This spectacular forest preserve off the Santiam Highway (Hwy 22) was mostly unheard of until 1859 when gold was discovered in the area. That led to years of misuse of the resource.
In 1989, a group called Friends of Opal Creek (now the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center) was created to try to save the area. After receiving a gift of 151 acres from one of the remaining mining companies in 1991, a surge of activism resulted in federal legislation that created the 20,827-acre Opal Creek Wilderness in 1996. The Opal Creek Ancient Forest is a quintessential Oregon outdoor experience. Trails in the forest pass a crystal clear mountain stream under a canopy of massive old-growth trees. Within the vast Opal Creek Valley are, besides notable trees and ferns, fifty waterfalls and five lakes.
Click here to see a video on Opal Creek from our friends at OPB.
A four-mile out-and-back heads through the forest to the base of spectacular Sawmill Falls. Just a shade more than seven miles long, a loop trail leads to the serene Opal Pool and beyond it to the abandoned mining town of Jawbone Flat. Hiking Opal Creek is the experience of a lifetime and one that gives a glimpse into a place that was an Eden-like home to Native Americans for centuries. (opalcreek.org)
Hiking Runners Up
Hiking Saddle Mountain (oregonstateparks.org) in the Coast Range means seeing plenty of wildflowers and gaining 1,650 feet of elevation from the trailhead to the Peak’s 3,283-foot summit. Cape Perpetua (fs.fed.us/r6/siuslaw) on the Oregon coast south of the town of Yachats offers all sorts of hikes that head inland or wander along the coastline. Columbia Gorge (portlandhikers.org) hiking is all about spectacular waterfalls and lush greenery. Quite the opposite, hiking in Central Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness (trails.com) is done in a classic alpine landscape.
Perhaps it’s the crystal clear waters or the small islands covered in wildflowers that makes camping on the Metolius River under stately Ponderosa pines so special. There are twelve car-accessible campgrounds along with a walk-in campground (carts provided to haul in gear) near the head of the Metolius, where the river springs from the ground to where it joins Lake Billy Chinook some thirty miles later.
As to what to do beyond relaxing around camp, there’s hiking along the river, mountain biking on nearby Green Ridge, road cycling to Sisters and back, canoeing and kayaking on the river for the experienced and, of course, blue-ribbon fly-fishing. Best of all, even when it’s close to 100 degrees hot during the dog days of summer, it’s cool at night along the banks of the Metolius, the coldest continuous flowing river in the state.
Camping Runners Up
The Wallowa Mountains in the state’s northeast corner offer high alpine country camping at its best along with spectacular lakeside camping at Wallowa Lake (wallowalake.com). For campers who desire solitude, Central Oregon’s Ochoco Mountain campsites (forestcamping.com) are seldom, if ever, crowded. Camping along the Rogue River (roguerivertrips.info) is a treat for rafters doing either the section of river before Grave Creek or after it on the river’s Wild and Scenic section.
What’s not to like about Enterprise, the gateway to the Wallowa Mountains? It has an old fashioned main street lined with brick buildings, offers a slow pace of life and spectacular scenery everywhere you look.
Founded in 1886, the town sits at an elevation of 3,757 feet and has a population of just under 2,000. It’s also the county seat for Wallowa County. And since it’s the county seat, the town has more than its share of good places to eat from the local diner to excellent Mexican restaurants and a deli.
Adding that most Oregon-of-Oregon touches to the community is the Terminal Gravity Brewery and Public House on the outskirts of town. Located in a refurbished home, the brewery has a spacious lawn dotted with clusters of aspen trees and a stream running through it. That setting easily qualifies as the most bucolic place in the state to swill craft beers in the summer.
“What makes Enterprise so livable, is that it’s not overly populated, it’s pretty and there’s a real sense of community here,” observes Terminal Gravity co-owner Ed Millar. “I also love the fact that there’s not a single stoplight in all of Wallowa County.” (wallowacountychamber.com)
Small Town Runners Up
Get beyond the faux-Western storefront look and Sisters (sistersoregon.com) proves to be a town full of soul from its art galleries to the famous outdoor quilt show in July and the Sisters Folk Festival in September.
With wide brick buildings and stately old homes, Baker City (visitbaker.com) is just minutes from superb outdoor recreation. Don’t forget to pop in for a little Oregon lore at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
It’s all about statewide bragging rights, as in “my school is better than your school,” and it all comes down to one football game—The Civil War. First played in 1894, The Civil War gridiron game pits the University of Oregon Ducks against the Oregon State University Beavers and, for one weekend a year, turns the hosting city into a one wild town.
“The Civil War isn’t health care, it’s not the economy, it’s not school budget issues, but there are a good number of people here who get more passionate about the rivalry between Oregon-OSU than they do those things,” says The Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano. “Not sure that’s healthy, but it’s telling. The best part of the rivalry isn’t the outcome of the game, but the ability of an entire state to come to an agreement on one issue—they desperately need each other for the rivalry to work.”
True it’s not just about the game. The pre- and post-game tailgating has grown from a minor sideshow into a full-fledged main-stage event. So big indeed that some tailgate groups take up multiple parking spaces at Eugene’s Autzen stadium—one space for a bus converted into a traveling kitchen and more spaces for all the grilling apparatus and tailgaters.
The Civil War attracts alums from and fans of both schools from all over the Northwest and beyond. The partying starts on Friday afternoon and lasts well into Sunday morning.
Who’s on top in the 113-year-old rivalry? That would be the Ducks with a 57-46-10 edge. Last season, for the first time in the history of the rivalry, the winner of the Civil War was Rose Bowl-bound. (civilwarsports.com)
Mass Participation Runners Up
Take 2,000 cyclists and put them on the road for a week around a section of the state and you have Cycle Oregon (cycleoregon.com). Put alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, cycling, running and paddling together in a race and that’s Bend’s annual Pole Pedal Paddle (mbsef.org). Form a relay team and run 197 miles from Mount Hood to Seaside) and you have the annual late-August ritual that is Hood to Coast Relay (hoodtocoast.com).
Leave it to travel-savvy Oregonians to sleuth out a sleepover gem with world-class views at a crash-pad price. Since 1963, the Green Ridge Lookout 23 miles north of Sisters in the Deschutes National Forest has served as both an advantageous observatory for volunteer fire spotters and a spectacular refuge for visitors.
Available for rental in spring and early summer, the two-story-high lookout tower rests on a breathtaking location aptly described as “the top of the world.” Perched at 4,800 feet, guests in the single-room cabin can take in views of Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, North Sister and Mt. Washington. Below the lookout, fly-fishing opportunities abound in the Metolius River. Bird watchers can spy morning eagle feedings at the nearby Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery. You can hike down the Green Ridge trail to the Metolius River or up to Black Butte for moderate day hikes.
“Unlike many of these lookouts, you can drive right up to Green Ridge,” says Sandy Sharp of the US Forest Service. “Once you’re there, it’s absolutely quiet. You’ll see no highways. There’s no electricity. And yet there’s a special sense of place.”
Green Ridge Lookout sleeps a maximum of four, though there’s room to pitch a tent below the cabin. A propane stove and refrigerator are also provided, as is a picnic area and an outhouse. The lookout is booked through this summer, but there are always last-minute cancellations that come available. Reservations for next year open in July.
The lookout is nine miles off Highway 22 on a gravel road and can be rented mid May to late July for $40 a night. (recreation.gov)
Rustic Digs Runners Up
Craftmen’s craftsmen, Henry Steiner and sons, who had a hand in building Timberline Lodge, built a series of charming cabins from hand-cut and peeled fir logs in the tiny unincorporated town of Zigzag in the shadow of Mt. Hood. Today, guests can curl up beside one of the oversized river rock fireplaces when they rent an original Steiner Cabin (mthoodrent.com). In Cave Junction, Out ‘n’ About Treesort (treehouses.com) offers tree-high accommodations in an array of sizes and styles (including Swiss Family and Saloon varieties) for the enjoyment of kids and parents alike. The elegant, snow-capped Wallowas surround guests staying at the Wallowa Huts (wallowahuts.com). Four- and Five-day trips into these glades, bowls and couloirs should make your winter or spring. In winter, the hut skiing is easily some of the best in the Northwest.
Once accessible only by boat, Wallowa Lake Lodge in the northeast corner of the state was built in 1923, when the region was being developed as a resort. For years, an eighteen-passenger boat carried guests four miles north to a lively amusement park with a bowling alley, dance hall, outdoor movie theater and horse-drawn carousel. In 1940, heavy snow crushed much of the park, but fortunately, the lodge survived. Bordered by the Wallowa River on the west side and Wallowa Lake on the north side, the lodge is revered for its charming rusticity. There are twenty-two lodge rooms furnished with antiques and ten cabins updated with mountain cabin furniture and wood-burning stoves.
“People find peace and quiet and leave with memories to share with friends and family”, says Steve Larson of Wallowa Lake Lodge.
Aside from the pastoral Wallowa Lake, the Eagle Cap Wilderness is a great place to get out and hike and a reminder of why the Nez Perce Tribe made its home in this area more than a century ago. Nearby Chief Joseph Trail crosses the Wallowa River on suspended bridges and intersects with waterfalls. Check out the scores of other trails that lead into Oregon’s largest wilderness area, or take the tramway to the top of Mt. Howard for lunch at the 8,150-foot summit. Views from the top of Mt. Howard reinforce the area’s moniker, “America’s Little Switzerland.”
For those who prefer a bit of art in their lives, Wallowa Lake Lodge sits just outside the town of Joseph, known for its world-class bronze foundries. Or ride your bike six miles north along Wallowa Lake Highway to Enterprise to see why it was voted as Oregon’s Best Small Town by 1859 readers. Before you leave Wallowa Lake Lodge in the morning, be sure to order hazelnut pancakes with maple syrup and marionberry butter. The lodge and restaurant, serving breakfast and dinner, are open all summer. Cabins are available throughout the year. (wallowalake.com)
Historic Hotel Runners Up
Just two and a half blocks from the Columbia River, guests of Hotel Elliot (hotelelliot.com) can take in stunning views of the waterfront and the Astoria-Megler Bridge from the rooftop terrace of the hotel, in downtown Astoria. Built in 1924 and carefully renovated, it features a mix of modern amenities and Old World charm. History abounds at America’s oldest settlement west of the Rockies and Lewis and Clark’s western terminus.
Originally built in 1925 and recently restored to its original splendor, Ashland Springs Hotel (ashlandspringshotel.com), just one block from the beloved Oregon Shakespeare Festival, offers cozy, elegant quarters. The hotel recently acquired the adjacent Waterstone Spa, making weekend pampering even easier.
Built in 1936 as a project of the Works Progress Administration from timbers in the surrounding Mt. Hood National Forest, Timberline Lodge (timberlinelodge.com), is a national institution and a symbol of cooperation, innovation and grandeur. Overnighters can kick back in the magnificent lobby, swim in the outdoor heated pool or hike the Pacific Crest Trail before heading in for a drink at the Blue Ox Bar and dinner at the elegant Cascade Dining Room.
From the same American Great Lodge Era, comes the Chateau at the Oregon Caves (oregoncaveschateau.com) in Cave Junction. Built more than 75 years ago, The Chateau at the Oregon Caves is filled with original, handmade Arts and Crafts-style furniture and has a stream running through its dining room. Relax, play chess, board games or tour the underground Oregon Caves, one of Oregon’s few National Monuments. The last cave tour each Friday in summer is done by candlelight.
When James Beard, the late culinary genius and Portland native declared a plate of onion rings the best he’d ever tasted, the RingSide Steakhouse kitchen was duly flattered. Today unforgettable onion rings make up only a small part of the menu at this celebrated Portland institution, established in 1944. Most notably, there is the revolving lineup of award-winning steaks: from filet Mignon to New York strip and from rib-eye to porterhouse. Carnivores with alternative tastes can feast on Alaskan king crab or fried chicken; vegetarians can savor a bowl of sweet onion soup with melted Gruyere cheese.
“The RingSide strives to remain true the foundation of what the place has been for more than sixty years—great steaks and impeccable service in a timeless atmosphere,” says owner, Craig Peterson.
Visiting RingSide on Burnside Avenue indeed is to be transported to a classy and sophisticated place where waiters in tuxedos take your order. For Cyndi Palmer-Lewis, RingSide memories date back to her high school homecoming in 1971. “Though I was very nervous, I will always remember what a wonderful meal we had.” Decades later, RingSide is still her favorite restaurant.
Portland’s eastsiders can now enjoy the RingSide Glendoveer location on the golf course. Oenophiles will relish a wine list that prompted Wine Spectator to name the restaurant “One of the best restaurants in the world for wine lovers.” If it’s possible to save room for dessert, the Oregon berry crisp and the chocolate bread pudding will make it worth the effort.
Make your reservation now. As of May 13, the downtown location will close for renovations through January 2011. During renovations, RingSide will move to the Fox Tower Mezzanine, where RingSide’s menu and incomparable service will continue. (ringsidesteakhouse.com)
Classic Dining Runners Up
Since 1936, Pine Tavern Restaurant (pinetavern.com), a Deschutes riverside eatery in Bend with a 250-year-old Ponderosa central to its dining room, has served its famous scones with honey butter and hearty meals. Summer dining on the Pine Tavern’s riverfront lawn is a great Oregon experience.
Historic train cars, a 1912 depot and a menu with prime rib and seafood collide at Oregon Electric Station (oesrestaurant.com) in Eugene. Designed by the same architect as Portland’s handsome Benson Hotel, the Electric Station’s open Georgian Revival architecture of the lounge area contrasts with the intimacy of its classic train car, bringing two dining experiences together on the same track.
For more than two decades, Deschutes Brewery (deschutesbrewery.com), founded in Bend, has been winning over beer aficionados with sturdy favorites like Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter. In 2008, Deschutes Brewery opened its Portland public house to bring Portlanders a new drinking experience in the Pearl District. Though Deschutes Brewery is now an expanding regional powerhouse, the quality of its trade has not suffered.
Brewery Runners Up
Homebase for the lengthy lineup of tempting Rogue Ales (rogue.com) is in its flagship brewpub in Newport, but the brewery’s influence can also be consumed at family friendly “meeting halls” in Astoria, Portland, Eugene and even San Francisco.
McMenamins Edgefield Brewery (mcmenamins.com) in Troutdale is the largest brewing facility in the company’s fleet of refreshingly distinctive establishments. Here they craft classics and new varietals in an old cannery building. Two par-three golf courses on the Edgefield campus makes the property a favorite for budding pitch-and-putters.
Ashland’s own full-service brewpub, Standing Stone (standingstonebrewing.com), has more buzz per square foot than any other restaurant in town. Inventive handcrafted lagers and ales made on-site, and are served in an environmentally-conscious, renovated historic space in downtown Ashland.
With thirty-nine locations and counting throughout Oregon and Washington, Burgerville (burgerville.com) is fast food with an Oregon ethic: great taste with smart, locally sourced ingredients. Wouldn’t it be great if all fast food were more like Burgerville?
Cheap Eats Runners Up
For an exquisite burger from the by-gone drive-in era, head to Pilot Butte Drive-In (pilotbutte.com) in Bend, where options like the guacamole cheeseburger or The Tavern, complete with ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, grilled onions and a fried egg, are sure to induce a delicious food coma.
Synonymous with the coast is the chowder at Mo’s Seafood (mo’srestaurants.com), a sumptuous velvety base teeming with fresh clams. The walls of Mo’s are hung with photos of the many dignitaries who have dined at this coastal institution.
For tasty, healthy options delivered fast, head to McMinnville’s newcomers, Oly’s Wrap Shack, where vegetarians and meat-eaters can happily coincide.
On weekends, you can expect a wait, but the hearty, homemade breakfasts at The Glenwood (glenwoodrestaurants.com) on University of Oregon’s campus or in south Eugene are worth it. Fantastic omelets, French toast and the like are served all day. The soups are killer too.
The next time you go crabbing, rent your crab ring at Tony’s Crabshack (tonyscrabshack.com) in Bandon. While you’re there, savor a bowl of cioppino or a crab Louie in Bandon’s Old Town, at the confluence of the Coquille River and the Pacific Ocean.