In Oregon, every town has a story to tell. Many of the state’s hottest destinations for biking, paddling, fishing, fresh seafood and craft beer have only recently landed on the map for visitors. For decades, these communities had been working to reinvent themselves, to forge a new identity after timber, railroad and other industries slowed. Today visitors can tell by the faces of the friendly merchants, makers, rangers and tour guides who rely on tourism as a key driver of their local economy. That’s the theme of this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week (May 5-11, 2019), a time to celebrate the people that make all of our adventuring and Instagram posts possible. Here are three of those Oregon communities.
It’s lush and green here in Oakridge, at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, about 40 miles southeast of Eugene. Decades ago, railroad and timber were king. But as those industries slowed, advocates came together with a clear vision for their newest sustainable economy: adventure travel. Mountain biking is part of that — thanks to its 500 miles of thick woodland trails, the International Mountain Bicycling Association has recognized Oakridge as one of its 11 world-class ride centers. (Visitors can spend a few hours sprucing up a trail with the Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards.) Road cyclists also know Oakridge as the host city of Cycle Oregon’s 2019 Classic event, an epic 428-mile loop that winds through the landscapes of Central Oregon and Crater Lake. Trout fishers come to Oakridge for some of the best fishing around, and craft beer fans pledge their loyalty to Brewers Union Local 180, ranked as one of the top nanobreweries in the United States. Whether you’re dropping in to Westfir Lodge, Deep Woods Distillery, Lion Mountain Bakery or any other of the town’s newer businesses, the frontline staff are trained to share their passions through a “We speak Oakridge” campaign, and they’re more than happy to meet you.
Wild Rivers Coast
What used to be a scattered assortment of independent U-picks, farms, crab shacks and markets along the Southern Oregon Coast is now known as the Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail — a one-of-a-kind destination for anyone hankering for adventure that has been transformed by their new focus on culinary tourism, built on deep roots. Visitors can download a brochure, pack a cooler and spend a few hours, days or weeks on a self-guided road trip, with more than 40 stops for tasting and exploring this bounty at its source. To the small fishermen, farmers and makers along the trail, it’s reinvention of the way of life they had led decades ago. The small communities here gathered in recent years to look at their public land differently and decided to develop and showcase their biggest strengths: Their sustainable, homegrown agriculture, which often got shipped away for others to enjoy. Now, Wild Rivers Coast visitors can literally pick their pleasure, from the farm stands at Peters Cranberries or Jensen Blueberries in Langlois to fresh crab at Fisherman Direct Seafood in Gold Beach and craft beer at the tiny Arch Rock Brewing, recognized in 2016 with an esteemed World Beer Cup award. South Coast Tours offers guided trips along the Wild Rivers Coast as well, focusing on kayaking, paddling, fishing, surfing and customized van tours. Want to help keep the region unspoiled for generations to come? Sign up for a stewardship opportunity with the Wild Rivers Land Trust.
John Day River Territory
While other parts of Oregon offer beaches and forests, here in John Day River Territory it’s all dry, rocky grandeur — with 360-degree landscapes that feel like a trip back in time. In those colorful mountainous rocks are eons of prehistoric history, which visitors can soak up from the walking paths along the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. When visitors stop to see the exhibits at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, rent fishing or biking gear and enjoy a pint and a meal at a local business, such as 1888 Brewing Company, the residents of these small towns all share the wealth. Decades ago, wheat ranching was king here, as the John Day River was the sustenance for crops and cattle. In the past decade, more than 75 businesses — spanning the 200 miles and four counties along the John Day River — have come together to position rugged John Day Territory as something of a cowboy and cowgirl’s paradise, with ample opportunity for everything from rockhounding and camping to horseback riding, stargazing and hands-on farm work at Wilson Ranches Retreat. There’s also fascinating local history at Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, epic road biking along the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway and Old West Scenic Bikeway, and endlessly Instagrammable landscapes along the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway. (Consider lending your skills with resource management or visitor hosting as a volunteer at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.)