No matter what time of year you plan your trip to Oregon, you're sure to find a wealth of fun things to see and do in this northwest state. With its rugged Pacific coastline, mountain playgrounds, wild rivers, artisanal food and drink, colorful culture, and significant pioneer history, Oregon is a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts, art lovers, foodies, and adventurers of all ages.
Oregon's rich geography ranges from high deserts, volcanic landscapes, and rocky canyons, to waterfall-laden river gorges and vast wetlands where migrating birds gather. Oregon's natural wonders offer scenic attractions for you to visit and explore on your vacation, especially in the summer months when roads are clear of snow.
The first section of the scenic Columbia River Highway, which ran between Portland and The Dalles, originally opened in 1915. One of the first American highways designed specifically for scenic touring, its final 350-mile length (from Astoria to Pendleton) was finished in 1921.
A section of this historic highway has been preserved, with portions still available to automobiles along US Highway 30, and other portions open to bikers and hikers. The western drivable section, which runs from Troutdale, just east of Portland, to Multnomah Falls, is a fabulous Oregon attraction and should not be missed. You'll want to stop often along the way to check out scenic viewpoints, hike to and around grand waterfalls, and take in the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge at sunset.
Once spring has sprung, The Fruit Loop, in the Hood River area of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, is a great destination. You’ll enjoy the area, the food and wine, and a day of relaxation. And in the fall, it's harvest time. You can pick apples and pears and shop for jams and jellies.
The 35-mile Fruit Loop is a collection of farms, orchards, vineyards, wineries, and interesting agricultural businesses. They have opened their tasting rooms, orchards, and farms to visitors who may want to enjoy wine or cider tasting, shop for produce, and enjoy the stunning scenery of the Columbia River and majestic Mount Hood.
Even when it's offseason for skiing and snowboarding, Mt. Hood has plenty to offer. You can take a hike or walk up to the snow line and throw snowballs. But the main attraction is the historic Timberline Lodge built in the 1930s.
The lodge has become as much a symbol of the massive peaked mountain as Mt. Hood itself. Known to some as the cold, foreboding Overlook Hotel depicted in snowdrifts in the movie, The Shining, Timberline Lodge is a showcase of 1930s Oregon craftsmanship. The massive beams, carved staircases, and original furniture, bedspreads, and curtains were all designed and constructed by local workers during the Great Depression. The Lodge was officially dedicated in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
One of the popular things to do while at Timberline Lodge is to have brunch served buffet style, or enjoy a locally-sourced Pacific Northwest dinner in front of the crackling fireplace. You can stay at the lodge and experience being on the mountain overnight when things have quieted down.
Portland's Washington Park is a hub of interesting and family-friendly attractions, including the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, the Portland International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden, the Portland Children's Museum, and the Hoyt Arboretum.
You can spend an entire day or more exploring these attractions, as well as Washington Park's hiking trails, playgrounds, and other open spaces. If you're staying in Portland, this attraction is a must-see—the roses bloom around June each year and the vistas of the city and Mt. Hood from the garden is an iconic Portland view. The Japanese Gardens recently expanded and you can spend at least a half-day wandering the beautiful pathways, enjoying the Japanese architecture, and seeing the waterfalls and koi ponds.
Portland is famous for its chefs and their creativity. There are excellent new chefs trying out their cuisine at a food cart (many brick and mortar restaurants started this way), huge culinary festivals such as the week-long Feast Portland with both tasting events and intimate dinners, and carefully curated chef-driven group dinners such as those organized by Portland Food Adventures.
Exploring the culinary side of Portland will often take you into the small neighborhoods with narrow streets and lovingly restored old homes. In the Fremont neighborhood, you'll find Acadia, a small neighborhood bistro serving excellent Cajun-Creole fare. And, on quirky Alberta Street, you can get amazing Spanish Tapas at Urdaneta.
The Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is comprised of 12 different units in the states of Oregon and Washington. The Fort Clatsop Visitor Center on the north Oregon Coast near Astoria is the major Oregon site to check out, and the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park Interpretive Center is in Cape Disappointment State Park across the Columbia River in Washington (just take the Astoria-Megler bridge).
There are a number of things to do at the Fort Clatsop site to get a sense of the tough winter The Corps of Discovery spent there in 1805–1806 and how they survived. You'll definitely want to spend time in the visitor center checking out the informative exhibits, great Lewis and Clark history films, and quality bookstore before you go out to explore the rest of the park, including Fort Clatsop, a re-creation, and nature trails to sites of note from Lewis and Clark's famous expedition.
When in Astoria on the northern Oregon coast, be sure and visit the Astoria Column. Completed in 1926, the Astoria Column commemorates the city's significant role in the history of America. The murals that wind up and around the column depict such important events as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the destruction of the ship "Tonquin," the first Astorians, and the arrival of the railroad. A spiral staircase inside the column takes energetic visitors to a viewing platform at the top. Whether you take that climb or not, you'll enjoy outstanding views of the town of Astoria, the mouth of the great Columbia River, and nearby lakes, rivers, and mountains.
Yet another Astoria attraction to make this list, the Columbia River Maritime Museum offers indoor and outdoor exhibits covering a wide range of topics relevant to the Northwest's maritime past and present. Early European exploration, the fishing industry, Coast Guard activity and vessels, and lighthouses are all included in the exhibits, and considerable attention is paid to the Columbia River itself, including its many hazards like the infamous Columbia River Bar.
The Oregon Coast is known world-wide for beautiful scenery, rugged rocks, lighthouses, and forests that meet the sea. Less than two hours from Portland, you can spend a day, or a vacation, at Cannon Beach, with its iconic Haystack Rock, lovely art galleries, and romantic places to stay. In 1846 a cannon from the shipwrecked USS Shark washed ashore and people started referring to the area as Cannon Beach.
Considered an upscale summer destination, during winter prices are lower and it's not as crowded as summer. It's one of the best times to visit for storm watching and beachcombing.
Year-round, iconic Haystack Rock, is fun to visit. At low tide you can explore marine life in the tidepools and bird-watchers will love seeing the puffins and nesting sea birds on outcroppings of the rock.
The Willamette Valley, south of Portland, is known for marvelous Pinot Noir, although all wineries in the eight American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Oregon’s Willamette Valley offer a good range of reds and whites to taste.
The valley is home to two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards and is an ideal wine tourist destination, with places to stay that include lovely wine country inns and delightful B&Bs. The Willamette Valley Wine Association offers tasting routes through the region to help with trip planning. They also publish a brochure, the Guide to Willamette Valley Wineries.
One favorite stop, Willamette Valley Vineyards, offers affordable tasting flights and a complimentary daily tour. Grab a salad or appetizer from the kitchen and a glass of wine and sit outside overlooking the vineyards and valley. Join the wine club and you'll hear about wine dinners, special events like their harvest crush, and get a discount on their already reasonably-priced wines.
The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, located approximately one hour from Portland and 40 minutes from Salem, is actually a complex of indoor and outdoor attractions and activities, perfect for space-enthusiasts of all ages.
The Space Museum building houses such artifacts as missiles, rockets and rocket boosters, a Mercury Space Capsule, replicas of the Apollo Command Module and Lunar Module, and satellites. Aircraft and related hardware can be found inside and outside the Aviation building, where the huge wooden Spruce Goose looms over artifacts and displays covering general and military aviation.
Another building houses Evergreen's very large IMAX theater, and the aviation-themed Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark is yet another family-friendly attraction on the site.
Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake is a wonder both for its beauty and its natural history. The lake fills a volcanic caldera, formed when Mount Mazama erupted over 7,500 years ago. Open during the summer as soon as the snow melts on the access road, the national park's visitors marvel at Crater Lake's amazing clarity and brilliant blue color—a scenic drive circles the rim of the caldera with dramatic overlooks, picnic sites, visitor centers, and more natural beauty along the way. Hiking trails or a boat tour are other popular ways to enjoy the beauty of Crater Lake National Park.
Staying overnight at the historic Crater Lake Lodge is a special treat—choose a room facing the lake and you can wake up early and watch the sunrise.
The world-famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which runs from mid-February to October each year, takes place in the charming town of Ashland. You'll have the opportunity to take in both classic and contemporary plays at Ashland's various venues, and backstage tours, lectures, informal talks, and workshops and classes are available for Shakespeare lovers as well.
While in Ashland, you'll also be able to enjoy great local dining (breakfast at Morning Glory is a must-do), shopping, and parks as well as year-round recreation in southern Oregon's mountains, rivers, and lakes.
On the southern Oregon coast, you'll find the immense sand dunes deposited there by the wind and sea. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world, and you can ride a dune buggy over the dunes. Companies like Sand Dunes Frontier runs dune buggy tours, both fast and slow, in the Oregon National Dunes Recreation Area. The rides will take you through the woods and out to immense dunes with steep sandy cliffs—and yes, you will go over them. With expert drivers, you can take the whole family along to experience the safe, yet thrilling, adventure on the dunes.
Pick up your Ale Trail Passport and get ready to fill it with stamps. Bend, in central Oregon, has an abundance of world-class breweries clustered close together. In fact, Bend has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon and has been dubbed "Beer Town USA"
There are 18 breweries participating in the program although if you get stamps from just 10 breweries you can stop by or send your completed passport to the Bend Visitor Center to receive your souvenir and if you do get all 16 they'll throw in an Ale Trail bottle opener. You can even score as an Ale Trail Designated Driver.
Along the Ale Trail, you'll encounter the famous Deschutes Brewery founded in 1988 as a brewpub (and the food is still great), and Worthy Brewing where they grow and study hops right on site. There's even a "hopservatory" where, on scheduled days, you can see the galactic art in the gathering area and climb up to look through the telescope.
Designated as both an American Scenic Byway and an Oregon Scenic Byway, this 66-mile driving tour takes you through volcanic landscapes, into the mountains, and around lakes and rivers. On this 5-6-hour journey, you'll see examples of how volcanic action and glaciation formed more than 150 lakes. Stop and walk out to see lava flows, alpine lakes, and meadows.
The route begins in Bend, in central Oregon, and heads west around Mount Bachelor, then south past lakes large and small. You can go for a hike, a paddle, some fishing, a picnic, or to just sit and absorb the gorgeous scenery.
The story of the incredible effort and hardships of the people that blazed the Oregon Trail is one of America's greatest tales, and the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City brings that journey to life.
Located at a key site along the actual route in eastern Oregon, where wagon trains first glimpsed the Blue Mountains, there are plenty of things to do inside the center including viewing informative exhibits, artifacts, multimedia presentations, and taking in the fabulous views of the rolling countryside. Outside, you can get your own taste of life on the Oregon Trail through living history demonstrations, covered wagon exhibits, and by hiking the four-plus miles of interpretive trails.
Pendleton, in northeastern Oregon, is home to the famous Pendleton Round Up rodeo and western extravaganza. Held during the second full week of September each year since 1910, the rodeo brings roughly 50,000 people every year to this rural city.
Year-round in Pendleton, you can shop at a famous western-wear and saddle shop, Hamley's. It's the oldest saddle shop in the U.S. and has both traditional western wear and just-for-fun bling for an evening on the town. And, next door, another Hamley venture, the Hamley Steakhouse and Saloon is a must-visit as every nook and cranny is filled with western memorabilia.
Pendleton pays homage to the first residents of the area by including tribal members in the Pendleton Round Up and by urging visitors to visit the nearby Tamástslikt Cultural Institute and museum. This living museum is a place where you can immerse yourself in the history and culture of the tribes who have lived on the land for more than 10,000 years. There are interactive exhibits, special events, and a Living Culture Village featuring the traditions of Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes.
Another fun and historical place to visit is Underground Pendleton where you'll learn about the history of the Chinese in eastern Oregon and tour under the sidewalks.
Visit the Artistic Side of the Wallowa Mountains
Nestled into the stunning Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon is a surprising town. Joseph (named in 1880 for Nez Perce Chief Joseph) not only has beautiful scenery, but it has also become an arts destination. Joseph is home to an eclectic mix of people, shops, and restaurants. You'll find ranchers and world-class artists. The late Austin Barton, one of Joseph's most iconic local artists, was a cowboy and his monumental bronze in downtown Joseph, Attitude Adjustment, depicts a cowboy on a bucking bronco. In downtown follow the Joseph Oregon Artwalk, which includes a series of life-sized bronze sculptures, most of them depicting cowboys and Native Americans. Stop in the galleries and discover amazing art.
When in Joseph, it isn't too far to Wallowa Lake for summer or winter recreation. Considered "the Alps of Oregon," the Wallowa Mountains are reflected in the lake, the largest of several glacial lakes in the area. Summer visitors will love taking the Wallowa Lake Tramway for a 3700-foot vertical foot ascent to the summit of Mt. Howard.
For another fun thing to do, you can pedal a "railrider" right on the old railroad tracks between Joseph and Enterprise. It's a great way to get a bit of exercise and the views are amazing.
Conical hills with stripes of yellows, golds, blacks, and reds are why people head to eastern Oregon to see the Painted Hills. Actually part of the John Day Fossil Beds, the Painted Hills are located about 9 miles northwest of the little town of Mitchell. The Painted Hills area also contains an interesting range of leaf fossils 39–30 million years old and a small outcropping of rock containing animal fossils from 30–27 million years ago.
There are five short trails that take you through the Painted Hill formations with overlooks where you can get impressive photos. Visit at different times of day as the shadows and lighting make the hills look different as the hours pass.