Always dreamed of zip-lining through the forest, riding horseback along the dunes or paddling down a pristine river like a boss? Maybe this is the year to skip those New Year’s resolutions you won’t keep and make a bucket list of Oregon adventures instead. Here are some exhilarating ideas to get you psyched for adventure all year long. (Conveniently, Jan. 31 is National Plan For Vacation Day.)
Hike the length of Wildwood Trail at Forest Park. You’ve walked the dog or run along a stretch of Portland’s most famous trail here and there, but have you covered all 30.2 lush, wooded miles? Local clubs and events are devoted to this ambitious but entirely do-able feat — a rewarding way to experience the nation’s largest urban nature preserve. Check trail maps and conditions before you go, or download the Forest Park app.
Take a carriage ride in Bend. Sleigh bells ring, are you listenin’? Nothing says romance — or good old-fashioned family fun — like a winter horse-and-carriage ride through the glistening snow. Bend-based Cowboy Carriage offers private rides downtown; rates start at $40 per person for a 20-minute ride. They also offer wagon rides for groups (up to 20 people) to four brewpubs along the Bend Ale Trail (tastings included), starting at $50 per person. Extra points for showing up in style.
Find serenity in Southern Oregon. Break up the winter doldrums with a rejuvenating escape at Chozu Bath & Tea Gardens in Ashland. Spend a blissful day in their Japanese-style warm saltwater soaking pools, steam rooms and sauna, followed by a full lineup of spa services — everything from reiki to deep tissue massage. Afterward, chill out in their Tea & Sake Lounge, where you can slurp down a nourishing bowl of udon with a hot cup of tea or sake — a celebrated beverage with healing powers, in Japanese culture. So drink up, to your health!
Go paragliding on the Coast. If you’ve ever wanted to fly, well, there’s a sport for that. Paragliding is an adrenaline-pumping, beginner-friendly way to banish that fear of heights, with a million-dollar view of the Oregon Coast to boot. Discover Paragliding!, based in Warrenton, gives daredevils a chance to glide up to a half a mile above ground. It’s an adrenaline rush as you pull the tether and return to safety just a few feet from where you took off.
Soar above the forest with Crater Lake Zipline. Oregon’s longest zipline carries visitors high above the tree canopy in Southern Oregon with unmatched views of Upper Klamath Lake, Mt. McLoughlin, Pelican Butte and the rim of Crater Lake. The zipline ($105 per person, age 10 and up, open April through October) is one of the best ways to see Crater Lake in its snowy, magical off-season.
Trek toward beauty in the Gorge. You could spend all year exploring waterfalls across the state, but the Columbia River Gorge in springtime will leave you breathless. For a challenging trek (2 hours, six miles round-trip from the Wahclella Falls trailhead), head up to Munra Point, where the steep terrain pays off with panoramic views. Another hidden gem is the new Starvation Creek Trailhead, which shows off the 40-foot-tall Lancaster Falls and the new Hole in the Wall Falls, a man-made falls that drops from 100 feet up.
Rise over the valley in a hot air balloon. The Willamette Valley is a glorious patchwork of vibrant colors, forests, rivers and rolling terrain — and the best way to see it is from up in the air. Vista Balloon Adventures, based in Newberg, offers a few different scenic flights over the Willamette Valley. There’s a 3-hour tour followed by a catered brunch, as well as a Triangle Wine Country tour with lunch, snacks and personal introductions to the winemakers. Flights start at $220 per person for up to three adults; kids 12 and under are $145.
Hop in the Willamette River. Every July, more than 2,000 fun-seekers gather at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park with giant inner tubes, air mattresses and other human-powered vessels, ready for the city’s biggest beach party. The Big Float began in 2011 as fundraiser for the Human Access Project, which encourages people to get in the river during the summertime. Come for the float, stay for the bands, food, drink and other entertainment.
Stay at a cowboy ranch in Eastern Oregon. When you check into the Steens Mountain Guest Ranch for a 3-, 4- or 5-day “Authentic Cowboy” experience, don’t expect to flop onto the sofa and turn on the TV. June through October, this is a working ranch — and those who come for the cowboy experience get to learn how to ride, drive cattle, train horses, camp under the stars and cook down-home grub in a Dutch oven. Year-round, even without the buckeroo training, the guest ranch is an ideal basecamp for exploring the rest of the region.
Ride the Wallowa Lake Tramway. Open late May through October, this tram offers a spectacular 15-minute ride up the 3,700-foot vertical ascent of Mt. Howard, part of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. See the rugged peaks, the azure blue waters of Wallowa Lake and the tiny communities of Joseph, Enterprise, Lostine and Wallowa from your comfy gondola. At the top, get out for a bite eat at the Summit Grill, 4,000 feet up. Leave time to stretch your legs along the 2.5 miles of groomed trails at the top of the tramway, where you can check out the rare alpine flowers and plants and soak up the spectacular view.
Sip along a Hood River Valley wine bike tour. Is it a bike ride with wine, or a wine tasting with bikes? Either way, the pairing of both activities is an ingenious one, and all you have to do is show up. The woman-run team at MountNbarreL, which launched in 2015, does the rest. They’ll have your hybrid cruiser bikes and helmets ready and lead you on a private tour — through quiet, lesser-used farm roads, orchards and trails — to three Hood River wine tasting rooms, as well as an organic U-pick spot. Grab your besties and be ready for serious fun.
Explore Oregon’s caves. Did you know Central Oregon is home to more than 400 underground lava tubes? The longest continuous tube in the state — part of the Lava River Caves — is nearly 7,000 feet long, and visitors to the Lava Lands Visitor Center can walk through it. Lantern rentals and interpretive maps are available for self-guided tours. Or for a more personalized adventure, Wanderlust Tours offers a guided tour to some of the lesser-visited natural lava caves in the high desert.
Join in a harvest grape stomp. Things get delightfully messy at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner each fall as kids and grownups alike go barefoot in a half barrel and stomp grapes to their heart’s content. Their annual Harvest Grape Stomp has been going on for 26 years, and it’s a competitive affair: The team that collects the most grape juice gets a paid trip to the world grape stomping championships. Other wineries throughout Oregon hold grape stomps as well as special tastings, lawn games, live music and other festivities in the fall to celebrate harvest time.
Trot your horse in the sand. It’s something out of a dream, to ride horseback along the the breathtaking Oregon Coast, surrounded by the ocean and sand dunes and pristine forested land. C&M Stables has been leading these adventures since 1981, making it easy for visitors — no matter what their skill or comfort with horseback riding — to get out there and experience the coast from this surprising vantage point. Rates start at $55 per person for groups of three or more on an hour-long dune trail ride, kids 6 and up allowed. Rates and child age requirements vary for other rides. We’re already plotting our sunset ride.
(Photo credits: Gregory Gourdet on the Wildwood Trail by Willie McBride/Wy’east Wolfpack; Vista Baloons by Sionnie Lafollette; Wallowa Lake Tramway by Kristin Heilman-Long; C&M Stables by Tyler Roemer)