From the mountains to the coast: 5 weekend escapes from Portland

December 17, 2015                 4m read time
Barbie Carpenter

Swap home life for a weekend of outdoor excitement by tapping into the natural wonders that surround Portland, Oregon. Snowshoe on an active volcano, hike to a waterfall, or swim in the nation’s deepest lake. Pick your favorite landscape and hit the road for a weekend away. With 6,000 lakes, nearly that many campsites, and 230 state parks, Oregon is packed with wild places to explore.

1. Swim in a massive crater

Crater Lake National Park four hours south of Portland Andrew Zarivny

Crater Lake National Park four hours south of Portland

Andrew Zarivny


Take a dip in the nation's deepest lake at Crater Lake, four hours south of Portland. Formed by a collapsed volcano, the 1,943-feet-deep lake no longer spews lava, but it still has a whole lot of drama, including stunning 2,000-foot-high cliffs and water so blue that it looks unnatural. Visitors can explore hiking trails by snowshoe in the winter or hike or camp on the banks of the river in the summer. Tour the area by boat or one of the three Crater Lake trolleys, or cool off by swimming in this expansive body of water on warm days. After you’ve worked up an appetite, swing by Jo’s Organic Grocery and Deli to resupply with some of their all-organic campside fare. Cheers to a weekend out of town!

2. Gorge on nature at the Gorge

View of the Columbia River Gorge from the Vista House in Oregon Jon Bilous

View of the Columbia River Gorge from the Vista House in Oregon

Jon Bilous


Head a half-hour west to the Columbia River Gorge. This expansive National Scenic Area stretches across 292,500 acres, giving you ample space to play. Whether your preferred method of travel is on foot, bike, or horseback, you can explore the area on 20 miles of trails, which weave through fields of wildflowers, valleys with sweeping views, and past more than 25 waterfalls.

The Gorge offers plenty of al fresco accommodations, including campgrounds that are more than 100 years old. Three developed campgrounds house 44 campsites for tents and trailers. Go native by catching your own dinner—several campgrounds promise lake, stream, river, or pond fishing.

3. Toast to a weekend away

Williamette Valley in Oregon Robert Crum

Williamette Valley in Oregon

Robert Crum


A weekend of wine tours is just an hour away in the Willamette Valley. Two-thirds of the state’s wineries are located here—that’s more than 400 wineries total. With so many to choose from, your weekend excursion will require a carefully crafted itinerary. Equestrian Wine Tours allow you can saddle up on a well-trained Tennessee Walking Horse and ride through the Red Hills of Dundee from one winery to the next. Book a half-day winery tour on ZOZI, where your chauffeur for the day will drive you to a few wineries, including WillaKenzie and Rex Hill, where you’ll sip some vino and learn about the wine-making process. If you want to check out the region from above, choose a helicopter tour with Precision Helicopters or hot air balloon tour with Vista Balloon Adventures (both take flight from Newburg), where you can drop in for a glass of locally produced vino like the VIP that you are. Whatever method of transportation you choose, try a glass of pinot noir, the area’s specialty.

With access to so many top-flight wineries within a 60-mile radius, the Willamette Valley wine region has become a luxury destination for many. As a result, your accommodation options abound, whether you want to rent a single-story ranch home, find a cozy spot in a local bed-and-breakfast, or live like royalty (for the weekend, at least) at The Allison Inn & Spa, a vineyard-adjacent hotel with swimming pools, bars, restaurants, and a fitness studio on site. You’ll need to burn off all of those wine calories somehow.

4. Climb to the Top of Oregon

Meadows in Mount Hood Oregon Cheryl Hill

Meadows in Mount Hood Oregon

Cheryl Hill


Mount Hood, an active volcano and the state’s highest point, is a 90-minute drive southeast. Climbing more than 11,000 feet in elevation, Mount Hood offers year-round winter activities at the Timberline Lodge Ski Area, where you can snowshoe, cross-country, ski, or go on a snowmobile tour even when the rest of the U.S. is sunbathing on the beach. For a seriously memorable and picture-worthy moment during the holidays, tube down a slope illuminated with more than 600,000 LED lights at Cosmic Tubing.

If you visit in warmer months, rent a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe from Mount Hood Adventure for an action-packed day on the water. Hike a 7.2-mile loop alongside the Sandy River until you reach 50-foot Ramona Falls. Adrenaline junkies should head to the Mount Hood Adventure Park, where you can climb up three stories and zip-line for 800 feet over the national forest. Speaking of adrenaline, if you choose to tackle the top of the mountain, you’re in good company. Mount Hood is the second-most climbed mountain the world, behind Mount Fujiyama in Japan.

5. Head to the Shore

Columbia River at Astoria in Oregon Paul Picone

Columbia River at Astoria in Oregon

Paul Picone


Nothing rejuvenates the soul like a relaxing weekend by the water. Drive about 90 miles northwest for a weekend in Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River. This coastal community has been recognized as one of the nation’s best small towns by Smithsonian and Sunset magazines. During the day, stroll along the beach, which is marked by fine sand, towering dunes, and uninterrupted views of the Pacific. Or wander the area's local boutiques. (Astoria is happily free of corporate chain stores.) By night, enjoy a romantic dinner at Columbian Cafe, where you can dine on fresh, locally caught seafood. Check out the local event calendar—you can catch the Astoria International Film Festival every October. February welcomes the Fisher Poets series, where local fisherman sing songs and tell stories. Bonus: Astoria is free of corporate chain stores

Barbie Carpenter

Barbie Carpenter is a freelance writer and editor and self-proclaimed grammar enthusiast based in Lexington, Kentucky. When she’s not polishing prose, she’s spending time with her husband and two young children, exploring the Bluegrass region, and planning her next trip to the beach.

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