Charm for sale: On the road to Oregon’s country stores
Autumn and early winter in the Portland area means plenty of chilly, foggy days, ideal for long scenic drives on back roads through colorful woods. Some of the best of these drives take you right by charmingly old-fashioned country stores, the kind of one-stop shops where you can pick up a six-pack, some matches, a corndog or two, a fishing license, homemade elk jerky, and candy bars you haven’t seen since the ‘80s.
Hire a car in Portland and plan a leisurely drive to one or several of these stores, all of which are set in beautiful locations with plenty to do.
A massive burger is surrounded by fries
The Sasquatch Burger has two patties, ham, cheese, bacon, egg and avocado © Becky Ohlsen / Lonely Planet
Silver Falls Country Store, on Hwy 214 just 10 minutes north of the beautiful Silver Falls State Park near Silverton, is a middle-of-nowhere surprise that sells a little bit of everything: all the usuals (soda, beer and snacks), but also kombucha on tap, freeze-dried dinners, books of local history, antler-handled hunting knives, gourmet coffee, brake fluid, propane, even a sleeping bag. It’s also a café known for the Sasquatch Burger, a massive, architecturally unsound stack of two thick beef patties, ham, cheese, bacon, egg, avocado and all the fixings. On a recent visit, we watched a hungry patron – someone who claimed to have vanquished many of the beefiest burgers in the land – struggle to defeat this burger. He won, but it was touch-and-go for a while. The secret: establish a good grip … and show no fear. “Once you pick it up, don’t put it back down,” the store clerk advised one tentative-looking diner. “You gotta commit.”
The place is loaded with character: the door handle’s a hatchet, booths are from an old school bus, Bigfoot signs are everywhere. The drive here is stunning, especially when the fall leaves are at their peak. And the park makes a worthy destination from Portland, with camping, cycling, horseback riding and lots of hikes, like the Trail of Ten Falls Loop, an 8-mile loop that takes you behind several dramatic waterfalls.
Packages of jerky and fresh fruits are arranged in a display at a one of Oregon’s country stores
Corbett Market has kitschy gifts, liquor and a butcher’s counter sharing space © Becky Ohlsen / Lonely Planet
Columbia River Gorge
On your way out to the Columbia River Gorge along the historic Columbia River Highway, stop in at the Corbett Country Market to grab a cup of coffee and homemade donuts, and maybe some beef jerky and basic groceries. One corner of the market is a well-stocked liquor store. Toward the back is a butcher’s counter, with locally grown meats as well as house-made summer sausage, salmon jerky, etc. There’s also locally-made honey, kitschy souvenirs, and a community signboard advertising things like “Baby pigs for sale, was $100, now $50.” But the don’t-miss item here is in the hot-food case: a foil-wrapped, perfectly-smoked cheeseburger. Take your haul up the road to a viewpoint at the Portland Women’s Forum parking lot or the Vista House observatory for a picnic, then explore some of the dozens of hiking trails that wind through the forested hills of the Gorge.
A maroon and off-white sign sits on top of one of Oregon’s old-fashioned country stores
Barton Mercantile’s old-fashioned facade belies the fact it has supplies for a day hike or fishing trip © Becky Ohlsen / Lonely Planet
The hiking, fishing and camping around the small town of Estacada and the Clackamas River recreation area draw hordes of outdoor adventurers all summer long, but this area is even nicer in the fall, when the changing leaves give off an electric glow and mushrooms spring up underfoot (if you know where to look). Bring your rain gear and wander along the gentle Clackamas River Trail, off Hwy 224 near Indian Henry Campground. On your way here, stop at Barton Mercantile (Hwy 224 at Bakers Ferry Road) to stock up. It’s mostly the exterior that’s old-fashioned, but this handy mini-mart and gas station carries all the necessary supplies for a day hike or fishing trip, and you can fill your soda or coffee cup beneath the watchful eyes of a stuffed lynx, various antlered trophy heads and a couple of bearskin rugs on the wall.
Old wooden stools and a polished wooden counter are surreounded by a cluttered collection of kitschy items
The Troutdale General Store has charm and vintage surroundings to spare © Becky Ohlsen / Lonely Planet
A storybook version of a Main Street shop, the Troutdale General Store (289 E Historic Columbia River Hwy, Troutdale, open 8am-5pm Tue-Sun) is less authentically creaky and remote than the other examples here, but it’s a mandatory stop for fans of kitschy seasonal decorations, saltwater taffy and keychains with your name on them. Be sure to admire the beautiful old mirrored bar and wooden barstools, vintage Coke machine and antique gas pumps. Troutdale sits at the west side of the Columbia River Gorge and makes an excellent place to pick up supplies before exploring the gorge or refuel after a hike.