Oregon is the ultimate road trip destination — discover the high desert, mountains, and coast.
By Rebecca Deurlein April 01, 2022
Oregon is a blend of wonderful things: ranches with hardworking people, hipsters who love their brews and wines, and rocky coasts that take your breath away. On a recent road trip with my husband, I discovered that the small towns stretching from central Oregon through the Willamette Valley could give me all of those things, without ever making me feel like a tourist.
Seeking romance and adventure, we flew into Redmond Airport near Bend, and as our plane landed, we were awed by the majestic Cascade Range framing the horizon. Just a 15-minute drive took us to Brasada Ranch in Powell Butte, a high-desert location with sage brush and gnarled trees that make you feel like you’ve arrived in the Old West. We stayed in a cozy cabin that was at once rustic and upscale, where we stargazed from our deck hot tub, enjoyed all the amenities of a first-class resort, and dined at two restaurants with full bars.
Horseback riding in the high desert is like none other, and the Equestrian Center at Brasada offers a top-notch experience on well-tended horses. After our ride, we picked up a hearty sack lunch at Range Restaurant and headed out for a hike and rock climbing at Smith Rock State Park, where jagged stone mountains descend to a river valley so picturesque as to be otherworldly.
When it was time to leave Powell Butte, we took Highway 126, a ribbon of beauty that traverses the majestic Santiam Pass and offers multiple scenic stops. Don’t miss Clear Lake and Sahalie Falls, two Instagram-worthy spots that provide an opportunity to get out and stretch your legs while taking in nature’s wonder.
As you descend from the mountain, you’ll arrive in Springfield, home to Bayne Gardner’s Simpsons murals, which appear around every corner and delight treasure hunters eager to find them all. It’s a dedication to “The Real Springfield” that inspired the animated hit. After taking in the masterpieces, we quenched both our thirst and hunger at Plank Town Brewing Company — just what we needed to complete that day’s journey to Eugene.
The home of track and field and the first Nike shoes ever invented for the Oregon Ducks, Eugene just debuted Hayward Field at the University of Oregon and Hayward Hall. Check out the sleek museum that memorializes Nike history and the wall of windows that offers a VIP view to the venue that plays host to the World Athletics Championships for track and field.
Then, don’t miss dinner at Lion & Owl, a former brunch place that started in an Airstream trailer and has evolved into an upscale restaurant featuring that same Airstream in its dining room. If you’re lucky, you can score one of two tables inside the trailer, but the food is the real attraction here.
We like our stays to be as different as our activities, so after dinner, we checked into The Campbell House Inn, a bed-and-breakfast situated in a historic home. There’s nothing like waking up to steaming hot coffee, freshly baked scones, eggs, and pancakes in a dining room that feels like your classy grandma’s house.
The next morning, we followed the Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail, which features impressive small town eateries. First up was Block 15 Restaurant & Brewery in Corvallis for lunch and a flight of craft beers. My husband knows his brews, and he loved their Sticky Hands IPA. Next, we headed to nearby Albany to sample award-winning pinot noir and pinot gris at Springhill Cellars. The casual barn tasting room belies just how good the wine is — in fact, it was a highlight of our trip.
Whatever you do, don’t leave Albany without having dinner at Sybaris Bistro, where James Beard Award finalist Matt Bennett offers a fresh menu every month as well as an extensive Northwest-centered wine list and full bar. The food is eclectic, classically prepared, and innovative.
Wanting to get at least a peek at the coast, we took the 90-minute trip on Oregon Route 22 West to Lincoln City. There, we hiked The Knoll, a moderately difficult three-mile loop, and were so energized by the fairy tale forest and sweeping Pacific views that we added on the 1.3-mile detour to God’s Thumb. It was worth every step. If you like waves crashing against cliffs and rolling green hills, this trek is one for the record books.
We couldn’t leave Oregon without enjoying just a few more of its famed pinot noirs, so our last stop was in the heart of the Willamette Valley. We checked into our 1966 restored Airstream at The Vintages Trailer Resort, a cool concept that combines trailer park kitsch with comfortable accommodations. Then, we drove five minutes to Durant Vineyards in Dayton, a beautiful tasting experience featuring olives and grapes from the Dundee Hills.
Lunch at Rosmarino Osteria Italiana, a fine-dining gem in the tiny town of Carlton, was an off-the-charts fresh pasta experience, and I devoured my wild boar pappardelle. Next door to the restaurant, we popped into Et Fille, where we savored one great wine after another. Et Fille gets extra points for donating part of their proceeds from their Stem & Root label to STEM funding for girls, a nod to the father-daughter team that makes this winery a success.
With our bellies and hearts full, it was just a one-hour drive to the Portland airport, wrapping up a road trip that took us through a variety of terrains, stays, and activities. Oregon may not be the first destination that pops to mind when you think of a road trip vacation, but it absolutely should be.