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Five Awesome Portland Day Trips

by Michelle Checchi
Balance Rock at Cape Kiwanda

Balance Rock at Cape Kiwanda. Stock photo by Twenty20 photo via Envato Elements

When visiting the Pacific Northwest, odds are, you’ll end up spending some time in Portland, Oregon. As one of the top tourist destinations in the region, and Oregon’s biggest city, Portland had more than 8.8 million people visit overnight in 2019. Portland itself is teeming with excellent food, craft beer, beautiful parks, and unique arts and music culture. But when visiting the city, you should take advantage of all of the offerings of the grand Pacific Northwest, and explore the region on Portland day trips.

The toughest part can be deciding where to start. Aside from the basics, like Multnomah Falls (the most visited natural recreational site in the Pacific Northwest), there are tons of options to choose from.

If you’re in need of ideas, here are five awesome Portland day trips you definitely shouldn’t miss.


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Hood River County, Oregon

Time from Portland: 1 hour 45 minutes

One of the most iconic landscape features of Oregon is Mount Hood. As the tallest peak in Oregon at 11,249 ft., Mt. Hood can be seen from hours away, and is even visible from Portland. The mountain itself is surrounded by the lush Mt. Hood National Forest, with dense trees and clear lakes filled to the brim with cool water. Mt. Hood and the surrounding forest have plenty of options for awesome Portland day trips, but one of the best is Lost Lake.

With boat rentals, picnic tables, nearby hiking trails, fishing permitted, and a general store, Lost Lake is perfect for a day on the water and in the forest. Plus, if you want to spend the night and cozy up by a fire, you can rent a cabin, or pitch a tent in one of Lost Lake’s many camping spots.


Skamania County, Washington

Time from Portland: 1 hour 40 minutes

It’s a jaw-dropping story: back in 1980, an earthquake rocked Mt. St. Helen’s, triggering a collapse of the mountain, and setting off a volcanic eruption which would become the largest and most destructive in U.S. history. But since then, the National Volcanic Monument has been (mostly) quiet, and it is a wonder to explore. Easily reached from Portland for a day trip, Mt. St. Helen’s offers gorgeous trails, which you can visit all seasons of the year.

In the winter months, you can strap on your snowshoes or cross-country skis and traverse the surreal wilderness. Hikers can also explore Ape Cave, the third-longest lava tube in North America. Plus, those up for a physical challenge can actually summit Mt. St. Helen’s. It’s considered an accessible climb for both beginner and experienced mountaineers, but you do need to get a permit in advance.


Skamania County, Washington

Time from Portland: 1 hour
The Pacific Northwest is known for its swimming holes. From beautiful rivers to deep-blue lakes, both Oregon and Washington have no shortage of swimming opportunities. If you’re looking for a premier swimming hole just a quick drive ripe for a Portland day trip, make sure you head over to Dougan Falls. Located on the Washougal River, this waterfall pours into deep swimming pools, and you can clamber up the rocks to bask on the upper banks of the falls.

There are plenty of spots to lay out in the sun, which is not always the case in the dense parts of the Pacific Northwest. Because Dougan Falls is a beauty, it can get quite popular in the summer months, and may be less crowded during the weekdays.

If you do go, make sure you get a Washington Discover Pass, which allows you to park. You can get a Discover Pass at different shops in the state, or online.


Skamania County, Washington

Time from Portland: 1 hour 5 minutes
If you’re looking for a short hike with views that will knock your socks off, Wind Mountain is your hike. Now, keep in mind, the views are great for a reason. This hike is in the majestic Columbia River Gorge, and while it clocks in at only less than three miles round trip, it does gain nearly 1,200 feet in elevation. So while it is short, the hike climbs a summit, and there are plenty of switchbacks. Once you get to the top, you’ll see what all of the fuss is about.

The views of the Columbia River Gorge are sprawling, and the peak of the hike actually carries centuries of culture and meaning. Native tribes of the Pacific Northwest used Wind Mountain as a sacred site for spirit quests, where they fasted and waited for visits from their spirit guardians. Signage at the peak gives a quiet notice that you are in a special place.

If you’re looking for hikes of different difficulty or length, the Columbia River Gorge offers tons of options. Dog Mountain, Dry Creek Falls, and Wahkeena Falls are some other cult classics.


Balance Rock at Cape Kiwanda

Tillamook County, Oregon

Time from Portland: 1 hour 50 minutes
No list of awesome Portland day trips would be complete without talking about the Oregon coast. But if we’re being honest, the Oregon coast is a beast of its own. There are plenty of iconic cities and features on the coast, such as Astoria, where the Lewis and Clark expedition ended, and Cannon Beach, which is home to Haystack Rock (which you may recognize from The Goonies). But one of our all-time favorites is Cape Kiwanda.

This state recreation area is known for incredible waves, and you can usually spot surfers hitting the water. It’s also a great spot to launch your boat, and provides great hang gliding and kite flying options. But the best part about Cape Kiwanda? The mountains and craggy sand dunes and cliffs that line the beach, which you can climb and explore. You can even sand-surf down the big dunes. But take note: some of the cliffs are fenced off, because they can crumble without warning.

Cape Kiwanda is part of the Three Capes Scenic Route, a 40-mile drive that stretches the Oregon coast. It’s easy to hit all of them during your day on the Oregon coast.

 

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