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What are the ultimate Oregon half-day, full-day and overnight backcountry hikes?

I definitely have some suggestions. Here are some of my favorite half-day, full-day and overnight backpacking hikes:

Half-Day Hikes

Tumalo Mountain (Bend, Central Oregon): Tumalo is about 4-miles round-trip. The trail up Tumalo starts from Dutchman Flat parking area on Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and offers a steady climb rewarded with alpine wildflowers and beautiful views of Broken Top, the Three Sisters and the Cascade volcanoes to the north.

Mt. Bachelor (Bend, Central Oregon): Mt. Bachelor is about 6-miles round-trip. The trail starts from just right of the ski lift. Park along the side of the road at the Sunrise Lodge entrance (the parking lot is closed and gated), then walk toward the ski lift and look for the trail to your right. It winds up through the trees and pops out above treeline. The rest of the trail picks its way over lava rock, but the it’s easy to follow and the rock offers decent footing (though be careful on the descent). It will take you up to the summit ski lift, then you can continue up to the true summit via several trail options through the scree. On a clear day, you can see south all the way to Mt. Shasta in California and north to Mt. Adams in Washington. All around, you’ll see the Cascade Lakes that speckle the wilderness around Central Oregon.

Bald Mountain on the west side of Mt. Hood: This is a gorgeous area with stunning views of Mt. Hood’s rugged west side and the Sandy Glacier. Keep an eye out for huckleberries along the trail! The moderate hike is about 6.5 miles round-trip.

Here are some other great hikes near Mt. Hood. Most of these could be a half-day to full-day hike.

Full-Day Hikes

Mt. Defiance in the Columbia River Gorge: It’s about 12-13 miles round-trip and gains about 5,000 in elevation. It is challenging for sure! However, you’re rewarded with amazing views of the Columbia River, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood (at the top), and it’s one of the less-crowded hikes in the Gorge. I’d recommend looping back via Warren Lake Trail and jumping in the lake if it’s hot outside, then taking the Starvation Cutoff Trail back down to the trailhead. Note: This hike is very steep! Step carefully, or better yet, carry trekking poles.

Paradise Park from Timberline Lodge (Mt. Hood): This hike is about 12 miles round-trip and offers spectacular views of Mt. Hood, wildflowers in August and dramatic vistas of Zigzag Canyon. You can loop back on the famed Pacific Crest Trail through beautiful forest (and shade!)

Green Lakes/Soda Creek Trail (Bend, Central Oregon): This moderate hike is extremely popular for good reason; you’ll have the best experience coming on a weekday. It gradually climbs along a tumbling creek into a basin between South Sister and Broken Top mountains, with several pristine blue/green lakes. Take a side trip to Moraine Lake (adds about 4 miles) or continue past the first two lakes you see to another one that’s definitely less crowded. Jump in and swim if you dare! Return via the Soda Creek trail, which is amazingly beautiful and for some reason sees WAY less traffic than Green Lakes Trail. It’s about 9 miles out-and-back to Green Lakes, and 12 if you return via Soda Creek.

Overnight Hikes

Any of the above full-day hikes could be make into overnight trips, especially Paradise and Green Lakes.

Matthieu Lakes (McKenzie Pass, Central Oregon): This is a relatively easy 6-mile out-and-back with plenty of camping, beautiful lakes, and great views. Drop your packs, and continue up the PCT as far as you want to go for ever expansive views of North Sister and other Cascade volcanoes.

Benson Lake & Tenas Lakes (McKenzie Pass, Central Oregon): This hike is about 6-8 miles out-and-back, including options to continue to about a mile to Tenas Lakes and climb up Mt. Scott for expansive views of the surrounding areas.

Camp Lake & Chambers Lakes (Three Sisters Wilderness, Central Oregon): This is a moderate 14-mile out-and-back trip to a pristine alpine lake nestled between Middle and South Sister. Camp here, and scramble over the moraine to the west to see more glacial lakes (called Chambers Lakes).  Or if you have an extra day, summit Middle Sister via the trail on the southeast ridge!

Are there places to paddleboard near McMinnville?

Good question! Depends on what you define as “near.” I know lots of  folks paddleboard on the Willamette River…which isn’t right in McMinnville, but isn’t that far away, either. There are multiple places to put in/take out on the Willamette. I know people paddleboard from Wallace Marine Park in Salem, which is maybe 30 minutes from McMinnville.

Another place you might try if you want a contained location with no current to contend with is Henry Hagg Lake. It’s especially good for paddleboarders because it’s divided into two sections, one of which is a “no-wake” zone where folks who want to paddle on non-motorized craft can do so safely. It’s about 40 minutes north of McMinnville.

I would suggest you talk to local paddle sports outfitters — they’ll probably be more than happy to give you the rundown on the best spots. Oregon City-based eNRG Kayaking is a reputable local business that does guided trips and rentals on the Willamette River and around the northern end of the Willamette Valley.

Good luck and happy paddling to you! I recently tried out paddleboarding myself for the first time and had a blast.

Which Portland luxury hotels should we consider for our family reunion?

My first two recommendations would be either the Kimpton Riverplace or The Nines. Both are located in or near downtown Portland with access to MAX lightrail or streetcar as well as beautiful catered banquet rooms.

Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel (1510 SW Harbor Way) is located on the waterfront next to Tom McCall Park and is a six-minute walk away from the streetcar. Its proximity to the river, marina and park offer beautiful panoramic views, shopping and close access to many venues including the Keller Auditorium. Depending on time of year there may be festivals in the park or on the water.

The Nines Hotel (525 SW Morrison) is in the heart of downtown across the street from Pioneer Courthouse Square and Pioneer Mall. Just steps away from the MAX lightrail and many venues such as Arlene Schnitzer Hall. It also has an amazing pan-Asian rooftop bar/restaurant called Departure — Executive Chef Gregory Gourdet was named a runner-up in Top Chef.

Other great options are Hotel Monaco  (506 SW Washington), Benson Hotel (309 SW Broadway), Hotel Vintage (422 SW Broadway) and Hotel Modera (515 SW Clay) — all of which are in the heart of downtown Portland.

For kids that have never seen the ocean, what places should we visit?

The Oregon Coast is 363 miles of family friendly, but there are some great stops known for being kid-rrific. The town of Seaside is one of Oregon’s first beach resort towns and it is still known as one of the best family destinations in the Pacific Northwest. There is a lot of family friendly shopping, dining and attractions including a large arcade, bumper cars, go-carts, miniature golf and much more. Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach is a great place to explore the natural environment with kids. At its base are colorful tide pools and it is nesting ground to many varieties of birds including Tufted Puffins during the spring and summer.

Newport is also a fun destination for families. The Oregon Coast Aquarium is a great experience and Newport’s historic bay front is a fun mix of shops, restaurants and tourist attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not and a wax museum. Sea lions are usually barking up a storm and can be seen on the bay front docks. Yaquina Head is another great place for marine life watching and to explore tidepools. Beverly Beach State Park is a nice campground with beach access and is close to these attractions.

In Florence, the Sea Lion Caves is also a good option though the best viewing in the cave is usually during the winter or other stormy times. When the sea lions are not in the cave, they can usually be seen from viewing areas on the rocky shore below. If you have time to go further south, the Oregon Dunes is a great family recreation area. You can take a dune buggy tour, try sand boarding or just tumble and slide down the towering dunes. Honeyman State Park is a great family place to camp, combining the dunes with nature trails and freshwater lakes where you can rent canoes or paddleboats.

Another great family campground is Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay. It is adjacent to a pretty cove beach that is more calm and protected than some beaches that are less suited to wading or playing at ocean’s edge. There are two other state parks within minutes that offer great views including an overlook at Simpson Reef, one of the best places to see (and hear) seals and sea lions in their natural environment. The town of Bandon has a wildlife safari attraction with exotic animals and further south near Port Orford is a unique roadside attraction known as Prehistoric Gardens, a rainforest trail with life-size dinosaur statues.

Brush up on beach safety before your trip and happy exploring!

Answered by Gary Hayes, Ask Oregon Coast Expert on July 12th, 2017 - Post Your Answer

Are there campsites near the Painted Hills with restrooms?

Sounds like a really fun trip! The Painted Hills are one of my favorite places in Oregon, with a landscape that is both majestic and a little surreal when the sunlight hits it just right. One of the best campgrounds near the Painted Hills is the Clyde Holliday State Recreation Site, located between John Day and Mount Vernon right along the cool waters of the John Day River. This campground has both restrooms and hot showers available, and it has easy access for vehicles. The Mitchell City Park nearby also has restrooms but is in the town itself. To the west of the Painted Hills there is camping at Ochoco Divide that has restrooms and easy car access as well. The majority of other campgrounds in the area are considered primitive with less amenities.

The option for campfires in most places in Central and Eastern Oregon in August will be dependent on the posted level of fire danger, which at that time of year is likely to be high. Also keep in mind that many campgrounds in the region are already reserved for events surrounding the eclipse in later August, so try and beat the crowds by planning your trip early.

Information for the State Recreation Site is available here. Information for the Ochoco Divide Campground is available here. The National Park Service also has some helpful information about camping, information about the Painted Hills, and other services here.


Can you see the Gorge waterfalls from a vehicle?

The Columbia Gorge offers some pretty stunning sights that are easily accessible.  To see a panorama of the Columbia River and learn a bit about its history, visit the Vista House at Crown Point off the Historic Columbia River Highway. Depending on your mobility, you may be able to snap some photos at the first viewpoint at Multnomah Falls. The whole area is wheelchair accessible, and the first viewpoint is approximately 200 feet from the road. If you do decide to visit Multnomah, try arriving early or late on a weekday; it’s an incredibly popular spot and parking is limited. After visiting Multnomah, continue east on the historic highway for a few miles and you’ll see Horsetail Falls right from the road!

Another great option for views is to drive south on Hwy 35 from Hood River. You can stop at Panorama Point and then continue up Hwy 35 for close-up shots of Mt. Hood.  There’s no official viewpoint beyond Panorama Point, but there are plenty of places to pull over and snap some photos.

If you drive up Hwy 35 for views, you can combine it with a Fruit Loop tour to sample some local fruit, wine and cider (here’s a map.)  Most spots on this map require minimal mobility.

Finally, if you decide to continue east on I-84,  stop at Rowena Crest viewpoint for sweeping views of the Gorge and wildflower meadows. Rowena Crest is about 20 miles east of Hood River.

What’s the best hiking trail near Madras?

I suggest the 7-mile Tam-a-láu Trail loop hike near Lake Billy Chinook. It features a mile-long climb to the top of a lava plateau called the Peninsula, which separates the Deschutes River and Crooked River arms of Lake Billy Chinook. Hikers are treated to bird’s-eye views of the reservoir and the dramatic cliffs and plateaus that line the water. The hike starts at the Cove Palisades State Park Upper Deschutes Trailhead. Enjoy!


Where should we hike and mountain bike — and avoid crowds?

It sounds like you have quite the adventure planned! That is so exciting.

I recommend checking out Summer Lake Hot Springs. It’s a little out of the way — about two hours southeast of Bend — but I find it less crowded, beautiful, and very peaceful. On your way over from Portland, I’d also suggest stopping along the way at Timberline Lodge (if you’ve ever seen The Shining, you’ll recognize it right away!). You can get a beer there and sit outside on the patio right at the base of Mt. Hood. There are plenty of camping options along Highway 26 and some lakes to check out as well (Trillium Lake and Timothy Lake are not far off the highway).

Bend has lots of whitewater, mountain biking and hiking trails, and lakes. Things should be accessible by early July.

Oakridge is also known for its world-class mountain biking trails, and there are some hot springs near there as well! Oakridge is located near the Willamette Pass, just south of Eugene. If you hit it right, you’ll find a bounty of huckleberries (in late summer). Also, the McKenzie River trail between Bend and Eugene is a classic mountain bike destination. You can probably find friends in Bend to do a car shuttle with (so you can ride 30 miles in one direction), or you could hire Cog Wild to shuttle you. A little further south is the Umpqua River Trail, another mountain biking classic. The Umpqua Hot Springs are nearby too, as well as Mt. Thielsen and Crater Lake. Mt. Thielsen is a great day hike — you can hike up about 4.5 miles and scramble to the summit if you’re comfortable with the exposure, or you could turn around lower down and still get some incredible views. Crater Lake is a must-do, even if you just drive up to the rim and take a peak at the immense, bluest-blue lake. If you go over to the east side of Rim Drive, you could hike Mt. Scott, another great day hike that should not be too crowded, especially if you get an early start.

As for the Oregon Coast, you really can’t go wrong. I’d suggest driving along Highway 101 and stopping along the way to see whatever piques your interest! There are tons of hiking trails, places to camp, and coastal sights to see. I love hiking up Neahkahnie Mountain from Oswald West State Park & Short Sands Beach, and hiking at Cape Lookout, Cascade Head, and Heceta Head Lighthouse.

What places on the Central and South Coast are wheelchair accessible?

Many of the top attractions and viewpoints on the Oregon Coast are wheelchair accessible. Here is a list of some of my favorite Central and South Coast areas that offer wheelchair accessibility:

Depoe Bay Whale Watch Center: This is a facility operated by Oregon State Parks that is one of the best whale watching locations year-round with both indoor and outdoor viewing areas. State Parks personnel are on hand to help visitors spot whales.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area: Paved paths offer great views and circle a scenic lighthouse. There’s also a wheelchair accessible intertidal area at Quarry Cove. Seabirds, seals and whales are common sightings.

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area: Variety of paved paths offer views from atop the cape and along a scenic stretch of oceanfront at Cook’s Chasm for views of Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well. A nearby paved overlook offers views of Devil’s Churn. The Visitor Center offers a good whale watching viewpoint.

Heceta Head Lighthouse Highway Viewpoints: Just south of Sea Lion Caves are two small highway-side viewpoints that offer wonderfully scenic views of the beautiful Heceta Head Lighthouse.

Oregon Dunes Day Use Area: Just south of Florence, this dunes overlook offers access to wheelchair accessible viewing areas of the Oregon Dunes.

Shore Acres State Park: A must-stop with paved trails along a cliffside famous for great wave action, seals, sea lions and whales. The formal gardens of a one-time historic estate can also be toured. Nearby, the Simpson Reef overlook is one of the best places to watch seal lions on the entire Oregon Coast. Nearby Cape Arago State Park also offers paved paths and overlooks good for whale watching.

Coquille Point in Bandon: A beautiful overlook of the many rock formations along Bandon’s beautiful beach and a network of paved paths. The nearby Face Rock viewpoint offers more great views and a short paved pathway.

Battle Rock Park in Port Orford: Beautiful view of coastline to the south.

Arch Rock & Spruce Islands Viewpoint: The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor offers a few nice wheelchair accessible stops, but this is my favorite. A few paved paths (some a little rough) offer great views of a scenic stretch of coastline.

Harris Beach State Park: Paved paths at the day use area of the park offers nice views of the rock strewn shoreline.

Answered by Gary Hayes, Ask Oregon Coast Expert on June 1st, 2017 - Post Your Answer

Where is the best place to have a picnic on the I-5 corridor between Portland and Salem?

What a fun question! Here are my top recommendations.

Memorial Park in Wilsonville. This would be a really easy stop for getting on and off I-5 and a great place to get out and stretch your legs. Heading south from Portland, you’d just take exit 283, then head east for 1 mile. Memorial Park is in the middle of the Portland suburb of Wilsonville but the park itself is big (126 acres) with picnic areas, trails, a creek and even some frontage of the Willamette River. I lived near there several years ago and my kids’ favorite thing to do in the summer was walk to this park and play in the splash park on hot sunny days. (It has covered picnic areas for not-so-sunny days too.)

Champoeg State Heritage Area. This one is about 11 miles west of the freeway, but it’s a really lovely state park. It’s not only in a very pretty area alongside the Willamette River, it also has some very cool historic sites you can visit that might be fun for breaking up your journey. If you go during the summer you can stop and get an ice cream cone at the historic Butteville store, the oldest continuously operating retail establishment in Oregon!

Bauman’s Farm & Garden in Gervais. A farm and garden store might not seem like a great place for a picnic, but this one is. Bauman’s Farm is a family-owned farm, nursery with an on-site bakery and farm store. Their bakery is to die for and they have places to sit down. Buy a homemade cookie or donut to go with your picnic, or in the summer buy fresh produce to enjoy. They’re open year-round, and they’re only 5 miles off the freeway.

Willamette Mission State Park is a peaceful state park about 5 miles west of the freeway. It’s mainly a nature preserve with plenty of open area for picnicing and trails you can walk on. Depending on how much time you have, you can also take a ride on the Wheatland Ferry, which takes cars and people back and forth across the Willamette River at a crossing adjacent to the park. Its’s one of a handful of river ferryboats that are still operating in Oregon. You can just ride over and back, either on foot or with your car, for the fun of it (and for a nominal fee) even if you don’t have a pressing matter on the other side. My kids think riding the ferry is fun, but maybe they’re just easily amused!

If you’re into wine tasting, you might also try having your picnic at Arcane Cellars instead of Willamette Mission State Park. Arcane Cellars is just across the river from Willamette Mission State Park and the Wheatland Ferry. It’s family-owned by friendly folks and they make great small-batch Oregon wine. They have a tasting room, a covered patio area and picnic areas for visitors. They also have a very charming winery cat who greeted me when I visited there. If you visit on a weekday that’s in the off season (i.e., not the summer) you will want to check with them to verify that they’ll be open, or make an appointment. Like many small Oregon wineries, they have limited hours during the off season.

I hope you have a pleasant drive and find a good spot for your picnic. Enjoy your visit to the Willamette Valley!

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