When the road trip bug bites, you need to take immediate action! Check out the following five inspirational destinations that are all within a three-hour drive from Portland and don’t require much planning for a spontaneous getaway. Just reserve a hotel, throw the kids in the car, gas up and head out to some nearby destinations that take very little planning to pull off at the last minute.

Sisters Oregon (2)

 photo: Sisters antique store by Edmund Garman via flickr

Explore Sisters
About three hours southeast of Portland, or half an hour north of Bend, you’ll find quaint Sisters, Oregon in the shadow of Black Butte and the Three Sisters. You’ll feel like you’re a world away with the old-fashioned storefronts and natural beauty of the surrounding area. Your family can ride horses at Black Butte Ranch or hole up with movies at a Camp Sherman cabin, or both. The Sisters Movie House shows three screens of first-run movies, if you’re not too busy antique shopping.

Driving time from Portland: 3 hours

Sisters Oregon Guide
Online: sistersoregonguide.com

 Oregon Garden Christmas

photo: Christmas in the Garden by Becca J. via Yelp

Winter Sparkles at the Oregon Garden
It might seem counter-intuitive to visit a garden in the winter but there’s plenty to see and experience in the Oregon Garden in a less busy time of year. There’s the water garden, which also serves as wastewater treatment and wildlife habitat. Then there’s the children’s garden, where kids can dig “dinosaur bones” or climb through a Hobbit House. Next door to that is the train garden, with 120 feet of track. When you’re done exploring, or need a break, sip a cup of hot cocoa. The garden is dog-friendly, so bring your pooch and a firm hand on the leash if they’re interested in the chickens. Before the holidays, there’s a “Christmas in the Garden” light display and market.

The Oregon Garden is open 365 days a year, though the gift shop and garden cafe close for weekdays in winter. Combine this trip just with a stop at Silver Falls State Park, the Frank Lloyd Wright Gordon House, or the Oregon State Capitol, depending on the weather and your family’s interests.

Driving time from Portland: 1 hour

879 W. Main St.
Online: oregongarden.org
 Depoe Bay Whale

photo: OCVA via flickr 

Whales Migrate Near Depoe Bay
Gray whales swim to the warmer waters of Baja California in December through mid-January. Like anyone headed on vacation, they’re in bit of a hurry to get where they’re going and don’t lollygag around too much, but about 30 whales pass by whale watching sites each hour during peak times. The week of December 27th is Whale Watching Week, with trained volunteers working in 24 spots from Brookings to Astoria to help you sight these fascinating travelers. Bring your binoculars, warm clothes, and a little patience, and you might catch a glimpse. If not, there’s always storm watching, snuggling, relaxing, and tidepooling.

Driving time from Portland: 2.5 hours

Depoe Bay Whale Center
119 Hwy 101
Depoe Bay
Online: oregonstateparks.org


photo: Doug Kerr via flickr

Be a Goonie in Astoria
Hey you guuuys! Head to Astoria to re-trace the steps of The Goonies. Before you head out of town, grab a copy of the movie if your kids haven’t seen it a million times already. Once you arrive, do the Truffle Shuffle at the Goonies House or re-create the “jailbreak” at the Oregon Film Museum, a great cold-weather retreat for the whole family. Once you’re done exploring outside, try one of Astoria’s family-friendly breweries like Buoy Beer, which offers up a kids’ menu along with floor-to-ceiling windows for a fantastic view.

Driving time from Portland: 2 hours

Oregon Film Museum
732 Duane St.
Astoria, Or
Online: oregonfilmmuseum.org

Timberline Lodge (2)

photo: Mt. Hood Territory via flickr

Make Tracks at Timberline Lodge
Timberline Lodge is an inviting home base for a short showshoeing adventure. Rent show shoes there, or back in Portland at your favorite outdoor store (try REI or Next Adventure). Then try out the 3/4 mile trail above the lodge for stunning views. It’s not exactly easy going, so your kids should be prepared for a hike. Come back to the lodge to warm up with a heated outdoor pool, game room, and lending library.

When you’re ready to go back out to brave the snow again, ask for the snowman kit ($20). A black top hat, felt scarf, carrot nose, cookie eyes, and a licorice mouth are for your snowy friend, and the thermos of hot chocolate, coffee, tea, or hot apple cider is for your crew.

Driving time from Portland: 1.5 hours

Timberline Lodge
27500 W Leg Rd.
Timberline Lodge, Or
Online: timberlinelodge.com

What’s your favorite winter road trip? Let us know in the comments!

—Kelley Gardiner