A Road Trip Guide to The Seven Wonders of Oregon
Share with your friends:
Story by AdventureTripr Champion Elizabeth Sheets (@elizabethasheets).
Oregon is a road-trippers dream. In a day's drive, you can go from the rocky Oregon coastline to the mountains and desert. The state is filled with amazing landscapes, scenic drives and must-see destinations. Whether you are breaking up your stops into weekend excursions or going on one big adventure, this guide will help you see some of the very best that an Oregon road trip has to offer.
When to Visit Oregon
If you're planning a trip to Oregon, Spring will bring beautiful new growth and flowers, but the mountains will still have plenty of snow. Summer is ideal for warm beach days and snow-free mountain adventures. If you're hoping for all the summer adventures with a cooler temperature, fall is the season for you! Winter is filled with snow-covered peaks and some amazing snowshoeing and skiing/snowboarding.
What to See on a Oregon Road Trip
Whether you're seeking a desert adventure, city getaway or the coastal breeze, we've put together a list of the seven must-see stops in Oregon, also known as the Seven Wonders of Oregon! These statewide destinations are easy to reach for newcomers and longtime residents alike.
Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia Gorge is the gem of Portland. It is home to the Columbia River, which runs between Oregon and Washington. It is home to 90, yes 90 waterfalls on the Oregon side alone! The most popular stop is Multnomah Falls, a towering, two-tier waterfall just off I-84. It has a lodge, paved walkways and an iconic bridge that you can walk across above the lower falls. There are dozens of popular waterfall hikes in the area as well. Many of the waterfalls are short walks to viewpoints while others could range to a few miles. The best part about these hikes is that they are almost all family friendly stops.
While many people drive to The Gorge to take in the waterfalls, we recommend taking the Old Scenic highway up to Vista Point. From there you will have a sweeping view of the Gorge before continuing down to multiple waterfalls. The winding road is lined with a white picket fence and when the sun shines through the trees it makes for the most stunning forest drive. Many of the waterfall hikes are off the Old Scenic Highways as well, making it a great route to fit in multiple stops.
In September 2019, the Eagle Creek fire tore through the Gorge, closing most of the beloved trails. Fire crews worked tirelessly to save the Multnomah Falls lodge. Most of the trails were closed because they were unsafe. Over the last year these trails have been slowly opening up again, but many still have falling trees and landslide danger. Be sure to check gorgefriends.org for up-to-date trail information.
Another popular stop in the Gorge is Hood River. It's a small town 68 miles from Portland. The Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa and Hood River Hotel are two popular destination hotels in the area. In the Fall, the fruit loop is a popular drive where you can pick apples, get fresh pastries and taste cider at the local farms. Hood River also has multiple breweries and tasting rooms in town.
The Wallowa mountain range sits on the far northeast corner of Oregon, right on the border of Idaho. It runs roughly 40 miles long and is part of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and is home to two of Oregon's highest peaks.
One of the best places to visit here is Joseph and Wallowa Lake. You can find cabin rentals, restaurants and art galleries in the town of Joseph as well as Enterprise. Wallowa Lake is a popular boating destination, sitting right at the edge of the mountains. The trails are all pack animal friendly, so you may very well see horses, llamas and maybe even goats on the trail. The mountains are also home to bears, cougars and wolves, so be sure to pack bear spray and know how to hike safely with animals in the backcountry.
Most of the hikes here are considered strenuous day hikes ranging from 13-24 miles. A majority of hikers in the area are backpacking. The trail system takes you to alpine lakes and mountain summits from almost any entry point. The most common area is the Eagle Cap wilderness, which is home to Mirror lake, Ice lake, the lake basin and the two tallest peaks. If you are able to backpack here, you will find yourself hiking through meadows of wildflowers, sleeping lakeside and endless mountain views at the summits.
Oregon's only National Park is a must-see if you are in Southern Oregon! This natural wonder was formed around 7,700 years ago when the volcano Mount Mazama collapsed on itself, creating a caldera of royal blue water. The lake is the deepest in the United States at 1,949 feet.
In the summer, the park is a popular destination for hiking and biking. There is a road that goes around the entire lake with multiple viewpoints that is a popular biking route for long distance bikers. There are multiple hiking trails throughout the park. You can hike the caldera rim, hike down to the lake or summit Mount Scott, one of Oregon's tallest peaks. In the summer, the Crater Lake Lodge is open for accommodations and has a restaurant. In the winter, most of the roads and the Lodge close down.
Crater Lake receives an annual snowfall of 43 feet in the winter, making it difficult to plow and maintain roads. Due to this, the north entrance and the rim drive are closed by November 1st and open in June or July, depending on the year's snowfall. If you visit the park in the winter, you'll have to take the West or South entrance. The road to Park Headquarters is plowed year round. The three miles from the Park Headquarters to the Rim village is also plowed in the winter, but can be closed for days or weeks due to heavy snowfall. You'll want to check the park's website before going to check road conditions and weather. If the 3 miles to the Rim Village are closed, you can park at Headquarters and snowshoe or cross country ski to the rim. You will not want to hike without either of these because the snow is deep and you will posthole the entire way. Crater lake is a popular destination for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and backpacking in the winter.
The Painted Hills are part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which consist of three areas. It is an area in Oregon where fossils from millions of years ago are preserved. The painted hills are unique because they have colorful red layers which were formed from ancient floodplains. The hills are open year-round and have five trails ranging from .25 miles to 1.3 miles.
The most popular trail in the park is the Painted Cove trail, which is a .5 mile loop. It features a boardwalk that takes you over the sensitive soil and up close to the vibrant red rocks. The Leaf Hill Trail is a must-hike if you're interested in seeing and learning more about the fossils. It has been excavated by paleontologists and has a sign explaining it's history.
An important note: If you visit the Painted Hill, you're asked to take the "don't hurt the dirt" pledge. Humans and animals stepping off trails could cause ecological damage to the hills. It also means leaving all fossils in the fossil beds and not taking them home or touching them. The Painted Hills are beautiful and we need to do our part to preserve them.
Smith Rock State Park
The gem of Central Oregon, Smith Rock State Park, is a hiking and rock climbing hotspot. Rock climbers flock to the park year-round for some of the best climbing routes in the state. You can spot climbers from the rim as well as throughout the park as you hike. From the parking lot you can walk along the Canyon Trail that overlooks the river canyon below. If you want to hike, you'll need to take the path down into the canyon and cross the bridge.
The most popular hike is up Misery Ridge. It's a 2.2 mile out and back hike that matches the name. The trail is steep and exposed, but the views from the top are worth the climb! You can see the Cascade Range on a clear day and if you choose to extend your hike and do the loop, you can see the famous Monkey Face. If you're lucky, you may even see climbers on it.
The Oregon Coast is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline. It is filled with sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and unique rock formations. If you're in the northern section of the coast, Cannon beach, Oswald West and Ecola State Park are must-stops. The famous Haystack Rock is in Cannon Beach and the town has a quaint storefront to explore. Ecola and Oswald West State Parks have beautiful, secluded beaches as well as stunning viewpoints if you’re up for some hiking.
The central Oregon Coast has Tillamook Cheese Factory, a state staple if you love cheese. You can visit their dairy farm to get fresh cheese and ice cream. The central Coast also has the stunning sand dunes and cliffs in Pacific City.
The Southern Oregon coast is known for its stunning rock formations and sand dunes. You can rent a sand buggy and adventure over the dunes one day and hike at Samuel S Boardman State Park the next. This state park has some stunning rock formations all within a 12 mile stretch. No matter what part of the coast you choose to explore, or if you manage to see it all, driving down the famous 101 will bring you endless views and adventures.
Oregon's tallest peak and one of the most climbed mountains in the world is a must-see stop when you're here! It's 1.5 hours from Portland and an outdoor destination year round.
Timberline Lodge was built in 1937 and is worth a visit if you go to Mt. Hood. It sits just above the tree-line with stunning views of the mountain, hotel accommodations and the best cup of hot cocoa you can find. In the summer, you can backpack the Timberline trail around the mountain or bike the miles of trails. In the winter, it has amazing ski runs and is known for having the longest season in North America, running lifts through summer. It is also a hot spot for mountain climbers trying to reach its summit by starting at the lodge.
The area around Mt. Hood is filled with lakes, vistas and campgrounds. Trillium lake is a popular snowshoeing, camping and boating destination for locals. It has stunning views of the mountain as well. If waterfalls are what you’re after, Mt. Hood has those too! Tamanawas falls is an easy 3.8 out and back on the east side of the mountain and the parking lot fills fast! On the west side of the mountain is Ramona Falls, a 7 mile loop that features a river crossing that can be tricky in the beginning months of summer. Be sure to pack extra socks and waterproof boots!
Whether you make it to one or cross off all seven wonders of Oregon, you will find yourself on an amazing adventure. If you have more than a day or two you can easily check off multiple wonders on your way. That’s the beauty of Oregon, you can easily see a vast array of landscapes within a few hours of each other!