Vernonia: Oregon's autumn escape

Bike through this riverside town to soak in phenomenal fall colors
Ivy Manning

Why go now: The fall color is off the charts in this rural, riverside logging town that’s home to more salmon than people this month.

Drive time from Portland: Just under an hour.

Street scene: Winding country roads and the lazy Nehalem River lead to a Mayberry-esque main street.

Vibe: Low-key sporty (yoga and biking are big).

Locals’ hang: Black Bear Coffee Company ($; 831 Bridge St.; 503/429-0214) is the spot for sipping espresso and catching up on town gossip.

What to pack: A camera to capture the fiery autumn colors and a rain poncho—just in case.

Claim to fame: Scenes from the vampire blockbuster were filmed right here. (That’s 2008’s original Twilight, mind you, not this year’s Eclipse, yet the Twihards keep coming.)

Claim to reality-TV fame: Local Mike Pihl of Mike Pihl Logging, featured in the History Channel’s gritty Ax Men.

Mark your calendar: Carve a pumpkin, stuff a scarecrow, and watch salmon spawn at the Vernonia Salmon Festival (10–5 Oct 2; free; Hawkins Park, Park Dr. at Bridge St.; 503/429-6081).

Miles of multicolored leaves 

For some of the best fall color this side of Vermont, hit the 21-mile Banks-Vernonia State Trail, a paved former railroad grade, where you can pedal, walk, or ride horses through forests of yellow ash and red maple, past burbling creeks, across 80-foot-high Buxton Trestle, and right into Vernonia. Parts closed for final paving until mid-Oct; map at oregon.gov; 503/324-0606.

An unofficial harvest party

Pick the perfect pumpkin and stock up on other organic end o’ season bounty like heirloom peppers, apples, and raw honey at 18-acre Dairy Creek Farm and Produce. While you’re at it, snap up a few swan gourds and dried wheat stalks for simple decorating. 23295 N.W. State 47, in nearby Buxton; 503/324-7819.

Where to eat potato chowder

Feast your eyes on the floor-to-ceiling Americana kitsch that covers the walls of Café 47, then focus on your bowl of creamy potato chowder—or whatever comfort food you choose on the made-from-scratch menu. Look to the specials board for what’s local and in season; like, say, a juicy Swiss burger topped with chanterelles. $; breakfast and lunch only; 854 Bridge St.

Super natural art

No happy little clouds here. Grey Dawn Gallery is all about simple, outdoors-inspired works of Northwest art—like Christopher Burkett’s oversize photographic prints of vivid trees and mist-shrouded ocean scenes that take you deep into the wilderness. Closed Sun; 879 Bridge St.; 503/429-2787.

Make it an overnight

Like its name implies, the Coastal Mountain Sport Haus is an active-minded B&B. Wake up for yoga class while wild elk look on from the pasture below. Enjoy a goat cheese omelet (made with local eggs and cheese) before a bike ride on old logging roads. Later, soak under the stars then let the rushing river lull you to sleep. Sunset readers save: $175/night, including  meals; 503/429-6940.

Explore Vernonia by bike

  • Barlow Bikes (from $10/hour; Madison Ave. at Bridge St.; 503/397-4900) Rent your wheels and ride all 21 miles of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail to its other end, in Banks.
  • L.L. “Stub” Stewart State Park ($5 day-use fee) Hop on a mountain bike and head to where you’ll have 17 miles of woodsy trails to yourself, including North Caddywhomper Way, a 0.69-mile devoted single-track section that rolls and rises (and will kick your butt).
  • Vernonia Bike Skills Park (free; near Vernonia Lake) For even more of an adrenaline rush, check out these 70-acre, on the north edge of town. It’s still a work in progress, but at press time the park had several dirt jumps, a 1-mile cyclo-cross trail, and technical trail features like a wooden ladder bridge to help you hone your skills. The spot for a post-ride pint? Blue House Café ($; 919 Bridge St.; 503/429-4350), with its hoppy homebrews and baklava.