: Kayaking with South Coast Tours, courtesy of Oregon Coast Visitors Association

Adventure Along with the Hidden Trails of Oregon Podcast

International podcast host shares his top Oregon experiences, curated by local guides.
November 4, 2022

Spotting a gray whale breeching in the ocean is an awe-inspiring event. Now imagine witnessing that spectacle from just 10 feet away in a kayak.

That’s exactly what happened to Aaron Millar during his whirlwind tour of Oregon in May 2022. The British travel writer who makes his home in Colorado was on a guided paddling adventure with South Coast Tours. He and owner/guide Dave Lacey were paddling just off the rugged Port Orford coastline. Lacey had been talking about the need to be mindful and stay far from wildlife if they had an encounter, when “at one point [a gray whale] sort of breached and looked me right in the eye. It was insane,” Millar recalls.

While that specific encounter isn’t typical, it’s just one of the delightfully quirky and inspiring Oregon adventures captured by Millar in “Hidden Trails of Oregon” — a new three-episode series separate from his Armchair Explorer podcast. “There’s a sort of wonder deficit in our lives,” says Millar, who was named Travel Broadcaster of the Year 2021 by the British Guild of Travel Writers. “When you go to a magnificent landscape like Crater Lake, the most beautiful lake in the world, those moments are really powerful beyond that immediate sensation.”

Millar has presented travel documentaries for National Geographic TV and authored books including “50 Greatest Wonders of the World” and “50 Greatest National Parks of the World.” In Oregon he sought the help of several expert guides who took him to some of their favorite top food carts and wine-tasting rooms, to arts districts and forest trails, to caves, rivers, sand dunes and beyond. “We want to go beyond the ordinary, travel deeper into the destination and discover the natural beauty, adventure and culture of the state through a local’s eyes,” he says.

Traveling with a guide in Oregon eliminates the hassle of logistics planning, and can often uncover off-the-beaten-path experiences for a truly authentic experience.

Here are some of highlights from the three newly released Oregon-based podcast episodes (available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Stitcher).

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smiling woman holds plate of food
Hawthorne Asylum Food Carts with Lost Plate Food Tours guide/owner Michelle Bergey

Episode 1: Food Carts, Wine Tasting and a Harmonic Laboratory

Millar kicks off his tour along what he nicknamed the Northern Culture Trail. In Portland he meets up with Michelle Bergey, owner of Lost Plate Food Tours, who introduces him to the history and culture of the globally dishes at Cartopia and Hawthorne Asylum, both food-cart pods in Southeast Portland.

He then meets up with a Portland local named Dresden, owner of Throw Snakes Tours, for a one-of-a-kind tour of Portland’s bar culture and local oddities. Dresden tells Millar about the Unipiper, Portland’s bagpipe-playing mascot, as well as other other Portlandia-type celebrations like the Mermaid Festival, a summertime gathering at Poet’s Beach for the LGBTQ+ community.

Millar soon heads southwest to the Willamette Valley for a personalized wine-tasting tour with Chevonne Ball, owner of Dirty Radish food and wine tours. He meet the resident farm dog, Miss Cooper, at Arlyn vineyard in Newberg, and sips Biodynamic, estate-grown wines at Brick House Vineyards, 3 miles west.

Heading south to Eugene, Millar chats with the staff and artisans at the Eugene Saturday Market, the oldest open-air craft market in the United States, founded in 1974. He takes in the handmade jewelry and art, tie-dye T-shirts, porcelain octopuses and other artists’ creations. Continuing his quest for all things eclectic, Millar meets up with the founders of Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory — a collective that produces installations combining visual art, music and social media. “Oregon is an inspiration to all of us to be ourselves, be creative and celebrate diversity,” he says. “Being weird isn’t bad, it’s the seed from which the best things in life grow.” 

 

people jump downhill on a sand dune
The Oregon Dunes Recreation Area is a top spot for sandboarding and other adventures. Courtesy Justin Myers

Episode 2: Sand Dunes, Surfing and Forest Walks

From Eugene, Millar heads west to the Coast, following a route he dubs the Coastal Adventure Trail. In Florence he meets up with 3-time world sandboarding champion Gabe Cruz at Sand Master Park. The park, which calls itself the first of its kind in the world, offers lessons and rents sandboards and sleds for — you guessed it, riding downhill — among the acres of pristine, sculpted sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

From there he heads south to Port Orford for his kayak trip of a lifetime with South Coast Tours. Post-paddle, he connects with local hiking guide Cathy Boden, who takes visitors on personalized hiking tours while highlighting native plants, animals, geology, history and Native culture of the area. Millar was especially impressed with the ecological diversity of Siuslaw National Forest trails out of Port Orford Heads State Park. “Just the ocean itself — the wild desolate beaches with the low mist and clouds and rocks jutting out of the sea — it’s a completely different coastal experience than you can have in many other places in the world.”

woman stands in water with fishing pole
Alysia Littleleaf of Littleleaf Guide Services leads fly-fishing trips on the Deschutes River.

Episode 3: Fly Fishing, Caving and Bigfoot Sightings

For the third podcast episode, Millar spends time at Crater Lake National Park and in Central Oregon along what he calls the Central Nature Trail.

If you’ve only been to Crater Lake in the summer, consider going for a different experience sometime in fall, winter or spring when the crowds dissipate and the landscape is covered in a blanket of snow. (Also note that Rim Drive and the North Entrance are closed for the winter season — check the park website for updated details and conditions.) “We had it all to ourselves,” Millar says of the snowshoe hike he took to a lookout point. “To look down and have it completely to yourself was unbelievably magical.”

Main Street Tours offers naturalist-guided snowshoe hikes at Crater Lake National Park every day.

Next stop on Millar’s adventure is a trip to Bend, where he spends the afternoon taking in the urban sights and then connecting with naturalist guide from Bend-based Wanderlust Tours for a unique high-desert experience. “We went caving inside a lava tube,” Millar says. “There were points at which you have to tilt your head sideways to slide through.” Wanderlust provides custom experiences including day- and night-time snowshoeing, moon-viewing and stargazing paddle tours, hiking and brewpub tours.

On the Deschutes River, Millar spends the day fly fishing with Alysia Littleleaf of Littleleaf Guide Service, based in Warm Springs. “To go out with a Native American guide and hear her talk about her land and history was really powerful,” Millar says. “I managed to catch the world’s smallest fish and got way too excited about it. A lot of that time you’re just sort of quiet on your own in the river.”

It wouldn’t be a trip to Oregon without a stop at the North American Bigfoot Center in Boring. Bigfoot expert Cliff Barackman loves to share his tales of sightings, Bigfoot’s history and the Bigfoot Festival.

Millar is already thinking about his next trip to Oregon — he hopes to spend more time along the Coast and in Bend and Portland, as well as to journey through the Columbia River Gorge and Eastern Oregon.

island in the middle of large blue lake surrounded by bluffs
Wizard Island rises in the center of Crater Lake, covered in a blanket of snow during the winter.

If You Go:

  • Before you head out on any Oregon road trip, be sure to weather and road conditions, especially during the winter.
  • Find more trip-planning resources and inspiration at Oregon Welcome Centers, or by ordering a free travel guide.
  • Looking for top spots to eat and drink during your travels? Check out the Oregon Food Trails. These self-guided trails cover all regions of the state and include visitor-friendly farms and markets, restaurants, brewpubs, wineries and other tasty places to stop along your journey.
  • When you’re adventuring outdoors, take care to carry the Ten Essentials and smile and strike up a conversation with those you meet. It’s the Oregonian way.

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson is a longtime journalist and travel writer/editor who is now Travel Oregon’s Content & Community Manager, helping to align content for visitors via social media, print and web. She’s called Oregon home for 25 years and loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.