Just driving through Oregon is a scenic drive, but there are a few hotspots that even Oregonians frequent year after year. So rather than just engaging cruise control down the highways, take a detour and explore the beauty of nature at its best. The highlights change with the seasons so visiting at different times of the year is like seeing the attraction again for the first time.
Crater Lake is the remnant of a destroyed volcano, Mount Mazama. At its deepest point, the lake is 1,943 feet deep with the caldera rim ranging from 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation. With no streams flowing into or out of the lake, the lake is refilled entirely from snowpack or rain. The water typically has a striking deep blue hue, which beckons photographers to capture this iconic image.
Located in southwestern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is the 5th oldest national park in the US, created in 1902. The lake is fully accessible for only about three months every year, July – September. Once the snow starts to fly, which is typically in September, the Rim Drive closes to vehicle access and does not reopen until late June or early July the following year.
Only the south entrance road to the lodge is maintained during the winter months. Totally understandable when one considers that up to 3 feet of snow may fall in one day. The park accumulates an average of 10 to 15 feet by early spring every year.
In addition to the lake, two features to marvel the imagination are the Pinnacles and the Pumice Desert. The Pinnacles are tall spires of ash and pumice cemented by hot gasses and revealed through erosion over the years. The Pumice Desert is an area devoid of plants even today because of the thick layer of pumice and ash left behind by eruptions hundreds of years ago.
The lake is accessible only by the Cleetwood trail, a steep walking trail that leads from the rim to the water. No vehicle access exists to the water. Boats on the lake must be lifted by helicopter from the rim to the water surface.
Numerous observation points exist along the Rim Drive in the summer months. The drive is 33 miles long but plan on taking several hours to enjoy all the sights. Several trails also exist throughout the park to get a closer at nature in action.
Multnomah Falls is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the United States. Located just 30 minutes east of Portland, it is accessible (and viewable) from I-84. Native American stories tell us the falls were created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted privacy to bathe.
The 611-foot drop of icy water creates its own roaring sound as it demonstrates the power and beauty of nature. A five-minute walk from the parking lot off I-84 puts you at the base of the falls and in the range of the misting spray. Tilting your head way back creates a mighty impression of the magnitude of the falls, but to fully view the tiers of the waterfalls, you will need to walk to the viewing areas carved out of the rock face.
The first half of the trail is a fairly easy walk. The walk to the Benson Bridge is paved – and a gradual climb. The bridge spans the falls at the first tier and is always misty. From this viewpoint, you will have a close-up view of the upper 550 feet and the 65-foot drop below.
The hike to the top of the falls can be more challenging – narrow in parts, slippery when raining or snowing, and uneven. From the top of the trail, you can view the Columbia Gorge and Portland in the distance. The Lodge below seems far away.
The Multnomah Falls Lodge houses a gift shop, a US Forest Service Information Center (with complete trail maps), and a restaurant featuring delectable Northwest Cuisine and an unbeatable indoor view of the falls.
Columbia River Gorge
The canyon from the Sandy River to the Deschutes River (about 80 miles) is designated as a National Scenic Area known as the Columbia River Gorge. The gorge is the only seal level route through the Cascade Mountain Range and therefore an important transportation corridor. Barges hauling a variety of goods are a common sight.
Development in the gorge is carefully managed to maintain the rural and scenic character of the area. A drive through the area reveals multiple waterfalls, wind surfers, scenic viewpoints, salmon and sturgeon fishermen, and several small developments.
Bridal Veil, a microscopic dot on the map of the area, is a destination for many brides-to-be who want their wedding invitations postmarked from the small post office that is about all that remains of the former mining town.
Oregon Sand Dunes
The Oregon Sand Dunes are another national recreational area in Oregon. Extending along the Oregon coast from Coos Bay to Florence (about 40 miles), the area attracts thrill-seekers and adventurers.
Wind whips sand into impressive dunes, some as high as 500 feet above sea level. Tides, waves, and winds are constantly moving the sand and shifting the dunes.
Off-road vehicles riding, hiking, and photography are the most popular activities enjoyed by visitors, but snowboarders can be found sandboarding in recent years. Local guides/venues also provide tours for fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, and camping. There really is something for everyone in the area.
The Wallowa area, located in northeast Oregon, offers magnificent mountain views, amazing landscapes, and wilderness teeming with life. Hike to an alpine summit for dynamic views of Indian country and the high desert. Turn around on this same summit, and you’ll find Hells Canyon and the state of Idaho. The ruts of many wagon wheels can be found where the early Oregon Trail pioneers trod.
Horseback riding, camping, fishing, hiking, and camping are amongst the top activities in the area. But, you do not want to miss the gondola ride to the top of the mountain. The gondola takes you up 3700 feet from the Lake to the peak of Mount Howard in minutes.
Small towns scattered throughout the area provide local artist galleries, shopping, and good, home cooking. Handcrafted distilleries offer an excellent selection of local brews while chocolatiers will satisfy your sweet tooth. Let ghosts send a shiver in one of uninhabited (at least by human folk) towns as you explore.
Beautiful scenery is everywhere
Visit any or all of these sites for inspiration and relaxation. Take in a hike, snap a few pictures, or just relax at a campsite. You will return home relaxed and ready to come back.
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