Northwest Travel Guide 2020: 25 adventures for the year ahead – OregonLive

Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

With a new year beginning and a decade on the rise, it’s time to break out the maps and start planning for our 2020 Northwest travels.

In 2019, I heard a lot of people use the word “adventure,” and nearly as often, I heard others respond by diminishing those experiences as somehow not adventurous enough.

So, let’s be clear: An adventure need not be an adrenaline-fueled trek through the remote wilderness (though it would certainly qualify for most us). For a lot of people, an adventure can simply be a road trip to eastern Oregon, an overnight camping trip at the coast, or a day hike on Mount Rainier.

An adventure is a subjective experience, different for each of us. I know a lot of people who seek the most extreme excursions out there, but that doesn’t seem to be true of most people. One friend found great adventure in a solo day hike close to home. As a busy father, it was his first opportunity to get into nature by himself.

When putting together this annual travel guide, I try my best to consider all kinds of adventurers. My job is to help you find your way to the natural beauty and attractions of the Pacific Northwest, no matter how you choose to explore it.

This year’s travel guide is for all the Northwest adventurers out there – from road trippers to river warriors and everyone in between. Here’s to a beautiful and exciting 2020, whatever that means to you.

PREVIOUS TRAVEL GUIDES: 2019 | 2018 | 2017

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

TOWNS

Walla Walla
Walla Walla is on the up and up. From wheat fields to wine grapes, the tourist-friendly town in southeast Washington has undergone a big transformation in recent years. Walla Walla is now home to roughly 100 wineries, with more than three dozen tasting rooms in its downtown alone. The local restaurant scene also seems to be on the rise, with recent expansions and additions. Outdoor enthusiasts can find the Blue Mountains to the east and the Columbia River to the west of town, offering plenty of places to hike off all that wine.

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Pendleton

Go south just across the border from Walla Walla and you’ll end up in the eastern Oregon outpost of Pendleton. Known for its Wild West aesthetic and annual Pendleton Round-Up rodeo, the town is also home to the famed Pendleton Woolen Mill, Tamástslikt Cultural Institute and many small antique and western accessory shops. Pendleton is known for its nightlife, where bands play in local bars and folks can find a few different places to dance. Hikers, mountain bikers and hunters can also strike off into the nearby Blue Mountains.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Newport

Last year, we ranked the 10 best beach towns on the Oregon coast, and Newport topped the list. Situated at the center of the coastline, Newport shines with its sheer number of local restaurants and attractions. You could easily spend a week in town eating the best seafood and clam chowder on the coast, walking through the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Wax Works, or exploring the Yaquina Head and Yaquina Bay lighthouses. Then there are the beaches themselves, which are, of course, gorgeous.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Sisters

Sisters might be one of the most overlooked towns in central Oregon – in part thanks to the nearby attractions that draw people’s interest. Just outside town, you’ll find the Suttle Lodge, Black Butte, Skylight Cave, Three Sisters Wilderness and The Cove Palisades. Bend is a natural base camp to explore this part of Oregon, but much smaller Sisters is perfect for those seeking a quieter place to rest their feet.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Vancouver, Washington

A lot of Oregonians (Portlanders in particular) don’t think of Vancouver, Washington, as a vacation destination. But the southwest Washington town on the other side of the Columbia River is perfectly set up for a few days of exploration. The downtown corridor has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, and within walking or biking distance you can get to Fort Vancouver, beaches on the Columbia River and the Pearson Air Museum, with more greenways and bike paths around town. Those of us who live in the Portland area can keep promising ourselves we’ll see Vancouver someday, one day trip at a time, or we can just book a hotel room and spend a few days exploring it all.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

OUTDOORS

Alvord Desert
From one of the most remote parts of Oregon, the Alvord Desert beckons to outdoor adventurers of all stripes. Found in the southeast corner of the state, the seasonally dry lakebed is a wide-open expanse that draws drivers, land sailors and pilots of rocket-propelled cars. The desert is hemmed in by sagebrush scrublands to the east and Steens Mountain to the west – a whole other adventure to tackle.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Cascade to Caves Trail

A new long-distance hiking trail opened in southern Oregon this year, connecting two of the region’s best natural wonders: the Cascade-Siskiyou and Oregon Caves national monuments. Dubbed Cascade to Caves, the trail is 80 miles one way, traversing the Siskiyou Mountain wilderness of southern Oregon and northern California. While surely full of beautiful views, the new trail is more rugged than most and not recommended for less-experienced hikers.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Wallowa Mountains

The Cascades may get all the attention, but northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains also deserve some love. It’s easy to spend days – or even weeks – exploring the mountains, which are ideal for big backpacking trips or aimless wandering by day. You can find all your food and lodging needs in Joseph, at the foot of the mountains, from which you can also set off on adventures to nearby Hells Canyon and the Zumwalt Prairie.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Oregon Dunes

The Oregon Dunes are like nothing else in the Pacific Northwest. Stretching for 40 miles along the central Oregon coast south of Florence,the ever-shifting sand dunes are partially held in place by invasive dune grass and islands of trees and dense brush. Much of the area is used by off-highway vehicles like dune buggies and ATVs, but there are also several trailheads set aside for hikers. Decades ago, the area inspired classic sci-fi novel “Dune,” which will get a new film adaptation at the end of 2020.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Wildflowers in the Gorge

Visiting the wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge is a spring tradition in the Pacific Northwest, with trails on both sides of the river offering spectacular views from hillsides blanketed in color. In Oregon, Rowena Crest might have the very best display, while in Washington it’s tough to top Dog Mountain. Head out there around the end of April and beginning of May to catch the flowers in peak bloom.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

LODGING

Jennings Hotel
It’s a bit surprising to find a modern boutique hotel in a far-flung rural town, but The Jennings Hotel in Joseph seems to be thriving with its community-focused, minimalist model. The northeast Oregon hotel features 12 guest rooms, a communal kitchen, a co-ed sauna and great views of the Wallowa Mountains nearby. The hotel attracts day hikers, vacationers and even artists through its residency program.

Book a room at The Jennings Hotel on airbnb.com. Rooms are $95 to $165 per night. The hotel is at 100 N. Main St., Joseph.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Crane Hot Springs

Pull off the highway east of Burns in southeast Oregon to find Crane Hot Springs (formerly Crystal Crane), a hot spring resort where guests can soak by day or stay overnight. There’s a large soaking pool on the middle of the property, as well as private indoor tubs. Overnight guests can stay in cabins, hotel rooms, guest houses, campsites or tipis, some of which come with their own private soaking tubs.

Book a room at Crane Hot Springs at tripadvisor.com or cranehotsprings.com or by calling 541-493-2312. Rates run from $67 to $138 per night, or $30 to $40 for campsites. The resort is at 59318 Oregon Route 78.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Lighthouses

Few lodging options on the Northwest coastline can top the romance of a lighthouse. But if you want to spend a night like an old-fashioned lighthouse keeper, you’ll have to book one of the few lighthouses in Oregon and Washington that actually allow overnight guests. In Washington, you can stay in the keeper’s quarters at the Cape Disappointment, Point Robinson and Point No Point lighthouses. In Oregon, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is your only option, which offers six rooms in the historic keeper’s house.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Norblad Hotel

Over the last decade, the Norblad Hotel in downtown Astoria has transformed from a run-down historic building into a hip, minimalist hotel that caters to a crowd looking for affordability over luxury. Most rooms share hallway bathrooms and showers, and therefore have prices that are much lower than most lodging on the Oregon coast. The location is also choice: Within a two-block radius of the hotel, visitors can find two breweries, three cafes, a food cart pod and several restaurants.

Book a room at the Norblad Hotel at hotelscombined.com, tripadvisor.com or by visiting norbladhotel.com or calling 503-325-6989. Rooms are $69 to $134 per night. The hotel is at 443 14th St., Astoria.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

McMenamins

While McMenamins brewpubs have become ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, the local chain’s hotels still rank among the most interesting places to stay around the region. There are 12 hotels across Oregon and Washington, including classic Edgefield property in Troutdale, the Kalama Harbor Lodge along the Columbia River, and the brand-new Elks Temple in Tacoma. All hotels include pubs and bars, while some also offer soaking pools, movie theaters and concert venues.

Book a room at a McMenamins hotel at mcmenamins.com. Nightly rates vary depending on the hotel.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

ATTRACTIONS

Tamástslikt Cultural Institute
The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton is the rare museum that speaks from a Native American perspective, and it does so with a beautiful design and brutal honesty that’s both revealing and discomfiting. The institute is part of the Wildhorse Resort & Casino, owned and operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who created the museum as a way to illustrate the depth and complexity of the Native American story on the Columbia Plateau. It might well be the most important museum in Oregon.

The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 47106 Wildhorse Blvd., Pendleton; $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $7 for children and students;  541-429-7716 or tamastslikt.org.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Darlingtonia State Natural Site

The 18-acre park site on the central Oregon coast is dedicated to a single plant: Darlingtonia californica. Small and specific though it may be, Darlingtonia State Natural Site is one of the coast’s best roadside attractions, thanks to the strange plants that fill it. From a wooden walkway, you can see the carnivorous pitcher plants that are also known as “cobra lilies” for their distinctive snake-like shape. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see one of the darlingtonias eat.

The Darlingtonia State Natural Site is open dawn to dusk, year-round at 5400 Mercer Lake Road, Florence. Visit oregonstateparks.org or call 541-997-3851 for more information.

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Stephanie Yao Long/The Oregonian

Maryhill

Maryhill is a lot of things. It’s an unincorporated community on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge (population 58). It’s an art museum with a surprisingly good collection. It’s a winery with tasting rooms across the state, as well as a state park with campgrounds along the Columbia River. It’s also home to one of the stranger attractions in the Northwest: a replica Stonehenge that is thought to be the nation’s first World War I memorial. The one thing Maryhill isn’t is boring, making it worth a visit this year.

You can find all the attractions of Maryhill near the intersection of U.S. 97 and Washington Route 14, just across the Columbia River from Biggs Junction.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Glass Buttes

Glass Buttes is one of Oregon’s best places to find and (legally) gather shards of obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. The central Oregon buttes are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and open to hiking, camping, hunting and rock collecting. While serious rockhounds have their secret spots at Glass Buttes, casual collectors can stop at pull-outs not far from U.S. Route 20. There, shards of black and colorful obsidian litter the ground, glimmering in the desert sun.

To find Glass Buttes, take U.S. Route 20 east from Bend. Between mile markers 76 and 77, look for an unmarked dirt road on the south side of the highway. Turn right and follow the main path, where you’ll find several pull-outs. There’s a good spot with a primitive campground 2.3 miles from the highway.

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Museum of Un-Natural History

For exactly four hours every Saturday, Gerry Matthews opens the doors on his Museum of Un-Natural History in downtown Walla Walla, inviting the public to peruse the surreal inner-workings of his mind. The retired actor primarily makes odd, irreverent displays out of found objects like broken toys, mannequins and old photos. The museum isn’t for everyone, but it’s an absolute gem for those seeking something a little different.

The Museum of Un-Natural History is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays; find it at 4 West Main St., Walla Walla, above Tallman’s Pharmacy; 509-529-9399.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

ROAD TRIPS

Alien Landscapes
There are places in Oregon that don’t look like they belong in the Pacific Northwest, let alone on planet Earth. These alien landscapes are found in the desert, on the coast and deep underground. A road trip to see them all will take you to nearly every corner of the state, and may well leave you with the feeling that you’ve been transported to another world.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Christmas Valley

At first glance, Christmas Valley looks barren. From lonely county roads that lead through the dusty sagebrush prairie, this slice of central Oregon seems positively empty. The town of Christmas Valley (population 1,313) is little more than a few small restaurants, a pair of motels and a gas station. But spend a few days driving the bumpy gravel roads that lead off in all directions, and you’ll find a pocket of fascinating natural attractions, including Fort Rock, Crack-in-the-Ground and the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Lewis and Clark

In 1805, Lewis and Clark reached the Columbia River, entering the final stretch of their Corps of Discovery’s journey to the Pacific Ocean. You can retrace their footsteps on a road trip that includes stops at the many museums, parks and historical markers along the way, including Lewis and Clark National Historic Site in Warrenton, Beacon Rock in the Columbia River Gorge and Sacajawea Historical State Park in Kennewick.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Olympic Peninsula

The Olympic Peninsula is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, and it really does require a road trip to see it properly. From Portland, take the coastal route to Olympic National Park and explore the Quinault and Hoh rain forests, Ruby and Rialto beaches, and Cape Flattery at the northwest point of Washington. The upper peninsula offers access to Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge, as well as two port towns – Port Angeles and Port Townsend – where you can either rest up to head home, or continue your journey north into the Salish Sea.

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Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

7 other wonders of Oregon

You may have heard about the 7 Wonders of Oregon (natural attractions selected in 2014 as part of a Travel Oregon ad campaign), and odds are you’ve already been to at least a few of them. But that got us thinking: What about the other wonders? Places just as deserving that don’t get as much attention? In 2019, we put together a list of the 7 Other Wonders of Oregon, and it just so happens to make an excellent map for a statewide road trip. Head out to Hells Canyon, Blue Basin and all the other wonders this year.

–Jamie Hale | jhale@oregonian.com | @HaleJamesB

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