I slide into the soft leather seat and size up the hi-tech interior of the vehicle I will use to explore the Willamette Valley during an overnight visit to Oregon.
The 2018 Buick Regal TourX is the first new car I have driven in many, many years. After I get used to the fact that I don't have to put a key into a slot at the side of my steering column (it's all push-button these days) and orient myself to the large screen that displays the GPS and back-up camera, I am ready to roll.
I pull away from the curb in the hip town of Eugene after a nice lunch to fuel myself for an afternoon of driving adventure. I am intent on seeing as much of this region as I can in the limited amount of time I have.
Buick has designed the Regal TourX for adventure, and the company offered me a chance to drive the sporty luxury wagon so I can tell you all about it. And because adventure and outdoor exploration is what we're all about here at In The Loop Travel, I was eager to hop behind the wheel to check out this amazingly beautiful part of America.
I punch in my coordinates for my destination: North to Mount Hood. I don't have a specific place I want to go to, I'm just out to enjoy the drive, get a feel for the car and definitely get a look at some of the natural wonders in Oregon.
It all starts with that snowcapped mountain, treacherous to climb and beautiful to gawk at. Oregonians are probably immune to its impressive stature over the valley, but I have never been to this portion of the state before, and when I first see the 11,250-feet-high giant looming in the distance as I drive north on I-5, I find myself gazing in wonder at its picturesque snowcapped majesty through the windshield of the Buick.
The Willamette Valley extends 150 miles and is hemmed in by three mountain ranges: the Cascades, the Oregon Coast Range and the Calapooya Mountains.
With the state's six largest cities, including Salem, Eugene and Portland, and more than 70 percent of the population, the valley is the heart and soul of Oregon. It also features a bounty of options for adventurous nature lovers. This is Oregon's "Wine Country."
I wanted to get out for some hiking amid the gorgeous waterfalls I had heard so much about.
(Check out a video of my day of driving at end of this post.)
Before my lunch in Eugene, though, the first stop of the morning is Silver Falls State Park. I drive along winding roads to reach the park. As the route gains a bit of elevation, I crack the window to smell the sweetness of the spring air. Up ahead, a field painted golden yellow with mustard seed plants beckons a photo stop.
At the edge of the park, I make another stop to find a vista of the valley. The sunshine is out, and I immediately wish I had a week or more to fully experience the region at a gentler pace.
I push onward, though, as I get even more excited to get into the park for a look around before pushing on toward the north, the Columbia Gorge area and eventually Portland for the night.
Silver Falls State Park is located less than an hour from Salem and offers more than 35 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. You can also camp there. It's the largest state park in Oregon, and its standout feature is the South Falls, which has a 177-foot waterfall that you can hike behind as in thunders down from a ledge above the trail.
I spend about an hour in the immaculate park, which offers a 9-mile-long Canyon Trail (Trail of Ten Falls) that features 10 waterfalls and follows the path of Silver Creek.
I hop back into the car and find my way back out of the hills and onto I-5. I expect to reach the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area in about two hours and then hike a few trails and see the sights before sunset.
About 45 minutes into my drive, I am thankful for the clear skies and ideal weather as Mount Hood comes into sight for the first time. I'm definitely heading in the right direction.
I make my way out of afternoon traffic on I-5 and onto the much more remote Historic Columbia River Highway. This serene scenic byway is a National Historic Landmark, and I am glad to be in the Regal TourX, which holds well and handles the turns on the twisty narrow road that follows the edge of a cliff, leading past dozens of historic tunnels and viaducts. And the waterfalls, of course.
I get out at three different points to hike along the Bridal Veil Falls, Latourell Falls and Multnomah Falls (the highest in the state at 60 feet). Each falls area features well-maintained trails, paths or viewing bridges with incredible views of the falls.
At least nine more waterfalls can be viewed on a drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway. You can do the Waterfall Tour Loop, which also will include Horsetail Falls, Punchbowl Falls and Wahkeena Falls. The areas all have hiking trails and parking areas. Plus, many also have picnic spots so you can fully enjoy your visit along the gorge while exploring these gems of nature.
With the sun going down, I reluctantly rise from a quiet park bench where I have been hypnotized by the rush of water flowing over the sun-dappled Latourell Falls. I get back into the Buick Regal TourX and make the drive toward Portland, where I will have a night to wander the city during my first visit there.
I check into the upscale boutique Dossier Hotel on Alder Street downtown, drop off my bag, take a quick shower and put on fresh clothes and head out to find a place to have a bite to eat and a craft brew.
A good meal and a beer will be the perfect capper for my 24 hours in Oregon. I land on Tilt, a restaurant in the Pearl District. I like its austere setting in a repurposed warehouse and the cafeteria-style dining setup. The menu is loaded with great-looking burgers and hand-carved sammies, but I go for the spinach honey bacon salad. (I already had a loaded burger for lunch.) I snag an Easy Way IPA (Ninkasi Brewing Co., Eugene, Oregon) from the bar and sit back to chow down, watch the baseball game and reflect on an amazing day driving through the Willamette Valley.
Have you been to this part of the country? What top destinations do you recommend when visiting Oregon?
Thanks for reading,