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Five Ways to Celebrate Fall near Portland, Ore.

The harvest season is upon us! Within an hour's drive in almost any direction, you can find a bounty of beverages, food and other products that are made with locally grown crops. Add in the beautiful natural scenery and lingering summer sunshine and you have the perfect recipe for enjoying fall in and around Portland.

Drink Some Fresh Hop Beers

Commercial hop production in the U.S. occurs primarily in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, thus making Portland and the Pacific Northwest an ideal place to sample these unique beers. Many breweries offer fresh hop beers only during the months of September and October as they are made with freshly picked hops. The harvest typically starts in late August and continues through mid-September. Brewers add the fresh or "wet" whole cone hops to the brew kettle, often on the same day they are harvested, to preserve the aroma and "green" flavor of the perishable flower.

Some breweries package their fresh hop offerings in limited edition bottles and cans. Beer bars often devote some or all of their taps to a rotating assortment of fresh hop beers from the region. There are also festivals dedicated to fresh hop beers and ciders. Plus you can always stop by your favorite bottle shop and ask what they have in stock.

Wherever you choose to imbibe, do it soon. These beers won't be around long and are intended to be consumed immediately.

Go Wine Tasting

The Willamette Valley harvest season typically starts in late August and ends by early October. It's a beautiful time of year to visit the region, as the vines begin to change from bright green to gold, competing with the trees already exhibiting their fall colors. The most common grape varietals are pinot noir, pinot gris, and chardonnay, but you can try many wonderful and unique wines from over 500 wineries located from Portland to Eugene. Many tasting rooms are still open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. but be sure to check their website or call ahead to verify hours. Also check the calendar for harvest parties, winemaker dinners, and other fun fall activities.

Pick Your Own Fruit

Fall is the perfect time to visit the Hood River Fruit Loop, one hour east of Portland. Farms along Hwy 35 offer an abundance of apples, pears, pumpkins and gourds, some of which you can pick yourself. Farm stands feature fresh cider, apple butter and other locally made products. There are also many wineries and breweries in the area. Don't forget to stop by Cascade Alpacas of Oregon to visit their fluffy camelids!

Get Lost in a Maze

Just over 20 miles northwest of Portland, the largest island on the Columbia River is comprised primarily of farmland and a dedicated wildlife refuge. Sauvie Island is always a peaceful place for bicycling, hiking, boating and bird watching. But, in the fall, most people bring their family and friends to tackle one of the three corn mazes in addition to enjoying a multitude of pumpkin patches, hay rides, climbable hay pyramids, petting zoos, and other kid (and adult) friendly activities.

Go Leaf Peeping

The Pacific Northwest is known for its old-growth forests of coniferous Douglas firs and western hemlocks. The average age of these giant trees is 350 to 750 years old. They are beautiful to look at and walk among any time of year, as they are evergreens. For a few weeks in fall, you can also enjoy the colorful foliage of deciduous trees, which are primarily located in and around cities but can be found all over the state if you know where to go.

One of my favorite places for leaf peeping that's right here in Portland is Washington Park. Here you can experience a couple of unique outdoor spaces that are filled with fall color: Hoyt Arboretum and the Portland Japanese Garden. An added bonus is that you can visit the park without a car by using the free shuttle from the Washington Park MAX station. You'll still be walking a fair amount, but that's the best way to fully experience the beauty and solitude of these two natural attractions.

Another go-to spot is the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. This multi-use trail was the first in Oregon to repurpose an abandoned railway corridor. Located about 30 miles west of Portland, the 22.7 mile long trail is mostly level and is paved the entire length. It is suitable for wheelchairs, walking, bicycling, inline skating and horseback riding. In the fall, the lush greenery of Douglas firs contrasts with the vivid reds and yellows of the alder, ash, cottonwood and maple trees among other deciduous varieties. Don't miss the 80-foot-tall curving Buxton Trestle near the Buxton Trailhead.

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