Cheap Things to Do in Southern Washington and Northern Oregon

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From snow-capped mountains and salmon-filled rivers to the Pacific coastline, the Washington-Oregon border region shares natural beauty and sites inspired by America's pioneering and maritime history. Visitors have a multitude of options while in the area -- enjoy dramatic scenery, attractions and celebrations saluting local culture without emptying your wallet.

Beautiful Byways

  • For the price of a tank of gas and some nominal entrance fees, you can take in Washington and Oregon landmark sites. Trace a historic expedition along Washington's Lewis and Clark Trail Scenic Byway. Follow the journey of the famed explorers beside the Snake and Columbia rivers, beginning from Clarkston and ending at the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. The 572-mile route encompasses three national wildlife refuge. For budget-friendly camping, spend the night in Lewis and Clark Trail State Park. Top route attractions include Beacon Rock near North Bonneville and a Stonehenge Replica at Maryhill. Allow three days to traverse the byway and take in the sights. Oregon's Journey Through Time Scenic Byway begins along the Columbia River at Biggs. Allow 10 hours to drive the 286-mile route, plus time for sightseeing. Highlights include John Day Fossil Beds National Monument at Antelope, and Fossil, where visitors may dig at a public fossil site. Among the byway communities is the old gold mining town of Sumpter. The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Baker City at the byway's terminus recounts the lives of pioneers.

Maritime History

  • Low or no-cost lighthouse tours spotlight the region's maritime heritage. Washington's Cape Disappointment was one of the first eight lighthouses along the West Coast. Located at the mouth of the Columbia River within Fort Canby State Park near Ilwaco, the lighthouse grounds are open to the public. Two miles north of the Columbia River, southwest of Ilwaco, the North Head lighthouse marks the entrance to the Columbia River. Access is from Cape Disappointment State Park. Call the park office for current tour information. In Oregon, the Lightship Columbia sits along Columbia River banks at Astoria. The first active lightship along the West Coast, it was retired in 1979 and later adopted by the Columbia River Maritime Museum as the premier attraction. The National Historic Landmark ship is open for self-guided tours during museum hours. Explore Cape Meares lighthouse grounds and climb the tower. Situated along Three Capes Scenic Loop, it's a part of Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. The lighthouse is open to the public daily, April through October.

No-Cost Urban Attractions

  • Free entertainment and free speech are central to activities at Vancouver's Esther Short Park, the oldest public square in Washington. Visit the park for free weekly summer concerts and movies, and a farmers market where you can purchase sun-ripened produce. A section of the park is designated a free speech area for activists. In Portland, Oregon, Washington Park is home to the International Rose Test Garden, the nation's oldest official continuously operating public rose test garden. The garden houses 8,000 rosebushes and 600 varieties, a fountain, art and gift shop. Enjoy a free tour between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Hometown Festivals

  • Celebrate with locals to experience the area's culture. Dozens of festivals, many free, take place in both states throughout the year. At Mount Hood Village near Brightwood, Oregon, October marks the annual two-day Mount Hood Salmon and Mushroom Festival honoring the return of salmon to the mountain's streams. Free celebration events include Native American storytelling, drumming and dance, arts and crafts. Enjoy food and exhibits highlighting salmon and wild mushrooms. For more than 30 years, the town of Walla Walla, Washington, has saluted the state vegetable with its Sweet Onion Festival. The two-day June event includes cooking demonstrations and competitions, live music, a classic car show, dancing, art, a grape-stomping contest, a fun run, and a beer and wine garden.

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