Quick and Easy Day Trips for Fall Fun

Apple hunting in the Hood River Valley, spooks in St. Helens, fall wonder in Wilsonville, and more

By Gabriel Granillo, Rose Lee, and Fiona McCann

With our dense urban tree canopy and forests ringing the city, there's no better place than Portland to catch fall foliage. (Bring it, New England.) But on a beautiful, aimless weekend, it is the open road that calls us. And right now all kinds of fun fall activities, from getting spooky in St. Helens to apple picking near Mount Hood, are within spitting distance of the Rose City. 

French Prairie Gardens in Wilsonville

Live the farm life around Wilsonville 

About 20 miles south of Portland, sleepy Wilsonville and its surroundings offers plenty of autumnal adventures. Check out local farms like Frog Pond, Fir Point, and Lee for harvest-festival pumpkin patches, corn mazes, barnyard hangouts, and even a "spooky farm walk." Hit up the French Prairie Gardens in nearby St. Paul for annual pig races, tractor wagon rides, and more. For hikes, bikes, picnics, and fall foliage, stop by Graham Oaks Nature Park and Molalla River State Park. —Gabriel Granillo

Orchards in the Hood River Valley

Sip cider/wine in Hood Valley

Apples, the world’s best peanut butter delivery device, await in the Hood River Valley, only one measly little hour east of Portland. Besides, with a thermos full of warm coffee, the gorgeous Columbia River to your north, and gushing waterfalls to the south, the drive is easy and pleasant. (Or take US 26 for more mountain scenery, though as we ease into winter it's a good idea to consult for pass conditions and chain requirements.) Along the Hood River Fruit Loop, you’ll find stands by Kiyokawa Family Orchards, Fox-Tail Cider & Distillery, Draper Girls’ Country Farm, and more.  —GG

The Spruce Goose

Get loose with the Spruce Goose in McMinnville

Just an hour southwest of Portland, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum offers visitors a glimpse into some of the country’s earliest airborne endeavors. The museum’s centerpiece is the original Spruce Goose, considered “the largest wooden airplane ever constructed.” November 2, 2022, will mark the 75th anniversary of its one and only flight. —Rose Lee

White Salmon Baking Company

Image: Michael Novak

Enjoy life on the other side (of the Gorge)

The pocket city of White Salmon—population circa 2,000—famed for its legitimately stellar views of Mount Hood. Here fuel up at the White Salmon Baking Company with made-on-site cardamom buns and croissants, or heartier breakfast sandwiches for your hike, and continue on to the Catherine Creek West Loop, where a 3.5-mile loop offers glorious gorge vistas and some pretty wildflower scatterings in season. But really, you’re doing it all for a chance to soak things off at the nearby Society Hotel in Bingen, where non-guests can still get a day pass ($25 for an hour, reservations required) to the cedar sauna and salt water pools. The hotel/hostel's café boasts a cocktail menu of standards—Moscow mules and margaritas—which can also be enjoyed round one of the outdoor fire pits. Alternatively, just 12 minutes away, AniChe Cellars perches on a height with glorious views and offers an array of lip-smacking sips from two women winemakers, among them the cherry, berry delight that is 7 Gables. —Fiona McCann

Fall colors on the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway

Take a drive along the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway

The Scappoose-Vernonia Highway parallels the Crown Zellerbach Trail, a 23-mile system just 40 minutes northwest of Portland. On an aimless fall day, queue the Portland Monthly fall playlist and make a day trip out of curling through canopies of leaves, dark and dense forested corners, and sprawling views. Along the highway are various trailheads from which to embark on the Crown Z, and most hikes are fairly easy. For an added spook, visit Scaponia Park, which is supposedly haunted by a horse thief and his dog. —GG

Devil’s Punch Bowl State Park

Image: Rose Lee

Hang out with hermit crabs in Otter Rock

Just off US 101 between Depoe Bay and Newport, Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area in Otter Rock offers a coastal getaway next to the intriguing, hollow rock formation known as Devil’s Punchbowl. On the adjacent beach, low tide unveils a scattering of slippery tide pools, home to hermit crabs and an assortment of colorful shells. High tide can cause dangerous conditions for both entering the rock formation and scouring tide pools, so be sure to check tide tables and weather conditions. —RL

St. Helens in October

Get into the Halloween spirit at St. Helens

Every year the very real city of St. Helens celebrates the very fake Halloweentown movies and the Twilight series, which were partially filmed in the area. All month long the city, just 29 miles up Highway 30, hosts weekly attractions including guided tours, haunted hotels and houses, scavenger hunts, costume contests, and dances. Don’t forget to stop by the courthouse plaza, home of the Great Pumpkin. —GG

Steelhead Falls

Image: Rose Lee

Fall in love with Steelhead Falls

If you view hiking as more of a gateway to a beautiful destination than a daylong excursion, consider visiting Steelhead Falls in the Deschutes Canyon area in Central Oregon. The Steelhead Falls Trail is only half a mile long, with a single, steep section that leads hikers toward the sound of the falls. Once you’ve reached the falls, find a spot along the shores of the Deschutes to picnic, fish, and enjoy the surrounding wildlife. —RL

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