The seasons are changing and there’s a hint of fall magic in the air. Across Oregon, leaves are turning colors and kids are heading back to school. But don’t give up on adventuring yet—there are still so many places to enjoy a stunning getaway! The state is packed with accessible and epic road trips, whether you want to escape for the day or a whole weekend. We’ve rounded up a few of the best destinations for your fall family escape. Read on for more!
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Enjoy the bounty of fall at the Fruit Loop—one of the best places in Oregon to gather, eat, and explore (not to mention drink a fresh-fruit milkshake or two). And it’s only an hour away from Portland!
In town stop by the visitor center for a Fruit Loop map, then leave it to the kids to navigate to any of the 30 farms! Any given weekend offers another apple or pear festival, and later in the fall you’ll find plenty of pumpkins to pick and corn mazes to navigate. You could easily spend two full days enjoying every single farm, but for this visit, pick your favorites so you can spend a day in town.
Back in Hood River, stop by G. Willikers Toy Shoppe for an excellent selection of games, books, noise-makers and rabble-rousers. Then spend an afternoon at the Waterfront Park, watching the kite-boarders play in the world-famous Columbia Gorge wind. A recently updated playground is a welcoming addition to the town for all ages. Toddlers will love the gentle hill slides, and older kids can challenge themselves to scale the climbing wall– it’s tough! Across the street you’ll find Solstice Wood Fired Cafe or Pfriem Brewery, two delicious and completely family-friendly restaurants.
The Oregon Coast
While Seaside and Cannon Beach are the closest to Oregon (and come with salt water taffy, Haystack Rock, great tidepools and more) there’s plenty to see further south, too. Take an extended trip down the 101 to find lighthouses, whale-watching spots, an award-winning aquarium, and sandy dunes.
Start out your adventure at Newport, about 2 and a half hours away from Portland. There you’ll discover one of the nation’s best aquariums! Once home to Keiko the whale (of Free Willy fame), the aquarium now houses sea otters, a giant octopus, plenty of crazy-looking fish, and a long tunnel to stroll underneath the predators of the deep.
A bit north you can spy the Devil’s Punchbowl, a unique rock formation that swirls water around in it’s wild geology, and offer some great tide pool exploring. Go lighthouse hopping down the coast near Florence with Heceta Head and it’s rumored-to-be-haunted lighthouse. Can you find all 11 of Oregon’s lighthouses? Finally, get sandy at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where you can rent dune buggies and ATVs to zoom around the shifting sands.
Though it’s only an hour south of Portland, Salem has a whole new world of fun for kids. Stay a few days to take advantage of nearby day trips like a hike in Silver Falls State Park, or a bicycle tour of covered bridges.
In Salem, spend some time wandering around the Oregon Garden in it’s fall colors– kids will love the Children’s Garden, complete with a hobbit door. Older kids will learn a lot about state history with a guided or self-guided tour of the capitol building, and the whole family will love the the beautiful Riverfront Park on the Willamette River. And for even more fun, stop by the Enchanted Forest, a non-Disney theme park that’s a little goofy and utterly enchanting, aimed at those ages 3 and up.
Tucked away in Oregon’s northwestern corner is the Scandinavian-inspired town of Astoria, rich with Scandinavian and fishing history. A weekend there is packed with fun, even if you’re just standing by the river watching the big boats go by. Learn more about the ships and the surprisingly dangerous waters where the river meets the sea at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The Graveyard of the Pacific has claimed over 2,000 vessels since 1792! You’ll see some of the recovered items from shipwrecks like old cannons.
Speaking of shipwrecks, see a real one for yourself at the beach at Fort Stevens State Park, where the Peter Iredale ran ashore in 1906 and still sits today, hulking and rusted. You can also see historical military sites, and even hunt for fall mushrooms (check out their mushroom guide for helpful hints!). The coast is also a clamming hot spot.
Back in town, you have a few great options to fuel up, including the family-friendly Fort George Brewery, a nod to the original name of the city. Grab a quick bite to eat across from the maritime museum at Bowpicker Fish and Chips. Not only is it delicious, it’s actually served out of a real boat! And finally, fuel up with some ice cream and french fries at Frite and Scoop — you’ll need the extra energy to climb the Astoria Column. The observation deck atop the column offers stunning views of the city and over into Washington.
Fall is one of the best times to head to the desert of Eastern Oregon, with temperatures a little bit cooler and crowds thinner. The drive itself is part of the allure, with mining towns and ghost towns scattered around. Aim for the John Day Fossil Beds for a stunning geological survey of the state: the park is spread out over three locations 3-4 hours away from Portland. Each “unit” shows off a rainbow of colors, as well as geological formations and history. Rock-lovers and kids can admire the range of rocks along the drive, and they can can even dig for fossils themselves at Wheeler High School, in the aptly named town of Fossil. At the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center learn more about the national monument, and the impact of paleontology.
Further east, dig into more recent history at Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, the town that was once the third largest Chinatown in the country. The building opened in the late 1800s and served as a Chinese apothecary and general store.
Check locations websites for updates on COVID-related changes.
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