Have you ever thought about exploring Oregon? This US state has it all: spectacular nature, volcanoes, and fun cities.
Why should you explore Oregon?
Oregon is a state in the northwest of the United States of America, north of California. The state 98,381 square miles (254,810 km2 – which is slightly larger than the United Kingdom) and has more than four million inhabitants.
Because of the size of this state, it has different climate types and the landscape is hugely diverse. In the west of Oregon, you will find beautiful long beaches and forests full of pine trees and the east is very desert-like. The Cascade Mountains run right through Oregon and you will notice many of the volcanic peaks. When you’re exploring Oregon, you will often have a great view of one of the volcanoes.
Oregon is not (yet) as well known to tourists as the famous Southwest USA, therefore a road trip in this state is highly recommended for people who want to avoid the masses.
The best things to do in Oregon
What are the most beautiful sights and which places should you really see during a road trip in Oregon? 10 tips.
Although Portland is not the capital of Oregon (that’s Salem), it is the largest city in the state. This is probably also the place to start your Oregon trip, as it has a large (and beautiful!) International airport.
Portland is a great city to discover. It has a raw edge due to the industrial area, but there is also a lot of street art to see and there are also a few beautiful historic buildings. You can also enjoy delicious food in Portland (the tastiest donuts in the world), so you can enjoy yourself here for a few days.
Oregon has one of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen. Long stretches of sandy beaches, cute towns full of wooden houses, special rock formations, and many green forests. It is a must to drive a section of Highway 101 along the coast (which even goes all the way to southern California), the views are incredibly beautiful!
One of the most famous spots along the coast is Cannon Beach. This a beautiful village and right in front of the beach you will find the famous Haystack Rock, which is a 72-meter high rock formation. Another highlight is the town of Newport, full of (sailing) boats.
Do you like hiking and beautiful views? Then Cape Lookout State Park is also highly recommended. Here you can go on a great hike to Cape Lookout, which offers a great view of the ocean. If you are lucky, you might see whales swimming between December and June.
Bend is a town in central Oregon. It is a great base from which to visit some of the beautiful places in Oregon as it is nestled among various volcanoes, lakes, forests, and rivers. A wonderful destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts!
The town itself has a pleasant city center with many cafes, there are no fewer than 23 breweries in Bend.
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is arguably the highlight of Oregon (at least one of the places where you see the most tourists). This incredibly beautiful blue lake is the deepest lake in the United States, it’s 2,148-foot-deep (about 600 meters).
In the park, you can visit various viewpoints and explore the trails. Be careful, because there is a chance that you will see wildlife. During my visit, two bears walked on the road and I was able to stop just in time.
Just north of Crater Lake is another beautiful lake: Diamond Lake. It’s a little less spectacular, but it is still a beautiful lake to see. It’s located between two spectacular mountain peaks: Mount Bailey and Mount Thielsen.
It is a good place to relax since it is not crowded here at all! There are many beautiful hiking trails and viewpoints. You can also take explore the lake by boat.
Unfortunately, I missed the Alvord Desert during my Oregon road trip, but next time I definitely want to make a stop here, because it looks really beautiful! The Alvord Desert is a desert (you did not expect that!) and lies between two mountain ranges. It 12-by-7-mile (19 by 11 kilometers) and it barely rains here. The view is spectacular and there are also a few hot springs where you can relax.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
One of the biggest surprises in Oregon (and one of the best lesser-known places in the United States as far as I’m concerned) is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This area is located in the north of the state and originated around the John Day River. Fossils are often found here and the landscape is quite spectacular.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument consists of three different parts, of which the Painted Hills district is probably the most well-known. But don’t skip the Sheep Rock district, because that landscape is just as spectacular. I walked here, among other things, the beautiful Blue Basin Overlook Trail.
Cottonwood Canyon State Park
I only found out about Cottonwood Canyon State Park when I was already traveling in Oregon for a couple of weeks because a local pointed it out to me. It is a fairly new park (2013) and is located north of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Cottonwood Canyon is a canyon carved out by the John Day River. The scenery is beautiful, there is a small campground and it has a couple of great short trails. During a warm day, you can also jump in the river for a refreshing swim. A perfect place to enjoy an afternoon in peace and quiet, very few people come here.
Columbia River Gorge
If you want to see even more spectacular scenery, then you should definitely take a drive through the Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River is the (natural) border between the states of Oregon and Washington and the landscape here changes very quickly: from a dry desert landscape to a jungle full of green (pine) trees.
Here you will find many hiking trails and waterfalls, of which Multnomah Falls is the most famous. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Unfortunately, I was only able to view these falls myself from the car, because the small parking lot was really packed on a Sunday afternoon. So leave early if you want to see it!
During a road trip in Oregon, you will regularly see large volcanoes looming and Mount Hood (near Portland) is the most famous of these. This stratovolcano is 11,240 feet high (3,429 meters) and that makes it the highest point in Oregon.
Around Mount Hood, you can admire various glaciers and it is also a popular area for winter sports. In addition, there are many beautiful hiking trails. If you’re really adventurous, you can even hike a section of the famous Pacific Crest Trail.
On the south side of the volcano is a famous hotel: the Timberline Lodge (1935). You may know this hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Shining. An interesting place to stay the night when you’re exploring Oregon!
Practical information: how do you get there?
Are you excited and do you want to plan a trip to Oregon? To arrange a trip, you will at least need a plane ticket and transportation.
It is easiest to book a plane ticket to Portland (especially when you’re not from the US), this is the largest international airport in Oregon. The cheapest airline tickets can usually be found via Skyscanner.
If you’re flying to Portland, don’t forget to look out of the window during the last stretch: the view of the peaks of the many volcanoes in the area is breathtakingly beautiful!
Rent a car or camper
To go on a road trip in Oregon you obviously need a car or a camper. It’s a matter of looking and comparing often to find the best deal. For Europeans, it’s smart to reserve ahead through a European website. In that case, you’ll know that all necessary insurances are included.
A few good organizations to rent a car or an RV are:
- AutoEurope: a great website to reserve a car when you’re traveling to the US from Europe. I usually find the best deals here.
- Rentalcars.com: good deals on rental cars for Americans and Canadians.
- RVshare: one of the best websites to rent an RV.
Do you want to read more about Oregon?
Check out these travel guides to get even more excited about a road trip in Oregon:
Lonely Planet Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest
In 2019 I made a great road trip in northwestern America and I was often in Oregon. I wrote these articles about this trip:
- Pacific Northwest road trip itinerary: from Portland to Yellowstone
- National parks in Oregon and Washington: explore the Pacific Northwest
- Craters of the Moon National Monument: Idaho’s hidden treasure
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