If you’ve made the trek from Portland to Bend, you already know how scenic the drive is. In this 3-to-4-hour drive, you’ll pass by a diverse array of scenery, as you go from the misty, forested atmosphere of Stumptown to the high desert climate (with an abundance of sunshine!) in Central Oregon.
No matter the route you take, you’re bound to have a pleasant backdrop. One of our favorite routes goes along I-84 East to Hood River, then heads south on 35 South towards Government Camp, then 26 East to Madras, and finally along 97 South to Bend. This route takes a bit longer than the more direct path that remains on 26 East the majority of the way.
If you opt for the more scenic drive, you’ll be passing by (or near!) a number of incredible sights worth stopping at, including waterfalls, charming small towns, lakes and more. Of course, your trip would take several days to complete if you stopped at each, so pick a few from our itinerary to enhance your mini road trip! Trust us — you’ll be glad you stopped to smell the roses.
It’s likely you’ve visited this popular waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge a time or two. If you haven’t, it’s a must as you travel along the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway, considered one of the most scenic drives in the country. In fact, along this 70-mile highway, you will discover several historic monuments and buildings, fish hatcheries, and a number of jaw-dropping overlooks. Plus, you’ll pass several beautiful waterfalls, including Latourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Coopey Falls and Fairy Falls.
If you instead set your sights on the prize, you’ll be in good company, as Multnomah Falls is the most-visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest! Considered the largest waterfall in the state, Multnomah Falls measures 620 feet in height, spanning two tiers. Visitors may easily access the falls in the Benson State Recreation Area, which includes a bridge spanning across the lower tier. Or you may choose to explore the falls further by traveling along the Multnomah Falls Hike to Multnomah Creek. This 5.5-mile journey will take you to the top of the falls along Multnomah Creek and eventually to Weisendanger and Ecola Falls.
Continue along the scenic byway running alongside the Columbia River to reach the charming town of Hood River. Situated at the confluence of the Hood River and the Columbia, Hood River hosts a concentrated collection of wineries, breweries and restaurants, especially in the northeast corner of town. This is the perfect place to stop for a meal or cup of coffee — such as Riverside and Doppio Coffee — or simply stretch your legs and take in the sights of this lively riverside village. You’ll likely see a number of kiteboarders skidding along the surface of the Columbia River, inspiring Hood River’s nickname — the “Windsurfing Capital of the World”. No matter where you are in Hood River, you’re bound to see the majestic Mount Hood towering in the distance.
Photo Courtesy of Timberline Lodge & Ski Area
Add a few minutes to your travel time by venturing off the beaten path to Timberline Lodge, a mountain lodge on the south side of Mount Hood. This is also a great place to grab a bite to eat and take in the inspiring sights of this majestic mountain and its surrounding scenery. The lodge is filled with history dating back to the Great Depression era, when it was built and furnished by local artisans. This National Historic Landmark is perhaps most known as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
While you’re in the area, you may want to peruse the darling community of Government Camp, otherwise known as “Govey” by locals. This quaint alpine village has plenty of eateries, watering holes and an abundance of small town charm. Plus, it’s an excellent place to stretch your legs and use the restroom before traveling through the more rustic viewpoints in your near future!
Photo Courtesy of John Sparks via the Trailkeepers of Oregon
Just 10 minutes south of Government Camp, you’ll find the iconic photo-worthy Trillium Lake completely immersed in nature. Mount Hood is towering nearby, which makes for a spectacular mirrored view of its snow-capped peaks, especially on a clear day. The lake doesn’t allow motors, which makes the scene even more idyllic. If you have some time to spare, you may even embark on the 1.9-mile loop hike around the lake.
Clear Lake or Little Crater Lake
Photo of Little Crater Lake by Geoff Parsons on Flickr
Keep traveling south along 26 to encounter more sparkling lakes, including Clear Lake or Little Crater Lake. And if time isn’t an issue, consider making a stop at both! Clear Lake is a tiny bird-shaped lake with stunning blue-green water surrounded by a thick forest. Little Crater Lake is an even smaller spring-fed lake measuring only 100 feet at its widest point. Named after Crater Lake, the lake has striking crystal clear waters and is considered an oddity by geologists, some of which think it is either a volcanic maar or the result of block faulting.
Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint
On the final stretch of your drive, don’t miss this breathtaking pitstop nestled along the Crooked River. Whether you simply want to take in gorgeous river views (complete with Mount Hood in the distance!), or you’re there to go bungee jumping, the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint is certainly worth braking for.
Just before you reach Bend, don’t miss Maragas Winery, the founding winery and vineyard of the region — and one of our favorite wineries in Central Oregon. Maragas Winery creates some of the most exceptional wines using sustainable methods and Old World winemaking techniques passed down through generations of the Maragas family. Visitors may relax on the Maragas Winery patio and lawn, soaking up the views while sipping on their excellent wines.
The microclimate of the vineyard is suitable for producing several different European varietals and French American hybrids. There are 24 different types of vines in “Sam’s Block”, which operates as a test block, plus six remaining blocks planted in zinfandel, cabernet franc, pinot noir, pinot munier, chardonnay, muscat, frontenac, marechal foch and vignole. The winery is open to guests daily during the summer from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. but remains open year-round (hours vary).
Smith Rock State Park
Photo Courtesy of SmithRock.com
Situated just a few miles south of the winery, Smith Rock State Park is an absolutely spectacular sight to see — and one of our favorite hiking destinations in the area. There is so much to explore within this 641-acre state park, whether you like to hike, mountain climb, camp, bike, run, or simply admire nature and wildlife. The park is open from dawn to dusk year-round and the day use fee is $5 per vehicle.
What pitstops would you add to the itinerary? We’d love to know your favorite sights along the way from Portland to Bend. Let us know in the comments below!