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The Ultimate Oregon Destination Guide

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Between Portland’s exploding culinary scene, the recent recognition of the Willamette Valley as one of the world’s best wine regions, and the soon to open Oregon Timber Trail for mountain bikers that was inspired by the iconic Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon seems to be maturing into a new level of sexy as a travel destination.

And none of those recent developments take into consideration the many attractions the state has long been known for such as its spectacular coastline of white sand beaches and picturesque rocky cliffs; the many stellar hiking trails winding through the Alpine peaks of the Wallowas, or the abundance of world-class ski resorts. And did we mention Oregon’s craft beer offerings?

Bottom line: if you haven’t put Oregon on your radar, it might be time to think about doing so.

“What’s so exciting about Oregon is that it has everything,” says Jaime Eder, coordinator of global communications at Travel Oregon. “You can fly into Portland – this culinary mecca with so many James Beard-nominated chefs who are opening restaurants and then within an hour’s drive you could be in wine country or within an hour and a half you could be on the coast, or be in the mountains.”

Overlooking the willamette river, Portland

RewardExpert reached out to travel officials throughout the state to identify not only the top must-see destinations for travelers in 2017 but also the latest offerings and newest happenings to put on your radar. But first, a few quick, awe-inspiring facts for handy reference: Oregon is home to 11 national forests, 21 national wildlife refuges and 361 state parks. There’s also “The Seven Wonders of Oregon” – a designation developed by the state as a playfully local take on the ancient seven wonders of the world. While the ancient wonders list recognizes such places as the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Oregon’s list includes the grand Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, the exposed earth of the Painted Hills, and Crater Lake, which is the deepest lake in America, to name a few.All of which makes planning a trip seem almost daunting if you have perhaps only a week, or a long weekend to visit.

Eder, of Travel Oregon, says one of her top, must-see recommendations is the Willamette Valley, and not just because it was named the world’s top wine region in 2016 by Wine Enthusiast (but that’s certainly reason enough.)

“There’s just so much to do there, you can bike around the region, go horseback riding. It’s just this really lovely and charming place,” Eder says.

If you do make it to the Willamette Valley, Eder suggests spending some time at the unique Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery. The company makes small batch beers in a historic 1850s barn, and grows their own hops for the beer they craft.

As for the wineries, yes, they produce some stellar wines, but there’s also the views and the food and the atmosphere that they provide, says Kara Kuh of Travel Salem.

Explore Salem through its rich heritage, scenic mountains and rivers

“What’s been interesting over the last couple of years is that the wineries have really established themselves as destination tasting rooms, adding pairing menus and fireplaces,” says Kuh. “They want you to come and experience everything they have to offer, and come watch the sunset from our vineyards.”Moving on from all things beer and wine, the state’s top travel officials also highly recommend checking out Astoria, a funky and picturesque community sometimes referred to as “little San Francisco” thanks to its burgeoning cultural scene.

Located along the Columbia River and a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, Astoria was settled 200 years ago. Since then it’s gone through a fair share of ups and downs thanks to the collapse of the local Columbia River fishery and the region’s timber industry. But the town has since reinvented itself as a mecca for artists and hip chef-driven restaurants that exist amid Victorian mansions and maritime scenery.

astoria oregon
Boats in the working pier area of Astoria Oregon

A few additional top recommendations from Eder include planning your visit to coincide with Feast Portland if possible (Sept. 14 – Sept. 17) or the upcoming solar eclipse (Aug. 21.)Feast Portland, designed to showcase the energy and creativity powering the American food revolution taking place both across the country and in Portland, provides a mouth-watering opportunity to sample a range of food from top chefs. The feast includes more than 40 events (including small hands-on classes and panel discussions) that are held throughout downtown Portland and around the city.

Tickets cost between $35 and $175, a relative bargain for an event described by Thrillist as the best food festival in the country.August’s solar eclipse has inspired a whole slate of events across the Oregon – from helicopter eclipse viewing to solar eclipse parties, camp outs and hot air balloon rides. The once-in-a century celestial event will be visible from various locations throughout Oregon as the moon blocks the sun and its shadow creates temporary twilight.

Bend, Oregon meanwhile, is practically a must for the outdoor recreation enthusiast. The area, once a lumber town, is now a mecca for active travelers (think hiking, biking, skiing and white water rafting).

Notable highlights here include Pilot Butte, a once active volcano that visitors can hike. There are three trails that lead to the extinct volcano’s rim, all of which wind through juniper trees. Once at the rim, you’ll have a panoramic view of the dessert below.

Also popular is the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, says Valerie Warren, vice president of operations for Visit Bend. As its name indicates, the 54,822-acre preserve is home to another volcano. It’s also a place where you’ll find waterfalls, lakes and 110-miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.

A warm, inviting mountain getaway with a cosmopolitan appeal is what you’ll find when you arrive in the friendly town of Bend

In the winter, Bend becomes a winter wonderland for those who enjoy skiing, snowmobiling, and snowboarding. Mt. Bachelor is one of the most well-known Bend-area winter destinations. Having recently opened a new ski lift, which added an additional 635 acres of slopes, it is now the fifth largest skiing destination in the United States, says Warren. One last stop to mention on this overview of essential Oregon sites, the state capital region of Salem. Yes, it’s the capital, but there’s far more to be said about the region then that. One of the most spectacular times to visit the Salem region is during flower season, says Kuh, of Visit Salem.

From March until about July, there area is awash in an ongoing show, courtesy of Mother Nature, of various flowers blooming. There’s sprawling tulip farms, massive iris gardens, peony growers and dahlias as well.“People come by the hundreds to wander through the flower gardens,” says Kuh, who adds that Schreiner’s Iris Gardens and Wooden Shoe Tulip Gardens, are two of the best.

One last notable happening for the hard-core outdoorsy types considering a visit. River 2 Ridge, is a newly created multi-sport event that involves kayaking, biking and running your way through the Willamette Valley. The inaugural event, which begins in Downtown Salem and ends at the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range, takes place September 17, 2017.

“Tourism is really flourishing in Oregon,” says Eder. “People come here and leave wanting more.”

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