Oregonians experience their fair share of rain — especially in the western half of the state. In places such as Portland, the Oregon Coast, and Willamette Valley, you can expect wet and temperate conditions from late fall through early spring, when drizzly mornings often give way to sunbreaks in the afternoons. Winter and early spring are also snow season in the popular ski areas around Mount Hood and Mount Bachelor. All of that rain makes spring a particularly colorful time, when sprawling tulip fields blossom in dazzling shades and roses unfurl during century-old festivals. Summer is balmy, but usually not too humid, making it prime time for outdoor concerts and adventures in the rugged outdoors. Early fall is the sweet spot, when the weather remains crisp and the traffic becomes light on the state’s winding Scenic Byways and Scenic Bikeways.
Take a collapsed volcano, fill it with remarkably blue water, and you have the deepest lake in North America — and the seventh-deepest lake in the world. It’s among the most iconic sights on the West Coast and certainly worthy of a road trip to southern Oregon. Depending on the season, you can drive or ski the scenic highway loop around the rim for magical views of Wizard Island, an ancient cinder cone that rises like an iceberg above the lake’s surface.
A short ride east of Portland brings you into a dramatic canyon of basalt cliffs, where the Columbia River rushes past Multnomah Falls, the state’s tallest waterfall, along cool waterfront towns such as Hood River, and offers scenic overlooks galore. This is the United States’ largest national scenic area, famous for its waterfalls, hiking trails, and windsurfing.
More than 500 wineries dot the Willamette Valley, where tasting rooms feel more like low-key hangouts and families still operate many of the small-lot vineyards. The volcanic soils and temperate climate have made the valley the ideal environment for growing pinot noir, pinot gris, and chardonnay. Despite the young age of Oregon’s wine industry, the state’s vintages increasingly receive international acclaim.