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Northwest Travel Guide 2023: 25 places to thrill you and chill you out – Here is Oregon

What’s the difference between visiting a big city and a small town? An awesome viewpoint and a quiet forest? The popular trail and the less visited one?

When traveling, there’s often an inclination to see the biggest, the best, the most beautiful places you can. Why hang around the trees when you could go see a spectacular waterfall instead? But by skipping over the quieter spots, you might be missing out on a real opportunity to relax amid the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Climbing mountains, taking epic road trips, soaking in incredible views are all very exciting things to do, but the thrill of those experiences can often overshadow the joy of taking it easy.

As you make your Pacific Northwest travel plans this year, consider both sides of the coin. Look for destinations that both thrill you and chill you out. Know that a day spent reading beside a river can be just as rewarding as a climb up an active volcano.

Free yourself from the bounds of expectations, shake off the “should” and ask yourself what you really want and need out of your travels. The answers may surprise you.

Here are 25 spots to consider for the year ahead.

TOWNS

Manzanita

In 2022, Architectural Digest magazine named Manzanita one of the “55 Most Beautiful Small Towns in America,” highlighting the quiet north coast community above all others in Oregon. Argue with that decision all you want, but there’s no arguing with the fact that between an expansive beach, beautiful state parks and many cozy places to stay, Manzanita really is a wonderful place to visit.

Eugene

Eugene earned some international attention last year while hosting the Oregon22 World Athletics Championships, but you don’t need wait for another a global competition to plan your visit to the southern Willamette Valley city. With good restaurants, interesting attractions and tons of beautiful scenery nearby, it’s a great place to anchor a vacation.

Salem

Oregonians don’t always think of Salem as a vacation destination, but our state capital has a lot to offer. Consider going in the spring, when the city’s many local gardens are in bloom, and make sure to explore local parks and Salem’s food scene.

Forks

The tiny town of Forks in northwest Washington is hardly a destination on its own (unless you’re a “Twilight” fan), but it’s well known to seasoned Northwest travelers as a great anchor point for exploring Olympic National Park, situated perfectly between the Hoh Rainforest, Rialto Beach and Lake Crescent. Book a room at one of the many affordable motels or swankier bed and breakfasts in town before heading out for an Olympic adventure.

Seattle

Oregonians often like to skirt around Seattle, instead spending time in neighboring national parks. But those up for an urban adventure will find a lot to love about the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, whether it’s a tour through museums or the local food scene. Skip the Space Needle for a stroll through Olympic Sculpture Park, and look for a cluster of good restaurants around the Fremont neighborhood.

OUTDOORS

South Coast Range Waterfalls

Winter and spring are some of the best times to see Oregon’s spectacular waterfalls, and while crowds may flock to popular plunges in the Columbia River Gorge, trails are a bit less crowded at the more obscure falls of the south Coast Range. Take the highways and backroads between Eugene and Florence to find spots like Kentucky Falls and Sweet Creek, short trails with several stunning waterfalls apiece.

McNeil Point

Found on the northwest flank of Mount Hood, McNeil Point is one of the best hikes on the mountain, with incredible views and beautiful late summer wildflowers. A moderately difficult hike to the top runs 12 miles round trip, though more experienced hikers sometimes use a challenging scramble route to cut off a couple of miles. Go early in the morning or on a weekday if you want to beat the crowds.

Lower Rogue River

With incredible opportunities for day hikers, backpackers, paddlers and mountain bikers, the Lower Rogue River is an outdoor recreation paradise in southwest Oregon. Anchored on either end by the towns of Gold Beach and Grants Pass, the beautiful river corridor is known for its long stretches of wilderness, where backpackers share the forest with black bears and where rafters can camp on quiet beaches or boat into riverside lodges.

An orange raft floats down a river

Indian Heaven Wilderness

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is a paradise indeed. The southwest Washington wilderness area located between Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens is home to mountain views, serene lakes, meadows that swim with summer wildflowers and forests filled with huckleberries. You can cross the entire wilderness using a 16.4-mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail, or take one of the many branching side trails. Just prepare for bugs in the summer.

Portland suburban hiking

Portland-area hikers don’t need to leave the suburbs to find a good place to hike. Parks with miles of trails and incredible views can be found all over the Portland Metropolitan Area, including gems like Oxbow Regional Park, Tualatin Hills Nature Park and Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Many suburban parks are also good destinations for hikers with mobility issues, or anyone looking for an easier adventure.

LODGING

Breitenbush Hot Springs

In 2020, Breitenbush Hot Springs was nearly decimated by the same wildfires that converged to burn through the neighboring Opal Creek Wilderness. Only two years later, the hot spring resort east of Salem is thriving once again, drawing visitors with the same clothing-optional soaking pools that made the place famous, alongside new lodging options built in the wake of the fire. Stop by for the day or, better yet, book yourself a little hot springs retreat.

Breitenbush Hot Springs is open year-round; located at 53000 Breitenbush Road S.E., Detroit, Ore.; to book a room visit breitenbush.com or call 503-854-3320.

Salish Lodge and Spa

If luxurious pampering is your idea of a perfect vacation, you’d do well at Salish Lodge and Spa, a high-end escape found at the top of Snoqualmie Falls east of Seattle. Started in 1916 as an eight-room inn, the lodge is now an 86-room escape owned by the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, offering guests rooms with gas fireplaces, soaking tubs and views over the Snoqualmie River. The waterfall is a destination in its own right – especially for fans of “Twin Peaks.”

Salish Lodge and Spa is open year-round; located at 6501 Railroad Ave., Snoqualmie, Wash.; to book a room visit salishlodge.com or call 425-326-2563.

Summer Lake Hot Springs

Hidden in the southeast Oregon outback, Summer Lake Hot Springs is the perfect place to get away from it all, soaking in the silence of the desert springs. The resort offers an assortment of cabins and larger houses, as well as spots for RV and tent campers. Visitors can soak in three outdoor pools or the larger indoor bath house (which closes for the winter), though pools are for overnight guests only. It’s all situated near the shores of Summer Lake, a large, shallow alkali lake known for hosting huge numbers of migrating waterfowl.

Summer Lake Hot Springs is open year-round; located at 41777 Oregon 31 Mile Marker 92, Paisley, Ore.; to book a room visit summerlakehotsprings.com or call 541-943-3931.

Jacksonville Inn

The historic Jacksonville Inn is smack in the middle of downtown Jacksonville, an old mining town that today is a bustling little tourism hub in southern Oregon. Found just off Interstate 5 west of Medford, the boutique hotel is a nice place to stay the night during a road trip around the area, whether it’s to Crater Lake, the Applegate Valley wine country or Mount Shasta.

Jacksonville Inn is open year-round; located at 175 E. California St., Jacksonville, Ore.; to book a room visit jacksonvilleinn.com or call 541-899-1900.

Smith Creek Village

Formerly known as the Silver Falls Lodge and Conference Center, Smith Creek Village opened in 2021 offering cabins, lodge rooms and a full restaurant in the backcountry of Silver Falls State Park. It’s a quieter alternative to the bustling state park campground, and conveniently located within a sprawling trail network that spreads off into the park. If you don’t stay the night, you can always stop by for coffee or dinner.

Smith Creek Village is open year-round; located at 20022 Silver Falls Hwy., Sublimity, Ore.; to book a room visit smithcreekvillage.com or call 503-894-7533.

ATTRACTIONS

Wallowa Lake Tramway

With breathtaking views of the Wallowa Mountains and Wallowa Lake, two of the most scenic spots in northeast Oregon, the Wallowa Lake Tramway is easily one of the best attractions around. The tramway leads to the top of Mount Howard, where there are hiking trails and a full restaurant. Find it at the south end of the lake, a short drive from the charming tourist town of Joseph.

The Wallowa Lake Tramway is open daily 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in July and Aug., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in May, June and Sept.; located at 59919 Wallowa Lake Hwy., Joseph, Ore.; $40 for adults, $37 for seniors and $30-$37 for kids; wallowalaketramway.com; 541-432-5331.

High Desert Museum

The High Desert Museum is a great attraction in central Oregon, full of fascinating art exhibits, historical artifacts and several adorable animals in residence. Located just south of Bend, the museum hosts rotating exhibitions that highlight a diversity of cultures – most recently showing photos from the Black rodeo community. Be sure to stop by the otter exhibit while you’re there.

The High Desert Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 1-March 31, and daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 1-Oct. 31; located at 59800 U.S. 97, Bend; admission is $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, $11 for kids; highdesertmuseum.org; 541-382-4754.

Pacific Bonsai Museum

Located just off Interstate 5 outside of Tacoma, the Pacific Bonsai Museum is one of the biggest collections of bonsais on the west coast. It offers a fascinating and tranquil tour through the Japanese art of bonsai, with more than 150 plants on display. The proximity to the interstate makes it a great roadside attraction, though the bonsai museum and neighboring Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden are tucked away at an unlikely location: outside the headquarters of timber giant Weyerhaeuser.

The Pacific Bonsai Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; located at 2515 S. 336th St., Federal Way, Wash.; admission is suggested donation of $12; pacificbonsaimuseum.org; 253-353-7345.

Bear Hotel

The Bear Hotel is probably not what you think it is. Neither an actual hotel nor home to real bears, the Grants Pass attraction is ostensibly a seasonal storage space for the town’s whimsical bear statues, transformed into a southern Oregon-themed wonderland. Aside from the bears, the Bear Hotel contains several walk-through exhibits created by local artists that transport visitors to places like Crater Lake, the Rogue River and the Oregon coast. Owned and operated by Evergreen Federal Bank, the attraction is open by appointment only.

Tours of the Bear Hotel are available Monday through Friday by appointment only; call 541-479-3351 to set up a time; admission is free; 2101 N.E. Spalding Ave., Grants Pass, Ore.; evergreenfederal.bank/Bear-Hotel.

Granger dinosaur statues

A tiny town in central Washington has become known for a very strange quirk: dozens of life-size dinosaur statues that line its streets and parks. Granger, found about 30 miles south of Yakima, has a population of fewer than 4,000 people who live among nearly three dozen dinosaurs. Drive around town to find them munching at trees, roaring at playgrounds and standing guard at local businesses. City officials started the project in 1994 as a way to revitalize the town, making a new statue every year.

To get to Granger take Interstate 82 to exit 58; statues are placed all over town.

ROAD TRIPS

Hood River Fruit Loop

With 27 advertised stops along 35 miles of highway and back roads, each offering different produce and attractions from the late spring through the early fall, there are a ton of ways to approach the Hood River Fruit Loop. You might do well to make multiple visits throughout the season, picking berries in the summer and apples come fall. And with Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge nearby, there’s no shortage of scenic vistas.

McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

Making an 82-mile loop anchored in the town of Sisters, the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway is one of the best drives in Oregon’s central Cascade Mountains. The scenic byway combines three different highways and features many, many natural attractions along the way. Stops at Clear Lake, Blue Pool, the Waterfalls Loop, the McKenzie River Trail and the Dee Wright Observatory could fill a few days, and you’d just be getting started.

Applegate Valley wine country

The Applegate Valley wine country is found in the far southern reaches of Oregon, running for 50 miles between the towns of Grants Pass and Jacksonville. It’s home to some 18 wineries, most of which offer wine tastings beside scenic vineyards growing in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. Wine drinkers will find a lot to enjoy, from rich malbecs to smooth chardonnays, while everyone should be able to appreciate the stunning views that surround quiet back roads that run through the region.

Snoqualmie Pass

One of several scenic passes across the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Snoqualmie Pass runs between Seattle and Ellensburg, with natural attractions for every season. In the winter, make a stop at The Summit at Snoqualmie, a resort known for its night skiing and snow tubing. Come summer, you can hike to gorgeous spots like Franklin Falls, Snow Lake and Annette Lake. Backpackers can also jump on the Pacific Crest Trail just off the highway, where it runs uninterrupted for 75 miles to the north through a wild and rugged mountain wilderness.

Oregon 47

While travelers like to tour the many scenic byways around the state, few pay as much attention to Oregon 47, a state route that runs 80 miles between the towns of Clatskanie and McMinnville. But a road trip along the Willamette Valley highway can be a lot of fun, with stops like L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, the Banks Vernonia Trail, the Zesti food carts in Forest Grove and Chehalem Ridge Nature Park. Split about evenly by U.S. 26, the route is best done as an overnighter – perhaps in a state park cabin or wine country inn.

— Jamie Hale

503-294-4077; [email protected]; @HaleJamesB

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