: Justin Bailie

Beginner’s Guide to the Outdoors in Oregon

May 11, 2018 (Updated June 14, 2019)

If the thought of building a campfire, launching a canoe or baiting a hook leaves you feeling lost, fear not — there’s plenty of hope. Not everyone’s a born outdoors person. Which is why Oregon State Parks launched its Let’s Go series of events — as an easy, low-cost way to pick up these handy skills, through the friendly expertise of trained park rangers and other guides so you can set out with confidence in Oregon’s pristine natural spaces.


“Our parks are great learning laboratories,” says Tammy Baumann, a parks program manager. “It’s an opportunity to get your foot in the door, to experience the recreational activity with the safety and comfort of a guided hand.” Each expert-led adventure provides the necessary gear, a what-to-pack-at-home list and skill-building workshops so you’ll be prepared to do it all yourself. Even if you’re not a total newbie, they’re great refresher courses.

Let’s Go Camping launched in 1998 as an annual overnighter in the park and has since evolved to include a dozen events per year. The trips are designed for families, but singles or couples are also welcome. Each trip happens rain or shine, and includes hands-on lessons in various skills, such as interpreting the night sky, tidepooling, nature-based arts and crafts, disc golf, kayaking, fishing and even taking part in nighttime “owl prowls” and “bat chats.”

Let’s Go Camping trips for 2019 are scheduled through August at sites across the Portland Region, Willamette Valley and Central Oregon, including Stub Stewart State Park, LaPine State ParkNorth Santiam State Recreation Area, Milo McIver State Park, Willamette Mission State Park and Champoeg State Heritage Area. They fill up quickly, so book early.

More than just state parks programs, here are other outdoor opportunities across the state designed just for beginners.

The Nature Conservancy leads free guided hikes and adventures to places like Table Rocks. (Photo credit: Ben Herndon / The Nature Conservancy)


Let’s Go Birding, Let’s Go Disc Golf and Let’s Go Hiking adventures kick off in June and are open to children age 8 and up, although kids ages 8 to 14 must be accompanied by an adult.

REI stores statewide (Bend, Clackamas, Eugene, Hillsboro, Medford, Portland, Salem-Keizer and Tualatin) offer a range of classes geared toward beginners, including backpacking and rock climbing basics, introduction to mountain biking, backcountry map and compass navigation, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, among others.

The Nature Conservancy, based in Portland, leads free guided hikes and adventures across Oregon with a distinct focus on the wildlife and ecology. Try a guided hike up to Cascade Head in Lincoln City, an expert-led exploration of the Juniper Hills Preserve near Prineville or nature tour at the Willamette Confluence Preserve, east of Eugene.

New to kayaking? Join a 2-hour guided Let's Go Paddling tour at Lake Billy Chinook. (Photo credit: Oregon State Parks)

Central Oregon

Let’s Go Paddling hosts 2-hour guided kayak tours at The Cove Palisades State Park, near Madras in Central Oregon. Children 6-11 must ride with an adult.

Summer at Oregon’s top ski areas is prime time to try your hand at mountain biking. Mt. Bachelor kicks off its season of chairlift-accessed mountain biking in mid-June and keeps it running through September. You’ll find 13 miles of downhill trails at the Mt. Bachelor Bike Park, where kids and teens (ages 8 through 15) can sign up for the week-long Gravity Bike Camps.

A rafting trip down the Wild and Scenic Rogue River is the ultimate Southern Oregon experience. (Photo credit: Northwest Rafting Company)

Southern Oregon

Rafting is the other ubiquitous Southern Oregon experience. No experience necessary — your tour guide will help you take the plunge as you navigate the more mellow sections of the Rogue, Upper Klamath and Umpqua rivers, through various outfitters.

In winter, snowshoeing at Crater Lake National Park is a magical experience. With no experience needed, you can join the rangers on an off-trail exploration through the forest and meadows on this free tour (just pay the park entrance fee of $10). Tours happen rain or shine (or snow), late November through late April. No pets allowed, and it’s best for age 8 and up. Check frequently for park conditions.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge leads beginner-friendly group hikes to McCall Point and other trails. (Photo credit: Debbie Asakawa)

Mt. Hood & the Columbia River Gorge

The Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region is ripe with tour guides to help you find your feet fishing, including tutorials on fly fishing and special classes for kids. It’s also a hot spot for mountain biking and road biking, with tours, rentals and shuttles available for all skill levels. 

Sign up for golf lessons at one of the region’s scenic courses, such as Indian CreekHood River Golf and Mt. View. Or learn how to play disc golf at Milo McIver State Park with Let’s Go Disc Golfing events throughout the year. It’s never too late to learn how to ski at Mt. Hood or have fun on the water with rafting, stand-up paddleboarding.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge also leads beginner-friendly hikes for those who sign up, mostly free of charge.

Earn your cycling stripes with a ride on a designated Oregon Scenic Bikeway. (Photo credit: Russ Roca)

Willamette Valley

The valley has a reputation for outdoorsy folk. Join the flock with an easy-to-access hike, like the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park or a family-friendly trek at Marys Peak, where the reward is a panoramic view of the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Earn your cycling stripes with a ride on a designated Oregon Scenic Bikeway. The easiest, the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway, is mostly flat and car-free, with unbeatable scenery. While the 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway might sound intimidating, take comfort in conquering just one section — the stretch around Salem includes a worthy diversion on the Buena Vista ferry.

Looking for guidance? Local fishing guides will boost the confidence of aspiring anglers. You’ll have memories that last a lifetime with a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or rafting trip. For something that really takes adventure to the next level, join a tree climbing or treetop camping expedition.

OCVA (pictured is South Coast Tours)

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is a beginner outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Catch your own dinner with crabbing and clamming clinics offered late May through September. Explore the sandy free and public shoreline in with a touch of excitement with guided horseback rides and fat-bike tours.

When the ocean beckons, hit the waters with an expert. Take a guided paddling tour around arches, marine animals and more. For a fresh catch, join a fishing tour with an experienced angler who doesn’t mind sharing a few favorite spots. Learn how to ride the waves with surfing lessons at Oregon’s more beginner-friendly beaches. Most of the time, gear and rentals are provided. All you have to do is show up.

Wilson Ranch Christian Heeb

Eastern Oregon

The vast wilderness of Eastern Oregon makes for the ultimate outdoor playground. Take guided rafting trips down remote river canyons. See the region’s rolling hills and geologic wonders on two wheels with customized cycling tours.

Unleash your inner cowboy with a guest ranch stay, or harness your angling skills with fly-fishing lessons. The possibilities are endless, with single and multi-day tours exploring Eastern Oregon’s hot springs, craft beverages, hikes and more. You can even go deep into the wilderness looking for Bigfoot, if that’s your kind of thing.

Get a starter course to the 30-mile Wildwood Trail with a stroll through Forest Park.

Portland Region

It’s easy to find hiking trails here, especially with the Wildwood Trail running right through Portland’s backyard. Get a starter course to the 30-mile trail with a stroll through the section in Forest Park. Bicycle culture is big here too, but if you’re looking for a car-free place to pedal, consider the new Gateway Green in east Portland or the Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Banks, which traces a former railway.

Looking for water skills? Sign up for a fishing charter and discover the salmon runs just on the outskirts of the city. Pick up a paddle for a wildlife-viewing kayak tour around Sauvie Island. Or get up close to Willamette Falls, the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest by volume, with a breathtaking river excursion by kayak or stand-up paddleboard.

About The

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.

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