Nine Oregon beauty spots near Portland

Nine Oregon beauty spots near Portland

My abiding memory of Oregon is rich, multi-layered, far-reaching greenness. Of yellow-green grasses rolling down to the sea; of forest-green walls of fir surrounding us on drives down long, straight roads; of bottle-green mosses and teal-green waters.

Green is the colour the Pacific Northwest wears so well, as if to prove all other colours unnecessary.

During my time in Portland — a trip that lasted a little over a week — I managed to get out of the city on two separate road trips to immerse myself in this immense greenery. At the time of my trip it felt as though I was ranging long and wide over a vast wilderness and it is therefore bewildering to look at a map and see that in fact I discovered but a smudge on a canvas of what this region has to offer.

Nevertheless, the jewels I discovered in no more than a day’s drive away from the city are quite something to behold. With no further-ado, I present to you, the Oregon beauty spots you won’t want to miss on a trip to Portland.

Little Crater Lake

oregon-little-crater-lake

What magic is this, you might wonder, looking upon pictures of Little Crater Lake. A geological oddity with an almost otherworldly beauty, this spring-fed pond can be found a short walk across the meadow from Little Crater Lake Campsite, just off Highway 26 heading south from Government Camp.

When we arrived around midday in the middle of the week in July, we had the whole place totally to ourselves. You might be looking at the bench in the picture and thinking: that looks like a peaceful picnic. Well, my friends, it was.

Like something out of Avatar, the photographs I got at this spot didn’t need even the slightest bit of editing to show it off in all its glory. It reminds me in its colour, luminescence and transparency of a supermarket hair gel I used to slick my hair back in a bun for ballet exams as a child.

oregon-little-crater-lake-2

If, like me, you don’t have time to visit actual Crater Lake during your time in Oregon, visiting Little Crater Lake really takes the sting out of the disappointment.

Distance from Portland: 74 miles

Drive time: 1 hour 45 mins

Multnomah Falls

oregon murchison falls

As you drive east from Portland along the Columbia River Gorge, the whole route is lined with an array of astonishing waterfalls. Each is beautiful in its own way, but most people are keen to take in the spectacle that is Multnomah Falls — a two-tiered waterfall with a cute little bridge in the middle.

This is by far the busiest spot we visited, but still a worthwhile stop on the journey. I recommend trying to visit either super early or super late in the day to try and dodge the majority of the crowds. As I was walking up the steps to the bridge I spotted a giant slug, which the Columbia River Gorge is famous for. It was gross.

Distance from Portland: 30 miles

Drive time: 40 minutes

Latourell Falls

If you like your waterfalls in neat and tidy streams, rather than tumbling messes, you will love the satisfying drop of Latourell Falls. These falls are actually the closest to Portland, but you could easily miss them if you don’t keep a close eye out along the road.

latourell falls oregon

There is a great 2.4-mile circular hike that takes you up past the first set of falls to Upper Latourell Falls, which I highly recommend. We never actually discussed doing this hike — we just sort of started walking and when we’d climbed up to the top of the lower falls for the views, we just kept going. The first bit involves a lot of steps, but once you’re up and into the forest there are sweet wooden bridges to cross and undulating terrain along the river and it’s not too hard going.

The top of the trail brings you to the upper falls, which are just as impressive as the lower falls (if not more so), and reminded me of some of the waterfalls I saw in Iceland. From here, the trail loops round and back down to the car park, although we lost it at one point and instead ended up rather precariously crossing a giant log to jump back onto the trail we took on the way down.

oregon latourell falls

To be honest, I’m still not totally sure where we went wrong. Here’s the hike description in full if you want to make sure you take the right path.

Distance from Portland: 30 miles

Drive time: 40 minutes

Oneonta Gorge

Exploring the Oneonta Gorge, another stop along the Columbia River Gorge road was so much one of my favourite things to do on this trip that I have a whole separate blog post on it. It involves a waterfall, a scramble and a hike up to my neck in water. Needless to say, it was enormous fun and incredibly beautiful. Also, the greenest of all the green places on this very green trip.

Distance from Portland: 35 miles

Drive time: 45 minutes

Cannon Beach

Head east out of Portland and you get the Columbia River Gorge. Head west and you come to the coast.

We drove out to Cannon Beach and back in the day. The town of Cannon Beach is super cute, with an artsy, chill feel too it. But the reason everyone comes to Cannon Beach really is because of Haystack Rock, a monolithic seastack emerging from the Pacific. When we arrived in the morning it was a bit dull and overcast, but it cheered up during the day as we hiked Ecola State Park (see below). This photo was taken later in the day from the deck outside Mo’s, a restaurant in the south of the town where they serve cheap but extremely chowder in a sourdough bowl.

Distance from Portland: 80 miles

Drive time: 1 hour 30 mins

Ecola State Park

oregon-ecola-2

Ecola State Park was one of the real revelations of our trip to Oregon. I’ve driven the Pacific Coast Highway through California around Big Sur before, and had no idea there was another part of the US pacific coastline that would rival it for beauty. Turns out, there is! And rather than drive it and try not to plunge off the road while you’re looking at the view, you can hike it and take it all in at your own pace.

oregon ecola

We hiked the Indian Beach trail of the coastal path, which is only around two miles, but will take you a little longer than you expect due to it being very twisty and quite up and down in places, especially when you reach Indian Beach.

ecola state park oregon

We started out from Ecola Point day-use area, which looks out over Crescent Beach immediately below it, and Cannon Beach in the distance. From here you turn your back on Crescent Beach and follow the trail north. Weaving in and out of the spruce forest, the trail from time to time leads you out onto promontories with views that will have you reaching for your camera. Eventually you’ll end up walking high above Indian Beach.

Keep following the trail and eventually you’ll find the path that leads you down onto the sand — the perfect place to stop for a drink and a snack while watching the surfers do their thing.

The only issue with this trail is that it is out and back rather than circular, which I usually am not such a fan of. Here, though, retreading my steps just gave me more gorgeous perspectives to enjoy.

Check before you go that the trail is in good order. Part of it was washed out last year and probably won’t be rebuilt until spring at the earliest. Oh, and watch out for cougars! We didn’t see any, but you never know.

Distance from Portland: 80 miles

Drive time: 1 hour 30 mins

Mount Hood

oregon-mount-hood-5

Back on the east side of Portland is one natural monument you couldn’t miss even if you tried. This mountain belongs to the Cascade Range, which stretch from British Columbia all the way down to Northern California. It has a number of claims to fame, being the highest peak in Oregon, the volcano in the Cascade Range thought most likely to erupt and the only ski area open all year round in the US.

Accessing the ski area means heading up to Timberline Lodge (the Overlook Hotel from the Shining), which also is the starting point for a number of hikes. It felt utterly bizarre in the middle of July to be setting off on a hike in our t-shirts while people were clomping around in their ski boots. Even when it’s warm here, I recommend wearing boots, because you will come across some snowy patches on your route.

oregon mount hood

We did the 4.4-mile hike to Zigzag Canyon, and being our second hike of the day that was definitely enough for us. If we’d had more energy, we could have carried on and completed the entire Paradise Park hike, which is 12.1 miles in total and more arduous. Again, it was out-and-back trail, with the turning point being Zigzag Overlook (below).

oregon mount hood

oregon mount hood

Clouds came and went over Mount Hood’s peak, but overall it was such a clear day that we could see the next most southerly cascade, Mount Jefferson in the distance.

oregon mount hood

Seeing another peak in the distance just made me realise how much more of the Cascades range I want to explore.

Distance from Portland: 62 miles

Drive time: 1 hour 30 mins

Mirror Lake

All around Mount Hood are opportunities to admire it from a distance. One of the best places to do this is at Mirror Lake. Getting to this idyllic spot involves a very pleasant 3-mile round-trip hike that involves an uphill climb for a mile or so, before circling the lake on paths and reed-lined boardwalks. Apparently at the weekends it gets super busy because the trailhead is right on the highway, but midweek in July we found it fairly peaceful. We occasionally encountered other hikers, but for the most part it was just us and the chipmunks and one sunbathing snake.

Aside from the section of the hike where you circle the lake, this is an out and back trail, but that’s no bother as the hike back is alllll down hill.

Distance from Portland: 54 miles

Drive time: 1 hour 15 mins

Trillium Lake

If you want to experience the full effect of Mount Hood reflected in a body of water but don’t want to hike, the easy solution is to drive to Trillium Lake and park up in the day-use area. Then there you have it — tah-dah!

oregon-trillium-lake

That said, you can circle the lake on foot on the completely flat two-mile trail, which is a delightful way to pass half an hour. We also rented a paddleboard from Mt Hood Adventure up the road in Government Camp, and pootling about the water was a very soothing and serene experience.

oregon trillium

Distance from Portland: 60 miles

Drive time: 1 hour 25 mins

I hope these beauty spots have inspired you and adequately conveyed how beautiful this region is (did I mention it’s really green?).

I’ve only been to four US states so far, but Oregon is currently top in my own personal league table — in part because of Portland, but mostly because of what lies beyond. Please do let me know in the comments what your favourite US state is to help me decide where I should go next!

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