Warning to all adrenaline junkies: These skyward adventures will make you swoon. Oregon’s clear skies, big winds, rugged landscapes and accessible waterways all add up to endless opportunities for some one-of-a-kind airborne experiences. You may have heard of the world-famous kiteboarding and windsurfing scene in the Gorge. How about the annual hang-gliding competitions at Abert Rim that draw top competitors worldwide? Or the kite festival in Lincoln City that brings in professional kiters from around the globe? You can hop in a hot air balloon over wine country, spy Mt. Bachelor by helicopter, or jump out of a perfectly good airplane to experience the thrill of skydiving. Here’s how to catch some air in Oregon.
Hang gliding and paragliding
Ever want to soar like a bird? Hang gliders do just that, holding onto a metal frame attached to a triangular sail so you can fly Superman-style, getting your launch from a tall hill or cliff. If you’d prefer to take off from flat ground, the newer sport of paragliding has you sit in a harness and catch air through your graceful fabric wing. See both hang gliders and paragliders set sail at the annual Oceanside Open (April 27-28, 2019) on Oregon’s North Coast, where this small beach community comes together for food, drink, raffle prizes, live music and a beachside fire pit. It may inspire you to take a lesson — beginners are welcome at several outfitters on the Coast such as Discover Paragliding in Warrenton. For something even more extreme, gliders can head to Abert Rim, one of the more remote spots in Southern Oregon in the tiny town of Lakeview. One of Oregon’s geologic marvels, this spot overlooking Abert Lake (Oregon’s only saltwater lake) is notable as the longest exposed fault scarp (where the land’s fault lines have moved vertically) in North America.
Kiteboarding and windsurfing
While it may look easy from afar, lots of strength and skill is required to successfully jet across the water on a kiteboard (steering an airborne kite harnessed to a board) or windsurf (steering a rigid sail attached to a sailboard). That’s exactly why lessons are popular for beginners in Hood River, one of the most famous places in the world for both growing sports. Outfitters such as Big Winds can get first-timers standing on a board within minutes in a sheltered nook of the Columbia River, where water water is so shallow that guides can often stand up in the water next to you. There’s nothing like the adrenaline surge of getting your sail up for the first time. See local pros and enthusiasts in action at annual Hood River events including Kiteboard 4 Cancer (July 12-14, 2019) and the Gorge Cup (May through August, 2019). The Pistol River Wave Bash (June 15-22, 2019), an international windsurfing tour, celebrates its 10th anniversary in the little town of Gold Beach in 2019.
We know it’s on your bucket list. Oregon has several skydive outfitters, ready to take visitors on their first flight or their 50th. For instance, Skydive Awesome in Madras, Eugene Skydivers, Skydive Oregon in Molalla and Pacific Northwest Skydiving Center in Mulino (east of Woodburn) strap you into a tandem harness with a licensed pro who will guide everything from the leap to the parachute pull. That may not take the fear out of the event, but it’s peace of mind knowing that you’re in good hands. Jumps are only scheduled on clear days. For year-round indoor skydiving action, head to iFly Indoor Skydiving in Tigard, where kids and grownups alike can book a mini flight with wind, padded walls, safety nets and most importantly, a cool-looking flight suit.
Helicopters these days are not the choppy rigs they used to be. Touring an area from the sky is a luxurious and uniquely different way of experiencing a landscape. For instance, both Envi Adventures and Oregon Helicopters zip visitors between popular attractions such as Multnomah Falls, Willamette Falls (the largest waterfall in the Northwest by volume), and Portland’s downtown bridges and skyline from above. Big Mountain Heli Tours in Bend offers several scenic tours, depending on whether you want to search for Sasquatch (he’s surely out there somewhere, right?) or see Mt. Bachelor, the Cascade Mountain Range and the golden brown high desert and Deschutes National Forest in all their glory. Tour DeVine by Heli takes wine tasting to the next level with customized touring in style. Get from one estate winery to another in the Willamette Valley in minutes, with 180-degree helicopter views and guided narration of the wine-growing regions and other distinct features of the valley.
Hot air ballooning
It’s something out of a dream, a throwback to simpler times when flight was still a novelty. Rainbow-hued hot air balloons are a regular fixture over Oregon’s skies in the summer; perhaps the biggest celebration is the family-friendly Festival of Balloons (June 21-23, 2019) in Tigard, a nonprofit event now in its 35th year. Visitors can watch the early morning launches, sign up for a tethered balloon ride (doesn’t float away), or enjoy the carnival rides, food and craft vendors, beer garden and festival of cars. The Northwest Art & Air Festivalin Albany (Aug. 23-25, 2019) is another chance to catch the brilliant spectacle of bright balloons at morning liftoff or illuminated at dusk during a Night Glow event. Other outfitters statewide offer full scenic tours by balloon, 1,000 feet off the ground in clear weather, piloted by licensed balloonists. Check out Vista Balloon Adventures in Newberg (which offers brunch and a winery tour with professional guides), Balloon Flying Service of Oregon in Salem and Big Sky Balloon Co. in Central Oregon.
It was probably our earliest form of catching air — getting that kite to take flight on the beach. Oregon’s wide-open coastline — all 363 miles of it publicly accessible — make the beach here ideal kite-flying territory. The Lincoln City Summer Kite Festival is the most famous event of its kind in the state, drawing kiters of all ages and experience levels from around the world. Watch in awe as the pros fly giant animal shapes and others with extreme precision, and you may pick up a few tricks yourself. There’s also the Rockaway Beach Kite and Art Festival (August 2019) and Southern Oregon Kite Festival (July 20-21) in Brookings Harbor, both excellent chances to dive in and discover something new. You can take everything to the extreme in Oregon, even kite flying. Bring your favorite kite out to the off-the-grid, panoramic landscape of the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon for the ultimate Instagram-worthy shot.