Road Trip: 7 Winter Wonders

Johnny Stifter & Janna Irons, Guest Author
December 10, 2015 (Updated February 8, 2016)

Day 1: Portland to Seaside

We started off our two-week Oregon adventure through the 7 Wonders of Oregon with Blue Star Donuts (Maple Bacon, Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk and Marionberry Pepper Jam & Peanut Butter — so weird, so good) before heading out on a rainy hike at the Tillamook Forest Center on our way to the Oregon Coast!




Day 2: Seaside and Astoria


Woke up in rainy Seaside after listening to the wind howl all night long. Stepped out of our beachfront cottage door and walked to the massive Seaside Beach, where reeds swayed in the wind as we looked out at 10-foot swells. No doubt, a stormy day on the Oregon Coast!
Due to the weather, it was an ideal day for exploring the North Coast’s breweries and some stops on the Beer 101 Pint Pass tour.
We started at Buoy Beer Company in Astoria, housed in a 90-year-old cannery building. They even have a glass window built in to the floor to view sea lions lounging on a small deck. After enjoying a few pints — cream ale and a dunkel — and delicious fried oysters with jalapeño jam (house specialty), we ventured to the Rogue Ales Public House. Rogue has quite the eccentric vibe, with quirky names for different beers — Beard Beer, Morimoto Soba Ale and Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale, to name a few. To cap off the night, we stopped at the McMenamins Sand Trap Pub in Gearhart for some cider and cajun tater tots.


Buoy Beer


Day 3: Seaside to Pacific City

Finally, the sun! Blue skies greeted us after three straight days of rain. After coffee and breakfast in Cannon Beach, with its idyllic weather-shingled shops and beach homes, we drove south on 101.  After stopping at some of the amazing viewpoints along this stretch of highway, we navigated the wild weather and detoured inland.

We eventually ended up in Pacific City, where we enjoyed delicious seafood — salmon and cioppino — with award-winning beers at the Pelican Pub & Brewery, accompanied by two rounds of trivia night.


Day 4: Pacific City to Sunriver

Cape Kiwanda Oregon

We woke up in Pacific City to massive storm surf, wind, and rain. From the warm comfort of our room at the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, we watched the waves pound the rocks and point. After breakfast at Pelican Brewery, we walked out over the dunes to Cape Kiwanda Point to pass the time while we waited for the tide to lower.

The heavy rain had flooded the lowlands near the bridge out of Pacific City, so we were basically stuck in town, which we certainly didn’t mind. It was absolutely wild out there. Giant, untamed waves in every direction. It felt so raw and empty. Nature at its finest. After John decided to take a flop in the seafoam that had accumulated on the shore, we visited Moment Surf and heard about how great the surf gets when it’s not stormy. We’ve got to come back!

We headed out in the early afternoon, had an early dinner at Block 15 in Corvallis, and made the drive over Willamette Pass in the dumping snow. Given the weather (and the fact that the road to the rim at Crater Lake was closed) we decided to head straight to Mt. Bachelor to take advantage the 2 feet of snow hammering the Cascades!


Day 5: Bend

As our Wanderlust Tours guide educated us on the local landscape and geology, I found myself thinking of how 10,000 years earlier, the Newberry Volcano helped shape the Central Oregon landscape. That became obvious as we descended into the Boyd Cave outside Bend.


One hundred feet below the Earth’s surface and 1,800 feet into the Earth’s core, the cave acts as a fascinating window into the natural wonders of our planet. And it’s open to the public. Our tour guides enlightened us how molten lava formed these tubes, or caves, how cracks in the 150,000-year-old rock allow for oxygen, how rust and low-grade opal come to be, and how the cave is only one of three public caves in the geology-rich Central Oregon.

So what do you do when you exit a cave and want to continue exploring a rad region? Rent a fat bike in one of the coolest, most active towns in the country and ride along the beautiful Deschutes River. We felt like kids riding in the falling snow and getting our coats and pants muddy from the incredibly convenient and scenic trail system right out of downtown. Of course, a good bike ride, and a great day, calls for celebration. So we pointed it straight to McMenamins and indulged in cider beers in front of a crackling wood fire. Yes, Central Oregon is truly a special spot, and a guided tour augments the experience!





Day 6: Mt. Bachelor

Could our timing be any better? With 2-4 feet of snow in the forecast, we pointed the van to the Cascades and scored some serious powder at Mt. Bachelor, re-introducing us all to winter. Since we’ve been here at the gorgeous 3,000-acre Sunriver Resort, it’s just kept snowing and snowing.

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Interestingly, Bend and Sunriver average around 40 inches of snow a year — but after just a short 30-minute drive, you’re in the winter wonderland of 9,065-foot Mount Bachelor and its 450 inches of annual snowfall. We indulged in the 3,700 skiable acres and found untouched alleys of powder between giant conifers plastered in three feet of new snow and rime-covered moss. With “cinder cone smiles” after each lap and a palpable excitement felt in the lift line, it truly feels like we’re living an accessible dream.



Day 7: Sunriver


While visiting the Bend/Mt. Bachelor area, we were lucky enough to stay at the wonderful Sunriver Resort. Surrounded on all sides by thousands of acres of forest land, views of Mt. Bachelor and with 47 miles of walking/cross-country skiing trails around the property, Sunriver is a nature-lover’s (luxurious) oasis. The food at the two restaurants in the Lodge — Carson’s and Twisted River Tavern — is amazing. And there are dozens of activities on the property and a nearby village offering a brewery, grocery store, coffee shop, amazing spa and more — it feels like you never need to leave Sunriver! (Though of course you do, because the goodness of Bend and Mt. Bachelor are both just 30 minutes away!)


Day 8: Mt. Bachelor (Part 2)

After days of dumping snow and stormy weather, the skis finally parted for our final day at Mt. Bachelor. And man, was it fun!


As the crowds began thinning out after the morning rush, we discovered the Cinder Cone. The inbound, hike-to side country terrain, which was awesome. With all the recent snow, untracked powder turns were abundant. And then it got even better when Bachelor opened up the Outback chair on the west side of the mountain, offering even more playful terrain and powder. Once again, we followed up another great day of skiing with pitchers of local cider and beers.





Day 9: Bend to Baker City


We left Sunriver early en route to Baker City, with stops planned for the Painted Hills and fishing on the John Day River. Fueled up on breakfast sandwiches and too much coffee, we pulled up to the Painted Hills Overlook and just stared. Set against sunny, blue skies, the colorful paint-brush strokes across the range were just stunning. And there wasn’t a person in sight. We’d definitely recommend a winter trip to this Wonder of Oregon, simply to have it all to yourself.


We met our guide, Steve, owner of Mah-Hah Fishing Adventures, at a pull-off along the John Day River. We followed him down to where he’d tied up his boat and were excited to find that he’d set up a table and chairs, and had a delicious chicken, rice, and stuffing meal cooking for us in his Dutch oven.


After an amazing lunch along the river, Steve filled up our cups with hot coffee from his Thermos, and we pushed off for an afternoon of fishing along the John Day.

Fun fact: At 611 miles, the John Day River is one of the longest un-dammed rivers in the United States. We didn’t end up catching anything (the fish are much more active in the summer months), but we had an amazing day in what is one of the most beautiful, pristine areas we’ve ever been to!


Waking up to an Italian chandelier shining back at you feels like the proper way to start your day. The Geiser Grand Hotel, located in Eastern Oregon’s bucolic Baker City, first opened in 1889 during the gold-mining boom. But its restoration in 1993 by hotelier Barbara Sidway makes the Geiser a must-stay in this often overlooked region of Oregon, which boasts wide-open spaces between the Wallowa mountains to the east and Elkhorns to the west. Baker City is also home to the Lone Pine Café, whose locally sourced food (definitely try the eggs) pair well with a vinyl record of your choice. The delicious food, exposed brick walls and reclaimed wood bar add to the overall experience.

But it was time to head into the hills.

Typically only open Thursday through Sunday during the winter, Anthony Lakes Ski Area truly is a communal hill. Set in the Elkhorns, the one-lift ski area tops out at 8,000 feet and has the highest base area elevation — 7,100 feet — of any ski area in the Northwest.

Lone Pine Cafe

On “Powder Thursdays,” the ski area charges half price for a full-day ticket for —  wait for it — $17.50! That’s practically the same rate as when the ski area opened in 1961. (Of course that also means that a full-price ticket only costs $35.)


The general manager, Peter Johnson, has clearly made the ski experience about the skiing. The 1100 skiable acres, serviced by one lift that serves up 900 vertical feet, will keep you and your friends smiling all day with mellow groomers and few challenging steep shots. Johnson allows his employees, and the public, to park their RVs in the small lot, with electrical hook-ups. We learned this while drinking local beers from Barley Brown’s in the ski area’s homey bar and nearby cafeteria.

After finishing a delicious meal made by the owner of Earth and Vine Wine Bar and Art Gallery, we raced down to Baker City for a fun ride in a horse-drawn carriage ride around town. We sang Christmas carols and reveled in the beautiful spirit and cold of Baker City.

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Day 11: Baker City to the Gorge

Prodigal Son

We woke up to hot coffee and a beautiful breakfast served by our host Gayelle, owner of the Blue Door Inn in Baker City. A historic house converted into a 4-room B&B, we instantly felt right at home.
After breakfast, with snow dumping, we left Baker City to make the drive to the Columbia River Gorge. And man, was it
stormy! We had two flat tires just outside of Pendleton, but on a positive note we met some really nice people and had a few delicious beers at local brewery Prodigal Son. It might have taken us twice as long, but we eventually made our way to the beautiful Gorge, where we finished off our long day with blackberry cider, hearty pizza and laughs at Cascade Locks Ale House.


Day 12: The Gorge to Mt. Hood

The next morning, after a reported 1.5 inches of rain, we drove the Historic Columbia River Highway (what we called “Waterfall Way”), stopping at Horsetail Falls, which plunges 176 feet over and past giant green ferns. We hiked the short trail to Ponytail Falls, which offers one of the more unique perspectives of a waterfall; you can hike behind it and watch it blast out of a slot canyon in the rock 80 feet into a a giant pool. The access was easy and the experience breathtaking. It’s not often that you can view a waterfall from a cave behind the water, let alone only a ½-mile hike from a highway.


Trudging in the snow to the waterfalls made way for a giant cinnamon roll the size of your face at Bette’s Place on Hood River’s Oak Street. Hood River is known for its windsurfing and kiteboarding scene on the Columbia, as well as all the other outdoor opportunities that surround this fun, little town. Hood River is also only about a 30- to 45-minute drive to Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort. After receiving more than two feet of snow over the last week, Meadows looked and felt like a wintry paradise, with snow-caked trees, tall snowbanks, and plenty of trails and runs open. We made some on-piste laps and reveled in another day of fun, diverse activities.




Day 13: Willamette Valley

After two weeks of extensive traveling around the state, it was wonderful to finish off the trip by taking a moment to reflect on our amazing experience. And what better way to do so than driving the serpentine roads of the Willamette Valley, while stopping off at a few of the 200-plus vineyards known for their award-winning pinot?

King Estate.

King Estate2

Bordered by the Coast Range to the west and the Cascades to the east, the Willamette River allows for rich, alluvial soil, which creates fertile ground for farming and agriculture. Once known for its milk and honey production, now the valley is home to Oregon’s burgeoning wine industry and the farm-to-table experience.

Located southwest of Eugene, King Estate is the largest wine producer in Oregon and sits on a beautiful 1,033-acre property, offering vista views of the entire region.The winery offers tours of its massive facility, in addition to a magnificent lunch and dinner offering.

Currin Bridge
Currin Bridge

Just outside of Eugene lies Cottage Grove, the “The Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon.” Hop on the paved 36-mile Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway and pedal through and past six covered bridges set among the lush rolling hills of the Willamette Valley.

Back in Eugene, get a taste of the thriving farm-to-table scene. Several local farms raise their livestock and grow their produce on the nearby land and sell to fantastic restaurants like Marché in downtown Eugene’s 5th Street Public Market. The fine-dining establishment offers an impressive wine list with a knowledgeable staff that puts you at ease when selecting a local wine to pair with the locally grown food.

Located in Eugene’s trendy Whiteaker neighborhood (known to locals as “The Whit”), Oregon Wine Lab produces William Rose wines on site but also serves several local smaller wines. It’s a unique collective winery model, so get out of your tasting comfort zone and try something like the delicious Sangiovese Rose.

5th Street Public Market
Marche Provisions at 5th Street Public Market
Oregon Wine Lab
Oregon Wine Lab

With that, our Oregon journey was over. Big thanks to Roadtrip Oregon for our awesome home on wheels, “Stormy” the Eurovan, that made our two-week roadtrip around Oregon super comfy and extra fun! Until next time, Oregon.