Explore Nature in Oregon

Explore Nature in Oregon

By Sydni Ellis

The fresh scent of pine needles mixed with sweet raindrops fills the air. It’s only 57 degrees outside, but somehow the brisk wind and the wet skies make it seem even colder. It’s early March in Portland, Oregon—a perfect time to travel out west if you love exploring the outdoors! On this particular day, a 10-year-old Texas girl (me, in 2003) was just seeing the Beaver State for the first time, and one particular memory still stands out to me: craning my neck to try to see the top of the grand fir tree in my great-grandmother’s front yard. These magnificent trees can reach heights of 300 feet and are absolutely stunning in real life. 

If you’ve ever been to Oregon (or watched 5 minutes of Portlandia), then you know that Oregonians are obsessed with the outdoors. And there’s a good reason to be—the air seems cleaner here, the water bluer, the trees taller and the hiking trails more beautiful than anywhere else. It can be a place of bliss and relaxation, spending hours admiring the cherry blossoms, or it can be a place of exploration and adventure, where you can spend hours climbing waterfalls and hiking wildflower trails.

Spring is all about flowers, so they should be central to your visit to Oregon this month. Start your trip two miles from downtown Portland in the Hoyt Arboretum inside Washington Park. This free arboretum is open daily and includes over 2,300 species of trees and shrubs from six continents inside its 190-acre grounds. Many of the prettiest flowers blossom during March and April, making it the perfect time to visit! Enjoy the stunning magnolia blooms and the gorgeous pink and white cherry blossoms all around you. You can also see the colorful dogwood, redbud and maple blossoms, Trillium flowers and Buttercup Winter Hazel among others this season. 

Right next to Hoyt Arboretum is the Portland Japanese Garden, one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. It is home to eight unique gardens featuring waterfalls, raked gravel gardens, a demonstration teahouse, a wonderful view of Mount Hood and more. It’s a peaceful place and a cultural experience at the same time. Admire the serenity of nature in the Strolling Pond Garden, filled with lush green trees and water; meditate in the simple Sand and Stone Garden; and take pictures of the seasonal beauties in the Natural Garden. Learn more about the culture by listening for the sounds of Japanese music floating through the gardens, learning how to do flower arranging and experiencing an authentic tea ceremony. You will love this Zen-like place designed for peace and rest.

While you are in Washington Park, there are plenty of other ways to explore nature. Let out some steam at the outdoor archery range, surrounded by the enchanting forest (it’s like something out of a fairy tale!). Go inside the Oregon Zoo, home to nearly 2,000 animals representing more than 200 species around the world. Visit the World Forestry Center, where you can discover more about the forest from hands-on exhibits. These include going on a wet-free raft ride, getting a birds-eye view of the forest, and discovering the roles forests play in providing habitats, recreation, wood and more. This is a great option for kids and adults! 

You could spend your entire vacation exploring Washington Park—and we would completely understand!—but there are many more places in Oregon to visit if you are looking for nature. Crater Lake in southern Oregon is one of the most magnificent places in the state. It is the deepest lake in the country at 1,932 feet deep, filled by water in the summer and snow in the winter. Its gorgeous blue water sparkles like diamonds on the top of the Cascade Mountain Range, offering amazing photo ops. Water-lovers should also visit Hells Canyon, on the other side of the state in northeastern Oregon. This is the deepest river gorge in North America at 7,913 feet deep. This is an amazing place to go white-water rafting or explore the mountain peaks on horseback. 

Of course, you don’t want to miss Multnomah Falls in Columbia River Gorge near Portland. This is the highest waterfall in Oregon at 620’ high, and it is the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest with more than 2 million visitors a year! Everyone wants to see the awe-inspiring views of the cascading water, which flows beautifully under the historic Benson Bridge. Hike a quarter mile to the bridge to see the falls up close or feel the cool spray at the base of the falls (only a five-minute walk from the parking lot). You can also see more waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park, near Salem. Hike through the nationally recognized Trail of Ten Falls, where you can admire many stunning waterfalls along the rocky canyon. One of the most amazing is South Falls, where you can see the back of a 177-foot curtain of falling water. 

Another one-of-a-kind Oregon experience includes seeing Tulip Fest at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, running March 20-May 3. Located in Woodburn (about 30 miles south of Portland), Tulip Fest contains 40 acres of bright yellow, pink, purple, white and red tulips standing tall in a beautiful display of spring. While you’re here, go for a wagon ride, enjoy a wine tasting or bring tulips home from the market. You can also see the colorful fields from the sky in one of the hot air balloons that soar over the flowers in a picture-perfect moment. 

For a different type of experience, taste nature at the Hard-Pressed Cider Fest on April 18 in Hood River Valley. While strolling through the cherry, apple and pear trees, sip on craft cider made from the fruit of more than 440 local orchardists. At the Cider Fest, you can sample more than 50 ciders on tap from twenty-five cideries in the area, while listening to music and taking part in family-friendly activities. Before leaving the area, go on a wildflower hike on the Mosier Plateau Trail inside the Columbia River Gorge Natural Scenic Area. More than 30 different types of flowers can be spotted along the three-and-a-half-mile loop. This canyon has over 80 miles of trails, so hiking enthusiasts can also have a good time admiring the views of the serene Columbia River surrounded by trees and cliffs. It’s a truly tranquil experience, no matter what your fitness level is. 

Your Oregon vacation can be anything you want—a peaceful time admiring flowers or an epic adventure in the wild. So, grab your hiking boots, a camera and a cup of coffee, and you are ready to celebrate spring like God intended, surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the country.

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