When visiting Oregon, it may be hard to narrow down a list of things to do. So, we’ve put together this simplified visitor resource, a companion to our Oregon travel guide, to help you discover the top attractions, and scenic places in Oregon this magnificent state has to offer.
Exploring the Outdoors: Scenic Places in Oregon
No Oregon travel guide would be complete without mentioning the phenomenal hikes, scenic views, and endless outdoor activities found within the state. Visiting Oregon is an opportunity to see countless unique and stunning waterfalls, moss covered old growth trees or even abandoned mines left undisturbed in the seemingly magical forests.
A quick google search for “Oregon hikes” or “Oregon outdoor activities” will bring thousands of results, and a feeling of bewilderment. Exploring Oregon is a huge feat to take on, but some hikes and outdoor experiences are more worthy of your time.
For example, Drift Creek Falls is a must-see scenic place in Oregon. This short and mildly challenging hike displays all of the Willamette Valley’s stereotypical charms and sights. The hike begins with a slight decline that winds through tall, moss-covered trees and ferns lining the narrow and muddy trail.
Soon, the trees seem to part just as the sound of rushing water reaches your ears. A tall foreign structure appears in your peripheral, and only upon closer inspection can you see its truth. The large suspension bridge leads high above the falls, offering a unique and wobbly view of the tumbling water below.
The Drift Creek Falls hike packages the best of western Oregon into one small excursion that you will not regret. The hike itself is enough to get your heart pumping, but not too challenging. The suspension bridge, which almost looks as if mother nature herself placed it there, pairs well with the waterfall to give a unique vantage point of the views below and 360 degrees around.
On the opposite side of the spectrum and state, there are the Painted Hills, a must see when visiting Oregon. The hills, which are comprised of year-round shades of autumn, are a geological wonder as well as one of the most scenic places in Oregon. The hills are a small part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Park, a place full of geological wonders that offer a glimpse into the ancient past of the land that makes up Oregon.
The area features boardwalks to give you a closeup view of the reds, oranges, yellows, and striking blacks that give the hills their forever aflame look. Whether you are interested in the earthly history that occurred to cause this phenomenon, or you just enjoy stunning nature, the Painted Hills are an essential stop on any Oregon Travel Guide.
For more off-the-beaten-path Oregon outdoor experiences, the Oregon Natural Arch features a challenging hike and a private viewing experience of Oregon’s only natural arch. While it slightly resembles those seen in Utah’s Arches National Park, Oregon’s version is striped in the state’s more monochromatic tones and isn’t as easy to reach.
Another private experience when visiting Oregon outdoors is the Bohemia Mine and subsequent ghost town. The ghost town combines a hike, far off mountain top views, and a piece of almost forgotten Oregon history inside the Umpqua National Forest.
In addition to the above examples of the Oregon outdoors, there are lava caves, lighthouses, countless waterfalls, old growth forests, and abandoned pieces of Oregon history left to rot in the rain. We could go on for hours or days outlining more and more outdoor adventures inside the great state of Oregon, but for a more comprehensive list, try our Oregon Trips section.
Visiting Oregon: the Willamette Valley
To locals, the Willamette Valley is known for rain, mud, and logging. But for Oregon tourism, the valley is recognized for its rolling hills of grapes and small quaint wineries. In fact, when looking for things to do in the valley, its hard to find anything that is not wine related.
For those who love wine, the Willamette Valley offers some of the most expansive and unique wine options outside of Napa Valley. Oregon wineries seem to draw in large crowds of wine lovers who want to enjoy their tastings without the added fanfare or snobbery that used to be attached to the experience.
Wineries inside the Willamette Valley seem to bravely insert their own personalities, inviting all into their more casual and accessible tasting rooms. Many of the wineries are even dog friendly, perfect for when you’re visiting Oregon with your four legged friend.
Inside several Oregon wineries, you will find laid back atmospheres and fair pricing. Many of the establishments are family friendly, feature live entertainment, or have attached restaurants specializing in food/ wine pairings. In Carlton Oregon, there is a horseback riding tour that takes you through the wineries in the area, with stops at each for tasting opportunities.
If you are not a wine drinker, don’t fret. The Willamette Valley is one of the most scenic places in Oregon and is well known for its year-round hiking, including places like McDowell Creek Falls, and the famous Trail of 10 Waterfalls. The latter affords hikers the unique opportunity to walk behind several waterfalls and view these natural splendors from a different angle.
For history or museum buffs, the valley is filled with museums that are a must-do if visiting Oregon. The McMinnville Air Museum (Evergreen Aviation Museum) houses over 100 historical planes. The planes come from the beginning of aviation, military applications, and experimental prototypes, including the famous Spruce Goose. As you walk throughout the museum, you will be taken along the journey of aviation history from the beginning to now. The adjacent museum outlines the history of space travel.
Located in Brooks, Oregon, the Antique Powerland Museum is as unique as it is large. The 62-acre space showcases machinery of all types from all eras inside 15 different museums, mostly run by volunteers. Museums include exhibits from different industries, including logging, trucking and farming as well as antique cars, motorcycles, and other historical implements. Every year large crowds gather for the Great Steam Up when museum volunteers roll out the antique vehicles and machinery, start them up and exhibit their original purposes.
In addition, the Thompson Flouring Mills museum tells the story of Oregon industrialism and farming, as well as a town that up and left overnight. The Brownsville Pioneer Museum is just as it sounds, a museum dedicated to those who traversed the Oregon Trail to settle here. The museum also covers the lives of the natives, as well as the railroad.
Visiting Oregon: The Southern Part
We will now move south in our Oregon travel guide and cover all the south has to offer. Southern Oregon is classified as anything south of lane county between the cascades and coast range. This includes the cities of Medford, Roseburg, Sutherlin, and Grants Pass.
While vastly different in weather and scenery than the Willamette Valley, the southern part of the state has just as many scenic places in oregon. Southern Oregon is taking after the Willamette Valley and becoming the fastest growing wine area in the state. There are currently 88 wineries inside the southern portion of Oregon.
Southern wineries will offer different varieties and flavors of wine that cannot be cultivated farther north. With the large variations of soil found there, each wine will be starkly different from the last. For a complete list of wineries in the Rogue Valley, click here.
Besides growing grapes, portions of Southern Oregon are known for high quality farm or fruit stands. Dotted across Medford, Central Point and the surrounding areas you will find large and small roadside stands selling produce like strawberries, cherries, peaches, apples, blackberries, marionberries, boysenberries, blueberries, and veggies. Many places allow u-pick, or prepicked produce fresh from the fields. In our experience, we have found the prices to be competitive with local grocery stores, but the fruit is much fresher, just another reason you will love visiting Oregon.
No Oregon travel guide would be complete without mentioning the crown jewels of Southern Oregon: Crater Lake, the Rogue Jet Boat Tours, and Lower and Upper Table Rock.
Crater Lake is one of the most popular destinations when visiting Oregon. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, an eruption inside Mount Mazama caused the volcano to partially collapse and form the caldera that holds the water that makes up Crater Lake today.
Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902, and by the 30’s Crater Lake was drawing in large crowds to its pristine water and beautiful lodge. Inside the park today, you can camp, hike, mountain bike, or take a lovely drive along Rim Road and enjoy the views.
For an additional fee, you can stay in the onsite, historic lodge, or take the boat tours around the lake. Visitors are allowed to swim inside the bright blue water, but it is a bit of a trek to get back up to the parking area.
The thrilling Rogue River Jet Boat Tours are a fast paced jet boat ride that takes you through all the views of the still wild Rogue River. The Rogue River Jet Boat Tours Company is the only one permitted to operate inside the protected section of river, meaning this tour will allow ample opportunities to see wildlife such as bald eagles, deer, bear and more. This tour through the scenic places in Oregon’s Rogue River is worth every penny.
Along with stunning views of untouched sections of the river and wildlife, Jerry’s Jetboat tours provide a little drama to the scenery, with fast turns and fishtails, as well as the natural rapids of the turbulent river.
The operator offers three different tours, differing in length from 64 miles to 104 miles up river. If you have the time, we highly recommend the longer tour. This tour may take up your whole day, but will be worth it. Stops for bathrooms breaks and snacks or meals are provided. You can purchase food there or bring your own.
Our next Oregon travel guide stop inside Southern Oregon will be the Lower and Upper Table Rocks. Just north of the Rogue River, you will find two volcanic plateaus created by a lava flow that occurred around 7 million years ago. The plateaus protrude 800 feet above the ground below.
These rare and shocking rocks draw in approximately 45,000 people each year, some locals, and some visiting Oregon. The hike takes about 2 hours to cover the 2.5 mile out and back trail and is an easy to moderate hike. In the early summer months, the hillsides fill with wildflowers of every color to create the ideal photo opportunities. Unfortunately, no dogs are allowed on this hike, and taking flowers from the site is forbidden.
Visiting Oregon: Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway
The Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway, also known as the highway of waterfalls, is a 172-mile stretch of highway taking you from Roseburg to Gold Hill, Oregon. To cover this stretch of highway, it typically takes 5-7 hours, if you do not stop to enjoy the sights. When planning to visit Oregon, many people aim to cover it in a couple of days. This is one of the most scenic places in Oregon to camp, and many planning to tackle everything the byway has to offer do.
The highway features endless hiking trails and scenic viewpoints, and of course, waterfalls. It consists of highways 138, 230, 62, and 234, passing close to Crater Lake. The highway follows two of the most scenic rivers of Oregon: the North Umpqua, and the Rogue River.
Beginning in Roseburg, we recommend stopping by the Douglas County Museum of History to learn the history of the area, and the Winchester Dam and Fish Ladder before heading out onto the highway of waterfalls. If time permits, you can also take a slight detour before or after your journey to stop at Wildlife Safari in Winston to see exotic animals such as big cats.
Once on the highway, you will be greeted by the Colliding Rivers, where two rivers meet head on in a fury of hydro power. Next, the road will weave into the shaded forest along the North Umpqua River. Many well marked signs will point to trailheads for the various waterfalls in the area. We made a point of stopping at Tokatee Falls, a two-tiered cascade. It’s best enjoyed by taking the short hike through the woods. A boardwalk leads to a tree top viewing platform. Tokatee Falls has remains one of our favorite falls in the state and should be on your must see list when visiting Oregon.
Once on Rotue 138, you will pass by Diamond Lake, where you will find several amenities, including a resort offering lodging, dining, a marina, and a horse stable. Staying on 138 will bring you a worthy detour from the highway of waterfalls to Crater Lake National Park.
If you do not wish to visit the National Park, join highway 230, (which soon merges into 62,) to remain on the Rogue- Umpqua Scenic Byway. By now, the road is following the wildness of the Rogue River. Roadside pullouts with signs serve to educate about the fish that call the river home, and the efforts to preserve them and help them flourish. Steelhead, trout and salmon all reside in the Rogue.
Along the highway are many campsites and campgrounds for those who wish to further immerse themselves into nature. Fishing is allowed in the river, but you will want to check up on licenses as well as bait and tackle restrictions before casting a line in.
By the time you join highway 234, you won’t be too far from the town of Gold Hill, and Lower and Upper Table Rock mentioned above.
The Important Mount Hood Visit
Mount Hood is the tallest Mountain in all of Oregon. It is estimated that Mount Hood is also the volcano most likely to erupt in the state, but that does not stop it from being a huge destination as well as one of Oregon’s most scenic places.
The mountain top is known for some of the best skiing in the world. Better yet, it is accessible on a year-round basis. You heard that right. On Mount Hood, 12 glaciers and snowfields make it possible to ski or snowboard in snow even in the summer.
Mount Hood is home to 6 ski lodges where you can downhill ski, snowboard, enjoy snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and more. The most famous ski lodge on Mount Hood would be the Timberline Lodge.
Timberline was constructed in 1937 and is a national historic landmark. Since its beginnings, the lodge has been providing accommodations for those wishing to stay and ski on the mountain. The lodge draws in over 2 million people each year, whether they are visiting or staying. The rooms provide a historic cabin feel with modern amenities and dining.
Hiking is also prevalent in the Mount Hood region. Mount Hood hikes range from the simple stroll to the seriously strenuous. One of the most popular excursions is the trek to Mirror Lake, where reflections of Mount Hood glisten on the water and an easy 4.4 mile trail guides visitors around the shore.
The region around Mount Hood is well known for growing produce. Here, orchards abount, joined recently by a new and very popular crop: lavendar. You’ll find a number of places to stop throughout the summer months for photo ops in the fragran blossoms.
Things to Do in Eastern Oregon
Eastern Oregon is not an official geographical entity in the state, but if you ask anyone who lives in Oregon, they will know exactly where Eastern Oregon is. This section is most commonly known to include the counties of Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Grant, Baker, Harney, and Malheur.
The climate here is much drier than the rest of the state, with desert like summers and plentiful snow in the winter.
The most famous Eastern Oregon location included in every Oregon travel guide, would be the Painted Hills, mentioned above in the Oregon Outdoors Section. The autumn-colored hills are actually a small portion of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
The Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor Center in the park is the best place to see fossils found in the area. The Sheep Rock Unit prominently displays the geologic layers that make up this area of Oregon. And the Clarno Unit features volcanic mudflow formations which formed 40 million years ago. Fossilized plant life can be found along the cliff walls if you look closely.
The John Day Fossil Bed area is best to visit in the summer, or warmer months. Winter weather often makes the roads impassable.
For a winter adventure in Eastern Oregon, The Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort has you covered. The resort boasts a base elevation of 7,100 feet, which is the highest in Oregon. From there, the mountain rises an additional 900 feet for a summit elevation of 8,000 feet.
Located near the city of LaGrande, the Anthony Lakes Mountain resort is known for its pleasant staff and family friendly environment. The resort is on the smaller side with one triple chair lift, a rope tow and one wonder carpet. There are 21 runs on the Mountain with 80 percent of them being intermediate or expert trails. The trails are well groomed and known as the best powder skiing in all of the Northwest, making it a great place for skiers visiting Oregon.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the Umatilla National Forest spans a whopping 1.4 million acres through Eastern Oregon and parts of Washington. The main ranger station is located in Pendleton Oregon. Inside the forest are ample opportunities to camp, or hike. It also draws many mountain biking enthusiasts.
The Owyhee River inside the national forest provides a desert canyon experience, while the snake river is known for its level two and three rapids for thrill seekers.
The Umatilla National Forest is one of the best places in the state to see wildlife or try your hand at fishing. Moose, elk, mule deer, white tail deer, bighorn sheep, black bear, wolves, coyotes, and mountain goats all reside in the Umatilla. When Visiting the national forest, some passes and permits are required.
The biggest event in Eastern Oregon is the Pendleton Round Up, a century old rodeo known across the whole state. The Round Up is much more than your average rodeo. It is nearly a week long celebration of western and Oregon heritage and history from the Native Americans to the pioneers and early settlers.
The celebration involves parades, historical shows, a pageant, concerts and the main event, the rodeo. The Tipi Indian Village also join the festivities in parades and with nearly 300 teepees to create the largest annual Native American encampment in North America.
The rodeo itself lasts from Wednesday through Saturday in the third week of September each year.
Visit Bend Oregon
Bend is a small city in Central Oregon known for good food, micro breweries, and many outdoor activities at its doorstep. Bend is growing in popularity for Oregon tourism and for new move-ins. Inside the city, there are endless shopping opportunities, from antiques to high end clothing.
The Old Mill District features moderate to high-end shopping and dining experiences with riverside views. Biking and exercising on the paved paths that follow the river are also common activities at the Old Mill District. Some daredevils even enjoy surfing on the river rapids or paddle boarding in the calmer sections.
In addition, the Mill features a large movie theater, multiple art galleries, and the Les Schwab Amphitheater. During our visit here, we witnessed many music enthusiasts enjoying the concerts sounds from boats and tubes in the river on the warm summer night.
More areas for walking, hiking, or biking are located throughout Bend, Oregon inside their many parks. Shevlin Park, Drake Park, Sawyer Park, and Pilot Butte State Park are all inside or very near to the city.
No visit to Bend, would be complete without a stop to at least one of the many breweries of the city. There are currently 22 breweries that feature a wide range of beers. A quick Google search to determine the best ones to visit only makes things more confusing. Beer flavors are subjective by the way, and the opinions on the best brewery in Bend vary greatly.
Just outside of the city are endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, and some great scenic places in Oregon, in fact many who plan to visit Oregon consider Bend’s outdoors a staple. A quick drive down China Hat Road reveals a wonderous world of activities. In the state land here, many enjoy riding four wheelers, horseback riding, camping, hiking, and even shooting guns.
Off of China Hat Road, only a short drive from Bend are multiple cave entrances to the underground lava tubes formed 80,000 years ago by basalt lava flows. Boyd Cave is closest to the city, only about 12 miles away, and is the most easily accessible. Small brown signs along China Hat Road are the only indications that the caves exist.
Boyd Cave has metal stairs that lead down and does not require crawling on your hands and knees until a few hundred feet inside. Arnold Ice Cave is harder to access, but is known to have ice deep inside, even during the warmer months.
When visiting the caves, be sure to have safe shoes, multiple flashlights and observe all rules to protect local bat populations.
Another outdoor experience near Bend, Oregon is Tumalo Falls. The falls send water down a colossal 97-foot drop in a glorious way. This adventure can be short and easy, or can be lengthened for the adventure seekers. Tumalo Falls can be accessed by a short ¼ hike from the trailhead, but to see the Middle Tumalo falls you will need to hike an additional 1.25 miles on a moderate trail.
Over the River and Through the Woods Scenic Byway 20
The Over the River and Through the Woods Scenic Byway, or Route 20 from Brownsville to Sisters, is the route over the mountain from the Willamette valley to central Oregon. It takes around 2 ½ to 3 hours to complete in good weather and without stops. From late fall to early spring, the mountain is often covered in snow, causing delays or hazardous travel conditions, which is something to keep in mind when planning to visit Oregon. For those who fly into Portland airport, there are only a few ways over the mountain, and all can be affected by weather.
Near the beginning of the scenic byway, there is the Green Peter Dam and Foster Lake. These are both great locations for fishing, boating, camping, and swimming. After you pass the lakes, the road winds through the woods and the moss-covered trees quickly become thicker.
In this scenic place in Oregon, the road can cause some motion sickness depending on the driver as it follows the snaking path of the river. On the right side of the road there will be a placard for the transcontinental car road. This unique road race took place in 1905. Drivers needed to travel from Seattle to New York City as fast as they could. The winner completed it in 23 days.
Weaving through this area is the now defunct Old Santiam Wagon Road. The Wagon road was used from 1865 through 1939 by settlers to facilitate trade as well as movement of livestock. Now mainly unused, the wagon road is the ideal place for a Sunday drive with far off views.
Continuing down the Scenic Byway, Cascadia State Park has hiking, camping and lower Soda Creek Falls. Cascadia Cave is also nearby. Here cave drawings and ancient artifacts have been found. The site is on private land, but through the Sweet Home Ranger Station, guided tours are available.
Soon, you’ll find yourself on an incline, making your way up the mountain. The trees seem to grow taller and denser, while snow may make an appearance. A great hiking opportunity, the Tombstone Pass/ Cone Peak Trail Head has an observation deck from Iron Mountain. The hike is moderate, but a little long at 6 miles.
Near the top of the mountain, The Hackleman Old Growth Trail can be found on the right side of the road. The trail is short and easy, winding its way through towering old growth fir trees. This trail is one of the easiest ways to see a scenic place in Oregon. The upper trail is wheelchair accessible, while the lower trail is slightly more rugged.
On the downhill side of the Scenic Byway is Suttle Lake. Suttle Lake is an incredible resort destination, worthy of its own trip when visiting Oregon. Onsite, the lake the lodge offers dining, boat rentals and sleeping accommodations. Rental cabins and campsites are also located on the lake shores.
Multnomah Falls: The Ultimate Scenic Place in Oregon
Multnomah Falls may be the ultimate and most well-known Oregon tourism destination. Even people who have never visited Oregon have seen at least one photo of the majestic falls.
In reality, Multnomah Falls is made up of two separate falls. Often photographed from the bottom viewpoint, with the bridge in the center, the two tiers blend together to look like one large falls.
Multnomah Falls stands at 620 feet tall, making it the tallest falls in the state. The top tier is 542 feet tall, with a nine foot slope down to the 69 foot lower falls.
Hiking trails at the falls lead to the Benson Footbridge over the Lower falls, a viewpoint of the upper falls, and an observation deck with views overlooking the edge of the falls. If you have the time and the energy, we highly recommend making the climb to the top to see a viewpoint that is an amazing scenic place in Oregon.
Multnomah Falls is part of the Columbian River Byway, a magnificent way to tour the Columbia River Gorge when visiting Oregon. Here, you’ll find multiple waterfall hikes, rich history and tours of the Bonneville lock and Dam.
Elkhorn Oregon- Another Scenic Byway
The Elkhorn Scenic Byway is one of the lesser known scenic places in Oregon, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting. The byway is typically accessed in Baker City and is 106 miles long.
The journey will take you throughout the Elkhorn mountains which feature many historical areas of gold mining and abandoned ghost towns. There are also plentiful opportunities to fish, hike, camp, and swim along the byway if you decide to make it apart of your plan when visiting Oregon.
Baker City displays historic architecture in its downtown buildings, specifically the Geiser Grand Hotel. The Baker Heritage Museum has exhibits on the local history, and it is an excellent place to begin your journey.
Most Oregon scenic byways follow along the path of a river, and the Elkhorn is no exception. The Elkhorn Scenic Byway follows the Powder River through a ponderosa pine forest. If you begin along the southern portion, you will soon come across Phillip’s Lake, an over two-thousand acre lake perfect for all water activities such as fishing, swimming, boating and even camping along the shores.
From the lake, drive towards Sumpter, and be sure to stop at the Tailings Overlook to see firsthand how gold mining physically shaped the area. In the town of Sumpter, you will enter a mining town built around the gold rush in the area.
The Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge still stands today as a piece of Oregon tourism and history. Not too far from Sumpter are 4 different ghost towns: Granite Ghost Town, Bourne Ghost Town, Greenhorn Ghost Town, and Whitney Ghost Town. All the ghost towns still have buildings standing from their gold mining days.
Next, the Byway climbs far up the Elkhorn Mountains presenting many opportunities for summit views. Before you know it, you will come along the town of Granite, another historical mining town. Granite is one of the smallest towns in Oregon, with a population of just 38 in 2010. The historic Granite Town hall is still standing today.
The remainder of the byway weaves through the mountains past a few lakes which are perfect places to stop, enjoy or even camp. There are many campgrounds along the entirety of the byway.
Unfortunately, the state of Oregon is not a well-kept secret anymore. Many of the places to visit can be the opposite of private. But luckily, in the southeastern corner of the state, Steens Mountain is still relatively untouched.
Steens Mountain, one of the most scenic places in Oregon, is the ideal destination for those who love to enjoy the outdoors without paved or well worn trails. Many beginner and experienced backpackers spend days exploring all the mountain has to offer. It is also an excellent place to fish, hike, camp, and enjoy the views.
The diverse hikes through the mountain offer vastly different scenery. Some trails traverse loose and dense lava rock, while others meander through canyons filled with trees and surprising waterfalls. Most of the hikes here are moderate to difficult, and many of them are long. One of the more popular hikes is the 16-mile Big Indian Gorge hike.
Nearby, are many campgrounds to pitch a tent. Two of them, the Fish Lake Campground and Jackman Park Campground, are located at a high elevation and open during the fairer weather months. At a lower elevation you will find a plethora of campgrounds, some of them even allowing horses and RVs.
Steens Mountain is the ideal place for outdoor adventurers planning on visiting Oregon.
Planning Your Oregon Trip
With so many things to do, visiting Oregon can be short or long, but one thing is for certain. You’ll want to visit again and again.