Summer wanes, the temperatures drop and Oregon’s forests move into fall party mode. From mountain forests to river valleys around the state, a riot of color celebrates the changing of the seasons. Get out and join the festivities by bike, by car, by train or on foot.
But do you know where to catch the dramatic colors just as they’re starting to turn or reach their peak? Mid- to late-October tends to showcase the best fall foliage in Oregon — although the timing varies by region. Peak colors often hit the Willamette Valley and Central Oregon a few days to a week earlier than Southern Oregon and Hood/Gorge, while Northeastern Oregon leaves can take even longer, with the brightest colors emerging as late as mid-November.
Make sure to check the Oregon Fall Foliage Blog before your trip. Beginning September, weekly updates will point you to where you can find the best fall color around the state. You can also follow fall foliage updates on Twitter and share your own fall photos by tagging them #ORFallFoliage and #traveloregon on Instagram.
Take in views of autumn fields and vineyards along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. The 134-mile route starts in Champoeg State Park north of Salem and ends in Armitage County Park in Coburg, and can be ridden in its entirety or in sections. Look for the fiery reds and oranges of maturing grapevines and golden leaves of walnut trees in towns along the route. The 36-mile Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway starts and ends in Cottage Grove. Riders pass over six covered bridges (three on the historic register) and through a bright yellow tunnel of cottonwoods. You’ll see colorful oaks along the hillsides.
Follow the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway in Southern Oregon from Gold Hill east of Grants Pass north toward Crater Lake (an easy side trip) then west through Glide to Roseburg. The route takes you past several volcanic peaks, rushing rivers and fall splendor in the Umpqua National Forest. In the Central Cascades, the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway offers a one-of-a-kind view with dazzling red vine maple juxtaposed against black lava. The West Cascades Scenic Byway weaves through deeply forested corridors that turn brilliant colors in the fall. Discover waterfalls, overlooks and forests bright with seasonal color in the Hood/Gorge region, where you can take the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway around Oregon’s tallest peak. From there, follow the river east to the charming towns of Mosier and The Dalles or loop back west to Troutdale and Portland.
Through October, the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, departing out of Wheeler, offers the Nehalem River Fall Splendor Excursion Train with gorgeous views of Nehalem Bay and the red and orange palette of maple and poplar trees among the evergreens. Meanwhile in Eastern Oregon, the Eagle Cap Excursion Train winds out of Elgin and into lovely roadless forests along the Grande Ronde River to meet up with the Wild and Scenic Wallowa River near the mountains. Check out the Fall Photo Run and other special themed trips — like wine and cheese, brews and brats or an autumn “train robbery” — to see golden larches and bright yellow leaves of cottonwood and willow trees. Near Baker City, hop aboard the Sumpter Valley Railroad, a vintage 1915 steam locomotive, as it travels through old mining country. October sees Fall Color Trains and a special weekend for photography.
In the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood Railroad has debuted their “Phantom of the Rail” Halloween train ride during the last two Friday and Saturday evenings in October. The ride features Halloween narration, a thrilling excursion through the forest by the light of the moon, and a Thriller-style flash dance performance at the company’s dark factory, rumored to be filled with ghosts and ghouls. Food and drink available for pre-purchase. Book a table with three of your closest brave souls (not recommended for young children), sit back and enjoy the creepy tales as you kick off the season. Accessible seating is available upon request. Pets are not allowed.
The Upper Deschutes River Trail is popular for leaf peeping in Central Oregon, starting at Meadow Camp picnic area and following the riverbank’s colorful fall foliage to the spectacular Lava Island Falls and Dillon Falls. Best of all, the hike is as long as you make it — but the easy terrain and inspiring scenery will probably keep you exploring. In Eastern Oregon, the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness lights up with golden larches, dogwoods and cottonwoods in the autumn. An easy 5.8-mile route along the East Fork Canyon Creek hike (with a trailhead south of Canyon City) is a good bet for fall color and solitude. For a simple stroll, head to Lithia Park, known as Ashland’s crown jewel, in Southern Oregon, featuring nearly 100 acres of tree-lined terrain.
Why not enjoy the fall colors while you’re out having fun at a local celebration? In Eastern Oregon, German heritage and beer will be flowing at the Pendleton Round-Up Stadium for Oktoberfest Pendleton. In the Mt. Hood/Gorge area, the Hood River Valley Harvest Fest in Hood River brings all the seasonal vibes, with a pumpkin-carving exhibition, fruit pie eating contest and kids’ activities. On the Coast, the inaugural Live Culture Coast in Coos Bay connects visitors with dozens of events, classes, dinners and tours along the South Coast that celebrate local art, culture, food and farms (book tickets online in advance). In the Willamette Valley, you can join the pumpkin derby, come in costume and play carnival games at Pumpkinpalooza in Eugene. In the Portland Region it’s a tradition to cheer on brave sailors in the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin. In Central Oregon, sign up to hone your photo skills at the Fall Foliage Workshop by Bend Photo Tours in Bend. And in Southern Oregon, the kid-focused Bear Creek Fall Festival in Medford is all about connecting families with environmental education such as salmon viewing, watershed learning and more.
If You Go:
When traveling along farm roads in the fall, make sure to be aware of slow-moving tractors and other farm equipment on the roads. Try to do more than just snap a photo at each spot — take time to explore, slow down and pop into local businesses. When you’re enjoying these colorful natural areas, make sure to respect all trail users (follow leash laws) and pick up after your pet. Also, picnics are awesome, but always pack out your trash to keep these places clean and photo-worthy for generations to come.