14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Oregon
On the Pacific Ocean north of California and south of Washington, Oregon is a lush and slightly wild state offering many scenic tourist attractions. US 101 runs along the coast, a holiday paradise par excellence with resorts, beaches, and parks. At the northernmost point, the coast meets the mouth of the Columbia River, which marks the state's northern border. This major river leads inland, paralleled by a scenic route passing plummeting waterfalls.
In addition to its natural beauty, Oregon is equally known for its urban charms. Portland in particular has an international reputation for offbeat culture having adopted and embraced the slogan, "Keep Portland Weird." The state's largest city, Portland's sightseeing gems range from rose gardens to art museums and an immense bookshop. Further south, Eugene is a thriving university town, Newport is a favorite beach resort, and the Capitol is in Salem.
1 Crater Lake National Park
With a landscape like nowhere else, Crater Lake National Park lies in the Cascade Mountains in southwestern Oregon. Intensely blue and unusually deep (1,935 feet), the lake is almost exactly circular. It is the water-filled caldera of an extinct volcano, Mount Mazama, and lava cliffs rise to heights of up to 2,000 feet around the lake. Just a short distance from the edge of the crater, Rim Drive circles the lake in a clockwise direction. It begins at Rim Village (for a total length of 33 miles), but the roadway is only accessible in warm weather months. To explore the lake itself, head to Cleetwood Cove where cruises depart for Wizard Island.
2 Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area follows the course of the Columbia River as it cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range. Formed by the river, the gorge is known for its spectacular views and numerous waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls - the second highest waterfall in the country. The area offers a range of hiking and biking trails, plus camping facilities. And for the return journey, there are further attractions to be explored on the Washington State side of the gorge.
3 Cannon Beach
A popular tourist resort, Cannon Beach is located in northwest Oregon. The beach offers a wide stretch of sand and spectacular views of jagged coastal rocks. The largest of these is known as Hay Stack Rock, thought to be one of the largest monoliths in the world. Nearby Seaside is another popular resort town, close to beaches and surf breaks. Astoria lies 20 miles north of Cannon Beach, at the mouth of the Columbia River. The town is historically important as the location of Lewis & Clark National Historic Park - a replica of the famed explorers' Fort Clatsop. A slightly more modern relic is the military post of Fort Stevens, now a state park preserving a history spanning the Civil War through WWII.
4 Bend, Oregon
Edged by a mix of national forests, ski hills, and dry plains, Bend sits roughly in the center of Oregon. The city's High Desert Museum has informative displays about the arid regions to the northwest. Activity-focused tourist attractions include rafting trips on the Deschutes River, excursions to the volcanic landscapes of Lava Butte and Newberry National Volcanic Monument, and skiing at the large Mount Bachelor Ski Area. Also nearby, Smith Rock is famed with climbers for its many routes and long history as a rock-climbing destination.
For a more laidback approach, Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a route through Deschutes National Forest. The drive passes lakes, mountains, and spectacular scenery with many picnic and campsites available along the way.
5 Washington Park, Portland
Portland offers a bevy of delightful parks and gardens, but none has quite the density of attractions as Washington Park. Within park grounds, the famed International Rose Test Garden is located near the impressive Portland Japanese Garden. Each displays exceptional horticultural expertise and are favorites with green thumbs. For families, the park entices with fun explorations at the Oregon Zoo as well as the Portland Children's Museum. With this many things to do, a visit can take the better part of a day.
6 Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood is an unmistakable landmark in Oregon, its peak rising 11,239 feet to make it the highest mountain in the state. On its slopes are a mix of ski hills, hiking trails, and scenic viewpoints accessible via Mount Hood Scenic Loop. The national forest fans out from the peak to encompass waterfalls and hot springs. All told, the scenic area is impressive in its diversity and a top pick for those looking to explore Oregon outdoors.
Address: 16400 Champion Way, Sandy
7 Oregon Caves National Monument
This subterranean attraction centers on a marble cave, accessible only during guided tours. Stairs and narrow passageways feature in the 90-minute below ground journey. Above the surface, the protected area offers hiking trails through old-growth coniferous forest. The monument sits at 4,000 feet elevation in the Siskiyou Mountains.
8 Oregon Coast Trail
Most visitors are drawn to Oregon's coast for the wide ocean views, interesting rock formations, and sandy beaches. The Oregon Coast Trail is a hiking route that takes in 382 miles of these scenic attractions, from the mouth of the Columbia River in the north to the California border in the south. Most of the trail edges the beach, but a portion also runs along roadways, mainly US 101. There are numerous points of entry allowing easy access to sections of the trail all along the coast.
9 Willamette National Forest
The vast Willamette National Forest is located along the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains and covers nearly 1.7 million acres. The forest contains spectacular scenery including a number of volcanoes, mountains, and rivers. Visitors can explore trails, or head to attractions such as the Dee Wright Observatory (a stone tower atop McKenzie Pass) for area views or to Salt Creek Falls, the second highest waterfall in the state.
Address: 3106 Pierce Parkway, Springfield
Newport mixes beach scenery with its Victorian heritage. Lighthouses dot the coast between attractions such as the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Hatfield Marine Science Center. The town's busy bayfront faces sheltered Yaquina Bay (home to a large fishing fleet), while the wild Pacific beaches offer storm-surge rollers and unfiltered sunsets. The town is a good base camp for exploring along the coast and whale watching.
11 Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill
The fairly small city of Salem is home to an impressive State Capitol building, but also excellent heritage attractions. On five acres, the Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill centers on the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill dating to 1895. Alongside the large red structure, historic wooden buildings are brought to life by exhibits and interpretive guides, who give a look at the history of life and industrialization in the late 19th century.
Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm
Admission: Adults $6, seniors $5, students $4, children (6-17) $3
Address: 1313 Mill Street SE, Salem
12 Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
This windowless museum in Eugene is designed to protect its art treasures. The wide-reaching collection features primarily Asian artworks, along with pieces from America and Europe. Opened in 1933, the museum is located on the University of Oregon campus, where other attractions include the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and a historic track at Hayward Field.
Hours: Tues-Sun 11am-5pm, Wed until 8pm
Admission: Adults $5, seniors $3, children (18 and under) free
Address: 1430 Johnson Lane, Eugene
13 Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
South of Florence begins the dune landscape of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It stretches along the Pacific Coast for about 40 miles before reaching Coos Bay. But in between the beaches, wind-shaped sand dunes and pocket forests offer an unusual scenic area - along with the sandboarding destination of Sand Master Park. The recreation area is within Siuslaw National Forest. North of Florence, visitors can look out from the vantage of Heceta Head Lighthouse, one of many historic and picturesque lights perched along the Oregon coast.
14 Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area
In the extreme northeast of the state, Hell's Canyon is the deepest canyon in the United States and marks the Idaho border. The protected area within Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is largely inaccessible, but for the adventurous is offers lengthy outdoor excursions, wildlife watching opportunities, and fishing. The Hell's Canyon National Scenic Byway departs from Baker City and La Grande, with side trips to Hells Canyon Dam and viewpoints.