With volcano views, forested bike paths, small-town restaurants and roadside attractions, Oregon 47 is a surprisingly good road trip destination.
As Oregon schools prepare to go on spring break March 21-25, the Willamette Valley highway beckons to families looking to get out and discover some new places.
Running from U.S. 30 at Clatskanie south to Oregon 99W at McMinnville, Oregon 47 passes through several small towns as well as near parks, campgrounds, playgrounds and trails. In fact, there are so many places to see and things to do — far more than you could reasonably handle in a single day — that it might be best to look at the 80-mile highway as two distinct sections, split almost exactly in half by U.S. 26.
A day trip along one section of Oregon 47 significantly shortens the drive and allows you focus on a few attractions at a time — spending more time exploring L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, for example, or checking out the food scene in Forest Grove. Those with a little more time on their hands might want to stay the night at a hotel or campground along the way, taking time to see the whole highway on one trip.
However you explore it, Oregon 47 is a worthwhile destination with attractions for the whole family to discover this spring. Here’s what you can find along the way:
NORTH SECTION: Outdoor opportunities galore
The northern half of Oregon 47 offers a bounty of outdoor opportunities, with two major bike trails, one enormous state park and several small parks — not to mention some small town attractions on the way.
Most of the highway is quiet and remote, winding through the northern Coast Range forest (which is heavily logged in many places), past farms and small riverside pull-outs. And while the northern section of Oregon 47 lacks the sheer variety of food options that the south section offers, you can find good places to eat in Vernonia, the center point and main hub of this stretch of the highway.
Cyclists have some excellent opportunities along Oregon 47, courtesy of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail and Crown Z Trail, two long-distance bike paths that begin in downtown Vernonia, extending in different directions.
Cyclists of all ages and abilities can enjoy the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, a 21-mile paved pathway with five trailheads between Banks and Vernonia, running around Vernonia Lake and through L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. The Crown Z Trail is a more rugged mountain biking trail that runs 23 miles through along an old logging road to the town of Scappoose, with several trailheads scattered along the Scappoose Vernonia Highway.
With a geographical footprint that runs from the Columbia River through the Coast Range and down into the Willamette Valley, the northern half of Oregon 47 has a nice variety of natural attractions.
It starts at Clatskanie, where travelers can stop off at Beaver Falls, a stunning waterfall found along Beaver Falls Road just off the northern terminus of the highway. Farther south, campers and fishers can enjoy the quiet banks of the Nehalem River at the Big Eddy Park and campground, which has 35 campsites and 14 RV hookups. Vernonia Lake, near downtown Vernonia, offers a paved pathway that circles the small reservoir and serves as the northernmost trailhead for the Banks-Vernonia Trail.
South of Vernonia, travelers can find the crown jewel of outdoor recreation on the northern half of Oregon 47: L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. The former tree farm is now an 1,800-acre state park with nearly 30 miles of trails open to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. The park’s 138-site campground is a great place to stay the night in nature, with cabins, RV sites and hike-in campsites that allow you to enjoy some of the best stargazing in the Willamette Valley.
FOOD AND DRINK
Restaurants are few and far between on this stretch of highway, but that doesn’t mean there’s nowhere to stop for a bite to eat. Downtown Vernonia has several good restaurants, including El Amigo, a Mexican bakery with a neighboring food cart, and Mediterranean restaurant Blue House Cafe. Those beginning their drive in Clatskanie should stop off at Flowers N Fluff, a cafe that doubles as a flower shop, where you can grab coffee, breakfast sandwiches and pastries.
SOUTH SECTION: Big views and roadside attractions
The southern half of Oregon 47 is populated by a number of small towns that have a lot to offer travelers passing through — particularly Forest Grove, home to several roadside attractions and a diverse dining scene that should please every person in the car. McMinnville, found just past the southern terminus of the highway, has far too many restaurants, parks and attractions to list here.
This southern section of the highway also features two of the best opportunities for viewpoints overlooking the Willamette Valley, which can be seen just steps from the car or at the end of a hiking trail. Going from big views to small towns is a great way to get a sense of place along Oregon 47, and it’s a fun way to spend a day on the road.
Towering ridges allow for spectacular Willamette Valley views along Oregon 47, and two of the best views are located on the southern half of the highway. The first (and easiest) is found at Bald Peak State Scenic Viewpoint, a small state park found just off the highway in the heart of wine country southeast of Forest Grove. The park site features some short trails as well as a restroom.
Those who don’t mind walking for their views should stop by Chehalem Ridge Nature Park, a new outdoor recreation area run by Metro near Gaston, which features many miles of trails open to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. There are several excellent viewpoints in the park, offering sweeping vistas over the valley and looks at several nearby volcanoes.
The south section of Oregon 47 offers a surprising number of interesting roadside attractions, most of them found in and around Forest Grove. There, you’ll find the World’s Tallest Barber Pole at the Pacific University Forest Grove Campus, the strange and fascinating Contact Lens Museum, and the McMenamins Grand Lodge – a former Masonic temple that now offers, food, lodging, soaking pools, movies and concerts.
Those looking for something more adventurous can stop by Tree to Tree Adventure Park, an aerial obstacle course with zip lines found near the shores of Henry Hagg Lake. The lake is a significant outdoor destination in its own right, with miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as opportunities for fishers and boaters.
Those traveling with small kids might also want to check out Anna & Abby’s Yard, a playground at Rogers Park in Forest Grove that was designed to be inclusive for children of all abilities. The park was named for and dedicated to Abigail Robinson and Anna Dieter-Eckert, who were killed in an accident in 2013.
Forest Grove is your main hub for food along the highway, offering a diverse array of dining options scattered around town. You can check out places like SaWa’s Donburi for Japanese cuisine or Five Stars Family Burger for some classic road trip eats, though your best bet might be to stop at the Zesti Food Carts, where there’s something for everyone – whether you’re hankering for a bowl of ramen, a Sonoran hot dog or Cajun cooking.
You can also find something to eat in the tiny town of Carlton on the far southern end of Oregon 47. Those starting their day in town can stop at Carlton Bakery, while travelers there for lunch or dinner can grab a meal at Park & Main, which specializes in wood-fired pizza and ice cream. And if you’re looking to take some ingredients home with you, nearby Kookoolan Farms has a retail store with farm-fresh meat, local wine and other goods.
This article is sponsored by Travel Oregon. The journalism is produced independently by members of The Oregonian/OregonLive newsroom.