26 May 2022 by Rachel Mostyn
Wexas USA specialist, Rachel Mostyn, travels to Oregon and discovers a state rich in natural wonders, cultural heritage and cutting-edge urbanity – perfect for a fly-drive holiday.
From the iconic beauty of Crater Lake National Park to the urban cool of trendy Portland, Oregon is a state of natural wonders, of rich history and of surprising diversity. Windswept beaches front verdant forests while snow-capped peaks give way to sweeping rangelands and towering rock formations are born out of dramatic river valleys. One moment you could be tasting your way through one of the state’s 750 vineyards and the next taking a board down one of its fabled slopes. Oregon is, after all, host to North America’s only year-round ski season. What’s more, with British Airways' new non-stop flights between London Heathrow and Portland launching on 3rd June 2022, it’s never been closer.
It’s got the superlatives to back it up, too. Oregon features the continent’s deepest river gorge, the world’s second-most-climbed mountain and the country’s deepest lake – Crater Lake National Park. Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge even features the largest concentration of wintering bald eagles – a true American icon. It’s all predicated on millennia of geological activity, marked by explosive volcanicity and best showcased with Oregon’s 360-strong collection of state parks. Indeed, the John Day Fossil Beds is one of the richest fossil sites in the world. Here, world-class museums and mountains stratified into painted bands of colours remember some 45 million years of natural history.
Painted Hills, Oregon
But, it’s not just for looking at and measuring. Much of Oregon’s charm lies in getting out there and exploring; those wild rivers make for some of the finest white-water rafting and lush, waterfall-troubled woodland make for ideal hikes. After all, nearly half of the state is forested. And, the spirit of the Old West is very much alive here, with the high desert of Eastern Oregon a postcard of dusty plains, jagged red rocks and snow-capped peaks that roll down into golden wheat fields and hills of sage. You can even live out your cowboy fantasy with a stay on a historic ranch, complete with horse rides, cookouts and, yes, lasso lessons. Don’t also miss out on Bend’s High Desert Museum where the region’s pioneer heritage comes to life in live demonstrations. The other side of the coin can be found with the state’s nine Native American tribes, their story told in reservations and fascinating heritage centres.
Silver Falls, Oregon
How best to take it all in, then? There’s only one answer – indulge with that great American tradition, the road trip. Many of the best routes map its spectacular coast, stopping off at remote coves, historic lighthouses and quaint seaside towns. You’ll also be rewarded if you turn inland, with everything from high mountain passes to open roads that lead through horizonless plains. It’ll come as no surprise that Oregon features more scenic highways than any other state. But, if two wheels is more your thing, then look no further than the state’s Scenic Bikeway programme, the only one of its kind in America. Comprising over 300 miles of prime trail, it’s a collection of routes first suggested by locals. You’ll just have to choose between desert-canyon challenges and gentle sweeps through fertile farmland.
Cycling along Oregon's Pacific coast
Then, at the end of it all, you’ve earned some quiet respite. Get away to a quiet mountain cabin, tee off on an award-winning golf course and luxuriate with one of Oregon’s world-class spas. And, with 363 miles of coastline to choose from, it’s not difficult to find a pristine slice of beach to call your own. There are even 16 hot springs dotted throughout the state, and that’s just the ones they know about.
Oregon's hot springs, hidden deep in the wilderness
However, hidden away among the great outdoors, there’s a slice of considered urbanity – Portland. Once overshadowed by its bigger, West-Coast cousins, Oregon’s largest city is truly coming into its own. There’s a microbrewery and artisan coffee house on every corner, galleries exhibit the latest in local work, and cinemas screen indie releases, washed down with a craft beer, of course. Then, if shopping is more your bag, you’ll be happy to hear that Oregon has no sales tax and Portland a myriad ways to take advantage, from big-brand arcades to whimsical boutiques housed in old Victorian residences. That’s not to say, however, that the city has lost touch with its roots. The state’s natural beauty is invited in with verdant parks, flowering shrubs and tall trees while the Willamette River wends through its centre and giant Mt. Hood provides the backdrop, keeping Portland honest.
Mt. Hood, Oregon
Inspired? Take a look at our tailor-made Oregon itinerary here.