Portland is blessed with a pretty prime geographic location – drive two hours in any direction and you might find yourself at the coast, on a snow-capped stratovolcano, in the heart of wine country, at a rock climbing crag, soaking in a hot spring or even closing in on other major cities like Seattle, Washington. If you're itching for a change of scenery, Portland has a wealth of day trip-worthy destinations in arm's reach. We narrowed it down to sixteen of the best, with a little something for everyone from foodies to families to outdoor enthusiasts to oenophiles.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel. Check the latest guidance before departure, and always follow local health advice.
1. Waterfall Alley, Columbia River Gorge
Steep, evergreen-covered cliffs are striated with so many high, lush waterfalls that it boggles the mind. Walk into this temperate rainforest and you’ll find golden-red foliage in fall, snow sprinkles in winter, wildflowers in spring and flourishing mosses year-round. The lower edge is dominated by the mighty, curving Columbia River. Adventures in Columbia River Gorge range from easy jaunts from a parking lot to full days exploring the wilds.
How to get to the Gorge: I-84 East runs the length of the Gorge, and you can easily exit to stop in numerous small towns and trail head parking lots along the way. Traffic can get backed up, though, so give yourself plenty of time. Alternately, you can reach the Gorge by public transit if you take the bus or light rail to the Gateway/NE 99th Avenue Transit Center and transfer to the Columbia Gorge Express.
2. Willamette Valley Wine Country
The New World’s answer to Burgundy, the bucolic Willamette Valley excels at producing complex pinot noirs. Small towns chock-full of gourmet restaurants and cute shops are separated by rolling hills covered in grapevines and flowers. Most wineries are family-owned and you’re more likely to be met by a happy dog than an attitude. Beyond wine, check out distilleries, cheese factories, bike trails and more.
How to get to the Willamette Valley: Towns like Dundee at the north end of the Willamette Valley are only 40 minutes or so from downtown Portland, but the Willamette Valley extends for about a hundred miles to Eugene at the far southern end.
3. Sauvie Island
With pick-your-own fruit farms in summer, corn mazes and hay rides come autumn, and beaches, trails and waterways to explore year-round, Sauvie Island is an easy trip to pastoral bliss. Plus, it’s as fun for kids as it is for adults. As the largest island in Columbia River, any land not dedicated to farming is a protected wildlife area. Expect to see ospreys, herons, bald eagles and maybe even a beaver.
How to get to Sauvie Island: Sauvie Island is just 40min from Portland by car and can be reached by US-30 East, I-5 South, or US-26 East. There will be plenty of parking at the farms and other destinations, as well as at the public beaches – just be sure to get there early if it's a sunny summer day.
4. Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls is quite possibly the most stunning park in the state. The 7.2-mile, not-to-miss Trail of Ten Falls does what it says and more as it winds up a basalt canyon through thick forests. Walk the full loop to see all the waterfalls – and even walk behind a few – in their fern-draped, wildflowered splendor, or park at the Silver Falls Lodge from where it’s a short walk down to South Falls – here the trail leads underneath an unforgettable 177ft cascade curtain.
How to get to Silver Falls State Park: Silver Falls State Park is about 26 miles east of Salem on Hwy 214 and 53 miles south of Portland via OR-214 N and I-5 N. It should only take an hour to reach from downtown, depending on traffic.
5. Cannon Beach
The Oregon Coast holds some of the most beautifully grand but lesser-known beaches in the contiguous USA. Cannon Beach is the ideal, easy-to-reach introduction to the region, with miles of white sand, waterfalls tumbling to the beach and the hulking, 72m Haystack Rock which makes for a picture-perfect silhouette. In town, you’ll find art galleries, chic boutiques and incredible dining (hint: try the chowder).
How to get to Cannon Beach: Take US-26 East until it junctions with US 101 – a trip that should be only 1hr 30min by car.
6. Timberline Lodge
Stay, dine, hike, ski or gawk – this iconic Oregon lodge is a destination in itself or a must-stop if you’re exploring Mt Hood. The grand structure was built of local stone and timber to blend in with the surrounding forest and the six-sided central tower is meant to mimic the pyramid-like peak of its glorious mountain location. Timberline Lodge is a National Historic Landmark as well as a hotel, a fine restaurant, a pub, a ski resort and a trailhead for adventurous hiking. You may recognize the exterior from the 1980s horror film, The Shining.
How to get to Timberline Lodge: Mount Hood is only an hour and a half from Portland by US-26 East. Alternately, you can take public transit to the Gresham Transit Center and transfer to the Sandy Local / Gresham Express to Sandy, Oregon. From there you transfer the Mount Hood Express before getting off in Timberline, but it will extend your journey to about three hours.
7. Johnston Ridge Observatory, Mt St Helens
Gaze into the awesome crater of Mt St Helens from the state-of-the-art Johnston Ridge Observatory. Whether this is your destination or you’re preparing for a longer hike through the National Volcanic Monument, you’ll learn the science behind the 1500 atomic bomb-force eruption in 1980. Then take the 1-mile Eruption Trail walking loop for even more views, with explanations, of the volcanic destruction.
How to get to Johnston Ridge Observatory: Take I-5 N to WA-504 E/Mt St Helens Way NE in Castle Rock. The drive is about two hours long.
8. Smith Rock
Best known for its glorious rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park boasts rust-colored 800ft cliffs that tower over the pretty Crooked River. Nonclimbers have several miles of fine hiking trails, some of which involve a little simple rock scrambling. Nearby Terrebonne has a climbing store, along with some restaurants and grocery stores. The formations in the park are simply spectacular.
How to get to Smith Rock: It's a three hour drive to Smith Rock from Portland via US-26 East. Be sure to get there early – Smith Rock quickly fills up on a sunny day. There's camping right next to the park, or at Skull Hollow (no water; campsites $5), 8 miles east. The nearest motels are a few miles south in Redmond.
9. The Fruit Loop
Covering 35 miles along scenic fertile lands, the Hood River County Fruit Loop takes you by family fruit stands, U-pick orchards, lavender fields, alpaca farms and winery tasting rooms. There are blossoms in spring, berries in summer, and apples and pears in fall – with plenty of festivals and celebrations throughout the seasons (except for winter). It's a good way to sample the area's agricultural bounties while appreciating the local scenery too. For more information and a list of events, check www.hoodriverfruitloop.com.
How to get to the Fruit Loop: State Highway 35 runs from Government Camp on the slopes of Mount Hood and the city of Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge. It's along this stretch that most of the farms and other destinations on the Fruit Loop are located. You can take either US-26 East or I-84 to reach one end of the Loop or the other, depending on whether you'd like to drive it clockwise or counterclockwise.
10. Eugene, Oregon
Eugene offers a great art scene, exceptionally fine restaurants, buzzy breweries, boisterous festivals, miles of riverside paths and several lovely parks. Its location at the confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers, just west of the Cascades, means there's plenty of outdoor recreation on offer – especially around the McKenzie River region, the Three Sisters Wilderness and Willamette Pass. Not only that, Eugene's at the southern end of the Willamette Valley, which boasts several world-class wineries.
How to get to Eugene: It's about a two hour drive on I-5 South from Portland to Eugene. If you don't mind the potential for delays, or want to extend your daytrip into a weekend away, you can also take Amtrak's Coast Starlight or Cascades lines from Portland's Union Station to Eugene, a journey of about 2 hours and 30 minutes if you don't have to wait on a freight train to pass.
Best known for its huge cheese industry, Tillamook is a fun destination for a day trip if you're aiming to down some dairy. Cheese production began in Tillamook in the 1890s, when an English cheesemaker brought his cheddar-making techniques to the fledgling dairies along Tillamook Bay. Nearly a million people stop here annually to visit the famed Tillamook Creamery, which produces 171,000 pounds of cheese every day. South of Tillamook, US 101 loses the beaches and headlands and follows the Nestucca River through pastureland and logged-off mountains. The slower but prettier Three Capes Scenic Drive begins in Tillamook and follows the coast.
How to get to Tillamook: US-26 West and OR-6 West will get you to Tillamook in under an hour and a half. Alternately, you can take the 5 bus from Union and disembark at the Tillamook Transit Center, but that will add a half hour or so to the trip.
12. Bend, Oregon
Not all of Bend is as pretty as nearby Smith Rock – Hight 97 (3rd St) is a long commercial strip of cheap motels, fast-food restaurants and run-of-the-mill services. But something has to support Bend's fast-growing population, which has skyrocketed with outdoor-lovers over the past decade or so. You can ski fine powder in the morning, paddle a kayak in the afternoon and grab a beer in the evening at a crop of local watering holes. Or would you rather go mountain biking, hiking, mountaineering, stand-up paddle boarding, fly-fishing or rock climbing? All of those are possible at the nearby Three Sisters Wilderness, Lava River Cave and Newberry National Volcanic Monument. You can even surf a river wave in the center of town. It's the perfect getaway from cloudy Portland, too, with nearly 300 days of sunshine each year.
How to get to Bend: US-26 East will get you to Bend from Portland in just over three hours, though traffic can sometimes tangle up where you pass through Smith Rock State Park. You can also take I-5 South to Salem and take OR-22 East over the Cascades to Bend – a drive of about three and a half hours.
13. Bagby Hotsprings
A 90-mile drive east of Salem is this rustic, clothing-optional hot spring with various wooden tubs in semi-private bathhouses. Bagby Hot Springs is accessible via a lovely 1.5-mile hiking trail through lush forest. Be prepared to wait your turn on weekends. The admission fee is collected by an attendant near the trailhead.
How to get to Bagby Hotsprings: There are a couple different routes you can take south from Portland that all converge around Shady Dell. Whichever you take, you'll ultimately end up driving 11 miles on forest service road NF-7010 until you reach the trailhead parking lot. From there it's a 30 minute hike to the springs.
14. Trillium Lake
If there's one thing Portlanders love, it's heading to Trillium Lake for the day. This popular spot offers stunning vistas of Mt. Hood reflected in the lake's shimmering waters, a nice campground, and boardwalk hikes surrounded by wildflowers in season. During the spring and summer, there are opportunities for boating, swimming and fishing, too. The 63-acre lake sits at an elevation of 3,600 feet, though, so by the middle of autumn the access road is closed by the park service, and instead transforms into a cross country ski and snowshoe trail for the winter. A State of Oregon Sno-Park permit is required November 1 through April 30.
How to get to Trillium Lake: US-26 East will get you to Trillium Lake in about an hour and a half. Once you reach Government Camp, you'll use forest service road NF-2656 to reach the campground.
Named after America's first millionaire, John Jacob Astor, Astoria sits at the 5-mile-wide mouth of the Columbia River and was the first US settlement west of the Mississippi. The city has a long seafaring history and has seen its old harbor, once home to poor artists and writers, attract fancy hotels and restaurants in recent years. Inland are many historical houses, including lovingly restored Victorians – a few converted into romantic B&Bs. With a number of quirky festivals like the Fisher Poets Gathering and the Festival of the Dark Arts beer showcase, Astoria has plenty to keep day trippers coming back throughout the year.
How to get to Astoria: It takes just under two hours to get to Astoria from Portland on US-26 West. Alternately, you can take public transit to Union and transfer to the CC bus to Astoria before getting off at the East Columbia River Highway stop. It takes just under three hours by bus from Portland.
Just three hours away from Portland, its bigger, sleeker sibling sits on Puget Sound. Seattle's current reputation as the town that spawned Amazon and Starbucks won't give you the full picture of the city's oddball cultural heritage. Crisscross its urban grid and you’ll find all kinds of apparitions: a rocket sticking out of a building; a museum built to resemble a smashed-up electric guitar; glass orbs in wooden canoes; a statue of Lenin; a mural made of used chewing gum; fish-tossing market traders; and a museum dedicated to antique pinball machines (that you can still play). Need help acclimating? The city's still-booming legal weed market will help you embrace your own weird side.
How to get to Seattle: It's under three hours to Seattle from Portland on I-5 North. You can also take the Bolt bus, which departs regularly from the Park Blocks in downtown Portland. Another option is to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight or Cascade train from Portland's Union Station in to Seattle. The later two options will take anywhere from three and a half to four and a half hours, not counting possible delays.
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