When thinking about Oregon, the first things that may come to your mind are images of hipsters, lumberjacks, breweries, and its liberal and environmental-friendly laws. Well, the tenth-largest state in the United States all have that, and so much more.
Oregon offers some of the country’s most awe-inspiring sceneries and landscapes. From towering mountain ranges to picturesque coastlines, cascading rivers, spectacular waterfalls, scenic hikes, to vibrant cities, its attractions are undoubtedly breathtaking, making the state a traveler’s dream.
So, if you’re thinking of vacationing in the Beaver State and turning that fantasy into reality, here are the top places to visit in Oregon that you should consider adding to your itinerary. No matter where you start, be prepared to relish the beauty and wildness of one of America’s finest gems.
Crater Lake National Park
Nestling in southwest Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, Crater Lake National Park boasts a landscape like no other. While named a crater, it’s actually a caldera formed after Mount Mazama erupted about 7,700 years ago. Today, lava cliffs soar nearly 2,000 feet, encompassing the calm sapphire-blue waters of the deepest lake in the United States.
It ranks among the best hiking and backpacking spots in Oregon, offering nearly 150 kilometers (90 miles) of trails traversing the national park. If you want to explore its beauty by car or a motorcycle, take on the 53 kilometers (33 miles) long Rim Drive road that offers less adventurous yet equally jaw-dropping looks. Of course, don’t miss out on exploring the lake itself by joining a guided boat tour to its central island.
Just an hour and a half drive from Portland, you’ll reach one of Oregon’s most gorgeous stretches of sand – the Cannon Beach. Its beautiful shoreline runs nearly 480 kilometers (300 miles), fringed by dunes and tide pools. Its most recognizable feature is the Haystack Rock, which stands 235 feet (72 meters), serving as a nesting ground for plenty of avian life, including puffins!
After filling your heart’s content with its charm, there are lots of other activities you can do around the area. You can hike at the Ecola State Park located north of Cannon Beach or stay in town to visit its boutique shops, restaurants, great hotels, and art galleries for a cultural trip.
A city of many nicknames, the Bridge City, P-town, Stumptown, the City of Roses, and PDX, perhaps reflects the density of attractions located in Portland. One of its main draws is its gorgeous gardens, most notably the serene Japanese Garden situated at Washington Park. Nearby are the renowned International Rose Test Garden and Portland Art Museum and Sculpture Garden, which are equally exceptional.
If you’re traveling with your family, don’t fret, as your kids will indeed have a fun exploration time at the Portland Children’s Museum and the Oregon Zoo.
For cultural offerings, the city is also known for its microbrews, food carts, and art galleries. Afterward, walk across the St. John’s Bridge, visit the historic Pittock Mansion or check out the nearly one million books available at Powell’s City of Books for a different experience. Unyieldingly progressive and boasting a laid-back hippie vibe, Portland is one of your must-see cities on the West Coast.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
A part of Oregon’s 7 Wonders, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the state’s main attractions. It’s best known for its dramatic view of zones of waterfalls, including the 620- feet (189 m) Multnomah Falls, the tallest in the state. Other falls like the Bridal Veil Falls, Punchbowl Falls, and Latourell Falls offer unique sights.
Regardless of the season, the Columbia River Gorge will provide you with striking vistas, such as the surrounding forests dining fall color during autumn or wildflowers bursting into bloom during springtime. Adding the biking and hiking trails and camping facilities in the area, there’s no reason not to visit this scenic park.
Mount Hood National Forest
With an impressive peak reaching 11,239 feet, Mount Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon, serving as a glorious backdrop and distinct landmark of the state. It’s often cited as the world’s second-most climbed peak, just behind Japan’s Mount Fuji. It’s no surprise as Mount Hood is home to scenic hiking paths and viewpoints that entices hikers across the globe.
About 170 recreation sites dot inside the forest. Other popular locations include Rock Creek Reservoir, Timberline Lodge, Trillium Lake, Hood Cultural Center and Museum, and Mount Hood Skibowl. Be sure to enjoy all the unique natural sceneries and diverse flora and fauna – you’ll realize why it’s one of Oregon’s top places to visit.
Situated at Oregon’s Clatsop County at the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria is a historic city where famous explorers Lewis and Clark spent their winter from 1805-06. In 1811, John Jacob Astoria founded Fort Astoria, making it the first US settlement on North America’s Pacific coast. Pay a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, Fort Clatsop National Memorial, and Flavel House Museum to know more about its rich past.
Afterward, you can relax in this alluring seaside city by visiting the beautiful Astoria-Megler Bridge, the longest continuous truss bridge in the country. Alternatively, you can spend time at the Lewis and Clark National and State Historic Parks and Fort Stevens State Park for some fun and adventure with nature. Its vibrant downtown has its own character and unique offerings, providing you lots of things to keep you busy in this diverse and exciting city.
Bend is a small metropolitan mountain city celebrated for its excellent hikes – thanks for being tucked between the majestic Cascade Mountains. It’s the jump-off point to lots of hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and fly-fishing opportunities from the numerous natural attractions surrounding its area.
In town, you’ll enjoy the lively atmosphere, plus the tons of activities to do. Visiting the chic boutiques and art galleries and taste great beers from world-class craft breweries. Afterward, eat at one of the town’s delicious restaurants, or relax at the fancy mountain lodges and hot pools. Bend is undoubtedly one city you shouldn’t miss in the Beaver State!
Smith Rock State Park
An international climbing destination and a part of 7 Wonders of Oregon, Smith Rock State Park is the best place for hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers. Boasting more than 1,000 sport routes that encompass the glorious river canyon environment, it’s a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts!
Smith Rock Tuff is one of the park’s most unmistakable features, towering 550 feet (168 meters) on Crooked River Caldera’s western rim. Traversing its scenic trails, such as the Summit Trail Loop and Misery Ridge Trail, also provide opportunities to see mule deers, prairie falcons, golden eagles, and beavers, making it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.
Once named among America’s Top 10 best small towns, Yachats is a small coastal city in Oregon’s Lincoln County. It’s an amusing place to visit, especially for travelers who want to enjoy the Oregon Coast sans the crowd. Just outside its boundaries lie small beaches and tidal pools, where you can witness gray whales coming near the shore during spring.
If you want to immerse yourself in nature and scenic surroundings, Yachats is blessed with wonderful spots, such as Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, Smelt Sands State Park, Yachats State Park, and Devil’s Churn. Into art instead? The Earthworks Gallery and the Wave Gallery are excellent spots to delight your eyes with masterful works of art. As such, it’s one of the best places to visit if you’re looking for a much-needed respite.
Newport is a charming town located on Oregon’s Central Coast. It’s the perfect destination for families, blessed with many kid-friendly attractions like the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Hatfield Marine Science Center. Meanwhile, its stunning, vast expanse of beaches are great spots for children to waddle, build sandcastles, fly kites, and other exciting activities to do on the sand.
Be sure to bring your family to Yaquina Head, where Oregon’s tallest active lighthouse lies. The 93-foot-tall structure was built in 1972, topping a 14-million-year old natural landscape formed by lava flows. Never miss out on unfiltered sunsets, one of the highlights of this iconic coastal city.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Located within the Deschutes National Forest just 12 miles south of Bend, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is an enticing destination that offers a trove of idyllic sceneries to explore. It covers nearly 55,000 acres, brimmed with lava flows, lava tubes, lakes, and other stunning geological wonders.
Its beacon of beauty is the Lava Butte, a 500-foot tall cinder formed more than 7,000 thousand years ago. You can either hike to the top of the cone for some thrill or ride the transportation to its top. Lookout from the tower and be amazed by the gorgeous natural surroundings. Other popular activities at the park include boating, fishing, camping, and biking.
The Painted Hills
Situated within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills is another natural landscape included in the 7 Wonders of Oregon. As its name suggests, its hills feature beautifully colored stratifications, appearing in red, tan, orange, yellow, and black hues, seemingly painted by a brush. Witness how the shades vary with the sun by spending a few hours or traversing along its scenic trails.
Just an hour’s drive from Portland lies the attractive little town of Hood River, making it a well-loved weekend retreat for many Portlanders. It’s best known for its ideal windy conditions, attracting thousands of kiteboarders and windsurfers from across the country. Nevertheless, it’s also an excellent place for other activities, such as camping, hiking, biking, and outdoor sports.
With an emerging culinary scene, you’ll find many delectable brunch spots that mostly use freshly harvested ingredients and crops from the Hood River Valley. Afterward, tour the breweries or visit The Western Antique Air and Auto Museum, The History Museum of Hood River County, or Glassometry Studios to complete your day in the city.
Oregon’s version of California’s Napa Valley, Willamette Valley is home to two-thirds of the states’ vineyards and wineries. As you’d expect, you can indulge in pinot noir and fine diner for several days in this destination. If you’re not having a wine escape, you soak and relax at the nearby hot springs or pamper yourself with a massage or treatment at one of the many spa resorts in the region.
Willamette is not merely for relaxing, though. You can head to the Willamette National Forest, which covers over 1.6 million acres, composed of eight different wilderness areas. Spend a lifetime exploring its beautiful vastness and witness alpine lakes, scenic drives, gorgeous waterfalls, and other hidden viewpoints, giving you a blissful, unforgettable adventure.
Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm
Though established about 65 years ago, it was only in 1985 when the family owning the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm opened its 40-acre tulip field through the annual Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival. Since then, it has been one of Oregon’s top spring attractions, attracting visitors from all parts of the world.
Here, you can frolicker in a seemingly never-ending sea of vibrant colored tulips bursting in bloom. Be sure to bring your camera and grab some snaps of its breathtaking beauty! Buy some fresh-cut flowers and tulip bulbs as you head out to serve as your mementos from this eye-catching destination.
Of course, this list won’t be complete without mentioning Salem, the state’s capital. History buffs can visit the Oregon State Capitol Building, Bush House Museum, Deepwood Museum and Gardens, and Oregon State Hospital Museum to discover more about the city’s early days. On the other hand, kids can have fun at the Riverfront Park, Enchanted Forest Theme Park, or Gilbert House Children’s Museum.
Meanwhile, foodies will undoubtedly enjoy the amazon food and beer scene, as the city is home to many farm-to-table restaurants and wineries. Outdoor lovers can hike, bike boat, or fish at the nearby Willamette Mission State Park, attesting to the diversity of the beautiful capital city.
People often skip the Beaver State when traveling from Washington State to California, not knowing its immense beauty. From natural sceneries, impressive landscapes, fascinating beaches, incredible trails, and urban centers, Oregon should be on anyone’s travel radar as it simply has it all.