Road Trip: Oregon is Paws-itively Perfect

A pro photographer and her 3 dogs explore lakes, waterfalls trails and a fire lookout tower.

Most weekends find Elena Pressprich on the road, heading out from her home in Central Oregon in search of fresh powder, unexplored trails and wide, sandy beaches. But no matter where she’s going and no matter what time of year, this avid outdoor enthusiast never leaves home without three essentials: Baya, Rio and Millie.

Her three pups are her constant companions, even tagging along with her every day to work, where she’s the in-house photographer and videographer for Bend-based Ruffwear performance dog gear. But weekends are what she and her dogs live for, when they hit the highway to find new places to stretch their legs amid Oregon’s stunning scenery. “We’re usually doing something every single weekend,” says Pressprich. “And we’ll take a longer road trip at least once a month.”

She documents their adventures on her popular Instagram account, @FindMeOutside, where she expertly captures the joy and beauty she finds on her outdoor excursions around the state. This spring Pressprich and her friend Kacie packed up their pooches and headed out for a three-day road trip from Central Oregon to the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood. Follow along as they hike to rivers, lakes, waterfalls and grand vistas, with a few stops for tasty grub and comfy beds along the way.

Clear Lake Cabin Lookout
Lake Creek Lodge

Land of Lakes

The trip kicked off not too far from home, in the Central Oregon resort town of Camp Sherman. Situated on the banks of the sweetly meandering Metolius River, it’s not much more than a wide spot off a forest service road, but this tiny slice of paradise has been attracting fly-fishers and nature lovers for over a century. Pressprich checked into a pet-friendly cabin at the historic Lake Creek Lodge but didn’t get to rest for long. The dogs still had some energy to burn, and the lodge property offered too many nooks and crannies to explore.

“There’s a creek, and at the back of the property they have a fishing pond, and open forest along the Metolius,” says Pressprich. “The dogs were having so much fun running around.”

For dinner they took a short excursion to nearby Suttle Lake, where The Suttle Lodge serves upmarket camp food, like crispy fish-and-chips sandwiches. “It’s such a dog-friendly place that they let the dogs [eat outside on the patio with us],” says Pressprich. “We had drinks and food, and the dogs were right by our side. After dinner we watched the sunset and let the dogs run on the beach right there.”

Tamanawas Falls

Chasing Waterfalls

In the morning, they fueled up with veggie-packed egg and tofu scrambles in the Lake Creek Lodge’s dining room before making the trek to Hood River. They ventured north through the Tygh Valley so they could stop along the way at White River Falls State Park, where the river thunders over a basalt cliff and tumbles 90 feet down. There’s even a historic hydro-electric power plant to explore. “It’s a pretty easy .25-mile hike to the viewpoint of the falls,” says Pressprich. “You go downhill to begin but of course it’s uphill back to the car. It’s very cliffy so we kept the dogs leashed.”

After a day on the road, Hood River’s acclaimed restaurants, brewpubs and adorable shops were a welcome sight. Plus, they got to sleep in cushy beds at the pet-friendly Best Western Plus Hood River Inn, set right on the Columbia River. “The views are beautiful,” says Pressprich. “And they even give you a sizeable bag of treats for the dogs.” 

Pet-friendly accommodations are just one of the many perks that make traveling in Oregon so much fun. “I don’t do anything without my dogs,” says Pressprich. “So when I find places like this, I just want to be there more and support them, because they’re making traveling with dogs so much easier.”

White River Falls
Clear Lake Cabin Lookout

Keeping a Lookout

The next morning they pointed the truck toward the forests of Mt. Hood, but not before checking out one of the Columbia River Gorge’s many waterfalls. The Eagle Creek trail closure has cut off access to the area’s most famous Punch Bowl Falls, so this was a great opportunity to check out the other Punchbowl Falls (note the slightly different spelling) at a three-year-old public nature park home to pristine salmon and trout habitat. A short, 1.5-mile loop along basalt cliffs offers beautiful views into the teal river and waterfall below, and leads to a beach at the confluence of the Hood River’s east and west forks. “The rocky beach with two rivers converging was gorgeous,” says Pressprich.

Then they journeyed on through the gorgeously hike-able Mt. Hood National Forest. They stopped at the Tamanawas Falls trailhead and leashed up the dogs. The easy, 3.6-mile out-and-back hike to the ethereal, curtain-like waterfall was the perfect way to shake off the road and soak in sights and smells of the forest before heading to the Clear Lake Cabin Lookout for the night. This wintry retreat, available to rent from early November through late May, is still used to spot fires in summer. Perched above the trees, it combines incredible panoramic vistas of alpine lakes, evergreens and Mt. Hood, with a ski-in, off-the-grid experience.

“It’s awesome,” says Pressprich. “We spent most of the day taking our time getting there. You drive up the road, pull over and park, then start skiing in.”

There’s no running water or electricity — just a bed, wood and propane stoves, and a guest log, “which is fun to read,” she says. But that slow-lane, lo-fi experience is all part of the appeal. “We play around the lookout a bit, then we go inside, cook and sleep.”

And when it’s time to head home, her furry trio proves traveling with dogs really does have its perks. “It’s all downhill back to the car, so I’ll put the dogs in a harness and they tow me,” says Pressprich. “They love it.”

Metolius River

If You Go

Elena Pressprich says adventure traveling with dogs requires a certain level of comfort with the inevitable chaos (“Your car becomes a disaster”) and a fair amount of planning ahead.

“It’s all about having the right gear and equipment to make the experience as stress-free as possible.” Waterproof seat covers are key. Keep collapsible water bowls and a jug of water in the car. Pack an emergency kit with tick repellent and tweezers because, yes, Oregon does have ticks. And bring dog beds, since pet-friendly hotels may not provide them.

When hiking on trails with dogs, it’s important to practice good etiquette — namely, keeping dogs on leash. And, of course, whenever you’re in nature, it’s important to stay on marked trails and follow these Leave No Trace tips.

Lake Creek Lodge: There are nearly 30 cabins to choose from. Keep in mind the lodge dining room is typically closed on Monday and Tuesday (as well as Wednesday through the winter).

The Suttle Lodge: The Skip Bar at the lodge is open for drinks and food all year round, while The Boathouse restaurant is open from sunup to sundown Memorial Day weekend through mid-September.

White River Falls State Park: The trailhead is located off Highway 216.

Best Western Plus Hood River Inn: Dogs are allowed in certain rooms for an extra $15 per night.

Punchbowl Falls Park: The trailhead is located on Punchbowl Road off Highway 281.

Tamanawas Falls: A Northwest Forest Pass ($5 per day) is required to park at the trailhead.

Clear Lake Cabin Lookout: Reservations and a Sno-Park permit ($4 per day) are required. This is an off-the-grid wilderness spot only available from November through May. Be sure to read up on the official guidelines before setting out.

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