Having trouble deciding what to do on your next weekend getaway? It can be paralyzing, trying to choose between hiking with a llama on Steens Mountain or wine tasting in bucolic Roseburg, looking for whales off the Oregon coast or dropping into Portland’s nefarious underground. Sampling Oregon’s “other” famous cheese—the one the queen herself orders —or seeing the largest fly-over of bald eagles in the continental United States are more subtle contenders.
To help you get moving, we’ve selected a few of our favorites. Go on your own or sign up for a guided tour. You’ll be inspired, informed, filled with savory food and maybe a little buzzed. All can be accomplished in one to three days and most during the winter, although some of these tours are best done in summer or fall.
Mix and match the ideas — see a waterfall after tasting wine (or maybe vice versa). Regardless, hit the road and you’ll quickly be charmed by our favorite tours. Go to 1859oregonmagazine.com to plan these outings.
Great Oregon tours number one: A tour to feel the magic of Oregon Waterfalls
Take a magical, misty tour on the “Trail of Ten Falls,” twenty-six miles northeast of Salem in Silver Falls State Park, the largest state park in Oregon (oregonstateparks.org). A rainforest swaddles visitors, even as the quiet roar of cascading water draws them to waterfalls from 30 to 178 feet high. Take an eight-mile trail to all ten falls, or go directly to the 177-foot South Falls or the 136-foot North Falls from the north parking lot.
Revel in the mist … when you walk behind the South, Lower South, Middle North and North Falls. Sleep in the park by reserving a cabin, yurt or campsite. Or stay in Silverton at the Wyman Hotel and Inn; eat at the Silver Grille or Seven Brides Brewing.
Diehard waterfall seekers might consider two “hidden” favorites of Casey Curry-Wilson, a 15-year-old Portland waterfall aficionado: the 585-foot Linton Falls, one of the tallest in Oregon, in the Three Sisters Wilderness off Hwy 242, and the 480-foot Ice Falls on Adam Creek in the Wallowa Mountains. Both require serious hiking and backpacking skills and are best accessed in summer and fall, but are worth the effort, according to Curry-Wilson.
Great Oregon tours number two: Tour Oregon’s incomparable wineries
For laid-back wine tasting away from the crowds, visit one of the twenty-four tasting rooms in the Umpqua Valley around Roseburg. Though not yet as renowned as the Willamette Valley, the diversity of soil and climates in the Umpqua Valley give wine makers a multitude of options, from cool-valley varietals like Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Riesling to warm-valley varietals like Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Tempranillo and Grenache. Take a barrel-tasting tour, sponsored by Umpqua Valley Wineries, April 16 and May 21, 2011.
Get a rare taste … of wine right out of the barrel and meet professional wine makers and owners, says Chris Lake, director of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute. Six winery stops for $50. Or take a one-day tour with Oregon Wine Country Tours ($55 with a gourmet lunch). Stay at historic C.H. Bailey House B&B or Delfino Vineyards in Roseburg; eat at Mark V or Ami Japanese Restaurant.
For wine tasting closer to urban amenities, try one of the sixteen wineries in the southern Willamette Valley near Eugene. Sample Pinot gris and Pinot noir at Benton-Lane Winery, a top-ranked wine maker by Wine Spectator, and at the 1,033-acre, European-style King Estate. Stay at the Campbell House in Eugene.
Great Oregon tours number three: tour Oregon volcanoes
“One of the most fun hikes in Oregon.” That’s how Madras-based geologist Ellen Bishop Morris describes a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness to Collier Cone. The author of In Search of Ancient Oregon: a Geological and Natural History, Morris says you can crawl up Collier Cone and have a glimpse of Collier glacier—the largest in Oregon—before it melts away.
Discover … lava “bombs” — spewed magma that hardened before landing, cinder cones, craters, caldera and lava flows. Take Highway 242 to Lava Camp Lake campground. It’s a strenuous fourteen-mile round-trip hike, passable only when the snow is off the higher elevations (July through October). Or bond with a llama and go with Halligan Ranch Llama Adventures (halliganranch.com) to Steens Mountain, Three Sisters Wilderness or Mt. Jefferson. Owner Sherry Halligan offers day hikes (starting at $75 with lunch) and overnight guided mountain tours (starting at $250). Be advised, though, that llamas carry your bags not you. Begin or end your weekend at Five Pine Lodge in Sisters; eat at Three Creeks Brewing.
Great Oregon tours number four: explore the Oregon backcountry
See Crater Lake as you’ve never seen it before: in winter and on snowshoes. “Winter is the dominant season ecologically in the park,” according to Ranger Dave Grimes. Take a two-hour, ranger-led trek through snowy evergreen forests and learn the ecology of this national gem. Tours start at 1 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, late November through the end of April; the route varies depending on weather. No park entry fee; no cost for the tour or snowshoes; reservations advised, 541.594.3100. Stay in Fort Klamath south of Crater Lake or at the Union Creek Resort. The park’s cafe is open in the winter from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; the visitor center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Escape to … Alpen backcountry with miles of sweet, deep powder and heart-stopping views in the Wallowa Mountains. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers can start at Salt Creek Summit Sno-Park twenty miles southeast of Joseph and enjoy one of seven loops, from beginner to advanced. For both guided and self-guided tours in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, contact Wing Ridge Ski Tours (wingski.com). Make a reservation with Wing Ridge to sleep in the Big Sheep Hut or Wing Ridge Hut, or stay in Joseph at Bronze Antler B&B or Chandler’s Inn; eat at Mutiny Brewery. In Enterprise, sleep at the 1910 Historic Enterprise House B&B; eat at Terminal Gravity Brewery.
Great Oregon tours number five: experience Oregon wildlife—go birdwatching
Bald eagles by the hundreds. That’s what visitors can expect to see in January and February in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges—several refuges on both sides of the Oregon-California border. Follow the auto-tour route through Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge or the Lower Klamath Refuge to observe eagles dining on duck or go before sunrise to Bear Valley National Refuge for the early morning fly-out. Stop at the Refuge Headquarters and Visitor Center in Tule Lake, California for maps and current bird sightings (fws.gov/klamathbasinrefuges).
Turn your camera on … the Klamath Basin for pelicans, herons, owls, cranes and hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds. It’s a paradise for bird-watchers and photographers. Stay in Klamath Falls at Devonridge B&B or the Running Y Ranch, and eat at Rooster’s Steak House or Nibbly’s Café.
Great Oregon tour number six: The culinary grand tour—unique food that defines the state of Oregon
Her Majesty the Queen of England is reportedly fond of blue cheese from the Rogue Creamery. This royal endorsement may be enough to get you out to Central Point (near Medford) to sample the internationally acclaimed Smokey Blue and take a long weekend to savor Southern Oregon’s food and wine (southernoregon.org). Near the creamery is Lillie Belle Farms, known for its handmade chocolates and tucked between these two are tasting rooms for Daisy Creek Vineyard and Madrone Mountain Vineyard.
Pair local wine and foods … during a progressive four-stop dinner arranged by Main Street Tours (ashland-tours.com). While in the area, visit Harry & David’s in Medford, Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Creek, Gary West Meats in Jacksonville. Stay at historic Ashland Springs Hotel; eat at 4 Daughters Irish Pub in Medford.
Great Oregon tour number seven: The wild Oregon coast
Gray whales can be spotted year-round off the Oregon coast. The best time to go, though, is March through June when about 18,000 of these mammals pass our shores. The Whale Watching Spoken Here Program (whalespoken.org) has volunteers at twenty-four sites along Highway 101, with the highest concentration between Lincoln City and Newport. During the last week of March, volunteers in brightly colored vests help travelers locate whales. Stop at the program’s home, the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, to learn about the history and behavior of whales.
Go aboard … one of the many whale watching charters out of Depoe Bay or Newport. Stay at the Elizabeth Street Inn in Newport, or The Bay House or Inn At Spanish Head in Lincoln City. Eat at Local Ocean Seafoods in Newport, Tidal Raves in Depoe Bay, or The Bay House in Lincoln City. Combine winter whale watching with the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival, Feb. 25 to 27 (newportchamber.org/seafood_wine).
Great Oregon tour number eight: Exploring Oregon history
The Portland Walking Tour’s award-winning “Best of Portland” dishes up fun and quirky facts about the city’s art and architecture, parks, fountains, streetcars, bridges and parks. For a seedier taste, try “Underground Portland.” With good humor, the guides reveal Portland’s scandalous past, winding through Old Town and Chinatown to the brothels, saloons and the legendary Shanghai tunnels. Tours cost $19, last about two and a half hours and cover more than a mile (portlandwalkingtours.com). Stay at The Benson Hotel, The Heathman Hotel, or Vintage Plaza; eat at venerable Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, Jake’s Famous Crawfish, Old Town Pizza or the legendary White Eagle Saloon & Hotel underneath the Fremont Bridge.
Guided tours through Oregon’s heritage
Follow the Columbia … downstream to historic Astoria. Visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum and Fort Stevens. Imagine spending the wet winter of 1805 and 1806 with the Lewis & Clark Expedition when you visit Fort Clatsop (oldoregon.com). Stay at the Cannery Pier Hotel; eat local faire at Bowpicker Fish & Chips or Bridgewater Bistro.