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Which Willamette Valley sites are not-to-miss or off the beaten path?

Glad to hear you’ll be visiting the Willamette Valley! An early welcome to you. Wineries, historic sites, scenic spots, good food, and off the beaten path experiences–those are some of my favorite things too and you’ll definitely find them here! Here are some of my favorites:

Wineries:

  • Here are seven wineries that are known for having gorgeous views.
  • There were four Willamette Valley wineries that made Wine Spectator’s top 100 list this year: Evening Land, Big Table Farm, Bergstrom, and Solena Estate
  • A few others that are personal favorites of mine: Brooks Winery in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley–great wines, beautiful views, and a gorgeous but relaxed tasting room that makes you want to linger there all day; Brick House Vineyards, a small producer that’s open by appointment only. When you get an appointment, it’s a private tasting around the “tasting table” in their winery, which is a beautiful old converted horse barn right next to the vineyard.

Historic Sites:

  • Thompson Mills State Heritage Site, Shedd: A real, working flour mill from pioneer days that’s been turned into a state park.
  • Oregon State Capitol, Salem: The capitol building in downtown Salem is fun to visit, especially if you hike all the way to the observation deck at the top, right beneath the “Golden Pioneer” statue
  • Evergreen Aviation Museum, McMinnville: If you like aircraft or the history of flight even a little bit, this is a fun museum. It’s the home of Howard Hughes’ famous “Spruce Goose,” which still to this day has the largest wingspan of any aircraft ever built.
  • Aurora Colony, Aurora: In the 1850s, a group of German and Swiss immigrants crossed the Oregon Trail and built a commune; today, it’s preserved a historic site full of beautiful old buildings built by German craftsmen.
  • End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon City: The Willamette Valley was the “promised land” at the end of the Oregon Trail; this historic site is devoted to telling the pioneer story.

 

Off-the-eaten-path experiences:

  • Farm Loops–drive a farm loop and you can take a cooking class in a converted cattle barn, stop and pick your own berries, meet an alpaca, or get up close and personal with a herd of elk.
  • Albany Historic Carousel Carving Studio–watch woodcarvers bring wooden carousel animals to life before your eyes! Hundreds of volunteers have devoted thousands of hours to hand-carving and hand-painting 52 truly stunning wooden carousel animals to re-populate a historic carousel. I love visiting the carving studio and watching the artists create lions, unicorns, horses, dragons and more.
  • Cascade Raptor Center–visit a rescue facility for wild birds and you’ll see eagles, owls, falcons and more
  • Wine-tasting or Beer-tasting via the Willamette River — Book a trip with Cascadia Expeditions and you’ll get to go for a lovely guided raft, canoe, or kayak trip down the Willamette River with stops for local beer or wine.
  • Unusual overnighters–Spend the night in a vintage trailer, or a grain silo, or a tipi, or sleep in a treetop–there are several off-the-beaten-path places to stay overnight.
  • Camp Dakota–Ride a zipline, throw a tomahawk, do a high-ropes challenge course–you can find all kinds of adventurous fun at Camp Dakota.

Is it true Oregon is pet-friendly? Can I hike in most state and local parks with my dog?

You heard correctly, the PNW is a very dog-friendly place. You can hike in any State Park with your dog as long as you keep them on a leash and clean up after them. And if you’re looking for a few different, non-state park hikes, checkout Oregon Hikers Field Guide. In each description of every hike, it’ll tell you whether or not it’s dog-friendly. And if you’re still looking, check out the book, Best Hikes for Dogs in Oregon.

In case of rain, what are some indoor activities between Cannon Beach to Yachats?

Cannon Beach offers great shopping and art galleries, most within the two block downtown area. Mo’s offers casual dining with an ocean view and Wayfarer Restaurant offers more upscale dining with views. One of my favorite things for a rainy day is a visit to Icefire Glassworks in midtown Cannon Beach where you can often watch glassblowers at work. Other indoor attractions include the Cannon Beach History Center and live theater at the Coaster Theatre Playhouse.

As you travel south, you could consider a stop at the Tillamook County Creamery visitor center, home to Tillamook Cheese. There is a self-guided tour, samples, food and shopping. In Lincoln City, the Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio is another opportunity to watch glass blowing, or blow your own piece of art glass with the help of the artists there. Lincoln City also features a large outlet shopping center connected by covered walkways. There are a number of ocean view restaurants, but my top choice for views would be Fathoms on the 10th floor of the Inn at Spanish Head. Chinook Winds Casino is the other major indoor attraction in Lincoln City.

In Depoe Bay, the Whale Watch Center operated by Oregon State Parks is one of the best places to spot whales nearly year-round on the Oregon Coast. Tidal Raves offers nice ocean front dining and you can watch for whales from your table. In Newport, the Oregon Coast Aquarium makes a great rainy day stop. Other indoor attractions include a maritime museum, wax museum and Ripley’s Believe it or Not on the historic bay front where you will also find interesting shops and bay view dining. Georgie’s Beachside Grill offers ocean view dining. Yachats is just minutes away from the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area that features an indoor visitor center. A little further down the coast is Sea Lion Caves offering an elevator down to a large sea cave often occupied by sea lions during inclement weather.

Answered by Gary Hayes, Ask Oregon Coast Expert on May 9th, 2016 - Post Your Answer

What attractions are recommended for kids in Southern Oregon?

You’ll have a great time with kids in Southern Oregon! On the Oregon Coast, I highly recommend staying at Whaleshead Resort. They have very unique and beautiful cabins for rent that overlook the ocean, and a pedestrian walkway takes you directly to the beach. The upper units have the best views, but the lower units are in coastal forests and are on flatter streets (perfect for kids to play or ride bikes).

If you’d rather camp, Harris Beach State Park has wonderful yurts to stay in, but you’ll need to reserve early. Lesser known, Alfred Loab State Park is located on the Chetco River above Brookings, and has riverside campsites. You can access the coastal redwoods there too.

Between Grants Pass and the Coast, you’ll find Out ‘n About Treesort, which has treehouses to stay the night in. Even if you aren’t staying over, it’s worth a stop to try their zip lines. Nearby, Oregon Caves National Monument offers an excellent cave tour, but check to see if your kids are tall enough to enter. As you depart the coast on Highway 199, you should also stop at the CA redwoods (there’s info at the bottom of this post).

Right in Grants Pass, the Jet Boat Tours are fun for kids; they zip along the Rogue River, and some go as far as the ocean.

Enjoy your trip!

Am I able to ski in Oregon at the beginning of June?

Yes, you can ski in Oregon in June! There is usually summer snow on the Palmer Glacier at Timberline, located on Oregon’s crown jewel, Mount Hood. It’s just an hour and a half drive from Portland. At Timberline, you can rent skis and take lessons from the best ski instructors in Oregon (in my opinion). Oregon is pumped for your visit!

From northern Idaho, what’s the best Oregon destination?

Wallowa Lake is close to the Idaho boarder and offers visitors with some amazing hiking and sightseeing opportunities. As far as overnight stays, there is a great state park at the lake, where you can camp, in addition to many different cabins and hotels right there. Joseph is a nice place to visit and stay; there are a lot of unique stores and places to eat. Also, not far away, Hells Canyon is good on sunny days and is a nice place to explore.

Where can we go whale watching?

You can spot whales nearly year-round on the Oregon Coast. Gray Whales migrate along the Oregon Coast twice a year, once in spring as they are headed north and in winter when headed south. There are about 200 whales that only migrate as far north as Oregon and can be seen nearly year-round until they return to their breeding waters off Mexico where they stay between December and February.

During the non-migratory times, the best place to spot whales is along the Central Oregon Coast between Lincoln City and Newport. Depoe Bay is one of the best places to see whales during the non-migratory times. Oregon State Parks operates the oceanfront Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay where parks personnel assist visitors in spotting whales and offer interpretive information. Another good bet is The Lookout at the Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint, another facility operated by Oregon State Parks. The towns of Depoe Bay and Newport also offer whale watching boat excursions.

During the annual migrations, Oregon State Parks coordinates Whale Watch Weeks in late December and late March when the number of migrating whales is typically at its peak. Of the migratory periods, the Spring migration offers the best opportunity to spot whales as the trip is taken at a leisurely pace and the whales travel closer to shore. A few whales migrating north will be seen into the summer including slow traveling mothers with newborn calves.

Answered by Gary Hayes, Ask Oregon Coast Expert on April 29th, 2016 - Post Your Answer

Are there flower fields not too far off Interstate 5?

You’re in luck — there are a lot of gorgeous flower farms in the Willamette Valley, and most are not more than 20 minutes east or west of Interstate 5, the main north-south route through Oregon. Depending on what time of spring or summer you’re driving through, there will be different flowers in season. Also, some of these farms are small, family-run operations, so it’s good to call and check to verify they’ll be open on the day you’re traveling through.

Here are several good ones to check out. I’ve listed them in the order you’d pass them if you’re driving south to north.

Hendricks Park is less than two miles east of Interstate 5 in Eugene. It’s an 80-acre city park, so it’s open year-round, but probably best to visit this time of year (March-May), because it’s famous for its rhododendron garden. Thousands of rhododendrons are in bloom there every spring, some of them as early as February and some into June.

Japanese Garden at Boulder Falls Inn is another garden that’s open any time and looks gorgeous in all seasons. This Japanese-inspired garden at Boulder Falls Inn is located in Lebanon, eight miles west of Interstate 5. This garden is adjacent to the Boulder Falls Inn in Lebanon, but you don’t have to be a guest there to visit the garden. It’s small, but worth a mention because it’s just so pretty and is open year-round. It was designed by Hoichi Kurisu, the same internationally known designer behind Portland’s Japanese Garden. There’s a nice restaurant called 1847 right next to the garden, so it’s a great place to stop, get off the freeway, have lunch or dinner and take a walk around the garden.

The Oregon Garden is 13 miles west of Salem in the little town of Silverton. The Oregon Garden isn’t just one type of garden — it’s an 80-acre botanical garden with dozens of different types of gardens within the main garden. This is another great one to add to your trip because it’s open 365 days a year and there is always something in bloom no matter what time of year you visit. Rhododendrons and tulips are fantastic there right now; irises and peonies usually start blooming in May; rose season is late spring to summer.

Schreiner’s Iris Garden is super-close to I-5; from exit 263 (a few miles north of Salem) it’s just 2.5 miles southwest of the freeway. The garden’s “bloom season” is May 6-31 this year.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm is nine miles east of Interstate 5, just outside the town of Woodburn. It has GORGEOUS fields of tulips and lots of fun activities during their spring tulip festival (which lasts until May 1 this year) like wine tasting, wagon rides, a kids’ play area and even tethered hot air balloon rides.

Swan Island Dahlias is about 10 miles west of I-5 near Canby. It has more than 35 acres of dahlias open to the public August-September.

There are also a number of different farms in the valley that specialize in lavender, particularly in the Mt. Hood Territory, which is in the northwest part of the Willamette Valley. These are part of that region’s “farm loops” — scenic driving routes of farms you can visit. Check on current operating hours before you visit: June and July tend to be when lavender is in bloom.

Where are the best golf courses and resorts in Oregon?

I recommend starting in Central Oregon and making your way to the Southern Oregon Coast. Central Oregon is the home of more than 23 golf courses at all levels of difficulty and price points.  And Central Oregon is ranked as the 23rd most robust golf destination in the United States per the editors of Golf Digest. If you are with family (kids or folks that do not play golf), I recommend Sunriver Resort as this property has many, many activities to enjoy in addition to golf. Sunriver has four courses, but I recommend playing at at Crosswater, which was ranked as one of the best golf courses in the U.S. by Golf Digest. Accommodations at Sunriver range from hotel rooms to multiple bedroom homes. Nineteen miles of paved bike paths and the Deschutes River roaming through the property make this a great place to stay.

As an alternative, you can stay in downtown Bend where Tetherow resort is a super, full service destination.  The course itself is like playing Bandon Dunes (with mountain views instead of ocean views) and the accommodations are solid — plus you are five minutes driving distance to restaurants, shopping, etc.

From Bend, I would take the Highway 20 down toward Eugene. In the McKenzie River Valley, you should play play at a “public course, privately owned gem” called Totakee. Surrounded by the Cascade mountains, Totakee is very walkable and a pure, old-fashioned golf course with small greens and towering trees. You can probably play it in three and a half hours.

From the Engene area, I would head toward the ocean to Florence, where Sandpines should be your next round of golf. Take Highway 126 toward to Oregon Coast. Sandpines is a real treat, with an award-winning design and celebrated as one of the best public courses by the Golf Digest.  I suggest you stay overnight where you can add another quick round playing Ocean Dunes. It’s right next door to Sandpines and is a fun track, modestly priced. It is owned by Three Rivers Resort and Casino that is an option for lodging or there is Riverhouse Inn and Driftwood Shores that are right on the coast line as hotel options in Florence.

From Florence, your final premium golf stop would be to drive down to Bandon Dunes.  The drive itself is beautiful, ocean-filled with lots of bridges and sand dunes and everything one might anticipate for our rugged Oregon Coast. Bandon Dunes is beyond fantastic. When you set up your golf, for sure play the Preserve after one of your rounds.  I personally love Bandon Trails the most because of the diversity of holes and the walk itself reminds me of the movie, Jurassic Park. In addition to the five courses at Bandon Dunes, there is a great, public play course, family owned called Bandon Crossings.

Answered by Noel Lucky, Ask Oregon Golf Expert on April 25th, 2016 - Post Your Answer

Where should we visit after Crater Lake?

Glad to hear you have time to explore more of Oregon after visiting Crater Lake! I suggest driving from Crater Lake National Park north on Highway 97 to Highway 138 toward Roseburg (known as the Waterfall Highway). There are many places to stop road-side to take short hikes to waterfalls in this area. From Roseburg, I’d get on I-5 and either head south to Grants Pass to either raft on the Rogue River (stopping at Abacela Winery in Roseburg) or to access Highway 199 to the Coast.

If you’d rather not head north first, drive toward Medford from Crater Lake and stop in Prospect to see the lava tubes along the river at Natural Bridge Trail, and the waterfall at Mill Creek Falls. You’ll drop down into the Medford/Ashland area.

If you’re interested in rafting, many outfitters depart from Merlin, Oregon (north of Grants Pass), for either day trips or multi-day. There’s also hiking along the Rogue River, but it will be hot and exposed in summer.

For the best wineries in this area, I’d head to Ashland, Oregon, where you can enjoy the Shakespeare Festival or just enjoy the dining and shopping in town. Try Dana Campbell for good views while sipping Oregon wine! Then spend a day on the Applegate Wine Trail or Upper Rogue Wine Trail…either will combine beautiful scenery with great wine.

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