The Ultimate Guide For Best Day Trips and Weekend Getaways from Portland

by | Jul 5, 2024

Columbia Slough Kayaking

 Portland, Oregon, is a city known for its vibrant culture, stunning natural landscapes, and friendly locals. However, beyond the city limits lies a goldmine of day trips and weekend getaways waiting to be explored.

Whether you’re a long-time local looking for a quick escape or a visitor eager to explore the Pacific Northwest for the very first time, below are some tips to help you plan the perfect trip. From scenic drives to hiking destinations and much more, a lifetime of experiences beckon.

Outdoor Adventures in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area


Just a quick 20-minute to one-hour drive or
bus ride from Portland, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the most beautiful, expansive natural wonders in the world. It is also a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.

With its more than 80 miles of unfettered landscapes along the river, outstanding vistas, scores of eye-popping waterfalls, lush forests and open grasslands, a variety of activities catering to all adventure levels are available —  including hiking on scenic trails, visiting waterfalls, going road cycling, mountain biking, swimming, kayaking, river rafting, and wine tasting at vineyards. 

Best Places to Visit

Here are some top recommendations of places to visit during your next day trip to the Gorge:

Bonneville Dam

This impressive structure, located along the Columbia River, offers a fascinating glimpse into the region’s engineering prowess and natural beauty. The dam features a fish hatchery and visitor center, where you can learn about the history of the dam, its role in hydroelectric power generation, and the efforts to support local fish populations. Be sure to visit the fish ladder, where you can watch salmon and other fish species make their way upstream during the migration season.

Old Columbia Gorge Highway

This scenic drive starts at the Sandy River just past the town of Troutdale, leads you through lazy country landscapes and opens easy access to several far-reaching viewpoints of the Gorge, such as the Women’s Forum and Vista House at Crown Point, an historic, copper-roofed octagonal building offering panoramic views of the gorge. The drive also takes you to many of the Gorge’s best waterfalls, including Latourell, Bridal Veil, and Horsetail Falls.

Multnomah Falls

At 620 feet, this is Oregon’s tallest waterfall, and as such it’s also its most famous and visited. You can take a short hike to the Benson Bridge for a closer view or hike all the way to the top for panoramic gorge views. Because the falls is so hugely popular, during the summer months timed-use permits are required to access it by car. Arrive early to secure a spot.

The town of Hood River

This charming town is beloved for its location at the juncture between mountain forests and rolling oak savannas. It’s also one of the best spots in the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding. As if that isn’t enough, Hood River is home to several lauded craft beer brewers. Stroll through the downtown shops and waterfront, sun on the beach and take a dip in the river at the waterfront park, and then grab a pint at a local favorite brewery like pFriem or Full Sail.

Hood River Fruit Loop

The Hood River Valley is where much of the country’s tree fruits are grown, such as apples, pears, peaches, and cherries. Following the Fruit Loop route will take you into the scenic valley to 31 fruit farms and their stands. Along the way, stop at the Hood River Lavender Farm for u-picking the wonderfully scented flowers or picking up some of their lotion made with their steam-distilled oils. Bring a picnic and make the loop a full-day journey.

Mosier

About eight miles east up the highway from Hood River, the tiny town of Mosier has its history galore as a place where, starting in the 1800s, growers in the Mosier Valley shipped off their abundant fruit productions far and wide by train. 

Gravel roads into the valley rise past orchards and fruit stands and up into impossible heights looking out over both the valley and the Gorge. 

Back down in town, the Rock Creek Beach is a great spot for kiteboarding, windsurfing and swimming in the Columbia.

Bingen and White Salmon

Cross the Hood River bridge into Washington and explore the tiny town of Bingen, named by its German founders after their country’s town of Bingen located at the juncture of the Rhine and Nahe Rivers. Then head up a short drive to the similarly tiny town of White Salmon.

There you can catch views of Mount Hood as you stroll the street and shop for crafts. Or you can enjoy brunch at the Nativ Café (ask for their vegan options), where proceeds are donated to native youths and families. On display on its wall is local native art for sale. Alternatively, you gaze at the scenery below from the deck at either Everybody’s Brewing or Feast Market & Deli.  

Klickitat River

The Klickitat River is a hidden delight for outdoor enthusiasts. The surrounding area offers excellent opportunities for hiking, bird watching, and river rafting. The Klickitat Trail, a converted rail-trail, runs alongside the river and is perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

Maryhill Museum

Perched on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, Maryhill Museum displays from its collection an eclectic mix of art and artifacts. This humongous mansion built by Sam Hill, visionary and funder of the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway, was converted into a museum housing works donated by his friend the queen of Romania as well as by Auguste Rodin, European and American paintings, a Native American art collection, and unique exhibits like the Théâtre de la Mode, miniature mannequins dressed in 1940s French fashion. The museum grounds also provide a break from the surrounding bare hills with its gorgeous green shady lawns and gardens accented by a flock of strutting peacocks.

Stonehenge

Not far from Maryhill Museum, you’ll find a full-scale replica of England’s Stonehenge. This replica was commissioned by Sam Hill as a memorial to the soldiers of Klickitat County who died in World War I. The site offers panoramic views of the Columbia River and is a poignant and picturesque spot to reflect on history and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Vineyards

The Columbia River Gorge is also home to a burgeoning wine region. Prime grape-growing conditions created from lava flows, Ice Age melts, varied elevations and soil sediments has resulted in the emergence of over 90 vineyards to dot the landscape, growing about 45 grape varietals, and 40 of the region’s best under-the-radar wineries offering tastings and tours catering to all wine lovers.

Western Gorge wineries excel with pinot noir, pinot gris, and riesling, while eastern ones produce cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and zinfandel. Spend an afternoon sampling some of these finest wines while taking in spectacular views of the Gorge.  

Top Winery Picks:

Full-on Nature Immersion

Hiking

From trails in shaded forests leading to idyllic waterfalls, to grasslands with high-up panoramas of the Columbia River snaking off into the horizon, opportunities for easy to moderate and challenging hikes abound. 

On the Oregon side, hikes where you can soak in a deep nature bath include, starting first from Portland, Angel’s Rest, which takes you up to a rocky viewpoint over the wooded western end of the Gorge, while trails just past there will take you to some of the aforementioned falls further back from the road. In Mosier, the trail to the Mosier Plateau starts just past the Mosier Creek Bridge and climbs up to more wide-open views. Along the way, visit the Mosier Pioneer Cemetery with its headstones of the valley’s 19th century farmers and orchardists. You can also take a dip in the creek’s idyllic swimming hole.

Past Mosier, hiking in the Tom McCall Preserve is great for intimate experience of colorful spring wildflower displays as well as explorations into the more grassy, rolling and oak-studded lands.

On the Washington side, hikers can enter the Gorge’s magical wonders both close-in and high-up by taking the eight-mile loop trail at Cape Horn, which is about a 20-minute drive from the Portland Eco House. Next up for nature immerson and fantabulous views are Beacon RockHamilton Mountain, Dog Mountain, and the Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail.

Universal Accessible trails also exist, such as the carfree, paved Mosier Twin Tunnels section of the old highway and the Catherine Creek loop in Washington, inside of which you can catch peephole views of the river and Washington’s grassy, scabby hillsides and synclines, and outside of which over 90 varieties of wildflowers bloom amongst ancient oak stands and waving grasses.

Perhaps some of the most satisfying and greatest variety of hiking experiences can be enjoyed on the complex network of trails connecting the steeply sloped landscapes of the areas known as Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek.

These trails will take you up and through Ponderosa pine woods, oak savannas, and high prairies, all providing some of the most awe-inspiring views leading far into the distance of both sides of the Columbia River. Catherine Creek, with its spring wildflower displays, offers both vigorous and gentler trails suitable for all skill levels. Both locations are perfect for nature photography and picnicking.

Road Cycling

Old Columbia Gorge Highway: A scenic route with historical significance, this ride starts at the Sandy River just past the town of Troutdale, leading you through lazy country landscapes and offering easy access to several far-reaching viewpoints of the gorge, such as the Women’s Forum and Vista House at Crown Point, an historic copper-roofed octagonal building outside of which you can stand and look out at the extensive greenery. The drive also takes you to many of the Gorge’s best waterfalls, including Latourell, Bridal Veil, and Horsetail Falls.

Route to Cascade Locks: Cycle along this beautiful route, enjoying the fresh air and scenic views.

Hood River to Mosier on the Old Columbia Gorge Highway: This stretch is perfect for cyclists looking to experience the charm of the Gorge at a leisurely pace.

From the easternmost edge of Hood River town, take your bike on the Old Columbia Gorge Highway, inaccessible to cars, all the way to the Mosier Twin Tunnels

When you’re ready for a break, sit under the shade outside the rustic Mosier Company and grab yourself some lunch and a brew.

Mosier to The Dalles: For further biking adventures, continue from Mosier on the old highway as it winds its way to The Dalles, taking in more picturesque scenery and a sense of tranquility.

Gravel Biking in Mosier Valley: The off-the-beaten-path gravel roads in the Mosier Valley rise past orchards and fruit stands, offering fantastically high-up, expansive views of the Gorge and the surrounding valley.

Mountain Biking

Off-road biking is a sport that has been taken to with great gusto in the Gorge, with a number of opportunities to partake in it on both sides of the river, for beginners and pros alike.

Coyote Wall: Crossing paths with hikers, mountain bikers at this popular spot get to enjoy outstanding views along with its challenging trails.

Hospital Hill: Accessed from the trailhead just beyond Bingen and White Salmon’s Skyline Hospital, this system on Burdoin Mountain is known for its thrilling descents and technical trails.

Post Canyon Trail System: Located on the west side of Hood River, this huge, dense network of trails is a premier mountain biking destination suitable for all skill levels. The area features wooden structures, drops and jumps, as well as grinding climbs or shuttle options onto upper trails leading to exhilarating descents into lower ones, full of big gaps, downhill flowing and twisty cross-country passes.

Bike Rentals and Tours Available in the Gorge

River rafting

Experience the thrill of white-water rafting on the White Salmon River. Numerous local companies offer guided trips that cater to beginners and advanced rafters alike.

The major outfitters are Wet Planet Whitewater, River Drifters, and Columbia River Outdoors.

Discovering Mount Hood

Just 1.5 hours away from Portland and a short drive from Hood River, Mount Hood is Oregon’s tallest peak and offers year-round outdoor fun and stunning alpine scenery. This destination is perfect for both adventurous day trips and relaxing getaways.

Timberline Lodge

Built in the 1930s under the auspices of the Works Project Administration, this historic wooden lodge is located just where its name says, right at the foot of a ski slope, and it is chock full of handcrafted furnishings, such as wrought-iron light fixtures, carved newel posts, hand-woven drapes, and paintings by beloved Oregon artists (a few of which were framed by yours truly). It’s also a fantastic base for skiing, snowboarding, and hiking.

In the summer, you can ride the Magic Mile chairlift for some incredible mountaintop views. If you’re looking for a challenge by foot, you can hike one mile straight up to the Silcox Hut. If you’re up for even greater adventure, you can join a group to climb to the summit of Mount Hood.

Mount Hood Scenic Loop

This is a 100-mile drive that circles the mountain, passing through orchards, forests, and charming towns. At Trillium Lake you can swim, kayak or paddle with snowy Mount Hood looming brightly right over you. The loop is a popular choice for those seeking the best day trips from Portland, Oregon, combining beautiful scenery with a relaxing drive.

Hiking

Hike on a section of the Timberline Trail that loops around the peak or pay a visit to Lost Lake for peaceful mountain views. The Paradise Park loop trail, the Top Spur trail, which can be taken to McNeil Point also offer some of the best spots to absorb what this magnificent mountain is all about, the latter providing a straight line of sight all the way to Portland.

Snowshoeing and cross-country and downhill skiing opportunities abound in the winter. Both activities make Mount Hood one of the best day trips around Portland for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

Northern Oregon’s Dramatic Coastline

Just a 90-minute or two-hour drive from the Portland Eco House, the Northern Oregon Coast makes for a perfect day trip, allowing you to slow down, take a deep breath of fresh salty air and set your eyes on a gargantuan ocean with the wide glorious sky overhead.

Reached by a pleasant drive through small towns and forests, Oregon’s coast offers a wide array of immersive experiences to be enjoyed. These include rugged shorelines with dramatic cliffs, soft sandy beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see, towering needle rocks, stands of old growth trees, scenic hiking trails, high-up windy bluffs with far-reaching views, and small towns populated with locally-owned shops, restaurants and breweries.

Here are some of the top spots to visit:

Astoria

Astoria offers a mix of history and coastal charm. Its colorful downtown makes for a joyful walk where you can browse, satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst at a large selection of shops, restaurants and pubs. Explore the Columbia River Maritime Museum, or take a stroll along the Riverwalk.

For panoramic views of the area, climb the spiral stairs inside the Astoria Column. From its hilltop setting, you can gaze down on  the cityscape, coastline, and interior forests and rivers from all around. Designed after Trajan’s Column, the ancient Roman monument, a mural winds up its cylindrical outer surface from its foot all the way to its top, telling in pictures the history of the region and its inhabitants.

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach is renown for its location at the gateway to the Pacific Ocean. Its miles-long beach is idyllic for combing for seashells, wading or bodysurfing in the chilly, salty waves, kite-flying, or just going on a long hike along the beach while taking lots of pictures.

Haystack Rock: An Iconic Landmark

From the edge of the shoreline, the iconic Haystack Rock rises 235 feet. At low tide, the area around this majestic monolith reveals vibrant tide pools teeming with marine life. Its diverse ecosystem includes starfish, sea anemones, and crabs. Watch for puffins during nesting season.

Exploring the Town

The small seaside town that is Cannon Beach is beloved for its artistic community, theatrical playhouse, art galleries, book stores, boutique shops, cozy cafés, and excellent dining options with ocean views.

Explore the Town

Art Galleries and Art Festivals

Known as one of the best art towns in the U.S., Cannon Beach is home to numerous art galleries and joyous annual arts festivals featuring works by local artists. Come in May for its Spring Unveiling Arts Festival, in June for its Sandcastle Contest, in September for Earth & Ocean Festival, or in November for its Stormy Weather Arts Festival.

Cannon Beach History Center and Museum: Learn about the local history, including the story of the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse and the previous inhabitants of the town’s site, from the first settlers who arrived thousands of years ago, to others who migrated to the area less than two centuries ago.

Dining

The Wayfarer Restaurant & Lounge offers a perfect view of Haystack Rock while you dine. (Ask them for their vegan options.) Other dining opportunities include Mi Corazón Restaurant and Pelican Brewery, both of which offer vegan options. For another spot to grab a pint, try Bill’s Tavern & Brew House or the Warren House Pub.

Best Time to Visit: Spring and summer for the best weather and puffin sightings; fall for fewer crowds and beautiful foliage.

Parking Information: Cannon Beach has several public parking lots, and free parking spots are available at most of the beaches. But they can fill up quickly during peak times. Arrive early to secure a spot.

Be prepared for changing weather, and bring extra layers, as coastal areas can get windy and cool, even during the warmest summer days.

Ecola State Park

Just a short way north of Cannon Beach, this park offers spectacular views of the town’s coastline and chances to spot migrating gray whales. Intersecting hiking trails, including the Clatsop Loop Trail, Cannon Beach Rail or the Indian Beach Trail, will take you into coastal forests and onto the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Viewpoints, where through binoculars you can get a good look at the historic wave-battered structure way off on its own little ocean island.

Down below on Indian Beach, which you can get to by hiking trail, you can often spot surfers and marine wildlife.

Driving along Highway 101

Heading south on the twisting, turning coastal Highway 101, you will come to numerous viewpoints to stop at and get out and take in the vast ocean scenery. As well, many other stop-offs along the route are worth exploring.

Hug Point

Hug Point features a scenic beach, fascinating caves, and a small waterfall. It’s a great spot for exploring and photography, especially during low tide.

Oswald West State Park

This park is known for its trails through a lush old growth grove that lead to secluded beaches. Short Sands Beach is a popular spot within the park, ideal for surfing and picnicking.

Neahkahnie Mountain Hike

Starting from a roadside viewpoint over craggy cliffs, this trail just a few miles south of Cannon Beach leads up the forested mountain to a fabulous view of the town of Manzanita and its long beach.

Manzanita

This also-small coastal town makes for a relaxing getaway with its boutique shops and cafes as well as its beautiful seven-mile beach, most of which runs along a four-mile sand spit with sand dunes and shore pines leading to the peaceful inlet of Nehalem Bay and its curving shoreline.

Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for gray whales, especially during migration seasons.

Other Northern Coast Attractions

Nehalem

Just southeast and inland on Highway 101 from Manzanita, this little town makes for a nice visit for a meal and stretching your legs along its strip of local shops.

Three Capes Scenic Loop

This 40-mile route south of Manzanita links Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda, and it offers some of the coast’s most dramatic headlands and beaches. It’s a fantastic drive for those looking to experience the diverse beauty of the Oregon Coast in one day.

  • Cape Meares: Visit the Cape Meares Lighthouse and enjoy panoramic ocean views.
  • Cape Lookout: Offers hiking trails and a serene beach.
  • Cape Kiwanda: Known for its massive sand dune and vibrant tide pools.

Best Time to Visit: Summer for beach activities; fall for fewer crowds and beautiful foliage.

Newport

While it takes a bit longer drive to get there, Newport is home to some of Oregon’s best attractions, including the Oregon Coast Aquarium and historic bayfront.

Main Attractions

  • Oregon Coast Aquarium: Discover marine life at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, one of the top aquariums in the country.
  • Yaquina Head Lighthouse: Offers tours and spectacular views.

Sunset Serenity

As the day winds down, find a cozy spot and watch the sun go below the horizon. The sky will change color to orange and pink. The reflections on the sand and waves are another gift from nature. Slow down again and let the magnificent wonders refresh you.

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Willamette Valley Wine Country

Just 30 miles from Portland, the Willamette Valley is Oregon’s premier wine region, known for its excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. It’s perfect for a day trip combining scenic drives and wine tasting.

Highlights

Dundee Hills American Viticultural Area

These Yamhill County hills are famous for their red volcanic soils and exceptional Pinot Noirs. Enjoy tastings and beautiful vineyard views at wineries like Domaine Serene and Archery Summit.

Newberg

This charming town has a walkable downtown with tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops. Be sure to try the Pinots at Anam Cara and Artisanal Wine Cellars.

Eola-Amity Hills AVA 

Known for cool ocean breezes and shallow soils, standout wineries here include Cristom, Bethel Heights, and Witness Tree.

Where to Stay

Portland Eco House

After a long satisfying day exploring the beauty that embodies this delightful region, head back to the Portland Eco House, knowing a warm fire pit on the patio and a comfy bed await you.

Portland Eco House

 

We had a great stay here! It was walkable to some lovely shops and restaurants (loved the Tin Shed!) Scott was friendly, responsive and flexible.  The bedroom and living room both had air conditioning which was nice in the heat. The place was clean and had everything we needed. This was a great deal for a lovely room in a nice location.  We’d definitely stay again!.

M. O.

Portland Eco House Guest, July 2024

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