Oregon has no dearth of mindblowing outdoor adventure, from dramatic coasts with vertigo-inducing cliffs to rushing rivers through national forests to high desert. And while the northeast corner of the state gets a lot of the love, southwest Oregon offers an away-from-it-all experience that features the many natural beauties of this state. 

And the best way to do it? By car, of course. The 101 runs the length of the coast and a web of highways and country roads lead inland, connecting national parks, quirky towns, and off-the-beaten-track getaways. 

Here’s our itinerary for a perfect southwest Oregon road trip.

A woman poses with a body board above her head on a sand dune to the left, and a man holds two crabs up to the camer on the right
From sandboarding to fresh seafood, Florence can keep you busy and well-fed © Bailey Freeman

Stop 1: Florence is an atmospheric place to begin your road trip

Book a flight into the little Eugene airport for quick access to the southwest coast – seaside Florence is only an hour and fifteen minutes down the road. Located on the traditional land of the Suislaw people, this small settlement features an atmospheric Main Street with restaurants, confectionaries, art galleries, and even an apothecary. If you’re a fan of seafood, don’t miss Novelli’s, where you can enjoy straight-from-the-ocean whole Dungeness crab and savory seafood chowder right on the dock.

If you’re feeling adventurous, head to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area right outside of town to sandboard down spectacular dunes at the world’s first sandboarding park, Sand Master Park. Here, they’ve thought of everything – they even have a sandboard designed to work on wet sand, perfect for the inevitable Oregon rainshower. 

Drive to Coos Bay: Head south from Florence on the 101 for about an hour until you reach Coos Bay. Along the way you’ll pass several recreation stop-off options including Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, Umpqua Beach, and the Horsfall Beach Camping Area.

Sea lions sun themselves on the rocks at Cape Arago Cliffs State Park, Coos Bay
Spot the sea lions on the rocks of Cape Arago Cliffs State Park © iStockphoto / Getty Images

Stop 2: Enjoy the scenic coastline around Coos Bay

Coos Bay is a small port town tucked away against its namesake body of water, and it’s an excellent place to slow down and enjoy the subtle beauties of the Oregon coast. If you’re looking for an unconventional accommodation option that puts you right in the middle of Coos Bay’s most beautiful places, book a cabin or Airstream at Bay Point Landing, a glamping getaway that strikes the perfect balance between luxury and outdoor adventure. Wake up with the rising sun to watch the shorebirds fly across the estuary, go crabbing in the nearby waters, or make smores over your own personal fire pit. 

Three state parks sit within a stone’s throw of Coos Bay: Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago. These protected areas show off Oregon’s striking cliff sides and sea-battered rock formations; each park contains short, accessible trails that deliver big views, and you can hike all the way from Sunset Bay to Cape Arago on a continuous out-and-back.

Drive to Port Orford: Head back to the 101 and drive an hour south to arrive at Port Orford; the route veers away from the coast a bit, so this is a straight shot through rural Oregon.

The front of a yellow-and-orange kayak in deep blue waters with the coastline ahead
Port Orford is near Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve © Bailey Freeman

Stop 3: Get out on the water near Port Orford

Port Orford is a small town on a spur of the Oregon Coast that abuts the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. If you’ve been yearning to get on the water, now’s your chance – book with South Coast Tours to kayak out around the cliffs and see plum- and tangerine-colored sea stars, anemones, seals, shorebirds and more. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head over to the Crazy Norwegian for crispy fish and chips, plus a decadent slice of marionberry pie.

Drive to Grants Pass: From here, head south on the 101 to enjoy all the beautiful coastal views you can handle before your journey takes you inland – stop off at the Natural Bridges Viewpoint to stretch your legs before circumnavigating the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on your way to Grants Pass. Your drive will take you down into California right past Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, a worthy detour. 

Stop 4: Grants Pass is a gateway to trips on the Rogue River

Grants Pass is an excellent access point for adventures down the Rogue River, a 200-mile waterway that offers everything from a pleasant float to an adrenaline-pumping trip through some of the state’s best rapids. Book with Orange Torpedo Trips for single and multi-day trips; We recommend an outing in one of the inflatable kayaks – it's perfect for beginners looking to try out whitewater kayaking. 

For a place to rest your head after your epic paddle, head to the Weasku Inn, a historic lodge built in 1924 that played host to many of Hollywood’s Golden Era elite: Clark Gable and Bing Crosby were repeat visitors. 

Drive to Crater Lake National Park: Head east from Grants Pass for 2.5 hours to reach one of Oregon’s treasures: Crater Lake National Park. The route follows OR-62 as it winds up the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains.

A woman sits in a hot spring surrounded by woodland
Umpqua Hot Springs is an excellent place to pause and relax © Getty Images

Stop 5: Crater Lake National Park is full of fantastic outdoor activities

The park’s defining feature is the country’s deepest lake (almost 2000ft deep!), a crystalline body of water inside a volcanic caldera. Admire the view on the Scenic Rim Drive, walk through the historic Rim Village, hike some of the park’s 90 miles of trail, catch a boat out to Wizard’s Island, or take a dip in the lake’s blue waters via the Cleetwood Cove Trail – but be warned, the hike down to the shore is not for the faint of heart.

Drive back to Eugene: The home stretch! Take the 2.5-hour drive back to Eugene. If your bones are aching from all that time in the car, stop off at Umpqua Hot Springs for a relaxing soak.

Stop 6: Hit the nightlife in Eugene

Spend some time in this eccentric university town and you’re bound to find some local treasures. Bike along the Willamette River, grab a brew in the Whiteaker neighborhood, or stop in at Oregon Wine LAB to taste some of the region’s renowned pinot noirs (or a few crisp whites) and stuff your face with amazing eats from Da Nang Vietnamese Eatery. Nightlife also offers some unique twists and turns – hit the Big Dirty to have your rockstar karaoke moment on their atmospheric stage, shoot some pool at Luckey’s Club (one of Oregon’s oldest bars), or catch a show at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts.

Explore related stories

Footsteps Lead To Hiker Crossing The Sand Dunes in Colorado
afternoon, backpacking, beautiful, caucasian, clouds, crest, crossing dunes, destination, dune, dunes, female, field, footprints, footsteps, grasses, green, mountains, natural, outdoor, park, path, recreation, ridge, ripples, scenery, vast, woman

Sustainable Travel

Get off the beaten path at these 8 incredible places in North America

May 16, 2024 • 12 min read