With its unusual mix of high desert, alpine forests, snowy peaks and forested coastline, Oregon has long been lauded as a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. But this pocket of the Pacific Northwest also offers plenty for even the most outdoor-reluctant travelers, from cultural sites to internationally celebrated wine regions. Here are just a few top things to do in the Beaver State, rain or shine.
Chase waterfalls at Columbia River Gorge
A short drive east of Portland, this approximately 80-mile stretch of the Columbia River is popular for its lush woodland scenery and ample hiking opportunities. There are also tons of waterfalls in the area. Although getting to most of them requires at least a little bit of easy hiking, there are a few you can drive right up to. The most famous of them all is Multnomah Falls – the state’s tallest waterfall – which tumbles from a height of around 620ft into a pond below.
Go wine tasting in the Willamette Valley
Move over, Napa Valley. Oregon continues to gain traction as one of the world’s top wine producers, particularly when it comes to Pinot varietals. Although there are American viticultural areas (known as AVAs) all over the state, Willamette Valley is by far the largest, covering thousands of square miles of prime wine-growing land. There are hundreds of tasting rooms in the region; the highest concentrations are found in and around McMinnville, Dundee, Newberg and Yamhill.
Visit the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site
The Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site is a beautifully preserved National Historic Landmark that once served as a general store and doctor's office for the area’s Chinese community from the late 19th century until the 1940s.
It’s now a museum, but retains many of its original features, down to the very food and medicine containers that line its shelves.
Soak in natural hot springs
With an abundance of both geothermal activity and water, it’s no surprise that Oregon has a ton of hot springs. Many are located near the Cascade Range that separates the lush western part of the state from arid Central Oregon.
While a few are part of developed resorts or retreat centers – such as Breitenbush Hot Springs and Belknap Hot Springs – most are in public forest land and are available for everyone’s soaking pleasure. Particularly popular spots include Bagby Hot Springs near Mt Hood, Terwilliger Hot Springs (aka Cougar Hot Springs) just outside Eugene and Umpqua Hot Springs in Southern Oregon.
Swim in Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the USA
The site of Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake’s claim to fame is that it's the deepest lake in the country. The best views of the caldera are from Rim Drive, a 33-mile road that wraps all the way around the 1,943ft-deep lake.
Swimming is only allowed within 100 yards of Cleetwood Cove or Wizard Island. But fair warning: the average water temperature of Crater Lake is 57ºF.
Tour the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway
Extending for 363 miles between the borders of California and Washington, this Oregon tract of Hwy 101 takes you along epic stretches of coastline, past 19th-century lighthouses and through cute beach towns.
Fun stops along the way include the nonprofit Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and the Sea Lion Caves near Yachats. If you don’t have time to cover the entire route, consider driving (or hiking) the 12-mile Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor which connects the cities of Brookings and Gold Beach along some of the prettiest coastlines in the state.
Go to bibliophile heaven at Powell’s City of Books
Spread out over an entire city block in downtown Portland, the flagship location of Powell's prides itself on being one of the largest independent bookstores. Here you’ll find around a million books along with a smattering of art supplies, journals, toys and souvenirs.
Dedicated bibliophiles should check out the Rare Book Room on the top floor, which houses the oldest and rarest of the store’s collection.
Learn about Native American culture at Tamástslikt Cultural Institute
Located on the Umatilla Reservation in the eastern part of the state, the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute features a mix of permanent and changing exhibits focused on the history and cultures of the Cayuse, Umatilla and the Walla Walla tribes who live in the area. You may also want to pop over to the Pendleton Woolen Mill, a few miles away, for good deals on the region’s famous Pendleton blankets.
Hike at Silver Falls State Park
Hiking through coniferous forest is a quintessential Oregon experience and one of the best places to do it is in Silver Falls State Park, a short drive from Portland and the state capital of Salem. The star attraction in this forested expanse is the Trail of Ten Falls, a 7.2-mile loop that, as the name suggests, weaves past (and, in some cases, directly under) 10 waterfalls.
Watch a play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The southern city of Ashland’s claim to fame is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which runs hundreds of performances throughout its eight-month season.
Don’t let the name fool you: while Shakespearean plays are certainly an important part of the annual festival, there are also shows by other playwrights, from classic musicals to world premieres.
Enjoy the outdoors at Mt Hood and Timberline Lodge
An hour’s drive from Portland, Mt Hood is particularly popular among skiers and snowboarders in the wintertime. It’s equally fun in the summer, when the annual snowmelt makes way for hiking, mountain biking and taking thrill rides down Hood’s half-mile alpine slide.
Even if you’re more of an indoor type, it’s still worth visiting the mountain’s Timberline Lodge, immortalized in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film “The Shining.”
Get a little weird at the Oregon Vortex
Perhaps the state’s freakiest roadside attraction, the Oregon Vortex has been weirding out travelers since it opened in 1930. At this Southern Oregon spot, balls roll uphill and visitors appear to change height depending on where they are standing. Is this mysterious forces at work or a highly convincing optical illusion?
Scale Smith Rock
Situated in sunny central Oregon, this basalt and tuff rock formation is particularly popular among rock climbers, with around a thousand bolted routes – anchors inserted in the rocks – plus plenty of room for bouldering.
Even if you’re not a climber, it’s a great place to hike and jog or simply marvel at rugged rock formations.
Smell the roses at Washington Park
On a hill just above downtown Portland, Washington Park offers a mix of wooded trails, grassy knolls and fantastic views of the city.
It’s also home to many of the city’s most popular attractions, including the International Rose Test Garden, with its 10,000 rose bushes and the Portland Japanese Garden, considered among the most authentic examples of Japanese garden design in the West.
Step back in time at the Painted Hills Unit
The pinnacle attraction at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the 30 million-year-old Painted Hills appear to have sprung from an artist's brush, with layers of earth tones that make for some remarkable landscape photography.
The formations are fully visible from the road, but there are five short hikes in the area for those who want to get an alternative view.