Oregon: From Rocky Coast to Towering Waterfalls
If plunging waterfalls and beautiful beaches are your cup of tea, then a trip to western Oregon is a must this summer. Enveloped in rain much of the year, Oregon’s beauty basks in glorious sunshine much of the summer and early fall.
While Oregon certainly has some fine mountainous hiking along the Pacific Coast Trail, other parts of Oregon can be explored at a more leisurely pace. Using Portland as a base, you can easily visit many of the nearby attractions in a week. A long loop trip can take you along the coastal highway and bring you back through the forests and mountains of Central Oregon.
Oregon boasts 363 miles of coastline, all of it publicly accessible thanks to Governor Tom McCall’s preservation efforts in the late 1960’s. Hawaii is the only other state which can boast such open beach access. The coastline is broken into three distinct regions. Beautiful cliffs and sea stacks are typical of the southern and northern regions while large dune fields run the length of the central coast. Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park in the north are particularly beautiful spots if you are looking for dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean. Ecola State Park also has some fine hiking trails through dense rain forest. The Octopus Tree (a tree’s branches have grown almost 30 feet sideways before turning upwards giving it the appearance of an octopus) is worth the short hike from the main parking lot.
Whale watching is another popular activity on the central coastline. The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay will assist visitors with any questions and it has an outdoor observation deck. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the aquarium in Newport should entertain people of all ages.
Lighthouses are another prominent feature of the Oregon coastline. Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport is one of my favorite spots on the coast. In addition to the lighthouse, the tidal pools along the beach are some of Oregon’s best. At low tide, starfish, hermit crabs, and thousands of mussels can be found lurking in and around the pools. Seals and other wildlife are often spotted sunning on the rocks as well.
Once you’ve had your fill of salt air, head inland to view one of the best collection of waterfalls in the United States. The Columbia Gorge just outside of Portland has several dramatic waterfalls within a few minutes drive of one another. The famous Multnomah Falls is must see as it tumbles down the walls of the gorge 620 feet, the second highest continuous waterfall in the United States. A short walk brings you to a viewing bridge for a close-up view of this spectacular sight. Other falls in the area are also worth a visit including Wahkeena, Latourell, and Bridal Veil Falls. Unfortunately, because of their easy access, these falls are very popular. To avoid the throng, my advice is to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon. As an added bonus, these times of day are usually the best to photograph the falls which become too contrasty in direct sunlight.
The Gorge is a stunning sight in itself, as the cliffs along the Columbia River reach upwards of 4,000 feet high. Near Troutdale, an observation tower at the end of the narrow road accessing many of the falls provides a dramatic viewpoint of the gorge. It is a must see on a clear day.
Don’t limit yourself to the falls in the Portland area, however. Oregon has many other waterfalls to offer. My favorite set of falls is Proxy Falls. Located near the Three Sisters Wilderness in the Willamette National Forest off Highway 242, these two falls are moss-covered beauties. A one-mile loop trail guides you around the area. After a short trek through a volcanic boulder field, the trail winds through the lush pine forest. Two short spur trails bring you to Lower and Upper Proxy Falls. The Lower Falls can be viewed best from the view point at trail’s end but a primitive path does steeply wind its way down to the base of the falls for the more adventurous. If you do venture down, bring a coat. The spray from this 200-foot high falls will likely soak you. While the Lower Falls is magnificent in its sheer height and power, the Upper Falls is more elegant. Almost the entire surrounding area is coated in a thick carpet of bright green moss.
Nearby Sahalie Falls is also worth a stop. A short walk on a paved path brings you to a viewpoint for this one hundred foot fall along the icy blue waters of the MacKenzie River. A short walk down the path will bring you to smaller Koosah falls.
If solitude on the hiking trail is what you’re after, then the trail to Golden and Silver Falls near Coos Bay is the place for you. Two short hikes reward you with close-up views of two stunning waterfalls. But because of its relatively remote location half an hour from town, this trail receives relatively little foot traffic. Golden Falls is the more spectacular of the two but the harder to view. Silver Falls is stunning in its own right and you can easily access the base of the falls.
If you are heading to Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon, then Toketee Falls is a must as well. A short walk along a boardwalk brings you to a viewpoint of this dramatic waterfall. It literally tumbles out of a narrow canyon into a deep green pool below. This is definitely one of the more unique waterfalls in Oregon. Finally, Silver Falls State Park near Salem boasts several pretty waterfalls but my favorite is South Falls. A paved trail leads you to a dramatic overlook as well as underneath the cliff behind the waterfall. The park provides loads of picnic space and is a great place for family outings.
On your way back to Portland, you can explore the Mount Hood region and its several small lakes or sample some of the many vineyards which dot the Willamette Valley surrounding Portland. The region is known for its Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio varieties. Finally, don’t forget to visit Washington Park near downtown Portland. The park is host to the zoo, Japanese Garden, and my personal favorite, the International Rose Test Garden. Situated on a large hill, the park boasts wonderful views of the city and Mount Hood on a clear day
If you go:
The Oregon Coast is largely accessible from Route 101, the Oregon Coast Highway. Cannon Beach is the closest access point to Portland and is about an hour and a half drive on Route 26. It will take at least two days to see the sights along the coast. Tillamook, Newport, Coos Bay, and Coquille all make good stopover points with plenty of lodging and food.
Several Lighthouses are worth a visit. Cape Mears is located near Tillamook on the northern coast. Yaquina Head is located just outside of Newport, about 60 miles to the south. Haceta Head is located near Florence, about 45 miles further south. You can get up close and personal with sea lions at the Sea Lion Caves just a few minutes south. Cape Arago is located between Bandon and Coos Bay on the southern coast.
Waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge are easily accessed from Interstate 84 which parallels the Gorge. A short spur road brings you to various vantage points and trails. You can either take the Troutdale exit or access the Multnomah Falls parking lot directly from I-84. The falls area begins about 30 miles east of Portland. It will take about 2 hours to see the four falls featured. A longer day will allow you to see the remaining falls of the Gorge before reaching The Dalles, 84 miles to the east.
Silver Falls State Park, Sahalie Falls, and Proxy Falls can be done in a loop trip starting in Salem. Silver Falls State Park is located off of Route 214, about 20 miles from Salem. The road climbs steeply above the farms and surrounding countryside. South Falls is accessed easily by paved trial. Continuing east on Route 22, you will reach Detroit Lake, a large manmade lake. Plenty of camping and boating can be found here. Proxy Falls can either be reached by continuing east on Route 126 and then heading back west over Mackenzie Pass on Route 242 or can be approached from the west on Route 242. Note, Mackenzie Pass is closed until summer so be sure to check road conditions before you go. Sahalie Falls is located off of Route 126 on the western route so be sure to go this way if you want to stop to view this falls.
Silver and Golden Falls (not to be confused with Silver Falls State Park) are located about a thirty-minute drive from Coos Bay. Take the road out of Coos Bay toward Bunker Hill. The road will veer left in about one mile and cross the Coos River. Continue on about 20 miles on the narrow, winding road to the trailhead. The last four miles are on well-grated gravel road. The trail for Golden Falls goes straight from the parking lot while the Silver Falls trail branches left almost immediately.
Toketee Falls is located just off of Route 138, about 60 miles east of Roseburg in southern Oregon. It is best done en route to Crater Lake which is only another 50 miles southeast.
Information on the Newport Aquarium can be found at http://www.aquarium.org/