K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Oregon is a diverse state, offering everything from a breathtaking coastline to soaring mountain ranges, where you can enjoy scenic hikes, desert terrain and lively cities all in one vacation. If you’re thinking about vacationing here, considering putting at least some of these most amazing places to visit on your itinerary.
Set upon one of the most spectacular coastlines in the U.S., the town of Cannon Beach is renowned for its breathtaking scenery with lush surrounding forests, beautiful beaches, crashing waves, unique sea stacks and other rock formations that jut out of the Pacific and dot the golden sands. In town, this once-rustic artist community is now a bustling tourist destination with upscale restaurants, luxury resorts, boutique shops and art galleries. The highlight is the beach, and the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, the largest of the monolithic rocks that are spread across the sandy shoreline and provide a nesting ground for sea birds. To enjoy one of the most amazing vistas in the country, head to Ecola Park, through the old-growth rain forest and have a picnic atop the grassy cliffs that overlook the coastline. Elk can often be seen grazing in the meadow nearby, and the park also features a number of scenic hiking trails.
One of Oregon’s most historic cities is also one of the most famous, at least among movie buffs, as it was the setting of the cult classic, 1985’s “The Goonies.” Astoria is rich in tradition and historical architecture, having been the first settlement on the west coast of the U.S. Situated at the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria’s backdrop is the scenic Astoria-Megler Bridge, and the water offers the opportunity for a variety of activities, including fishing, sailing, kayaking and more. Be sure to take in the views from the top of the Astoria Column, where the ocean, river and snow-covered volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range are all part of the spectacular panorama.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the country at nearly 2,000 feet deep, and there are few others in the world that can compare to its intense blue shade. The gloriously tranquil waters reflect the mountain peaks like a massive dark blue mirror, and with the sheer cliffs that surround it, it’s truly an amazing sight. Created by the collapse of Mount Mazama over 7,500 years ago, the lake sits within the state’s only national park, which is popular for hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and boat tours. Most visitors cruise the 33-mile loop Rim Drive, open from June through mid-October, with its more than 30 viewpoints that wind around the edge of the lake. It’s also popular for diving – while other lakes may have sunken towns or shipwrecks, only this one offers the chance to dive into a flooded volcano as well as explore lava formations, fish and underwater moss meadows in the crystal clear shallow waters.
Portland is well-known as one of the world’s quirkiest cities, with one of the most popular sayings about it being “Keep Portland Weird.” It’s also one of the greatest places to visit, with a captivating downtown area full of micro-breweries, funky neighborhoods, art galleries, cheap but fantastic food and forest hikes. Straddling the Willamette River near the point where it meets the mighty Columbia, and with Mount Hood in the distance, the Pacific a short drive away and a multitude of parks, gardens and green spaces, it’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Be sure to visit the Portland Japanese Garden, considered the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. After dark, there is plenty of excitement to be found too, thanks to the city’s outstanding music and art scene.
Just a few miles east of Portland is the vast Columbia River Gorge, one of Oregon’s most alluring attractions which divide the state from Washington. Formed by cataclysmic Ice-Age floods, the valley stretches for over 70 miles along the Columbia River on Oregon’s northern border. By driving the Historic Columbia River Highway, you’ll take in awe-inspiring vistas, with one of the best enjoyed from Crown Point, which boasts panoramic views of the gorge and the river. The highway will also take you past dozens of waterfalls that tumble down the valley’s steep walls, and hikers will find numerous trails that lead to even more incredibly scenic falls. If you’d like to play on the river, it’s renowned for world-class windsurfing and kite-boarding conditions, as well as being a great place to fish.
Mount Hood is Oregon’s tallest peak, and while it offers a stunning backdrop of Portland, 60 miles away, it’s also a spectacular destination itself, with lots to do all year round. The five downhill ski areas and miles of cross-country trails keep the mountain slopes packed during the winter, and summer snowfall attracts visitors for off-season skiing as well. In the summer, enjoy hiking and even climbing to the summit of Mount Hood. By staying at the historic Timberline Lodge, made famous after it was used for exterior shots in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” you’ll enjoy impressive views of the Southern Cascades as well as all of the fabulous lodge amenities, including the year-round heated outdoor pool, a sauna, hot tub and more.
Multnomah Falls is one of the countless waterfalls found in the Columbia River Gorge, but it certainly deserves a mention of its own. If you only have time to see one, it should be Multnomah. Just a half-hour’s drive east of Portland, this magnificent waterfall plunges more than 600 feet as the “granddaddy” of the 77 waterfalls found on the Oregon side of the gorge – only three falls in the entire nation are higher. While a 5-minute walk from the parking area offers a great view if you want to see the falls in all their glory, and without bumping elbows with others, then hike the 1.2-mile trail to the top.
Another mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, Bend is tucked between snow-covered peaks and a high desert plateau on the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range. This fun, cosmopolitan mountain town is renowned for its frequent sunny skies and the opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing and blue-ribbon fly fishing in its numerous trout streams. In town, you’ll enjoy a vibrant atmosphere with all sorts of things to do, including tasting great beers as Bend boasts a startling number of world-class breweries, more per capita than any other city in the state. The Old Mill District and downtown is lined with a multitude of shops, eateries and galleries too.
Newport is a picturesque town on the central coast. It’s a great destination for vacationing families, with lots of kid-friendly attractions like the Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The wide, sandy beaches are ideal for flying kites and building sandcastles as well as other fun activities on the sands. Book lovers will love the oceanfront district, Nye Beach, which boasts a bookstore on nearly every corner. No matter what your reason for visiting, be sure to make a stop at Yaquina Head, the site of the state’s tallest and second oldest active lighthouse. The 93-foot-tall lighthouse was built in 1872 atop a natural area created by lava flow over 14 million years ago. It’s also surrounded by a multitude of tide pools that are fun to peer into, often housing creatures like starfish, hermit crabs and sea anemones.
Wine lovers can’t go to Oregon without visiting Willamette Valley, the largest AVA in the state with more than 200 wineries producing several varietals, most notably, its internationally acclaimed Pinot Noir. This region that stretches from the Columbia River near Portland in the north, through Salem and to the Calapooya Mountains, just outside Eugene in the south, produces two-thirds of Oregon’s wine and has become one of the nation’s leading producers. If you’re looking for the total wine escape, you might want to base your stay at the Allison Inn & Spa, which blends seamlessly into the landscape, with subtle earth tones that match the surrounding gardens, vineyards and lush lawns of the valley. Each of the guest rooms offers valley views, and the inn’s award-winning 15,000-square-foot spa even has a fabulous menu that includes “pinotherapy” treatments and “mimosa massage.”
Bandon is a tiny seaside town on Oregon’s southern coast. The “Cranberry Capital of the West Coast,” it’s been attracting vacationers since the mid-19th-century, some of whom fell in love with it so much they just couldn’t leave. It offers all of the usual beach activities, as well as great fishing, hiking, antiquing and golfing. It hosts the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, set upon the bluffs overlooking the ocean, which was named one of the top courses in the entire country. Wildlife is in abundance too, with shorebirds, ospreys, geese and bald eagles hanging out in the pristine salt marsh just east of downtown, while tufted puffins, murres and cormorants frequent the ocean waters just off Coquille Point. Gray whales migrate along the shore, and killer whales are sometimes even spotted in the estuary.
The little village of Yachats sits at the foot of Cape Perpetua on the Northern Oregon Coast. It’s a great spot for watching gray whales that swim near the shore in the springtime, as well as to explore tidal pools and picturesque coves, and hike the area’s scenic trails. Yachats is also famous for Thor’s Well, a gaping sinkhole and natural wonder in the sea that never seems to fill despite the continuous water that drains into it. The “well” is especially spectacular at high tide, or during storms when waves violently wash over the rocks before falling back through the hole. While it’s truly a sight to see, beware that it is also dangerous as visitors can be swept right into its madness.
The Hells Canyon Wilderness Area features the deepest river gorge in North America, and parts of the Snake River, along the border of Oregon and Idaho. Parts of the canyon that surround the river are as deep as 8,000 feet. With insane river rapids and distinct rock formations, it’s especially popular for whitewater rafting trips, with something to discover around nearly every bend. Fishing and overnight horseback excursions are favorite activities here as well. With few paved roads leading into the area, most visitors opt to enter the canyon by jet boat, although some trails are accessible with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Nestled in the soaring Wallowa Mountains in Oregon’s northeast corner, Wallowa is right on the doorstep of Eagle Cap, the largest wilderness area in the state, located near the town of Joseph. The ribbon lake is surrounded on three sides by dramatic 9,000-foot-tall snow-capped mountains and hosts a marina with a variety of watercraft available for rent, including rowboats, motorboats, pontoons paddle boats, kayaks and canoes. The crystal clear waters are also popular for fishing and swimming, while the surrounding landscape offers hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing. An aerial gondola located nearby will whisk you 8,000 feet to the peak of Mount Howard.
Located in eastern Oregon, Baker City is home to a charming historic district that includes the Geiser Grand Hotel, with its interesting history coming to life through a number of fascinating attractions, like the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Simply standing at its unique Oregon location offers a fabulous glimpse of one of the milestones along the Oregon Trail. Inside are life-size dioramas from scenes that took place during that time to provide an in-depth look at the hardships those early pioneers faced. Visitors can also take a ride on a narrow-gauge steam train, visit the Baker Heritage Museum and enjoy a drink in the historic hotel’s 1889 Saloon. Even if you don’t plan to spend the night at the Geiser Grand Hotel, just popping in to view the stained-glass skylight, crystal chandeliers, and mahogany woodwork are worth the time.
If you’re fascinated by the underground, be sure to visit the mile-long Lava River Cave in the Deschutes National Forest near Bend. Formed from a volcanic eruption about 80,000 years ago, visitors can take self-guided tours in this chilly and dark, yet fascinating environment. This is the longest, continuous lava tube in the state, and it makes a perfect “beginner cave,” with reinforcements like railings and concrete steps to help guide you along the way. Lantern rentals are available at the visitor center along with interpretive maps. While spending an hour and a half underground might sound eerie, it’s definitely a unique experience. To explore it, you’ll need to descend 55 stairs to a combination of the flat boardwalk, uneven surfaces, and more stairways, but you’ll be rewarded with a lovely sand garden and a magnificent array of ice crystals.
The state’s best-known ghost town can be found in the central part of the state just north of Antelope. The once-bustling town was considered the “Wool Capital of the World” around the turn of the 20th century. Bustling back then, multiple buildings were erected, including a combination City Hall, Fire Hall and jail, a hotel and other structures. Though a train once ran through, sheep and their wool were its claim to fame rather than the railroad. Following a series of unfortunate events, including a fire that destroyed much of its downtown business district, the town quickly began to fade. Today, only a few dozen residents remain, though the old water tower and City Hall with the old jail, a school and post office still stand today in addition to several antique and gift shops that have popped up in recent years.
Crane Prairie Reservoir is located in the Deschutes National Forest, just off the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway, about 40 miles southwest of Bend. If you’re into bird watching, this may be your ultimate paradise. One of Central Oregon’s premier wildlife viewing areas, an incredible array of waterfowl can be found in abundance here, including Sandhill cranes, Canada geese, bald eagles and osprey. Go to Osprey Point for interpretive signs about the local fauna, and to see artificial osprey nesting platforms erected after natural snags toppled from age. On a summer morning, elk can often be seen grazing in lakeside meadows, and deer are commonly spotted. The reservoir is also a prime fishing spot, home to some huge rainbow trout, mountain whitefish, brook trout and largemouth bass. If you want to stay awhile, there are free as well as paid campsites throughout the area, including Crane Praire Campground, with sites for both tent and RV camping.
Peter Iredale is one of the most accessible shipwrecks on the west coast. Although it’s been over 100 years since it ran ashore, its remains are still visible on the Northern Oregon coat in Fort Stevens State Park. It was abandoned on the Clatsop Spit about four miles south of the Columbia River channel, and because no one was able to remove it, it remained and has been slowly deteriorating ever since. In addition to the wreck, visitors can enjoy swimming in freshwater lakes, hiking, biking, beachcombing, wildlife viewing, and exploring a military fort.
Tillamook County is officially known as the “Land of Cheese, Trees, and Ocean Breeze.” The cheese part of that equation came about as it’s home to the world-famous Tillamook Creamery, which not only makes some of the best cheese on the planet but all types of other dairy products like yogurt as well as 30+ flavors of fresh ice cream. The factory is open to the public for tours as well as tastings, and also has an onsite gift shop. The town of Tillamook also hosts an impressive collection at its air museum and the largest colony of puffins in the state, along with a number of breweries, seafood shacks, fine restaurants and miles of hiking trails.
The Sea Lion Caves are located just north of Florence along the coast and are considered to be one of the most reliable, and one of the largest places to see these adorable sea mammals. The privately-owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary protect the sea lions that are free to come and go as they please. In the winter, hundreds hole up in the cave, and in the spring, which is breeding and birthing time, they move into the rookery areas, which are the rock ledges right out front of the cave, where they remain throughout the summer. There are some periods when there may be no seals at all, usually between late autumn and early winter.