With the pandemic still in full swing, most Americans choose to stay relatively close to home when traveling.
Road trips and staycations, which have previously been staples of budget travelers, have become even more popular as people forego flights and long exposure to strangers.
More than ever, people have turned their attention to their local area to find getaway ideas, and we’re no different.
Both Sebastian and I and many of our friends and family have been taking advantage of the beautiful Oregon summer to visit some of our favorite locations around the state.
While I wouldn’t personally hesitate to stay in a hotel or other rental, others may be wary of staying somewhere outside their home and prefer to take day trips.
With staying close to home in mind, we wanted to take a moment to discuss our favorite locations close to our home base of Portland, Oregon. Each of these options is a maximum of only a few hours’ drive and easily doable in a day.
Here are the best day trips from Portland, in every direction.
The Columbia River Gorge
First, let’s head due east and explore some of our favorite spots near Portland in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.
First up is Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. It is also the tallest waterfall in Oregon at 620 feet high.
The Multnomah Falls area was originally developed with a pathway, viewing bridge, and lodge constructed in 1925. Since then, a switchback trail was added that takes hikers to the top of the falls and an observation deck overlooking the falls’ edge.
Multnomah Falls is accessible from the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway and Interstate 84 and is about 30 minutes from Portland.
Crown Point/Vista House
Driving through the Columbia River Gorge on I-84, travelers rounding the bend near Corbett are greeted with a spectacular sight.
Perched atop the cliff is a beautiful stone octagonal building with a green ceramic tile roof.
This is the famous Vista House atop Crown Point, one of the Gorge’s most recognized and famous features.
The Vista House was built in 1916 and can only be reached by driving the winding and historic Columbia River Gorge Highway.
Crown Point and the Vista House offer stunning views of the Gorge and surrounding areas, and at only 30 minutes from Portland, it is a must for any Gorge traveler.
Bridge of the Gods
Those looking for a day’s escape from Portland need to look no further than the magnificent Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks.
The Bridge of the Gods, named after the geological feature of the same name, is a steel truss cantilever bridge spanning the Columbia River between Cascade Locks, Oregon, and Washington state.
Originally built in 1926, this nearly 2,000-foot toll bridge is the lowest point on the Pacific Crest Trail and is a favorite of Gorge travelers.
Make it a day by stopping in at the Bridgeside Restaurant for lunch, grab some ice cream at the Eastwind Drive-In, check out the Locks, or take a ride on the triple-deck sternwheeler.
Cascade Locks and Bridge of the Gods is just 45 minutes from Portland.
Rowena Crest Viewpoint
A bit further down the road, travelers from Portland must stop at Rowena Crest Viewpoint, one of the most photographed scenes in Oregon.
This iconic viewpoint is just a short walk from the parking lot and offers sweeping views of the hills, cliffs, and Gorge.
But what makes Rowena iconic is the horseshoe curve along the road visible from the viewpoint.
Rowena Crest Viewpoint is a little over an hour drive from Portland.
Along with the destinations listed above, the Columbia River Gorge offers a plethora of stunning hikes perfect for a day trip from Portland.
Some of the most popular include Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Angels Rest, and Dog Mountain.
You can find a huge list of Gorge hikes, along with difficulty and distance, here.
Now let’s take a different route east up into the Cascade Range and the beautiful Mt. Hood National Forest. These trips are 1 to 2 hours from Portland and a great way to spend the day.
First up is the Historic Timberline Lodge, aka the Overlook Hotel from the movie The Shining.
Built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Great Depression, Timberline is home to the historic lodge, a ski resort, and great hiking. Timberline is also the only place in the continental U.S. where you can ski in the summer and is the U.S. Ski Team’s training place.
After hiking or skiing, drop into the lodge or Wy’east Day Lodge for some good eats, drinks, and fantastic views of the surrounding hills, Mt. Jefferson, and central Oregon. On a clear day, you can see as far as The Three Sisters mountains and Mt. Bachelor.
Another great attraction on Mt. Hood that offers both winter and summer activities is Mt. Hood Skibowl.
Skibowl is home to the largest night ski resort in the winter and an adventure park in the summer. The main adventure park attraction is a half-mile long dual-track alpine slide, but there is also mini-golf, bungee jumping, zip-lining, and go-cart racing.
Another option is to load your bike on the back of the chair lift and ride up to the top of the Lower Bowl to kick off some mountain biking. On weekends you can even ride up to the top of the Upper Bowl and hike or enjoy the amazing views of Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Jefferson.
Visit an Alpine Lake
The Mt. Hood National Forest is home to several easily accessible alpine lakes and are huge attractions for fishing, picnics, hiking, rafting/kayaking, and boating.
While some lakes require a hike to access, several have well-maintained roads that allow you to drive right up to them.
Timothy Lake, Frog Lake, and Trillium Lake are all accessible by paved road, while Lost Lake is accessible via a gravel road. These lakes are also the most developed and offer picnic areas and trails around the lakes.
Burnt Lake and Mirror Lake are only accessible by hiking in, with the Mirror Lake trail hike being one of the most popular hikes in the area.
Bagby Hot Springs
While still within the Mt. Hood National Forest area, Bagby Hot Springs is reached by driving through Estacada and approaching the southwest side of Mt. Hood.
These natural springs were found by prospector Bob Bagby in 1880 but had been used by Native Americans for hundreds of years.
Visitors must hike the easy 1.5-mile trail to reach the site, where three bathhouses utilize water from three major springs and several minor outlets.
The Oregon Coast
Now let’s head west and take in some of the best day trips from Portland on the beautiful Oregon coast.
Lincoln City is one of the most easily accessible Oregon coast towns and is a popular spot for day-trippers.
Just take Highway 99W southwest of Portland to Highway 18 for a nice hour and 45-minute drive to the beach.
Once in Lincoln City, you can head to the beach, kayak in Devils Lake, clam in Siletz Bay, check out a concert at Chinook Winds Casino, or browse the various local shops.
You can even blow your own glass float!
Grab a bite to eat at famous Mo’s Seafood and Chowder or pig out on the way there or the drive back at Spirit Mountain Casino’s famous Cedar Plank Buffet.
About an hour and a half northwest of Portland is the quaint little town of Cannon Beach, known as one of the northwest’s top art towns.
Cannon Beach is known for its beautiful beaches, rock formations, and impressive viewpoints of the coastline. At low tide, you’ll find colorful sea stars decorating the rocks along the shoreline, and you’ll be able to walk out to Cannon Beach’s most famous landmark: Haystack Rock.
You might also see herds of elk grazing the meadows and puffins nesting on the rocks.
In the northernmost part of Oregon, Astoria is a beautiful town on the Columbia River and just a short drive from the beach.
Astoria has been featured in many movies, most famously The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop. The amazing views from Jesse’s room in Free Willy are also Astoria.
In Astoria, you can visit the Flavel House Museum or the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Just a short drive outside Astoria, you can visit Fort Clatsop, the site where the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter in the Pacific Northwest.
A few minutes west of Astoria, you can drive on the beach at Fort Stevens State Park. A must-see is the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted sailing ship that ran aground in 1906. Still visible is a large section of the bow and the outline of the hull.
Seaside has been a Springbreakers destination and summer vacation getaway for years.
It’s a small resort town and is known for its 1920’s promenade, as well as its arcade scene.
In fact, there’s so much to do that those thinking of visiting Seaside would be wise to order a Seaside Visitors Guide so that they can plan their trip and ensure they don’t miss out on anything.
At nearly 3 hours, this is the longest day trip from Portland, but it’s worth it.
Yachats is a word in the Siletz language that means “dark water at the foot of the mountain.” It has been named one of the 10 coolest small towns in the U.S. and was number 7 on Arthur Frommer (Frommer’s Travel Guides) favorite vacation destinations in the world in 2011.
Aside from the beach and small-town vibe, Yachats has an abundant arts and culture scene. It’s also near Thor’s Well, one of the most photographed places on the Oregon coast.
Last but certainly not least, Sand Lake is a haven for off-highway vehicle lovers.
The Sand Lake Recreation Area is located between Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda and covers over 1,000 acres of open dunes.
Visitors can fish, swim, crab, kayak, and hike at the Sand Lake Estuary, while ATV and dune buggy riders can explore the dunes that give the area its name. There are also several campgrounds and a day-use area.
Just make sure you have the proper permits before riding the dunes!
Now let’s head further east to explore a few of the best day trips from Portland in central Oregon. These destinations push the limits of a day trip, but they’re well worth the drive.
Unfortunately, Warm Springs isn’t the destination it used to be since the closing of the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort in 2018, but there are still plenty of things to do and see in the area.
Warm Springs is a town located on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, one of 9 federally recognized tribes in Oregon.
The Indian Head Casino is still operating, and if gambling isn’t your thing, you can head across the street to The Museum at Warm Springs to learn about Native American history and culture.
Outdoor enthusiasts can fish and raft the Deschutes River or boat on nearby Lake Simtustus (see below). Camping and hiking are also available in the area.
Whatever you do, make sure to stop for the delicious fry bread on your way through town.
While not as well known as Lake Billy Chinook (see below), Lake Simtustus has been an outdoor recreation lover’s destination for years. And even better, it’s closer to Portland!
The name was chosen by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to honor Pipsher Simtustus, a native scout for the army in the late 1800s. Lake Simtustus is between Warm Springs and Madras, and the crazy thing is you wouldn’t even know it’s there from the highway.
While boaters and RVer’s have been cruising Lake Simtustus for decades, the area has recently been growing and becoming a more luxurious destination able to attract all kinds of vacationers. Lake Simtustus Resort offers luxury tiny home rentals, RV spaces, a boat launch, and mooring slips.
Whether staying at the resort or in a campground, if water sports are your thing, Lake Simtustus is for you.
Smith Rock State Park
Another destination within a reasonable distance for a day trip from Portland is iconic Smith Rock State Park.
At over 650 acres and with rock faces formed from volcanic ash, Smith Rock is one of the most impressive geological features of central Oregon’s volcanic-rich landscapes.
Miles of trails crisscross the landscape, with many taking hikers to the summit of the rock faces. Many of these trails are bike and horse-friendly as well, making the trails accessible to nearly everyone.
However, the crowning jewel of Smith Rock State Park is the climbing. Known as the birthplace of U.S. sport climbing, the park has close to 2,000 climbing routes ranging in difficulty.
I’m no climbing expert, but I’d think you’d have to be a fairly experienced climber to attempt most of the faces. What do I know is you need to check out the climbing areas and see for yourself.
Lake Billy Chinook
The drive to Lake Billy Chinook is one of the longest on this list, but it’s well worth it for watercraft enthusiasts.
Lake Billy Chinook was formed after the Round Butte Dam was built and is where the Crooked, Deschutes, and Metolius rivers converge. The lake was named for a Native American of the Wasco tribe, Billy Chinook, who traveled with explorers John C. Fremont and Kit Carson in the mid-1800s.
Lake Billy Chinook is extremely popular for recreation and boasts water skiing, sailing, jet-skiing, and boating. Fishing is also a common pastime.
Don’t have your own boat? No problem!
There are houseboats, as well as a host of other watercraft, for rent on site.
Even if watersports aren’t your thing, Cove Palisades State Park (which surrounds the lake) offers camping, lodging, and day use.
Now let’s go south and southwest to discover the best day trips from Portland in the Willamette Valley.
The Willamette Valley is recognized as one of the premier wine-producing areas in the world, and vineyards and wine tasting rooms dot the valley from just outside Portland to Medford.
However, the crème-de-la-crème of Oregon’s vineyards and wine tasting scene can be found just an hour southwest of Portland. Hotspots include Dundee, Yamhill, Chehalem, and McMinnville.
There are far too many possible wine tasting venues to mention, but wine enthusiasts get their very own free Oregon Wine Touring Guide to help them plan their wine tasting day trips.
Silver Falls State Park
About an hour south of Portland, day-trippers will find Silver Falls State Park, the largest park in Oregon at more than 9,000 acres.
The park includes 24 miles of walking trails, 14 miles of horse trails, and a 4-mile bike path. The main trail, 8.7-mile Canyon Trail/Trail of Ten Falls, passes 10 waterfalls. Four of these falls are situated such that the trail passes behind the flow of the falls.
Fishing, picnicking, camping, and cabin rentals are also offered at Silver Falls State Park, making it the perfect day trip or overnight destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Spiritual travelers will find one of the best day trips from Portland is the 45-minute drive to Mt. Angel just northeast of Salem.
Originally settled in 1850, it became Mt. Angel in 1883 after the Reverend Adelhelm Odermatt came to the area with Benedictine monks from Engelberg, Switzerland. In fact, Mt. Angel is the English translation of Engelberg.
He also established the Mount Angel Abbey, a private Roman Catholic seminary, university, and community of Benedictine monks to this day. Visitors can worship at the abbey or St. Mary’s Catholic Church in town.
Mt. Angel is also known for its Oktoberfest, which brings in nearly 300,000 people a year. Enjoy currywurst at the Mt. Angel Sausage Company, a drink at the Benedictine Brewery, and visit the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in nearby Woodburn on your way to town.
Now let’s head north and check out the best day trips from Portland in Washington.
Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is notorious for the massive eruption in 1980 that killed 57 people and destroyed surrounding homes and landscapes.
40 years later, Mount St. Helens offers a wealth of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, geologists, and anyone interested in volcanoes.
Visitors can start their journey at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, which serves as a gateway to the mountain. Further along, the Forest Learning Center and the Johnston Ridge Observatory offer a close-up view of the mountain.
On the southwest side of Mount St. Helens, visitors can explore the Ape Cave lava tube, the longest lava tube in the continental U.S. at over 2 miles long.
Mt. Rainier National Park
Just a bit further up north is another giant of the Cascade Range.
Mt. Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range and also considered one of the most dangerous due to the high probability of an eruption. The mountain hosts 25 glaciers and is also the starting point of multiple rivers.
Those looking for adventure can take a day trip from Portland to visit Mt. Rainier National Park, the nation’s 5th established National Park. There are numerous hiking trails, including the Wonderland Trail that circles the volcano.
Mt. Rainier is also a popular mountaineering spot, although only about 50% make it to the top.
The last of the best day trips from Portland we’re going to discuss is Olympia, Washington State’s capital.
Located at the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia offers a ton of touristy activities but first on your list should be a visit to the state capitol building.
Built-in 1928 for $7 million, the building’s dome is visible almost anywhere in town and is the tallest masonry dome in North America. The interior features a 5 ton Tiffany chandelier and is worth a tour.
Other attractions include the Governor’s Mansion, Flight Museum, Bigelow House (Olympia’s oldest home), and Capitol Lake.
Moral of the Story
Road trips appear to be the travel option of choice for the foreseeable future, and specifically day trips within easy reach to reduce contact with others.
With travel limited, we’ve been revisiting and exploring our favorite places in Oregon and southern Washington, and all the best day trips from Portland.
If you’re in the Portland area and looking to get away, or contemplating a visit to Portland, check out these best day trips from Portland and see if something catches your fancy.
Talk about Travel Saved.