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The Ultimate Oregon Road Trip for Those Who Want to Do It All!

  • May 31, 2017
  • By Heather Benac
The Ultimate Oregon Road Trip for Those Who Want to Do It All!

Oh man, I freaking love Oregon! I know we’ve only met once but it suffices to say it had a big impact on me. When reminiscing on this trip, Mr. Benac and I always just gush about how everything was so sublime there. Up until last summer I had not yet visited the Pacific Northwest but I knew I would love it. Crazy I know! And when Mr. Benac mentioned needing to get away, I knew this was my chance!

There’s so much to do and see in the Pacific Northwest it can be tough narrowing the choices. Ultimately we choose Oregon because 1) Neither of us had ever been, 2) Flights on Spirit were practically free ($100 RT), and 3) It looked freaking amazing! Oregon is one of the beautiful states in the union for sure but it doesn’t get a ton of hype which is fine by us who are in the know. Leave those trails and campgrounds unspoiled for those willingly to seek their companionship.

Even once you know Oregon is the place for you, there is so much to see and do. By no means is this a comprehensive itinerary (sorry if the title was a bit misleading), merely scratching the itch for those wanting to see and do all that they can with a week’s vacation.

Day One: Fly into PDX, pick up rental car, drop bags off AirBNB, and head to where the action is. All that travel can really work up an appetite so we started our evening by exploring the Richmond area of Portland. Here you’ll find cute shops, tantalizing restaurants and charming homes. We settled on grabbing our dinner from the food truck yard off Division. This was a great place to hangout while also being able to select from a dozen or so food choices.

Next we headed to St. John’s Bridge for photos of its arches and the Columbia River. Portland has a gorgeous waterfront that runs right through the city. And the St. John’s Bridge that spans across it is a beautiful tribute to a more classical past. I know I’m not the only one who feels that they don’t make bridges like they used to.

Before we headed back to our lodgings we wanted to get ice cream cones from Salt and Straw. How good is this place? Let me put it this way, when we swung by at 10:00 pm there was still a very long line wrapped around the block. Was it worth it? Absolutely! I take my ice cream very seriously so I don’t say this lightly….but this could have been the best ice cream of my life. Here you’ll find such flavors as Honey Lavender, Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache (a personal favorite) and Pear and Blue Cheese. It was the sweet ending to the first day of our trip.

The Explorer's Edit - St. Johns Bridge, Portland

Day Two: We headed out early to explore the Columbia Gorge area. Our first stop was at the obligatory Multnomah Falls. At over 600 feet high, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. They also have a fun gift shop and restaurant near the parking lot where we passed a few minutes. One great feature of this stretch of road is that you can see several waterfalls just a short walk from your car. We decided on the fly to follow a path to the neighboring Wahkeena Falls because, really, when have you seen enough waterfalls.

By this point we were ready to pack in some serious hiking so we headed to the Eagle Creek to Punchbowl Falls trail. Note: there is a $5 fee for parking in either of the two lots and if you’re short on time, drive to the second parking lot. The Eagle Creek Trail is a moderate, 3.4 mile loop through the woods that overlooks the canyon and heavily wooded valley. There are a couple of steep spots where you’ll want to exercise caution while passing through. It’s a very fun hike that offers a big payoff in the end when you’ve arrived at the Punchbowl Falls. Here you’ll find multiple falls and the cool waters of the Eagle Creek. We had a blast wading into the water but for those who plan ahead and don’t mind a little cold, it’s a gorgeous swimming spot.

After our hike we had worked up quite the appetite and thirst! Having no firm plans besides heading east, we pulled over at Cascade Locks for a late lunch at the Thunder Brewing Island Co. This is a perfect spot to dine alfresco while overlooking the Columbia River. It was a gorgeous view!

With the remaining hours of daylight we headed up into the mountains for camping at the Lost Lake Resort. Oregon has so much to offer not the least of which is their beautiful Mt. Hood. While there are many activities surrounding the mountain, we choose to enjoy it’s splendor from this lovely campground. We really enjoyed relaxing here with on the docks with our books in hand, hiking around the lake and renting a row boat the next day. I wrote a more in-depth post about this resort here.

The Explorers Edit - Multnomah Falls & Eagle Creek Hike
The Explorer's Edit - Punchbowl Falls, Portland, Oregon
The Explorers Edit - Lost Lake Resort, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Day Three: After a campfire breakfast and spending some time exploring the campground and getting out on the water, we were off again for our next adventure. But first our need for sustenance led us into Hood River for lunch. Solstice Pizza came highly recommended and boy, were we glad to have had lunch there. Our pizza blue cheese, caramelized onions and pear pizza really hit the spot.

Now for the biggest challenge yet: hiking Munra Point. This hike is no joke, and a bit precarious in spots, but the views at the top are astounding. The trail isn’t very clearly marked so it helps if you download the trail map ahead of time. As you ascend the trail can vary from paved sidewalk, to easy trails through the forest to scrambling with a rope as you climb a wall. We were so worn out by the end of it and covered with dirt as portions of the trail are quite dusty. We stopped for Jamba Juice once we were back in Portland and after placing my order, I used the restroom to clean up a bit. I was not prepared for the sight back in the mirror! I’m sure the Jamba Juice staff were silently wondering what hole I had crawled out of. But would I do it again for the most amazing views of the Columbia River including clear into Washington? Heck yes!

The Explorers Edit - Mt. Hood from Lost Lake Resort, Oregon
The Explorer's Edit - Munra Point, Oregon

Day Four: Being back in Portland we spent half of the day exploring the city further. After a hearty breakfast we headed downtown to check out the wildly popular Powell’s Book Store. This lovely place occupies a whole city block and lays claim to be the largest independent bookstore in the world. Be still my bibliophilic beating heart! Seriously our hour there was nowhere near enough.

Because our breakfast just wasn’t large enough it was off to Voodoo Doughnut for us! There’s a heated battle between Voodoo Donuts and Blue Star to be the best in the city. I can’t comment on Blue Star’s flavor but Voodoo’s product and their funky bakery were divine!

With just a couple more hours left in the city we took advantage of Bike Town, Nike’s sponsored bike share program. We loved how hassle free and affordable the program was. We cruised up and down the waterfront, really taking in the views and gorgeous weather.

Speaking of the weather, apparently it rains a lot in Portland which is why it’s so green. However by visiting in August we really lucked out in having perfect weather. The only time we saw rain one the morning of our last day when we were right on the coast and it cleared up as we drove inland.

But it was goodbye to Portland for a few more days as we headed south to the Opal Creek Wilderness in the Willamette National Forest for camping. If I had to choose just one part of our trip that was our absolute favorite, this would be it. And on our next trip back to Oregon we’re definitely headed to the Opal Creek Wilderness to spend more time. Everywhere you look you’ll see trees several hundred years old but it’s believed that some are more than a 1,000 years old.

How about that campsite? Out of this world setting! Camping at the Shady Cove Campground is first come, first serve which meant when we rolled in later in the day all the campsites were gone. But it ended up being for the best because had we gotten a campsite we wouldn’t have driven back into the forest to camp along tributary of the Santiam River. Here they have the more secluded, primitive campsites. As you’ll see from the pictures we literally camped next to this gorgeous, clear stream running through the forest. We fell asleep at night to the sounds of a babbling brook in our ears. During the daylight hours we set up our hammocks along the stream and read. It was amazing!

The Explorer's Edit - Voodoo Donuts, Portland, Oregon
The Explorer's Edit - Portland Bike Share
The Explorer's Edit - Opal Creek Wilderness Camping
The Explorer's Edit - Opal Creek Wilderness

Day Five: The next morning after more of that relaxing by the stream, we pulled ourselves away for lunch in Mill City at the Mountain Edge Cafe. It’s super interesting to see how lumbering is still very present in parts of Oregon. Go figure when you spend time in a town named, “Mill City”!

After our hearty lunch we headed back to the Opal Creek Wilderness to explore the Three Pools. You’d be hard pressed to find a swimming hole better than this one in the lower 48. Aside from the water being, shall we say, brisk, it was a stunning and refreshing shade of emerald green. We spent hours jumping from the cliffs, swimming upstream through the various pools and relaxing on our backs as the current pulled us through the forest lined banks. It was the stuff of dreams. There is so much that this forest offers in terms of hikes and enticing waters. We cannot wait to visit again.

It wouldn’t be the ultimate Oregon road trip unless it involved the coast which is where we headed next. It was a late by the time we rolled into our campsite at the Cape Lookout State Park. Thankfully we had the tent set up process down pat as we set it up in the dark. Even with our packed schedule there was still time left in our day for a stroll along the beach under the starry night sky and to sit around a campfire left unattended on the beach. That’s one thing that really blew me away about Oregon, the brightness of the stars there. Sleep was definitely welcomed as we fell asleep to the nearby sound of waves crashing.

The Explorer's Edit - Three Pools Day Use Area, Oregon

Day Six: I wrote all about that next day here, but it bears repeating the highlights. We started our day up the coast by making a stop at Jacobsen Salt Co. which was right on our route to Tillamook. Jacobsen Salt Co. is recognized nationally as offering some of the purest sea salt available due to their laborious process of harvesting and purifying the salt that a longer duration than most other sea salts you can buy. The coolest aspect of course is that it’s all harvested right there from Netarts Bay. We enjoyed seeing their small operations and purchasing some items from their gift shop.

While in Tillamook we knew we had to stop by the famous creamery that bears its name. It’s a great stop off to learn more about their company story, operations and sample their products. We had a delightful lunch in their restaurant, completed the free self-guided tour and then finished with our obligatory ice cream cones. It’s was loads of fun but I will say at least the day we went, it was quite crowded.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at Oswald West State Park. Sunny days on the coast I hear can be rare so we weren’t about to lose a second of that glorious sunshine. The park offers great hiking through its coastal rainforest before ending at Cape Falcon. It’s was a beautiful meander through the massive western red cedar, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees that form the rainforest. As dusk fell we took a short cut to the beach below and lucked out to be invited to take over someone’s bonfire as they were leaving. Pacific Northwest. Beach. Bonfire. The stuff of which youthful, adventurous hearts are made.

We warmed ourselves by finishing our day with delicious clam chowder from The Pelican Brewing Company in Cannon Beach. This definitely hit the spot before retiring to our cozy bed and breakfast for the evening. After a few days of camping, that soft bed and warm bath never looked so good!

The Explorer's Edit - Oregon Coast Shoreline
The Explorer's Edit - Tillamook Creamery, Oregon
The Explorer's Edit - Oswald West State Park, Oregon

Day Seven: Still with me as we enjoyed our last day of this epic Oregon road trip? As the grand finale we enjoyed a rich breakfast from the comfort of the bed and breakfast while the weather rained gray and chilly outside. Considering it was the only rain we saw our whole trip I didn’t mind it! And as we drove inland the weather turned bright and sunny. With just an afternoon left in Oregon we headed back to Portland and explored Forest Park. I highly recommend the lovely trail up to the Pittock Mansion. Though with more than 80 miles of trails right in the city, you can’t go wrong! Visitors are permitted inside the mansion with the purchase of a ticket. We preferred to pass the time relaxing on the lawn and admiring the views of Portland from the vantage point.

The Explorer's Edit - Pittock Mansion
The Explorer's Edit - Pittock Mansion, Portland

And there you have it, our week in Oregon. Really we barely scratched the surface for all the gems this part of the state offers. There’s so much I can’t wait to see for our future trips. Have you experienced the magic of Oregon? If so I’d love to hear about your favorites.

By Heather Benac, May 31, 2017
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