I–5 is the major north–south conduit for the region, providing a straight shot at high speeds from California to Washington—provided there aren't traffic snarls due to slick conditions or summer road construction. Most of Oregon's largest cities, such as Portland, Salem, Albany, Eugene, Medford, and Ashland, are along I–5. This makes driving between the major hubs an easy option, though it's also possible to travel between them by train or bus.
For those who have the time, traveling U.S. 101 is an attraction in itself, as it hugs the Oregon Coast almost the entire length of the state. Most of the road is incredibly scenic—the loveliest stretches are in northern and central Oregon. Make sure you want to commit to the coastal drive, which may be slow going in some parts, before getting on 101, because jumping back and forth to I–5 can be very time-consuming.
The Cascade Range cuts through the middle of Oregon, which means that east-west journeys often wind through mountain passes, and can be either simply breathtaking (summer) or beautiful, slow, and treacherous (winter).
I-84 is Oregon's major east-west artery, which enters the majestic Columbia River Gorge near Portland and continues east to Hood River, The Dalles, Pendleton, LaGrande, and Baker City. U.S. 26 provides access to Mt. Hood from Portland.
The first thing visitors notice in Oregon is that it is illegal for customers to pump their own gas. Gas stations are plentiful in major metropolitan areas and along major highways such as I-5. Most major credit and debit cards are accepted, and stations often stay open late; except in rural areas, where you may drive long stretches without a refueling opportunity. Keep an eye on the gauge when traveling to national parks and off-the-beaten-path trails, particularly if you'll be heading down Forest Service roads. A good rule of thumb is to fill up before you get off (or too far away from) a major highway like I-5 or I-84.
In general, Oregon offers plenty of on-street parking and pay lots. In certain urban areas, specifically Portland and Eugene, there are sections of town where street parking is difficult, particularly during festivals, sports, and other special events. Mass transit in these urban areas is plentiful and efficient, and is the preferred way of travel when big events are going on. Parking enforcement is fairly stringent in Portland, so visitors will want to adhere to posted time limits.
Winter driving can present challenges; in coastal areas the mild, damp climate contributes to frequently wet roadways. Snowfalls generally occur only once or twice a year, but when snow does fall, traffic grinds to a halt and roadways become treacherous and stay that way until the snow melts.
Tire chains, studs, or snow tires are essential equipment for winter travel in mountain areas. If you're planning to drive into high elevations, be sure to check the weather forecast beforehand. Even the main-highway mountain passes can close because of snow conditions. In winter, state and county highway departments operate snow-advisory telephone lines that give pass conditions.
AAA Oregon. 800/222–4357. www.aaa.com.
Oregon State Police (503/378–3720 or 800/452–7888. www.oregon.gov/oprd/parks.)
Oregon drivers tend to be fairly polite and slower going, which can be a bit maddening for those in a hurry. Bicyclists are plentiful in Oregon cities and rural highways; drivers need to be especially alert to avert tragedies, including when opening the car door after parking.
Car seats are compulsory for children under four years and 40 pounds; older children are required to sit in booster seats until they are eight years old and 80 pounds.
Oregon is a hands-free state. It is illegal to talk or text on a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle, and doing so will net you a heavy traffic ticket. Use a wireless headset device if you need to stay connected.
Unless you're only visiting downtown Portland, you will need a car for at least part of your trip. It's possible to get around the big cities by public transportation and taxis, but once outside city limits, your options are limited.
Rates in Portland begin at $64 a day and $276 a week, not including the 12.5% tax. You must be 21 to rent a car. Non-U.S. citizens need a reservation voucher, passport, driver's license, and insurance for each driver.
Alamo. 503/249–4900 or 877/222–9075. www.alamo.com.
Dollar. 503/249–4793 or 800/800–3665. www.dollar.com.
Enterprise. 503/252–1500 or 800/261–7331. www.enterprise.com.
National Car Rental. 503/249–4900 or 877/222–9058. www.nationalcar.com.
Thrifty. 503/254–6563. www.thrifty.com.