Like all self-respecting Northwest states, Oregon is ridiculously pretty. You can hardly throw a rock in the state without hitting a beautiful patch of nature. Even the biggest city of Portland has a few massive green spaces, including an urban forest to explore. However, one of the finest ways to see gorgeous, raw Oregon nature at its finest is to head to one of the state’s 195 stunning state parks.
Beverly Beach State Park
Beverly Beach State Park is—perhaps not surprisingly—all about the beach. The long stretch of sand has Yaquina Head lighthouse on one end and Otter Rock at the other. In between, you can build sandcastles, walking in the surf, go surfing, or even hunt for fossils on the south end of the beach. You can overnight at the campground here, which is tucked into the forest just offshore. Facilities include a playground, some yurts, and a visitor center that sells firewood.
Cape Lookout State Park
Cape Lookout State Park is most popular for its beach, which is wide open and beautiful, especially at low tide when there are tidepools to peep into. To get to the beach, you will have to walk through a rocky revetment meant to prevent erosion and protect the campground. Sometimes the water comes all the way up to the revetment during higher tides, so check the tides before you go if you want to spend time on the beach. The park has more than 8 miles of hiking trails, including the Cape Lookout Trail, which serves up some pretty impressive views. Keep an eye out for migrating whales in the distance, too (or at least for whale spouts, which are sometimes all you see).
Cottonwood Canyon State Park
At a whopping 8,000 acres, the rugged Cottonwood Canyon State Park is the second largest state park in Oregon and is located about an hour east of The Dalles. Hikers and horseback riders have plenty of trails to choose from, but the Pinnacles Trail and the Lost Corral Trail both follow the John Day River and offer some excellent views. You can boat, kayak, and canoe in the J.S. Burres day-use area and fish in the John Day River, which is home to steelhead, catfish, carp, and smallmouth bass. Rustic cabins and campgrounds are available for overnight visitors.
The Cove Palisades State Park
With tall cliffs and canyon walls surrounding Lake Billy Chinook, Cove Palisades State Park looks like something out of the Southwest, yet it’s right in Central Oregon. Hikers can hit more than 10 miles of trails throughout the park, including some up on the cliffs above the lake, while watersport enthusiasts can boat, fish, kayak, and water ski on the lake. The park is also an excellent overnight destination as there are plenty of RV and campsites as well as some lakeshore cabins. The park’s facilities also include a store, restaurant, marina, and rental services.
Fort Stevens State Park
Fort Stevens State Park on Oregon’s North Coast has everything you’d expect from a state park and more. For instance, most state parks don’t have a real shipwreck right on the beach, but Fort Stevens does. And it’s pretty amazing, even though the wreck has severely deteriorated in the 100-plus years it has sat on the shore. The park’s 4,300 acres also offer lots of oceanfront to hang out on, many trails to explore, campsites, and a historic military fort (including the only Civil War-era earthen fort on the West Coast) complete with concrete gun batteries. With a little something for everyone, this beautiful state park won’t disappoint.
Harris Beach State Park
Harris Beach State Park offers a mix of beachy fun and outdoorsy appeal. The park contains Oregon's largest offshore island—Bird Island—where you can spot tufted puffins. The beach is a bit rugged with giant boulders onshore and several sea stacks just offshore. The many rocks mean there are some pretty great tidepooling opportunities here. Watch for whales in the spring and fall, or come here to storm-watch in the fall and winter when the rocks, wind, and waves make a dramatic scene. You can stay overnight at the campground, in RV spots, or in one of the park's yurts.
Oswald West State Park
Just a short drive south of Cannon Beach is Oswald West State Park, a beautiful park filled with dramatic scenery, hiking trails, and secluded beaches. Don’t miss Short Sand Beach, which is backed by cliffs covered with trees and a great spot to watch for local wildlife or just sit back and enjoy some time on the sand. The trails and views at Oswald West are generally spectacular and offer a couple of ways to enjoy them. If you’re not much of a hiker, head to Neahkahnie Mountain, which you can reach via Highway 101 in your car, and there are plenty of places to pull over to get out and look. You can also hike your way up, but be warned; it’s a challenging one. Cape Falcon is also a great 5-mile hike with top-notch views.
Shore Acres State Park
Shore Acres was once the estate of timber magnate Louis Simpson, and as such it’s a little different from the rugged, natural beauty of Oregon's state parks. Shore Acres has cliff-top views of the ocean, but it also has a formal garden, rose gardens, and a Japanese garden. Bonus—while most state parks are not nearly as appealing in the cold-weather months, Shore Acres State Park puts on a Christmas lights display in its gardens. Also, make sure to get some hiking in. The views from the cliff tops are spectacular, or you can follow the trails down to the beach.
Silver Falls State Park
If what you want out of a state park is just straight-up amazing scenery, Silver Falls is the place to go. About an hour out of Salem, Silver Falls is often called the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks for its beauty. First and foremost, visit this park for its Trail of Ten Falls, which is a 7.2-mile-long loop trail that passes a series of waterfalls while it winds through a canyon. Be sure to visit South Falls, which is 177-feet high, where you can venture behind the falls for a unique vantage point. You can’t bring pets on the Trail of Ten Falls, but there are 35 miles of backcountry trails for mountain biking, horseback riding, and more. If you want to stay the night, there are plenty of campsites, RV hookups, and some cabins too.
Valley of the Rogue Park
Oregon’s most popular state park is Valley of Rogue Park, mostly for its river access and proximity to I-5. The Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon is home to the Rogue River, made famous by novelist and fisherman Zane Grey. The park has a 1.25-mile trail along the river’s edge that’s relaxing and beautiful, and it intersects the 4-mile Rogue River Greenway Trail if you want to keep going. The park is great for fishing, boating, and camping with plenty of campsites as well as RV hookups and eight yurts. The park also makes a unique jumping-off point to explore nearby Grants Pass, Medford, and Ashland.