For outdoor enthusiasts there are few places that offer as much to see and do as the state of Oregon. The 10th largest state in the union, Oregon hugs the Pacific Coast, but as beautiful as that windswept coastline is, it is just a small fraction of the many wonders offered throughout this Pacific Northwest wonderland. Here are our picks for the 8 best places to visit in Oregon:
Located on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountain Range, and with the Deschutes River running through it, Bend is the ultimate destination for climbers, mountain-bikers, skiers and hikers. On two wheels, two planks or your own two feet you will revel in all this central Oregon city has to offer. Bend offers literally dozens of high quality trails for mountain-bike enthusiasts. Some of the local favorites are Lower Whoops, Lava Flow and Mrazek. Bend also offers beautiful road cycling for those who prefer the pavement.
Just 22 miles out of Bend is the snow paradise of Mount Bachelor Ski Resort. Not only is it the largest ski resort in Oregon (by far), but it is the second largest ski resort in the United States, ranking behind only Vail, Colorado.
For those less inclined to outdoor pursuits (or for those who want to relax after a hard day on the bike or skis) Bend is world class destination for fans of craft beer. Breweries abound and if you time your visit right you can partake in the annual Bend Brewfest, held every August. Don’t be too sad if you can’t make the event. Just follow the Bend Ale Trail to find all the sweet suds the region has to offer.
At 11,249 feet above sea level, Mount Hood ranks as the highest peak in the entire state of Oregon. Visitors can ski, hike and even take a rail tour around this monolithic mountain. If you are looking for photo opportunities from below be sure to hit the shores of mirror lake. On clear, calm blue sky days you will be seeing double as the magnificent snow-capped peak is perfectly reflected in the still waters of the lake. For trekkers Mount Hood is home to a dozen glaciers and snowfields, offering an abundance of routes for those who want to throw on the snowshoes. Fun fact: The U.S. Geological Society deems that Mount Hood is the most likely volcano to erupt. Visitors have little to worry about though as the odds of an eruption over the next 30 years is deemed to be roughly 3-7%.
With less than 2,000 permanent residents, Cannon Beach seems like a sleepy, ocean-side town. That number swells dramatically during high season however as tourists flock to enjoy the wide stretches of windswept beach and gaze at the giant monoliths just offshore. These awe-inspiring rocks dominate the seascape, particularly Haystack Rock which, at 235 feet high, ranks among the largest offshore monoliths in the world. If you don’t mind fighting crowds of other tourists then aim to arrive in late June when you can check out Cannon Beach’s annual Sandcastle building contest. The contest has been running for five decades now and produces some truly jaw-dropping artistic creations.
Crater Lake National Park
The water-filled caldera of the extinct volcano, Mount Mazama, Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep, making it the deepest lake found anywhere in the United States, and one of the top 10 deepest lakes in the entire world. Points of interest within the lake itself include The Old Man of the Lake, a stump (once a full tree) that has been bobbing around in the water for more than a century now and Wizard Island, a cinder cone that formed from an eruption after the caldera had begun to fill with water. If you want to take a cruise and see the lake from all angles then follow Rim Drive, a narrow winding road that circumnavigates the 33 mile circumference of the caldera.
Oregon Caves National Monument
Located near Cave Junction, Oregon Caves National Monument is a great stop for the non-claustrophobics in the crowd. You aren’t allowed to go exploring by yourself, but you can take a 90 minute guided tour that will take you 220 feet underground through a marble cavern. Be sure to dress warmly if you plan to take the cave tour as temperatures are usually below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even when it is sunny and warm above ground. For those who don’t want to leave the sky behind there are four hiking trails around the national monument.
While Oregon is most famous for its many natural wonders, urbanites who are more comfortable with steel and pavement than with trees and waterfalls can get their city fix is the metropolis of Portland. The largest city in the state of Oregon, Portland is home to more than 600,000 residents. I know I mentioned steel and pavement, but Portland is actually one of the greener cities to be found anywhere with numerous parks, including Forest Park and the International Rose Garden providing natural beauty within this urban setting.
Those craving a little culture can get their fill with the Oregon Symphony, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland Youth Philharmonic, Portland Opera, the Portland Center Stage and the Hollywood Theatre just a sampling of the arts and entertainment options available in the city. Portland is also renowned for its thriving music scene and such bands as Everclear, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Kingsmen and The Dandy Warhols are just a few of the bands that got their start here.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Not far from Portland, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is yet another example of Oregon’s wealth of natural wonders. This massive valley stretches for 70+ miles along Oregon’s border with Washington. A hiker’s dream, the area features scads of waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, which at 620 feet (in two steps) is the second highest waterfall in the United States.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
For snowboarders who’ve always wanted to try their skills on sand, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is the perfect playground. It is the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes to be found anywhere in North America, stretching more than 40 miles along the coast and featuring dunes that stand as much as five hundred feet high above the water. Though the area is the playground of off-road vehicles one need not be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy the area. Quieter pursuits such as hiking, photography, horseback riding, fishing and canoeing can also be enjoyed within the boundaries of this National Park.