With little shade around the mountain, fall can also be a more comfortable time to hike. Hikers on the 8.2-mile Harry’s Ridge trail are completely exposed to the sun. It’s popular for springtime wildflowers but also gets beautiful fall foliage. Johnston Ridge is a pet-restricted area, so don’t bring your furry friend.
Along the drive to the observatory, there’s Coldwater Lake and other viewpoints where cars can pull off the highway. About 5 miles before Johnston Ridge is the Hummocks trail, a relatively flat 2.5-mile loop through alder forests, ponds and wetlands.
A good place to start a mountain-centric day is the Mount St. Helens Visitors Center about 5 1/2 miles from Interstate 5.
Loop the Gorge and mountains
Total drive time: 4+ hours
The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area gets a whole lot less crowded as summer subsides, and in some ways becomes more interesting. Most of the year as you drive east on state Highway 14, it’s easy to pass Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge without even realizing it. But in the winter, it’s difficult not to do a double take as the lake becomes dotted with hundreds of tundra swans who call it home for the season. There is space to pull off the highway and park. Bring binoculars and watch the swans dunk themselves to get food.
With cooler temperatures, the trek up Beacon Rock or Hamilton Mountain may be more manageable. There are several other trails in Beacon Rock State Park including the newest, River to Rock, a 1.5-mile trail with chances to photograph Beacon Rock.
Another way to experience the forest is to zip line at Skamania Lodge, which also recently opened an aerial adventure park. History buffs may be more inclined to wander the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. Continuing east along the highway, you’ll pass the trailhead for Dog Mountain, another popular hike.
Not into hiking? There are multiple golf courses along this route: Beacon Rock, Elk Ridge and Skamania Lodge.
Embarking north off state Highway 14, up state Highway 141 North, is a scenic route that provides fall color, views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams, and an off-the-grid experience.
“Once you get in the forest, you cannot count on cell reception,” Ibsen said.
She recommends picking up the free Motor Vehicle Use Map — which shows seasonal forest road closures — available at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Visitor Center. Otherwise, there is a digital version of the map for cellphones through the Avenza Maps app.
Along 141 is a 650-foot ice cave with ice year-round. Close by is Natural Bridges, a couple of partially collapsed lava tubes that created natural archways. The area gets beautiful fall color, Ibsen said.
Total drive time: 2.5+ hours
- Multnomah Falls.
- Horsetail Falls.
- Latourell Falls.
- Downtown Troutdale.
- Hood River Waterfront Park, 650 Portway Ave., Hood River, Ore.
- Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail; $5 day use fee or annual Oregon State Parks pass.
- Mount Hood Railroad; boards 10:30 a.m.; 110 Railroad Street, Hood River, Ore.; $30 and up; 800-872-4661.
Willamette Valley wine and museums
Total drive time: 3+ hours
- Champoeg State Heritage Area; visitor center open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 7679 Champoeg Road N.E., St. Paul, Ore.; $5 day use or Oregon State Parks pass; 503-678-1251.
- Hoover-Minthorn House Museum; 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; 115 S River St., Newberg, Ore.; $3 to $5 per person, children under 10 free; 503-538-6629.
- Red Hills Market; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; 155 S.W. Seventh St., Dundee, Ore.
- Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 500 N.E. Captain Michael King Smith Way, McMinnville, Ore.; $27 adult, $19 youth, $24 senior; 503-434-4180.
- Wings & Waves Waterpark; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, open Labor Day; 460 N.E. Captain Michael King Smith Way, McMinnville, Ore.; $10 dry pass, $20 to $29 swim pass depending on height; 503-687-3390.
- SakéOne; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 820 Elm St., Forest Grove, Ore.; 503-357-7056.
- Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16; downtown Forest Grove, Ore.
- Banks-Veronia State Trail Trailhead, Banks, Ore.
- Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 26385 N.W. Groveland Drive, Hillsboro, Ore.; $10 adults, $9 senior, $7 military, $7 students; 503-647-2418.
- Topgolf; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 9 to 1 a.m. Friday, 8 to 1 a.m. Saturday; 5505 N.E. Huffman St., Hillsboro, Ore.; $25 to $45 per hour for up to six players; 503-549-5197.