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From Snow to Sand: An Oregon Road Trip

by Travelbag on 09 January 2020, 13:01PM

Portland, Oregon

Oregon’s home to cool cities and diverse landscapes, ranging from wild rivers and evergreen forests to rugged coastlines. As Jo Thomas and her fiancé, Chalky, found, an eight-day trip along Oregon’s Scenic Byways is a fantastic way to explore this incredibly scenic American state.


Horse Riding in Central Oregon

Here was the day I’d been waiting for. Ever since I can remember, I’ve dreamed of releasing my inner cowgirl: saddling up and riding a horse through the Wild West. I just didn’t expect it to be the Pacific Northwest. But this was just one of the many surprises we encountered along a road trip through Oregon. And as the sun shone ahead on the trail, the grand vistas of The Beaver State were opening before of us. It was 9am and, under the watchful eye of our welcoming host, Larry, from Long Hollow Ranch, we set off on our obedient steeds. Larry had given them a good run at dawn to stretch their legs and burn off a bit of energy. I used to ride when I was younger, and felt jealous watching him before we headed out, but it made for a relaxing morning without having to worry about breaking into an unexpected gallop. The horses all kept in line and at one point we led them to the edge of a lake for a drink. A first-time rider might have felt a little nervous with them bowing their heads, but they were clearly used to this stop and didn’t misbehave.

Long Hollow is a working cattle ranch and just one option for riding in Oregon. Its trails are geared towards families, and their well-trained horses would inspire confidence in any beginner. We stayed out for about an hour and a half – just perfect given the heat of the morning. It felt bizarre to be enjoying the balmy sunshine, having arrived from minus two degrees and nine inches of snow on Mount Hood, 120 miles away.

Long Hollow 

Mount Hood and the Oregon Coast

We started from Mount Hood in the north and drove nearly 1,000 miles in total, roughly following an out-and-back loop from Portland. The Scenic Byways are the original paved roads that predate the Interstate system, and they are just as their official name suggests: a beautiful back door to old-time America. We arrived into Portland International Airport on Delta Air Lines’ direct London Heathrow service and were very swiftly on the road in our Cadillac SUV… it had to be done! We spent our first night at the Timberline Lodge – the storied hotel on the south side of Mount Hood that starred in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Less than five minutes after arriving, the snow started to fall – and quite heavily too. We were told this wasn’t unusual for June, with 20 days out of 31 having some sort of snowfall. Huddled by the fire with a glass of Timberline’s Oregon Pinot Noir, we were in heaven.

From the Timberline and Mount Hood, we had nothing but glorious sunny weather as we explored the state’s seven distinct regions, all easily connected by its beautiful Byways. The old roads add a little more driving time than the freeway, but the endless mountains, lakes, rolling landscapes, farms and covered bridges shouldn’t be missed. From the crystal-clear, volcanic waters of the magnificent Crater Lake, to the rushing waterfall at Silver Falls State Park – which plunges 177 feet into the lake below – so much of the Oregon experience is defined by being in, on or by the water. Driving to the coastal section of the Byway, in awe of the Pacific Ocean and the historic lighthouses en route, we stopped at Depoe Bay – a well-known whale-watching spot. Sitting on a bench looking out into the bay, it didn’t take long for a lone orca to break the water. Seeing this massive mammal as it journeyed north for the summer was an unforgettable moment, making the coastal part of our road trip complete.

Mount Hood 

The Oregon Dunes and Willamette Valley

We were learning each day that Oregon is a feast of natural beauty, but there are also thrilling adventures to be had. I’d heard about Oregon’s sand dunes, but nothing could have prepared us for the exhilarating dune buggy tour with Sand Dunes Frontier. The Oregon Dunes are the largest expanse of coastal dunes in the world, reaching 150 metres above sea level, and we felt alone in this sandy wonderland. Whizzing across and over the dunes at speed, our driver was able to deliver a heart-racing 30-minute thrill ride effortlessly. Nor would any visit be complete without sampling some of the state’s award-winning wines.

The Willamette Valley alone has more than 500 wineries, so we happily partook in a tasting or three at the Stoller Family Estate, Coeur de Terre and Mayasara Vineyard. And that’s before we got onto beer. Portland is one of the coolest cities in the US, and its craft beer scene is certainly among the liveliest. Our friendly Uber driver said that if we had time for just one night out in Portland, it should be at popular local hangout, Fire on the Mountain. We waited in line for about 20 minutes, but it was worth it for the prodigious array of beers and delicious chicken wings made from locally sourced ingredients. This unassuming place was a true Portland treasure.

Willamette Valley 

Eugene and Salem

Portland was lovely and we could have stayed for weeks, not days. But it would have been crazy to miss out on Oregon’s other cities. Eugene, less than a two-hour drive from Portland is also seriously cool. You can stop off at the Woodburn Premium Outlets on the way and take advantage of the state’s tax free shopping. Bursting with colour, Eugene boasts an impressive collection of public murals, which visitors can follow on a self-guided walking tour in between tasting their way along the Eugene Ale Trail. Our evening was spent at Wildcraft Cider Works, specialising in 100 percent organic ciders inspired by the owner’s time fermenting botanicals with a tribe in the Amazon jungle. The handcrafted wooden furniture, also made by the owner, completed the hipster ambiance perfectly.

In Salem, Oregon’s capital, there’s no shortage of things to do. We enjoyed a stroll through the historic downtown, including the State Capitol building, and admired classic and contemporary art in some of the galleries before a picnic at Salem Riverfront Park, overlooking the Willamette Queen – a steam-powered, sternwheeler boat. Salem was one of the last stops on our road trip and, as we had already fallen in love with Oregon by then, we decided to purchase our wedding rings there. Now we both have a permanent reminder of our incredible week on the road.

The Pacific Northwest is the ultimate alternative to the classic Route 66 road trip and I genuinely cannot choose what my favourite part of it was. Each region felt like a different country and its people are warm, friendly and clearly proud of their homeland. From immense mountains, desert plains, lush green farmlands and a windswept coastline, you won’t ever see the same thing twice... but I’d be prepared to go back and put that to the test.

Salem, Oregon 

Planning a self-drive holiday in America? Take a look at our great deals on motorhomes.

For more travel inspiration, check out our Escape magazine.

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