Four Days in Central Oregon
Updated: May 17
From Portland, Oregon, we took our time on our road trip to Hood River, our base for the evening. (We had stopped at the Tourist Information Center at the Portland Airport and picked up Oregon Scenic Byways and The Original Highway 101 Mile-By-Mile Guide that were extremely helpful in our planning.) Our first scenic lookout over the Columbia River Gorge was in Corbett at the Portland’s Women’s Forum followed by another scenic stop at Vista House. We took the scenic drive along the Columbia River, which is slower than the highway, but very pretty. Unfortunately, you cannot access the entry into Multnomah Falls from this road, but we were hesitant to try Multnomah after reading all the warnings about parking. (We did have reservations, but information on their website showed that reservations were no guarantee that we would be able to get in and park.) We looked at Multnomah and other beautiful falls as we drove by, but we only stopped at Horseshoe Falls to take some pictures.
Hiking opportunities are everywhere in Oregon and the beautifully wooded trails called out to us to try them. Unfortunately, our initial idea of hiking daily fell flat, literally, when I fell 3 months before the trip and broke my kneecap and had to have surgery. Even though it was much better by then, we were forced to hike only on flat trails—difficult paths to find in Oregon.
We arrived in Cascade Locks in time for our reservation on the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler. (There is a nice park at the dock which is perfect for a picnic and walking around if you have time.) Until the locks were constructed, the river had been difficult to navigate because of multiple falls and rapids. The guide provided information about the river and its history as we sailed downriver to the Bonneville Dam then, after a brief break, upriver. (The boat stops briefly at the dock so you can disembark if you only want to go one way.) The Bonneville Dam enabled boats to run the full length of the river instead of having to portage around the rapids. The scenery on either side of the river was beautiful—Washington State on one side and Oregon on the other. Railroad tracks run on both sides of the river. Along the river are fishing docks that are still used by Native Americans. In other places, scars from the 2018 wildfire can still be seen although the area is beginning to recover.
After disembarking, we continued our drive to the Columbia Cliff Villas, our base for the next two nights. From our hotel window we could see the Columbia River flowing by. For an even better view we were able to sit in the lounge chairs outside, watch the wind surfers, and enjoy the cool breeze. We went into Hood River to see the sights—mostly Walmart—and found Mesquitery Restaurant for a great dinner. (We explored other parts of Hood River the next night including boutiques and local art galleries followed by dinner at Sixth Street Bistro and Pub.)
The next day was perfect weather to explore the Fruit Loop—no, not the cereal! The 35-mile scenic driving loop features 27 wineries, fruit stands, breweries, and flower stands. Our first stop was at Pearl’s Place Fruit Stand where we bought apples of different varieties. (Available fruits depend on the season.) Our next stop was The Gorge White House Fruit Stand and Winery for a quick wine tasting and a walk around the beautiful lawn. (Pinot Noir is one of the most prevalent wines in the area and happens to be one of my favorites.) Mount Hood Winery was our third stop where we enjoyed a cheese plate, samples of wine, and a beautiful view of Mount Hood in the distance.
A stop at Smiley’s Red Barn and then Wy’East Vineyards topped off our day at the Fruit Loop. (The Wheels food truck at Wy-East accompanied by a glass of Wy-East Pinot Noir made a perfect lunch break.) We also bought a bouquet of flowers at Wy’East that we carried throughout the rest of our travels in Oregon. A highlight of our drive back to Hood River was viewing the towering Mount Adams, which was across the Columbia River in Washington.
Back to explore more of Hood River and the enchanting grounds of the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel and Spa next door to our hotel…
Before I forget…Many places in Oregon, outside the cities and towns, do not have cellular service so be prepared!
The next morning, we headed for Bend, Oregon, via Mount Hood Scenic Byway. (When a road is labeled “Scenic” it usually means the road is twisting. This scenic byway did not disappoint.) We passed many of the fruit stands and wineries where we stopped yesterday. (Many don’t open until 10 or 11 and, anyway, we had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of us.) The smoke and clouds continued to dissipate so our view of Mount Hood was beautiful. Lots of trailheads were located along this scenic byway with port o potties, but we bypassed the trails for this visit. Evergreens lined the road with unexpected breaks for striking views of Mount Hood. We traveled through Barlow Pass and the Ashen River Basin where the foliage was beginning to take on the colors of fall with splashes of gold, orange and red highlighted against the evergreens. One surprise for us was to cross the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole on this drive. Another snow-covered mountain, Mount Jefferson, stood watch over us during our drive. The scenery for the day brought other idyllic views including fly fishermen in the Deschutes River patiently waiting for the largest fish to strike.
Along our drive we climbed to a plateau near the Warm Springs Reservation. The flat farmland was a sharp contrast to the mountainous area through which we had been driving. Sheep, cattle, barns, and irrigation systems dotted the landscape.
We stopped in Bend for salads at Red Robin Restaurant and happened to look behind us and there was our hotel, the Hampton Inn in the Old Mills area. The location was wonderful since there was a great shopping center and a paved walkway along the Deschutes River that connected to our hotel by a bridge.
We checked in to our hotel and then drove to the High Desert Museum, which was an interesting way to spend the afternoon. I had never imagined that Oregon contained a desert, much less that approximately 25% is considered high desert. (It is “high” due to the elevation.) The museum takes visitors into scenes typical from the original Native Americans to the fur traders, to the Oregon Trail travelers, and into the silver mines, all of which played important parts in the history of Oregon. In addition to great indoor exhibits, the museum boasts a ranch and sawmill outside the building that show the challenges settlers faced in the high desert.
After returning to our hotel, walking along the river, and catching a light dinner, we turned in to get ready for the next day’s adventures.
Our drive today led us to Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Deschutes National Forest where we visited the Lava Lands Visitor Center and walked along the paved walk to Lava Butte and viewed the Newberry Crater. The area encompasses more than 54,000 acres of lakes and lava flows. A guide provided information about the cinder cone and the volcanoes that began the development of the huge lava fields. The lakes and craters are actually calderas formed when rocks collapse into space left emptied of magma. The area, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, is still seismically and geothermally active.
We were lucky that there was a 1905-1934 Franklin car group meeting in the parking lot. These models were made in Syracuse, NY. The owners proudly showed off their cars to all of us who were interested.
East Lake, another natural lake in a caldera, was our next stop. We ate at the Blue Duck Grill in the East Lake Resort—the last stop on the road. It is truly a last stop with no Wi-Fi nor cellular service, but it has provided a relaxing vacation for families since 1915.
On our way out of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, we visited the 700-acre Black Obsidian flow which is an overwhelming 17 stories tall. The obsidian is razor sharp in some areas, so caution is recommended.
The next part of our drive, to Crater Lake, was one of the strangest. The road was the straightest road since driving to Lubbock, Texas—but not as flat. As we neared Crater Lake, the smoke thickened. Burned trees lined the right of the roadway while, to the left, trees were green and showed no signs of the fire’s devastation.
We crossed a pumice desert as the smoke from nearby fires grazed the earth’s surface. Eerily we were the only car for many miles. It looked like the Great Smoky Mountains, but this smoke was real. Smoke obscured the view of lake at the first overlook and our eyes burned from the smoke. Shoulderless, narrow, winding roads continued upwards. We felt certain that a wrong turn would send our car careening down hundreds of feet, although after the first hundred the distance would cease to matter to us.
Thankfully, we arrived safely at Crater Lake Lodge with deer greeting us as we entered the area. We settled in quickly, then looked for dinner options. (We were travelling in September. Check the Crater Lake Lodge website to see if they are open when you visit.) We wanted pizza, but the 15-minute drive there and 15 minutes back on the treacherous roads discouraged us. Instead, we stayed in the lodge and enjoyed a delicious dinner with excellent service. We walked around the lodge, visited the small museum, and enjoyed the smoke-obscured views.
Crater Lake Lodge, built in 1915, is on the very edge of the caldera. The historic lodge is only open in certain times of the year and has limited space, so make reservations far in advance. There is no air conditioning, but we were cool enough with the windows open. We were struck by the irony that the rooms are smoke-free, but with the windows open smoke from the wildfire filled the room.
We made our way down early for the included breakfast and to watch the sunrise across the crater. A deep silence surrounded us as we waited and watched for the break of day from the chairs on the long porch. Dawn broke to a clear morning and the sight of crystal-clear water at our feet. The same smoke that obscured our vision the day before ensured that the sun reflected majestically vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange.
What a difference a day makes! The sparkling sun highlighted the crystal blue water of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States at 1,949 feet. The large body of water contains two islands that can often be seen reflected in the water. We were amazed as we gazed on the beauty of the lake before we packed up and took the south entrance, or exit in this case, to leave the area.
he chosen path took us through the tip of California and through the redwood forest before heading north on the 101 to Brookings, Oregon, where our exploration of the Oregon coast began.
For info on our Portland, Oregon, stay, click here.
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