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Trip Report Oregon Coast, Columbia River and Mt. Hood for fall

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Hi everyone,
I'm starting to plan my vacation for next fall, and I'm hoping to do 8 days (Sat - Sat) flying into/out of Portland.
I've already got an itinerary in the works (below), but I'm very flexible at this moment. I'm hoping to get some input as to places along my route that I can/should visit. My husband and I are both amatuer photographers and he is an avid model train buff.
These are a few questions I have:
1. Is it better to go north or south on the coast (I may have to switch everything around and go the other way as right now I'm going south)
2. I'm on a definite budget, so I can't splurge too much. Are there nice hotel/B&Bs out there along my route that are around $100/night or less? I've already listed a couple that I definitely want to stay at.
3. My hubby isn't into seafood, but we like finding unique places to eat GOOD food.
I'm thinking about getting there the last weekend in Sept to take advantage of the lower rates in October.
Also, questions for any photographers in the area...
I've seen pictures of Mt Hood seen with the Milky Way in the sky or an aurora borealis, are these normal things to see on clear, moonless nights? Another reason for going when I am is because that's when the moon will be nearing it's new moon phase.
I'm sure I'll have lots of other questions as I start receiving posts... so fire away!!!
... and thanks ahead of time!

**********
Day 1
Tampa to Portland
Drive north via I-5 to Kelso
In Kelso, take Ocean Beach Hwy West to Cathlamet
In Cathlamet, take 409 down to Ferry to cross to Westport, OR
Take E Columbia River Hwy (I-30) to Astoria
Stay in Astoria at hotel

Day 2
Visit Astoria
Around midday head south on 101 (Oregon Coast Hwy)
Stop in Seaside for lunch
Visit Ecola State Park
Visit Cannon Beach / Haystack Rock / Tide pools
Head south to Tillamook
Maybe check out the aircraft museum

Day 3
Take the Three Capes Scenic Loop
Visit Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda
Lunch in Lincoln City
Head to Depoe Bay (World’s smallest harbor and waterspout on rocky beach)
Stay at Depoe Bay at the Inn at Arch Rock

Day 4
Head south to Cape Perpetua Visitor Center
Head to Reedsport to the Oregon Dunes National Rec Area to ride the Dunes!
Head east along the Umpqua Hwy (38) to Hwy 5 Pacific Hwy
Head north to Springfield
Corvallis Society of Model Engineers (7155 Ne Vandenburg Ave., Adair Village, Oregon)
Stay in Springfield at hotel

Day 5
Keep heading east on 126 towards Sisters. View the Sisters Moutain Range
(If not closed) Around MacKenzie Bridge State Airport, take 242 east to Sisters
Stay night in Sisters area.

Day 6
Head east to Redmond.
Take the Dalles California Hwy (97) North to Mt. Hood area
Head north to Hood river
Stay around Hood River area at hotel

Day 7 - Waterfalls
Head west to Portland
Stay night at Multnomah Falls Lodge Exit 31 on I-84

Day 8
Head into Portland
Head back to Tampa

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