Famous for its versatile scenery, Oregon often ranks among America’s most beautiful states. The Cascade Range cuts through the state and causes vastly different climates on each side. A road trip across Oregon can start in old-growth forests and the rocky coastline and lead to 9,000-ft granite peaks and scorched deserts.

    Since many of Oregon’s greatest natural wonders are far away from its bustling metropolitan areas, a car is needed to see them all. From the snow-clad mountains looming over Portland to the deep canyons of Eastern Oregon, a road trip through Oregon will be a life-changing journey. Read on to discover the majestic natural sights of Oregon you shouldn’t miss during your visit.


    Mt. Hood

    Gaze at Oregon’s tallest peak the moment you step foot in Portland

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    Rising 11,249 ft above the Portland skyline, Mt. Hood is Oregon’s highest snowy peak and part of the Cascade Range. The potentially active stratovolcano rests about 50 miles east of Oregon’s largest city and paints a mesmerising portrait on sunny days. Portlanders frequently make the 2-hour drive to Mt. Hood to partake in recreational activities around the mountain.

    Mt. Hood National Forest boasts hundreds of hikes to cascading waterfalls, sparkling lakes, and blooming wildflowers. Thousands of mountaineers climb the icy terrain each year, making the Mt. Hood summit one of the world’s most visited. Skiers and snowboarders head to the historic Timberline Lodge and Ski Area to ride the powdered slopes of North America’s only year-round ski resort.


    Columbia River Gorge

    Chase waterfalls inside this scenic canyon separating Oregon and Washington

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    The Columbia River Gorge is arguably the most enchanting border anywhere in the USA. At 80 miles long and 4,000 ft deep, the geologic marvel is the country's largest national scenic area. Its varied terrain includes temperate rainforests, alpine meadows, arid deserts, basalt cliffs, and more waterfalls than anywhere in America.

    An easy day trip from Portland, the 620-ft Multnomah Falls is one of Oregon’s famous postcards. Bridal Veil Falls, Oneonta Falls, Latourell Falls, and the elegant Fairy Falls are just a handful of the beautiful cascades within the gorge. The Historic Columbia River Highway earned the title as America’s first scenic drive, and the engineering feat reveals unbelievable vistas of the mighty Columbia River coursing through the Cascade Range.

    Location: 902 Wasco St Suite 200, Hood River, OR 97031, USA

    Open: Forest Service office: Monday–Friday from 8 am to 4.30 pm (closed on weekends)

    Phone: +1 541-308-1700


    Oregon Coast

    Spot gigantic sea stacks and heart-racing vistas of the Pacific Ocean

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    For 363 miles, the Oregon Coast enchants visitors with sandy shores, old-growth forests, dramatic ocean views, and charming seaside towns. Highway 101 is your ticket to discovering each scenic viewpoint, historic site, and natural wonder hugging the Pacific coast.

    Found on Cannon Beach, the 235-ft Haystack Rock is the most famous image of the rugged coastline. The nearby Ecola State Park gives hikers stunning vistas of rocky headlands, Sitka spruce forests, and the crashing waves of the ocean. Sitting on the south shore of the Columbia River, where it meets the Pacific Ocean, Astoria is the spot where Lewis and Clark ended their expedition. Part of the Siuslaw National Forest, the Cape Perpetua Overlook offers a breathtaking panorama 800 ft above the ocean.


    Painted Hills

    Delve into Oregon’s geologic history by studying the colourful landscape

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    The Painted Hills, 9 miles northwest of the town of Mitchell, shed light on Oregon’s geologic evolution. Bright bands of red, orange, gold, tan, and black stretch across the landscape like a canvas crafted by Mother Nature. As the star attraction of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the streaking hues are the result of millions of years of climate change.

    The embedded fossils of prehistoric plants and animals reveal the lush forest that dotted the region long ago. You can find 5 short trails meandering around the Painted Hills Unit, each offering unique views of the striations in the mountains. Altering levels of light, moisture, and even snowfall create strikingly different shades each time you visit the colourful hills.

    Location: Overlook Trail, Mitchell, OR 97750, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 541-987-2333


    Wallowa Mountains

    Explore the alpine wilderness in one of Oregon’s most remote areas

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    The Wallowa Mountains, often nicknamed Oregon’s "Little Switzerland,” are a 40-mile range of snow-capped peaks in Eastern Oregon. The alpine paradise lures nature enthusiasts with dozens of glacial lakes, pristine meadows, diverse wildlife, and more than 500 miles of hiking trails.

    The rustic town of Joseph sits directly beneath the Wallowas and provides a fantastic base to explore the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Just 1 mile from Joseph, Wallowa Lake is the crown jewel where visitors can swim, boat, kayak, fish, and hike beneath the Oregon Alps. Ride by horseback into the majestic Eagle Cap, take the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mt. Howard, or camp beneath the stars in one of Oregon’s darkest areas.


    Smith Rock State Park

    See why these craggy spires are a rock climber’s paradise

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    Routes at Smith Rock lure rock climbers from around the world looking to try the high-desert challenges of Central Oregon. Considered the birthplace of American sport climbing, Smith Rock has climbs suitable for all skill levels. Rocky cathedrals, serrated cliffs, and sharp canyons dominate the landscape, and epic climbs like Monkey Face entice thrill-seekers.

    Find more glorious vistas on numerous hiking trails that challenge you with steep elevation gain. Tackle rugged mountain biking paths, cycle the desert roadways or appreciate the geologic beauty by paddling on the Crooked River. There’s an abundance of wildlife living here, and you might see deer, mountain lions, otters, beavers, falcons, golden eagles, or rattlesnakes during your trip.

    Location: Terrebonne, OR 97760, USA

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 800-551-6949


    Hells Canyon

    Go whitewater rafting in North America’s deepest river gorge

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    Hells Canyon straddles the border of Oregon and Idaho, conjuring images of the Wild West for fearless pioneers. The river gorge plunges more than 8,000 ft in some areas and dwarfs the depth of the 6,000-ft Grand Canyon. The untamed landscape is one of Oregon’s most remote regions and captivates you with hair-raising vistas and wildlife sightings.

    Whitewater rafting on the Snake River is a rush of adrenaline as you admire the sheer cliffs while navigating class II-IV rapids. With more than 900 miles of hiking trails, there’s endless terrain to explore if you’d rather stay on land. For an unforgettable road trip through the gorge, check out the incredible views from Hells Canyon Overlook and Hat Point Lookout.

    Location: U.S. 95, Riggins, OR 83549, USA

    Phone: +1 541-523-6391


    Alvord Desert

    Camp on this barren landscape for an unbelievable stargazing show

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    Alvord Desert with its cracked, desolate terrain still being part of Oregon is sometimes unfathomable. Lying beneath Steens Mountain in the far reaches of Southeast Oregon, Alvord Desert requires a serious effort to reach. A lake around 100 miles long and 200 ft deep once sat here, but all that remains today is a 12x7-mile empty playa.

    The desert basin rests on a fault, and seismic activity causes rumbling sounds below the barren floor. Alvord Desert is also a hotbed of geothermal activity and soaking in the pools of Alvord Hot Springs rejuvenates your sore muscles. As the sun dips below Steens Mountain, the star-filled skies put on a heart-racing celestial display with zero light pollution in sight. 


    Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

    Test your ATV skills on America’s largest stretch of coastal dunes

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    The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches for 40 miles along the Oregon Coast from Florence to Coos Bay, where different climates collide. Sandy dunes, temperate forests, freshwater lakes, wetlands, and the vast Pacific Ocean give you access to many recreational activities.  

    Much of the area is open to off-road vehicles, and drivers get the thrill of riding on the wind-sculpted dunes. You can also book ATV, dune buggy, and sand rail tours to let someone else handle the steering. For a more peaceful outing, venture to the inland lakes for kayaking, sailing, fishing, and bird watching. Hikers relish the rare chance to trek from the beach, through rolling dunes, and onwards to verdant forests.

    Location: 855 US-101, Reedsport, OR 97467, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 6.30 pm

    Phone: +1 541-271-6000


    Neskowin Ghost Forest

    Discover an ancient forest risen from the sand

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    Jutting from the sands of Neskowin Beach, the Neskowin Ghost Forest is an eerie reminder of Mother Nature’s power. Estimated to be around 2,000 years old, the stumps scattered along the shoreline were once majestic Sitka spruce trees upwards of 200 ft tall. It’s believed that an earthquake or tsunami ravaged the forest centuries ago and buried it beneath the shores of Neskowin Beach.

    Residents of the quaint town periodically witnessed the mysterious stumps, but a powerful storm towards the end of the 20th century resulted in the ghostly image seen today. During low tide, you’ll see more stumps protruding from the shoreline, and it becomes possible to trek to the nearby Proposal Rock offshore.

    Location: Neskowin Beach State Recreation Site, Neskowin, OR 97149, USA

    Phone: +1 800-551-6949


    Crater Lake, OR

    Take a boat trip out to Wizard Island

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    At almost 2,000 ft deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America. The water is a special cobalt blue with incredible clarity. Hike along the Cleetwood Cove Trail past evergreen trees to find the only easily accessible swimming spot on the lake. Wizard Island is a volcanic cone poking out of the water, acting as a landmark in the area. Take a boat trip out to the island and hike to the top for amazing views.

    Summer activities at Crater Lake include salmon fishing and visiting a series of waterfalls, while cross-country skiing is popular throughout the winter months. Due to extreme changes in the weather in this part of Oregon, what you do will depend on the time of year. 

    Daniel Grenier | Contributing Writer

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