Though automobiles and bikes have played a large role in outdoor recreation history, some of Oregon’s rich scenery is best experienced on foot. With countless trails through cities and scenic natural areas, Oregon’s outdoors is loved by hikers and runners alike. Events like Oregon’s popular Hood to Coast Relay race allow long-distance runners to experience Oregon’s natural areas while enjoying a difficult and unique run. Each August, Hood to Coast attracts thousands of runners for the 198-mile run from the base of Mount Hood to Seaside. Experienced marathoner Bob Foote organized the first race in 1982 with eight teams of 10 members each. Since then, the relay has expanded considerably and filled its team limit on Opening Day for the past 18 years. Race organizers have also added a Portland to Coast Walk event and High School Challenge.1
The popularity of running in the state has even lead to considerable athletic success. Dubbed “Tracktown, USA,” Eugene is the only site to host three consecutive Olympic track and field trials, which has happened there twice, first in 1972, 1976 and 1980, and again in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
For the more hiking inclined, Oregon’s state parks offer hundreds of hiking opportunities from day trips conveniently located near city centers to backpacking adventures in more remote regions. The state’s incredible wealth of trails includes pristine coastal areas, old growth forests, high desert expanses and world-class mountain views.
Oregon’s Cascade Range is one of the state’s most dominant geographical features, and many consider it the backbone of local outdoor recreation. Organized hiking and climbing groups have a long history in Oregon beginning with the founding of the Mazama Club in 1894. For over a century, outdoor groups like the Mazama Club have explored Oregon’s natural resources and created international impact in backpacking and mountaineering. The earliest origins of the well-known Pacific Crest Trail can be traced back to a conversation between outdoors woman and educator Catherine Montgomery and a member of the Seattle offshoot of the Mazama Club, the Mountaineers. At the close of their 1926 meeting, Montgomery wondered aloud, “Why do not you Mountaineers do something big for Western America. . . . A high winding trail down the heights of our western mountains with mile markers and shelter huts – like these pictures I’ll show you of the ‘Long Trail of the Appalachians’ — from the Canadian Border to the Mexican Boundary Line!”2 Two years later, this idea was presented at a meeting of the Seattle-based Mountaineers Club attended by Clinton C. Clarke, another hiker who would eventually become famous for his efforts to promote the trail. The project was later completed with the help of a diverse group of local organizations, including the Sierra Club, YMCA, Boy Scouts and Civilian Conservation Corps.3 Today, the Pacific Crest Trail is one of the most famous and enduring icons of outdoor recreation on the West Coast and stretches 2,659 miles from the Mexican border just south of Campo, California, to the Canadian border at Manning Park, British Columbia. The Oregon leg of the trail carries thousands of visitors each year over the Cascade Range from Southern Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains summit to the Washington state border at the Bridge of the Gods. The trail features spectacular views of Crater Lake and the entire Cascade Range, including Mount McLoughlin, Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood.4
It’s not only hikers that enjoy Oregon’s Cascade Range. In winter, Oregon is a mountaineer’s paradise and an international skiing and snowboarding destination. During the 1920s, Scandinavian immigrants brought skiing and ski jumping experience to the region and founded ski clubs like the Bend Skyliners and the Cascade Ski Club. These clubs laid the foundation for the establishment of ski areas in Oregon.5
After lumber workers founded the Bend Skyliners Mountaineering club in 1928 and created a ski jump 11 miles west of Bend, winter sports began growing in the state. In 1958, Bill Healy, a U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division veteran opened Mount Bachelor—Oregon’s largest ski area. The mountaineering expertise Healy gained during his service in this elite group of ski-troopers inspired him to create a ski resort at Bachelor Butte. Mount Bachelor now caters to nearly 500,000 visitors each year.6
About the same time, Loop Road was completed around the base of Mount Hood allowing more recreational access. A year later, the area was designated a public recreation area by the federal government. In 1928, Cascade Ski Club was founded and a ski jumping tournament was started at Multipor in January 1929. The group expanded in the following years and competed with local groups at Mount Hood and even had some competitors from as far off as Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.7
Soon, Mount Hood’s popularity created a demand for overnight facilities, and plans were created for a lodge at the site. With the nation in the grip of the Great Depression, Timberline Lodge was seen as an ideal project for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and, after three proposals, the project was scheduled for completion in 1938. In September 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the site and remarked that “thousands and thousands of visitors in the coming years” would be impressed with Oregon’s ranching, farming and forestry as “important elements of northwestern prosperity.” He also spoke of the recreational value of the region. In a speech at the historic hotel, he remarked that “those who follow us to Timberline Lodge on their holidays and vacations will represent the enjoyment of new opportunities for play in every season of the year. . . . I look forward to the day when many, many people from this region of the Nation are going to come here for skiing and tobogganing and various other forms of winter sports.” Today, the lodge has fulfilled Roosevelt’s vision. With two million visitors annually, Timberline Lodge is a testament to the popularity of winter sports in the state and the recreation value of the Cascade Range as a whole.8
No discussion of outdoor recreation in Oregon is complete without mentioning its scenic coastline. Oregon’s beaches were declared a public highway by Governor Oswald West in 1911 in order to protect the beaches from private encroachment. Later, the passage of the Beach Bill in 1967 solidified public claims to Oregon’s beaches and ensured access for growing numbers of beachgoers. Oregon’s 363 miles of coastline are used today for swimming, horse-riding, windsurfing and more.
Outdoor sports like windsurfing benefit from natural resources in other locations as well. The state’s famous Columbia River Gorge acts as a funnel for wind and offers an ideal environment for water sports. Small towns like Hood River have become popular spots for windsurfers of every skill level to enjoy the sport. During the summer, the Gorge hosts both serious athletic competitions like the Gorge Cup and friendly celebrations like the annual King of the Hook.9
Windsurfing in the state is widely known as a fun and colorful spectator sport showcasing Oregon’s natural treasures.
Oregon’s rich natural beauty has also created a home for many nationally renowned golf courses. Since 1904, the Oregon Golf Association has assisted with tournaments and promoted golf in the state through its network of 45,000 members.10 Fortunately, the state has no shortage of quality courses for Oregon’s golfers. Some of the sport’s most well-known architects such as Bob Cupp, Arnold Palmer and David McLay Kidd have been drawn to Oregon’s natural beauty. Public courses in Central Oregon like the Pronghorn Club, Crosswater at Sunriver, and Tetherow are all nationally ranked.11 The southern Oregon coast’s Bandon Dunes resort also offers world-class golf. The course regularly stages major national tournaments and has been ranked the best public golf course in America after Pebble Beach.12
Outdoor activities like these have become beloved traditions for many Oregonians and a source of state pride. In 1941, Oregon’s first state parks superintendent Samuel Boardman wrote in a letter to Newton Drury, National Park Service Director, that he felt Oregon’s citizens had been given a “recreational kingdom” at their disposal. Indeed, Oregon’s vast and varied geography has provided opportunities for outdoor recreation of every kind throughout the years. From fishing to skiing and countless other pursuits, Oregon remains a remarkable outdoor paradise and “recreational kingdom,” just as it was nearly a century ago.