A convoy of Harley riders share Brett Atkinson's enthusiasm for Oregon.

For a city that's so bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, negotiating a car out of Portland east to the Columbia River Gorge is also a breeze.

Maybe that's why a roaring crew of tattooed Californian bikers have also chosen a similar scenic route through Oregon.

Carved by the cataclysmic Missoula Floods at the end of the last Ice Age about 15,000 years ago, the scale of the Columbia River reinforces the massive forces that shaped the gorge.

Near-vertical mountain walls trimmed with waterfalls soar to 1500 metres, and parts of the 130km-long river canyon are up to 1200m deep.

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Hiking, kiteboarding and rafting are all popular, but like the road-savvy bikers, we're happy winding a leisurely path along one of western America's great alternative routes.

At sleepy Hood River, we turn south to jettison our hirsute on-the-road companions, and the landscape becomes more expansive and open. As we feast at cherry orchards in the shadow of Mt Hood, the snowcapped peak foreshadows another change in scenery further south.

We're soon travelling through central Oregon's high desert country, sporadically daubed with tussocky vegetation, and studded by the multiple peaks of the Cascades.

More than 10 summits above 2500m are arrayed north to south, but any similarity to New Zealand's Central Plateau soon dissipates within the baked ochre landscape of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Three indigenous groups - the Wasco, the Paiute and the Warm Springs - live here, and the Warm Springs Museum and Kah-Nee-Ta Resort reinforce the past, present and future of the tribal groups.

Emerging from the interesting museum into late-afternoon July heat, an overnight stay in nearby Bend beckons. The city of 80,000 on the Deschutes River has 12 craft breweries, one of the highest per capita ratios in the world, and our early start from Portland is soon making perfect hops-fuelled sense.

Pushing south from Bend towards California, the rugged, sparse terrain of Oregon's high desert is finally softened by the Cascade Lakes, and by mid-morning we're back following a familiar group of leather-clad Harley riders through one of America's most spectacular national parks.

Despite resembling real-life recruits from the Sons of Anarchy TV series, they seem happier running around throwing snowballs than running guns, and pose for selfies with cheap disposable cameras against a flawless cobalt sky.

Further up the summit road, still-framed by fast-fading drifts of spring snow, it's soon obvious why they're happy road warriors.

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Formed by the catastrophic eruption of Mt Mazama just 8000 years ago, Crater Lake's massive caldera - the park's Rim Drive traverses 53km of the crater's jagged circumference - is one of Earth's biggest natural mirrors. Rugged islands, forests and snow-dusted banks of volcanic scree are reflected in the lake's waters, and hiking trails pulse out from the view-friendly terrace of the park's 100-year old heritage lodge.

Descending from Crater Lake, we're booked for a couple of nights' accommodation at another heritage property.

Located in a leafy kink of the meandering Rogue River near Grants Pass, Weasku Inn celebrates 90 years as a fishing lodge. Past guests have included actor Clark Gable, Walt Disney and Bing Crosby who came to catch trout and enjoy its relaxed historic ambience, which makes the lodge a good base for exploring the nearby southern Oregon wine region.

We're also here for a growing culinary scene, and together with about 100 foodie locals attend a Farm to Fork dinner at Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden showcasing local chefs, winemakers and artisan food producers.

Eco-friendly Honda hybrids definitely outnumber Harley-Davidsons in the winery's carpark though. Maybe the bikers didn't book early enough this year.

PLAN YOUR ROAD TRIP
To book your USA road trip: See House of Travel.

Further information: See visittheusa.com.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Portland is best reached via Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines, or transiting through San Francisco with Air New Zealand. Another option is to fly to Vancouver with Air New Zealand, and then travel by train with Amtrak to Portland via Seattle.

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Brett Atkinson travelled through Oregon with the assistance of Travel Oregon.