Weekend Getaways in Portland

Adventure Travel, United States — By on December 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm
By Jessica Spiegel 
Special to Lost Girls 

Portland has long been one of those cities that seems to percolate in the mind of a certain kind of traveler, and since it’s a relatively small city it never quite bursts onto the national scene to a degree that people get bored of hearing about it. Travelers who are drawn here love the food scene, the laid back vibe of the city, and the easy access to natural wonders within a few hours of downtown Portland.

There are great day trips from Portland if you don’t want to be away from the city for too long – including tasting tours of Willamette Valley wineries and a drive up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory overlooking Mt. St. Helens – but some places require a bit more time to fully enjoy them.

These three options for weekend getaways from Portland are so notable that they may have you hunting for cheap flights to Portland just to take advantage of them.

Columbia river Gorge Columbia River Gorge

While you can visit the mighty Columbia Gorge on a day trip from Portland, it’s even more fun if you can make like Lewis & Clark and stay awhile. The Gorge is particularly popular with outdoors enthusiasts, but it’s also a good spot from which to contemplate the beauty of nature (while sipping a local microbrew, of course).

Two towns that can make good home bases for a Gorge weekend are Hood River on the Oregon side and White Salmon directly across the river in Washington State. Hood River is about 62mi east of Portland, and to reach White Salmon you’ll just cross the Hood River Bridge (it’s a toll bridge, costing you 75c each way). Accommodation options range from standard budget hotels to historical boutique properties – including splurges like the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River and the gorgeous Skamania Lodge in nearby Stevenson, Washington.

A weekend around Hood River gives you an excuse to use all that great REI gear you’ve accumulated. Slip into a wetsuit and go windsurfing or kite-boarding on the Columbia – Hood River is the self-declared “windsurfing capital of the world,” after all. Pack your hiking boots and set off on one of the countless hikes on either side of the Gorge, many of which reward you with stunning views overlooking the river. No matter the season, skiers can head to Mt. Hood and take to the slopes – there’s skiing 50 weeks of the year at Timberline. Toast your accomplishments each day with a pint of something form Hood River microbrewer Full Sail Brewing Company.

The drive to Hood River from Portland offers some fun pit-stops, too, including Multnomah Falls, Vista House, Bonneville Dam, and the Bonneville Fish Hatchery (where you can check out Herman the Sturgeon, a 60-year-old fish who’s about 10 feet long).

Northern Oregon Coast

Oregon’s coastline isn’t ideal for sunning oneself most of the year, but it’s got its own version of beauty. There are towns further south along the coast that are lovely, but I’m going to concentrate on a few spots on the northern Oregon coast that can be long day trips or (more ideally) good weekend excursions from Portland.

In the far northwest of Oregon is the town of Astoria (about 95mi from Portland), where Lewis & Clark ended their incredible journey at the mouth of the Columbia River. Fort Clatsop, a log cabin they built in 1805, was unfortunately damaged in a fire in 2005 – there’s a modern replica and museum on the site now, rebuilt in 2006. The walk along the river in Astoria is populated with shops and restaurants, and there are city tours highlighting Astoria’s importance in the maritime world. Several movies have been filmed in Astoria, too – most famously “The Goonies,” “Kindergarten Cop,” and “Free Willy.”

From Astoria, head south about 25mi to Cannon Beach, a picturesque town right on the ocean. This is perhaps the most popular beach town for Portlanders, as it’s a straight(ish) shot over on Highway 26, but driving from Astoria to Cannon Beach gives you a chance to skirt the ocean on Highway 101. In Cannon Beach you’ll find a plethora of shops, restaurants, and a variety of lodging options (including lots of vacation homes). There are coastal hikes in nearby parks, including Ecola State Park just north of town, that offer great views of the rugged scenery – just bring a jacket with a hood, as the wind can be chilly even in summer.

After a weekend in Astoria and Cannon Beach, it might be tempting to head right back to Portland – but just 40mi south of Cannon Beach is the town of Tillamook, home of the Tillamook Cheese Factory. The daily tours include cheesemaking exhibits and are certainly interesting, but it’s the free samples (of both their cheese and fantastic ice cream) that make this worth the trip.

Cannon Beach Central Oregon

For those with a bit more time, the area around Bend in Central Oregon makes an excellent long weekend trip from Portland. Again, there’s plenty for the outdoorsy type to enjoy, but you don’t have to be into hiking or skiing to love Bend.

Bend is between 160-175mi from Portland (depending on your route) – either way it’s about a 3.5 hour drive through spectacular scenery. Surrounded by mountains, Bend is a magnet for skiers and snowboarders every winter, and in summers it’s ideal for hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and fishing. The city itself has grown enormously in the last couple decades, blossoming into a place where the hip hippies love to be. It’s a place where you can be a tree-hugger by day and a gourmand by night, swapping the dirty Polartec for a clean one just in time for dinner.

There’s a variety of accommodation available in Bend, including budget motels and more boutique spots, but if you want to check out the way Oregon does timeshares then venture slightly south to the Sunriver Resort. There are vacation homes for rent here, as well as a lodge with a spa, tennis courts, and three golf courses.

Rock climbers take note – about 25mi (a 45-minute drive) northeast of Bend is Smith Rock State Park, an awesome area for climbing, hiking, and bouldering. There’s a campground in the park, too, if you can’t bear the thought of being in the car for 1.5 hours each way when you could be on the rock instead.

Central Oregon’s weather is nothing like what you’ve come to know (and mock) about Portland – this is the high desert, where winters are snowy and crisp and summers are hot and dry. In other words, it could be just the break from Portland’s notorious grayness that you need.

This Google map shows the locations mentioned above – green markers are the Columbia River Gorge trip, blue markers are the Northern Oregon Coast trip, and yellow markers are the Central Oregon trip. The red marker is Portland.

View Weekend Trips from Portland in a larger map

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