Most people skip over Oregon on trips to the Pacific Northwest. I’ve met countless individuals with tales of visiting Northern California and Washington on separate trips, but few who ventured through Oregon. However, of those who have stopped in the beautiful state I’m proud to call home, none have left disappointed.
Sadly, even I have taken it for granted at times. Before I graduated high school and moved to Los Angeles, I didn’t appreciate it. Only after the 16-hour drive north up I-5 (I was always in too much of a hurry enjoy the scenic route of Highway 101 along the coast, but I would recommend it highly) did I step out of the car, take a big breath of fresh air and exclaim, “It’s good to be home.”
Only after I began traveling to Europe and Asia, my wanderlust never quite satisfied, did I begin to appreciate how wonderful Oregon is. We’re one of few states that have all of nature’s beauty – the ocean, mountains, rivers, lakes, desert… We’re lucky to have such a diverse landscape. One misconception most travelers have about Oregon is that it rains all the time. It’s true, it does rain in the valley west of the Cascade mountain range, but to the east of that very line, where I grew up, it remains dry. We really have it all.
Here are eight of my favorite places to visit Oregon.
The ideal resort location for outdoor enthusiasts, Central Oregon is loaded with adventure sports to suit any desire. From mountain biking, hiking, swimming, boating, rafting, etc. around Bend and Sisters in the summer months, to snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, etc. on Mt. Bachelor and the surrounding areas in the winter months, the sports are only your ticket to the award-worthy view of the Cascade Mountain range and both the Deschutes and Crooked rivers running through.
The Painted Hills is a national monument in Oregon. Depending on the light and the weather, the natural clays in the land fluxuate between reds, oranges, yellows and golds, and they say rainy days bring them to their most vibrant form. According to the website for the nearby small town of Mitchell, the area used to be a tropical flood plain with lush plants where elephants, camels, horses and saber tooth tigers roamed freely. However, due to a series of volcanic eruptions and the changing climate, the hills formed nearly 35 million years ago, forming a beautiful landscape, rich with colors resembling those on a painter’s palette.
Crater Lake itself is a stunning, natural masterpiece in the heart of Central Oregon. It’s the deepest lake in the United States, and the seventh deepest in the world, at 1,943 feet (592 meters). It’s water is bluer than any I’ve seen in Thailand, and the landscape is unique in that you can drive along the ridge of the crater, peering down into a hole in the world.
“Keep Portland Weird,” is the local slogan in this popular city, and it couldn’t be more true. It’s liberal, it’s wacky, it’s rainy and it’s wonderful. Home of some of the country’s best businesses and a lively restaurant (including food carts!) and bar scene with some of the nation’s best chefs and bartenders, Portland really is one of a kind, and it’s worth spending a few days to explore the various vibes – hipster, posh, grunge, hippie – and try to understand why so many people love this funky, enchanting city.
Oregon’s coastline is rugged and strikingly beautiful with jagged cliffs, sandy beaches and picturesque towns. A drive along the two-lane 101 highway will take you through all of the quaint beach towns, and you can stop nearly anywhere to enjoy a piece of paradise practically all to yourself. Want to collect seashells or go on a lazy stroll? Want to rent a beach house on the sand? Want to eat some of the nation’s best clam chowder? You can do it all on the Oregon coast, just bring a coat. The beauty of these beaches doesn’t always come with sunshine.
Interested in cliff jumping? Steelhead Falls in Central Oregon provides a gut-wrenching 20-foot drop into a pool at the base of the cascading waterfall. The scenery can’t be beat, with a short hike to the gorge and plenty of places to set up a picnic and make a day out of both adventure and relaxation.
Smith Rock State Park
Whether you’re looking for a moderately challenging hike, a lazy stroll on the winding river, or some of the world’s best rock climbing, you can find it all at Smith Rock State Park. Ever heard of Monkey Face? There’s a rock, balanced on top of another rock, that naturally resembles the face of a monkey, and avid climbers can make it into his mouth for one of the best views in Central Oregon.
Sand Dunes at Coos Bay/North Bend
With over 25 miles of dunes to ride, you won’t have to worry about boredom, just getting lost. My family took a trip the summer before last, and my brother ran out of gas in his quad before he found his way back to camp. Thanks to the kindness of strangers who loaned him a phone, it all worked out okay! The dunes are special though, lining the Pacific Ocean with peak views for miles, and valley lows for days. If you’re up for a little excitement, this is surely it.
Next time you plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest, be sure not to skip Oregon. It really is a wonderful place to visit – you might not ever want to leave and that’s okay. It’s even more special to call Oregon home.
Oregon’s Natural Beauty: 8 Favorite Spots