John Laird: Hit the road, Jack; take your camera and hiking boots




Welcome to the first day of spring. Yeah, I know, the calendar insists the first day of spring was a month ago, March 20 to be exact. And we’re weeks into the blossoming and bulb-bursting showcase. But for many of us, spring doesn’t really arrive until we stop using the weather as an excuse for avoiding yardwork.

Look outside. Behold the shovel-ready jobs we’ve heard so much about.

Another, more pleasant, spring ritual is day trips, driving around the region and marveling at Mother Nature’s yardwork. It occurs to me that my annual reminders about day trips might have exacerbated the obesity problem in our community. Driving doesn’t eat up a lot of calories, does it? So you’re allowed to read this year’s tips only after promising to stop often during your drives and enjoy a brisk hike. I figure one mile of walking for every 20 miles of driving is a healthy standard.

It also occurs to me that these day trips often appeal more to newcomers, folks who have moved here in the past few years and are still exploring the scenery. Sadly, it seems many people who have lived here for years haven’t made these trips in decades. So my special request this year is to longtime residents: If you haven’t enjoyed these day trips in many years, stop cheating yourself. Pile the kids or grandkids into the car, gas up and hit the road. Remember the hiking boots and sack lunches.

Everyone knows about the “Big Three” for treating visitors to our area: Mount St. Helens, the Gorge and the beach. Here are some not-so-famous day trips, a couple of which are new to the list this year:

North Clark County Scenic Drive —
This delightful 70-mile loop around Ridgefield, La Center, Yacolt and Battle Ground should be an annual event for every family because it shows off Lucia Falls, Moulton Falls, two great parks (Whipple Creek and Daybreak) and several beautiful and historic sites such as the Cedar Creek Grist Mill and the Cathlapotle Plankhouse.

For the route details and trip highlights, visit

The Unofficial Laird Loop —
Deeper into the Cascades, the seemingly remote Dole Valley is just a few minutes away, with pastoral splendor belying its proximity to Clark County’s bustling inner core. A spectacular view of Mount St. Helens highlights the trip. You’ll need a county map for this one. Start in Hockinson and — driving counterclockwise on the map — take Northeast 182nd Avenue south, Northeast 139th Street and Rawson Road to the east, then north past Larch Corrections Center, Cold Creek Campground, up through Dole Valley to Sunset Falls Road, past Lucia Falls and across Heisson Bridge to Battle Ground.

Beyond Clark County

Historic Columbia River Highway — Listed by Travel and Leisure Magazine among “America’s Best Spring Drives,” this gallery of oohs and ahs stretches 75 miles from Troutdale, Ore., to The Dalles. Majestic waterfalls, prime picnic parks and lush hiking trails are just the appetizers for the delicious double entrees: Crown Point Vista House and Multnomah Falls. For more information about features along the old U.S. Highway 30, visit

West Cascades Scenic Byway —
Lesser known, but one of my favorites, this picturesque trip up the Clackamas River valley starts on Oregon Highway 224 to Estacada and ventures, well, as far as you want. Ultimately, the adventure could take you along forest roads as far as Detroit, Ore., road conditions permitting. Watch for kayakers, drive slowly, stop often and take your camera. More details:

Oregon Fruit Loop —
Orchards, lavender fields, alpacas and close-up views of Mt. Hood highlight this 35-mile round trip from Hood River to Parkdale near the foot of Oregon’s highest mountain. Information:

There are dozens more glorious day trips throughout the Pacific Northwest, but these five top my list … at least for 2012.