Jo White, a member of the Visit USA PR Committee, recalls a surprising US road trip along Oregon’s Scenic Byways
I had been waiting for this day my entire life. Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of releasing my inner cowgirl, saddling up and riding a horse trail in true American Wild West style. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon though, and this was just one of the many surprises we encountered along our road trip through ‘The Beaver State’.
It was 9 a.m. and the sun was shining when we hit the tracks on our trusty steeds from Long Hollow Ranch, under the watchful eye of our welcoming host, Larry. A historical jewel in Central Oregon, Long Hollow Ranch is a traditional yet modern working cattle and hay ranch. As we were riding through high desert, passing spectacular mountain views, I contemplated how bizarre it felt to be in such an environment having just arrived from minus two degrees and nine inches of snow on Mount Hood, 120 miles away.
My husband and I were on an eight-day road trip along Oregon’s Scenic Byways. Starting from Mount Hood in the north and driving nearly 1000 miles in a loop back to Portland. We arrived refreshed 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!
Our first night was spent at Timberline Lodge, a mountain lodge on the south side of Mount Hood that was featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980’s movie, The Shining. Less than five minutes after arriving, the snow started to fall quite heavily. This wasn’t unusual for June, we were told, 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 crystal-clear, still volcanic waters of the magnificent Crater Lake, to the rushing waterfall at Silver Falls State Park, an important part of the Oregon experience is definitely being in, on or by the water. Driving along the coastal byway in awe of the immensity of the Pacific Ocean and the historic lighthouses en route, we stopped at Depoe Bay, a well-known whale-watching hot spot. Sitting on a bench looking out into the bay, a lone Orca emerged. It was a magical and unforgettable moment.
Whilst we were learning each day that Oregon truly is a feast of natural beauty, there’s also thrilling adventures to be had. I had heard about Oregon’s sand dunes, but nothing could have prepared me for the exhilarating dune buggy tour with Sand Dunes Frontier. The Oregon Dunes are the largest expanse of coastal dunes in the world, reaching 150m above sea level, and we felt alone in this sandy wonderland. Whizzing across and over the dunes at speed, our driver who had been out on the dunes since he was a young boy, was able to deliver a heart-racing 30-minute thrill ride effortlessly.
No visit to Oregon is complete without sampling some of the award-winning wines from the 500 wineries in the Willamette Valley, so we more than happily obliged. Staying in one of The Vintages Trailer Resort’s individually themed airstreams, we sipped our way through three of the nearby wineries – Stoller Family Estate, Coeur de Terre and Mayasara Vineyard.
Oregon also has some the liveliest cities in the USA. Located against the backdrop of the mighty Mount Hood, Portland is a vibrant city with a booming dining scene, intriguing neighbourhoods, a funky arts scene and shopping in abundance. Eugene is a seriously cool city, located on the Willamette River. Bursting with colour, Eugene boasts an impressive collection of public murals scattered around the city, which visitors can follow on a self-guided walking tour in-between tasting their way along the Eugene Ale Trail.
In Salem, Oregon’s capital city, 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.
Oregon is the ultimate US road trip destination and each region felt like a different country, with its own identity and vibe - impossible to choose a favourite it is a bucket list experience.
Photos by Chalky White