OREGON OUTDOOR TRAVEL GUIDE
Mother Nature succeeded on the creation of Oregon. This state in the Pacific Northwest bursts with natural wonders. It’s one of the best outdoor playgrounds in the country and a paradise for outdoor adventurists. A trip to Oregon means you don’t have to decide between the beach, mountains, city or desert – you’ll find them all! You will have no problem experiencing the greatness of Oregon with its 363 miles of coastline, 361 parks, and 50 mountain ranges. All within a short drive you’ll discover snow capped mountains, a vibrant high desert, deep valleys, rushing waters, hidden lakes, and a rugged coastline. When it comes to natural beauty and outdoor adventures…Oregon delivers.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT OREGON
The Pacific Northwest sometimes gets a bad rep when it comes to climate and weather. It’s important to know that the climate in Oregon varies greatly by season and location. Each season in Oregon offers something different in temperature, rainfall and activities. Depending on what you want to do will determine when to visit Oregon.
Summer brings the most tourists, but for good reason: warm temperatures and sunny days. The coast gets cool and foggy at night, so remember to bring a jacket.
Fall is the best time for hiking with crisp air, amazing colors and harvest festivals. In the western part of the state, the rainy season starts in late October and lasts through March.
Winter brings cold weather to much of the state, and heavy snowfall in the mountains. This is when you want to plan your snow-focused activities.
Spring is when the grey of winter disappears and everything awakens. There are lots of festivals celebrating flowers, and everything (people included) begins to wake up.
September could be the best month to visit Oregon with warm weather, little rain and less people. You’ll have your pick of most outdoor activities during this time as well. Oregon is a fantastic destination to visit read round. Come prepared for the weather, and you won’t have a problem.
GETTING TO OREGON
Portland is the main entry point into Oregon. The Portland International Airport is the busiest and biggest airport in the state and will likely be where you fly in. If you are going to be spending your time in the southern part of the state, the Eugene Airport may be a better choice for you.
Amtrak operates a train route connecting Portland with Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. There are also other train companies that run trains from Portland to Seattle and on to Vancouver.
If you are staying in the Portland area, you’ll likely have no problem getting around by public transportation. But if you are planning on traveling elsewhere in the state, having a car will be your best bet. You’ll find most major car rental companies in the main cities and at the airports.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN OREGON
Skiing & Snowboarding – Oregon has 12 specific Nordic skiing areas ranging from small community hills to massive resorts. The heavy snowfall and high mountains are perfect for gliding through fresh powder. Mt. Bachelor is the most popular ski area with thousands of acres of skiable terrain with no part of the mountain off limit. Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood has the highest chairlift in the area and some of the best downhill skiing. And Hoodoo is the most accessible resort for beginners.
Swimming Holes – Jumping into a local swimming hole on a hike or drive is a popular way to stay cool in the PNW, and Oregon has plenty to discover. There are forest creeks and bright blue lakes hidden in every corner of the state. Quartzville Creek is a tributary of the Santiam River in the northwest. It has plenty of spots along the creek to take a dip. Three Pools, also on the Santiam River, are natural pools carved into the rocks that are popular with locals and tourists. Wallowa Lake, in the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains, is an unspoiled mountain lake.
Beaches – With 360+ miles of coastline, it isn’t hard to find a beach in Oregon. It’s the actual getting in the water part that is limited to the summer months. Explore the tide pools, play in the sand, and have a bonfire on the rugged beaches of Oregon. Cannon Beach is 1.5 hours from Portland and famous for the massive Haystack Rock that juts out of the water. Short Sands Beach is a secluded cove popular with surfers. And Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area has a little something for everyone.
Dune Buggy Riding – Oregon has a unique geographical feature along the coast waiting to be explored – giant sand dunes. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches for 42 miles from Florence to North Bend. It’s where you will find the towering mounds of glistening sand. Tour operators in the park offer big buggy scenic tours, small buggy thrilling tours, and options for renting your own ATV.
Crabbing – For a unique Oregon experience, rent some equipment and go crabbing! As you drive along the coast you’ll see signs suggesting you make a stop and give crabbing a try. The coast is home to Dungeness Crab, and anywhere is good for crabbing. Try Tillamook Bay, Coos Bay, and Yaquina Bay.
Hiking – From high deserts to waterfalls to deep canyons, Oregon is massively diverse in the kinds of hiking you can do. Make like the famous explorers with a historical hike on the Lewis and Clark Trail. Explore tide pools (and keep your eyes peeled for whales) on a hike along the coast in Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. Hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area offers a huge range of challenging and stunning hikes.
Spelunking – Exploring caves is an exciting way to get close to nature. On a spelunking journey you will likely find yourself walking, climbi ng, crawling and swimming – it’s the ultimate active adventure. Oregon has plenty of caves to explore. Pay for a guided one-mile tour inside the Oregon Caves in Cave Junction. The lava tubes near Bend have tours year round that can accommodate most ability levels. Ape Cave, near Portland, is one you can explore on your own.
Rock Climbing – Oregon is a hotspot for all kinds of rock climbing, and the birthplace of modern sport climbing. There are tons of routes around the entire state accessible for beginners and experts. Sport climbers will like Smith Rock State Park with routes for all skills and styles. Mountaineers have a huge range of choices in the Cascades. If you’re looking to do some bouldering, Carver Woods (near Portland) is where you should go.
Mountain Biking – The differing climate, terrain and landscape make for an excellent mountain biking experience across the entire state. Even better, Oregon has a great biking-mindset community, with tons of bike shops and knowledgeable people ready to share what they know. You’re best bet is to head to Bend with 300 miles of easily accessed trails. Also check out the McKenzie River Area with 26 miles of single-track trails with views of the McKenzie River. Mount Hood Area has trails serviced by chairlifts. Find natural and manmade features in the Black Rock Mountain Bike Area.
Wildlife Viewing – Whatever time of year you visit Oregon, you’ll find animals in their natural habitat. Through hikes and scenic drives you can safely get close to Oregon wildlife. Head to Ecola State Park to see elk grazing in grasses, eagles swooping above, and grey whales in the distance. Cape Arago is a good place to see seals, sea lions, and (occasionally) elephant seals. Anywhere along the coast you’ll likely spot puffins, whales, birds and sea lions.
NATIONAL PARKS, MONUMENTS & SCENIC AREAS IN OREGON
Crater Lake National Park takes its name from the massive lake inside the park. It is the deepest, clearest lake in the United States and an incredible vision of natural beauty. You’ll find Oregon’s only National Park in the Cascade Mountains in the southern part of the state. There are hiking trails, options for swimming, fishing, and boating. The lake has over 50 viewpoints along the perimeter and hiking trails down to the water. There are two developed camping sites in the park plus backcountry camping along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is in Mount Hood National Forest and is the largest scenic area in the country. It’s made from the river that cut a massive 80-mile canyon through the Cascade Mountains. This area is the ultimate playground for adventurers. Take your pick from hiking, windsurfing, fishing, whitewater rafting, wildlife viewing, swimming and camping.
Oregon Caves National Monument is a haven for hiking and spelunking. Find the ancient marble caves deep in the Siskiyou Mountains in southern Oregon. At this national monument you’ll have opportunities to go on a guided tour of the caves, go hiking, view wildlife, and spend the night in a mountain chateau.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, also known as Oregon’s Painted Hills, is full of beautiful geological formations. Layers of red, gold, black and grey rock show the geological history of the desert. It’s the perfect place for hiking during the day, and even more magical at sunset when the colors illuminate.
OTHER MUST-SEE OREGON DESTINATIONS
Willamette Valley in the northwestern part of the state is home to over 700 wineries and vineyards, and is the most populated part of Oregon. Even though it is known as Oregon’s wine region, it doesn’t mean drinking wine is the only thing to do here. The valley has miles of biking and hiking trails to tackle. Fields of flowers to frolic in. And waterfalls and swimming holes to find. The spring and summer are the best times to visit this area, as there is always something going on.
Smith Rock State Park in the middle of the high desert in Central Oregon offers a striking landscape. Five hundred foot tall rock spires jut from the ground just begging to be climbed. This park is a hub for rock climbing enthusiasts, but also offers excellent opportunities for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Tent camping is allowed in the park.
Three Sisters Wilderness, named for the three volcanoes that make up the area, has over 200 miles of trails perfect for camping, hiking, and mountaineering. This second largest wilderness area in Oregon has incredible views, stunning peaks, and an interesting volcanic landscape. There are a few iconic treks in the area including 40 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The Honeycombs is an area of Oregon that is all wild – a real backcountry adventure in the Owyhee Canyonlands. You’ll see colorful rock formations, boulder fields, steep canyon walls, and caves on your trip to the Honeycombs. It’s a challenging area to explore, and not for the inexperienced. Spend your time hiking, bouldering and camping in the canyonlands.
Mount Hood National Forest stands tall at over 11,000 feet and stretches for more than 60 miles across the mountain, lakes and streams. There are dormant volcano waterfalls to explore, hot springs to sit in, trails to hike, and slopes to ski. Whatever time of year you visit Mt. Hood, you will find something to do.
TOP OREGON TOWNS TO EXPLORE
Eugene is part of the Willamette Valley known for its hippie atmosphere and green environment. It’s got a youthful vibe as it is home to the University of Oregon. It’s full of restaurants and breweries serving cheap and local food. It’s a good city to base yourself in for easy access to many nearby hikes.
Portland is the US hub for all things hip and cool. It’s Oregon’s largest and most independent city – and proud of it! Art, culture and food fill its distinctive neighborhoods. Portland embodies a nice balance of an exciting city, an incredible food and beer scene, and an appreciation for nature and all the things you can do in it. Surrounded by rivers and filled with parks, you won’t have a problem spending time outdoors in the city limits. Plus adventures in the mountains are a quick drive away.
Bend, in Central Oregon, is one of the top outdoor recreation cities in the country. Surrounded by mountains, rivers and desert, Bend is a playground for outdoor fun year round. Raft down the Deschutes River in the summer, ski Mt. Bachelor in the winter, and hike along the desert trail in the spring. Bend also has a unique foodie scene – with the most eateries per capita in the US – so you will have no problem filling up after all the activity.