The Pacific Northwest has been on everyone’s mind recently. Instagram accounts of moody landscapes and lush green forests have created a mania around this little corner of the States.
Having been in Oregon for five months now and fitting in as many road trips as possible, I’ve realized it’s even better than the pictures. There are vibrant colors, even sporadic sunshine, and a unique Oregonian personality that all combine to create a local experience.
Oregon may be overlooked in favor of California and Washington (also great states!) on the West Coast, but it’s a state that has so many wild and relatively untouched locations that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Oregon has a variety of hidden places to get lost, it’s a place to explore and discover.
As I’ve settled into my life in Portland, I’ve discovered a few of my favorite stops and thought of where my ideal Oregon road trip would take place.
There are quite a few gems to find in Oregon, but the following 10 locations are a good mix of towns and unique sites to get you started.
This hipster capital of Oregon is known for its craft beer, polaroid-worthy trails, and food trucks. Portland is an outlier in Oregon, and not like any other place in the state, which to me, is enough reason to go check it out for yourself.
Although on the outside Portland looks like a small city, it’s actually a sprawling mass of unique neighborhoods, expansive parks, and burgeoning foodie scenes. Make sure to check out the food cart pods in the Southeast, spend an afternoon in the largest used and new bookstore in the world at Powell’s City of Books, and visit some of the most popular craft breweries in the Pearl District.
Astoria is a historic town at the edge of the northwest corner of Oregon. It boasts Victorian architecture and a claim to be the oldest settlement west of the Rockies. You’ll find Scandinavian inspirations here, as well as picturesque vistas looking out over the Columbia River, and even the Pacific Ocean a short distance away.
Simply walk around, enjoy the architecture, and take note of the rich history hidden beneath most attractions around town.
Although I haven’t been to Pacific City myself yet, I’ve heard so many good things about it from travelers and locals alike that I had to include it on the list. It’s also home to one of my favorite breweries, Pelican Brewery.
Situated on the rugged Oregon coast, Pacific City is the perfect spot to watch the sunset, try sand boarding for the first time, kayak in the ocean, and, of course, sip on tasty craft beer. It’s where you can usually get away from the crowds that are found at Cannon Beach.
Cape Kiwanda is in Pacific City as well and should be included as a quick stop for some great hiking trails and scenic views.
Valley of the Giants
If you want to truly discover the remote side of Oregon, Valley of the Giants is a 51-acre forest that is definitely big enough to find solitude in. It’s surrounded by 500 year old Douglas fir trees, and if you love forests, hiking, and spending time in nature, this is the perfect road trip stop for you.
The closest town is Falls City, which is 30 miles away and there is no camping in the area, so when I say remote, be ready for it. The only way to get to the Valley of the Giants is through local logging roads, so make sure to have a map of the area handy.
Back to civilization, Florence is everything you would want from a small seaside town. There are the famous sea lion caves just north of the city and vast sand dunes just south. A fun way to spend an afternoon would be sand boarding or renting a dune buggy for an unforgettable adrenaline adventure at the dunes.
The food is fresh and seafood friendly, and the locals are welcoming as is the case with most small towns in Oregon. The Siuslaw River Bridge is also the coolest bridge I’ve come across in Oregon with its Art Deco features – and that’s coming from someone who lives in Portland, a place known as The City of Bridges.
If you’re visiting Ashland, try and do it during the summer when the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is in season. The shows they put on are amazing and the whole town gets into the spirit of Shakespeare.
Ashland is a place that’s filled with boutique stores, a fondness for acting, hippies, and golden hills in the distance. Lithia Park is a wonderful spot to enjoy a picnic and spend time with friends or by yourself.
My favorite place in Oregon, Crater Lake is a collapsed volcano that’s so stunning it’s surreal. I walked around it, hiked this way and that, and no matter which angle I glanced at the lake from, it still looked like a painting. It was that serene.
You will find crowds here, but most of the people who are just there for a quick picture won’t be camping or hiking. Take your time at this breathtaking spot and soak it all in. The water is deep blue, the cliffs over 2,000 feet high, and it takes the prize for the deepest lake in America. It’s actually considered one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon.
The other craft beer capital of Oregon, Bend is a tucked away gem located in the middle of the state. Bend has it all, from incredibly clean water and delicious craft beer, to mountains, hiking trails, and a lake that locals like to float down in inner tubes on a hot summer’s day.
If you like the outdoors and a tight-knit community, Bend is a great place to visit while traveling through Oregon, and that goes for anytime of the year.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Another remote and unique attraction in Oregon, the John Day Fossil Beds are a testament to the magical beauty that 55 million years of history can create. These colorful rocks are formations that are worth venturing off the beaten path to go see.
Even if you’re not into paleontology, these fossil beds are incredible. They’ve preserved millions of years of plant and animal evolution and have kept prehistoric Oregon locked in time. There are hikes (are you sensing a theme in Oregon?), scenic drives of the Painted Hills, and exhibits to stop in at to learn more about the layered history.
Columbia River Gorge/Hood River
Right next to Portland, the Columbia River Gorge and Hood River are scenic hotspots in northern Oregon. Hood River is located between the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountain Range, and known for thousands of acres of pear orchards and perfect conditions for wind surfing.
The Columbia River Gorge is even more of a natural beauty. Not only does it have a variety of wildlife and 150 rare plant species, but this area in Oregon has tons of hidden waterfalls that go for miles.
If you have a whole day, try to get through the famous Fruit Loop Tour, hitting the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River, and the historic Timberline lodge in one day.
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Having spent quality time in Oregon for the past five months, there is no doubt that it’s a state that has many natural wonders, quirky bits, and a rare rustic beauty.
These unique parts of Oregon are worth exploring from the comforts of your car, windows down with the wind in your face, and The Kingsmen blasting through your speakers. And if you don’t have a car, there’s always hitchhiking, which is legal in Oregon. If done right, it can be a viable option to save money while having the chance to see this one-of-a-kind state.
The Pacific Northwest is like no place else, it’s truly wild, beautiful and free.
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. Follow her on The Atlas Heart for more great stories and photos of a worldwide adventurer.
I was in Tacoma and Seattle recently and passed up a visit to Oregon. Your pics are really making me regret that now, especially since I feel like I didn’t really get to properly experience the Pacific North-West enough.