Day Tripping With Rick – Corvallis, Oregon
I have to go to universities sometimes for work. One of my favorites is Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR. OSU has a bit of an identity problem being viewed as the “poorer sister” to the University of Oregon. However, OSU has an excellent nuclear engineering program led by Dr. Jose Reyes and Dr. Qiao Wu, both good friends and colleagues. OU is a liberal arts school. Corvallis is in the middle of the Willamette Valley which is known more for farming and cattle than for beautiful scenery. However, Oregon is maybe my favorite state for overall diversity and natural beauty. From the rugged coastline, to the redwood forests in the south, to the Cascades and the Columbia River gorge, and the high plateau desert in the east, to the natural wonder that is Crater Lake National Park, you have to go a long way to beat Oregon. Denise and I went here on our honeymoon in 2002. I have two favorite day trips that I will share with you; both out of Portland. I will start this one out of Corvallis since that’s where I usually am staying, and end up at the Portland airport. You can also start from Portland and reverse the order. The important thing is to not miss these places.
Like a lot of the trips out west, this one has a few miles. A bit of time can be saved if you don’t come back to Corvallis, but like many other trips, this one is best done right before you have to fly out. And PDX is the only way out.
Corvallis to Florence
The predominant goal of this trip is to explore the Oregon coast. On a previous day trip, we travelled down the California coast from San Francisco to Carmel. That is city driving compared to Oregon. The Oregon coast is wild and beautiful. And a well kept secret.
To get to the coast, we have to traverse the coastal mountains. While not overly high, there can be some snow here so you have to watch. Leaving Corvallis on OR-36, we head west 50 miles to Waldport. The last 10 miles or so follows the course of the Alsea River. The river widens considerably near Waldport and is the site of a happy coincidence. During World War 2, the Japanese planned an attack on the US mainland. A small submarine surfaced off the Oregon coast with a sea plane attached to the topside. The pilot was to locate the Columbia River, fly upstream, and bomb the Grand Coulee Dam. His charts showed that the Columbia was a large river with radio antennae on the north bank. The submarine surfaced too far south and the pilot identified the Alsea River by mistake as it also had radio antennae on the north bank. After flying many miles inland, he recognized his mistake as the river became very narrow. Lacking fuel to find the Columbia, the pilot turned back, dropping his bomb on Mt. St. Mary outside of Corvallis. This was the only part of the US mainland attacked during World War 2.
Upon reaching Waldport, turn south onto US-101 and travel 34 miles to Florence. Florence is the home of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The right combination of wind and sea have conspired to create some of the world’s biggest sand dunes. Be careful of getting stuck in drifting sand in parking lots (I did), and try to hike up some of the 200 ft. high dunes. This place is a mecca for dune buggy riders, and also was the location where Lawrence of Arabia was shot. Pretty bad when Arabia doesn’t have big enough sand dunes.
Downtown Florence is a quaint row of shops and restaurants. We had a great seafood lunch at the Bridgewater Restaurant on the only street in town. All of the seafood on the Oregon coast is great.
Florence to Newport
The drive backtracks through Waldport to Newport about 75 miles. The drive is breath-taking. Cliffs falling to crashing surf. Better than Big Sur for my money. Stop to see the lighthouse at Pt. Pepetua. The wind here blows at 60 mph on sunny days with no storms. Pay attention to the concrete bridges that cross every river as you drive north. All the bridges were built as part of the WPA program in the Great Depression. Before that time, traffic was by ferry across each river.
Newport is one of the bigger towns on the coast. They may have two streets in their downtown. The bridge across the harbor is spectacular. It is a steel arch design that was once of the longest in the world when built.
Newport is also home to the Rogue Brewing Company, one of the best microbrews in the country. A trip to the brewery is highly recommended. Rogue Dead Guy Ale….mmmmmm.
Newport to Seaside
Leaving Newport, continue north on US-101 for 117 miles. The road is less wild than further south. Stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory if you’re a fan. We found a great little crab shack directly across the highway from the Cheese Factory called the Fresh Seafood Market. Awesome halibut fish and chips. Eat here if you can.
Seaside is far and I wouldn’t recommend going there if you are eventually going back to Corvallis for the night, or if you’re not a Lewis and Clark nut. If you’re going to the Portland airport, then it’s worth the trip. Seaside was the terminus for the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806 where they “discovered” the Pacific Ocean. Never mind that there were tons of native Americans already there, but, hey, it was a hell of a trip.
Seaside to PDX
Time to head home. Remember, if you’re flying back east like me, you’ll get 3 hours back tomorrow, so don’t complain about how long the trip was.
On the way back, stop at Cannon Beach, one of the prettiest on the whole Oregon coast. Probably not enough time to do more than take a picture, though.
Remember to figure in the time of day when heading back the 90 or so miles on US-26 to the airport as you will be going right through Portland.
Hope you enjoyed this trip. It’s easily one of my favorites.
I’ll confess now that we really did stop for the night in Seaside and drove to the airport in the morning. So sue me.
Day Tripping with Rick