Plein Air Painting Oregon - Part of the Quest to Paint in 50 States

Our June 2010 road trip plan was to do Plein Air Painting in Oregon. The weather and wildflowers along the side of the freeway where wonderful. Every place was uncrowded - we were just ahead of the summer vacation time for families and had no trouble finding places to stay at the end of each day. All without reservations. This flexibility allowed for driving and painting along the way without the need to press on to any particular place on any day.

My traveling companion on this occasion was another adventurous plein air painter from my Santa Cruz group, Skip Andreae. Thank you Skip!

Plein Air Painting at Oregon Dunes State Park, Gardiner, Oregon


The plein air painting shown above was done at the mouth of the Umpqua River at Gardiner at the Oregon Dunes Nat'l Rec. Area. We took a road called Rhododendron Drive that goes out along a spit of land at the head of the harbor. We found what appeared to be an undeveloped home site right across the river from the Dunes

Park - got a great view of the Dunes without having to slog through them. These huge sand dunes tower as high as 300 ft. – so not having to walk through them was a big attraction. We painted happily in this wind sheltered spot for a while before we noticed the curtains moving in the house on the next lot - not as abandoned as we thought! As plein air painters, we are always aware of the sensation our appearance can cause in a neighborhood – making sure to clean up after ourselves and be good citizens.

After this painting session we hit the road again and stopped for the night at a delightful coastal town called Yachats.

Yachats – Oregon


Yachats is about halfway up the Oregon Coast - we found a motel right on the ocean. We could see the waves from our $80.00 per night rooms – we were delighted with our good luck – and all of this without any reservations – just trusting to providence.

After checking into our rooms, we immediately got our painting gear set up next to the ocean trail – it was perfect for seascape painting – with huge slabs of rock and crashing waves putting on quite a show for us in the evening light.

After our evening painting session, we went to the little village of Yachats to a fish café called “Luna Sea” – we had a really tasty fish and chips dinner for a reasonable price. We got a restful night’s sleep lulled by the sound of the waves. The next morning we took a walk along the ocean trail before seeking out breakfast at the Whale Diner and Café in town – excellent breakfast spot.

Columbia River Gorge – and Ferocious Winds

We had a long day of driving to get from Yachats, through Portland and onto the Columbia River Gorge scenic Byway.

Finding a place where we could paint without being blown to bits by the almost hurricane force winds was frustrating and difficult. I have since learned that this ferocious wind is almost always present in the Columbia Gorge – that is why it is such a magnet for wind surfers. But it isn’t particularly hospitable to plein air painters I have to say.

Persistence eventually paid off at 4pm when we found Mitchel Point Overlook. This spot presented a great panoramic view of the river, gorge and dramatic light – with Mount Hood in the background – all I had hoped for – and, out of the wind! By sheer luck we had stumbled upon the “perfect spot” from which to paint the Gorge and river. To find this spot click here to view Oregon Painting Sites. This will save you no end of time and trouble!

Our Luck almost Runs Out at BiGG…

After a long day of driving and searching for the perfect painting spot we did our painting at Mitchel Point - then, in the looming dark, pressed on east up the Gorge in search of a place to stay for the night.

Due to a motor race weekend, all hotels were full. I narrowly avoided a traffic accident and yikes! We ended up at Dinty’s Motor Lodge – a truck stop – in the way station of Bigg, on the Oregon side of the bridge that crosses into Washington State. All that was left were smoking rooms – horrors – I guess it was better than sleeping in the car…. But maybe not – Unrestful sleep on a hard mattress inhaling stale smoke – gross! Also, the sound proofing was insufficient to muffle the sounds of trucks pulling into and leaving the truck stop – the guy in the next room was a particularly noisy sleeper…Should have brought ear plugs and lavender scented face mask! Note to self – add these to plein air check list for future trips! Oh well – this is all part of the adventure of travel – especially when you travel without advance reservations. Still, we made it through the night and departed Bigg – as soon as the breakfast place opened.

Stonehenge on the Columbia Gorge – a Replica that is!

We decided to venture across the Columbia River Gorge at the bridge at Bigg – this leads into the State of Washington – the river marks the state boundary line between Oregon and Washington. Merry Hill State Park is directly on the river – again, that awful wind was blowing. Nice camping sites available at this spot – might have been preferable to the Truck Stop at Bigg if we had had some gear!

Continuing up the road from the park about 1.5 miles further we encountered a replica of Stonehenge – it is a World War I Memorial – built in 1929 – all made of concrete with an amazing top of the hill site overlooking the river and surrounding country.

Ghost Town of Siniko on Route 97 After checking out the Stonehenge Monument, we re-crossed the bridge back into Oregon and drove South on Route 97 with Bend and

Sisters as our final destination of the day. We stopped at a “ghost town” called Siniko – lots of beat up old buildings, old cars, wagons etc. For those interested in painting quirky stuff this would be a good spot. I talked with a woman manning a craft store on the Main Street of Siniko – she told me she and her husband live on a cattle ranch 20 miles outside of town – she said she comes to the craft store just to get away from all the work on the cattle ranch. An isolated life I suspect. We pushed on South until almost in Bend.

Crooked River Gorge - near Bend, Oregon

The traveling artists stopped near Terrabon at the the Peter Scene Ogdon Scenic Viewpoint exit off Route 97.

On the Crooked River Gorge overlook trail we found our first plein air painting spot for the day. The Gorge is cut through basalt lava beds – a very dark and almost purple/blue volcanic rock. This rock made for a challenging time with mixing the weird rock color – it’s all good practice no matter what.

We took our time and set up our gear on the rim of the gorge and painted the view of the snow capped volcano, gorge, sage and juniper. My effort wasn’t the best painting I’d done on the trip, but I enjoyed the challenge. In writing about my travels, I am showing all works produced, whether good, bad or just plain ugly! Plein air painting can be like shooting film – you need to do a lot to get a few good ones.

Save On Airport Parking

Sisters – The Oregon Cascade Volcanoes



The resort town of Sisters is about 20 miles west of Bend – 3 dominant volcanic peaks (The Three Sisters) grab your attention from the moment they come into sight. In mid June they were all still covered with snow and presented a feast for the eyes.

After our adventures on the Columbia River Gorge it was a pleasure to stay at my cousin Mary’s comfortable home in Sisters. I had my own newly built bedroom with a lovely bathroom to myself. Skip also has her own room and bathroom. Such luxury! and greatly appreciated.

We stayed in Sisters for two nights with my cousin. It was wonderful to relax and do our plein air painting right in one spot for an entire day.

The view from the back deck is fabulous – the above two paintings were done from there – we even had a canopy for shade as well as lunch and tea provided by our generous hosts Mary and David. The day was crystal clear with no wind – warm but not too hot – painting heaven. Eastern Oregon can be very beguiling in the Summer and Fall. But winter is quite harsh and long.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

My trip to Crater Lake National Park to paint occurred a couple of years prior to the above mentioned trip through Oregon. I traveled and camped with my long time friend, Marlene. We stopped at Burney Falls State Park in California for a couple of days before heading up north into Oregon to Crater Lake.

Due to the time it takes to get to Crater Lake N.P. plus all the plein air painting sites available there, we recommend making this a destination in itself rather than just a one day trip. Camping sites are usually available by mid June - check first though due to snow fall which varies. For those not camping, then staying at Crater Lake Lodge is a comfortable option.

One of the best spots for plein air painting is right across from the Crater Lake Lodge. This painting was done there in early June. The higher altitude and brilliant light make painting either early in the day or later in the afternoon a bit easier on the eyes. The air feels like breathable crystal it is so clear - the colors so brilliant.

If you want to take a boat ride out to Wizard Island you need to visit after July 4 and before Labor Day when the boat rides stop for the year.

Crater Lake can be accessed by at least 3 different roads, one coming from the East off Route 97, one coming from Medford to the West, and another from Klamath, from the South. The crater has a road that circles it - many different scenic viewpoints and painting sites offer varying views of the Lake, Wizard Island.


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