If you’re looking for the best things to do in Oregon, look no further because this travel guide covers the state’s top attractions, best activities and highlights that are bucket list worthy only!!!
From the state’s dreamy, fog-shrouded beaches, to its formidable peaks that line the central Cascades region, and largely unexplored, handsome landscapes in the eastern half of the state, you will be captivated by Oregon’s unparalleled beauty.
In this guide you’ll learn all about Oregon’s must see places and quintessential things to do that will inspire you, and hopefully help you plan the perfect trip, no matter if you’re interested in exploring the state’s wild, windswept beaches, luxuriant evergreen forests, or rugged eastern plains.
The list begins with the best things to do in the Portland area, then covers the Oregon Coast, Central Oregon, and finally, Eastern Oregon. Whether you’re gliding across a tranquil lake located along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, hiking up an enormous volcano, or on a road trip chasing waterfalls, you are guaranteed to find activities that you’ll enjoy doing on this ultimate bucket list.
Best Things To Do In The Portland Area
Photograph St. Johns Bridge In Northwest Portland
St. Johns Bridge is a steel suspension bridge that spans the Willamette River in Portland. This bridge is the most iconic landmark in Portland, therefore is a must see for all first time visitors to the ‘City of Bridges’.
The steel structure is not only one of the most famous bridges in Oregon, but also one of the most beautiful bridges in the United States. It’s gothic arches and stunning light green color stand in contrast to the temperate forests that surround the area making it a visual delight and a photographer’s dream!
St. Johns Bridge is the pinnacle of bridge aesthetics, and stands out as increasingly rare and significant in the world of bridge design and construction. What makes this bridge incredibly beautiful and unlike others is that its beauty is solely derived from creating structural elements that are themselves attractive, rather than adding superficial decorations to an ugly structure, which is how most other bridges are designed. For example, the distinctive gothic arches in the piers and steel suspension towers of this bridge are attractive, but they also function as part of the actual structure and contribute to the strength and stability of the bridge.
The concept of making the actual bridge structure beautiful is rarely seen in modern bridge construction today, which has instead returned to the less sophisticated and less attractive concept of adding superficial decorations to bridge structures.
St. Johns Bridge is located in Cathedral Park in Northwest Portland. The park, which was named after the Gothic cathedral-like design of the bridge towers, is a great place to view the amazing architecture and decorative concrete of the bridge.
Visit Portland International Rose Test Garden
While Portland has many nicknames, the ‘City of Roses’ is actually Portland’s official nickname. Georgina Pittock, wife of Henry Pittock, founded the Portland Rose Society in 1889 after she invited her friends over to exhibit their roses in her garden. After that, the city became obsessed with roses, planting them throughout the city.
In 1905, Portland held the Lewis and Clark Exposition, its only world fair, to attract people to the city and boost the regional economy. To attract visitors, the City of Portland planted around 10,000 bushes of the revered Madame Caroline Testout rose (a popular breed of hybrid tea rose) along Portland’s streets. At that time, there were twenty miles of rose-lined streets, and it was then that Portland was named the City of Roses.
Portland is still obsessed with roses, and this is visible at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. Founded in 1917, the Rose Test Garden is the oldest official continuously operating rose garden in the United States.
At the Rose Test Garden are over 10,000 rose bushes, which are typically in bloom from May through October, although June is probably the best time to view them. The month of June is also when the Portland Rose Festival takes place each year where visitors can attend carnivals and parades.
The Rose Garden has an incredible view of Portland’s skyline and of Mount Hood on clear days so be ready with your camera to capture some very beautiful moments while you’re there.
The grounds are open every day of the week from 5am to 10pm. Free guided tours are available daily at 1 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, with departure from the Portland Rose Garden Store. Admission is free!
Try A Voodoo Doughnut
Voodoo Doughnuts, with their clever marketing that involves donuts slathered in brightly-colored frosting (most often topped with cereal or candy), along with their signature neon-pink boxes, have managed to become nationally famous in the world of donuts.
Founded in May of 2003, Voodoo has become a diet staple for PDX residents and a pit stop for road trippers passing through Portland on their way to the Oregon coast ever since.
The company like to think they had a hand in creating the world of gourmet donuts and were the one’s who introduced the world to the Bacon Maple Bar. Whether that’s true or not, one thing is for sure, Voodoo certainly know how to get creative with their donuts!
Currently, they have over fifty rotating flavors to choose from which get shuttled from the back bakery to the shop’s front window display at their hot-pink painted store in downtown Portland.
Fall under Voodoo’s sugary spell inside their fun and colorful store in downtown Portland which is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Chase Waterfalls In The Columbia Gorge
There are dozens of beautiful waterfalls you can visit along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Some of them require a short hike, some require a little more effort to get to, and some of the waterfalls along this scenic byway only require hopping out of your vehicle!
When people think of waterfalls in Oregon, Multnomah Falls is usually the first one that comes to mind. Multnomah Falls is Oregon’s tallest waterfall and is also the state’s most visited natural attraction. Many tourists will agree that visiting Multnomah Falls is one of the best things to do in Oregon. Indeed, viewing the marvelous 611-foot cascade is something you’ll never forget.
Multnomah Falls is an easy day trip from Portland and can be reached via Interstate-84. The drive, which takes about thirty to forty-five minutes, will take you into the stunning Columbia River Gorge, a region loaded with natural beauty, endless outdoor opportunities, and best known for its high concentration of waterfalls.
If you make the effort to visit Multnomah Falls, you may as well spend the day chasing other waterfalls in the area. Some of the other waterfalls you must see include Latourell Falls, Ponytail Falls, Horsetail Falls, and Tunnel Falls.
There are loads of other cool things to do in the Columbia River Gorge such as visiting the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, visiting the Bonneville Dam, or seeing the Bridge of the Gods to name a few.
Best Things To Do On The Oregon Coast
See The Iconic Haystack Rock
No trip to the Oregon Coast would be complete without seeing Haystack Rock. The iconic sea stack which sits just off Cannon Beach, is one of the most photographed destinations in Oregon. You may have seen this famous landmark in several popular films including The Goonies, Point Break, Kindergarten Cop, and Free Willy.
National Geographic once named Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach one of the world’s most beautiful places. With accolades like that, you certainly can’t miss an opportunity to visit this charming seaside village on the Northern Oregon Coast.
Cannon Beach has a lot more to offer than its wide sandy beach and prominent rock. The downtown area is lined with boutique stores, artisan shops, and restaurants that are housed inside buildings clad with weathered cedar shingles. There are numerous beach related activities and festivals held throughout the year, and hiking opportunities abound in the surrounding forests.
Because of this destination’s close proximity to Portland, Cannon Beach is very popular as a day trip destination or weekend getaway spot for Portlanders. Therefore, you can expect this place to be busy most weekends throughout the year. Yes, even in winter! Oregonians, particularly those that live on the coast, aren’t afraid of a little rain.
Sample Cheese At Tillamook Creamery
Have you heard of Tillamook Cheese? If you live in the Pacific Northwest you most certainly have. More than likely you’ve heard of this cheese company even if you hail from the east coast where there is a lot more competition. But if you are an international visitor to the U.S., you may not be familiar with one of the leading cheese producers in the nation.
Let me introduce you to Tillamook County Creamery Association, a farmer-owned co-op that produces award-winning cheese, as well as some of the best ice cream in the country! Their most popular product is the Tillamook Cheddar, a cheese that won the gold medal in the 2010 World Cheese Championship Contest hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison, Wisconsin. This cheese scored an impressive 99.6 out of 100 points.
The acclaimed cheesemakers have their roots in Tillamook where they are still based to this day. Tillamook, located on the Oregon Coast, is not only home to the company’s headquarters and main production facility, but is also home to an extremely popular Visitor Center that hosts over one million visitors each year.
At the creamery, tourists can learn all about cheesemaking, watch the production of cheesemaking, and see the cheese packaging process in action. Tours of the facility are self guided and best of all, free!
At the end of the tour, guests can sample some of Tillamook’s most popular cheese varieties including cheddar and pepper jack, but the favorite with tourists here is the squeaky cheese curds.
No trip to Tillamook or Oregon’s northern coast is complete without a stop at the creamery! Fortunately, the Tillamook Creamery is located right on U.S. Highway 101 which makes it the perfect addition to your Oregon Coast road trip itinerary!!
Witness Churning Ocean Waves Spew Through Thor’s Well
About halfway down (or up) the Oregon Coast, is a seemingly bottomless sinkhole that continuously swallows up the seawater that surrounds it. This sinkhole is known as Thor’s Well, a natural wonder that has been attracting visitors to Cape Perpetua Scenic Area for many years.
The sinkhole is obviously not bottomless. It is actually a result of a sea cave collapsing that created an opening in the rock from which the ocean sprays during high tide. At high tide, and particularly during storms, Thor’s Well becomes a sight to behold, spewing and swallowing the ocean waves. Photographers especially flock to the natural landmark to capture the violent eruptions and churning waters. If you do decide to visit, you need to be very careful as there is a real danger of getting swept away during high tides.
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is situated in the Siuslaw National Forest, a place where you can experience dreamy coastal Oregon landscapes complete with towering trees shrouded in coastal fog, frothy surf, and majestic headlands that appear as far as the eye can see.
Travel Tip: The best time to visit Thor’s Well is one hour before high tide to see it without water and then observe how the formation fills up once the tide rises.
Visit Samuel H. Boardman State Park
Samuel H. Boardman State Park is one of the most well-known destinations on the Oregon coast noted for its dramatic craggy bluffs, sea stacks, and secluded beaches.
The state park is situated right off Highway 101 and runs for twelve miles along the coast between Gold’s Beach and Brookings. This stretch of the highway features one turnoff after another, each with amazing vistas and viewpoints, access to picnic areas, as well as access to trailheads that connect to the eighteen mile long Oregon Coast Trail.
One of the most photographed places in this state park is known as Natural Bridges, a series of seven iconic arch rocks and blowholes that can be seen at the end of a short trail that begins at the Natural Bridges turnout.
Visiting Samuel H. Boardman State Park is one of the top things to do in Oregon. Whether you stop for some quick photos, hike part of the coast trail, or spend some time camping in the area, you surely won’t regret making the effort to visit this stunning Oregon destination.
Best Things To Do In Central Oregon
Find The Blue Pool
Tamolitch Falls, which is famously known as the Blue Pool, is a popular summer destination for hikers and photographers, as well as a top bucket list destination for tourists road tripping through Oregon.
The sapphire waters of the Blue Pool are so vibrant and clear that they almost don’t seem real. It’s glassy waters are deceiving; the clarity of the water creates the illusion that the pool is only around five feet deep, however the pool is actually closer to thirty feet in depth.
Although the hiking trail to Tamolitch Falls is accessible year round, the best time to see the Blue Pool is during summer as this is when there is the best chance of having blue skies. Why is this important? Because on overcast days, the pool does not appear as brilliant as it does under clear skies.
The hike out to Tamolitch Falls is only 4.2 miles out and back, and is mostly flat with very little elevation gain which means hikers of all fitness levels can easily complete this trail. As mentioned earlier, the Blue Pool is very popular with both Oregonians and out of state visitors so you can expect the trail to be busy, especially on weekends throughout summer. Be prepared to arrive early!
Drive Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is Oregon’s most scenic drive featuring show stopping mountain peaks, formidable volcanoes, and dazzling alpine lakes. This road trip takes motorists through the central Cascades region of Oregon which is an outdoor lover’s paradise!
Outdoor recreation abounds along this stunning stretch offering endless hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, fishing, and camping opportunities. Photographers will also be in heaven traveling through this landscape full of dark green forests, bright green meadows, big blue skies, and interesting volcanic landscapes.
The sixty-six mile scenic drive begins in Bend, and it won’t be too long before you round a curve in the road where a stunning view of Mount Bachelor emerges. Soon after this magnificent sight, Broken Top and South Sister mountains will appear which is when you’ll be truly awestruck.
Some of Oregon’s most picturesque lakes can be found along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway like tranquil Sparks Lake and the vividly-colored Devil’s Lake.
While the drive can easily be completed in one day, it is best to allocate at least two days to spending time in this area so you can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, kayaking, fishing, or camping.
>>Read: Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: Where Oregon’s Alpine Lakes & Snowcapped Peaks Are Showstoppers
Summit South Sister
The South Sister hiking trail is a bucket list hike in Oregon for many hikers. Not only is it one of the most challenging hikes in the USA, but it’s also one of the most rewarding because of the incredible views that can be seen from the mountain’s summit. On a clear day you can almost see every peak in the eastern half of the Cascade Range including Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, and even Mt Hood.
This twelve mile return trip hike leads to the summit of Oregon’s third tallest summit, South Sister, which stands at 10,363 feet. Its sister mountains, North Sister and Middle Sister, are the fourth and fifth highest peaks in Oregon. Unlike its sister peaks, South Sister has an uneroded summit crater which you can walk around once you reach the top.
South Sister is actually a volcano that last erupted two thousand years ago. Its peak and flanks are home to some of the last remaining glaciers in Oregon. Sitting below the summit is Teardrop Lake, the highest lake in the state.
Of course this hike is no stroll in the park. It is very challenging to say the least, but summiting one of Oregon’s most iconic peaks will be an accomplishment you can brag about for years to come. If you’re interested in learning more about this trail such as when is the best time to hike, whether you need a permit, and what to expect, see this guide to hiking South Sister Mountain.
Tick Crater Lake National Park Off Your National Park Bucket List
If one of your life long goals is to tick off every national park in the United States, then visiting Crater Lake National Park obviously needs to be on your Oregon bucket list.
Established in 1902, Crater Lake is the fifth oldest national park in the United States, and the only national park in Oregon. The park protects Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States. At 1,949 feet deep, Crater Lake is not only the deepest lake in the U.S., but also the ninth deepest lake in the world.
This striking blue lake actually sits inside the caldera of an ancient volcano which was created about 7,700 years ago when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of Mount Mazama’s peak. Mount Mazama, which originally had an elevation of about 12,000 feet, was reduced to 8,157 feet after the volcanic eruption. The eruption is the largest that has happened within the Cascade Volcanic Arc in the last one million years. Although Mazama is currently dormant, some scientists believe eruptions in the future are very likely.
One of the coolest things about Crater Lake is how unbelievably blue and clear its waters are. The lake’s color and clarity is due to the fact that it is entirely fed by rain and snow only. Crater Lake has no streams flowing into or out of it which is what makes it one of the most pristine lakes on earth.
Crater Lake is best visited in summer because this is when the park’s popular Rim Drive is fully open. The scenic thirty-three mile road loops around Crater Lake offering breathtaking lake and forest views, plus access to panoramic vista points, picnic sites, and hiking trails.
>>Read: Best National Parks To Visit In Summer And Why
Best Things To Do In Eastern Oregon
Attend The Pendleton Round Up, Oregon’s Largest Rodeo Event
Thousands of people flock to Pendleton annually in the second week of September for the week long rodeo event that is the Pendleton Round Up. The Pendleton Round Up has been running since 1910 and has grown to become one of the best and biggest rodeo events in the USA.
The week begins with a dress up parade held on the Saturday before round up week, followed by the Outdoor Kick-Off Concert which is held in the arena. Previous artists have included country legends like Reba McIntire, George Strait and Scott McCreery.
Events during Round Up week include bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer roping, steer wrestling, team roping and tie-down roping. The All-Around Cowboy award goes to the competitor who earns the most prize money in more than one event.
Strong Native American participation is one of the many draws to the annual roundup. The Happy Canyon Night Show, which celebrated its 106th anniversary earlier this year in 2022, begins with the portrayal of the early American Indian culture and depicts the settling of the American West. North of the stadium is where you’ll find the largest annual Indian encampment in North America, set up by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indians.
Pendleton Round Up is held in Pendleton, and visiting during the event is one of the best times to visit the city (besides during the weekend of Pendleton Whisky Fest) because the main street closes down for the entire week to become a carnival grounds hosting vendors, live music and other nightly shows.
Be Amazed By The Painted Hills
Vivid greens, fiery reds, burnt orange, and shimmering pink and gold colors cover the landscape at this surreal Oregon destination. It’s not hard to see why the Painted Hills are one of the ‘7 Wonders of Oregon’.
The Painted Hills get their name from the intensely-colored stratification in the soil which can be seen splashed across the hillsides here. Different volcanic eruptions and changing climate patterns mixed with different soils, mineral, and plant matter, over the ages resulting in what can be seen here today.
At the Painted Hills, visitors can view colorful hills and mountains from several viewpoints. There are also a few short hiking trails including a boardwalk that leads visitors between two intensely painted mounds known as the Painted Cove.
The Painted Hills are part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, along with the Clarno Unit and the Sheeprock Unit. All three units are worth visiting if you are in the area and have time on your travel itinerary. There is also a great museum nearby called Thomas Condon Paleontology Center where you can learn all about the tropical landscape and large mammals that dominated this part of the state once upon a time.
Take A Drive Along The Highest Road In Oregon
Steens Mountain, in the remote southeast corner of Oregon, stretches some fifty miles from north to south, rising steeply from the desert floor. This impressive mountain, which has a summit elevation of 9,738 feet, is curiously not part of any mountain range, but is just a single mountain – the largest fault block mountain in North America.
There is a 52 mile-long road named Steens Mountain Backcountry Byway which takes adventuring motorists to the mountain’s summit along the highest road in Oregon, providing access to spectacular scenic viewpoints that look over Kiger Gorge and the Alvord Desert below.
This mountain sits inside the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area which offers outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities that include hiking, backpacking, fishing, and camping.
Camp Out On The Alvord Desert Floor
The Alvord Desert is a twelve by seven mile wide, dry lake bed that sits on the eastern side of towering Steens Mountain. Here, snow-capped peaks soar high above the salt flats of this desert playa.
The parched desert landscape which sees on average seven inches of rain per year, is unlike anywhere else in Oregon. This region is stark, desolate, and one of the least visited destinations in Oregon. There are few landmarks in the area, and even fewer towns. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t make the effort to visit.
As a matter of fact, Alvord Desert’s desolation and remoteness are exactly the reasons you need to plan a trip out here. In a world where social media has seemingly put every little-known outdoor destination on the map for many people, the Alvord Desert has managed to stay under the radar.
What this means is visitors who choose to explore Oregon’s remote corner will find a world of solitude, silence, dark skies, and bright stars. One of the best ways to enjoy the Alvord Desert is to camp out on its cracked desert floor. Kick back in your camp chair and watch the sun set behind North America’s largest fault block mountain before the stars come out to play. If you’re patient, you’re likely to see several shooting stars. And sunrise? You’ll have to see it for yourself.
In case all of the above wasn’t enough to convince you to plan a trip to the Alvord Desert, perhaps the five hot springs that are located around the perimeter of the desert will be enough to persuade you to start packing your bags.
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