Whether you’re visiting Oregon for the first time or are a long time resident, exploring the Oregon outdoors should be on your bucket list. Oregon offers over 98,000 square miles of varied geography and terrain, opening an endless array of possibilities for taking on a new adventure.
Here’s a look at 20 of the top outdoor activities to get you started, broken out into simple categories to make it easier to find the best adventure for you.
Oregon Outdoor Recreation
No matter your activity or passion, there is an Oregon outdoor recreation option for you.
1. Hit the Water
If speed on the open water suits your fancy, Oregon offers plenty of space for full-throttle excitement, and Green Peter Lake on the edge of the Willamette National Forest is just such a place. Nestled within groves of Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock, you could just as easily spend the day floating, admiring the view. However, at over 10 miles long and 3,270 acres, this water paradise is perfect for skiing and other water sports.
Green Peter Lake was formed in 1967, when the Middle Santiam River was dammed as it flows through the Willamette Valley and offers multiple recreation activities in the Oregon outdoors.
2. Tackle Whitewater Rapids in the Oregon Outdoors
If you’d rather take physical control of your journey on the water, try some whitewater rafting. It may be challenging at times, but there are few outdoor recreational opportunities that surpass the thrill of whitewater.
For the best class IV rapids, the Rogue River is the place to go. The Rogue flows through the Cascade Range and is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River to protect the diversity of the water corridor.
Trips on the Rogue can range from half-day adventures to multi-day experiences that lead well into the protected area of the river, providing an unparalleled chance to view some of the region’s astounding wildlife. Shorter trips are likely to be high on adventure as you tackle whitewater spills and large rapids on sections of the river such as Hellgate Canyon.
Taking on the rapids closer to Portland means getting out on the McKenzie. It’s hard to beat the beauty of the river’s aquamarine flows, but if whitewater excitement is more on your mind, the McKenzie doesn’t disappoint, with plenty of class III rapids and challenging terrain to navigate.
3. Kayaking Is a Simple Pleasure
You can paddle until your heart’s content in Oregon. Multiple lakes and rivers afford peaceful paddling, but there are few that stand out.
Clear Lake in the Willamette National Forest gets its name honestly. Water clarity is unsurpassed with visibility up to 200 feet, and that’s a good thing if you’re looking for a glimpse of the lake’s unusual underwater forest, a remnant of the volcanic history that formed this area of the state.
For a different experience, the Oregon coast provides multiple opportunities for paddlers to view both estuary and ocean environments. There are many outfitters that offer tours or rent equipment.
4. Take a Hike
Enjoying the Oregon outdoors on foot is one of the most exhilarating recreational opportunities the state offers. In fact, paring down the list to only a few trails isn’t an easy task, but here are some of our favorites to get you started.
If waterfalls put stars in your eyes, then the Sahalie and Koosah Waterfall Loop Trail along the McKenzie River is the perfect starting point. Conveniently located to either Portland or Eugene, Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls lie roughly along the McKenzie River National Recreation trail, a 26.4 mile excursion that begins at the base of Mt. Washington in an ancient lava bed.
The Sahalie and Koosah Falls trail cuts short your journey along the river by crossing over the water to create a loop that includes views of both falls. It can be easily reached from a parking lot on Highway 126.
For a challenging hike with a secret ending, try the Natural Arch Hike, a trek through pristine wilderness that ends with a slight rock scramble to a stone arch. This Oregon wonder was once hidden in the trees prior to the 1951 Sardine Creek wildfire.
5. Drop in Line and See What You Catch
Oregon outdoor recreation extends to anglers, providing plenty of opportunities to drop in a line. Lakes and streams sport plenty of freshwater species, including Chinook and Coho salmon.
For bigger sport, head to the coast where deep-sea fishing excursions will net you halibut, albacore tuna and ling cod to name a few.
If you don’t have an ocean-worthy vessel, it’s no problem. Plenty of outfitters up and down the coast provide group and chartered excursions.
6. Climb a Rock Face
Central Oregon is known simply as paradise for outdoor lovers, and Smith Rock State Park is the epicenter of all of the glory. Once christened the birthplace of U.S. sport climbing, it’s the perfect place for scaling mountain heights.
Some websites acting as authorities on the matter claim there are 1,500 different climbing routes covering Smith Rock State Park. Others claim nearly 2,000. No matter who is right, you’ll find many opportunities to hit the rock face. And if you’re new to the sport, there are a number of experienced guides to help you safely learn the ropes.
Oregon Outdoor Activities
In addition to active outdoor recreation, Oregon offers many more passive ways to enjoy the sights and sounds of the state.
7. Take a Peek at Oregon Wildlife
Home to a staggering variety of wildlife, the rich and varied terrain of the state offers multiple opportunities for wildlife viewing. Protected areas, such as the Rogue River Corridor afford outdoor enthusiasts with the chance to get off the beaten path and join the natural habitat. To see the best sights, you should plan on a multi-day hike or boating experience.
For simpler viewing pleasures, try one of the state wildlife areas. Jewell Meadows in the Oregon Coast Range Mountains is rich with elk, while Bridge Creek Wildlife Area is a birder’s paradise with additional opportunities for spotting deer and elk.
For a complete list of state wildlife areas, you can visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
8. Comb the Beach for Treasure
There are fewer simple pleasures in life than strolling the Oregon coast in search of treasure, possibly because the rocky shores are so rich in finds. The Oregon coast is home to minerals (think agates and jasper), polished sea glass, shells, and on occasion, the rare glass float.
In the past, Lincoln City has hosted Finders Keepers, where local businesses and artisans have hidden over 3,000 glass treasures along the sandy beach area for visitors to find. Currently suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions, we hope to see the return of these “random acts of kindness” in the near future.
9. Experience Living History in the Oregon Outdoors
Oregon offers a number of outdoor experiences to celebrate the state’s rich history. Fort Stevens near Astoria provides a unique glimpse into the area’s wartime past. Built during the civil war, the fort was later expanded to protect the crucial Columbian River waterway from possible submarine attacks.
You can also find remnants of Oregon’s mining history. A visit to Bohemia Mine in the Umpqua National Forest reveals remnants of the state’s gold rush, with a large tailing pile and the antique post office structure still visible. Taking a road trip into eastern Oregon, you’ll cross paths with several ghost towns, once thriving communities that have since passed away.
10. Chase a Waterfall
If we were to name a state geological feature for Oregon, it would have to be the mighty waterfall. Oregon is home to an endless number of these magnificent treasures, so it could be a life-long goal to see them all. Some of our favorites include Tokatee Falls in the Umpqua National Forest, a 113-foot double fall reached via a simple trail that leads to a viewing platform.
To quickly check off waterfalls on your bucket list, you’ll want to visit Silver Falls State Park outside of Salem, where you can easily explore 10 falls in a single day.
Oregon Outdoor Adventures
Excitement can be found in several Oregon outdoor adventures.
11. Jetboat Down the Rogue
Departing from the Oregon coast is an outdoor adventure like few others. Board a jet boat and deliver the mail to scenic outposts along the protected Rogue River corridor while flying effortlessly over the water’s surface.
Currently, Jerry’s Rogue River Jets is the only tour operator allowed on the wild portion of the Rogue. Consequently, they are also the only designated mail carrier.
Jerry’s offers three tours of varying lengths from 64 miles to 104 miles. All start where the warmer Rogue waters mix with cooling ocean currents and travel upstream, offering riders unlimited views of the scenic corridor with a few thrilling spins and splashes for good measure.
12. Caving Beneath the Oregon Outdoors
Leaving the Oregon coast doesn’t mean you’re running away from outdoor activities. You will, however, trade your flip flops and sunscreen for jacket and flashlight.
Oregon is rich in caving adventures. Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve offers daily tours beneath the ground into the marble halls of the Siskiyou Mountains. Explore the history of the caves, and at one point, the eerie solitude of complete darkness.
For self-guided tours, the lava tube caves just outside of Bend are open year round. The 1,880-foot-long Boyd Cave is the easiest to access, with a metal stairway that leads to a wide-open chamber. Nearby Ice Cave and Hidden Forest Cave are harder to reach (and find) but offer some unique surprises. Just be certain to prepare yourself with warm clothing and more than one light source before heading out. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you are going.
13. Camp Alone on an Oregon Mountain Top
Sometimes solitude is just what the doctor ordered and if you can serve it up with an unbeatable starlit sky, all the better. In Oregon, there are 17 retired fire towers that campers can rent for the night. Each is situated deep within the forest belt, offering a tranquil undisturbed place to take in a starry sky free from light pollution.
Throughout the national forests of Oregon, other structures are available for rent. One of these is the Musick Mine Guard station, located near the now defunct Bohemia/Musick Mine. Constructed in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the station was first used as a fire lookout and later as summer living quarters for fire crews. The lofted structure, complete with stable, is now available for rent for summer travelers who want to get away from it all.
14. Head out on Horseback in the Oregon Outdoors
Seeing the beauty of the state from horseback is an unforgettable experience, the chance to slow down, take in the sights and truly enjoy the scenery around you while bonding with your trusty four-legged steed. National forests and state parks across Oregon host equine-specific trails, but if you don’t have a horse of your own, there are several outfitters that will saddle you up and guide you through the experience.
Few places offer the diversity and beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and Oregon is not short of wonders.
15. Crater Lake National Park
Nationally recognized for crystal clear cerulean waters, this now extinct caldera offers some of the most inviting sights in the state, particularly on a hot day. The Rim Road drive is open summer through early fall and can be done in half a day.
Of course, if you really want to see the sights, you’ll take in some of the trails. The Cleetwood Cove Trail is an easy downhill trek to the water’s edge and the only way to explore the lake on boat. You might hate yourself on the climb back up but will never regret the lakeshore excursion, despite the physical exertion.
16. Smith Rock State Park
Already mentioned above as the birthplace of U.S. Sport Climbing, Smith Rock State Park near bend is where mountain and dessert collide in a magnificent showcase of scenic splendor. Hike any trail, and you’ll find magnificent scenery. And since central Oregon boasts 300 days of sun a year, it doesn’t even matter which season you decide to visit.
17. Newberry Volcanic National Monument
Also located near Bend, the Newberry Volcanic National Monument brings you up close and personal with Oregon’s volcanic history. Traverse the lava flows on foot, walk the rime of a cinder cone, stroll through a lava field where astronauts trained and visit a lava tube cave. The sights and history are all contained within a single National Monument in Central Oregon.
18. Visit the Oregon Coast
No visit to Oregon is complete without a trip to the rocky Oregon Coast. Featuring such famous outcroppings as Cannon Rock and more iconic lighthouses than you can visit in a day, you’re sure to give your camera shutter a workout. If you have time, a visit to the Oregon Coast Scenic Railway is great way to see the coast and enjoy the outdoors simultaneously.
Portland Oregon Outdoor Activities
While city streets aren’t often heralded for outdoor activities, in Oregon things can be quite different. Portland offers many outdoor activities across the city.
19. Visit Washington Park to Experience the Oregon Outdoors in the City
Washington Park is home to the Oregon Zoo, Portland Japanese Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and the World Forestry Center, providing city dwellers and those visiting the area plenty of opportunities to explore outside. Included in these wonders is the International Rose Test Garden, featuring 10,000 roses that bloom from May through October facing off against the backdrop of the iconic Mount Hood.
20. Kayak Willamette Falls
Paddling up the Willamette River to the base of Willamette Falls will give you an up-close and personal view of the oldest U.S. town west of the Rockies, not to mention the chance to feel the mist from the mammoth cascade. If you’re a fan of abandoned history, this outdoor adventure near Portland offers an added bonus as many of the old factories dotting the shoreline have been vacated for greener pastures.
21. Rent a Pontoon on the Willamette
If paddling upstream seems a bit too… well, strenuous, you can always get your horsepower the old-fashioned way and let a pontoon power you up the river. Several rental services offer you the chance to captain your own craft on daily, self-guided excursions, including Portland Electric Boat Company, where you can rent an electric duffy boat. It’s the best way to experience the sights of the river, including historic bridges and architecture.
With so much to do in the Oregon outdoors, isn’t it time get out and explore?