Things to do in Portland: The Best Local Day Trips

By: Crai S Bower

January 13, 2014

There’s much to love about Portland’s urban culture. But one of our favourite features really has nothing to do with the city at all: Portland’s unparalleled access to the outdoors. Drive 90 minutes east and you stand upon dramatic Mt. Hood. Head west and you gaze upon the equally sublime Pacific Ocean.

Though skiing, hiking and surfing remain the most popular local activities, you don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to wallow in the surrounding wilds. Slip onto the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway Byway, less than an hour from Portland, and you’ll discover the finest set of accessible waterfalls in the Northwest, if not the entire U.S.


Horsetail falls | The Best Local Day Trips

Horsetail falls in Columbia River Gorge © Crai S Bower


Highlighted by the 620-foot, two-tiered Multnomah Falls, the cascades of “Waterfall Alley” crystallize during the winter, gush with snowmelt in spring, issue a refreshing mist during the heat of summer and dribble like diamonds during the autumn drought.


The Alley leads south toward Hood River, one of those special Northwest towns that stirs its outdoorsy attitude into a casually cool food and arts scene, call it ski resort vibe without the ski resort. Hood River is home to multiple breweries (True, what Oregon town isn’t home to multiple breweries?), including Full Sail Brewing, a pioneer among craft breweries.


The Full Sail Brew Pub‘s a great gathering place after a day spent photographing waterfalls, shredding through the glades at Mt. Hood Meadows ski area or hiking in Mt. Hood National Forest. You can always drive directly to Mt. Hood, but cruising through the Columbia River Gorge never gets old.


Salmon River Trail | The Best Local Day Trips

Salmon River Trail, Mt. Hood National Forest © Crai S Bower


Turning west out of Portland, surf’s always up on the Oregon coast, especially at Indian and Short Sands beaches. Unlike the more technical Seaside Beach, waves off Indian and Short Sands unfurl to suit every ability level. The beaches bookend Cannon Beach, the north shore’s favourite coastal village.


Cannon Beach fire | The Best Local Day Trips

Cannon Beach marshmallow roast © Crai S Bower


Whether you hang ten or just hang out on the soft sand, there’s plenty of room here for everybody. Indian and Short Sands beaches sit within Ecola and Oswald West State Parks, respectively, so you can combine beach time with a walk through the coastal forest upon several dozen trails.


Early morning fog often enshrouds the Sitka spruce along the 2.5-mile Clatsop Loop Trail, the very course taken in 1805 by Second Lieutenant William Clark. Clark had walked south around Tillamook Head, following Indian Creek in the hope of locating a rumoured beached whale and its much needed protein.


Today, we gather our nutrients at the Lazy Susan Café or take a class at the EVOO Cannon Beach Cooking School. Then we’re off for a stroll down Cannon Beach, where Haystack Rock, the tallest sea stack in the region, dances in reliably moody sunlight like a photographer’s dream.


Haystack Rock | The Best Local Day Trips

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach © Crai S Bower


Whether skipping rocks across Mt. Hood’s Trillium Lake or shooting Haystack’s silhouette against the sunset, you can’t go wrong when you head east or west out of Portland.


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Have you visited any of these stunning Oregon sites? Which of these Portland day trips appeal to you? Share your thoughts with us below.

Written by Crai Bower


Crai S Bower

Award winning travel writer, photographer and broadcaster Crai S Bower contributes scores of articles annually to more than 25 publications and online outlets including National Geographic Traveler, Journey, American Way magazines and T+L Digital.

Categories: Our Places