Midway between the coast and Portland, US-26 reaches the 1,640-foot crest of Sunset Summit, then winds east through the verdant delights of the leeward Coast Range, zipping through tunnels and sliding down slopes to the farm country of northwest Willamette Valley. Banks-Vernonia State Trail (503/324-0606 or 800/551-6949, free), 26 miles or so from downtown Portland, is a 21-mile stretch of abandoned railroad that runs north from US-26 between the town of Banks and the tucked-away timber town of Vernonia. Six well-marked trailheads along Hwy-47 provide access to the fairly level gravel trail, Oregon’s first rail-to-trail park. The park is especially lovely, and popular, during October’s “fall color” season, when the many ash and maple trees turn gold and red, respectively, while the birds sing and the streams gurgle.
The town of Vernonia (pop. 2,143) has recently played another role in Pacific Northwest tourism, standing in for Forks, Washington, in the movie versions of the teenage vampire saga Twilight. (A paper mill credit union office at the center of Vernonia stood in for the film’s Forks Police Station, for example.) Vernonia is cute, having recovered from a bad flood some years ago, and is a nice destination whether or not you’ve seen the movies. After a day of hiking or cycling the Linear Trail, recharge your carb deficits with a Greek gyro and a hoppy pint of homebrew at the Blue House Café (919 Bridge St., 503/429-4350), in the center of town.