Courtesy Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
West to the Oregon Coast
Traveling only a few minutes west of the Willamette Valley along Route 18 took us to the Central Coast with its 363 miles of pristine public coastline. En route is the city of McMinnville, where we found the Evergreen Aviation Museum displaying Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose and more than 80 other aircraft and exhibits, including modern space vehicles.
Stretching from Lincoln City, where lunch at Mo’s is a must, to Florence, the Central Coast offers long, sandy beaches and diverse terrain that changes from rugged cliffs to evergreen forests to Sahara-like dunes. There, groups can enjoy picturesque lighthouses, fishing, shopping, a variety of water sports and spectacular whale-watching.
More than 200 gray whales call the Oregon Coast home from July to November, but you are most likely to see them December through March when thousands migrate between Alaska and Mexico. One of the best viewing spots is tiny DePoe Bay, which claims the world’s smallest navigable harbor.
A few miles down the coast, larger Newport offers tours of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Hatfield Marine Science Center, two historic lighthouse, and the Rogue Brewery, and Marine Discovery Tours offers an unbeatable Sea Life Cruise.
Columbia River Gorge
Striking out from Portland in an easterly direction took us into the Columbia River Gorge, a spectacular river canyon 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep. The first scenic highway in the United States, the Historic Columbia River Highway provides a critical route through the Cascade Mountain Range.
Lewis and Clark traveled through the gorge on the Columbia River on their way to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s, and Oregon Trail Pioneers traveled down the gorge half a century later. An attraction built in 1916 as a tribute to them, Vista House at Crown Point offers inspiring views and an intriguing gift shop of regional arts, crafts and books — an exhilarating rest stop.
As we made our way down into the gorge, we passed near a series of breathtaking waterfalls, the granddaddy of which is the famous two-tier, 620-foot Multnomah Falls with its historic lodge. The falls land was donated to Portland by Benson, along with funding to construct the 1914 Benson Bridge, allowing visitors to cross the lower falls and follow a trail to the lookout platform.
Leaving the historic highway, we ventured toward what water sports enthusiasts refer to as the windsurfing capital of the world: Hood River. Although the sky was overcast, we caught glimpses of Mount Hood, the highest elevation point in the state at 11,245 feet.
Stopping for a sack lunch at the 1910 Dutch Colonial home known as Gorge White House, we learned about Oregon’s flora, fauna, art and wine at that landmark along the Mount Hood Scenic Byway.
Still straining to get a good view of Mount Hood, we took the Fruit Train. For three generations, the Fruit Company has been bringing the nation apples, pears, cherries and peaches grown in the lush Hood River Valley. Tours of the property and its intricate warehouse museum educate guests about the history of fruit-growing and local sustainable practices.
Everyone was mesmerized by the purple acres that stretched out before us at Lavender Valley, where we learned how the plant is distilled to release its oil, which is then made into a variety of products.
Just as we were cutting our own fresh lavender, the sun came out, and the incredible spectacle of Mount Hood was finally fully visible as we headed to Double Mountain Brewery for a tour and beer tasting.
“As groups make their way across Oregon, almost anywhere you turn there’s a backdrop of mountains beckoning,” said Itel. “You can stand in the spot where Lewis and Clark weathered out the cold, rainy winter of 1806 and view real ruts from the Oregon Trail.
“The history, the adventure and our sustainable heritage always impress visitors, whether it’s their first time here or their 10th.”
Formerly the editor of Courier Magazine with the National Tour Association, Frances Figart provides editing and marketing services for a variety of clients in the travel industry.
For more information, visit www.traveloregon.com.