Ask Oregon Questions & Answers
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.
This is a really great question! I actually took a driving tour through this same area of Oregon at the end of October last fall. So, for starters, I’d say that time is one of the best to go. I don’t think you’d want to go any later than the middle of November (too cold!) and no sooner than August (too hot!).
If you start your road trip near Burns, you can drive through both Malheur and Mud Lakes (they’re not really lakes, more or less dried up lake beds). This area of Oregon is completely different from any other I’ve experienced but it was mesmerizing how big the sky was and how nice the people were. From there, you can continue southeast on the 205 through Frenchglen. I’d recommend staying at the Frenchglen Hotel. It’s a quaint hotel that was built in 1916 by a meat-packing company but now hosts five rooms for guests. Just across the road from the hotel is an awesome wildlife and bird viewing area. I walked around in there for about three hours and didn’t get bored once. Even in late October there were plenty of critters to see and there was a family of bald eagles nesting about 50 yards off the road. It was incredible! After leaving Frenchglen a fun option and short drive to the Pete French Round Barn is really cool. Otherwise, you can drive up to the top of Steens Mountain and look out at the Alvord Desert about 300 feet below you, stretching out for miles.
Other options would be to bypass the mountain road and take a dip in some of the local hot springs. Mickey Hot Springs and the Alvord Hot Springs were great and it only cost $5.00 to check them out and drop my toes in.
If you continue taking HWY 205 SE you’ll find yourself among one of the most jaw=dropping places in Oregon: the Alvord Desert. You can drive over and through it, you can camp in it, you can do just about anything you want to do there. It’s similar to the Salt Flats in Utah but way, way more intensely beautiful. And if you take the Fields-Dieno Road all the way back up to HWY 95 East, you’ll get to the Jordan Valley with some time to spare.
|Eastern Oregon, Outdoor Adventure|
There are several choices for good port or fishing towns on the Oregon Coast. On the North Oregon Coast, you could consider Astoria with its working riverfront ranging from fishing boats and international commercial ships to recreational boats and cruise ships. There’s a lovely river walk that allows you to take in the views of boats on the river and in port. The river walk passes a combination of working waterfront businesses and brew pubs, restaurants and coffee shops, along with the amazing Columbia River Maritime Museum that would be a must stop for you. For a luxury stay, you could book a room at the Cannery Pier Hotel that is built on the river pier of a former cannery and you could watch the river traffic from your room. Other options include Victorian bed and breakfasts, downtown boutique hotels or traditional hotels.
On the Central Oregon Coast, I would recommend Newport with its large bay front port on Yaquina Bay. It’s a fun place to walk, offering a unique combination of commercial fish processing along with tourist shops, restaurants and attractions. You’ll find some bay front accommodations and other local attractions are nearby including two historic lighthouses and the world-class Oregon Coast Aquarium. On the bay front, there is a small maritime museum. There are beautiful stretches of beach nearby too! The short day trip to Depoe Bay would allow you to visit the worlds smallest navigable harbor, as well as look for whales at the oceanfront Whale Watch Center.
There are several interesting choices on the South Oregon Coast. I love the character of the small fishing port of Charleston southwest of Coos Bay. Just minutes from the port is a string of three beautiful State Parks on Cape Arago. The Cape Arago Lighthouse can be seen from various viewpoints nearby. Accommodations near Charleston are more limited, but you will find many choices in North Bend and Coos Bay, a major shipping port. I love the town of Bandon for its amazing beach with dramatic rock formations. It has a small port on the Coquille River, but it would make a great base for exploring north to Charleston and south to Port Orford, a small fishing port, but home of the only dry dock port on the West Coast where boats are lifted directly in and out of the ocean’s waters by crane. Bandon makes relaxation time in the evening easy with an Old Town area and riverfront boardwalk where you will find some of the community’s best shopping and dining.
You will find that there are TONS of accessible sights along the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway, including Multnomah Falls. There is an elevator in the historic lodge there and a wheelchair ramp to the main viewing area. The trail is paved all the way to the bridge, but it might be a little steep for someone with limited mobility.
Other waterfalls easily accessible are Latourell, Wahkeena, and Horsetail Falls. All of those areas are paved, and easily seen within a short distance from the road.
Also, make sure to stop at Vista House at Crown Point. There is a wheelchair ramp into the building, and an elevator inside to access the lower floor.
|Mt Hood & Columbia Gorge|
Both April and May are great times to visit wineries in the Willamette Valley, but if I had to pick I’d lean toward May because it’s Oregon Wine Month and many wineries are offering special events and tastings that they don’t offer at other times of the year.
Depending on your preferences, you may or may not want to come on Memorial Day Weekend. Memorial Day is traditionally the kick-off to the summer season in Oregon Wine Country, and you’ll find lots and lots of special events and fun things going on at almost every vineyard and tasting room in the state.
That said, it may be more crowded that weekend that on other weekends this spring, so it just depends on if you want a fun, vibrant, busy atmosphere, or if you’d rather get a little more personal attention from the wineries you visit. The same holds true a weekday vs. weekend visit. Some of the small boutique wineries in the valley are only open on the weekends, but bigger places are open most days of the week — you’ll want to check websites or call ahead to check on their tasting room hours. On a weekend (especially if it’s sunny) it will be busier at the wineries. If you go on a weekday afternoon, there’s a chance you might be the only guests and will be able to have plenty of time to chat with the winery staff!
Another fun tip: if you’re traveling to Oregon via Alaska Airlines, there is a special program that allows Alaska Airlines passengers to ship Oregon Wine home for free!
|Willamette Valley, Wine|
We love Oregon yurts! If you’ll be combining your Crater Lake tour with Oregon coast vacationing, there are a number of great state parks with yurts at your disposal (though reserve far in advance). If not, the closest yurt rentals are at LaPine State park, outside of Bend. However, this park has rustic cabins, not yurts (though you get the same amenities). On the other side of Crater Lake, the closest yurts are at Valley of the Rogue. Each are about 2 hours’ drive from Crater Lake, in different directions.
I’m glad you brought this question up, because I was a little hesitant to bring my dog along with me to Bend last weekend. Fortunately, U.S. Forest Service regulations allow dogs, leashed or unleashed, on the south side of Century Drive, en route to Mt. Bachelor. I’d highly recommend Wanoga and Edison Sno-Parks.
There’s also a dog park on the far right side of the parking lot at Mt. Bachelor. I’m not sure if this is affiliated with either of the sno-parks, but there are plenty of dogs playing and running around in this area, so if you’re up for skiing at Bachelor, a lunch break at the dog park isn’t so bad.
Wanoga Sno-Park is great, too. And it’s probably the only groomed, dog-friendly sno-park in Oregon.
Edison Sno-Park sits in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor. The mountain acts as a pretty great wind block but the trails aren’t groomed. When the snow is good, I’d recommend this area, but when it’s icy it can get a little treacherous.
I came across this site for you to look at, too. In case you have any more questions, feel free to email me back and I can help you find some more dog-friendly activities.
|Outdoor Adventure, Snow Sports|
Another recommendation that is family and kid-friendly is Camp Dakota Adventures. They offer 6 different zip lines as well as a Challenge Course for you and your family to navigate your way through the tress, over barriers and between ropes.
If you have any more questions, I’m happy to help, so please let me know!
Thanks a lot,
I actually just attended the Oregon Truffle Festival last month, which is an amazing event if you want to learn more about truffle hunting when it comes around again next January. I learned a little bit about truffle-hunting, but you’ll probably have to seek out a true pro for expert advice. Here’s what I can tell you:
*Oregon white truffles grow underneath Douglas fir trees. They like stands of trees that are between 15-30 years old. I am not aware of a white Douglas fir variety (though I’m not a botanist!) There is a tree known as the white fir, but that is a different species. White fir: http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_abco.pdf; Douglas fir: http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_psme.pdf
*They can be anywhere near the root system of the tree, so yes, they can be farther out from the tree. They can be anywhere from an inch under the soil to much deeper.
*They are in season now although it may be tapering off. They are ripe in the winter months and tend to be at their peak around January.
*As far as where to hunt them around Cottage Grove, I’d contact your local forest service office to find out about public lands where you can hunt them. You have to be careful about hunting them on private land—make sure you have permission from the land owner before you go out. Some private land owners have contracts with professional truffle hunters and lease the foraging rights on their land.
Cottage Grove Ranger District: 541-767-5000. Also, truffle hunting now requires a permit, so talk to your ranger about that as well.
Here is a great video that will give you a visual and a ton of good information about what Oregon truffle-hunting looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zkv0KKJbYg
The gentleman featured in the video is Jack Czarnecki, owner of Oregon Truffle Oil and an expert on Oregon truffles.
Another good resource if you want to learn is to go out on a foray with a professional hunter, like Kris Jacobsen of Umami Truffle Dogs in Eugene. (http://umamitruffledogs.com/) The other benefit hiring a truffle guide to take you out is that many of them use a dog to hunt. When you hunt with a dog, vs. raking, you are guaranteed to find ripe truffles, because the ripe ones give off the aroma that attracts animals. (Unripe truffles may ripen over time if stored in a container in the fridge, but ripe truffles have the true truffle aroma and are immediately ready for use).
I was lucky enough to go out on a truffle hunt at the truffle festival this year, and it was a really neat experience. Good luck to you—I hope you find some!
Rockaway Beach makes a good base for exploring the coast north and south with several great accessible attractions for the elderly or those with mobility issues. A good day trip north would include taking in the amazing highway-side viewpoints on Neahkahnie Mountain north of Manzanita and a visit to Ecola State Park where amazing viewpoints are just steps away and paved walking paths lead to more stunning views. Cannon Beach and Manzanita are small beach towns that are easy to explore.
To the south of Rockaway Beach, the day trip to Cape Meares is my favorite, offering great views just off the parking area and paved paths that lead to a lighthouse. The Three Capes Scenic route can make an extended day trip including Cape Meares, Cape Lookout State Park and Cape Kiwanda at Pacific City.
One of the most popular activities in the Rockaway Beach area is crabbing which you will find just to the north on Nehalem Bay. Local marinas offer crab ring rentals and bait. You can crab from the docks or rent a boat, then have your catch cooked up dockside for the freshest crab dinner ever.