Leaving the redwoods and the coastal fog of California behind, we headed north into the great state of Oregon. One of the most geographically diverse states in the country, Oregon boasts Pacific coastline, volcanoes, large lakes, dense forests, and high deserts as well as some great cities. Any visitor will find it easy to fill a good chunk of time here. If you are hard-pressed for time, here are some of the best things the state has to offer.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival
If you find yourselves in Southern Oregon, you absolutely have to head over to Ashland for the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Running nearly all year long (February-November), the festival produces 11 plays on three different stages. During the summer, make a point to see a show in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre. This is an incredible open air venue, complete with a three story, half-timbered facade reminiscent of a Tudor-style manor. Outside of the Globe Theatre in London, this is as authentic as Shakespeare gets. We caught a performance of The Winter’s Tale… with a little twist. Instead of being set in Italy, Leontes and his court lived in a decidedly Asian setting while Polixenes of Bohemia was instead a band of North American hippies. It was a fantastic performance in an incredible location. For more information about the festival, check out their website: www.osfashland.org
Crater Lake National Park
Less than 2 hours from Ashland lies Oregon’s only National Park, Crater Lake. What was once an enormous volcano named Mount Mazama, now contains a deep caldera lake. Diving to a depth of 1,943 feet, the lake is the deepest in the US. A road circles the rim of the lake, giving visitors plenty of lookout points to admire the lake’s sheer size and deep blue color. One of the best vantage points in the park is Watchman Peak. It’s a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike up to an old fire lookout. Another great hike is the 3.6 miles roundtrip up to Garfield Peak (8,054 ft). Here you can look out upon the pristine lake and its defining feature, Wizard Island. Afterwards, check out the historical lodge and the informational lookout tucked below the visitor center. In the summer, don’t miss out on the Cleetwood Cove Trail. This leads to the lake’s only swimming area. You can also catch a boat from here, for a scenic cruise around the lake.
Being located in the rainy and water filled Pacific Northwest, Oregon has its fair share of waterfalls. In fact, there are 238 known falls and probably countless others. Any trip to the state would not be complete without a visit to at least one or two. As we headed north through the Umpqua River Valley, we passed numerous including the impressive, 120 foot Toketee Falls and the wispy 272 foot Watson Falls. Both required short hikes to the viewing areas. If you were only going to pick one however, easily the most popular is Multnomah Falls just east of Portland in the Colombia Gorge.
Conveniently located off Interstate 5, Eugene makes a great stopping off point on your way north. The home of the Ducks, Eugene is a true college town. The town’s creative atmosphere is where Nike got its start! And while their football team has been better as of late, the University of Oregon will always be known for their track and field and the late great Steve Prefontaine. Pre’s legacy still lives on in the form of a wonderful 4 mile long running trail that weaves through a beautiful park setting. Simply called, Pre’s Trail, the path is laid with wood chips and mulch and is much better on the legs than concrete.
While Salem may be the official capital, Portland is the largest and most visited city in the state. Nicknamed Stumptown from its early beginnings when there were more tree stumps than people, Portland nowadays is a bustling and vibrant foodie city. Food trucks and organic restaurants are everywhere, as are breweries, beards, and bikes. As expected, the town has a very unique and unusual history. Take its famous bakery Voodoo Donuts for example. It was temporarily closed by the Health Department as some of their donuts contained over the counter drugs (NyQuil and Aspirin)! As with many other places, I would recommend starting out with a walking tour. You won’t find any better than the free Secrets of Portlandia Tour. The Portland local is easily one of the best guides I’ve encountered and he’ll show you all the sites including the Portlandia Statue and the Bubblers that kept lumberyard men sober. Check out the website here: www.secretsofportlandia.com Another must do is Powell’s City of Books. For book lovers, this place is absolutely heaven! Lose yourself among the rows and rows of the World’s Largest Independent Bookstore.
Salmon Ladders in the Columbia River Gorge
A drive along the scenic Columbia River is a must do for any visit to Oregon. Waterfalls abound as do impressive views of this mighty river. Often overlooked are the feats of engineering used to tame the water. There are several locks and dams along the Columbia, none more interesting than the Bonneville complex. Head into one of the visitor centers where you can peek below the water at all the fish making their way up the ladders. Learn about the different species of salmon and the seasons when they run.