Oregon is a state for the adventurous soul. It’s also a place where you can experience a wide range of landscapes, from the rugged Pacific Coast to the high desert plains. In between are rainforests, epic drives, glacier-topped mountains and memorable towns.
Wherever you are in Oregon, you’re never far from the action. You can be as busy as you wish, completing hike after hike, paddling down rapids or retracing the footsteps of Lewis and Clark.
Travelers could also focus on discovering the state’s interesting history, charming coastal towns and fill the itinerary with days at the beach or by the lake. Either way, the beautiful scenery, artsy culture and storied past will keep you busy from start to finish.
Snowshoe Around Crater Lake
When it comes to outdoor adventures, there are few countries that rival the breadth of offerings found in the United States. While there may be more famous national parks in the country, the arresting beauty of Crater Lake is one you won’t soon forget.
In southwestern Oregon, the Cascade Mountains run largely uninterrupted, except for the glistening blues of Crater Lake set within a caldera as old as time. Its reverent beauty takes a moment to truly appreciate. Its vastness can’t be soaked in all at once.
Visitors will drive quite close to the lake’s edge before taking the final few steps to the precipice of a cliff that’s actually the foundations of the 7,000-year-old Mount Mazama, a now extinct volcano.
After forming your initial impression of the spellbinding sight, you’ll have a bevvy of adventures to choose from in all seasons. You can venture up to Watchman Peak, take some simple day hikes from the vibrant Rim Village or even hike a section of the iconic Pacific Crest Trail. While as the snow falls, Crater Lake turns into a winter wonderland where snowshoeing and cross-country skiing make an appearance on the menu.
Drive Down Pacific Highway 1
Spanning a mesmerizing 363 miles (5584km) the Pacific Highway 1n Oregon is a brilliant mix of sea stacks and charming towns. It’s a world class road trip, one that continues north to the Canadian border and all the way south past San Diego. Some may argue that delights found between San Francisco and Los Angeles mark the best section of the iconic road, yet Oregon has sights unseen.
Oregon’s craggy headlands, the rolling Pacific Ocean and heart-warming communities will have you eager to see more yet hesitant to put the gear in drive and continue on. Southern California is hot, yet with the water in Oregon floating down from the Arctic, the environment is fresh, wild even.
Beyond the cliffs, carved by a millennia of crashing waves, are vast green forests holding onto the coastline for dear life. Paths take you down the cliffs to golden sands with nigh a footprint in sight and the refreshing Pacific can be as bone chilling as it is spectacular.
Then there are the towns, some we mention below. There’s the historic city of Astoria and the family tourist town of Seaside. Later is Cannon Beach, one of the most famous along the entire west coast. Plus Tillamook home to the Tillamook Creamery for delights of the tastebud variety.
Explore Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
The Pacific Highway 1 isn’t the only road worth traveling in Oregon. The Historic Columbia River Highway is another one to add to the itinerary. It courses through the Cascade Mountains, rising and falling with each peak and valley as the nature changes from dense rainforests to open grasslands. The road is masterfully scenic. After all, it was the first scenic highway in the United States. One of its major attractions along the 75-mile adventure is the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The presence of the Columbia River sets the border between Oregon and Washington. It has carved its way through the impressive mountains forming deep valleys and the inevitable breathtaking waterfall, one of which is the tallest in Oregon.
Multnomah Falls has taken on a life of its own thanks to social media. If you’ve even seen a stunning waterfall set behind and below an arched bridge on your feed that it’s probably Multnomah Falls. This captivating waterfall tumbles down 620 feet (188m) and splices the rich mossy cliffs in two. Of course, it attracts the crowd. So arrive early, get your pics and then wander along the miles of nearby trails.
Beyond the waterfall, you can also walk across the Bridge of the Gods (famous PCT landmark) and the Bonneville Dam. Beloved nearby towns include The Dalles and Hood River.
Check out Columbia Gorge and the waterfall on this tour departing from Portland.
Sunset at Cannon Beach
We briefly mentioned Cannon Beach above, but don’t worry, we wouldn’t dare leave this article with a mere sentence on this magical destination. The sea stacks set along Oregon’s coast are as much a reason to enjoy a day at the beach as the blue ocean and bright white sand. The most famous of Oregon’s rock stacks is Haystack Rock set in the heart of Cannon Beach, rising to a stunning 235 feet (72m).
The beach itself would find its way on to many “top ten” lists, yet with Haystack Rock and its smaller siblings, the beach transcends your average experience. The northern Oregon beach stretches for four miles and its wide open sands offer endless spots to kick back and relax. When the tide is out, the stack reflects off the remaining films of water, creating some impressive photography opportunities to go along with the classic sunbathing and book reading.
For lunch, wander into the artsy town of Cannon Beach or go a little further to the chic town of Seaside. But be sure to return in time for a spectacular western sunset, framed by the mighty Haystack Rock.
See all the highlights of Oregon’s northern coast (including Cannon Beach) on a guided tour.
Get Lost in Portland
Yes, much of the best things to do in Oregon are out in nature. After seeing our top four, that will be entirely unsurprising. But the Beaver State has a great list of fun cities and cute towns that you should visit and at the top of that list is Portland. Once an industrial port, Portland has become a modern, forward-thinking city packed with green spaces, great food and historic attractions.
For green spaces you have the memorable Washington Park that features the renowned Japanese Garden and the Rose Test Garden, with some great nature trails in between. For food, you can start every day with a hearty treat at Voodoo Donuts or Blue Star (or both?) before experiencing the city’s amazing international dining scene that will take your tastebuds on a journey around the globe.
Portland has no shortage of history, some of which explores the city’s quirky and independent personality. One landmark that sums this up is Powell’s City of Books. In the age of the internet, bookstores are dwindling, yet the largest bookstore on earth is in Portland and still thriving. Afterwards, explore the city’s Old Town and Chinatown, which boast fascinating tales of yore, none better than the Old Portland Underground.
Learn about Portland’s history, see the parks and enjoy the scenery on this half-day tour.
Hike Around Mount Hood National Forest
When in Portland, Mount Hood looms above the skyline. Travelers exploring only the state’s biggest city will do well to add a day trip to Mount Hood National Forest. The park is just over an hour east of Portland and features the tallest mountain in Oregon. Standing at over 11,000 feet (3,350m) the perpetually snow-capped Mount Hood is a striking sight.
Surrounding the spectacular mountain is the national forest, providing a buffet of adventures for hikers, bikers and skiers. A great place to start is the amazing Timberline Lodge. From there, you can admire the reverent beauty of the peak from a comfortable distance or jump on the chairlift as high as 7,000 feet (2,134m). From the end of the ride, you can check out the peak in great detail along with Mt Jefferson and the scenic Palmer Snowfield.
Instead of getting back on the lift for the thirty-minute return ride, join the adjacent hiking trail for a slower and more memorable trek back to the lodge. Speaking of walks, the national forest is also home to the Mount Hood Scenic Loop and the Timberline Trail.
For another view of the majestic mountain, make your way to Trillium Lake, which sparkles under the summer sun and offers kayak and paddleboarding experiences.
Spend a Day at Heceta Head
There are many marvels to discover along the Oregon Coast, but one that may take you by surprise is Heceta. Equally historic and gorgeous, the head features a beautiful and towering white lighthouse that has been stationed on the cliff’s edge since the 1880s. The red-roofed lighthouse is set alongside the keeper’s house and visitors center.
The head juts out into the Pacific, with Oregon curling back in either direction. It makes for the perfect spot, not just for a lighthouse but for visitors wishing to soak in another amazing vista. After learning about the history of Heceta Head, make your way down to the water where you can experience the rugged beauty of the Oregon coast up close.
Surrounded by cliffs that form a wind tunnel, it can be hard to escape the elements. But the scenery remains gorgeous and away from the crowds, it can feel like it’s just you and the world.
After exploring Heceta Head, drive briefly to the town of Florence. Within its historic Old Town, you’ll take a trip to early 20th century Oregon and shop in eclectic boutiques, explore independent art galleries and the wonderful Siuslaw Pioneer Museum. From there, you can experience the endless sand dunes that put the town on the tourist map.
Enjoy the Views in the Scenic Corridor
Technically, the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a section of the Pacific Highway 101. But this subsection deserves its own spot in our guide to the best things to do in Oregon. And here’s why:
The corridor marks one of the last stretches of Highway 101 in southern Oregon. It’s in a quiet spot, away from the northern towns and cities and the imposing Mount Hood. At just 12 miles long, it packs a scene that deserves a thousand words. There’s the patented Oregon coast that tumbles into the white-washed Pacific, the towering Sitka spruce trees, rock bridges and even more sea stacks.
Many highlights you can see from the car window, yet with dozens of miles of hiking trails, it’s worth putting on the boots and stretching your legs. Hikes to add to your itinerary include the short and easy stroll to Arch Rock, Natural Bridges and Secret Beach. For something more intense, why not tackle a section of the Oregon Coast Trail with 27 of the trails 382 miles coursing through the corridor.
Pay a Visit to Bend
If there’s one town that best sums up Oregon, it would be Bend. Sure, its popularity may be setting it on a path to change, but its sense of community and access to nature remains intact. Oh, and there’s a collection of some great breweries. Just reward for all the adventures you’ve been on.
Bend offers the kind of balance between small towns and big city amenities that travelers love. The whole area is a vibe with local festivals and farmers markets punctuating the calendar along with boutique shops, arts and crafts. The culture is a hard one to beat. Yet within minutes you can be floating down the Deschutes River or checking out the majestic Tumalo Falls. Life here refuses to be boring.
Days in Bend begin with the sunrise with the communiti’s zest for adventure best seen along the Deschutes River. Families walk along the banks, kayakers prep and you may even see people surfing in the river. How? You’ll have to find out.
Later in the day, toast to adventures in the Old Mill District or lay down the picnic rug on the lawns next to Crux Fermentation Project. Beer in hand, of course.
Venture to Hells Canyon
Shaped by the ocean on one side and the desert plains on the other, Oregon has a wonderful mix of landscapes. You could easily get swept up in the resplendent beauty of the coast, but you’d be missing out high desert and the alluring juniper forests, two things you can experience in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
The canyon itself is the deepest in the country, yep including even the mighty Grand Canyon. It’s set within the larger Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and getting there requires an adventurous spirit. You can hike to reach the canyon’s edge, or embark on a memorable white water rafting experience along Snake River, a designated Wild and Scenic River.
For a more relaxing time, you can venture out into the tranquil parts of the canyon for some fishing, or hiking up to the many viewpoints along the Western Rime National Recreation Trail for some brilliant views.
After a day for epic adventures, rest up with an equally wondrous drive along the Hells Canyon National Scenic Byway.
Bike Ride Through Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls is the largest state park in Oregon and the best place to go chasing waterfalls. There may be bigger falls, yet no part of the state has such a strong concentration of one of nature’s most spectacular sights. Before we jump on two wheels for a bike ride through Silver Falls State Park, we first need to hike the Trail of Ten Falls.
As the name suggests, you will trek by a series of ten waterfalls, each as beguiling as the last, with the highlight being South Falls. This waterfall tumbles almost 180-feet (55m) into the mossy valley with the mist rising in all directions.
After completing the jewel in Silver Falls’ crown, it’s time to get your hands on a mountain bike and explore the 35 miles (56km) of backcountry trails that take you aware from those chasing waterfalls and into the rest of the state park.
These trails see few footsteps and as you rise and fall with the climbs, you can explore the park’s incredible scenery at thrilling speeds. Rest up with a drip in the swimming area or camp overnight.
Sample the Tipple in the Willamette Valley
After days of hiking, swimming, mountain biking and road trips, it’s time to put the feet up and let others do the hard work. Trade your hiking boots for some fashionable boots and get exploring Oregon’s top wine region, the Willamette Valley. The valley splices the might Cascade Range and the coastal hills to form one of the best Pinot Noir regions in the United States.
In line with the culture you’ll discover in Oregon’s charming small towns, most of the region’s wineries are generational, family-run estates. This ensures that the vibe is on point, adorable but not overwhelming. With best practices and local knowledge handed down through the eras, each wineries has a unique take and produces fine, artisanal wine.
Those based in Portland have the perfect launch point for exploring the Willamette Valley. With numerous tours leaving every day, you can ditch the hire care and enjoy all the wines that take your fancy. For scenery, Pinot Noir and history, you can’t beat this wine tour.
Relax in the Coastal Town of Newport
As you wait for the vino to depart, head to the coastal town of Newport. On the state’s central coast, Newport is effortlessly endearing while offering an abundance of family-oriented fun. Newport has a rich history, which is still painted on the many Victorian-era buildings, along with the beautiful Yaquina Head Lighthouse.
Such is its position along the coast, you can spend your days exploring the grounds around the lighthouse, wandering up and down the Pacific Ocean or plonking yourself on a powdery patch of sand and watching the world go by.
Traveling families will want to check out the renowned Hatfield Marine Science Center, run by Oregon State University. The donation-based complex showcases regional marine life and its importance to the local ecosystems.
Afterwards, load up the picnic basket at the Newport Farmers Market. This event runs throughout the year, with produce reflecting the seasons. It’s as much an excuse to enjoy the local culture as it is to get yourself a treat for a day at the park.
Go Climbing in Smith Rock State Park
Just outside of Oregon, Smith Rock State Park is a celebrated destination among climbers who adore the endless amounts of sport routes set upon the rising cliff faces. The state park is another example of Oregon’s ever-changing scenery, as the rising rocks are more akin to life in Utah.
The high desert plains feature welded tuff rock aka compressed volcanic ash which was formed over 30 million years ago. This type of rock makes for excellent climbing for all abilities. With over 1,000 bolted sport routes, there’s bound to be something that fits your experience and climbing goals.
As you get closer to the heavens, you’ll be in an amazing spot to admire the scenery below. The vast canyon is cut by the Crooked River that feeds the surrounding nature, bring splashes of green to the otherwise beautifully barren landscape.
If you’re not much of a climber, don’t strike Smith Rock State Park from your list. It still boasts some of the best hikes in the state, bringing you to equally memorable views. The best of them is Misery Ridge. It’s a hike that doesn’t live up to its name, as the views are euphoric.
Go Whale Watching
Along Oregon’s central coast, travelers will find a handful of exceptional whale watching experiences. From December to the middle of January, gray whales migrate along the coast in mass, with over 20,000 whales making their way through every year.
There are many sightings just from the state’s craggy coast with 20 stations set up by Oregon Parks and Recreation during the annual Whale Watching Weeks. There are some amazing spots to keep an eye out for migrating whales in Oregon. These include views from the top of Neahkahnie Mountain (a peak that’s shrouded in mythology), Cape Kiwanda and Depoe Bay. The latter features a Whale Watching Center and is a common launch point for charter boats and eco-excursions.
However, rather than jumping on a big cruise or peering through your binoculars, get your hands on a paddle and join a kayak tour. This one departs from Brookings on the banks of the Chetco River. From there, head to the Pacific Ocean, spotting sea lions, seals and, yes, whales along the way.
Try the Cheese at Tillamook Creamery
As you drive down Pacific Highway 101, you’ll pass stunning vistas and cute towns, but one that won’t be on your radar is the Tillamook Creamery. Tucked away on the Oregon Coast, Tillamook Creamery is a one stop shop for mouthwatering cheese and dairy treats.
At Tillamook, they say their cheeses, ice creams and yogurts taste better becomes it’s made right. And boy oh boy, are they correct. The creamery began in 1909 and while their headquarters has become a must-see attraction, the quality and down-to-earth nature of Tillamook is as amazing as ever.
Visitors will be able to check out their vast factory and watch rows of delicious cheese be cut into blocks one by one. The exhibits explore Tillamook history and take you through the process of creating their memorable eats. Lastly, the spacious main lobby is an endless collection of cheeses, ice creams, and cookies that will satisfy you to your core and provide the perfect road trip snack as you continue along the coast.
Visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
The Oregon Trail has long been an aspect of US history that has held a grip on people’s minds and evoked romanticism. For those who grew up playing the legendary game, Oregon Trail will also have a connection to the infamous trek. At the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, you can discover life on the trail, without the risk of dying from dysentery.
As you explore the interpretive center, you’ll begin to envision just how difficult it was to complete the 2,000 mile (3,200km) trail with the natural splendor of Oregon motivating pioneers to push their limits. To complement the facts and stories are replicas of the famous wagons that would-be settlers used to begin their lives anew, along with historic artifacts from the Oregon Trail and an exploration of the life after the trail (for those that survived).
After the museum experience, head outside and enjoy some beautiful views along the center’s four miles (6.4km) of walking trails.
Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is one of the top day drives from Bend. It takes you through the Deschutes National Forest with alpine lakes, towering mountains and forests spread throughout its 66 miles (106km) of natural beauty.
The stretch of tar cuts through the heart of Central Oregon, showcasing the state’s gradual change from coastal rainforests to desert plains. From Bend, you’ll slowly ascend into the Cascade Mountains towards lakes fed by ancient glaciers with regular turnoffs for spectacular views from the comfort of your car seat.
With many lakes along the way, it’ll be handy to have a kayak or SUP to explore where the four wheels can’t. However, the lakefront beaches are great for a relaxing retreat, complete with some Tillamook Cheese.
The scenic byway ends in Sunriver, a year-round resort town with golf in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Explore Historic Astoria
In 1805, Lewis and Clark settled in for the famous winter on the west coast and thus completing their expedition. Not long after, John Jacob Astor arrived at a nearby location beginning the foundations for the first town along the Oregon coast.
Now over 200 years old, Astoria has a historical charm that’s hard to top. It boasts the longest continuous truss bridge in the United States and is also home to the fascinating Columbia River Maritime Museum. It’s safe to say, Astoria is a place for romantics, history buffs and families.
You’ll be able to experience the fisherman’s life in Astoria’s marinas with crew coming and going throughout the mornings. After, complete the 4.1 mile journey across the Astoria-Megler Bridge. For views just as memorable, wander down the Riverfront or climb the leg-burning but rewarding Astoria Column.
Ride the Dunes in the Siuslaw National Forest
Siuslaw National Forest forms a bridge that connects the state’s lush rainforests with the beaches of the Pacific Ocean and its many resplendent dunes. Set within the Oregon Coast Range, the national forest is one of just two to be set on the ocean in the lower 48 states.
The forest comprises a number of distinct habitats, include the prairie grasses and wildflower-rich Cascade Head along with the giant trees that flank Cape Perpetua. Yet it’s the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area that will pique your interest. It’s one of the biggest temperate dune systems on earth.
You’ll be able to jump on an ATV and be guided across the dunes at epic speeds. Or, you can hike at a slower pace to take in the views and track wildlife footprints. But my personal preference? Break out the sandboard and fly down the dunes.