Maybe I’m romanticizing the state of Oregon, but I think the state is an eco-tourist’s dream. First, state parks, natural areas, and scenic viewpoints, as well as national parks, forests, and recreation areas, are plentiful. Public spaces dedicated to protecting beauty and history are a state priority. Isn’t that part of what eco-tourism is all about? Second, these protected areas are easily accessible—the cost to visit varies from free to $5—and many are close to parking areas. We just returned from Oregon and I was amazed and pleased. Let me drive you down the coast, to the Cascades, and through the Columbia Gorge to see nature’s bounty that Oregon protects and makes available.
Our first stop was Silver Falls State Park, south of Portland and the site of ten waterfalls on a nine-mile loop. If we hadn’t wanted to go other places, too, we could have spent one whole September day in this park alone. As my first waterfalls in Oregon, South Falls in this park was a wonderful introduction.
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It was an easy drive to the coast through fields of hay and Christmas trees, with a quick stop to see a covered bridge, built in 1914 and recently renovated. It’s an example of how even private groups shoulder the responsibility for maintenance of historic structures.
When we arrived at the shore, we drove south on Highway 101 along the Oregon coast. It’s not a dramatic coastline, but it has wide beaches interspersed with rocky shores. At Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint, we joined others in whale-watching. Since whales won’t show themselves long enough for me to get a good picture, I contented my self with the gulls and pelicans.
At Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area the lighthouse is the attraction. Visitors can walk up the 110 steps to the top and ask volunteer questions about the bulb and mirrors.
At the Yachats State Recreation Area in Yachats, where we stayed for the night, we relaxed and took in the sunset.
The next morning any self-respecting eco-tourist should have breakfast at the solar-powered Green Salmon Coffee and Tea House in Yachats.
Oregon is known for its rain, and the next day was our only rainy day. We’re wimps when it comes to hiking in the rain, and I don’t like the idea of getting my camera wet. We limited our activities but not our visits. Maybe you’ll be luckier.
We drove up Cape Perpetua which overlooks the highway and the coast. Some good whitecaps, but a rainy day doesn’t make for good hiking or clear pictures. Even the viewing shelter, which was covered, didn’t provide enough protection against the blowing rain.
The rain also prevented us from taking the hike up to the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. But I was able to capture the lighthouse if only from a distance. You can see why it’s much photographed.
We stopped at what might be the smallest of state parks, the Darlingtonia State Natural Site, which is dedicated to the preservation of a single plant, the Darlingtonia, called the Cobra Lily, one of a few carnivorous plants. I have fond memories of The Little Shop of Horrors, so of course we had to stop. It’s a great little place, with a parking lot, bathrooms, and a boardwalk into the bog where the plant grows. Tell me, how many states would have this kind of park?
The Oregon Dunes are south of Florence and include a large National Recreation Area, a National Park, and some state parks. It is home to dunes as high as 180 feet and extends for miles down the central Oregon coast. Once again, rain kept our experience to a minimum, but the dunes are waiting.
Our trip now took us east. The Cascades are home to many waterfalls in the Willamette National Forest. They are, for the most part easily accessible if you are willing to drive on the scenic highways—some narrow and some closed in winter—through the Cascades between Eugene and
Bend. We were willing.
This is an area of tall pines, a steep canyon of pines.
Koosah Falls is only a few feet from the parking lot.
We walked beside the stream that leads to Sahalie Falls.
We hiked through a trail of volcanic rock on the way to Proxy Falls.
We walked up to and around the Dee Wright Observatory at the top of McKenzie Pass and stood in this unique landscape of black volcanic rock.
Near Bend is Tumalo State Park with its fast-moving falls a centerpiece of a park for hikers, bikers, and campers.
The 66-mile Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway winds through a terrain of lakes and mountains. Some campgrounds are only for hardy souls—everyone parks in a lot and then hauls by hand all gear and supplies to the campsites. Sparks Lake allows small-motor boats, but we saw only two canoes. The surface was nearly mirror perfect.
In the Columbia Gorge, the Bonneville Dam provides an education in how salmon survive in a regulated river. The old historic highway 30 is a joy to drive partly because it was created by a man with a vision of making the beauty of the area available to all. Some falls require something of a trek to get to them—Bridal Veil Falls is all downhill on the way there, but uphill on the way back. The other falls we visited—Horsetail, Wahkeena, and Multnomah—were almost embarrassingly easy to see.
Vista House at Crown Point, the western entry point to the Gorge, houses a wonderful museum about the history of the Gorge and the building of the highway.
Whether administered by the state or the federal government, the public natural sites of Oregon provide an immensity of experiences for the eco-tourist. An eco-feast for the eyes, the mind, and—if you like the taste of local beer, wine, and seafood—the taste buds.
Writer Bio: Michael Walsh and his wife, Jodi, are retired and live in Las Cruces, NM. He used to be a computer consultant. He and his wife travel frequently during the year. Check out his travelogue at walshtravels1.shutterfly.com.