Beginner’s Guide to the Outdoors in Oregon

With so many options, the hardest part is choosing what to do.
May 11, 2018 (Updated June 29, 2023)

When it comes to outdoor recreation, Oregon is hard to beat. There’s the Coast for surfing and fishing and the high desert for hiking. You can climb a towering volcano and camp by a river. While plenty of Oregonians may seem naturally at ease in the elements, staying safe and comfortable outside is a skill, and anyone can learn it. From setting up your first tent to figuring out how to surf, state park rangers, local tour operators and organizations are there to help. Here are some outdoor activities around Oregon that are designed especially for beginners.

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

Learn Outdoor Basics Across the State

REI stores statewide offer a range of classes geared toward beginners, including backpacking and rock-climbing basics, beginner stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, among others.

Another great way to demystify the outdoors is with a guide. The Nature Conservancy — based in Portland — manages nature preserves with free access to the public across the state, and it hosts expert naturalists and guided hikes at select sites in the spring, summer and fall. Elsewhere in the state, experience a guided hike at Table Rocks near Medford, or interact with expert naturalists at Cascade Head Preserve in Lincoln City, Camassia Natural Area in West Linn or Tom McCall Preserve in the Columbia River Gorge.

Paddling and Mountain Biking in Central Oregon

Beginner paddlers will love the interpretive paddling trips at Prineville Reservoir State Park near Bend. These river adventures are led by guides who share stories about the area’s history, geology and wildlife. Kids ages 8 to 11 must ride with an adult in a tandem kayak.

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. Check out the full program of activities for kids.

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

Rivers and Snow Fun in 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.

Kayakers on the Willamette River looking towards a waterfall from a dam.
Kayak on calm waters next to a roaring waterfall at Willamette Falls. (Courtesy of eNRG Kayaking / Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory)

Mountains and Wind in Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge

The Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region is a hot spot for outdoor activities of all sorts. To hike with knowledgeable folks leading the way, Friends of the Columbia Gorge offers beginner-friendly hikes for those who sign up, mostly free of charge.

Be sure to take advantage of the area’s wind power. The entire family can learn how to soar down Mt. Hood on skis or have fun on the water with rafting or stand-up paddleboarding on the Columbia River. There are even windsurfing and kiteboarding lessons.

If you’re paddle-curious, book a guided rafting or kayaking trip with eNRG Kayaking and find thrills on waterways like Willamette Falls, the largest waterfall by volume in the Northwest. Experts lead history tours and hold events involving live music during the summer months. All gear, instruction and insider tips included.

View of a waterfall at Silver Falls State Park
One of the ten majestic waterfalls found on the Trail of Ten Falls. (Courtesy of Oregon State Parks)

Countryside and Floats in the Willamette Valley

The valley has a reputation for lovers of the outdoors. 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. 

Beginning cyclists can take any number of rides on a designated Oregon Scenic Bikeway. One of the easiest, the scenic Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway, is mostly flat and car-free. A portion of the 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway around Salem includes a worthy diversion on the Buena Vista ferry.

Looking for guidance on the river? 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.

South Coast Tours (Photo credit: OCVA)

Surf and Turf on the Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is a beginner outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Catch your own dinner with crabbing and clamming clinics offered throughout the summer, or head out along the shores on guided horseback rides and fat-tire biking tours.

To get out on the ocean, 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.

A group of riders on horses along a grassy trail.
Horseback riding through Wilson Ranches high desert farm. (Photo by Christian Heeb)

The Wide-Open Country of 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, snowy peaks and geologic wonders on guided hikes.

Unleash your inner cowboy or cowgirl with a guest-ranch stay, or harness your angling skills with fly-fishing lessons. The possibilities are endless, with single- and multiday tours exploring Eastern Oregon’s hot springs, craft beverages, hikes and more.

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

Trails and Waterways in the Portland Region

It’s easy to find hiking trails here, especially with the 30-mile Wildwood Trail running right through Portland’s backyard, and quiet paths in Forest Park. For a car-free place to pedal, consider the Gateway Green in east Portland or the Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Banks, which traces a former railway.

Looking for water skills? 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. You’ll go at a relaxed pace on flat water, with plenty of photo opportunities.

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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