After months in the house, thanks to winter weather and the pandemic, you’re probably ready to explore further than the end of your own block. Whether you’re up for a road trip to another part of the state or you just want to explore something in your area that you may not have experienced yet, this list has you covered. You can stay local, have fun, and get outdoors to shake off winter and welcome the sunshine.
The Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory is the largest publicly accessible observatory in the United States. You can also walk around eight-acres of pine forest, wetland and meadow habitats even if you don’t set foot in the observatory itself. Walk in anytime, no reservations needed, for daytime visits with access to the nature center (birds of prey, swans and honey bees), the botanic garden and nature trail. Reserve a nighttime visit for one hour in the observatory—peer through telescopes, get a guided constellation tour and oggle meteorite displays.
Pine Mountain Observatory, located atop a 6,300-foot mountain 34 miles southeast of Bend, generally opens to the public on Memorial Day weekend. Pick a clear, moonless night to visit, if you can, and bring a suggested donation of $5 per person. The 24-inch telescope will normally be open until midnight.
Ask anyone, even if they have lived in the state for decades and there’s a good chance that they will never have visited either the Wallowa Mountains, the Steens or the Owyhees. Each of these places is remote, wild and worth the drive. In the Wallowa Mountains, you can ride up a gondola 3,700 feet from Wallowa Lake Village to the peak of Mt. Howard. This area is known as “Oregon’s Alps,” thanks to gorgeous peaks that rise to nearly 10,000 feet in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Wallowa Lake State Park has a large day-use area alongside the lake, with a marina store offering all the supplies you need to make water part of your fun. The surrounding community of Joseph is the perfect base to explore this area. Joseph itself has elements of an alpine village, and there is an abundance of cultural sites and landmarks honoring the homeland of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Tribe.
Allow four to seven hours to tackle the East Steens Tour Route, with plenty of time to stop and take in the amazing views in every direction. Drive to the Alvord Hot Springs, a privately owned hot springs experience with man-made pools on the edge of the Alvord Desert. Overnight guests can use the pool at any hour. This road takes you from Fields in the south to Burns in the north, passing through Crane, Oregon, where the population is so sparse that students are provided room and board at Crane Union High School. The road forms a loop when combined with the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway (127 miles). Once the snow clears a little later (often not until July), drive the 59-mile Steens Loop Tour Route that traverses a sagebrush desert to the nearly 10,000-foot peak of Steens Mountain. This loop includes the highest road in Oregon.
If you want to really get remote, drive through the Owyhees (Oh-WHY-Hees). There are only three paved roads here—and no services, amenities, and unreliable cell coverage— but you’ll experience the darkest night skies you’ll likely ever see. The whole area is larger than Yellowstone National Park, and was part of the ancestral lands of the Northern Paiute, Bannock and Shoshone tribes. There’s a 13,000-year history of people here, with the archeological sites to match. Visit Birch Creek Historic Ranch, which reveals its Basque influence. If Owyhee sounds like you’re saying “Hawaii,” it’s not your imagination—Native Hawaiians explored this area during the winter of 1819–20 with Donald McKenzie’s expedition, who is the namesake of the Willamette Valley’s McKenzie River. The Hawaiians left the main party on a side exploration and disappeared, so Mackenzie named the river in their honor.
A new food cart pod, Hinterland, just opened in January in Portland, between Hawthorne and Division on SE 50th. It promised to offer cocktails, a large heated and covered outdoor seating, an indoor bar and lots of food carts. They delivered. Enjoy a well-stocked bar, burgers, a vegan taqueria and lots more.
Washington Park is just two miles west of downtown Portland and is close to light rail transportation. Whether you live in Portland or are just visiting, it’s easily accessible. You can spend multiple days here exploring everything within the park: the Portland Zoo, the Portland Japanese Garden, The Hoyt Arboretum (with 2,300 species of trees from around the world along 12 miles of trails), the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum and the Portland Children’s Museum. The roses in the Portland International Rose Test Garden won’t bloom until April, but it’s a beautiful spot anytime. If you’ve got young kids, take them to the Rose Garden Children’s Playground.
If you’re walking or cycling, you’ll surely stumble across multiple pieces of street art, but there’s no need to leave your art encounters to chance. The Portland Street Art Alliance has developed maps of street art you can find there that also combine biking and walking maps. They also created a map of Portland-area murals painted by Hispanic or Latinx artists. One standout example of a street painting is “Arte, Música y Amigos,” a 460-foot long, 26-foot wide painting that begins at the southern end of the Eastbank Esplanade path. The mural, painted on the street, was inspired by Frida Kahlo, and created by the Latin American artists of IdeAL PDX.
Spring whale watching is a must-do activity for spring break in Oregon. Spring is one of two peaks for whales swimming by as they migrate from the warm waters of Mexico where they have their babies back to their cold feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. Visit Oregon State Parks’ whale watching website for information and locations of trained volunteers to help you spot these behemoths of the deep.
The American Viticultural Association granted approval on December 10, 2021, for Oregon’s newest appellation, the Lower Long Tom AVA. There are twelve wineries and twenty-four vineyards that share the distinctive Bellpine sedimentary soil type within the 15,000 acres west of the Lower Long Tom Watershed between Corvallis and Eugene. The Long Tom’s rolling hills keep air warmer than surrounding areas, which helps grapes mature at a more consistent rate. The Bellpine terroir is the result of silt forming over sandstone, which forces grapes to grow deep roots. The Long Tom River, a tributary of the Willamette, is the anglicized name of what the Kalapuyans once called, Lumtumbuff.
Take a lunch or dinner cruise on the Willamette River in Salem on the Willamette Queen, an 87-foot, 125-ton, twin paddlewheeler. Take off from Salem and enjoy an elegant dinner or lunch with views from the 82-seat dining room plus an outside observation deck. Feel like getting married this spring? The captain can help with that.
Explore the depths of the Oregon Caves on a guided ninety-minute experience that takes you 220 feet beneath the surface. If you don’t want to pretzel yourself into the actual caves, which requires stooping to a 45 inch height at some points, there are six hiking trails with wonderful views on the monument grounds. Oregon has one national park (Crater Lake), but two national monuments—the John Day Fossil Beds is the other.
Guided tours are back at Rogue Creamery. Shop a wide variety of Rogue Creamery’s organic award-winning cheeses, buy a grilled cheese sandwich (cooked with solar power!) to eat in the picnic area, or pack your own picnic with cheese (of course!), jams, nuts, crackers, honey, cold drinks and more from the store. Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue Cheese was named World’s Best Cheese at the 2019 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy. If you’re a blue cheese or cheddar fan, don’t miss it. There’s also Lillie Belle Farms award-winning handmade chocolates right next door.
Crater Lake Ziplines are the longest ziplines in Oregon on the only zipline in the country located on national forest land. Fly through the canopy 100 feet above ground, walk across two skybridges between trees, and rappel 40 feet from one tree platform to another.