Two summers ago, we got a chance to do something crazy. A stranger e-mailed me (and several other faculty in my department) seeking a house swap for the summer. I thought Kelly would never go for it. But I was wrong. Within what felt like 10 minutes, we had figured out a way to spend seven weeks on the road, with about a month based out of Eugene, Oregon.
What a blast. We drove out through Flagstaff, AZ, so we could attend the wedding of one my all-time favorite students. This route took us through Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks. We routed through Death Valley, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Lassen Volcanic National Parks. We spent the summer exploring the Pacific Northwest and then drove through Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Parks to get home. We were on the road for 7 weeks but it was not nearly enough time to explore everything. Still, we got to see a lot. Here’s our recommendations for a 9 day trip to Oregon.
Day 1: Arrive in Portland. Head to Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge. Strictly speaking, we never actually made it to Multnomah Falls! It’s really ridiculous given how much time we spent in the state. We are remedying this during February but until then, we’ll take the recommendation of the internet to say you should definitely check out the Columbia River Gorge.
Day 2: Head to Mount Hood and the Timberline Lodge. You can hike here (Timberline Trail is highly recommended) or just grab some good food and enjoy the views of Mount Hood.
Day 3: From here, head south to Bend. Take a hike at either Tumalo Falls State Park or Smith Rock State Park.
Day 4: On your second day in Bend, explore either Green Lakes or Canyon Creek Meadows.
Day 5: Head down to Crater Lake. The hike up to Mount Scott is a great way to get a unique view of the lake and avoid crowds.
Day 6: After checking out sunrise on the lake, head west to Bandon, Oregon, to pick up the coastal highway. Drive up the coast to Florence. (Shed a tear for our beloved Xterra that died at Sunset Beach State Park doing our road trip.) The coast is full of gorgeous beaches and places to walk. Bandon is well known for its sea stacks (tall rocks in the ocean). If you arrive in Florence with enough time for an evening stroll, head just north of town to the Hobbit Trail. It will take you down to a lovely coastal walk.
Day 7: North of Florence is our favorite area of the coast. Stop by Heceta Head Lighthouse for some hiking and tide pool exploration. North from there is Thors Well and Cape Perpetua. You can also explore Yaquina Outstanding Natural Area, including tide pools with excellent wildlife. Dally along the coast as long as you like. Try to find a tide pool area at low tide.
Day 8: Take a whale watching cruise out of Depoe Bay (purchase tickets ahead of time). Whales migrate here in spring and fall but several gray whales live in this bay area and so you can see them year round. Spend the night in Depoe Bay or Lincoln City.
Day 9: Take one last hike along the coast, maybe at Cape Lookout State Park. Head back to Portland.
When to go: Oregon has notoriously rainy winters and springs, sometimes lasting into June. The snow lingers in the mountains well into summer. The year we were there, for instance, the full road around Crater Lake didn’t up until mid-July. The state also has a lot of problems with forest fires, which usually are worst in August. We recommend late June to early August as the best time to go.
Pro Tip: Many places in the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, require a ‘Pacific Northwest’ pass. They’re easy to pick up (we got one at REI in the area) but we later discovered that our National Parks pass would have worked at each site. You might want to pick up an Oregon State Parks, pass, however, if you want freedom to explore along the coast.