From its gorgeous rugged shoreline to majestic Mount Hood, Oregon is a natural paradise that tempts delegates to head outdoors. Depending on where the group meets, planners can count on an outdoor adventure, be it exhilarating, such as zip lining, sand dune buggy riding, rafting and whale watching, or on the mellow side, such as a round of golf or wine tasting while enjoying the surroundings of a rolling vineyard.
Portland’s proximity to the natural wonders of northwest Oregon is one of its selling points. According to Mike Smith, vice president of convention sales at Travel Portland, within an hour groups can be skiing at Mt. Hood, Oregon’s highest peak, or enjoying its views over a microbrew at Timberline Lodge, taking in the splendor of the Columbia River Gorge from the historic Vista House at Crown Point, or exploring the craggy headlands and sandy beaches of the Oregon coastline.
The area is also a mecca for golfers, Smith says, with courses ranging from Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, where Tiger Woods won his last U.S. amateur title, to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and Heron Lakes Golf Course.
Known for its bike culture—Portland was named a Great Bike-Friendly City in National Geographic Traveler—groups often ask about touring the city on two wheels.
"Whether it’s a standard introduction to Portland or a culinary or brewery tour you desire, Pedal Bike Tours has scheduled outings as well as custom-built tours to meet any group’s needs," Smith says, adding that those looking to up the adventure stakes can schedule a scenic zip line excursion with Heritage Farms Gorge Canopy Tours, or a helicopter outing to Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Hood.
Meanwhile, two of Portland’s gardens have memorable event space: Lan Su Chinese Garden and the pavilion at the Portland Japanese Garden.
Washington County, known as the "Countryside of Portland," mixes suburban and rural communities into one destination with many outdoor and recreational opportunities.
"Unlike other areas in Oregon, Washington County is known more for its soft adventure offerings, including nature walks, bird watching and low-impact hiking and biking," says Sylke Neal-Finnegan, spokesperson for the Washington County Visitors Association.
Within its 727 square miles, the area boasts nature parks, including two wildlife preserves and one state park, and miles of hiking and biking trails, including Hagg Lake Park and the Banks-Vernonia State Trail.
"We are excited about the newest attraction to open in Washington County in June 2010, which will finally bring ‘extreme’ outdoor adventures to the destination," Neal-Finnegan says, citing Tree to Tree Adventure Park, the first aerial adventure park in the Pacific Northwest. "The owners are aggressively marketing corporate team-building events."
Washington County also has off-site venues that take in the great outdoors, including
David Hill Winery and Vineyard, Ponzi Vineyards, Meriwether National Golf Club, Reserve Vineyards & Golf Club and Jenkins Estate.
The Salem area is known for its extraordinary outdoor recreation, including skiing, hiking, fishing and boating according to Debbie McCune, director of sales at Travel Salem.
"Nature’s beauty is seen throughout the Salem area," she says, citing one of the most unique outdoor spots, Silver Falls State Park. "At Oregon’s largest state park you can hike along the Trail of Ten Falls, bike or horseback ride your way through the 25-plus miles of trails, observe wildlife, swim and fish."
A wine adventure with Oregon Wine Safari is popular with groups. An outing combines a helicopter ride over 10 waterfalls located in Silver Falls State Park, and cruising via Land Rovers to explore area wineries.
"They can end their adventure with a culinary experience at Silver Grille, located in the historic town of Silverton, once voted among the ‘Top Ten Coolest Small Towns in America’ by Budget Travel magazine," McCune says.
Travel Salem often points groups to ropes courses at YWAM Salem, which is located on 35 acres of partially wooded land and intersected by a quiet stream.
Among the off-site event options that highlight the area’s natural allure are Creekside Golf Club, Willamette Valley Vineyards and the Oregon Garden.
With an extensive hiking and biking trail system, Corvallis is one of the most bicycle-friendly communities in the nation, according to the League of American Bicyclists. Located just an hour from the coast and an hour from the snow, Corvallis is also the perfect hub for daytrips, says Melinda Claire Stewart, spokesperson for Corvallis Tourism.
Corvallis offers a plethora of activities perfect for group team building, Stewart says, citing obstacle course training, more than 50 hikes and Willamette River tours.
"Willamette Tours and Cruises offers a great Willamette River tour led by a third-generation Oregonian, Captain John, who tells the story of the river and how it has changed," she says, adding that if groups are lucky, they may spot a beaver dam or a bald eagle along their journey.
Meanwhile, Lane County recently adopted a new slogan that describes what the destination is all about: "Real Adventures. Real Close."
According to Lisa Lawton, director of community relations at Travel Lane County, Eugene and Springfield are within close proximity to the Cascade Mountains, Willamette Valley and the Oregon coast.
"We’re nearby recreational opportunities that can be easily tailored to fit the needs of any group, whether they’re seeking high adventure or a carefree day of sightseeing," she says.
The Oregon Skyway gondolas at Willamette Pass provide an easy passage to panoramic views of the Oregon Cascades.
"At the top, a large platform area and tables provide the perfect place for picnics, as well as a starting point for a variety of easy to moderate trails," Lawton says.
Another exhilarating option in Lane County is Wild Water Adventures, specializing in rafting trips on the McKenzie River.
Situated about 20 minutes from downtown Eugene is a variety of wineries that are part of the South Willamette Wineries Association.
"Many of our corporate groups enjoy the easy access and special events that can be hosted at area wineries," Lawton says.
Southern and Central Oregon
The heart of southern Oregon is uniquely situated in Medford, which is known as the "Center of the Rogue Valley," says Sue Walton, convention sales director at the Medford Visitors and Convention Bureau.
"Medford is the gateway to the Rogue River, where rafting, canoeing and fishing are just a few of the outdoor activities available," she says, adding that the spectacular Crater Lake National Park and Ski Ashland Resort are nearby for hiking and skiing enthusiasts.
Corporate groups convening in Medford often book golf, winery and rafting outings. According to Walton, an itinerary could include championship golf at Centennial Golf Club, wine tasting at RoxyAnn Winery and Eden Valley Orchards, and rafting the Rogue River.
Bend’s location on the sunny side of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, where the sprawling Deschutes National Forest transitions to high desert plateau, is unique among Oregon destinations, according to Doug LaPlaca, president and CEO of Visit Bend.
"Recreation abounds year-round, from skiing and snowshoeing at Mt. Bachelor in winter, to running, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, biking and hiking in the summer," he says. "What sets Bend apart is its unique combination of abundant outdoor recreation and the sophistication of a trendy, hip mountain town."
Two group possibilities are outings via local outfitter Wanderlust Tours and a concert at Les Schwab Amphitheater.
Wanderlust offers GPS Eco-Challenges, including a desert course and an urban course, and Dinner Canoe Under the Stars, which begins with a gourmet dinner next to the beach and ends with a canoe trip.
Les Schwab Amphitheater features panoramic views of the Deschutes River and the Cascade Mountains.
Other standout venues that highlight the great outdoors are Pine Marten Lodge at Mt. Bachelor and the Mountain Room at Deschutes Brewery.
A popular destination for international cruise lines, the communities of Astoria and Warrenton, located at the northernmost point of the Oregon Coast, offer historic surroundings and outdoor diversions. According to Regina Willkie, marketing manager for the Astoria-Warrenton Area COC, the region is ideal for intimate groups and large corporate retreats alike.
"Oregon’s North Coast is a hidden gem," she says.
Set against a backdrop of natural beauty at the mouth of the Columbia River, the area offers kayak and canoe tours of Netul River, managed by the rangers from Lewis and Clark National Historical Park; paragliding via outfitter Discover Paragliding; hiking at Fort Clatsop, where visitors can follow the footsteps of Lewis and Clark along the 6.5-mile Fort to Sea Trail; and touring the historic waterfront of the Columbia River along the Astoria Riverwalk path.
In Seaside, mountains and two rivers meet the sea, creating opportunities for birding, hiking, biking and kayaking, says Alan Smiles, executive director of the Seaside COC.
"This is in addition to our 1.5-mile white-sand beach open to all beach activities," he says. "We also have an excellent area for surfing."
Seaside is so outdoorsy, in fact, that a unique new website, www.seasidenaturally.com, was developed to highlight the natural riches.
"There is so much available here. We can arrange group activities to suit almost any interest," Smiles says, citing campfire cookouts with entertainment on the beach, salmon bakes, kite-flying competitions, golf tournaments and team relay paddle boat races on the Necanicum River.
Lincoln City is practically synonymous with the blown glass sphere-shaped floats once used by Japanese fishing crews to float their nets. Today fishing vessels around the world use buoyant plastic floats, but on the 7.5 miles of beach in Lincoln City, glass floats live on and group attendees are welcome to explore in search of one.
"We place over 70 handcrafted floats on the beach each week; our signature glass floats are brilliant colors and about the size of a softball," says Maggie Conrad, special events coordinator at the Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau, explaining the Finders Keepers program runs from mid-October to Memorial Day. "You find it, you keep it!"
Other popular activities for groups are kite flying, golfing at Salishan Spa & Golf Resort or Chinook Winds Golf Resort, and whale-watching excursions.
"Depoe Bay is the closest navigable harbor, only seven miles south of Lincoln City, and has a fleet of boats that offer excursions year-round," Conrad says.
In the coastal town of Florence, according to Travel Lane County’s Lawton, dune buggy riding at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area has been a huge hit for many groups. She says high-spirited, guided excursions provide groups with a distinct experience.
"After a dune buggy tour, groups can easily fit in a sightseeing trip to nearby Sea Lion Caves," she says, adding that a visit to the century-old Heceta Head Lighthouse is also a popular excursion.
The area including Coos Bay is known as "Oregon’s Adventure Coast" because of its beaches and the numerous outdoor recreational opportunities, according to Katherine Hoppe, director of promotion and conventions at the Coos Bay-North Bend Visitor and Convention Bureau.
"You won’t find our coastline sprinkled with a lot of manmade buildings, but rather it’s kept open and accessible," she says, explaining that the area is perfect for a focused business retreat. "Because our beaches are a little off the beaten path and because we have so many, they’re rarely crowded."
Outdoor activities in the area include ATV touring and dune buggy riding at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, as well as kayaking, bird watching, storm watching, surfing and boogie boarding.
In Eastern Oregon, Pendleton is home to rodeo, rolling wheat fields, horseback riding and acres of public wilderness, according to Yolanda Lennon, tourism promotion director at Travel Pendleton.
Popular group options include a visit to Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, set among the wheat fields at the base of the Blue Mountains; a facilitated nature walk at McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge; and bird watching along the Umatilla River.
Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings West.