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The 5 Best Scenic Fall Drives from Portland

We’ve all been stuck inside our houses due to the pandemic and cooler weather is right around the corner. If you’re wanting to do something fun outside while you still have the chance, we’ve compiled a list of the best fall scenic drives from Portland! Don’t worry, you can maintain a safe distance from everyone and enjoy the wonderful views from inside your car. But if you really want to take advantage of these spots, we’ve also thrown in some outdoor activities!

Historic Columbia River Highway

The Historic Columbia River Highway is an approximately 70-mile scenic byway that originally connects Troutdale to The Dalles. It is the oldest scenic highway in the country and was used extensively until the 1950s when I-84 was built. It was once proclaimed as the most beautiful road in the United States and was the first scenic highway in the U.S. to be designated a National Historic Landmark as an example of modern highway development.

The road is surrounded by glittering waterfalls and passes by the vistas of the Columbia River Gorge. Fun fact, there are around 90 waterfalls on the Oregon side alone! You can see the famous Multnomah Falls along the highway, while others are a bit inland. To begin your journey from Portland, take Interstate 84 east to exit 17 and enjoy a scenic drive that’s surely one for the books!

Washington County Valley

If you’re looking for a nearby scenic drive that still offers a full range of activities, take the Vineyard and Valley Scenic Tour Route through the Washington County Valley. The route stretches 60-miles and is only a 2-hour drive from the Portland Metro area.

One of its popular stops is Hillsboro’s Smith Berry Barn. You can pick your own raspberries, gooseberries, and loganberries straight from the vine. The road up north features wondrous views of hillsides striped with vineyards. Even non-wine lovers should make a stop on one of the 30 wineries in the area because your journey here won’t be complete without taking a sip of the many world-class wine offerings.

A drive along the Tualatin Valley also reflects the diversity of immigrants. Historic Dutch, Scottish, and Swiss houses and churches can be seen along the route.

Tillamook Coast

The 68-mile scenic drive to the Tillamook Coast offers views from the valleys, to the forests, to the seas. The journey begins from the Tualatin Valley (from the route above) which is surrounded by vineyards and orchards.

The drive continues to the Tillamook State Forest as you enter around mile marker 34. Due to the series of wildfires dubbed as the Tillamook Burn, Oregon Department of Forestry’s restoration efforts are evident in the area. There are interactive exhibits that feature how Oregonians helped bring the forest back to life. The road also features a view of the Wilson River, with many stops to enjoy the views along the way.

You can drive further down the Coast Range to the Tillamook Coast. There are many other activities aside from viewing the seas. Tillamook County is known for its cheese and is home to numerous dairies and creameries. (Bringing wine from Tualatin Valley is a great idea!) Since you drove all the way to this place, you have to sample lots of Tillamook Coast seafood. This is a paradise for oyster lovers.

Mt. Hood National Forest

Driving to see the glacier-caked summit of Oregon’s highest peak should also be on your list! The route can range from 45 to 100 miles depending on where you want to stop. Just an hour east of Portland is Hood River. This is where the glaciers from Mt. Hood meet the Columbia River. If you’re in the mood for outdoor activities, hiking, kayaking, cycling, and paddle-boarding are available here.

Driving further south on OR-35 leads to the Hood River Valley. The valleys are filled with grape vineyards as well as apple, cherry, and pear trees. Much like the other routes, there’s also a bounty of wine tasting rooms and just-picked produce.

If you’re in the mood to go skiing, you can also drive to Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort or the Mt. Hood Skibowl Adventure Park. During the warmer months, you can also stop by the many lakes surrounding the mountains. Mirror Lake, just a bit outside of Government Camp, is a crowd favorite. The lake is a dog-friendly spot so you can enjoy it with your pups.

Bend, Oregon

If you’re up for a long drive, Bend is a great spot! It’s best to leave Portland early to maximize your time because there are lots of wonderful places along the way. Smith Rock is something you won’t want to miss when driving along this route. The road is adorned by the half-mile high castle-shaped rocks. If you want to experience rock climbing, go to the Smith Rock National Park. Horseback riding is also available at the park.

You can also visit the Tamolitch Pool and take a dip in its blue waters. It is located just west of Bend. You should be warned that the water here is ice cold! It’s a perfect reward after the two-mile hike.

If you just want to enjoy the sights, make a stop at the Oregon Observatory. You have to reserve it for the night, though, because this spot is perfect for night gazing. You can see the rings of Saturn and the details of the moon. Many stars have also been discovered from this place.

Are you excited? Go ahead and plan your next road trip with your family and friends! Just remember to follow your local guidelines when going outside. We want you to have fun, but your health and safety must be top priority.