Oregon from Bottom to Top

I have a confession to make. Until last summer, I had never stepped foot in the state of Oregon. When I finally did, my feet were eager to make up for lost time. I covered as much ground as I could in a comfortable 12 days, which included five distinct wine regions, the city of Portland and the Pacific coast. I returned home with a lot of magnificent wines and the conviction that Oregon is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Rogue and Applegate River Valleys
Southern Oregon is teeming with natural treasures worth experiencing, like Crater Lake, Oregon Caves and the scenic Rogue and Applegate rivers. Arrange to stay in the cozy artist's haven of Ashland or on the banks of the Rogue River in Grants Pass. Most of the wineries are located just off the I-5 north of Ashland and on picturesque farm roads near Highway 238 to Grants Pass. Few offer food, so be sure to bring some crackers and cheese for the road.

Don't miss a play in Ashland--Home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival since 1935, this charming town provides top-notch entertainment on several stages nearly every night of the week.

A jetboat tour in grants pass--Take a two-hour Scenic Hellgate Tour into Hellgate Cavern on a gigantic jetboat. I saw bald eagles, blue herons and ospreys . . . one osprey swooped within inches (okay, feet) of my nose!

Umpqua Valley
About an hour farther north along I-5, between Roseburg and Sutherlin, you'll discover the Umpqua Valley. Here, the wineries are harder to find on your own. You might want to hire a local tour operator, like Oregon Wine Country Tours, to eliminate any fears of getting lost. Better than GPS, Diane and H. Bruce Smith are Sonoma transplants, stressing wine education. You'll discover mostly small case production wineries owned and operated by many folks who make winemaking their second job. Families are full-time staff in Umpqua Valley and each case is packed with love.

Don't miss the waterfalls--Take Highway 138 from Roseburg to Diamond Lake, designated a National Scenic Byway due to its breathtaking collection of waterfalls, fishing holes and nature trails. Hiking to the waterfalls is easy and when the snow flies you can enjoy snowmobiling and skiing around Diamond Lake.

Willamette Valley
The first realization I had when I reached the Willamette Valley is that it is very, very big. It stretches as far south as Eugene and runs more than 120 miles to the town of Forest Grove, which is slightly north of Portland. Again, you may want to hire an education-oriented guide as I did (Fred Gunton, A Nose for Wine Tours), especially for the winery-dense roads around Dundee. An estimated two-thirds of the state's wineries are found in the Willamette Valley. Known for possessing a variety of microclimates, the area consistently produces stellar Pinot Noir. In fact, a large, tulip-shaped glass, purported to release the essence of the Oregon Pinot Noir, has been designed for those who don't want to miss a note.

Don't miss the Spruce Goose--Also known as the Hughes Flying Boat, this fascinating plane and many others can be found at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville. In addition to aircraft, the museum (which is a working air hangar) also houses a small IMAX theatre. And right next door, another museum dedicated to the history of space travel completes the experience.

Hood River/Columbia Gorge
You don't have to go very far on I-84 east of Portland to recognize signs that a very special part of the world lies ahead. Concentrate your touring and tasting energies on the Hood River County Fruit Loop, located just south of the town of Hood River. Named "Fruit Loop" for the number of fruit and berry orchards along the trail, this area is also home to a growing number of excellent vineyards and wineries. And the vistas, which include captivating views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, are the most exhilarating I've ever come across in a wine country.

Don't miss Mt. Hood--Strikingly beautiful from the tasting rooms below, this mountain is a year-round playground. Downhill skiing is an obvious choice, but there are others. Rent snowshoes or cross-country skis and head for Timberline Lodge. Snowshoe Trail is a breeze. It leads you downhill through the woods to the bottom of the Jeff Flood Express lift. And when the snow thaws in late spring, the hiking is inspiring.

Places to Stay:
Columbia Hotel, Ashland
Rogue and Applegate River Valleys

The Lodge at Riverside
Grants Pass, Umpqua Valley

Delfino Vineyards Bed & Breakfast
Roseburg, Willamette Valley

Holiday Inn Express
Roseburg, Willamette Valley

Brookside Inn on Abbey Road
Carlton, Willamette Valley

The Allison Inn & Spa ,
Newberg, Hood River/Columbia Gorge

Best Western Hood River Inn
Hood River/Columbia Gorge

Hood River Hotel
Hood River/Columbia Gorge

This story originally appeared on Touring and Tasting