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Situated in the northwest just north of California and Nevada, the state of Oregon has one of the most diverse landscapes of any state in the USA. Apart from its famous forests, the state boasts towering mountain ranges, arid scrublands, wide prairies, deserts and a stunning coastline.
The salmon-rich Columbia River meanders along the state's northern boundary, and the surrounding fertile Willamette Valley is home to around 70 percent of Oregon's population. The state has over 50 mountain ranges, and adventure seekers will find lift-serviced alpine skiing operators south of the valley in the Calapooya Mountains, west at the Oregon Coast Range, and east in the snow-capped volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range.
Most of Oregon's countryside is remarkably unspoilt, from pristine beaches and lush valleys to rugged mountain peaks. It boasts natural attractions such as Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in northern America, as well as hundreds of miles of rivers and around 1,400 named lakes. This includes Crater Lake, the deepest in the USA.
In addition, more than half of the state is covered in natural forest. This makes it a delight for nature lovers, although its merits as an outdoor adventure tourist destination are slightly marred by an exceptionally rainy climate.
It is far easier to head west on the Oregon Trail today than it was for the historic pioneers in their covered wagons, but visitors are no less delighted by the charms of this destination than those gutsy emigrants of the mid-1800s.
Straddling the Willamette River, the largest city in Oregon is Portland. Although Salem is the state capital, Portland is modern, compact, vibrant, and the commercial and tourist hub of the state. It is famous for its locally brewed beer and is known as the City of Roses, owing to its abundance of the flower.
The International Rose Test Garden is the foremost of the famous rose gardens of Portland, founded in 1917 during World War I. It began when hybridists sent roses from around the world to keep them safe from the bombing in Europe.
Since then, the garden has served as a testing ground for new varieties. Fountains, paths, and statues enhance more than 7,000 rose bushes, representing some 550 varieties. Trained volunteers offer free tours.
Highlights of the garden are the award-winning miniature roses planted along the centre aisle, the Shakespeare Garden in the southeast corner, and the Frank L Beach Memorial Fountain, designed and built by local artist Lee Kelly. The Rose Test Garden is the centrepiece of the Portland Rose Festival, held each spring in Portland.
The award-winning Oregon Zoo is the oldest of its kind west of the Mississippi, founded in 1887. It covers 64 acres and is home to a vast variety of animals, including elephants, penguins, and polar bears. With the animals housed in their natural habitats, the zoo is an internationally recognised centre for wildlife preservation and research. Combined with a programme of summer concerts, a variety of seasonal events, and an old-fashioned railway ride connecting Washington Park, Oregon Zoo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Portland. It draws around a million visitors a year. Opening times vary depending on the season so it's best to check the official website listed below for details.
Named the 'Garden of Awakening Orchids', this walled classic garden in Portland's Chinatown is a replica of traditional gardens found in Suzhou, Portland's sister city in China. It combines the elements of water, stone, architecture, literature and plants to create balance and harmony.
The garden is both a living museum of flora and fauna and a cultural heritage garden, containing interesting specimens like Chinese paper bush, water daphne, and Chinese plum. The classical teahouse is located in the evocatively named Tower of Cosmic Reflections.
It offers a tactile experience of the art and culture of Chinese tea. This attraction adds variety to a garden tour of Portland and generally receives rave reviews. Opening times vary according to season.
The trendiest neighbourhood in downtown Portland, the Pearl District is the place to see and be seen. The district was once a decaying industrial area, but today the old buildings have come alive with new purposes.
Old warehouses have been turned into desirable loft residences and the streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, wine bars, upmarket shops, and art galleries. Gallery walks occur on the first Thursday of each month.
The Pearl is also home to Portland's iconic Powell's Bookstore, arguably one of the finest in the entire country. The Pearl District is well worth a visit, especially for those interested in urban renewal and sustainable redevelopment.
Affectionately known as OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is a feast of fun for young and old. It includes fascinating permanent exhibits dealing with maths, science and technology, and laboratories where children can undertake science experiments. The complex contains one of the most technologically advanced planetariums in the country, as well as the Empirical Theater and the USS Blueback submarine. The museum also hosts a plethora of interesting temporary exhibitions, making it captivating for the whole family and a great Portland attraction for a rainy day.
The Hoyt Arboretum is home to an outstanding collection of rare and exotic tree species. Located within Washington Park and about two miles west of downtown Portland, the 187-acre arboretum is nothing less than a living laboratory.
It boasts more than 10,000 individual trees and shrubs, from more than 1,100 different species. These include a few specimens of Dawn Redwood, a tree thought for many years to be extinct. The trees are arranged by taxonomy and geography, making them easy to identify.
The arboretum consists of 12 miles (19km) of walking trails, a visitor's centre that is open six days a week, an enormous picnic shelter, and a meadow. Guided tours are available Saturdays between June and September, for a small fee. Visitors of all ages will enjoy spending time in this urban oasis on the banks of the Willamette River.
Portland has a temperate oceanic climate, with four distinct seasons. Winters, between December and February, are mild and wet, while summers, between June and August, are warm and comparatively dry. Summer temperatures average between 53°F (12°C) and 81°F (27°C), but temperatures can be substantially higher during heatwaves.
Winter temperatures average between 35°F (2°C) and 51°F (11°C). Spring and autumn are generally mild but unpredictable seasons. Rain is less common between June and September, but the weather is extremely wet between November and April.
Oregon's climate is generally moderate, divided into east and west by the Cascade Mountain Range. The mountains block the moist winds blowing in from the sea, which moderates the temperature and brings heavy rainfall to the western part of the state, where most of the main cities are situated.
The eastern part of Oregon has drier weather and more extreme temperatures. Average temperatures range from 45°F (7°C) in winter and 68°F (20°C) in summer along the coastal belt, to 25°F (-4°C) and 78°F (26°C) in the eastern part of the state. Heavy snowfalls are common in the Cascades in winter.
The restaurants in Portland have developed a great reputation over the past few years, with fresh local ingredients being prepared in creative ways by ambitious young chefs. There is no end to dining options in Portland, with many small neighbourhood eateries proving to be hidden gems.
Portland cuisine tends towards organic, locally-produced foods. In keeping with the city's eco-friendly reputation, there's an abundance of venues that cater to vegetarians and vegans. There isn't any real dining district, so one of the main inconveniences may be simply finding the establishments.
However, both the Pearl District and Nob Hill neighbourhoods have a good selection of restaurants to please most tastes. A fun and budget dining option for travellers on the go is the army of food carts in the downtown area, with options including Mexican tacos, Korean barbecue, Belgian fries, and American hot dogs.
Getting around Portland is quick and easy on the city's award-winning light rail system, nicknamed 'MAX' (Metropolitan Area Express). It extends to the east and west of downtown, with a spur to the Portland International Airport.
MAX also connects to the popular attractions at Washington Park about 10 minutes from the city centre. Portland has a streetcar system connecting the downtown cultural district to the Portland State University, the Pearl District and Nob Hill.
The Tri-Met bus service covers the town centre and suburbs. Taxis are readily available, with regulated rates, and those who prefer to hire a car will find plentiful car rental companies.
Known as one of America's greenest cities, Portland is flush with beautiful parks and gardens which grow alongside a river. On its backdoor sits mountains, ocean seascapes, and arid desert, making it the ideal base for those looking to experience the state's great outdoors.
The most celebrated scenic areas in the region include the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Forest Park, Washington Park and Oneonta Gorge. There are also famous gardens, with favourites including the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden, the Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Hoyt Arboretum, and the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.
The city is a flouring centre for the arts and boasts one of the best public transport systems in the country. There may be tourist passes available, providing more affordable entry to some of the city's most popular attractions.
Cannon Beach in Oregon is the most famous and popular stretch of coastline known to Portland tourists. The dominant Haystack Rock is a 235-foot (71m) steep formation that is reachable on foot when the tide is low.
William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition first set foot on the sand in 1805. The same nine miles (14.5km) of beach, beautiful hiking trails, and tidal pools filled with sea life are there for new explorers to discover.
A tourist-focused beach town gives present day travellers quaint hotels, cottages, and restaurants. Cannon Beach hosts a number of popular events in the summer, including a sandcastle building competition in June.
The town's Fourth of July celebrations are also festive, including a parade and military flyover. Visiting the area during the events requires forward planning as accommodation is generally booked far in advance.
Mount Hood, 67 miles (108km) east of Portland, is one of the most popular ski resort areas in Oregon. Dominating the Portland skyline, Mount Hood is a great place to get away from the city for a weekend ski break.
The mountain is home to three resorts: Mount Hood Meadows, Timberline, and Skibowl, all allowing for both downhill and cross-country skiing, as well as night skiing. Mount Hood is also a much loved summer getaway from Portland.
It has a wide range of activities on offer, such as horseback riding, mountain biking, and many good hiking trails. Several lakes, including Trillian Lake and Little Crater Lake, have camping facilities as well as water sports.
As one would expect from a city with a memorial statue of the 'Merry Prankster' Ken Kesey, Eugene is an offbeat place. It has students from Oregon University a well as people seeking out alternative lifestyles, from old school hippies to new age hipsters.
Despite its modest size, Eugene has a thriving arts community. There are also lots of outdoor sports opportunities available to visitors, with running, cycling, white-water rafting, and kayaking proving especially popular.
There are plenty of art museums in Eugene, and the region is also famous for its wineries. Some of them are just a short scenic drive away. Visitors are strongly encouraged to walk the streets of the city and to chat to some of the locals before enjoying the vibrant nightlife that's on offer.
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