Exploring Oregon: 5 Must-Visit Spots with Wander Free and Queer

Published on July 20th, 2021

Oregon is the perfect place for folks full of wanderlust. From the quaint coastal towns perched upon dramatic cliffs lining the Pacific Ocean, to the woodsy mountain villages and inland farming communities scattered about, there is truly something for all outdoor adventure types. 

We recommend taking your time as you travel through Oregon, as there is so much beauty to take in and so many opportunities for outdoor activities. Today we are spilling the beans on five great western Oregon small towns. These communities are great hubs for exploring more of the state! 

couple embraces at zigzag falls in oregon
Zig Zag Falls

Welches

Don’t blink or you might miss this tiny community nestled at the base of Mt. Hood. Staying in this area is a great jumping-off point for being able to explore the Mt. Hood Wilderness. Take a drive up to Timberline Lodge to sip on their famous hot chocolate while you watch the skiers come down the slopes. Wander through Wildwood Recreation Area to watch salmon swim upstream and to enjoy the many flat, accessible paths and boardwalks.

woman looks over mt hood national forest
Mt Hood National Forest

If you are a hiker, Welches is a great starting off point for accessing the dozens of trails and waterfalls in the area. Early spring is an especially good time to visit the freezing, glacial waters as melting snow and ice from up the mountains keep them flowing.

wildwood recreation site in oregon
Wildwood Recreation Site

Waterfall Hikes in Welches

Some of the more popular waterfall hikes in the area include:

  • Ramona Falls: 7.1 miles, 1,066 ft. elevation gain
  • Tamanawas Falls: 3.4 miles, 580 ft. elevation gain
  • Umbrella Falls: 3.9 miles, 830 ft. elevation gain 
  • Little Zig Zag Falls: 0.7 miles, 114 ft. elevation gain

Favorite Places to Camp and Eat in Welches

We’d recommend staying at Mt Hood RV Village when in Welches. And you can’t skip out on Skyway BBQ!

downtown seaside oregon
Seaside, Oregon

Seaside

If you’re looking for a beach vacation, we recommend heading to Seaside. This popular coastal town is known for its sandy beaches, quirky tourist attractions, and fabulous seafood.

Visit the Seaside Promenade, a 1.5 mile paved path where you can access the beach or take a stroll through the shops and restaurants which line Broadway Street. There is a carnival atmosphere in Seaside and it’s often packed full of kids and teens driving bumper cars and playing skeeball.

From Seaside you will have access to other well-known points of attraction along the Oregon coast. The iconic Cannon Beach is a short drive south on Highway 101. Or head north towards Astoria and Warrenton, where you can explore a real ship wreck right on the beach at Fort Stevens State Park

cape meares lighthouse in oregon
Cape Meares Lighthouse

If lighthouses are your thing, take a half-day trip to the Cape Meares area. The lighthouse there is the shortest in stature on the Oregon coast, but the views are nothing less than spectacular.

Favorite Places to Camp and Eat in Seaside

We love staying at the Seaside RV Resort when we’re in town. For good eats, Pig ‘N Pancake is our go-to.

coastal oregon

Newport

No trip to Oregon is complete without a visit to Newport. Begin your day south of Newport at the Heceta Head Lighthouse. It’s a stunning location for seeing wildflowers, practicing your photography, and watching waves crash along the black, rocky, shores.

Head north along Highway 101 to the Yachats area, where you can visit the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. This is one of our favorite spots in all of Oregon. At high tide, you can visit the Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well, a massive hole in the rocky shore where you can watch waves rising and falling to intimidating depths below.

Favorite Places to Camp and Eat in Newport

When staying in Newport, we love South Beach State Park and high recommend making a stop at Mo’s Seafood and Chowder.

bridge in oregon

Hood River

Hood River is a very popular destination in Oregon, known for its wind sports, wineries, and lush orchards. 

Traffic and parking can be tricky in popular Hood River, so we recommend renting bicycles or E-Bikes at Discover Bicycles in order to do all of your daytime exploring.

woman walks into lavender fields

Activities in Hood River

Depending on what kind of activity you are interested in, Hood River has something for everyone. Adventure lovers can take kitesurfing or windsurfing lessons along the majestic Columbia River Gorge. Those looking for a more relaxing experience might want to head to Hood River Lavender Farms. Here you can snip your own floral bouquet of lavender, or relax in the fields while sipping on wine from their winery. There is even lavender ice cream and lemonade if you are looking for an alcohol-free option. 

Be sure to also access The Fruit Loop during your time in Hood River. The Fruit Loop is a 35-mile scenic drive where you will see stunning views of Mt. Hood on a clear day. The drive is also home to dozens of fruit and veggie stands. We like to visit The Draper Girls in the fall for their pumpkins, gourds, ciders, and farm animals! This is our favorite spot to purchase delicious bakery goodies.

Favorite Places to Camp and Eat in Hood River

Tucker Park is available to small campers (under 30 feet) and tent campers on a first-come-first-served basis. Be sure to head towards the water for Solstice Wood Fire Pizza.

smith rock state park in oregon
Smith Rock State Park

Bend

The last, but certainly not least, of our small town Oregon recommendations is Bend. Bend is a well-loved mountain town at the base of the Cascades. There is no wrong time of year to visit Bend. Head there in the summer for the many hikes and alpine lakes, or go in the winter for the snow sports on Mt. Bachelor. Some folks head to Bend to get in some R&R at one of the bougie lodges or spas. Others seek adventure on a white water rafting trip down the Deschutes River. For the beer lovers in your family, Bend has over 28 breweries.

silver falls waterfall in oregon
Silver Falls

Bend is a great place to stay if you want to check out the rock climbing paradise of Smith Rock State Park. If you have an entire day free, head to Silver Falls State Park, which is known as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks. On the Trail of Ten Falls you can get up close to some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country. 

Bend is an outdoor playground, for sure, but is also home to many museums, festivals, and fairs. We recommend checking out the High Desert Museum for engaging wildlife exhibits and to learn about the land.

Favorite Places to Camp and Eat in Bend

When in Bend, we recommend staying along the river at Tumalo State Park. Bangers and Brews is our favorite place to grab a bite!

These are just five of the dozens of Oregon towns we would recommend to any traveler. We have traveled all over the country in our RV and we have yet to find another state with such a dynamic landscape and wide range of activities to enjoy solo or with the whole family!

Meet the authors: We are Danella and Allie of Wander Free and Queer. We live and travel full-time in our Fifth Wheel with our two dogs. We started a small crochet business on the road in 2018 and we enjoy creating products that bring visibility to the LGBTQ+ community. In our travels, we enjoy hiking, rafting and visiting National Parks.

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