A 3-day break in Portland and it’s surrounding area
With a trip to Alaska booked for the main part of our trip, we decided to first spend some time in the Pacific Northwest. After flying to Vancouver on the West coast of Canada and spending a few days exploring there, we had caught the train south into the USA and Seattle for a 4 day visit and now we were back on the Amtrak heading South again, this time to the city of Portland in the state of Oregon.
Although Portland would be our base, we had heard that Oregon state was really beautiful so had made plans to get out of the city too and explore some of the surrounding area.
With the Alaska portion of our trip being so expensive we had been trying to budget elsewhere so like in Seattle, we would be staying slightly outside of the city center to cut costs. Arriving at Portland’s Union Station from Seattle late afternoon, we found our way to the correct light rail stop and successfully made our way out to the suburbs to find our motel.
Deciding it too late to head back into the city that night, we instead called into the old diner across the road. Jim Dandy’s Drive In is a Portland landmark. Having opened in 1937, it is one of Oregon’s oldest drive-ins. We enjoyed a traditional burger and fries meal followed by one on the largest soft-serve ice creams I had ever seen!
Our first full day in Oregon, we had booked a one day tour with America’s Hub World Tours through Viator to Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. We were picked up by our minibus transportation for day bright and early from our motel heading away from the city to our first stop of the day, Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood.
Timberline Lodge is famously the lodge used for exterior shots in classic horror film The Shining and as we approached, our guide told us that you could ask at reception for an axe to hold and pose for photos with it. Half thinking he was joking – who would hand over an axe to strangers in a hotel full of people?! – we thought we’d at least ask and see what they said and sure enough, we were immediately handed over a rather heavy axe, no questions asked and allowed to wander the immediate are of the hotel with it posing for photos!
After handing the axe back, we had a look around the common areas of the lodge and stopped by the small hotel store for some tax-free souvenirs before heading outside the back to take in the excellent views of Mount Hood. We then waited out the front of the lodge, taking in more epic views, this time of Mount Jefferson in the distance, until it was time to re-board the minibus and head to our next stop.
Stop number 2 was for lunch in the small city of Hood River. We had time to wander along the High Street before deciding on a nice cafe bar for lunch and even had time to grab an ice cream before being back on the minibus!
Our next stop was down by the Columbia River at a place called Cascade Locks to see The Bridge of Gods, a bridge which connects Oregon state to Washington state. As well as enjoying the river views, we admired the mural painted on one of the bridge supports depicting the Native American ‘Bridge of Gods’ legend which the bridge is named after.
Then it was onto the main stop of the day, a visit to Multnomah Falls, part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. On the way into the park, we stopped at a few other waterfalls including Horseshoe Falls and then we were dropped near the Visitor Center from where we could walk to viewing points for the falls. We took the short hike up to Benson Bridge for a closer look at the falls before returning to the visitor center for some souvenirs!
On the way out of the park, we stopped at one more waterfall, Latourell Falls, hopping out of the minbus briefly to grab some photos, then it was on to our last stop of the day, Vista House, a Columbia River Gorge observatory at Crown Point. It was a fantastically, sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky and the views across the river were absolutely beautiful.
From here, it was back to Portland where we chose to leave the tour rather than being dropped back at our out-of-city accommodation. We spent some time walking through the city to Pioneer Square and then down to the Willamette River, strolling a along the waterfront.
The next day was to be another day spent exploring the state of Oregon rather in Portland city itself. We were once again up early, catching the lightrail into the city then finding our way to the bus station where we’d be picking up a service to the Oregon Coast.
Although small group day tours were available from Portland to this area of Oregon, we decided to save a bit of money by using public transport. It took a couple of hours to get to our first destination of the day, Cannon Beach. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side today but it didn’t stop us heading to the beach and walking to Haystack Rock, famously seen in cult ’80s film The Goonies.
After our stroll along the beach, we took a walk along the main street calling in some of the many galleries and gift stores before catching the local bus to the neighbouring town of Seaside. Seaside was a huge contrast to the laid back calm of Cannon Beach, instead aimed at a younger crown with its arcades, amusement rides and tacky souvenir stores. Like Cannon Beach, it did still have a beautiful stretch of golden sand. After spending a bit of time having a look around, we went to a local restaurant for pizza before catching the bus back to Portland.
We had one more day in Oregon before flying to Alaska and we had allocated that day to finally explore the city of Portland properly! We began the day with a segway tour of the city. This was our first time riding segways, something we had always wanted to try and it was great fun! It didn’t take long to get used to riding them and we were soon zooming around the city!
The tour took us down alongside the Willamette River then into the city to see some its highlights including the Portlandia sculpture, the Portland Theatre and, my personal favourite, Mills End Park, the World’s Smallest Park!
After the tour, it was time for lunch. Portland is famous for its food trucks so we went in search of some deciding on a sandwich from The Grilled Cheese Grill!
Next up was a trip on the Portland Aerial Tram. Although the tram’s main purpose is to carry commuters to the Oregon Health and Science University, we had heard it was a great -and cheap -way of seeing views across the city. We enjoyed our return ride, it was a fun and unusual way of seeing the city!
We spent the next few hours walking along the riverside towards the city’s Pearl District. Along the way we came across Portland’s Saturday Market and had a browse around the stalls. We also passed the Voodoo Doughnut store in the Old Town area. We would have loved to have sampled one its famous doughnuts but there was a huge queue outside and unfortunately, we didn’t have time to wait.
Instead we continued to the quirky Pearl District where we explored Powell’s City of Books store, the World’s largest used and independent bookstore and browsed in some of the other boutique and independent stores in the area. Then it was back to our motel to collect our luggage before heading to the airport for our flight.
Watch my vlog of my Portland trip here: