Located along the Pacific Coast in the Western USA, Oregon is the ninth-largest state in the country. Oregon is one of the most geographically diverse states of the Pacific Northwest. Visitors can find a landscape filled with mountains, volcanos, sea stacks, waterfalls, deserts, and caves in the state. A vast part of the state is covered by dense forests which keeps its climate moderate. A cool breeze blows in the evening fall through spring and it rains frequently in many parts of Oregon.
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Oregon also has a rich culture and tradition. The state was home to many indigenous tribes before the first European settlers arrived from the east. Visitors can experience the history and crafts of the Native Americans through art and history museums. Oregon is also home to vibrant cities of Portland, Eugene, and Bend as well as coastal communities like Astoria and Newport. Here are the best places to visit, things to see, and do in Oregon.
Best Places to visit in Oregon
Being a physically diverse state, visitors can find a variety of places to visit In Oregon from the coasts to the mountains. There are attractions for all types of travelers and activities where families can spend quality time together. From wine tasting to beachcombing and from skiing to spelunking, the range of attractions in Oregon is huge and sometimes intimidating to visitors. That’s why we have compiled a list of the best things to do in Oregon for the first time visitors:
Portland is the perfect place to start your Oregon trip for everyone. Known for its weird attractions, Portland has a lot of options for visitors. The city has many urban parks including the Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden, a popular culinary scene of food trucks, restaurants, and cafes as well as quality museums including the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
Portland has a rich history and there is a lot you can learn about the city’s past at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. You will meet some of the friendliest people in Portland. The locals pride themselves on being environmentally friendly and the city is one of the hubs for activism along the West Coast. Portland’s hipster culture is a highlight of this city making it the perfect choice for millennials and Generation X.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
One of the highlights of Oregon is the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. There are many things to do in the area including waterfalls, scenic drives, historic buildings, and panoramic vistas. Visitors can drive along the historic River Columbia River Byway to explore the attractions of the gorge. Other than the awe-inspiring scenery, visitors can also get the finest hand-crafted beer and wine in nearby Willamette Valley, all thanks to the region’s unique geography.
The scenic area is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state including the Multnomah Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horsetail Falls. Watersports enthusiasts will love kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and boating. River Hood is said to be the windsurfing capital of the world. Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful place for explorers and adventures. The hype of this historic site is real, visit and you would find out why.
Just a 30 minutes’ drive away from Portland, visitors can find themselves at the magical Multnomah Falls. The two stepped falls cascade down from a height of 620 feet, making it the highest waterfall in Oregon. The Upper Falls plunge from a height of 542 feet while the Lower Falls cascade down 69 feet. This. Icy cold water flows throughout the year. There is a 9-foot elevation drop between the two falls over which the beautiful Benson Bridge is located.
The falls also have two hiking trails to see them up close. The moderate trail of 2.2 miles takes you to a small viewing platform at the top of the falls whereas the longer Wahkeena Falls trail of 5.4 miles combines many of the area’s stunning waterfalls in one amazing hike. Visitors can also visit the Visitor Center located inside the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge for exhibits and souvenirs.
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is one of Oregon’s most beautiful landscapes: the deep blue lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains is every photographer’s dream. The lake is one of the United State’s deepest lakes – it is also one of the oldest. The lake was formed more than 7700 years ago due to accumulated precipitation in the collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama volcano. The lake and its surrounding area are protected by the Crater Lake National Park.
To see the lake from different viewpoints, drive along the Scenic Rim Drive. The national park has many hiking trails and visitors can even take a ferry to the center of the lake. The national park is open year-round but winter access and activities are limited to certain areas. During winter, visitors can see snow on the rim drive and the lake partly covered in fog. Winter hiking, snowshoeing, and sledding in the park are popular.
Cannon Beach is a small coastal city in Northern Oregon. It is famous for its nine miles long beaches. The city is romantic and one of the best places in Oregon to experience the small city charm. Downtown Cannon Beach also has a unique vibe with its antique stores, seafood eateries, and art galleries. The view of Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock is the most iconic of the Oregon coast. Cannon Beach is famous for its sunsets that look like paintings by the Old Masters. To see the most beautiful views of Cannon Beach, visitors flock down to Indian Beach in Ecola State Park.
Astoria is a historic seaport city located where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. The city is famous for its many historical museums and the Fort Clapton. Astoria is the oldest city in Oregon and is the best place to begin an Oregon Coast Road Trip. The museums in Astoria including the Columbia River Maritime Museum, Flavel House Museum, and Heritage Museum are well-maintained. To see the best views of the city and the coast, visit the Astoria–Megler bridge and the Astoria Column. The Lewis and Clark National Historical Park located in Fort Clapton is also a must-visit.
Along with Portland and Eugene, Bend is one of the largest cities in Oregon. This city combines a typical small-town vibe with big-city attractions and should be on everyone’s Oregon bucket list. Along with museums and theatres, the city is popular for its breweries. There are several located in town and almost all of them produce excellent craft beer. Deschutes Brewery is one of the oldest ones and worth a visit. Bend also has many wineries and distilleries located in town.
Bend is amazing to visit for outdoor people because of its location on the eastern side of the Cascade mountains. Hundreds descend on the town in winter for the ski runs and ski resorts. The best time to visit Bend is however during the summer. The city’s popular summer activities include hiking, cycling, biking, river rafting, and rock climbing. Bend is also the perfect base for exploring the eastern side of the state and day trips from Bend to Painted Hills or Crater Lake are very popular.
Willamette Valley Wineries
Willamette Valley is Oregon’s famous wine-growing region. The Willamette Valley wineries make the world’s premium pinot-noir and are known for their wine tasting events and activities. On a scenic drive through the valley, visitors are privy to a gorgeous view of wineries. The ideal time to see Willamette Valley in its full glory is just before the harvest season which is usually from September to October.
During fall, the crews work in the fields, some of the wines turn a beautiful bronze, and activities like grape stomping and pumpkin patches occur on weekends. During harvest season, thousands of visitors from all over the country visit Willamette Valley. While the wineries are the prime attraction of Willamette Valley, there are many other things to do in the region as well. Biking around the valley, hiking on trails, visiting art galleries, and taking a hot air balloon ride are some of the people’s favorites.
Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood National Forest is one of the most visited natural forests in the United States due to the variety of recreation sites that it offers visitors. This densely forested area is less than 50 miles away from Portland and a short one hour drive away. The road to Mount Hood passes through the scenic Columbia River Gorge and its waterfalls. Visitors can easily combine attractions like Multnomah Falls and Hood River with a visit to the Mount Hood National Forest.
Mount Hood is the highlight of the national forest. The peak remains covered in snow year-round. Many lakes are located in the national forests and hiking around them is a fun experience. Popular summer activities include hiking, biking, mountain climbing, and camping while the main recreational activities in winter include skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. The view from the Mount Hood Scenic Byway is spectacular and a delight for photographers.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a scenic byway / linear state park with gorgeous coastal views, sandy beaches, and dense forests. The byway in southern Oregon is far from popular places like Astoria and Cannon Beach and remains a hidden gem along the Oregon Coast. There are several lookout points, geological formations, and trailheads located along the byway. Most of the hikes are beautiful and enough to make you fall in love with the Oregon coast. The corridor extends for 12 miles and visitors easily take 2 to 3 hours to complete the drive. Some of the most iconic geological attractions are Arch Rock, Natural Bridges, Secret Beach, Indian Sands Trail, etc.
Newport is a coastal city located along Central Oregon’s Pacific Coast. This city is famous for its views of migrating whales. During the migration season, the whales swim across the Yaquina Head making it a top sight for whale watching in Newport. The waters near Newport are a habitat for a variety of wildlife besides whales. Visitors can spot sea otters, elks, and eagles.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is where you can see all the marine life that lives off the Oregon Coast. The exhibits let you walk through the glass tunnels and children can see sharks and other marine life swim over their heads. Newport also has other attractions of a wax museum, historic bayfront district, and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Devil’s Punch Bowl State Natural Area is located near Newport and famous for its collapsed sea cave bowl that churns sea waves.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area has the best sand dunes in Oregon and are in fact one of the largest dune systems in the entire world. The height of many of these sand dunes is almost 500 ft above sea level which makes them perfect for many recreational activities like horse riding, off-roading, sandboarding, and hiking. Other popular activities in the area include swimming at the beach, camping, photography, and more. The dunes are a result of natural wind erosion and water weathering which makes them a unique geological phenomenon. Sunrise and sunset among the dunes are magnificent. The nearby city of Florence is also worth a visit.
Salem is the capital of Oregon. It is located one hour south of Portland in the Willamette River valley. Oregon’s cherry-growing industry was once concentrated in and around Salem, leading to its name of the ‘Cherry City’. The city is settled on the banks of the Willamette River and is a peaceful city with many parks and gardens. Riverfront City Park is one of the most famous parks and is great to spend a day outdoors. Salem also has the oldest university on the West Coast of the United States.
One of the highlights of a visit to Salem is the Oregon State Capitol building. The beautiful capitol building is made of marble and has artwork from artists all over the state. The Capitol is open to visitors and conducts free guided tours throughout the week. On a tour, visitors can admire the building and understand about Oregon’s history. Salem also has many historic buildings and museums to understand the heritage and history of the area.
Eugene is the third-largest city in Oregon and it is as important a cultural destination as Portland. History-lovers should also visit Eugene at least once. Alton Baker Park, located along the banks of the Willamette River, is the largest park in the city. It has tracks for bicycling and jogging for the visitors. Other great parks and gardens are the Hendricks Park and Mount Pisgah Arboretum.
The University of Oregon campus has great museums. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has a rich collection of Asian art. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History has many exhibits on the natural history of the Pacific Northwest. Another great attraction is the Eugene Saturday market where you can listen to live music, eat international cuisines, and purchase from local artisans. Springfield, which is located across the river from Eugene, is also a great place to visit.
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Cape Perpetua is one of the most stunning places in Oregon. From coastal bluffs and wild cliffs to beautiful scenery and wildlife, Cape Perpetua Scenic Area has it all. It is located in Siuslaw National Forest along the coast. The main thing about it is its rainforest type conditions. The drive along it provides a wide view of the ocean. The Cape Perpetua Visitor Center has many exhibits about the geology and natural resources of the coast.
Cape Perpetua has many lookout areas and trailheads located along the road. Visitors can see some of the famous Oregon coastal landmarks at Cape Perpetua including Spouting Chasm and Devil’s Churn. The most famous is the Cape Perpetua Lookout, which is the highest point along the coast that visitors can reach via car. Cape Perpetua is a place that the more you explore, the more you fall in love with.
Oregon Caves National Monument
Oregon Caves National Monument is a natural wonder in Oregon. The cave is a collection of underground passages that are said to be 3 to 5 million years old. The cave is made of marble and contains stalagmites, stalactites, cave popcorn, and many other geological formations. Some of the cave chambers also contain fossils of animals that lived in the area many years ago. The area surrounding the caves is popular for hiking through old-growth forest and for spotting wildlife.
Visitors can tour the caves with the rangers; the tour is perfect for those who seek adventure. Small kids are not allowed inside the caves and anyone has to be at least 42 inches tall to enter. The temperature inside the caves is always cool and carrying a jacket on the tour is a good idea. The half-mile walk through the caves is challenging but fun. You will climb almost 500 stairs. On the walk, you will walk through many cave chambers and rooms and see fascinating geological formations. The caves are open from spring to fall but the best time to visit them is during summer.
Thor’s Well, Yachats
Located inside Cape Perpetua Natural Scenic Area near Yachats, Thor’s Well is a beautiful geological formation. Thor’s Well is included in the Seven Wonders of Oregon. This is a natural sinkhole that when filled with waves from the Pacific Ocean spouts out as a tall fountain before swallowing the water back into the hole.
This series of events is spectacular to watch and is high on the bucket list of most visitors to Oregon. The best time to see Thor’s Well at its most magnificent is during high tide. However, the sinkhole is also extremely dangerous if you get too close to it and that’s why visitors should watch it from a safe distance.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a must for visitors who love natural history, fossils, and archeological sites. The monument preserves fossils of the animals and plants that lived here in ancient times. The monument comprises three geographically different park units known as Sheep Rock, Clarno, and Painted Hills.
The monument has many hiking trails where visitors can observe naturally exposed fossils. The monument is located in eastern Oregon’s desert region that gets very cold during the winter. The best time to visit the monument is during summer when the weather is relatively dry. It can get hot as there is no shade and visitors should carry water for the hikes.
Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City
The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City is the best way to learn about the Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail was a 2000 miles long route that started in Independence, Missouri and was used by the earliest settlers to discover the Pacific Northwest. Thousands of people migrated to the west via the Oregon Trail. The journey on the trail was not easy and it took at least five to six months to complete it.
The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center explores the history of the trail through live demonstrations, exhibits, special events, and interpretive programs. At the museum, visitors can see films and videos about life on the trail and listen to stories of the pioneers, miners, explorers who first came to Oregon.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Heceta Head Lighthouse is the most photographed lighthouse in Oregon. It stands on the 1000 foot high Heceta Head. It is named after the Spanish explorer, Bruno de Heceta, who surveyed the Oregon coast in the late 18th century. This lighthouse was completed in 1893 to help ships navigate the treacherous coast. The 56-foot-tall lighthouse is still working and its beam shines 21 miles out to the sea. This is the strongest light on the Oregon Coast.
Today, the lighthouse and its surrounding beaches are a part of the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. Visitors can hike a 1/2 miles long trail that climbs up 150 feet in elevation to reach the lighthouse. The views from the lighthouse are one of the best in Oregon. Visitors can tour the lighthouse lower levels with a ranger; access to the upper level and the lens is not permitted. The tour also takes visitors to see the assistant lightkeeper’s house. Visitors can see whales, sea lions, sea gulls, and cormorants from near the lighthouse.
Tillamook is a coastal city located on the south end of Tillamook Bay. It offers a wide range of attractions for visitors to the city and the surrounding area. The city is famous for its parks, breweries, restaurants, and museums. Outdoor enthusiasts love Tillamook for its well-maintained hiking trails, crabbing, clamming, and fishing opportunities. The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, which has a fun 45 miles drive down the coast, is also easily accessible from Tillamook.
If you want to find the best artisan food on the Oregon Coast, then you need to visit Tillamook. For dairy lovers, a visit to the famous Tillamook Creamery & Cheese Factory is a must. The company has a rich history and is open for self-guided tours to visitors. On the tour, you can view the cheese making process and sample popular American cheeses as well as eat delicious ice cream.
Painted Hills is one of the units that make up John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The unit is located north of the town of Mitchell. The name comes from the beautiful color striations in the landscape. Painted Hills is also one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. Most popular way to see this colorful landscape is via the Painted Hills Overlook Trail. In the afternoon, the colors on the hills look the most vibrant and resemble an alien landscape, making this the best time to visit Painted Hills. The colors also look best after a rainfall. The hills reflect the history of the earth and never fail to grasp the attention of earth lovers.
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