Winter Vacation in the Pacific Northwest
November 28, 2009 5:40 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are flying into Medford, Oregon on December 7th and flying home from Seattle, Washington on December 14th. We want to spend a day or two in Seattle. Also, we're stopping in Florence, Oregon to see my aunt. But, besides that, nothing else in planned. What she should we see/do in the Pacific Northwest this winter?

A couple places we found that look interesting are Mount Rainer in WA and Crater Lake in OR. Can we get to those places easy in the winter? Not that we plan on summiting Rainer :-), but if you know any good hikes in that area we'd like to hear about them.

We like to do outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, etc, but I'm not sure what we could do since it's winter. We don't mind some rain and mist, but we'd rather not have to hike through snowdrifts. We're flying, so we won't have all of our gear, but we'll have our boots, Camelbacks, jackets, etc. We're comfortable with 5-6 mile hikes.

Also, my wife wants to see some redwoods, so any decent places to go to see some huge trees? I know the best thing to do would be to drive back into California and take the 101 south of Crescent City, but that's the opposite direction of where we want to go.

We've never been to Portland and we plan on checking that place out. Mt Hood is close by, any winter hikes we could do there?

Obviously, the quickest route up north in the 5. I'm assuming the 101 would take a lot longer. Would the 101 make a more scenic drive?

We're from Los Angeles, so the more green, big trees, and rivers, the better.
posted by sideshow to Travel & Transportation around Medford, OR (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The 101 is gorgeous, and if you take it, definitely go all the way up and around the Olympic Peninsula. While in the Olympics, check out the Hoh river valley. It's phenomenally beautiful green, trees and river... just want you're looking for.

The 101 is significantly slower... you have to crawl at 30 mp/h through numerous little towns along the way.

Also, if you're looking for cool things in Seattle, I really enjoyed the Seattle Underground Tour.

posted by Sustainable Chiles at 5:52 PM on November 28, 2009

I know the best thing to do would be to drive back into California and take the 101 south of Crescent City, but that's the opposite direction of where we want to go.

The redwoods are really a wonder to behold but based on the timing you describe, it sounds like you'd really have to rush down to California and back to enjoy them. This is really not the way to experience them.

You might be able to see some in the southwestern corner of Oregon, but they pale in comparison to what you'll find in the Redwood Park and further south in the Humboldt Redwood State Park, both of which are definitely worth a visit sometime. I live in Los Angeles myself and consider the redwoods to be one of the highlights of the state. Please do yourself a favor and not rush the experience.

As for the Oregon coast, I've only been there in summer and the area around Yachats, in particular, was quite lovely.
posted by dhammond at 6:17 PM on November 28, 2009

Seconding the Underground Tour... it's not so much a visual tour as it is an informative one. It's chock-full of interesting information about the history of Seattle. Also, while you're in the Pioneer Square area, stop by Elliott Bay Books and grab a sandwich at Grand Central Bakery. If you're into rare or limited edition books, Wessel and Lieberman Books is also nearby.

Also in Pioneer Square, the observation deck and Chinese Room of the Smith Tower is also pretty interesting, and not as obvious an attraction as the Space Needle. If I recall correctly, I think you can buy package tickets that include both the Underground Tour and the Smith Tower observation deck.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:40 PM on November 28, 2009

A great place to stay in Portland is the Kennedy School. It's not a great location, but it's unique, affordable, and downright fun.

Skip Crater Lake in the winter. It can be incredibly snowy, and often the road is closed entirely. Rainier is beautiful in the winter, but again the snow is very deep, chains and 4WD are often required, and if you're LA drivers, you could spend a miserable several hours getting out there. And once you're there, you need show shoes and winter gear to go hiking, and the best lodge isn't open in the winter. You have to stay down low in a place that's only okay. Oh, and it's a long, boring drive.

Instead, go to Mount Hood, just outside of Portland, and stay at Timberline Lodge. It's as romantic, pacificnorthwestern, and big timber as it gets, and the road is usually kept clear. The Lodge was a WPA project, and it's just magical. There are several restaurants and a good pub in there, and the rooms are rustic without being backwards. The drive is pretty short (from Portland) and it's scenic and straightforward.

You won't do much hiking there unless you bring snow shoes, however.

When in Seattle, head out to Snoqualmie Falls. Dramatic, scenic, and good hiking abounds around there, not requiring snow shoes. Other good hiking can be found right in Portland and Seattle. In Portland, go to Forest Park, the second biggest in-city park I believe, with fantastic trails, good views, and lots of miles to choose from. In Seattle, the best places to hike are Madrona and Discovery Parks. Miles of trails, great views, big trees. Really, in December, the best hikes are in the city, so although it seems like you're missing something if you don't drive out to the wilderness, what you're mostly missing is getting stuck. The parks in the city have world-class hikes in them.

For a completely unique PNW experience, head up to Anacortes and take a ferry to the San Juan Islands. Stunning scenery, and so easy. You'll certainly see Bald Eagles, possibly Orcas. Any of the islands makes a fine destination. There's good hiking on Orcas and San Juan, but they're all good. Day trips and overnights are both wonderful.

The Olympic Peninsula is fantastic, but a long drive. You'll compromise what else you can see if you head out there. That's not a bad tradeoff necessarily, but it does narrow what you can see to just the Peninsula. The Hoh Rainforest has magnificent trails, many boardswalks, and truly far-out trees and other flora.

Have a great time!
posted by Capri at 6:47 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Crater Lake should be accessible (from Medford) unless it's godawful snowing which is not as common as just plain rain. Depending on the weather, you might not see much of it.

The Oregon wine country is cool. There is a southern section, and some nice wineries around Medford. Any place that serves tourism will have brochures (my fave is Valley View, in Ruch, which is beyond Jacksonville). From Eugene to Portland, hundreds of wineries, open weekends, along the east slope of the Coast Range.

As someone said, Yachats is about as good as the Oregon Coast gets. The Yachats Inn is a nice place to stay, and unpretentious (avoid the Adobe).

If you are into hiking, the Hobbit Trail is a local tradition. Just past Heceta Head.

Good winter hiking around Eugene: Mt Pisgah, Spencer Butte, Mt Hardesty. A bit of mud but manageable.

Memail me if you want directions to anything, or any other tips. I have lived in Eugene for almost 30 years. . .
posted by Danf at 6:53 PM on November 28, 2009

Is Crater Lake accessible at this time of year? That you would have to check. It tends to get snowed in early, and is best to see in the summertime.

I would recommend driving north along Highway 97 through Central Oregon. The Oregon Cascades are as beautiful as you could imagine, and there is plenty of opportunity for outdoor activity there. Seconding Timberline Lodge. Depending on the general state weather, you could make a decision whether to go for the coast or the interior, but in general, Central Oregon gets more sun.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:05 PM on November 28, 2009

Mt. Rainier National Park is spectacular in the summer, but I think a lot of it may be snowy and shut down in the winter. Call a ranger station to check current conditions if you choose that route.

Mt. Si is a perennial favorite day hike with a big elevation gain near Seattle, but still low enough that there probably won't be much snow.

If you decide you're willing to brave the snow (REI can rent you ice axes, etc), there are some amazing day hikes to be had from Seattle. I was about to describe my favorites- Granite Mt. Lookout,Cascade Pass / Sahale Arm trail, etc, but then I found this amazing page of WA highlights which you should really look at.

Or you could hop on a ferry to the San Juans or Pt. Townsend* and find a hike on Puget Sound: Fort Worden State Park in Pt. Townsend or Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island.

Or head out to the Pacific coast on the Olympic Peninsula near Lake Ozette.

Disclaimer: Each of these can be done as a day trip, but it will be a full day.

* Are they running the passenger only Seattle-Pt. Townsend ferry again this year?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:10 PM on November 28, 2009

I would suggest heading out from Portland - after visiting Mt Hood - and going to the coast at Astoria. From there you can take the 101 all the way up the Washington Coast and travel around the Olympic National Park. There are more than a few places to hike in the park. And the trails are of varying length and difficulty. Call ahead to the Park Service to find out if the trail you wish to hike is open. Sometimes storms, or the threat of them, can close portions of the park.

After the park definitely go to Pt Townsend and here you have a choice. You can either make it back to Seattle from Pt Townsend in under 2 hours (by ferry either through Kingston-Edmunds, Bainbridge-Seattle, or Bremerton-Seattle. I suggest Bainbridge Island.) But if you decide you want to see the San Jauns stay overnight in Pt Townsend. In the morning take the Ferry from Pt Townsend out to Keystone. Once there take HW20 north through Whidbey Island, and dont go too quickly because Whidbey is possibly the most beautiful non-San Jaun island. There are some state parks on Whidbey if you want to stop in plus Oak Harbor is a cute little town.

After you've taken HW20 to Anacortes then head out to the San Jaun islands and see the eagles and hopefully the Orcas. Every island has a little bit of a different flavor and all of them are ONLY accessible by ferry so be mindful of the schedule unless you plan to bed and breakfast out there (totally awesome option btw).

Once you do make it back to Anacortes you face another choice. Quick drive back to Seattle and anything you want to do there or a more scenic journey back to Whidbey and head south all the way to the other end of the island at Clinton. That ferry takes you to Mukilteo which is about an hour or so out of Seattle.

While in Seattle I would second Discovery and Madrona parks and DEFINITELY see Snoqualmie falls like capri suggested. If you want a good Hike Mt Si is righteous (good call qxntpqbbbqxi, and no there is no PT-Seattle ferry).

Because of my work I know Seattle and the surrounding region intimately so if you have any other questions feel free to mail me. Happy Trails!
posted by Glibpaxman at 12:56 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good suggestions for hiking above. Should you run out of hours, I might suggest a different outdoor activity right in the city. You can rent a kayak by the hour and take your own paddle tour of Seattle. (Not affiliated with the link. There are several rental places, this one just seemed to have good info online.)

Seattle is surrounded by water, and kayaks give you a great perspective. The shipyards, arboretum, the locks, houseboats, etc. all can be easily reached in a short time...a very interesting view of Seattle you really can't get from any other perspective. I have taken visitors several times, at all times of year. No previous kayak experience is required, as you are renting sea kayaks (larger, more stable) and the water is calm. Don't forget to pack your wine/brandy.

MeMail me if you would like, and I would be happy to provide additional suggestions/info.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:55 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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