Travel & Outdoors

12 Oregon Adventures to Get You Outdoors Every Month of the Year

Fly-fish on the Deschutes River, soak in the Terwilliger Hot Springs, ski late into spring at Mount Bachelor, and more—2023 is yours for the taking.

By Gabriel Granillo, Katherine Chew Hamilton, Fiona McCann, Karly Quadros, Margaret Seiler, Julia Silverman, and Sam Stites

Header image: Rafting on the Rogue River, courtesy Justin Bailie/Tandemstock.com

 

Influencers on social media make adventuring look so easy, but brainstorming ideas for where to go next—or simply selecting an activity when there are so many to choose from—can be stressful work. We can take care of the hard thinking for you with this list of 12 uniquely Oregon experiences for you to check out in the year ahead. These outdoor exploits are chosen for each month of the new year, so you can spend less time fretting over what to do and when to go, and more time getting out there enjoying yourself. Cheers to new adventures in 2023! 


January

Snowshoe at Mount Hood

Snowshoers are a hardy lot, plodding peacefully down the trail as cross-country skiers whip past, directing a glare if you’ve ’shoed in their track. Truth be told, our favorite Oregon snowshoeing spot is in Bend, where there are strategically placed warming huts to be found along wondrous trails. But if that’s too far for your tastes, the Mount Hood area has plenty of great jaunts. Beginners will gravitate to the Crosstown Trail, which rises just beyond Government Camp and lets you traverse the woods that are the town’s collective backyard. Try nearly hidden Enid Lake for a good picnic stop. If you want to push yourself, make your way to Twin Lakes, and head out all the way to Upper Twin Lake, leaving the roar of the snowmobiles at Frog Lake Sno-Park behind. During a super-snowy winter, the trails at Pocket Creek Sno-Park are worth exploring, especially since their proximity to Parkdale means you can stop off at cheerful Solera Brewery for killer beer and a surprisingly cosmopolitan menu. —Julia Silverman


February

Go Camping in the Sky in a Fire Lookout

Built for spotting wildfires (a task now largely left to the remotely operated swivel cam attached to their frames), these cabins on stilts require a serious stair climb (and a snowshoe trek just to get there) but reward with peace and quiet and incomparable views. The easiest ones to reach from Portland are in the Mt Hood National Forest, on Clear Lake Butte (available November–May) and Fivemile Butte (available year-round). Snagging one can feel like winning the lottery—nights get snatched up as soon as they’re released on recreation.gov six months ahead of time. A bed, a woodstove, a propane cookstove, a map table, and possibly a previous guest’s forgotten half-full whiskey bottle await the lucky winners. —Margaret Seiler 


Terwilliger Hot Springs (a.k.a. Cougar Hot Springs) offers three pools of varying heat for soaking in a lush forest setting with easy access from the McKenzie River Highway. 

March

Soak at Terwilliger Hot Springs 

Nothing says "serene" quite like sitting in a warm pool while cold rain (or potentially snow) sprinkles your face and shoulders. That type of relaxation can be achieved at Terwilliger Hot Springs, also known as Cougar Hot Springs, located seven miles south of the McKenzie River Highway on the west side of Cougar Reservoir. Three pools vary in heat from 85 to 112 degrees, so dip your toes in and find your personal Goldilocks zone. Avoiding crowds can be tricky, but some semblance of solitude can be found on most rainy weekdays—just don't be surprised if your fellow bathers aren't as clothed as you. Start your day off with a hike up to Tamolitch Falls and Blue Pool (but don't jump in ... seriously, it's too cold this time of year) before soaking your tired muscles in the springs. For weekenders, book a handsome cabin at nearby Horse Creek Lodge & Outfitters. —Sam Stites


April

Ski in Your Swimsuit on Mount Bachelor 

We don't mean you should literally strip down to bikini or board shorts before take some hot laps because that's a good way to get a full body sun burn and snow rash in places you shouldn't. But if you haven't felt the freedom of skiing or snowboarding without a thick layer of winter clothing on, try trading in the ski jacket and goggles for a T-shirt and sunglasses. Everyone loves a good powder day, but late-season conditions such as spring slush—and oftentimes, snow that's better than slush at Mount Bachelor—can be just as fun. That goes doubly for park rats and people who enjoy sticking to freshly groomed runs. One of the best parts of spring riding is that by mid-April, other outdoor enthusiasts are already moving on to other exploits which cuts down on the time you're stuck in a lift line. Make sure you bring some SPF 100, a portable grill, and a full case of Rainier to really send the day off right with a little parking-lot barbecue action at lunchtime. —SS


Fly fishermen flock to the Deschutes River each May for trout and steelhead when the Salmonfly hatch is on. 

May

Fly-Fish the Lower Deschutes

The salmonfly hatch that takes place each May on the lower Deschutes River is a magical and world-renowned event. These creepy crawlers are famous for the mammoth rainbow trout they attract to the river. Grab your fly rod and head to Maupin for easy access to the banks of the Deschutes, or, charter your own drift boat and fishing guide to help you find the best spots. Rent a raft from one of the town's many outfitters and row your own craft to make a week of it. Dozens of campsites maintained by the Bureau of Land Management are accessible via road and water. Deschutes River State Recreation Area at the river's mouth on the Columbia River is also an excellent place for those without watercraft to camp and fish from the bank. —SS


June

Marvel at the Painted Hills

Oregon's painted hills and John Day Fossil Beds near the town of Mitchell are both a geological and paleontological wonder. 

If, like many, you associate Oregon’s lush natural beauty with cascading waterfalls, still lakes, and craggy coastlines forged from the wild Pacific spray—in other words, water in various majestic forms—then the Painted Hills can come as something of a shock to the sense and spirit. Who knew that in Oregon’s arid deserts one of the state’s most arresting visual landscapes arises in breathtaking color from the dry ground? Layers of red, rust, black, and gold give these sleeping giants with their knuckly folds an otherworldly feel, testament to the passage of time and changing climates. Bring your water bottle—there’s none on site and the sun gets hot in this area, especially in the early afternoon—and take one or more of five trails of varied lengths and difficulty for spectacular views (Carroll Rim, the longest, provides a panorama, though Painted Hills Overlook and Painted Cove also offer up a spectacle) or paleontological history (Leaf Hill Trail). There are some designated spots for wild camping in the hills, though the nearby town of Mitchell also boasts a hotel and other lodging options, and serves as a great jumping-off point for exploration of the whole area, including the Sheep Rock visitor center and trails, and the Clarno Unit, all part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. —Fiona McCann


 

Along the Corvallis to the Sea Trail, which was completed, after nearly 50 years, in 2021

July

Backpack from Corvallis to the Coast

In 2021, after nearly 50 years of tireless work (mostly from volunteer efforts organized by the Corvallis to the Sea Trail Partnership), the city of Corvallis celebrated the opening of the new Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail, a 62-mile route that connects the Willamette Valley to the Pacific Ocean. The trail is a network of public land, abandoned roads, gated corridors, and low-traffic streets that stretches from Corvallis to Ona Beach at Brian Booth State Park, and it’s perfect for hiking or biking. Along the way, you also get to experience lush forests, wide-open vistas, flora, and wildlife. Be prepared—the trail is very difficult. With limited water along the route, travelers are encouraged to bring plenty of their own. Hustling hikers can complete the trek in just three days, but the C2C partnership says the trail is best for a five- to six-day trip at a more leisurely pace. Prepare to camp out (in designated camping spots only!), and don’t forget to grab yourself a free permit. —Gabriel Granillo  


The Rogue River is one of the premier rafting experiences in the Pacific Northwest for both single-day and multi-day trips. 

August

Raft on the Rogue

It’s hard to imagine a river more epic for whitewater rafting than the Rogue River, which is 215 miles long and flows westward from the Cascades near Crater Lake all the way to the coast at Gold Beach. The river was one of the original eight recognized by Congress in 1968's National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. To get the full Rogue experience, you’ll want to do a multiday rafting trip. One popular option is a family-friendly four-day trip that spans 40 miles through the Siskiyou Mountains and ends at Foster Bar, passing through plenty of Class II and III rapids and one infamous, tough-to-maneuver Class IV rapid, Blossom Bar. Pitch a tent along the way or stay at rustic historic lodges by the riverbank. Short on time? Half-day and full-day trips are also available from the many private rafting companies that offer trips down the river, complete with their own Class IV rapid. —Katherine Chew Hamilton


September

Drive the Oregon Coast Highway

From Astoria to Brookings, Oregon’s 363 miles of US 101 takes drivers past stunning shoreline views, dramatic cape hikes, looming sea stacks, working fisheries, swinging casinos, secret surf spots, a cheddar mecca, and more. Avoid summer traffic with a spring trip, and don’t plan on being in a rush for any part of it. You’ll want to turn off at every beach and trailhead in the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, feel an urge to undertake a thorough scientific sampling of every seaside café’s fish and chips, and be tempted to stop and shoot your own car commercial south of Port Orford. The highway doesn’t hug the water the whole way, and unless you’re a 101 completist it’s worth the detour near Tillamook along Netarts Bay. (If the lunch window is open at Nevør Shellfish Farm, try what’s fresh, even if you’ve never heard of it.) Near Coos Bay, leave 101 to take the spur from Charleston to Cape Arago State Park. A stop at Shore Acres State Park is mandatory, whether the former timber baron’s grand estate garden is in full bloom (or full glow with holiday lights, a long-standing annual tradition) or just its rainy-season lushness. —MS


 

October

Tear It Up in the Alvord Desert

Tucked away in deep southeastern Oregon in the shadow of hulking Steens Mountain, a bleached white desert playa unfurls for miles. The Alvord Desert, a dry lakebed, best visited from May to October, looks like caked salt flats, but it’s actually alkali minerals—the same minerals that infuse the nearby Alvord and Willow Creek Hot Springs. This jaw-dropping landscape is well off the beaten path and a prime adventure zone. Two daredevilish women broke the world’s land speed records there: Kitty O’Neil in 1976 and Jessi Combs in 2019. During peak season you can still spot other adventurers riding motorcycles, parasailing, or hiking in the nearby mountains. And, if you’re lucky, you may just catch the region’s wild horses drinking from nearby running water. —Karly Quadros


November

Forage for Mushrooms near Salmon River

After the first big rain of the season, mushrooms abound in Oregon—chanterelles (Oregon’s official state mushroom), American matsutake, king bolete, lobster mushrooms, morels. From late August until December, you’ll find mushrooms near the Oregon Coast, the Cascades Range, the Willamette Valley, and more—pretty much wherever is moist and shadowy, which, of course, is a lot of places in Oregon, will yield a bounty of mushy bois. But for a deep dive into old-growth wonder, spend a day foraging at the Old Trail near the Salmon River. Along this five-mile out-and-back trail you’ll discover a wealth of colorful mushrooms ripe for harvesting. The Salmon River, which runs along the western slopes of Mount Hood and merges with Sandy River, keeps this area soggy year-round—the perfect conditions for mushroom growth. Lucky visitors will also be treated to peak fall colors and the annual salmon run along the river. For more information, safety tips, and field trips, visit the Oregon Mycological Society. —GG 


December

Storm-Watch at Cape Meares

The beach is synonymous with summer, but the Oregon Coast might be most impressive during late fall and winter's dramatic displays of waves upon waves crashing on the shore. From Yachats to Fort Stevens there are plenty of places to cozy up in a seaside lodge and storm-watch, but our favorite place is Cape Meares. While scoping out unparalleled views of the waves at this scenic viewpoint and wildlife refuge next to Tillamook Bay (do bring your rain gear), be sure to visit the Cape Meares Lighthouse and the "Octopus Tree" Sitka spruce, which has been rooted on this stretch of coast for more than 250 years. Once your watch is done, consider bedding down for a cozy night somewhere with a jetted tub and a fireplace (try the Inn at Manzanita). It’s been a long year. You’ve earned it. —GG

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