10 Top-Rated Day Trips & Weekend Getaways from Portland

Written by Brad Lane
Nov 17, 2020

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Alongside immediate access to cultural and natural attractions within the city, another major appeal of Portland is its proximity to other iconic Pacific Northwest places to visit. Within an hour or easy half-day drive, popular destinations include the rugged coastline, world-renowned national parks, and other inviting cities with their own unique blend of fun things to do.

Memorable weekend trips to areas like Mount Hood or Cannon Beach offer new landscapes to explore each season. Other areas like the Columbia River Gorge also offer easy day trips throughout the year. For longer weekends with more time to explore, farther-flung destinations like Smith Rock and Mount Rainier are less than three hours away.

If you're planning or looking for something new to do this upcoming weekend, find the best places to visit with our list of the top day trips and weekend getaways from Portland.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Columbia River Gorge

Lancaster Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

Lancaster Falls in the Columbia River Gorge | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The cities and scenery of the Columbia River Gorge attract visitors from all over the world. As the sea-level dividing line between Oregon and Washington, the gorge is home to many of the best waterfalls in Oregon, including the iconic 620-foot Multnomah Falls.

Interstate 84 and parallel portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway are the main arteries through the Oregon side of the gorge. These roadways connect trailheads, cities, and roadside stopping points like the Vista House. Off exit #41, one not-too-miss area of the Gorge is the ethereal Eagle Creek Trail. Several other elevated hiking routes in the area offer expansive views of the river corridor.

Personal vehicles, public transportation, and bicycle are some of the ways to get from Portland to Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge. Upon arrival, the area's inviting towns entice visitors to stay the weekend. Places to visit within the gorge include The Dalles, Hood River, and Cascade Locks – where visitors can drive into Washington via the Bridge of the Gods.

If looking for a place to stay, the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River offers an award-winning restaurant and a taste of the scenery. The property is surrounded by lush gardens, ponds, and walking trails. For a weekend camping adventure, consider looking into one of the many campgrounds around Hood River.

2. Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach during low tide

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach during low tide | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The rugged Oregon coast is on full display in Cannon Beach, only two hours from Portland. Wide sandy beaches, forested headlands, and an easy view of an impressive sea stack are front-row center at Cannon Beach, as well as an artistic community, family-friendly eateries, and first-class places to stay the night.

The defining geological feature of any visit to Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock, a 235-foot sea stack that stands amid the surf. This monolithic ocean rock offers a postcard backdrop to the wide and sprawling beach. Vast tide pools surround the rock when the tide is extremely low. Another natural attraction that makes Cannon Beach enchanting is the looming Tillamook Head to the north, complete with coastal forest hiking trails and a free backpackers camp.

A great way to see the coast from a passenger's seat is on the nine-hour Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock Oregon Coast Day Trip. This round-trip sightseeing tour picks passengers up from downtown Portland and drops them off by the waves of Cannon Beach.

The day trip starts with a two-hour drive to Neahkahnie Point, where a long-distance view of the coastline awaits. From Neahkahnie Point, the tour disembarks in Manzanita to spend time exploring the small coastal town and shops before heading to Cannon Beach. Plenty of time is allotted to explore Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock upon arrival, including opportunities to beachcomb, shop for antiques, and taste some local fare.

Accommodation: Best Beach Resorts on the Oregon Coast

3. Smith Rock State Park

Climber at Smith Rock State Park

Climber at Smith Rock State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Smith Rock is a recreation mecca of central Oregon, and arguably one of the best sport climbing destinations in America. For rock climbers and anyone in Portland who appreciates a scenic environment, Smith Rock State Park deserves multiple weekend visits.

Over 1,000 bolted and named routes dot the impressive and outstanding tuff monoliths and basalt columns that define Smith Rock. Routes range from finger-crimping technical climbs to easier ascents for beginners. Hikers will also find much to explore at Smith Rock, including the iconic Misery Ridge trail, which affords breathtaking views of the entire valley and is one of the top hikes around Bend.

Just under three hours from Portland, Smith Rock is best suited for a weekend trip. These outings can occur much earlier and later in the year, thanks to the high-desert environment. A popular walk-in bivouac camping area can at Smith Rock is a fun and potentially crowded place to spend the night. The nearby city of Bend is also an excellent home base for a Smith Rock weekend adventure.

4. Mount Hood

Mount Hood

Mount Hood

Mount Hood is Oregon's tallest peak and provides arguably some of the state's best alpine environments. The mountain is a dominating presence often seen from high vantage points in Portland. Not surprisingly, the majestic mountain terrain offers some of the best weekend getaways from the city.

Wildflower meadows, cascading waterfalls, and some of the best hiking trails in Oregon surround Mount Hood and the encompassing national forest of its own name. Popular destinations within Mount Hood National Forest include Trillium Lake, Ramona Falls, and the historic Timberline Lodge near the community of Government Camp.

The Timberline Trail circumnavigates the entire mountain, presenting challenging river crossings along the way. The cross-country Pacific Crest Trail also winds its way through the area before hitting the Columbia River Gorge.

A Mount Hood Day Trip from Portland offers an excellent option to experience the grandeur of Mount Hood and the surrounding environment. Departing from downtown Portland, the tour first stops at the iconic Multnomah Falls within the Columbia River Gorge, followed by a quick lunch in the city of Hood River. After refueling in Hood River, this day trip heads straight for the Timberline Lodge, where the rest of the afternoon is devoted to exploring the rich surrounding scenery.

5. Astoria

Hotel Elliott in downtown Astoria

Hotel Elliott in downtown Astoria | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The enchanting seaside city of Astoria is one of the best small towns on the Oregon coast, and for good reason. The city is bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River on the far northwest tip of Oregon. And perhaps inspired by the iconic 80s movie, The Goonies, which took place in this storybook city, Astoria embodies an adventurous spirit and treasure-filled community.

Some of the things to do in Astoria include maritime museums, a scenic Riverwalk, and a bustling downtown district filled with shops and restaurants. History is also alive in Astoria via historic mansions and film museums, many of which relate the storied history of this logging, fishing, and now tourism-driven city.

On the far west side of Astoria, bordering the ocean, Fort Stevens is a retired military installation, now a sprawling state park with shipwrecks, military history, and a massive campground. Fort Stevens is an excellent place to spend the entire weekend at the beach.

Astoria is a nearly two-hour drive from Portland. Accommodations like Hotel Elliott provide an inviting opportunity for the long weekend.

6. Mount Rainier National Park

The Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier National Park

The Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier National Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

One of the most impressive peaks of the Pacific Northwest, Mount Rainier, stands proudly as the tallest peak in Washington and is within a 2.5-hour-drive from Portland. Best for a weekend trip, or much longer if possible, Mount Rainier has over 260 miles of inclined hiking trails to explore, and a variety of campgrounds spread throughout its alpine and old-growth surroundings.

Four designated areas define the park, including the Sunrise region, at an elevation of 6,400 feet. From this elevated position, Sunrise offers up-close perspectives of Rainier's northeast glaciers.

The Paradise area of Mount Rainier is also aptly named, and this stunning area contains mountain meadows, streaming waterfalls, and increasingly dramatic views of the mountain. The Skyline Trail, which traverses the Paradise area of the park, is an absolute must-do as one of Washington's best hiking trails.

Longmire, on the southwest side of the park, offers historical information and hiking trails. This area of the park also lends proximity to neighboring towns that cater to weekend visits. In nearby Ashford, the Nisqually Lodge provides a rustic appeal in modern accommodations and easy access to the park's Nisqually Entrance.

The "quiet corner of the park," Mowich Lake, is accessible via a dirt road on the park's west side. The lake lends access to stunning areas like Spray Park and Tolmie Peak. Wherever you visit in the national park, one of the most defining aspects of any visit is the awe invoked every time Mountain Rainier comes into view.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm

7. Seaside

Seaside Promenade and Seaside Aquarium

Seaside Promenade and Seaside Aquarium | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The city of Seaside has a long history of attracting visitors. The century-old and iconic Promenade that separates the city from the sand is a testament to the long-standing tourist industry, and the Lewis and Clark Salt Works speaks to an even more rugged past.

All the top attractions in Seaside are accessible from Portland with less than a 90-minute drive. These attractions include the Seaside Aquarium and historic Seaside Turnaround. But the biggest reason to make the drive is often the sprawling beach.

As one of the best beaches along the Oregon Coast, the beach at Seaside is wide, welcoming, and can simultaneously accommodate solo kite-flyers and huge sand volleyball tournaments. And the sunsets at Seaside are some of the best on the coast.

Tillamook Head backdrops the Seaside Beach to the south, and the Seaside Streetcar offers free shuttles to the corresponding trailhead. For a great stay next to the beach, Lanai at the Cove is one of Seaside's top hotels and provides rooms with a view.

8. Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

When a complex volcano in Southern Oregon erupted over 7,000 years ago, it left behind a massive caldera and one of North America's most unique natural attractions. Today, Crater Lake is in the footprint of what used to be Mount Mazama and is the only national park in Oregon.

As the deepest lake in the country, fed only by rainfall and snowmelt, the water of Crater Lake is an incredible blue. Contained within the crater, the sparkling water changes color as it catches the sun throughout the day. Stunning viewpoints are afforded at the rim from two different entrances of the park.

Getting from Portland to Crater Lake takes about four hours by car, making it a great weekend escape, particularly in summer. The Mazama Campground within the national park is one of the best campgrounds in Oregon and is open seasonally throughout the summer.

Crater Lake's appeal goes well beyond the summer season, though, and the winter is a particularly scenic time to visit. The Rim Drive is left unplowed and opened for cross-country and snowshoe traverses. The Best Western Plus Olympic Inn in Klamath Falls provides a great place to warm up after a winter visit.

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm

9. Sauvie Island

Sauvie Island Bridge

Sauvie Island Bridge

Sauvie is the largest island on the Columbia River and one of the country's largest river islands. It's inhabited by a predominantly agricultural community and is less than a 20-mile drive from Portland. Common recreational outlets on Sauvie Island include hiking trails, beach access, and berry picking.

Bird-watchers and nature enthusiasts enjoy exploring the 11,500-acre Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, where hundreds of bird species call home. History buffs can find interest at sites like the Warrior Rock Lighthouse. Other popular attractions include U-Pick berry farms, fishing at Sturgeon Lake, and the many beaches on the island's northeast region.

To make a weekend trip out of your visit, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Hillsboro is only twelve miles from the Sauvie Island Bridge.

10. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens

Best defined in landscape and history by its dramatic 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens makes for an excellent weekend trip. Many of Mount St. Helen's explorable areas can be reached from Portland with less than a 90-mile drive, including the Johnston Ridge Observatory and Ape Caves.

Every accessible area of Mount St. Helens, including the best hiking trails in the park, provides interpretive and visual information of the 1980 blast that rocked the region. This includes the impressive views of the horseshoe crater atop the mountain.

A great hotel to spend the night between days exploring and learning about the altered terrain at Mount St. Helens, the Best Western Plus Park Place Inn & Suites is less than 25 miles from the visitor center.

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imageMore to Explore in Portland: Our Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Portland article outlines some of the best cultural and natural attractions of Portland, and our Best Hiking Trails near Portland article illustrates other ways to explore the natural areas around the city.

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