Getting There and Around
For the vast majority of visitors (and residents), the automobile is the vehicle of choice for exploring the state. Speed limits top out at 65 mph on sections of I-5 and I-84; the rest of the roads in the state have a 55 mph maximum speed limit.
Many Oregon roads are strikingly beautiful. The magnificent scenery prompted the construction of the first paved public road in the state with the Columbia River Highway, constructed 1913–1915, now known as the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway. The Oregon Coast Scenic Highway, U.S. 101 along the entire Oregon coast, is another internationally renowned drive. Entirely different in character, but equally stunning, is the Cascade Lakes Highway out of Bend.
Although the roads are beautiful, motorists must be sensitive to the weather and pavement conditions. Cloudbursts can cause cars to hydroplane, thick palls of fog that hang over the Willamette Valley can cause multicar pileups, and the icy mountain roads of the Cascades and eastern Oregon also claim their share of victims.
The Oregon Department of Transportation advises on road conditions by phone (503/588-2941 out of state, 800/977-6368 within Oregon) and via the TripCheck website (www.tripcheck.com).
Gas is readily available on the main routes, but finding it can be a little trickier in remote eastern Oregon, especially after 5 p.m. Fill up before you leave the city. Another thing to remember is that Oregon is one of the few states that does not have self-service gasoline outlets.
The first rule to follow when rain, snow, or hail make pavement slick, or when fog reduces visibility, is to slow down. From late fall to early spring, expect snow on the Cascade passes and I-5 through the Siskiyous; snow tires or chains are often required.
A Sno-Park permit is required to park at most ski areas and plowed parking lots leading to cross-country ski trails. Without the daily sticker or season pass in your left-hand windshield, a car left in a Sno-Park area can receive a ticket. This permit is essentially a fee levied by the state to pay for the upkeep of parking and rest areas and for snowplowing in the mountains. Pick these up at a Department of Motor Vehicles office, ski shops, sporting goods stores, and other commercial establishments. They apply to travel November 15–April 15 and cost $3 (1 day), $7 (3 consecutive days), or $20 (for the season).
It is a simple enough matter getting to and getting around Oregon by air. If there is a break in the weather, the views are breathtaking. (When flying into Portland from the east, get a window seat on the left side of the plane for close-up views of Mount Hood.) The main point of entry is Portland International Airport (PDX), which is served by over a dozen airlines.
Horizon Air (800/547-9308, www.horizonair.com), the commuter-league farm club of Alaska Airlines, connects Portland to Redmond, Eugene-Springfield, and Medford, as well as numerous other cities around the western states. Horizon operates commuter prop planes with 10–40 seats. If you are sensitive to loud noises and pressure change, bring earplugs.
Thanks to Amtrak’s (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com) high-speed Spanish-made Talgo trains, the stretch from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C., enjoys an efficient and scenic mass-transit link. Four Cascades trains make daily round-trips between Portland and Seattle; one continues on to Vancouver, B.C. Two trains go from Portland south to Eugene daily. The Coast Starlight runs between L.A. and Seattle with stops in Oregon at Klamath Falls, Chemult, Eugene, Salem, and Portland.
Note that getting a sleeper on the extremely popular Coast Starlight requires reservations 5–11 months in advance any time of the year. Northbound passengers board in the San Francisco Bay Area and after riding all night wake up to sunrise over alpine lakes and the snowcapped Cascades. From the Cascade summit, you head down into Eugene along the beautiful Upper Willamette River.
The Empire Builder, which connects Portland with Chicago, shows off the Columbia River Gorge to good advantage. Trains run on the Washington side of the Columbia, giving a distant perspective on the waterfalls and mountains across the river. In summer this train stops in Glacier Park, Montana.
Amtrak also runs bus service in such corridors as Portland–Eugene and Chemult–Bend. The latter service makes Bend accessible to Coast Starlight passengers who disembark in Chemult.
Greyhound (800/229-9424, www.greyhound.com) has cut most of its service to Oregon and now travels only along the interstate corridors of I-5 and I-84, but many smaller companies have picked up the slack. Pierce Pacific Stages, Porter, Valley Retriever, Gray Line, and other smaller companies operate on former Greyhound routes. Visit www.tripcheck.com to find details on bus service to Oregon’s cities and towns.
Oregon is user-friendly for bicyclists. In the 1970s the Oregon legislature allocated one percent of the state highways budget to develop bike lanes and encourage energy-saving bicyclists. In addition to establishing routes throughout the state with these funds, many special parks were developed with bicycle and foot access specifically in mind. For example, Eugene’s Willamette River Greenway bike-path system winds through a string of parks. A decent biker can easily beat a car across town during rush hour using the bicycle network.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (503/986-3556, www.odot.state.or.us/techserv/bikewalk) produces some useful and free resources for cyclists, which can be ordered by phone or online. The Oregon Bicycling Guide includes statewide maps of bike trails and routing suggestions as well as listings for rental and repair shops and bike touring groups. Other publications include the Oregon Coast Bike Route map and the Oregon Bicyclist Manual.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel