: Nickie Bournias

Oregon’s Top Outdoor Experiences

The author of a new guidebook shares some insider tips on great ways to get outside.
January 8, 2024

Portland-based writer Matt Wastradowski has spent the better part of a decade roaming Oregon to report on the most captivating places, people, experiences and attractions that visitors love. His third and newest guidebook, Moon Oregon, arrived in late 2023 and contains nearly 400 pages of the coolest stuff he’s found.

“If it’s something that I thought makes Oregon great, and it represents something really unique about the state, then I tried my best to include it in the book,” he says. “These are the experiences that led me to fall in love with this state.”

The guidebook covers everything from memorable hotels and award-winning wineries to intriguing museums and unforgettable events, all delivered in Wastradowski’s informative, jovial style. Excerpts from that book will also form the backbone of a spin-off volume, Moon Coastal Oregon, due out in March 2024. 

Here, the expert shares some tips on fun ways to play outside.

Cover of a travel book by Matt Wastradowski featuring a lake and mountain.
(Courtesy of Matt Wastradowski/Moon Publications)
People reading signage at the base of the Blue Basin rock formations.
Blue Basin's 31-million-year-old seafoam green rocks are a remarkable sight. (Photo by Joni Kabana)

Glowing Leaves, Rocks and Gems in Eastern Oregon

While gathering research for the eastern part of the state, Wastradowski rented a fire-lookout tower in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, hiked around Anthony Lakes and even rented an SUV so he could drive down into one of Oregon’s most remote river canyons along the Owyhee River. One of his favorite experiences was to hike the mostly flat trails on Mt. Howard from the top of the Wallowa Lake Tramway near Joseph. “That showed me you can have incredible outdoor experiences without having to hike 20 miles into the backcountry,” he says. 

While in Northeast Oregon, Wastradowski says you should book a trip with the Joseph Branch Railriders, a group that lets visitors use special, human-power pedal carts to roll along the railroad tracks on one- to four-hour-long guided excursions. “It is such a joy,” he says. “You’re not far from town, but it’s a whole other world.” Back in town, kids will love the minecart panning, where they can sift for gemstones and gold just like in the old days.

The Painted Hills of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument are remarkable in their own right, but Wastradowski says a lesser-known gem sits in the nearby Blue Basin, where you can hike for as little or as long as you like while being surrounded by 31-million-year-old, seafoam-green rocks that rise for 200 feet into the sky. “It doesn’t look possible,” he says. “On a sunny day it positively glows.” Stop by the Dayville Cafe in Dayville for comfort food and especially the chocolate-cream pie.

Another surprise? Steens Mountain south of Burns, where Wastradowski spent a week in the autumn amid spectacular fall foliage. He was wowed by aspen leaves that turn such a bright gold they “almost glow in the dark,” he says.

Two people hiking along a narrow trail with views of seaside cliff and the coast line.
Coastal hikes offer views of seaside cliff and ocean views. (Courtesy of Oregon State Parks)

Fun With Water From Mt. Hood to the Coast

In winter Wastradowski loved his time snowshoeing around Trillium Lake, the first time he’d ever done such a thing. The 4.7-mile-long loop took him through a frozen world with Mt. Hood rising overhead. Companies like Mt. Hood Outfitters offer tours and rentals, making it easy to see the area. “To arrive at the shore and see it completely frozen over, and snowcapped Mt. Hood — I could have just stood there all day long,” he says. 

Not everything Wastradowski deemed worthy could find space in the book, so a few things fell to the cutting-room floor. That includes a kayaking excursion he took around Scappoose Bay outside of Portland with the expert guides at Next Adventure. “They were great for beginners,” he says. “You get to see a lot of water fowl, turtles, beavers. If you’re looking for something high octane, this isn’t for you, but it absolutely is if you want to see something beautiful.” 

That goes for the trip he did near Klamath Falls, too, where he paddled the 9.5-mile Upper Klamath Canoe Trail that took him through wetlands and past the remnants of beaver lodges, all while admiring the birds the region is renowned for. Crater Lake ZipLine which also offers kayaking and axe throwing, helped him do it.  

On the Coast, a 5-mile out-and-back hike he took along Cape Falcon remains his most meaningful, he says, thanks to the classic scenery — beautiful Sitka spruce forest, a windswept bluff, views of surfers at Short Sands. “It’s a great place to see gray whales,” he says.

A family of four walks along a trail surrounded by craggy rock formations.
The Trail of the Molten Land shows the diversity of Oregon's landscapes. (Courtesy of Visit Central Oregon)

Great Hikes From Bend

The outdoors of Central Oregon and Southern Oregon all get plenty of love in the book, too. Near Bend, Wastradowski recommends spending some time at the Lava Lands Visitor Center (open May to October), where a path, Trail of the Molten Land, takes you deep into a landscape forged by fire. “In terms of low effort, high reward, this is such a cool experience,” he says, adding that the first third of the trail is universally accessible. “It shows you just how diverse Oregon’s landscapes really are.” 

For a tiny glimpse at more unusual wildlife, you’ll want to hike up Upper Table Rock outside Medford. The 3.2-mile out-and-back trail takes you up 700 vertical feet through a grove of oak and madrone for great views of the Rogue River Valley and the rim of Crater Lake. In the spring, be on the lookout for endemic wildflowers and a species of tiny shrimp that lives in vernal pools.

About The

Tim Neville
Tim Neville is a writer based in Bend where he writes about the outdoors, travel and the business of both. His work has been included in Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing and Best Food Writing, and earned various awards from the Society of American Travel Writers and the Society of Professional Journalists. Tim has reported from all seven continents and spends his free time skiing, running and spending time with his family.

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