: Horse Creek Lodge

Why Guides Are the Best Way to Explore Oregon

May 11, 2021

Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.

I often feel like I’ve won the location lottery, growing up and living in Oregon. It’s not hard to find yourself in incredible locations, even in the state’s most populated cities. Wide-open spaces can be accessed in a day, the lush valley soils grow some of the world’s best wine grapes and aging forests cascade down mountains to touch the sands of the Pacific Ocean.

If you’ve spent any time in Oregon, you know that her beauty is only matched by the incredible people you meet along the way — the people who choose the high desert’s pine-scented air to start their day and whose lunch breaks include secret surf spots.

If you plan to explore the state this year, consider taking one of these passionate Oregonians along with you. Guides, tour operators and outfitters can enhance your visit to Oregon with safe and memorable experiences, plus a few insider secrets.

Here are all the reasons to book a trip with a licensed guide in Oregon:

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Four cyclists pedal down a path in a vineyard.
Join a guided tour for exclusive access to special locations, like bike & wine tours with MountNbarreL. (Photo by Brooke Weeber)

Leave the planning to the experts

Local guides know the ins and outs of the state, including all the important planning details like parking, permits and gear. Iconic places like the Columbia River Gorge often sees crowds and traffic at peak times, but you won’t have to hassle with parking while on a guided trip like the waterfall tour with Wildwood Adventures. For first-time backpackers, Go Wild American Adventures in Eastern Oregon takes care of all the planning for its handcrafted backcountry experiences, from gear and trail stops to wilderness safety and gourmet dinners that even include backcountry cocktails. Find the full-service stay-and-play experience at many Oregon properties like Horse Creek Lodge and Outfitters along the McKenzie River, which offers guided rafting tours, mountain bike rentals and shuttle service.

Your safety is a top priority

Oregon’s certified tour guides and outfitters keep safety and security top of mind — it’s part of the Oregon Outfitters & Guides Association Code of Ethics. Those leading outdoor excursions must also be registered through the Oregon State Marine Board or Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. Oregon guided tours have adopted extra COVID-19 precautions to keep you and your loved ones safe, including mandated face coverings, enforced physical distancing and limited group sizes. Many like America’s Hub World Tours have taken a COVID-19 safety pledge, which includes enhanced sanitation of vehicles and a commitment to the safety of guests. A Great Oregon Wine Tour also increased cleaning and limited capacity for their customizable culinary trips through wine country, the Oregon Coast and beyond.

South Coast Tours is the only guide permitted to run paddle tours on the wildlife-rich South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Get to know insider tips (and secret spots)

Whether you’re new to Oregon or lived here all your life, chances are you haven’t seen it all. Certified guides often have special access to lesser-known locations that aren’t available to the general public. In Central Oregon, Littleleaf Guide Service offers exclusive fishing trips on the Tribal side of the Lower Deschutes River on the Warm Springs Reservation and Smith Rock Trail Rides takes horseback riders on a private trail along the spectacular formations of Smith Rock. Mt. Hood Outfitters exclusively operates kayak tours on the glassy waters of Trillium Lake, while South Coast Tours is the only guide permitted to run paddle tours on the wildlife-rich South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Plant lovers rejoice as Gardens Dot Tours provides access to private gardens, research facilities and expert growers that you won’t find anywhere else.

A line of volunteers walks down the path to caves.
Don a helmet and headlamp and join Wanderlust Tours for a yearly lava tube cleanup near Bend. (Photo by Wanderlust Tours)

Gain a meaningful connection to a place

There’s a lot to love about Oregon, especially when you get to know the deeper stories. With naturalist-guided excursions, Wanderlust Tours shares the natural and cultural history of Oregon, inspiring stewardship of the environment. First Nature Tours offers focuses on sustainable and regenerative travel with voluntourism trips to rebuild trails in the McKenzie River area that were impacted by wildfires. For an urban adventure, learn about Portland’s layered history and culture with a BeerQuest Walking Tour — including haunted pub tours that take you back in time to when Portland was a city with a reputation.

A fishing guide shows how to cast a line.
Fly-fishing guides can teach you the right technique — and show you secret spots too. (Photo by Papersky Magazine)

Find your guided Oregon tour

Oregon is home to hundreds of licensed guides and outfitters ready to show you the best of the state, safely. Most offer thematic tours while others let you customize your trip’s itinerary. Maybe you want to taste Oregon’s bountiful food and drink — consider a farm tour complete with a on-site meal, or join the adults as a designated driver takes you behind the scenes at local breweries and wineries. Interested in getting outside? Take a naturalist-led hike or kayak with plenty of Q&A stops to better understand the scenery. For adrenaline seekers, book a whitewater rafting trip down one of Oregon’s many Wild & Scenic Rivers or ride a mountain bike down the state’s world-famous single-track trails with experts. Whatever piques your interest, there’s a trained Oregon guide here to show you the ropes. Check out these featured Oregon guides and outfitters ready to help you make new memories:

Culinary tours of Oregon

  • Lost Plate Food Tours: A small, family-run business, Lost Plate takes guests off-the-beaten-path to explore the Portland neighborhood restaurants and bars that locals love.
  • A Great Wine Oregon Tour: Learn about Oregon wine and the Willamette Valley with A Great Oregon Wine Tour, with each trip showcasing insider knowledge about Oregon AVAs and winemaking variables.
  • Oregon Traveling Tours: Family-owned and -operated, Oregon Traveling Tours works with local farms and small businesses to showcase the Mid-Willamette Valley, with a fleet of passenger vans and luxury cars taking visitors there.
  • MountNbarreL Guided Tours: Hood River’s premier tour provider and event planning company, MountNbarreL provides signature, all-inclusive tours featuring private vineyard tastings, cycling and e-biking gear and shuttles, seasonal U-pick and more — create your own custom package.
  • BeerQuest Walking Tours: Taking visitors to Portland’s best pubs and breweries on foot, BeerQuest Walking Tours explores the award-winning beer culture with expert local guides, plus a Haunted Pub Tour to uncover historic pubs and an underground tunnel system.
  • Wine de Roads: Located in the heart of Oregon Wine Country, Wine de Roads cycling tours provide a different “spin” on the wine tour experience, with breathtaking views of the Chehalem Valley while riding at a leisurely pace and stopping to sip wine at vineyards.

Nature tours of Oregon

  • Garden Dot Tours: Showcasing Oregon’s top gardens, nurseries, arboretum and horticultural venues, Garden Dot Tours customizes trips based on your group’s interests, size, accessibility and travel style.
  • Wildwood Adventures: Striving to accommodate guests of all ages and skill levels, Wildwood Adventures hosts sightseeing trips to the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge, beaches of Oregon’s North Coast, vineyards of Willamette Valley, historic sites of Portland and beyond.
  • Wanderlust Tours: Offering naturalist-guided trips year-round in Bend, Sunriver and Sisters, Wanderlust Tours is renowned for knowledgeable guides who take you away from the crowds to seek out the quiet of Central Oregon’s lakes, rivers, forests, and caves.
  • America’s Hub World Travel & Tours: Specializing in customized unique travel experiences, America’s Hub World Tours offers individual and group package excursions to Portland sites and shopping, Gorge waterfalls, Willamette Valley wineries, the Oregon Coast and beyond.
  • Oregon Tour Experts: With extensive local knowledge, Oregon Tour Experts provides professional guided tours and customized events to popular sites in Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake National Park, the Oregon Coast and more.
  • Best Oregon Tours: Providing customized private charter tours along Oregon’s less-traveled roads, Best Oregon Tours explores local nature, history, arts and culture — waterfall hikes, covered bridge tours and wine tasting.

Cycling tours of Oregon

  • Mt. Hood Outfitters: Since 2005, Mt. Hood Outfitters has operated as the primary resource for outdoor adventure in the Mt. Hood National Forest, from hiking and mountain biking to snowshoeing and snowmobiling to kayaking and horseback riding — plus a full array of rental equipment.
  • Horse Creek Lodge & Outfitters: Located in the beautiful McKenzie River Valley, Horse Creek Lodge & Outfitters offers guided whitewater rafting trips, mountain bike rentals and shuttles, along with other outdoor gear rentals.
  • Westfir Lodge and Cascades Outdoor Center: With mountain bike shuttles, whitewater rafting, cove kayaking and guided hiking and snowshoe tours in the heart of the Willamette National Forest, Westfir Lodge showcases the best of the Oregon Cascades.
  • MountNbarreL Guided Tours: Hood River’s premier tour provider and event planning company, MountNbarreL provides signature, all-inclusive tours featuring private vineyard tastings, cycling and e-biking gear and shuttles, seasonal U-pick and more — create your own custom package.
  • Peak Sports: Located in Corvallis in the Willamette Valley, Peak Sports is a local specialty store with equipment rentals and guided adventure services for cycling, paddle sports and snow sports.
  • Wine de Roads: Located in the heart of Oregon Wine Country, Wine de Roads cycling tours provide a different “spin” on the wine tour experience, with breathtaking views of the Chehalem Valley while riding at a leisurely pace and stopping to sip wine at vineyards.
  • Cog Wild: A family business that provides daily guided mountain bike rides, skills instruction and shuttles to the popular trailheads around Bend and Oakridge, Cog Wild Bicycle Tours is all about bringing people together for fun pedal adventures in nature.
  • Cycle Portland Bike Tours and Rentals: Offering daily tours of the city of Portland centered around history, food or beer, Cycle Portland Bike Tours  provide a guide, gear and plentiful interpretive knowledge.

Watersports tours of Oregon

  • North Umpqua Outfitters: The only whitewater rafting guide service in Southern Oregon’s Douglas County, North Umpqua Outfitters hosts daily whitewater rafting and inflatable kayaking trips on the Wild & Scenic North Umpqua River, April through September.
  • Horse Creek Lodge & Outfitters: Located in the beautiful McKenzie River Valley, Horse Creek Lodge & Outfitters offers guided whitewater rafting trips, mountain bike rentals and shuttles, along with other outdoor gear rentals.
  • Westfir Lodge and Cascades Outdoor Center: With mountain bike shuttles, whitewater rafting, cove kayaking and guided hiking and snowshoe tours in the heart of the Willamette National Forest, Westfir Lodge showcases the best of the Oregon Cascades.
  • Indigo Creek Outfitters: A family-run whitewater rafting company based in Phoenix in Southern Oregon, Indigo Creek Outfitters operates guided whitewater rafting excursions on the Rogue and Klamath rivers, from 3-hour tours to 5-day wilderness camping trips.
  • Kayak Tillamook County: Located on Oregon’s North Coast, Kayak Tillamook County’s sightseeing and instructional tours offers safe and reliable access to the region’s bays, rivers, sloughs, backwater channels and freshwater lakes — look for river otters, harbor seals, elk and raptors along the way.
  • Service Creek Outfitters: Take in the John Day River with Service Creek Outfitters, located on a small resort in Fossil that offers guided scenic trips and raft rentals.
  • South Coast Tours: Whether you’re looking to kayak, SUP, surf, fish, scuba, snorkel or simply sit back in a boat to look for whales and other wildlife, South Coast Tours provides fully equipped tours showcasing the pristine waterways from Coos Bay to Brookings-Harbor.
  • River Drifters: Since 1979, River Drifters has offered half-, full- and multi-day rafting trips for the whole family on the Deschutes, Rogue, Clackamas, Owyhee, Sandy and North Santiam rivers.
  • Orange Torpedo Trips: A leader in the outdoor adventure community, Orange Torpedo Trips (OTT) guides unique and thrilling active river-running vacations, helping guests gain a sense of personal accomplishment and introspection, with inflatable kayaking trips, rafting trips, raft-supported trail running and lodge-to-lodge fishing.
  • Sage Canyon Outfitters: During the summer, Sage Canyon Outfitters offers guided whitewater rafting trips on the Deschutes River, and come fall through spring they provide guided upland game bird hunts.

Jetboat tours of Oregon

  • Scenic Jet Boat Tours: Take in the awe-inspiring landscape of the upper Willamette and lower McKenzie rivers with Scenic Jet Boat Tours, based out of Harrisburg in the South Willamette Valley.
  • Hellgate Jetboat Excursions: Established in 1959, Hellgate has run excursions down the wild and scenic Rogue River through the historic Hellgate Canyon, full narrated as guests observe the sights and sounds of native wildlife as they glide inches above the river.
  • Jetboat Charter: Enjoy private scenic tours of the Willamette and Columbia rivers with NW Jet Boat Charter, where you’ll relax while taking in the awe of the wildlife and secluded outdoors.

Adventure sports tours of Oregon

  • Go Wild American Adventures: Explore the beauty of Eastern Oregon with Go Wild’s unique experiences, from backpacking and stargazing in the Elkhorns and the Wallowa mountains, to day hikes and paddling with gourmet meals, to beginner fly fishing, historic walking tours and glamping retreats.
  • Kaf Adventures: Build your technical skills and gain confidence in wilderness exploration with Kaf Adventures, a family-run business that offers educational courses and guided experiences for backpacking, mountaineering, winter travel, ice climbing, rock climbing and hiking.
  • Outriders Northwest: Based in Central Oregon, Outriders Northwest provides thrilling off-road ATV tours and unique snowmobile rental packages, with new machines every season thanks to its Adventure Polaris program.

Fishing tours of Oregon

  • Water Time Outfitters: Providing exceptional experiences on Oregon’s finest waters, Water Time Outfitters shares the love of fishing with fun-loving expert guides who help maximize guests’ success and take home memories that last a lifetime.
  • Double M Outdoors: Offering safe and exciting angling trips on Oregon’s North Coast and the Columbia and Willamette rivers, Double M Outdoors is a fishing guide and charter service that targets salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and walleye year round.
  • Go Wild American Adventures: Explore the beauty of Eastern Oregon with Go Wild’s unique experiences, from backpacking and stargazing in the Elkhorns and the Wallowa mountains, to day hikes and paddling with gourmet meals, to beginner fly fishing, historic walking tours and glamping retreats.
  • Little Creek Outfitters: Taking pride in conservation and stewardship, Little Creek Outfitters provides fun, quality angling experiences on the Deschutes, John Day, Grand Ronde and Sandy rivers targeting steelhead, trout and small mouth bass.
  • Steve Huber’s Guide Service: Based in Brookings, Steve Huber’s Guide Service introduces anglers to the abundant fishing opportunities of the Southern Oregon Coast.
  • On the Line Guide Service: Headquartered in the South Willamette Valley, On the Line Guide Service offers guided fishing trips for salmon, steelhead, halibut, lingcod and tuna.
  • Roaring Fork Guide Service: Offering fish adventures and scenic floats — including guided drift boat fishing trips on the McKenzie River — Roaring Fork Guide Service welcomes beginner and advanced fly fishers interested in targeting trout, salmon and steelhead.
  • Bend Independent Guide Service: Join a half-, full- or multi-day fly fishing adventure with Bend Independent Guide Service, with offerings a the Deschutes, McKenzie, Fall and Crooked rivers and East and Hosmer lakes.
  • Guided Waters Fly Fishing: Cast a line for trophy redband trout along the Klamath Basin on the Williamson and Wood rivers and Klamath Lake with Guided Waters Fly Fishing, based in Chiloquin.
  • Brookings River & Ocean Fishing: With experience guiding fishing trips in fresh and salt water, Brookings River & Ocean Fishing provides charter guide experiences along the Southern Oregon Coast.

About The
Author

Gabi Duarte
Gabi Duarte is the Global Sales Program Manager at Travel Oregon. Her favorite parts of Oregon involve the senses outside of sight — the feeling of Jory soil between your fingers, the smell of Ponderosa pine trees in Sisters, the sound of trickling streams in old-growth forests and the taste of Dungeness crab.