Best Time to Visit Oregon

By Shelley Hoose

Take your pick of Oregon's coast, mountain and high desert climates

The Best Time to Visit Oregon

You're dreaming of the Pacific Northwest: its forested peaks and rugged coast, with maybe a city trip thrown in to enjoy Portland's food and beer scene or a jaunt into wine country for those famous pinot noirs. Make sure you get the most out of your Oregon trip by taking advantage of its best seasons.

The most glorious season ... and those other three

In a state renowned for its rain and gray skies much of the year, it won't surprise you that Oregon's best season is summer – and not only is summer nice, but it is outrageously nice: not too hot (unless you are east of the Cascades in the Columbia Basin) and not too cold (OK, don't go to the coast in summer; more on that later) – a veritable Goldilocks' porridge of a season.

One of the sweet spots is the Willamette Valley, which spans 150 miles from Portland to below Cottage Grove, including most of the state's wineries and the cities of Salem and Eugene. Equally beautiful in summer (if a bit hotter) is Ashland in southern Oregon, Bend in the High Desert and the Columbia Gorge.

Wet and wetter much of the year across the state, the months of July and August throw a party, and everyone comes. (Sometimes, June and September come too, but don't count on them.) Temps average in the mid 80s, and the calendar seductively hocks its wares: Eugene's Bach Festival and Oregon Country Fair, Ashland's Shakespeare Festival, and too many events to count in Portland, among them the Oregon Brewers Festival, the Bite of Oregon, the Waterfront Blues Festival and the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival.

But then there's fall and spring, each with its own charms. In fall, the vineyards are all gold and red, grape harvest is underway, and Indian summer can trot out the most glorious days. In late September to November, fall colors sing a joyous song. Among the best places to view the display are up and down the Willamette Valley (both cities and wine country), the Mt. Hood Scenic Loop and the High Desert, especially the Deschutes River Trail and Upper Klamath Basin.

Spring brings cherry, pear and apple blossoms, daffodils and tulips. It also brings a few sunny days to the state's rainier areas and rushing waterfalls to the Columbia Gorge from spring melt. And if you can get through the mountain passes to Central Oregon and the High Desert, you'll likely hit glorious sunshine and crisp air.

And winter: Just stay away unless you are visiting family and friends or have a good reason to go. The wet season is from November through March because of the Pineapple Express (Alaska's jet stream meeting Hawaii's subtropical rain), dubbed the Pacific Firehose by locals. But if you are coming for snow, that's another story: The ski resorts in the Cascades and Mt. Hood offer 16,000 acres of pristine skiing areas.

The capricious coast

The Oregon coast is a topsy-turvy place. It's the coldest spot in the entire state in the summer, with average highs in the 60s to 70s. Yet, its winter can be downright balmy compared to the rest of the state, with many days in the mid 50s. In fact, whatever weather you are experiencing on the inland side of the Coast Range could likely be the opposite of that on the coast. So if you are heading out to view its historic lighthouses and craggy bluffs, the weather report is your friend. Check it always, if your destination is the coast.

Beating the crowds in the big outdoors

Ah, summer. And yes, it always attracts crowds, and Oregon is no exception. Among the worst spots are the iconic outdoor attractions such as Crater Lake, Smith Rock and South Sister (near Bend) and Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge. The northern coast also draws large crowds to the point that Highway 101 can be clogged with traffic and parking impossible to find. In addition, hotel costs and airfare climb when the weather is mild.

Instead, try fall or spring almost anywhere in the state (but avoid spring break when the universities disgorge thousands of students to far-flung points throughout the state). Although good weather is not assured, it is quite possible, and there's nothing more beautiful than the cherry blossoms in Portland's Waterfront Park. And besides, if the rain comes, it might last only a few hours, and there's always a brew pub close by to take off the chill.

About the Author

Lynne Pettus has worked in the communications field for more than 20 years, most recently as a technical writer and editor in the software industry. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from USC.