Cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, towering mountain peaks and vast beaches are among the incredible 7 wonders in Oregon, making this western state the ultimate outdoor playground.
Volcanoes, snow-covered mountains and arid deserts are just some of the top places in Oregon to visit, and adventure seekers flock here for activities like whitewater rafting, wind sports, hiking, surfing and beachcombing. From the sun-soaked vineyards of the Columbia River Gorge to the multi-colored hills near the John Day Fossil Beds, here are the seven wonders of Oregon.
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The Oregon Coast
Highway 101 winds along the coast linking Oregon to Washington and California, and is considered one of the world’s best road trips. The route features views of the ocean surf, dazzling stretches of sand, and lighthouses perched on craggy cliffs.
The coastal byway includes spots like Cannon Beach which is best known for photogenic Haystack Rock, the sand dunes in Florence, Tillamook which has a massive dairy farming production, and the scenic Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor.
While the entire Oregon Coast drive can be done in as little as eight hours, it’s worth budgeting at least a few nights to allow time to properly explore the waterfront towns, enjoy some beach time and hike through old-growth forests.
Mt Hood is the state’s highest peak which means it can be seen from miles away and even across the river in Washington, making it a top destination for alpine adventures in every season. Parkdale and Government Camp are the closest communities to the base, or you can stay right on the mountain by booking into the historic Timberline Lodge which was featured in the movie The Shining.
The snow-capped volcano is found about 90 minutes west of Portland or an hour south of the Gorge, and winter brings fun like downhill and cross-country skiing, sledding and tubing. The most popular Mt Hood ski resorts are Mt Hood Meadows and the Timberline Lodge and Ski Area, which is the only ski area in North America open all 12 months of the year.
During summer visitors can hike to spots like Tamanawas Falls, go mountain biking or paddleboarding, and camp at Trillium Lake, Lost Lake and Laurance Lake which also have great views of the mountain.
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is one of the prettiest places in Oregon thanks to its vivid blue hue. It’s the deepest lake in the USA, and one of the cleanest and clearest large bodies of water in the world.
The 33-mile Crater Lake Rim Drive is considered one of America’s most scenic byways thanks to the incredible photo-ops looking down at the water. The loop is usually open from July to mid-October, depending on weather conditions.
A few must-do stops during a Crater Lake tour are:
- Watchman Overlook: One of the most popular viewpoints in the park, with a phenomenal view of Wizard Island.
- Pinnacles Overlook: This quick detour off Rim Drive leads to a viewpoint of colourful, 100-foot high spires eroding from the canyon wall.
- Discovery Point: The spot where gold prospector John Hillman stumbled across the ‘Deep Blue Lake’ in 1853.
One of the most fun things to do at Crater Lake is hiking down to Cleetwood Cove, which is the only trail in the park that leads to the water. This is where boat tours over to Wizard Island leave from, and if you’re brave enough you can even go for a swim in the frigid lake.
The Painted Hills
The Painted Hills are one of the top Oregon natural wonders, thanks to stratifications in the soil dating back millions of years that created a kaleidoscope of colours.
The phenomenon is part of the John Day Fossil Beds along with the Clarno and Sheep Rock units in eastern Oregon, which has incredible natural formations and fossils. Best viewed in late afternoon, visitors can see the red, gold, green, black, yellow and lavender shades blanketing the hills, and the claystones can look different depending on the light.
Some of the best Painted Hills trails are:
- Painted Hills Overlook Trail: This flat pathway starts under a pavilion with interpretive signs about the area, and the half-mile walk has a great view of the colourful hills below.
- Painted Cove Trail: This short trail has a flat, wooden boardwalk that winds through vibrant red mounds, and is a popular spot for photography.
- Carroll Rim Trail: This 1.6 mile hike climbs 400 feet up, and has panoramic views of the whole park from the summit.
Craggy mountains, magnificent lakes and the high desert are just some of the diverse landscapes found in the Wallowas region, along with viewpoints overlooking Hells Canyon and the Snake River in neighbouring Idaho.
Most visitors base themselves in the idyllic town of Joseph which is framed by the Wallowa Mountains. The area’s top attraction is the Wallowa Lake Tramway, which transports visitors to the 8,150-foot-high summit of Mt. Howard.
The Wallowas are also one of the best places in Oregon to visit to learn more about the famous Oregon Trail, since there’s an interpretive centre that includes the ruts carved into the earth by pioneer wagons during the 1800s.
Eastern Oregon also has more than a dozen official ghost towns, which were originally gold mining settlements.
Smith Rock State Park
Thanks to its dramatic red cliffs, winding river and sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains, Smith Rock State Park is one of the most impressive places to see in Oregon.
Located near Bend in central Oregon, the site was created by a pair of volcanic events, and its towering spires make this a world-class climbing destination with nearly 2,000 routes. Other activities in the park include horseback riding, paddling and hiking, and there are a number of scenic outlooks looking down into the canyon.
Hike up to Misery Ridge for incredible views from the 3,360 foot summit, tackle the 7.3 mile Summit Loop which includes some of the park’s best spots like Monkey Face and the Monument, or take it easy and walk along the ancient lava flows.
READ MORE: What to do in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge
The last of the seven wonders of Oregon needs no introduction: our beautiful backyard, the Columbia River Gorge. With its wind sports, waterfalls and wineries, the Gorge has the best of Oregon all in one spot.
Lavender farms and orchards surround Parkdale, Hood River and Mosier, and a great way to see them is by driving the Hood River Fruit Loop. There are also fantastic wineries in Mosier and Hood River, and the area is also renowned for its craft beer scene.
The main draw to this area are the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls. While 620-foot high Multnomah Falls is the best known, there are countless others to see including:
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Tamara Elliott is the travel editor and founder of The Gorge Guide, which highlights the best experiences in the Columbia River Gorge. She’s an award-winning writer based in Hood River, Oregon, who particularly loves the area wineries and waterfall hikes. Tamara is also the founder of Globe Guide, which offers savvy tips for exploring destinations around the world.