Summer in Oregon means floating on shimmering rivers, devouring triple scoops of ice cream in fresh waffle cones and sipping frosty pints of craft beer during rooftop concerts. But at the state’s most iconic sites, it can also mean crowds. The scores of folks traveling here is understandable given the undeniable beauty and buzzing activity of the season. Still, summer isn’t for taking the paths most trodden — it’s prime time for uncovering the state’s best-kept secrets and revealing a fresh side of much-loved spots you may think you know well.
Float the Grande Ronde
This year, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, reason enough to float one of the state’s 30-plus designated waterways. Adventurers in search of crisp currents and breathtaking views will revel in the Grande Ronde River, whether you choose to raft in rugged solo kayaks, in sturdy flotillas made for floating parties or via guided tours.
Have a hankering to witness thousands of gallons of freshwater cascade in lush Pacific Northwest forests? You’re in luck. While there is a seemingly endless number of waterfalls to see in Oregon, Southern Oregon has at least 13 in close proximity that are perfect for bringing the kids. Round out the nature-focused trip by reserving campsites at Oregon State Parks in the area.
Stargaze ‘n’ Sip
There’s no better time of the year to scope the star clusters than in summer, with warm weather and clear skies to boot. Astronomy enthusiasts in Central Oregon will proudly help you understand the universe — and the area’s beer scene. Hopservatory perfectly pairs craft brews with stellar observation amid three floors, all jam-packed with science, curiosity and outer space. Grown-ups and kids alike are sure to leave giddy.
South Coast Secrets
Uncover the secrets of this southern stretch of Oregon’s 363-mile-long coastline. Take selfies with life-sized dinosaurs at the Prehistoric Gardens, bust out the binoculars for wildlife spotting at Harris Beach State Park and catch sorbet-colored sunsets at the aptly named Secret Beach (within Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor).
Car-Free in the Valley
Ride the rails and leave the car behind as you explore the vineyards, decadent farm-to-fork dinners and picturesque parks of the Willamette Valley during this three-day itinerary perfect for couples. Hop on and off the regional Amtrak Cascades line, and get ready for an excursion full of history, views and, of course, pinot.
Keep Portland Weird
Take Portland’s unofficial slogan to heart by scoping out some of the city’s quirkiest sites as curated by Local Adventurer. Standouts include the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and a tour of Oregon’s sweetest doughnut shops. Outdoor enthusiasts can trot along these lesser-known Forest Park trails, and for movie buffs, a Saturday night stopover at the Clinton Street Theater for The Rocky Horror Picture Show — reoccurring weekly for 40 years — is a neighborhood tradition.
Hike the Gorge
As the Columbia River Gorge bounces back from the 2017 wildfire, a number of iconic trails remain open and others are reopening through the summer. The wildflowers at Tom McCall Nature Preserve stay in bloom well through the end of June, and you can still careen through the chartreuse, lichen-covered basalt toward Latourell Falls (just be sure to arrive early or visit on weekdays to avoid crowds). This is also an ideal time to explore the trails in the eastern stretch of the Gorge, including soaking up the panoramic views on the easy-to-access Mosier Plateau Trail. Keep up with open trails using this map by Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
Lincoln City Summer Kite Festival (June 23-24): Huge, vibrant kites paint the sky at this two-day technicolor beachside festival full of expert kite-flying demos, free kite-making for kids, a lively race across the sand called Running of the Bols and more.
Waterfront Blues Festival (July 4-7): Celebrate the United States’ birthday by soaking up sunshine and the sounds of Americana at the largest blues festival west of the Mississippi River. This 31-year tradition boasts the state’s biggest bang of fireworks.
Portland Zine Symposium (July 28-29): Celebrate Portland’s thriving DIY scene by supporting independent zine and media makers. The 18th annual festivities include free workshops, panels and more. What’s a zine? A zine is a self-made publication that comes in many forms, shapes, colors and sizes.
Pickathon (Aug. 3-5): This independent music festival is a picturesque retreat located on a farm in Happy Valley. Most festivalgoers camp in the woods and spend their waking hours listening to spectacular, diverse live bands over several stages. Pickathon is even totally committed to sustainability and is pioneering a path toward zero waste.
Woodburn Fiesta Mexicana (Aug. 3-5): One of Oregon’s only majority-Latinx cities celebrates heritage in style at the annual Fiesta Mexicana — a proudly Mexican-American weekend affair with a dynamic parade, fútbol tournament and plenty of cherry-red classic cars.
Sunriver Music Festival (Aug. 11-23): The Sunriver Music Festival was born in 1978 when an audiophile snapped two fingers and discovered the amazing acoustics in the historic Great Hall. Four decades later, it’s a proudly intimate and beloved ode to the world of music with classical and pop concerts, open rehearsals and much more. Better yet, even after the excellent seasonal concerts end, the music continues to sound via the numerous youth programs the festival supports.
32nd Annual Restoration Celebration (Aug. 24-26): The Klamath Tribes were once one of the wealthiest tribes in the United States until their tribal status with the U.S. federal government was terminated in 1954 due to a disastrous policy. After a lengthy process, their status was restored, and they celebrate the significant triumph by inviting all people to their remaining land for a powwow, parade, youth rodeo, drums from across the nation and more.
Pendleton Round-Up (Sept. 12-15): Giddyap for the Pendleton Round-Up, a weeklong spectacle that oozes with Native American and Western pride. The Oregon tradition since 1910 invites attendees to put on their cowboy best and let ’er buck. Bonus: See how many must-see stops you can tether using the ultimate Pendleton bucket list.
Need to Know: Cell service can be spotty when exploring the lesser known. Be sure to bring a map and detailed road atlas before venturing out, and consult TripCheck.com for at-the-moment road conditions. For nature hikers and campers, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles, which include leaving what you find where it’s at, respecting wildlife and safely enjoying campfires.