Whether you’re playing on the slopes or in the water, discovering lesser-known wine and food experiences, or getting an insider’s city tour, Oregon travel is rewarding for the mind and body. Sure, you can navigate your own way. But how many times have you been hiking with a friend who pointed something out — a landmark, a wildlife sighting, a tidbit about the history or geology of the area — that stuck with you far beyond your adventure? Oregon is full of expert guides who can help us experience far beyond what we might otherwise see or feel on a self-guided trip. They help us understand and appreciate our surroundings, whether it’s an area we’re exploring for the first time or the 50th.
During COVID-19, taking a guided tour is a safe and exciting way to experience the state. Many operators have limited their groups to smaller-sized parties, with mandated face coverings, enforced physical distancing, and other protocols to keep you and your loved ones safe. Here’s what you need to know.
Top Things to Know:
- Strict hygiene measures are in place.
- Face coverings are required in Oregon.
- Embrace the season while social distancing outdoors.
- Safety protocols include health screenings and group size limits.
- Reserve your experience in advance.
- Many tours can be customized.
- Transportation is usually provided.
- Gratuity is kindly appreciated.
Safety Protocols Are in Place
Strict hygiene measures — including daily sanitizing of door handles, seats and other frequently touched surfaces, as well as supplying hand sanitizer in vehicles and health monitoring of guests and employees — ensure everyone stays safe and healthy at America’s Hub World Tours, a Black-owned business based in Portland. The company has adapted COVID protocols for its sightseeing trips around the Rose City as well as to Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, Mt. Hood, and wine tasting throughout the Willamette Valley. Tours via Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van are available for one to eight people, with cancellations fully refundable up to 24 hours prior.
Group Sizes Are Limited
Know that tours have limited group sizes to account for social distancing. In the warmer seasons, paddling is a superb way to enjoy the fresh air with your family or bubble. For instance, South Coast Tours offers several spectacular ways to experience the rugged beauty of the Southern Oregon Coast. March through October, check out their beginner-friendly kayaking, surfing or snorkeling tour, or be wowed on a whales- and wildlife-viewing trip on their new rigid-hull inflatable boat. Only one family unit per boat or shuttle is allowed, face coverings are required, all equipment is sanitized and the company is keeping records of guests for contact tracing. Call to see if any land-based tours are being offered during the winter months.
Reserve Your Tour in Advance
It’s always best to make reservations in advance to ensure you secure the guided trip you want, especially during peak season in popular areas like Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor. This helps local guide services plan to best meet your needs, although last-minute reservations can sometimes be accommodated. Mt. Hood Outfitters is one of several guided snow tours that help you whoosh safely through the forest, offering four different snowshoe tours that are all private, with a maximum of nine people. Guests must wear face coverings for the whole tour and pass a health screening prior to the tour.
Customize Your Experience
If you’re always looking to go where the locals go, you’re in luck, because it’s locals who lead most guided trips. For a unique perspective, book an expert-led trip with Littleleaf Guide Service or other Indigenous fishers to explore native land and river access on the Warm Springs reservation. On the Coast, you can book an experience with former park ranger Cameron Rauenhorst of Captain Clameron’s Excursions for his insights and expertise in clamming, crabbing, fishing, tide-pool touring, mushroom hunting and bridge walks, as well as insider knowledge on activities like playing disc golf and berry picking. Farm 2 Fork Tours offers customizable farm and culinary experiences featuring private behind-the-scenes tours of creameries, wineries, olive mills, hops farms and more — with plenty of special tastings along the way, too.
Embrace the Season While Social Distancing Outdoors
Many outdoor activities are naturals for social distancing. Snowshoeing is one of those, with guides who ensure a stress-free experience so all you have to do is literally follow in their footsteps. Bend-based Wanderlust Tours has implemented a series of safety protocols for their snowshoe and other tours, including health checks, face-covering requirements, physical-distancing guidelines and a limited number of people in their transportation van — though guests can also choose to drive themselves to the meeting point. Their year-round tours are a great way to embrace the seasons in Central Oregon — everything from snowshoeing and snow camping to exploring local brewpubs, photo spots, caves and waterways for paddling.
Enjoy the Ride
Many guide services include shuttle transportation to and from the tour or as part of the tour experience, with face coverings required for all throughout the duration of the trip. Leaving the driving to the expert lets you sit back, relax, and avoid the hassle of driving and finding parking. It also gives you and your guide a chance to get acquainted and preview important information on the way to your destination. You’ll want to take in all of the dreamy landscapes as you ride in a shuttle van from Joseph to Hells Canyon in Eastern Oregon with an outfitter like Winding Waters River Expeditions en route to your multiday rafting excursion. The company offers a flexible cancellation policy due to illness and has strict COVID protocols in place. Add-ons to the rafting tour include a focus on photography and wildflowers, gourmet meals, fishing, and other side trips. The 2021 season runs from late April to late September.
Gratuity is Appreciated
While equipment, expertise, transportation and fun are included in expert-led tours, gratuity is not. If you’ve enjoyed your experience, show it with gratuity for your guide — who is now going far above and beyond to ensure everyone’s safety and fun. As a one-woman show, Chevonne Ball, owner of Dirty Radish, isn’t actively promoting her private wine-tasting tours around the Willamette Valley but is accepting bookings on a case-by-case basis. Ball, a certified sommelier, takes it upon herself to customize your tour based on factors like the weather, the ages in your party, and what type of wine and ambiance your party indicates they like. Then she’ll take you outside of your comfort zone to visit the producers she has built relationships with over the past decade of pouring their wines in restaurants. “I don’t tell people where we’re going. I keep it a surprise. I know what you want and I know what you need,” she says. Ball notes that she does not request gratuity for herself, but she does ask that guests show any gratuity to their driver, based on the quality of the experience — typically 10% to 20%. Drivers take care of the little things like warming up the car before guests get in, making sure the backseat is accessible and having hand sanitizer at the ready. It’s also becoming more standard to tip tasting-room staff if you have an exceptional experience, Ball says.