Needless to say, it’s a strange time for travel.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended virtually every aspect of our lives, including where we travel, who we travel with, and what we do when we get there. The pandemic canceled most of our travel plans in 2020, and trying to predict what 2021 will look like is futile.
All the confusion makes local and regional travel that much more appealing.
This year is a perfect opportunity to explore parts of Oregon and Washington you’ve never seen, the places you’ve always meant to go, and the attractions you never knew were there. Take the time to see the more remote reaches of our region or see sights close by that you’ve somehow always missed.
It might not be safe to travel the globe this year, but we’re fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful corners of the world. This is a land of towering volcanoes, ancient forests, massive river gorges and a stunning coastline. There are lava caves and obsidian deposits in the desert, and river corridors that contain dozens of incredible waterfalls.
Make this a year of regional adventure, exploring all that’s close at hand. Even if you’ve spent a lifetime in the Pacific Northwest, there’s always something new to discover.
As you travel, keep an eye on the coronavirus restrictions in Oregon, Washington and surrounding states. Don’t travel with those outside your household, keep safe distance from others, and wear a face mask when indoors or near other people. Stay safe while you’re out there, so we can all get back to our regularly programmed adventures as soon as possible.
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Between world-class breweries, great casual eateries and stunning views at the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria is a perfect day trip destination or weekend getaway from Portland. Many people pass through the town on their way to beaches at Fort Stevens State Park, but those who pull off will find enough attractions, restaurants and small businesses to fill a day.
READ MORE: The 20 best things to do in Astoria
The “Queen City” of eastern Oregon, Baker City is an old gold mining town that transformed into a Victorian-style capital in the high desert – once the largest city between Portland and Salt Lake City. Today, the town is known for its architecture, excellent local museums and access to several natural attractions. Beer fans can also spend time at Barley Brown’s, one of the best-respected breweries in Oregon.
Situated on the southern end of the central Oregon coast, Florence is a perfect gateway to a variety of destinations including the Heceta Head Lighthouse, Sea Lion Caves and the Oregon Dunes. Outdoor recreation areas close by offer everything from sandboarding to horseback riding. Florence is also home to a charming downtown, with plenty of restaurants and small shops to check out.
READ MORE: 5 places to go hiking in the Oregon Dunes
An overlooked town in southern Oregon, Grants Pass is the hub one of Oregon’s best low-key wine regions: Applegate Valley. A diverse climate allows vineyards to grow a variety of grapes in the valley, found beneath the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains on the Oregon-California border. The good wine naturally benefits the dining scene in Grants Pass, which boasts a surprising variety of restaurants downtown.
A great getaway on the Puget Sound in northwest Washington, Port Townsend perfectly balances small-town living that locals adore with destination appeal for tourists. Visit local restaurants and cafes, explore historic Fort Worden and the Point Wilson Lighthouse, or simply walk around town admiring the Victorian-style homes. You can also grab a ferry to neighboring Whidbey Island, which has more to see and do.
Fort to Sea Trail
One of the best long-distance day hikes on the north Oregon coast, the Fort to Sea Trail runs from the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park to Sunset Beach north of Seaside. The trail meanders through a dense coastal forest, across cattle-strewn farmland, over lakes and ponds, and through forested dunes to the beach. An out-and-back hike runs 13 miles in all, though hikers can half that distance by arranging for a ride after walking one way.
John Day Fossil Beds
Most people know the John Day Fossil Beds as the home of the Painted Hills, one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, but the fossil beds have much more to offer, allowing for a full day of sights or several days of exploration. The national monument can be visited as a day trip, but it’s also a great spot to spend the night, with several rustic campgrounds along the John Day River. Late spring and early fall are good times to go, avoiding the dry heat of summer.
READ MORE: 8 things to see at the John Day Fossil Beds
Oregon Coast Range
Oregonians often overlook the Coast Range, driving past its many outdoor opportunities on the way to the Oregon coast. Instead of passing through, pull off and explore the many beautiful waterfalls, great hikes, mountain biking trails and more, utilizing the conveniently located campgrounds for an overnight excursion. It’s a great place to explore in the rainy season, as long as you don’t mind the mud.
READ MORE: The 12 best waterfalls in Oregon’s north Coast Range
A remote high desert paradise, the Owyhee Canyonlands is a perfect place for adventure in eastern Oregon’s rugged terrain. Hiking, rafting and hunting are the most popular ways to explore the canyons and rolling hills along the Owyhee River. Lake Owyhee State Park is a good jumping off point, but make sure you get down to Leslie Gulch while you’re out there.
If you’re looking to get away from other people, just strike off into the wilderness. Oregon has dozens of wilderness areas, where trails run through lightly-managed natural spaces to backcountry campsites – though not all will guarantee you solace. Look for remote places that don’t get a lot of attention, like the Mill Creek Wilderness or Diamond Peak Wilderness, and check with the U.S. Forest Service before heading out to make sure conditions are safe. Also keep in mind that these areas are much more remote, and require additional preparation when it comes to food, safety and gear.
READ MORE: Oregon’s 47 wilderness areas
Mt. Hood Tiny House Village
Get a taste of the tiny house lifestyle on the slopes of Oregon’s tallest mountain at the Mt. Hood Tiny House Village. Although it was designed with community gathering in mind, the tiny house village has had to cut back on some social gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic. The resort is located a short drive from ski areas and the many hiking trails and lakes on Mount Hood.
Book a tiny house at mthoodtinyhouse.com or call 888-787-1696. Rates run from $139 to $165 per night. The tiny house village is located at the Mt. Hood Village RV Resort, at 65000 E. Highway 26, Welches.
Oregon State Park Campgrounds
Some of the best campgrounds in Oregon are found at our very own state parks. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department prides itself on campground services, from restrooms and RV hookups to helpful camp hosts on hand. State park campgrounds are perfect for beginner campers, or anyone who just wants a few amenities close at hand. Cabins and yurts are a nice upgrade from tent camping, especially in the cold and rainy season.
Book an Oregon State Park campsite at stateparks.oregon.gov or call 800-452-5687. The average cost for RV sites is $33 per night, and the average cost for tent sites is $19 per night. A temporary surcharge for out-of-state campers is currently in effect.
READ MORE: The 20 best state parks in Oregon
With vintage travel trailers, cabins and campsites, the Sou’wester Lodge on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is a perfect pandemic getaway. Despite scaling back most of its communal features as a public health precaution – yoga classes are online, live music is canceled, and the spa is now a private experience – the resort has managed to maintain a sense of community, with artist residencies and live-streamed concerts.
Book one of Sou’wester’s trailers, campsites or lodge rooms at souwesterlodge.com or 360-642-2542. Rates run between $120 and $250 per night. The lodge is located at 3728 J Place, Seaview, Wash.
The Paradise Inn on Mount Rainier is one of the most scenic lodges in the Pacific Northwest. Its 121 guest rooms have all been recently renovated, the most-recent project wrapping up in 2019. You can stay at the inn and enjoy incredible views, but it’s also perfectly situated for exploring the largest of the Cascade mountains, with hiking trails a stone’s throw from the building.
Book a room at the Paradise Inn at mtrainierguestservices.com/accommodations/paradise-inn. Rooms are $226 to $268 per night. The inn is located at 52807 Paradise Rd E. Mount Rainier National Park Paradise, Wash.
Vacation rentals on the Oregon coast
If you want to escape to the ocean without worrying about other people, it’s easy enough to take advantage of the many vacation rentals up and down the Oregon coast. From private hot tubs in Depoe Bay to apartments in downtown Cannon Beach, there are a lot of ways to do it. Check local vacation rental companies like Oregon Beach Vacations and Starfish Vacation Rentals.
Book a vacation rental online at oregonbeachvacations.com, starfishluxuryrentals.com or other booking websites. Prices vary by rental and season.
READ MORE: Discovering the beauty of the Oregon coast in winter
High Desert Museum
With natural history displays, exhibits on local Native American culture, raptor and otter enclosures, and a recreated ranch with live actors, the High Desert Museum boasts one of the most diverse museum-going experiences in Oregon. The museum now has public health precautions in place, including timed-entry tickets and a mandatory face mask policy. For those who don’t feel comfortable indoors, its outdoor exhibits are a good option.
The High Desert Museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday to Wednesday; 59800 U.S. 97, Bend; $7 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, $5 for tickets; buy tickets online at highdesertmuseum.org; 541-382-4754.
Olympic Sculpture Park
From the bright orange swooshes of Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle” to the giant head that is Jaume Plensa’s “Echo,” Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park contains one of the richest collections of large-scale sculptures in the region. Officially part of the Seattle Art Museum, the sculpture park is an attraction all its own, with the art scattered around a park on Elliot Bay near Seattle Center. It’s a perfect addition to a wider-ranging tour of Seattle museums.
The Olympic Sculpture Park is located at 2901 Western Ave., Seattle, Wash. There is no admission to view the sculptures. Find more information at art.seattleartmuseum.org.
READ MORE: Seattle’s 10 best museums
Oregon Film Museum
Ostensibly a shrine to “The Goonies,” the Oregon Film Museum is dedicated to highlighting all made-in-Oregon movies, from “Twilight” to “Stand By Me.” The museum is housed in a historic jailhouse in Astoria, a town that has been featured in several movies itself. There, you can see artifacts from “The Goonies” and replicated movie sets where you can film your own scenes.
The Oregon Film Museum is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, October to April, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, May to September; $5 admission for adults, $2 for kids; 732 Duane St., Astoria; 503-325-2203; oregonfilmmuseum.org.
Silverton’s nickname is “Oregon’s Garden City,” and the Oregon Garden does a lot to keep that reputation going. The 80-acre botanical garden features nearly two dozen specialty gardens, miles of walking paths and a secret garden hidden somewhere on the property. The garden has added some public health precautions during the pandemic, including a limit to the number of guests allowed in at a time, and the closure of some features.
The garden is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, October to February, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, from March to September; admission varies by season, $8 to $12 for adults, $6 to $10 for seniors, $5 to $9 for students and $2 to $6 for kids; 879 W. Main St., Silverton; 503-874-2535; oregongarden.org.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, one of the strangest attractions on the Oregon coast, is back open after spending 2020 undertaking a massive renovation. Opting for “fun” over “creepy” the Newport attraction aims to be a bit more family friendly with its new design. It also updated the wax figures in its conjoined attraction, Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, replacing some of the more outdated references.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; admission for both attractions is $24.99 for adults and $19.99 for kids; 250 S.W. Bay Blvd., Newport; 541-265-2206; ripleys.com/newport.
Day Trips Vacation
You don’t have to go far from home to enjoy a week of vacation. Those who live in the Willamette Valley can find a wide variety of natural landscapes accessible within a few hours in any direction. From the Oregon coast to the Cascade Mountains, from the high desert to the Columbia River Gorge, you can make a beautiful road trip out of a series of day trip adventures. It’s also a perfect way to balance travel with some relaxation in your own home.
Fish and Chips
You don’t really need an excuse to visit the Oregon coast, but if you’re looking for a new way to explore the coastline, a fish and chips road trip sounds like a great way to go about it. Start with Bowpicker in Astoria and make your way down to Luna Sea Fish House in Yachats. The hardiest fish and chips fans might even drive all the way down to The Crazy Norwegian in Port Orford. Just save room for clam chowder.
READ MORE: Our 10 favorite fish and chips spots on the Oregon coast
Central Washington’s ancient riverbed is full of fascinating geological features, as well as several good places to get out and explore it. Head north from Soap Lake and stop by the Lake Lenore Caves, Sun Lakes State Park and Dry Falls – the dry remains of a massive Ice Age waterfall. End your trip at the Grand Coulee Dam, once called “man’s greatest creation” and the “eighth wonder of the world” when it was built in 1942.
Northwest National Parks
From massive parks like Crater Lake, Mount Rainier and Olympic, to the smaller sites like Fort Vancouver and the Oregon Caves, there’s a lot to explore among the national parks of the Pacific Northwest. Make a road trip to all the parks you’ve never visited and get to work crossing off that national park bucket list. Expand what you consider to be the “Northwest” and you can even add a few parks in California, Idaho and Montana.
READ MORE: 20 national parks to visit in the Pacific Northwest
Oregon’s Scenic Byways
Oregon now has 19 scenic byways – driving routes managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation, which snake their way through some of the most beautiful corners of the state. They’re found just about everywhere there’s scenic driving to be had, including the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, the Oregon coast, the Wallowa Mountains and the far reaches of Oregon’s high desert. Find yourself a scenic byway or two and head off to explore our beautiful state.
— Jamie Hale; [email protected]; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB