1,859 Ways to Celebrate Oregon’s Birthday

As I’m sure you already know, Oregon will celebrate its birthday on February 14, 2020. It was on that date in 1859 that Oregon officially became the 33rd state. (33rd in the union, first in our hearts!)

I wanted to mark the occasion with a list of 161 ways to celebrate Oregon’s birthday—since the Beaver State turns 161 this year and all—but I couldn’t narrow it down that far. So here’s an inexhaustive list of 1,859 ways to celebrate Oregon this year—and every year—in no specific order:

1. Drink a Black Butte Porter, ideally at Deschutes Brewery in Bend or Portland. Oregon has an official state crustacean (the Dungeness crab), an official fossil (Metasequoia—or dawn redwood), and even a state microbe (Saccharomyces cerevisiae—a/k/a brewer’s yeast)! But Oregon doesn’t have a state beer. If we did, you could make a case for the chocolatey Black Butte Porter. Drink up, and toast to our state’s rich brewing history.

The summit of Black Butte

The summit of Black Butte

2. Hike up Black Butte. But not immediately after drinking a Black Butte Porter. Savor the Cascade views at the summit. And then enjoy a Black Butte Porter afterward.

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Red-rock formations of Leslie Gulch in the Owyhee Canyonlands

3. Visit the Owyhee CanyonlandsOnly three paved roads bisect the 2.5-million-acre canyonlands in southeastern Oregon—an area larger than Yellowstone National Park. Drive those roads, and then drive the gravel backroads as far as your vehicle will allow. Paddle the Owyhee River, hike up and down the 14-million-year-old canyon walls, drive through the red-rock formations along Leslie Gulch, and stargaze under some of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states. Whatever you think of when you imagine Oregon, this isn’t it. (However you decide to enjoy the Owyhee, keep an eye out for rattlesnakes in spring and summer.)

4. Subscribe to the Kickass Oregon History podcastAll the Oregon history you never learned in Oregon history class—or, as each episode’s introduction notes, “just the good stuff: Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll and Earth Shattering, Devastating Destruction.”

5. Visit Multnomah Falls. I’m loathe to say every Oregonian should do this or must do that to earn some kind of worthless cred … but if there was ever an Oregon must-do, Multnomah Falls is it. At 620 feet tall, it’s among the tallest waterfalls in the state. Gaze from the base, or hike a mostly paved path to the top; either way, it’s an Oregon icon.

6. Take part in the World Naked Bike RideNo, you don’t have to get all the way naked. But it’s more fun that way. 10,000 of your closest friends are, after all.

7. Listen to “Coming Home (Oregon)” by Mat KearneyIt’s a delightful song at all times, but never more so than when flying down the highway on a warm summer day with your windows down.

8. Go clamming on the Oregon Coast. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the beaches between Seaside and the mouth of the Columbia River account for 95% of Oregon’s razor clam harvest every year. That’s a lot of clams! So do a little research, grab a gun or shovel, and join the boot-wearing throngs up and down the coastline.

9. Follow the Cold Springs Trail to the banks of five lakes in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. The Environmental Protection Agency found, in the 1980s and 1990s, that several mountain lakes in the Sky Lakes Wilderness contained some of the most chemically pure water in the world. And the 7.2-mile Cold Springs loop passes the shores of five such lakes, with just 485 feet of elevation gain. Bring a bathing suit in the heart of summer.

10. Savor a giant ice cream cone at Tillamook CreameryI read somewhere that the Tillamook Creamery is the most popular tourist attraction in Oregon, and after visiting on a sunny summer Saturday, I believe it. But there are few pleasures as pure as trying to finish two scoops of cookie dough ice cream before they melt in the summer sun. It’s a good problem to have. (The creamery is also one of the only places I’ve ever found Tillamook’s cheese curds, which isn’t nothing!)

11. Visit Oswald West State ParkOkay, so Oregon’s 14th governor was kind of an asshole. But Oswald West ensured free and public beaches forever and ever, and the coastal park named in his honor suits his outsized influence on access and recreation. Hike to the summit of Neahkahnie Mountain or the windswept bluff at Cape Falcon; go surfing in Smugglers Cove; or go picnicking on Short Sand Beach. Whatever you do, you’re honoring the legacy of public beaches in Oregon.

12. Build a driftwood fort on the Oregon Coast. Spend a sunny—or, since this is the Oregon Coast, an overcast—afternoon building a fort from washed-up driftwood scattered about the shore. Once the rain comes—and, since this is the Oregon Coast, the rain always comes—duck in to stay dry (or dry-ish).

13. Walk through the “Experience Oregon” exhibit at the Oregon Historical SocietyThe museum hosts a 7,000-square-foot exhibit that offers, far and away, the most comprehensive look at Oregon’s history—cultural, geological, and otherwise—anywhere on Earth. It’s too much to digest in one, two, or even three visits, but you’ll have fun trying.

14. Visit the Tamástslikt Cultural InstituteThere may be no more important museum in all of Oregon. Learn about 10,000 years of tribal history on the Columbia Plateau—from the earliest days of hunter-gatherers through the Oregon Trail (and the devastation it wrought), right up to the modern day. If you want to understand Oregon from a tribal perspective, this isn’t just an essential piece of the puzzle; it is the puzzle.

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Views of the Oregon Coast Range from the summit of Marys Peak

15. Head to the summit of Marys PeakYou can hike to the summit if you feel like putting in work, or drive most of the way there if you don’t. But when you arrive at the top of the highest point in the Oregon Coast Range—assuming you’ve chosen a clear day at the height of summer—you can look one way and see ocean, look another way and see miles of pastoral valley, and look another way and see some of the state’s most epic peaks. You can also look another way and see a bunch of radio towers just a few feet away, but the rest of the views make up for it.

16. Attend the Fisherpoets gathering in Astoria. Every February, anglers from all over the world descend on Astoria to tell stories, recite poetry, share films, and play music. You will hear lines like “The ocean is not my home, yet I am homesick for her” and “The Pacific Ocean is an ocean, the Atlantic Ocean is a pawn”. And even if you’ve never been on a boat or bitten into a filet of fresh salmon, you’ll feel those words in your bones—in your dripping-wet, bitter-cold, been-on-the-boat-three-days-too-long bones.

17. Buy fresh produce from a farm stand in the Willamette Valley. According to the USDA, more than 170 crops grow in the cool climate of the Willamette Valley. Farm stands dot the valley’s highways and backroads, selling whatever’s fresh and in-season. Find the ingredients for your next great meal at one of these farms; your favorite chefs already do.

18. Buy a bag of fresh cherries along the Hood River County Fruit Loop. If you’ve never eaten fresh Bing or Rainier cherries plucked from the tree, then you’ve never eaten cherries, period.

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The view from the north shore of Wallowa Lake

19. Stop at the northern shore of Wallowa Lake. Every time I visit the Wallowas, I have this ritual where I drive through Enterprise and Joseph without stopping—not for beer, not for food, not for gas. Just as the highway leaves Joseph and hits the northern shore of Wallowa Lake, I stop at a gravel pull-out along the shoulder, get out of my car, and gaze at the angular Bonneville Mountain lording over the sapphire-hued lake before me. I’ll sit on one of the boulders lining the shore, take a deep breath, and let my spirit run free. Deep in the heart of the Wallowa Mountains, there is no other way to be.

Oregon Trail ruts at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

Oregon Trail ruts at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

20. Walk along the Oregon Trail at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Some 175 years after pioneers traveled the Oregon Trail, you can follow in their footsteps along a stretch of well-preserved wagon ruts. And, no, you won’t die of dysentery.

21. Visit the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive CenterOnce those pioneers passed through the Baker Valley, crossed the Blue Mountains, and made their way down the Columbia River (or around Mount Hood), most ended in Oregon City. And the End of the Oregon Trail center shows what life was like once they made it to Oregon.

22-23. Hike the Table Rocks in Southern OregonYes, both Table Rocks. Those views of the surrounding Rogue Valley are worth working for. (Plus, Lower Table Rock is home to the dwarf wooly meadowfoam—a five-petal plant that is found nowhere else on Earth—and the fairy shrimp, which swims upside down and is federally designated as a threatened species. And isn’t that cool?)

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The Alvord Desert

24. Drive onto the Alvord DesertAnd then keep driving onto the dry lakebed. Once you’ve lost sight of the shore, turn off your car, get out, and listen to the silence. Trees don’t rustle in the wind, because there is no forest. Insects don’t buzz, because there are no insects. Waves don’t crash, because there is no water. When the wind dies down, you’ll be immersed in total silence. And it just might scare you a little bit.

25. Enjoy a soak at Alvord Hot SpringsBecause who doesn’t love a good soak? (And, hey, you’ve come this far—so stop into Fields Station for a juicy burger and one of the market’s world-famous milkshakes after your well-deserved soak.)

26. Run up—and then roll back down—the giant sand dune at Cape KiwandaIf your lungs don’t collapse before reaching the summit, you’ll love the wide-open ocean expanse and an almost bird’s-eye view of Pacific City below. Best of all, you can roll or slide all the way down.

27. Get pizza delivered to your stretch of coastline in Seaside. If you’re enjoying your day at the beach but are getting hungry, you can enjoy the best of both worlds: Angelina’s Pizzeria and Cafe will deliver piping hot pies to the intersection nearest your section of shore.

28. Build a beach bonfire. A few years ago, a friend and I enjoyed an unseasonably warm and clear day on the northern Oregon Coast. Not ready to head home, we grabbed a four-pack of Vortex IPA, a bundle of logs, matches, and some newspaper—a built a bonfire in Cannon Beach. We warmed ourselves by the fire as the sun set behind Haystack Rock, watched the stars light up the night sky, listened to the waves, and enjoyed a locally brewed IPA. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so content in my life.

29. Visit Powell’s Books in … CondonWe’ll get to that other Powell’s Books in a bit, but did you know a branch of the world-famous bookstore sits inside the Country Flowers shop in Condon (pop: 675)?

30. Peruse the shelves at the oldest bookstore in Oregon: Klindt’s Booksellers and Stationers in The Dalles. You probably thought Powell’s was the oldest bookstore in Oregon, huh? (It’s okay, so did I for the longest time.) The hardwood floors creak under your feet as you browse the shelves at this historic shop, which makes sense: Klindt’s has been around since 1870.

31. Visit the Pillars of RomeThe Pillars of Rome predate that other Rome by a few million years. The 100-foot-high clay rock formations make a great roadside stop while roadtripping through southeastern Oregon.

32. Ride up the only “vertical” street in North America. Since 1915, an elevator has shuttled folks up and down “Elevator Street” in Oregon City. From the top of the Oregon City Municipal Elevator, you can see downtown Oregon City, the Willamette Falls, Cascade peaks, and just a bit of Portland. And if you ask nicely, the elevator operator might give you a sticker.

33-66. Make the 33-mile trip around Rim Drive at Crater Lake National Park. If there’s a more scenic road in Oregon, I’ve yet to travel it.

67. Take a boat tour of Crater Lake. The 700-foot hike back up from the shore isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but it’s worth it. A boat tour is the only way to get on the lake, and you’ll learn about its geologic history, connection to Native American culture, and delicate ecology. Watch for the Old Man of the Lake while you’re at it; in all my trips to Crater Lake, I’ve never seen him.

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Wizard Island at Crater Lake National Park

68. Pair your boat tour with a hike on Wizard IslandBecause when else in life can you hike on volcano within another volcano?

69. Pre-order Moon Pacific Northwest Hiking by Craig Hill and yours trulyComing out July 14, 2020!

70. Grab a slice of pie at Beckie’s Cafe. You’ve driven around Rim Drive, you’ve summited Wizard Island, and you hiked back to the roadside. You’re tired. You deserve a slice at nearby Beckie’s Cafe, which slings some of the best pies in the state.

71. If you still have energy (and time) at Crater Lake, hike to the headwaters of the Rogue River. The 215-mile Rogue River, one of Oregon’s most dramatic waterways, begins its life sputtering out of a hillside near the northern boundary in Crater Lake National Park. See for yourself with an easy 5.5-mile round-trip hike on the Boundary Springs trail (with just 315 feet of elevation gain).

72. Thank a park ranger. They offer advice, tips, suggestions, warnings, and information at all your favorite parks and national monuments. If you see one, thank them for being such friendly fountains of knowledge.

73. Step back in time at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Few attractions in Oregon delight me like the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. One can hike into a lava tube, spy the breadth of a 17-mile-wide caldera (and myriad Cascade peaks) from atop Paulina Peak, walk through a glistening obsidian flow, drive (or hike) to the top of a cinder cone, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Much of Central Oregon was shaped by volcanic activity over millennia, and nowhere is that clearer than at Newberry.

74. Go to a Portland Pickles game. Cheer wildly. Turn your chair upside down whenever the Pickles score. (It’s a thing, trust me.) Order some fried pickles and a local beer, and enjoy the most American of pastimes. (I guess the most of American of pastimes is actually systemic racism, but no one should enjoy that.)

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Watching a Portland Timbers match from in the Timbers Army

75. Go to a Portland Timbers match. Cheer wildly. Diego Valeri will probably score a goal that makes you question your ironclad beliefs in physics.

76. Go to a Portland Thorns match. Cheer wildly. Christine Sinclair will probably score a goal or lay off an assist that makes you briefly lose feeling in your legs.

77. Go to a Portland Trail Blazers game. Cheer wildly. Damian Lillard will probably go for 50 points. He’s doing that a lot these days.

78. Go to a Hillsboro Hops game. Cheer wildly. Enjoy the fact that a local team saw fit to name themselves for a primary ingredient in beer. And, while you’re at it, enjoy a locally brewed beer.

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Dee Wright Observatory along the McKenzie Highway

79-116. Drive the 37-mile McKenzie Highway. Walk through miles-long lava flows, stargaze, gawk at more than a dozen mountain peaks from the Dee Wright Observatory, hike to waterfalls and mountain lakes, or camp in old-growth forest. The McKenzie Highway, only open in summer and early fall, just might be the most beautiful stretch of highway in Oregon.

117. Take a cave tour at the Oregon Caves National Monument and PreserveThe Marble Halls of Oregon, as they’re called, don’t get the love they deserve. Change that with a 90-minute trek. The ranger leading your tour will turn the lights out at one point, leaving your group in total darkness. Up, down, left, right, none of it matters in pitch-black darkness. And there’s no feeling like it anywhere else in Oregon.

118. Listen to the River Styx. While the lights are out in the Oregon Caves, the only sound you’ll hear is the River Styx—an underground segment of Cave Creek and the only subterranean Wild and Scenic River in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

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Matt’s BBQ Tacos

119-121. Treat yourself to a trio of tacos at Matt’s BBQ TacosYou’ll order two for breakfast, because that seems sensible. But then you’ll bite into the fresh-pressed homemade tortillas, along with some juicy pork belly or smoky cheddar jalapeño sausage. You’ll eat both and will definitely be full, but not entirely ready to stop eating. So go ahead, order a third. You deserve it. Life’s too short to skimp on breakfast tacos.

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The Painted Hills at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

122-126. Hike all five trails at the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National MonumentThe trails at the Painted Hills range from a quarter-mile to 1.3 miles—and could all theoretically be hiked before lunch. But the trails pass by hillsides streaked in gold, black, red, brown, and other unnatural hues. It’s perhaps the most alien landscape in a state full of them. (And whatever you do, DON’T HURT THE DIRT!)

127. Get a donut at Voodoo DoughnutWhen I moved to Seattle in 2012, the most common question I faced wasn’t about my work experience or the fact that I now worked for my alma mater’s biggest rival; it was about whether Voodoo Doughnut lived up to the hype. You should decide for yourself, and if you’d rather do so without waiting in line, try the outpost in Northeast Portland.

128. Gawk at the Gorge from the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic ViewpointIf you want a sense for the grandeur and breathtaking sweep of the Columbia River Gorge, there’s no finer viewpoint. From here, the Vista House looks like a doll house against the natural backdrop that’s drawn millions of visitors over the years.

129. Enjoy Columbia River Gorge views from the Vista House atop Crown PointThe stone house was built in 1916 as, among other things, a restroom on the modern-day Historic Columbia River Highway. (The Vista House’s most popular name is actually “The Million Dollar Bathroom.”) With 270-degree Gorge views, I can only imagine it was among the most breathtaking restrooms in history.

130. “Camp” in a yurt at an Oregon State ParkFor those not in the know, a yurt is basically a domed tent with heating, electricity, and bunkbeds. They make year-round camping possible and have become an icon of the Oregon State Parks system. Grab your reservations early, because they fill up all year long.

131. “Camp” in a cabin or teepee at an Oregon State ParkYurts don’t get to have all the fun at Oregon State Parks. Several campgrounds offer different kinds of cabins (some with showers, TVs, and DVD players, if that’s your thing), and one even hosts a seasonal tepee. Even if you don’t consider yourself a camper, it’s an experience everyone should have at least once.

132. Hike, run, or cycle the longest linear park in Oregon! The OC&E Woods Line State Trail, a rail-to-trail project, starts in downtown Klamath Falls and stretches across 109 miles of southern Oregon forest, marshlands, and grasslands.

Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park

133. Hike or climb at Smith Rock State ParkI get it: Parking at the height of summer is next to impossible. So come back on a crisp spring morning or cool fall afternoon. Hike to the top of the appropriately-named Misery Ridge, but keep going—most visitors stop here (or near Monkey Face), but the park hosts several miles of trails that see little regular use. There’s a lot more to explore than what you see on Instagram, and you’ll be glad you made the effort.

134. Listen to the rain. Don’t just hear it; listen. Really listen.

135-419. According to the Brewers Association, Oregon was home to 284 breweries in 2018. Why not visit one or two?

420. Roll a joint, take a hit, or pop an edible. It’s your legal right as an Oregonian.

421-618. Run (part of) the 197-mile Hood-to-Coast Relay“The Mother of all Relays” starts on Mount Hood before descending into Portland, crossing the Oregon Coast Range, and ending on the sand at Seaside. By all accounts, it’s a delirious party—once, you know, all those hours of running and sleeping in vans ends.

619. Hike down into Crack-in-the-Ground. It’s a two-mile-long, 70-foot-deep crack … in the ground. A quick trek to its claustrophobic base leaves you feeling as if you’re tunneling under the Earth. If it was any longer, you just might be.

620-690. Drive the 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway. The so-called “King of Roads” has been winding through the Columbia River Gorge for more than 75 years, and the twisting nature of the highway forces drivers to slow down and notice the nature around them. If it feels like you’re forced to dawdle timidly into a whole new world, it’s because you are. Make time for the viewpoints; each is somehow more dramatic than the last.

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South Falls at Silver Falls State Park—part of the Trail of Ten Falls

691-700. Hike the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State ParkThe nine-mile loop is among the most popular trails in the state, and for good reason: Where else will you see 10 waterfalls on a single hike?

701. Go birding in Klamath Falls. Klamath County in southern Oregon sits along the Pacific Flyway, a migratory bird route that stretches from Alaska to Argentina, and hosts more than a million migrating birds every winter. That’s a lot of birds! See how many species you can spy at Upper Klamath Lake.

702. Stay a night at the Frenchglen HotelEnjoy a home-cooked, family-style dinner with travelers from all over—and then head outside, sit on the porch, and listen to owls hoot and coyotes howl as the stars come out over Steens Mountain. It’s the same experience as it was when the inn opened in the mid-1920s, and you’ll almost expect a dusty stagecoach to mosey on through.

703-714. Spend a day along the 12-mile-long Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic CorridorI know, I know: Who would ever spend a day driving 12 whole miles on the southern edge of the Oregon Coast? But here’s the thing: Bluffs, viewpoints, and picnic areas overlook some of the state’s most striking natural features—from Arch Rock to natural bridges to sea caves to wide-open ocean views. There may be no more scenic stretch on a coastline full of scenic stretches.

715. Let ‘er Buck at the world-famous Pendleton Round-up. Every September, the city of 17,000 swells to 60,000 or more for Cowboy Coachella—where riders from throughout the West compete in one of the largest, most prestigious rodeos in the world. But even that doesn’t do justice to the history, the pageantry, the congenial vibes, the way the rodeo takes over an entire city for nearly a week.

716. Say “Let ‘er Buck” at least once while in town for the Pendleton Round-up. It’s a greeting, an exultation, a passing remark, a slogan, a rallying cry. It is all of these things, it is none of these things. “Let ‘er Buck” is so much more. There is no wrong time to yell “Let ‘er Buck”, and no one will look at you strange when you do. They will merely reply, “Let ‘er Buck!” as if their answer had been ordained by the gods. And, in a sense, it has.

Indian Relay Race at the Pendleton Round-up

Indian Relay Race at the Pendleton Round-up

717. Visit the world-famous Let ‘er Buck Room at the Pendleton Round-upTucked under the south grandstands at the Pendleton Round-up arena and only open during Round-up, the Let ‘er Buck Room sells no wine or beer, just liquor. Photographs are not allowed. It is said to be one of the longest continuous bars in the world. It may be less rowdy than in its heyday, but that doesn’t make it, you know, not rowdy.

718-1,443. Visit one of the state’s 725 wineries. 725! That’s a lotta wine! Doesn’t seem possible, does it? Sip a world-class Pinot Noir while watching the sun set behind the vineyard.

1,444. Go truffle-hunting in the Willamette ValleyYou won’t know what to look for, because there is nothing to look for; all four species of Oregon truffle grow underground, usually in the root systems of Douglas fir trees, and only after rainy summers. So team up with a pro and her Lagotto Romagnolos to track down one of the valley’s most iconic delicacies. There’s no greater thrill than when a dog starts digging and you find your first marble-sized prize.

1,445-1,485. Drive the 40-mile Three Capes Scenic Loop. Granted, it’s not a loop anymore. But you could spend days clamming in Netarts Bay, whale-watching from atop the bluff at Cape Lookout, riding ATVs at Sandlake, walking through the one-time “Atlantic City of the West”, imbibing at some of the state’s best breweries, camping within earshot of the ocean surf, and so much more.

1,486. Get lost inside Robert’s BookshopThe Lincoln City bookstore boasts a selection of more than 200,000 books scattered across several rooms, 1.64 miles of (nearly) floor-to-ceiling shelves, the ends of aisles, and any available floorspace that doesn’t inhibit walking. Oh, and the nose of a 1967 Boeing 727-100 airplane juts out from the side of the building, because of course it does. When you imagine a well-loved and meticulously curated bookshop, you’re probably thinking of Robert’s.

1,487-1,489. Load up on grub at Cowboy Dinner Tree. You get a 26 to 30-ounce cut of top sirloin steak or one whole roasted chicken, along with salad, soup, rolls, baked potato, and dessert. And that’s it, that’s the meal. (And what a meal it is.) It’s so decadent, so delicious, it gets three spots to itself on the list—one for each meal’s worth of leftovers you’ll have afterward. And the decor is straight out of the Wild West. Oh, and it’s just outside Silver Lake (pop: 76) in the heart of the Oregon Outback. Don’t be surprised to sit down next to Butch Cassidy.

1,490-1,654. Hike 164 steps to the top of the Astoria ColumnGrab a balsa wood glider from the gift shop at the base, take your time ascending to the top, toss your plane into the wind, and enjoy views that range from the mouth of the Columbia River to Youngs Bay to the Pacific Ocean. From here, you’re on top of the world.

1,655. See an outdoor production at the Oregon Shakespeare FestivalThere’s a moment where the lights go down at the end of the production. And for two or three seconds—just before the light returns and the cast takes a bow—the whole theater is dark, illuminated only by the starlit sky. The play you just saw was probably magical, and your post-show euphoria will likewise be magical. But for those two or three seconds, when everyone holds their breath and steals a glance at the starry night sky, time stops.

1,656. See an indoor production at the Oregon Shakespeare FestivalBecause the plays are just that good, inside or out.

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View of the Strawberry Mountains from a fire lookout near John Day

1,657-1,672. Spend the night in a fire lookout. According to the Forest Fire Lookout Association, Oregon has 16 such lookouts for rent. When the sun sets and the stars come out, you’ll feel a little closer to the heavens. And, honestly, aren’t you?

1,673. Visit the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage SiteFor more than 60 years, a pair of Chinese immigrants ran a medical clinic/boarding house/post office/general store in the heart of John Day (which, by 1887, was home to the third-largest Chinatown in the United States). The building was boarded up when the men passed away in the middle of the 20th century—and is remarkably well-preserved (and open for free tours in the spring, summer, and fall). If you don’t believe in ghosts, you will after visiting Kam Wah Chung & Co.

1,674-1,733. Drive the 59-mile Steens Loop Tour Route. From afar, Steens Mountain looks more like a 30-mile-long brick than, you know, an actual mountain. But the road traversing its slopes—the highest road in Oregon—passes glacier-carved gorges, colorful aspen forests, seas of sagebrush, mountain lakes, and so much more. It doesn’t quite stop at the summit, but you can make the 205-foot ascent in a matter of minutes.

1,734. Grab a basket of fish and chips at a seafood shack on the Oregon Coast. Something as simple, pure, and messy as fish and chips isn’t suited to stuffy, sit-down restaurants. For the most Oregon Coast seafood experience on the Oregon Coast, you have to find a down-home shack, no larger than a studio apartment. The shack will have likely won a chowder competition at some point in the previous few decades—and will display that award prominently. It may serve cans of soda out of blue Coleman coolers. Picnic tables generally figure into the equation, inside or out. So do red plastic baskets and wax paper. And it will serve the best fish and chips of your life, at least until you arrive at the next shack. (Some of my favorites are Bowpicker in Astoria—which is not a shack, per se, but a landlocked gillnetting boat—and Luna Sea Fish House in Yachats, but I am but one man.)

1,735. Get lost inside Powell’s City of BooksSure, I can tell you that Powell’s City of Books is the largest bookstore in the world, that the store takes up a full city block, that it hosts roughly 1 million books. But if you’ve never been before, you’ll get lost—legitimately lost inside those stacks—at some point. And then when all seems lost, as if you may never make it out, the nearest cash register will materialize like an oasis in the desert. And you will somehow have a handful of books you never knew you needed but can’t possibly live without. As well it should be.

1,736-1,802. Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. You can drive the 66-mile highway in as few as three hours. But if you can drive the highway without stopping once—without standing at the foot of towering Cascade peaks, hiking or snowshoeing to the cinder-covered summit of Tumalo Mountain, skiing the slopes of Mount Bachelor, paddling in mountain lakes, snowshoeing in powdery sno-parks, picnicking in wide-open meadows, or camping in old-growth forest—if you can make the drive without doing any of that, then maybe Oregon just isn’t for you.

1,803. Spy Willamette Falls. Just south of downtown Oregon City sits Willamette Falls, the sixth-largest waterfall by volume in the United States. Sadly, there’s no easy viewpoint to spy the torrent in all its glory. So if you don’t want to kayak to its base, take the Oregon City Municipal Elevator (#32!) up to the second (and only) level, head outside, turn south, and follow the paved path until the falls come into view along the Willamette River. High above the Oregon City core, you’ll feel as if you have the city—and the view—to yourself. And, for a few moments, you do.

Haystack Rock in Pacific City

Haystack Rock in Pacific City, Oregon

1,804. Check out the other Haystack Rock. Cannon Beach is home to the more famous of the Haystack Rocks on the Oregon Coast, but Pacific City boasts the tallest (at 327 feet, compared to 235 feet in Cannon Beach). The small strip of beach at its feet is a fun place to while away an afternoon. And if you do so with a beer from nearby Pelican Brewing, all the better.

1,805. Visit Fort ClatsopLewis and Clark, these vaunted heroes of Pacific Northwest history, arrived at Fort Clatsop on the Oregon Coast in December 1805. And you know what William Clark had to say about the party’s arrival on the Oregon Coast? “It would be distressing to See our Situation, all wet and Colde”! And to think this crybaby is held up as some kind of intrepid pillar of courage! Fortunately, your time at the fort—with exhibit halls and ranger-led programs—will be more enjoyable. (Just bring some Gore-tex, and you’ll be fine.)

1,806-1,825. Visit the Covered Bridge Capital of the West. No joke, the towns of Cottage Grove (the aforementioned capital) and Lowell host 20 covered bridges between the two of them. Make a day or weekend of exploring this delightful slice of Americana.

1,826. Float the Deschutes River. Central Oregon is where most go to get active—hiking, mountain biking, trail running, paddling, you name it. That’s all well and good, but you know else feels really great on occasion? Floating the Deschutes. You fall into your tube, push off the shore, and let nature do the rest. If there’s a more relaxing activity in all of Oregon, I’ve yet to try it.

1,827. Enjoy at homemade pot pie at Oberon’s in AshlandOberon’s Restaurant and Bar bills itself as “Ashland’s most Ashlandiest spot”. One step inside the Shakespeare-themed restaurant, adorned with fake trees and twinkling lights, and you’ll see why. I dare you not to fall in love with the restaurant on the spot.

1,828. Do whatcha wanna on Sauvie IslandThe longest island along the Columbia River offers a little something for all. Interested in the region’s agriculture? Check out the island’s u-pick farms or autumn corn mazes. Want to get active? Road cyclists love the island’s winding roads, and hikers appreciate the myriad footpaths. Really into bird-watching? Sandhill cranes and osprey love the wooded habitat. Want to get naked and play in the water? You can do that, too, at Collins Beach, which is famously … uhh … clothing-optional.

1,829. Take a photo of one of the most-photographed lighthouses on the Pacific Coast. I don’t know how you quantify that—but Oregon State Parks says it’s true, so I’m inclined to agree. Heceta Head Lighthouse sits on a bluff 200 feet above the Pacific Ocean, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dramatic backdrop. While you’re there, keep an eye out for seals and sea lions playing in the water below, birds looking for dinner, and whales migrating each winter and spring.

1,830. Hike down to Hobbit Beach. A mile or two north of the Heceta Head lighthouse, the so-called Hobbit Trail traces a path through salal and Sitka spruce down to a secret-ish beach. If it was the “Beach Access Trail” or some such thing, it’d see half as many as many visitors. But it’s not, so why not pretend you’re in Middle Earth for a few fun minutes? (Adventurous types can veer off the Hobbit Trail for a challenging jaunt up to Heceta Head—#1,829!)

1,831. Take a ride with the Joseph Branch RailridersPart railcar, part exercise bike. All fun. (For something a little closer to Portland, Railriders offers a few similarly scenic routes along the Tillamook Coast.)

1,832. Enjoy a soak at Bagby Hot Springs—unless you’re weirded out by nudity. It’s perhaps the most famous hot spring in all of Oregon, located deep within a mythical old-growth forest. Try for a cooler weekday in the shoulder season (April-May or late September-November) for a tamer, quieter, more contemplative soaking experience.

1,833. Hang out at Milo McIver State Park, the site of Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life. Fifty years ago, Oregon Governor Tom McCall launched the nation’s first state-sponsored music festival at Milo McIver State Park. (Richard Nixon was rumored to have been speaking in Portland that summer, so the festival was a gambit to shuttle all the peace-loving hippies out of the city.) The festival didn’t host any bands you’ve ever heard of, but the stories of sex, drugs, and rock and roll have become the stuff of legend. The park is substantially tamer today, with opportunities for fishing, paddling, hiking, or playing disc golf.

oregon-coast-sunset

Sunset at Cannon Beach

1,834. Watch a sunset at the Oregon Coast. Almost a decade ago, I took a February Friday off work and spent the day hiking at the coast. I finished up just in time to plop down on a log at Cannon Beach and watch the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen in my life. Another couple dozen spectators joined me, and we all clapped when the sun finally set behind the horizon.

1,835. Find your way to the Hart Mountain National Antelope RefugeMore than 300 species of wildlife call the refuge home, but the pronghorn are the main draw. Deep gorges, craggy ridges, and wide-open wetlands dot the middle-of-nowhere landscape. There are some places in Oregon where it’s tough to imagine what it was like 50 or 500 years ago; Hart Mountain is not one of them. It probably looked exactly as it does today.

oregon-dunes

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

1,836. Get lost (but not really) in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation AreaThere’s something eerie about wading into a sea of sand dunes on the Oregon Coast. You start walking and, before you know it, all you can see is sand in every direction. The ocean is just over there, I’m sure of it, but it’s nowhere to be found, but is it actually over that way, instead? (The dunes are also popular with ATVs, if that’s your thing.)

1,837. Admire the fall foliage on Steens Mountain. By mid-September, the aspen on Steens Mountain turn a shade of yellow that I legitimately believe can be seen from space. If the sun flamed out on September 15, the aspens on Steens Mountain would shine bright enough to keep us going for at least a few days.

1,838. Stay a night at Timberline LodgeIt’s the most iconic lodge on Oregon’s most iconic peak. And, no, there is no Room 237—so don’t ask. If you’ve never been to a ski lodge, this is the ski lodge you’ve always dreamed of. And even if you don’t stay the night, it’s worth it to walk around, have a meal, and enjoy the views.

1,839. Go paddling on Waldo LakeOne of the purest lakes in the world sits in the heart of the Cascades between Bend and Crater Lake. A few basic campgrounds line the lake, and only non-motorized boats are allowed on the water. The first, second, and third words that come to mind when describing Waldo Lake are all “peaceful.” (That is, unless we’re talking about the middle of summer, when swarms of mosquitoes are capable of picking small children up and carrying them away. Then I’d say the first word that comes to mind is “annoying.”)

trillium-lake

Mount Hood, as seen from the snow-covered banks of Trillium Lake

1,840. Visit Trillium LakeIf there’s a more photographed vantage point of Mount Hood, I’ve yet to find it. Hike, paddle, or camp at Trillium Lake in the summer, snowshoe or cross-country ski in the winter. Either way, Oregon’s tallest peak will feel close enough to touch.

1,841. See why Portland is the City of Roses. One of Portland’s many nicknames is the City of Roses, and it’s easy to see why at the Washington Park International Rose Test Garden. Every year, more than 10,000 rose bushes bloom between May and October! You are officially out of excuses to stop and smell the roses.

1,842. Walk through colorful fields at the Wooden Shoe Tulip FestOregon isn’t just about roses. Every spring, the fields at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm near Woodburn are awash in color. Walk through the fields, marvel at the vibrant displays, and see how many Instagram influencers you can photobomb in the process.

1,843. Raise a glass at Mt. Angel OktoberfestI don’t know if it’s the next best thing to attending Oktoberfest in Munich, but it can’t be that bad of an alternative: sausage, beer, and traditional Bavarian wear—what more does a good Oktoberfest celebration need?!

1,844. Stand at the westernmost point of Oregon at Cape Blanco State ParkNowhere on the Oregon Coast are you further west than at Cape Blanco. I don’t know why I find that so notable or cool, but I do. So it goes on the list.

Fort Rock State Natural Area

The dusty interior of Fort Rock State Natural Area

1,845. Walk around inside Fort RockThe U-shaped rock formation in the Oregon Outback can be seen from miles away, lording over the surrounding desert, and was once an island in a vast sea. You can walk around inside, and you definitely should, because you kinda feel like you’re parading around inside an ancient castle.

1,846. Sit around a fire pit in (or near) Bend. One of the cool things about Bend and Central Oregon is that seemingly every other brewery, beer bar, and restaurant has an outdoor fireplace or fire pit. Best of all, they fire up in the middle of summer and the heart of winter alike. Find a few friends, split a pitcher, and get cozy.

1,847-1,858. Enjoy a free birthday dozen at Pip’s Original DoughnutsGo shorty, it’s your birthday. (And then get another dozen the next day, because Pip’s deserves your love.)

1,859. Do whatever you want. The great thing about Oregon is that it offers something for everyone: wine aficionados, foodies, beer geeks, outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, you name it. It’s your state; make the most of it however you see fit.

Scappoose Bay

What We Talk About When We Talk About Adventure

Last spring, I took a kayaking lesson through Next Adventure’s Scappoose Bay Paddling Center.

Over the course of three peaceful hours, I saw herons soar above the tree line and dive for lunch in the bay; watched Chinook salmon leap for bugs just above the waterline; paddled through marshlands and fields of cattail; got stuck in a mud bog trying to find an osprey rookery; saw beaver dams lining the water; and, all in all, got to enjoy the kind of 80-degree that signals to winter-weary Portlanders—yes, summer is coming.

A mall walker on their second lap would have left me in the dust—and if I ever broke a sweat, it’s only because I forgot to apply sunscreen. My pace could have (accurately) been described as “bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour traffic,” even if only a few stray paddlers patrolled the waters that afternoon.

To many, this laid-back paddle on a quiet bay off the Columbia River would have hardly counted as “adventure.” The outing didn’t require multiple REI trips, involve connecting flights or passport stamps, demand I plunk down most of my paycheck, or come after months of training and dieting. Heck, my 72-year-old father could have been out there on the water that day.

Kayaking on Scappoose Bay

Kayaking on Scappoose Bay

But to me, this was an almost spiritual adventure—the osprey soaring overhead, its 7-foot wingspan casting a shadow on the water below; crooked tree trunks, crowding the channel and hiding the shoreline behind them; feeling the waves roll under my kayak—all of it was magical. And the experience got me thinking about what “adventure” means—and, maybe, what it should mean.

Over the past two years, I’ve researched and written an Oregon hiking guide for Moon Travel Guides (due out in June 2020, now available for pre-order!). In researching the book, I did more than 75 hikes—everything from easy, two-mile strolls to thigh-busting ascents of 2,500 feet. And as I’ve talked with people about the project and their own hiking experiences, I hear a pretty common refrain: “I’ve done some hikes, but nothing like what you’ve done.”

Inside, I wince whenever I hear that. After all, some of the most memorable hikes I did for the guide were among the easiest; one was a mostly flat, two-mile stroll that afforded wide-open views of the snow-capped Wallowa Mountains, for instance. I didn’t so much as break a sweat on that trek, but just thinking back on those views takes my breath away, almost two years later.

Wallowa Mountains – From Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site

The Wallowa Mountains, as seen from Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site

But that’s not what people imagine when they think about all that adventure; they imagine me climbing mountains, scaling peaks, wrestling with bears, singlehandedly battling armies of angry mosquitoes with just my wits and a Hydro Flask, building a three-bedroom, ranch-style emergency shelter with just a space blanket and pine needles. (And, okay, I’m not always quick to disabuse folks of that notion.)

Anyway: What they see in their minds differs from how I usually felt on the trail (awestruck—but tired, so damn tired) and what that experience was actually like (awe-inspiring—but exhausting, so damn exhausting). So they fill in the blanks by instinctively comparing our adventures. And by framing their own outings relative to mine, they inadvertently devalue their experiences and create a comparison that doesn’t hold up for more than a second.

We (sometimes subtly, almost always subconsciously) compare our dinners to what we see on the Food Network, our travels to what we double tap on Instagram, our living rooms to what we’ve pinned on Pinterest. And it’s easy to fall into this trap, especially when it comes to adventure. Someone might see me hiking 450 miles in a 12-month stretch and think that’s impressive, but I could find plenty of people who hiked more and climbed higher over that same stretch. So am I a failure or less of a hiker because I didn’t hike 451 miles? Do my 450 miles invalidate anyone who hiked less in that time?

So where’s the line between “adventure” and “not adventure” or “epic” and “not epic”? (That’s a trick question, because there is no line; it’s all adventure, and it’s all epic.) Adventure is what we make of it, no matter how much we spend or how high we climb, and it’s up to us to find value in whatever that looks like.

(As an aside, this brings to mind a website you should visit and subscribe to: My friend Jennie is a beacon of pure stoke who runs Ordinary Adventures, which posits that no adventure is too small to be enjoyed and celebrated—from visiting a cranberry bog on the Long Beach Peninsula to finding the best eats at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The website’s “About Us” section sums it up perfectly: “We believe the outdoors and adventure in general are for EVERYONE.”)

I would argue there’s just as much value in walking around a neighborhood park—watching the leaves turn in fall, seeing chipmunks scurry up a tree, relaxing with a picnic—as hiking 450 miles over a 12-month stretch. The fact that we get outside at all is valuable, and we shouldn’t minimize those experiences or see them as “lesser” just because we’re not going harder, better, faster, stronger. What makes one natural space any more or less majestic than another? And why set aside green spaces and turn them into, say, neighborhood parks if they aren’t meant to be enjoyed and explored?

All this to say: We’d all be better off finding value in whatever experiences and adventures we do enjoy, rather than thinking we could or should do more. We could always do more, so where does that line of thinking ever end? 

If we take adventure on its own terms, we shift the mindset that marginalizes our experience and, in turn, stop comparing ourselves to others. Because every step on the trail, every minute in the kayak, it’s all worth celebrating. Whatever we do, it’s more than “doing nothing”—and isn’t that worth something?