Fun question! There are a few places in the Willamette Valley that are known as being great for rockhounding.
The areas surrounding the South Santiam River, the Calapooia River, and Quartzville creek (all of these are about an hour southeast of Salem) are popular with rockhounders and folks who pan for gold as well. Also, check out this website and this BLM brochure for the Quartzville Mining Corridor.
Another fun place for rock-lovers is called Holleywood Ranch. It’s located in the hills outside of Sweet Home (again, southeast of Salem, near to the other locations I’m mentioning). It is a piece of private land that happens to have huge deposits of petrified wood and rocks. They’ve opened it up to the public for folks who want to come pay a small fee and dig for their own petrified wood. It’s a fascinating place!
For more information, the Bureau of Land Management provides great resources on rockhounding in Oregon and might be able to help you track down more locations.
Ten days is the perfect amount of time to have the greatest vacation, ever.
If you’re starting in Portland, I’d recommend taking a day to check out the city. It sounds like you and I like all of the same things, so I’m going to give you a hot and fast list of what I would do.
Day 1: Portland
Day 2-3: Skydiving, then the Oregon Coast
Day 4: More Coast
Just under two hours driving, if you head south on the 101 toward Florence, you’ll find plenty, and I mean PLENTY, of things to keep you occupied. From lighthouses to more paragliding outfitters and surf shops, to Cape Perpetua and the Hobbit Trail to Seal Rock and the Newport Historic Bay District, this drive won’t disappoint. I’d recommend finding a crab shack somewhere along the way to feast more than just your eyes. Yum!
One of my favorite places to camp on the Coast is Honeyman State Park just South of Florence, OR.
Day 5: Southern Oregon
Get some coffee. You might need it by now.
From Florence, I’d head South down the Coast toward Reedsport and then start heading SE toward Roseburg. This little town (Roseburg) is adorable. It’s a great place to check out and a good place to stop for lunch before you continue heading East toward Crater Lake National Park. You’ll drive through Umpqua National Park to get there, which is phenomenal in itself, but also has one of the most beautiful hot springs in the entire state (in my opinion), the Umpqua Hot Springs. From here, you can head south toward Crater Lake, passing Mt. Thielsen and Diamond Lake.
…Honestly, I’d probably check out Diamond Lake first. And, if you’re feeling salty, the hike to the top of Thielsen isn’t bad. It’s long but even if you don’t make it to the top, the views are unbeatable and the air is crisp enough to get you recharged from all the driving.
Day 6: Crater Lake National Park
Okay. This place. Woofta. It’s hard for me to explain in words just how amazing this place is. I actually started crying the first time I saw it. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I just don’t know. It was beautiful. It was insanely blue. It was huge. And now I tell everyone I can to go visit it and explore the trails and fire lookouts and cliff jumping and camping this place has to offer because I think it seriously changed me. I think I’m going back this weekend.
Day 7: Maybe stay in Crater Lake another night?
Day 8: Drive North toward Bend.
Alright, next up, Beertopia, USA. aka Bend, Oregon. Just under a 2 hour drive from Crater Lake National Park and along a windy, emerald green tunnel through Umpqua National Forest, you’ll get to Bend and wonder why you’ve never been here before. You can also stop at the hot springs again if you want! Bend has everything from the Deschutes River running through the middle of town, to more micro breweries and beer than you’ll know what to do with. There’s also Mt. Bachelor, the Cascade Lakes and Smith Rock. If you’re into rock climbing or want an awesome day hike, head to Smith Rock State Park and head up the Misery Ridge trail. It’s about 4 miles round trip but gives you unbeatable views of the area with a handful of (yep, you guessed it) more volcanoes on the horizon.
Day 9: Columbia River Gorge OR Mt. Hood
This one’s up to you. I love them both and they’re both in the way of you getting back to Portland.
Day 10: WHOAH!
What a trip, huh? Sounds like you might be ready for a hot shower and your own bed.
Glad you’re making the trip up! Crater Lake is absolutely worth the visit in the off-season. Some winters, it’s still covered in snow in March and April, but this year, it’s very manageable. The closest true town to Crater Lake is Prospect, Oregon, which has lodging options. We love the Prospect Historic Hotel for an B&B option, or nearby in Union Creek, the Union Creek Resort offers rustic cabins in a wooded setting. Either way, be sure to stop by Beckie’s Cafe for homemade berry pie!
There are also options to stay at Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake Lodge is the quintessential lodge experience, and in the off-season, you may even get a reservation (it fills up fast in summer). Nearby, the cabins at Mazama offer additional lodging, but bear in mind that this area of the park does not have lake views, and may not be open.
Otherwise, another good option for you is staying in Ashland and commuting up to the park for the day (about a two-hour drive, with nice stops for hikes around Union Creek). Ashland has wonderful dining and shopping, and a fun, vibrant arts scene. I’d be happy to recommend lodging here if you’d be interested.
That’s a tough one. There are a wide variety of kayaking opportunities along Oregon’s 363-mile coastline and the “best” would really be determined by your skill level and the type of paddling experience you are after. There are scenic bays, rivers and estuaries, especially in Tillamook County; there are large lakes, notably in the Florence area; and there are whitewater thrills on the wild rivers of the South Oregon Coast. There is also some great ocean kayaking all along the coast for experienced kayakers and even some scenic ocean kayaking, including guided tours, suitable for less experienced paddlers.
Fleece is king here, as is dressing in layers. The weather in March can be a bit unpredictable — bright sunshine one minute, thunderstorms the next. So just be prepared for a bit of everything.
I wouldn’t suggest going down to Oneonta Gorge it in spring unless you are in waterproof clothing. If 50 degrees is cold for you, than that water is going to be downright frigid. We were just at our local river the other day, when it was 60+ degrees outside, and my hand got really cold just reaching in for a rock. The temperature also tends to be a lot colder back in Oneonta Gorge. Generally, this is only a hike I would suggest doing on a hot summer day, otherwise you risk hypothermia pretty fast. The water will be at least waist deep.
However, you can hike up Oneonta Gorge a bit without getting so wet. There are also LOTS of other stunning waterfall hikes in the area that don’t require getting so wet, and if you head a little further east, depending on how warm the spring has been, you can also catch some stunning wildflower displays at places like Rowena Crest and Mosier.
|Mt Hood & Columbia Gorge|
First things first: Winter rules Crater Lake National Park. It can start closing seasonal roads in mid-October and last through June. An average year sees 44 feet of snow dropped on the park. Obviously 2015 hasn’t been an average year. So with that in mind, things can change dramatically but if I were to place a bet… I think it will be open. You might get cold. But the road should be open. Please review current conditions before your visit. Highway 62 and the road to Rim Village (Munson Valley Road) are plowed and open all year. However, snowy and icy road conditions can occur anytime, resulting in temporary road closures.
If you’re looking to camp, I’d recommend Mazama Campground and Lost Creek Campground. Both Campground loops and sites open as snow removal progresses. But keep in mind that snowmelt can last through June and while snow persists, mosquitoes may be numerous. And at Crater Lake… they’re pretty numerous. For more on the current weather at Crater Lake, click here.
As far as hiking trails go, this is where things get fun!
There is so much to see and there are so many trails to hike. Here are a few of the best hikes I’ve been on and my all-time favorite hikes near Crater Lake.
This hike is unlike anything else. To get started, check the park tour boat schedule and buy a ticket. You’ll begin your hike down the rim to Cleetwood Cove and then ride the boat to Wizard Island. When you get there, you’ll be invited to hike to the 6,940-foot top of the island… which will show you how it got its name. Afterwards, you’ll ride the boat back to Cleetwood Cove and hike the steepest part of the outing back to your car. Or you could stay, take in the sunset, swim in the clear, icy-blue water or have a picnic on the rocks.
Beginning from the west at Seven Lakes trailhead, head toward Devil’s Peak. Or, alternatively, head for the south part of the wilderness and hike the trail up Mount McLoughlin, Southern Oregon’s highest mountain.
The highest point inside the park is actually Oregon’s 10th highest mountain. Crazy, right? Fortunately, it’s a relatively easy five-mile round-trip hike that gets lots of use when accessible, which isn’t usually until July through early October.
Other hikes to include:
This is an unusual request, but I’ll do my best! Will you be in the outdoors a lot? Because the most off-the-beaten path locations will probably be outside. On that line of thought, my first idea is Mt. Ashland. Any time of year, the Mt. Ashland access road is accessible, and in spring and summer, it’s possible to hike and picnic up there (or ski in winter). The historic lodge will not be open in the off-season, but if you drive to the end of the parking lot and drive or walk up the dirt road, you can get to a nice trail that leads to the summit (you hike up the back). It’s a beautiful spot for a proposal, and only about a mile hike.
Otherwise, another nice spot is Lithia Park in Ashland. It does get crowded, depending on the weather and day, but if you go to the top of the park (park above the playground and walk up the trail), the upper duck pond area is rarely crowded. In the summer and fall, the stand of trees across the street from the upper duck pond is a nice area, too.
In the Applegate area, any of the wineries on the Applegate Wine Trail are scenic, and often not crowded. It would be easy to take a walk from the tasting area into the vines for a proposal. Hope this helps!
Two days traveling the Oregon Coast means severely limit stopping and spending any time at the many attractions along the 363-mile coastline. Newport or Yachats make a good first overnight stop to explore some of the amazing scenic areas on the Central Oregon Coast. Top scenic attractions to make time for include Devils Punchbowl, Yaquina Head (Newport area) and the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area (just south of Yachats)
I would spend my second night in Bandon after a stop at the three amazing State Parks on Cape Arago southwest of Coos Bay. The beach at Bandon is decorated with dramatic rock formations and is one of the most scenic beaches of any adjacent to an Oregon Coast town. You could rejoin I-5 via OR 42 E from Bandon, but if you choose to travel further south along the coast, make time for visiting the Cape Blanco Lighthouse and the viewpoints along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.
First blooms usually start appearing around mid to late April, and continuing until the hot (well, hot for Oregon) weather arrives sometime in early July. To catch a nice selection of wildflowers, I would probably suggest sometime in early to mid May. The exception to this is the higher elevations around Mt. Hood, where the lupine usually hit peak in mid to late June. It’s all dependent on weather conditions, and how long it stays cold. I think the wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge are really spectacular in the first couple of weeks of May, when the bleeding hearts are blooming, along with a variety of other things.
|Mt Hood & Columbia Gorge|
A girls weekend sounds fabulous! You really can’t go wrong in any part of the Willamette Valley if you’re looking for wine, food and fun. Since you specifically asked about something that’s reasonably priced, I’m going to pass along a few ideas for places to stay that I know are a bit off the beaten path and somewhat easier on the budget.
The Grand Hotel in Salem offers a Wine Trail package that is a good deal. I’ve stayed at the Grand and it’s a very comfortable hotel, and it’s an easy drive to the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, which has absolutely world-class wineries. However, because it’s further from Portland, lodging in this area is a little less expensive — and the wineries may be a little crowded on a weekend (although nothing in Oregon will be crowded compared to wine regions like Napa).
Consider staying at Sweet Cheeks Winery Farmhouse. Since you’re traveling in a group, perhaps a house rental in a vineyard might be fun? Divided out among the members of your group, the price per night is probably lower than booking individual hotel rooms. It’s right next to Sweet Cheeks winery, which is one of my favorite wineries in the South Willamette Valley; lots of other great wineries in this region, including King Estate, which is stunning and has a wonderful winery restaurant which would be great for a special dinner together.
If you’re looking for something budget-friendly in the northern part of the Willamette Valley (Dundee Hills, Carlton, Newberg, McMinnville), which is where many of Oregon’s most famous wineries are, I’d suggest Hotel Oregon. It’s a renovated historic hotel on 3rd Street in downtown McMinnville, and is walking distance to tasting rooms and great restaurants (plus the hotel has a restaurant and four bars onsite!). The rooms in this hotel are European style, which means they are on the smaller side and some of them have shared bathrooms accessed via the hallway (other rooms with private baths are available too). But the rooms are all very nice and decorated with quirky hand-painted murals. I’ve stayed there and had a great time! Plus you really cannot beat the prices at this place for a historic hotel in the heart of Oregon Wine Country.